Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

English Catholic missionary known as Saint Patrick

In spite of my Irish ancestry, I’ve never paid much attention to Saint Patrick’s Day (March 17), except as a day to stay off the roads if possible. But today, I ran across some interesting comments about the true origins of Saint Patrick’s Day, thanks to Claire Mulkieran, who describes herself as a systems security designer and a pagan descended from a long line of witches.

Given that cultural perspective, Mulkieran has an interesting contrarian take on “Saint” Patrick, a fifth-century English Catholic missionary to Ireland, regarded as the patron saint of Ireland. Mulkieran makes some fascinating claims about Patrick. It would be interesting to look into them further, although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they are historically accurate. In her 17 March 2009 blog post, “Pagans and Saint Patrick’s Day: The Real Meaning of the Holiday,” Mulkieran writes:

If most people know anything about Saint Patrick, it’s that his one claim to fame is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. What most people don’t realize is that the snake is a Pagan symbol, and that the snakes referred to in the Saint Patrick mythos are not meant in the literal sense, but refer to Pagans; i.e., Saint Patrick drove the Pagans (specifically, the Celts) out of Ireland (although it could be said, and has been argued, that much has been done in Saint Patrick’s name, but that the man himself was relatively unimportant). So what is celebrated on Saint Patrick’s Day with drinking and much cavorting is, ironically, the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland and the subjugation and conversion of the Celts.

She also makes a connection between Saint Patrick’s Day and Easter, writing:

It wasn’t arbitrary that the day honoring Saint Patrick was placed on the 17th of March. The festival was designed to coincide, and, it was hoped, to replace the Pagan holiday known as Ostara; the second spring festival which occurs each year, which celebrates the rebirth of nature, the balance of the universe when the day and night are equal in length, and which takes place at the Spring Equinox (March 22nd this year [2009]). In other words, Saint Patrick’s Day is yet another Christian replacement for a much older, ancient Pagan holiday; although generally speaking Ostara was most prominently replaced by the Christian celebration of Easter (the eggs and the bunny come from Ostara traditions, and the name “Easter” comes from the Pagan goddess Eostre).

I’ve already written about the connection between Easter and older pagan practices in my entry “Is Easter named after the pagan goddess Eostre?” Mulkieran also credits Patrick with using the shamrock to teach people about the triune god worshipped in christendom’s religions.

ARK — 9 March 2013

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Sometimes you hear people say that God created other beings because he was lonely, but that makes little sense. Today I ran across a comment about 1 John 4:8, which says that “God is love.” In other words, that is his main quality, the essence of his being. The comment I read was, “Jehovah became the Creator as an expression of his endearing quality of love.” That makes more sense. The thought that comes to me, then, is that God created the universe and other intelligent creatures out of his love for everything and everyone that could come to exist.

ARK — 20 Nov. 2012


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I was reflecting on Pascal’s Wager about God, which as  I understand it goes something like this:

If you believe in God and it turns out that there really is a God, you win because when you die you get an eternal reward.

If you don’t believe in God and it turns out there really is a God, you lose because when you die you get an eternal punishment.

If you believe in God and it turns out there really is no God, you lose, but the worse that happens is you waste time when you are alive and when you die you are just dead forever.

There’s a lot to say about this whole chain of reasoning, but my basic thought is that it would be foolish to think simply believing in God is enough to get the eternal reward in any case. Accepting Pascal’s reasoning in a simplistic way could lead you to just throw in your lot with the first religion that comes your way — you could end up wasting your time while you are alive and then be dead forever anyway. It’s certainly worth investigating whether there really is a God and then making a diligent search and a reason-based investigation to find out who that God is and what he expects of us — that information is available.

ARK — 22 April 2011

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Ad in Biblical Archaeology Review for HCSBI was impressed recently to see the ad shown to the right from Biblical Archaeology Review for May/June of 2010. In an age where most churchgoers effectively don’t even know the name of the God they profess to worship, it is impressive that translators would have the courage to include the name of the Bible’s divine Author in its text.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is published by B&H Publishing Group, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources. The organization has an earlier version of the HCSB available for free at MyStudyBible.com. This online version has some great study features. If you hover over key words in the text, you get a rollover displaying things like the word and pronunciation in the original language, definition, and information about how the HCSB renders that word in English throughout the text.

On playing around with the online version, one thing I noticed immediately was that in Gen. 2:4, the first place where the Tetragrammaton (YHWH or JHVH) appears in the Hebrew text, the HCSB disappointingly renders it “LORD,” as you would find in the King James version and its many derivatives. Hovering over “LORD” in that verse reveals that the online HCSB translates the name of God as a real name only 484 times, whereas it use the title “LORD” 5,925 times and “God” twice.

Online version of HCSB showing study features

So the HCSB translators know how the original text reads, but they made a conscious decision to stick to the practice of post-Biblical Judaism and Christendom of using a euphemism most of the time and including God’s name fewer than 8 percent of the 6,413 times it appears in the Hebrew scriptures.

This was surprisingly to me, especially in light of the strong message conveyed in the Biblical Archaeology Review ad. So I sent a feedback message on the MyStudyBible Web site asking for their reasoning. I was happy to receive a very nice message from E. Ray Clendenen, associate editor and one of the HCSB translators.

Ray tells me that the online version of the translation is an older one and that the newer version of the translation uses Yahweh over 600 times and that the translation team intends to increase the divine Name’s usage more over time.

Ray says the team used the following guidelines for rendering the Tetragrammaton as Yahweh:

We use it as the rendering of YHWH (which the Hebrew Bible editors first rendered as Adonai, “Lord”) whenever God’s “name” is being given (either explicitly, using the word “name,” or implicitly), when He is being identified (“I am Yahweh”), when He is being contrasted to other gods such as Baal, in certain repeated phrases such as “Yahweh the God of your fathers,” or when YHWH has been rendered by Yahweh in the immediate context.

He admits that the translators have probably been inconsistent in some cases, but provides an interesting insight into why they thought it wiser to continue the practice of substituting “LORD” most of the time:

… our objective is to introduce to the contemporary church what is the most likely pronunciation of the divine name YHWH in the Hebrew Bible. We did not render the majority of occurrences of YHWH as Yahweh because our goal is not only to be accurate but to use an English style that is most familiar to people. Since most Christians today probably do not commonly speak of “Yahweh,” but rather of “the Lord,” we felt it would be insensitive to use Yahweh for YHWH in every case and would make the Bible seem too uncomfortable for most people.

I thought this was a frank and humble admission from someone with extensive credentials as a Biblical scholar, acknowledging the limitations of his fellow believers. He tells me that “We hope that the name will grow on people and that we can expand the uses of Yahweh in future editions.”

At the same time, there is something sad about this confession — that eminent Bible translators feel that they have to hold back the truth because their readers would feel uncomfortable with the name of the true God.

[Update from 16 August 2014:] This engaging video was just released, presenting some good reasoning why the name of God should be included in the Bible: http://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/good-news-from-god/who-is-god/video-gods-name/

ARK — 23 Nov. 2010

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The Europeans in antiquity knew very well that they were descended from Noah’s son Japheth, and they recorded that lineage in documents that are still available today.

That’s the premise of After the Flood: The Early Post-Flood History of Europe Traced Back to Noah, by Bill Cooper (Chichester, England: New Wine Press, 1995). Cooper uses ancient sources to reconstruct the royal lineages of the early Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Norwegians, and Irish Celts back to their descent from Japheth.

Among Cooper’s sources are documents that are much-reviled by mainstream scholars because they contain some accounts that appear to be based on myths and legends, because they have their origins in stigmatized Welsh sources, but most of all because they take the Bible’s account seriously. Anything that connects to Bible chronology and historical accounts is deemed to be a ‘pious fiction’ made up by Christian monks. Although some of the complaints against these sources might have some substance, Cooper makes some good arguments in defense of these sources, which include Brut Tysillo, Nennuis’ Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons), and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (Histories of the Kings of Britain).

One very useful step Cooper takes (page 40) is to correlate the various Indo-European branches that recognize a (usually deified) Japheth as an early ancestor. This includes Iapetos of the Greeks, Pra-Japati (Father Japheth) of the Sanskrit Vedas, Jupiter (or Iu-Pater, Father Jove) of the Romans, and Sceaf (pronounced sheaf or shaif) of the Saxons.

Cooper does some interesting analysis to show that the relevant documents should be given more credence than does mainstream scholarship. One important result of his work is to demonstrate that the ancient Celts were literate and had a highly-sophisticated civilization long before the Roman conquest of Britain. Bibliophobic scholars don’t like to admit this, as I mentioned before, because an advanced culture among the Celts would lend support to the original documents collected and transcribed by Nennius, Geoffrey, and Tysillo.

The ancient sources analyzed by Cooper extend British history back to the 12th century BCE. According to these sources, the Britons take their name from Brutus, a royal of Trojan extraction who, at that time, traveled from the Mediterranean and colonized Britain. Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Welsh chronicles give a detailed genealogy of the early British kings, which Cooper summarizes in pages 69-82, showing that there is no reason why British history has to be a blank page before 55 BCE. These chronicles correlate with other sources at several points.

As is the case with many historical sources, the documents Cooper consults are rendered more plausible by their apparent contradictions. Certainly in many cases, such contradictions can be resolved by understanding the points of view of the original authors. The important point, though, is that when two different historical accounts are at variance, it shows that their authors did not collaborate or base their accounts on each other’s.

In spite of Cooper’s fundamentalist leanings, his reader has to endure very little soap-boxing. His analysis is affected by young-earth creationism, and he does diverge into some speculation about ancient accounts of dinosaurs and the possible historicity of Beowulf. Not that these aren’t interesting topics — it’s just that his best work is his extraction of genealogies from the various ancient Indo-European sources, and their connection back to Noah’s son Japheth.

Especially intriguing to me is Cooper’s Appendix 12 (page 243) about the descent of the Miautso (a.k.a. Miao) people of China, a group apparently related to the better-known Hmong. Cooper constructs a chart showing the descent of the Miautso from Jah-phu, son of Nuah, to their ancestor, Go-men. (See also “Genesis According to the Miao People,” by Edgar A. Truax.)

Following is just one example of many of the useful and fascinating genealogical charts Cooper includes in his book, in this case showing the connection and correlation of the descent from Japheth to Brutus according to Nennius, Geoffrey, and Virgil’s Aeneid.

Genealogical table showing descent from Japheth to Brutus

I highly recommended Bill Cooper’s After the Flood for the serious student of history who is not afraid to give credence to the Bible’s historical account of the history of humankind.

ARK — 8 Oct. 2010

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This question occurred to me a few days ago, and it is really still just a question (comments welcome below). It came up a few days ago when I was looking at the Facebook profile of an old friend, and under the “Religion” field he had written “Agnostic.”

Supposedly an agnostic is someone who admits to the possibility of God but just hasn’t seen evidence. But really, for most people who identify themselves that way, could there possibly be enough evidence?

In reality, the evidence is freely available to people who are humble enough to consider it, so that, to me agnosticism seems like willing ignorance (see Romans 1:20, 21).

ARK — 28 June 2010

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