Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

15 April 2013

What if ... creation was a myth?

April's Synchroblog asks how we'd be affected if part (or all) of the Bible was myth. I chose to consider the creation accounts in Genesis. Whether these are myth or true history does matter, but perhaps it doesn't matter as much as the division it sometimes causes in the church.

Created or evolved?
This month's Synchroblog invites us to speculate. (Other contributions to this month's Synchroblog are listed at the bottom of this post.)

Here's an extract from the instructions...

Try to imagine that some or all of the Bible narrative is not necessarily true history, but is myth of one sort or another. What sort of effect would that knowledge have on your faith? What effect might it have on the larger church? How would it change you? Would it change you and how you view the world?

Of course, a great deal depends on what part of the Bible I select. Assuming that the visit of the magi to Jesus' birthplace is a myth would make relatively little difference, but assuming that the birth of Jesus is a myth would change things rather dramatically.

I'm going to choose the creation accounts in Genesis. Let's suppose these are myths. How would it change things? I'll follow through with the questions from the Synchroblog. But first, let's have bit of a think about the idea of a myth. What do we mean by 'myth'?

Myths - Perhaps we think of anything mythical or mythological as false. A myth is an invention, imagined creatures in an imagined land - isn't that myth?

Well, no, not necessarily. Imagined creatures in an imagined land are fiction, like 'The Lord of the Rings' or 'The Narnia Chronicles'. Bear in mind that those stories contain a great deal of truth even though they are not true. But myth is more than fiction. To be precise, traditional fiction with a meaning is not a myth but a fable.

We'd do better to think of the Greek legends, the Norse sagas, or the Irish ballads. These are truly mythical. Rather than fiction they are meaningful and explanatory stories based (probably) on real events far back in time before anyone could remember and passed from generation to generation. They have, no doubt, grown considerably in the telling.

So now to the creation accounts in Genesis.

What would be the effect on my faith? - Zero, nada, zilch. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the major one is that I do regard the creation story to be myth. But I'm confident it's myth with a clear purpose. I was trained in biology and for many years worked as a professional biologist. I'm no more inclined to accept the creation stories as history than I am to accept that the Moon is made of cheese.

Let me distinguish between creation and the Biblical accounts of creation. I accept that the Almighty created the universe. It's really hard to think that the universe just is, that it sprang out of nothing all by itself. I am sure that it was somehow caused. It's here because it was intended and spoken into existence.

On the other hand the biblical accounts of how that happened and in what order make little sense to me. What I mean is that they make little sense as history, as an account of the process that took place. As myth, as allegory, as a description of truth, they make perfect sense. The truth is that the Almighty is the ultimate cause of the universe, he is holy, pure and powerful, his original purpose for us is that we would be in community with him, but we are weak, willful and sinful and threw away that opportunity for community.

My opinion that the creation stories are myths doesn't affect my faith in any way. I believe in the Creator, that the universe came into existence because Yahweh spoke, Jesus acted, and the Spirit hovered. The power of the Presence of the three-in-one was enough, a baby universe was born and has flourished ever since. I know that I have a sinful nature, I know that the Son came and by his death paid the price and opened the way for freedom. I know there is a place waiting for me in his kingdom, that my name is written in the Lamb's book of life and on the palm of Papa's hand.

What effect does it have on the wider church? - Now things get more serious. Part of the church thinks it makes little difference whether the creation accounts are factual or mythical. Part of it cares enough to fight a civil war over the issue. And this is a serious problem.

You see, the church that Jesus commanded, 'Love one another as I have loved you', should never, ever be at war with itself. The problem is not that I or anyone else has this or that opinion about the creation stories in Genesis, the problem is that we cannot bear for there to be more than one such opinion.

Some say 'Myth with a message' and others say 'Historical record of real events' and we think that endless argument and dispute is a suitable way to resolve it. Or rather, that our need to be proved 'right' is sometimes stronger than our urge to follow Jesus' command to accept and love.

In a bleeding, dying world we don't have time to fight a civil war. Not only that, we risk bringing the name of Jesus into disrepute. So love one another, love your neighbour, and love your enemy.

In Egypt, the traditional and non-traditional believers are fervently praying together for revival instead of discussing who is right about their many differences of interpretation. If you are an Egyptian and you believe in Jesus you are a brother or a sister. It's that simple. But don't take my word for it - watch the video.

What is the lesson here for us? The issue need not be the creation accounts, it might be ... (fill in the blank for yourself). The church is divided over many, many issues when love should surely conquer all of them.

How would it change me? - If I'm willing to avoid the divisions outlined above, then would my understanding of the mechanics of creation make any difference to me? I don't think so. Whichever way I view the creation accounts I can believe Jesus and follow him. I have a new and fuller life in him now. I have eternity in his presence. I can love my brothers and sisters fully and freely and allow them to understand creation in whatever way they see fit.

The nature of creation is only an issue if I allow it to become one in my own heart. The universe exists! The Almighty brought it into being and holds it in existence. Without him it would all vanish. What more do I really need to know?

Would it change you and how you view the world? - This is an 'over to you' question, is it not? How do you stand on this matter? And whatever you may believe, are you willing to allow it to separate you from your brothers and sisters in Jesus?


  • How do you, personally, deal with conflicts of understanding?
  • Is truth more important than accepting one another? Always? Sometimes? Never?
  • For you, is being right essential or just 'nice to have'?

See also:

Synchroblog links:

03 February 2013

Adam and Eve in Genesis

Adam and Eve appear in Genesis 2, but there's a different account of creation in chapter 1. Does it make sense to take the first man and woman literally? Is there some other way of reading these chapters? What is the underlying message? What is Genesis telling us?

Adam and Eve
Some believers (Jews, those who follow Jesus, and Muslims) take the early chapters of Genesis literally and therefore hold that Adam and Eve were real people, created at the same time as the world itself, the stars and planets, and other forms of life. There are, however, many others who hold that the creation stories are not intended as history but have some deeper purpose.

An overwhelming majority of scientists on the other hand see Adam and Eve as mythical figures. But sometimes we hear them speak of 'Mitochondrial Eve' and 'Y-chromosomal Adam'. What do they mean by those terms? Is there scientific evidence for a first man and a first woman?

We will try to understand the story of Adam and Eve from the beginning. We'll look at the views of faith in this post and science in a later one and we'll see if they can be reconciled in some way.

Two accounts - This is based mainly on the Hebrew writings known as the Tanakh, what Christians call the Old Testament. The main place where origins are mentioned is in the early part of the book of Genesis. There are many references to Adam and Eve elsewhere in both Old and New Testaments and those generally support what we find in Genesis.

Genesis describes the creation of the universe as known at the time of writing, it includes the origin of the stars, the sun and moon, the earth itself, all living things, and the first man and woman. This article ignores much of that and focusses solely on Adam and Eve.

There are two passages that deal with the first people, Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:7-25.

In the first account plants are created first (Genesis 1:11-13), then the Sun, Moon and stars (Genesis 1:14-19), birds and fish (Genesis 1:20-23),  land animals (Genesis 1:24-25) and finally mankind (Genesis 1:26-28). There is no mention of Adam and Eve here, instead the collective word for mankind is used, people are created but the number is unspecified.

In the second account the order is significantly different. This time Adam is created first (Genesis 2:7), then the trees (Genesis 2:8-17), then the land animals and birds (Genesis 2:19-20) and finally Eve (Genesis 2:21-22). This time there are only two people.

Since the two accounts follow different sequences it is a logical necessity that they cannot both be historically correct. Either of them might be correct, or neither, but both is not possible. Therefore the only conclusion that can be defended is that either or both of these accounts were written for some purpose other than history.

The real purpose - What might that other purpose be?

I would strongly suggest that the purpose of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 is exactly the same as that of the rest of the Bible.

  • It is to reveal something of the nature of the power behind the universe.
  • It explains our broken relationship with him.
  • And it points to the reconnection that became possible in Christ.

Genesis 1 and 2 tell us there's a creator who brought the universe into being. This creating power is not part of the universe.

Relationship, not history - The original intention was that we should have freedom of will and freedom of action to use in honouring the Creator, but instead we abused our freedom. Initially we had a close relationship with our Maker (walking together in the garden with our Father). Our significance, worth, security and identity were found in our love relationship with him. But after our revolt for independence we found ourselves... independent! And it was not a good place.

Woman now looked to man for her significance, worth, security and identity. And man looked to the ground to provide these things, through the work of his hands raising crops. This remains true today; women tend to look to a relationship, men to their own ability. That's a generalisation but it contains the essence of a deep truth.

In Christ we have the relationship restored and with it the opportunity to walk again with the Creator in the garden and find our significance, worth, security and identity in the right place once more.

This is the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 in a nutshell. It is far, far more significant and important than any element of history that might be contained in those chapters. The order in which things were made is of no significance at all. We sometimes miss the wood for the trees! We build up the importance of the unimportant and run the risk of overlooking the real nuggets of gold placed here for our benefit.

Adam and Eve represent the first humans (and indeed all of us), of that there is no doubt. But that is as far as I'm able to go. Others will, of course, hold different views and that is fine by me. We can share an understanding of the spiritual truth without agreeing on the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2.


  • How do you reconcile the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2?
  • Does the sequence of creation make any difference to the underlying spiritual truth?
  • Can we love one another despite our sometimes wide diversities of understanding?

See also:

30 December 2012

Cine film of Eaton Socon in 1939

Here is a stunning piece of colour movie film from 1939 showing some of my local landmarks, The Crown Inn and the Akbar Tandoori in Eaton Socon. The photographer drove along the Great North Road from London to Grantham, stopping to take these images on the way.

The Crown in 1939 and 2012
I recently found a YouTube video of a journey along the Great North Road from London to Grantham in August 1939.

As I live in Eaton Ford (just a few hundred metres west of the route) it was fascinating to see some local landmarks that I know well.

On the right, side by side is a still from the 1939 film and a photo taken yesterday, both show 'The Crown' in Eaton Socon. The main changes are an extension beyond the further chimney, removal of the ivy, the addition of a porch, the signs, two chimney pots and the loss of the telegraph pole.

The Akbar in 1939 and 2012
And here on the left are two further images, this time showing a tea room, now the Akbar Tandoori Restaurant.

Once again we can see some changes, but the scene is still very recognisable.

The YouTube video is shown below. It starts in London and 'The Crown' pub appears at 2 minutes, 37 seconds. This is followed by the old RAC sign for Eaton Socon, and then the tea house (now the Akbar Tandoori). The next shot shows a farmhouse beside the road near Southoe, then some open road followed by the Buckden sign and some shots in Buckden itself. After that there is a view of the Brampton Hut Hotel and then the journey moves on beyond my local area.

It would be interesting to know what camera and film were used to take these cine shots. Is it early Kodachrome brought over from the USA to record Britain just before the Second World War? Or was it a European process, perhaps Dufaycolor?


  • How much has the area where you live changed in the last 73 years?
  • Are you aware of the local history of your town or village?

See also:

02 October 2012


The book 'Britain Begins' tells the story of the landscape and people who lived in these islands from the end of the last great ice-age (when they were still part of mainland Europe) right up to the end of the Saxon period. It's a great read.

Part of north-west Europe 10 000 years agoI'm currently working my way through 'Britain Begins', Barry Cunliffe's latest book. Sir Barry Cunliffe is a well-regarded archaeologist working at Oxford University. In fact he's Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at the University's Institute of Archaeology.

In the book he traces the origins of human occupation in what is now the British Isles, though at the time of the early settlements some 10 000 years ago, most the North Sea was an extension of the North European Plain and Britain was part of the European continent.

Part of an illustration from the book (right) shows some of the Atlantic coastline of Europe around 30 000 years ago, along with the ice sheets in grey and today's coastlines in orange. (Doggerland in my title refers to the central part of what is now the North Sea. It was an area of rolling hills and river valleys.)

Although the ice retreated almost completely from Britain by 15 000 years ago, sea levels remained low for some time and migrating hunter-gatherer communities would have been able to live in the new landscapes right across areas that are now the English Channel and the North Sea.

What a fascinating insight into a time before history began. Although we don't know the details of life in those days, Cunliffe is able to draw a lively picture in a general way. He writes of the separation of Ireland...

The return to temperate conditions beginning around 9600 BC set in train the processes that created the British Isles familiar to us today. The first stage was the separation of Ireland from the mainland. This occurred around 9000 BC as the deep river valley, scoured out by the flow of meltwater from the Scottish ice-cap, was progressively flooded by the rising sea until the last land bridge between the north of Ireland and the Inner Hebrides was broken through. The deeper waters of St George's Channel and the North Channel, now below 50 fathoms, mark the course of this original valley.

It's a great book and I highly recommend it. Cunliffe condenses a great deal of scientific and archaeological data into a cohesive description of Britain from the final stages of the ice-age to the time of the Norman Conquest and the end of Saxon rule. The book is accessible to the interested layman (like me!) but will also find a special place on library shelves in schools and universities.

If you're interested in the history of these islands - buy a copy!

22 February 2012

From the archives...

Sometimes it's fun to look back. Here's what I was blogging in February in previous years. From trouble in the Middle East to ancient photographs.

The archivesA year ago - The trouble was starting in Libya a year ago, just as it now has in Syria. As we thought and prayed for the people and government of Libya a year ago, so we should also do for Syria now.

COMMENT: How things have moved on! History will not repeat itself, the situation in Syria is different, probably far more dangerous internationally than the upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. We can also now pray for the development of stable democracies in those countries, it's not a foregone conclusion for any of them. Don't forget the smaller countries too - Dubai and Yemen for example.

Two years ago - A word from the Spirit. He tells us to follow him, not one another. Our callings are different so if we are all obedient we will be doing different things. We shouldn't persuade others to do what we do, we should encourage one another, not criticise.

COMMENT: This is the key to peaceful hearts and minds as we share our lives together in Christ.

Ten years ago - I was just starting the adventure of blogging. Here's the third post I made, a brief thought about photography following a chat in the office with friends.

COMMENT: Photography records the past for us in a very special way. We can see what was present in a place up to 186 years ago - the oldest surviving image was made in 1826. When photography was invented it was a novelty, but now some of those early efforts are a source of historical information.

01 December 2011

Western wall not built by Herod

Recent archaeological work suggests the Jerusalem Temple's Western Wall was built at least twenty years after the death of Herod the Great.

Large blocks of stone thrown down by the Romans
Two Roman coins dated to 17 AD were found in a mikveh (a ritual bath) underneath the bottom row of stone blocks of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Herod died 21 years earlier than this, so he cannot have been responsible for building the outer wall.

If this is right, then when the disciples discussed the Temple with Yahshua, the outer compound wall was only about ten years old; very possibly still under construction.

In some ways it makes the conversation even more striking. The Second Temple was the latest wonder, a fantastic piece of engineering, in some ways more than the equal of the Greek Parthenon or any of the buildings in Rome. Something to be proud of, a statement of the power of the Most High in the minds of all the people of Judea.

Yahshua left the Temple and was walking away when his awestruck, enthusiastic disciples came over to call his attention to its buildings. "Look, Master. See these huge blocks of stone, so new and beautifully fitted together! Just look at the amazing carvings and the expensive, donated ornament glorifying the Most High."

"Yes, just look at it all", he said. "In all seriousness I'm telling you that not one stone will be left standing on another, the whole lot will be thrown down". (Based on Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, Luke 21:5-6)

And that is exactly what happened. In 70 AD, less than 40 years later; the Roman army under Titus captured the city, tore down the Temple, and threw the stones over the wall where some of them lie to this day.

See also: Old coins force re-think on Jerusalem's Western Wall, Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Not Completed by King Herod

16 August 2011

FAMILY - An ancient ship

< Thorpeness walk | Index | Garden, castle, film >

We headed a little further south today, visiting the Sutton Hoo Saxon burial and returning via the charming little town of Woodbridge.

Excavating the Sutton Hoo shipSutton Hoo is the site of a Saxon ship burial. The site is owned by the National Trust and includes the area containing the burial mounds as well as the home of the owner who invited a local archaeologist to dig one of the mounds in 1938.

The visitor centre has a video presentation on the burial and a full size reconstruction of the dead warrior with his grave goods arranged around him. He is thought to have been Rædwald who ruled the East Angles and died in the early 600s CE. This was a time after Roman civilisation had faded away in what is now England and the Angles and Saxons had settled in the land. In East Anglia, they had already been living here for a couple of centuries and the Brythonic language was probably already fully replaced by a form of Old English.

The main shopping street in WoodbridgeDonna and I had lunch in the visitor centre, left the rest of the family exploring Sutton Hoo, and headed for nearby Woodbridge. Neither of us had been there before and we thought it was a delightful place. It has the advantages of being built on mainly high ground but including an area along the river Deben and easy access to the North Sea.

The main street is full of interesting little shops, cafes and restaurants and I found a book about the Battle of Britain that seemed particularly interesting as it is based partly on recently released material that was not available to earlier historians. I felt a little guilty (but only a little) because I left the shop and downloaded the Kindle version on my phone. Now I'm back in the holiday house with a cup of tea and have read part of the first chapter. We returned to the car via the marina on the riverside, then back to the house for the evening with the entire family back together again.

< Thorpeness walk | Index | Garden, castle, film >

16 February 2010

Hebrew origins - recent evidence

A pottery shard found in 2008 may be the earliest known text in an early form of Hebrew and dates to the 10th century BC. The western gate of Khirbet QeiyafaThis is around the time of King David and would push the archaeological record of the language back by about 400 years from the previous oldest recorded sample.

The new evidence may also support the idea that parts of the Bible were written far earlier than previously thought. The piece of pottery recently unearthed at Khirbet Qeiyafa carries an ink inscription. As recently interpreted by Gershon Galil it closely resembles several Bible passages from Exodus, Psalms, and Isaiah. Earlier translations are less clear.

Gershon Galil's version reads
You shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord]. Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an] [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and] the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king. Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

29 December 2009

Movements - Long term success

There have been many movements in the world's long history. Political movements - philosophical, art, and literature movements - scientific and technological movements - and not least, religious movements. Romulus Augustus, the last Roman Emperor in the WestAlmost all of these have failed after a few decades or centuries, many are forgotten, consigned at best to dusty tomes on library shelves.

Every organisation created by human ingenuity and effort has a lifespan and runs its course. Consider Communism, the idea that the Earth is flat, the Roman Empire, ancient Greek culture in what is now Turkey, the Gaulish language once spoken in Europe, the British Empire, Woolworths, or Real Tennis. All gone!

Some of these movements depended on repression, terrorism, crushing military might, or technological superiority for their spread and survival. Communism, Islam, and the Roman Empire are movements of this kind. Others have depended on ideas or beliefs that have been accepted freely, and paramount among these is the church. The first disciples followed Jesus by choice; he called them and they decided freely to follow him. And although the church sometimes depended wrongly on abuse of military or political power (as with the Crusades or the Inquisition) these were temporary and clearly contradicted Jesus' teachings about love.

Even within the church there have been monastic, doctrinal, denominational, and revival movements to mention just a few. Again, most of these have failed sooner or later. Consider some of the great Catholic and Anglican monastic orders. Most of these still exist, but as mere shadows of their former selves.

So what distinguishes successful and failed movements? It seems to me that coercion sooner or later fails, and fails absolutely. But the teachings of Jesus remain as powerful today as they were 2000 years ago. They are still seized upon eagerly by those who understand that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He was, is and will always be a success in the hearts of ordinary people because of his love and compassion. Alone among the originators of the world's religions, Jesus is an entirely attractive character who harmed no-one and called his followers to do the same. And his movement is alive and well today.

Where it has been complicated by methods and organisations it has failed again and again. But always the ideas and teachings of Jesus have moved on, leaving the methods and organisations behind and growing again in fresh pastures.

So let's be very careful to avoid any kind of worldly power, control, or system of management. And let's get right back to the roots of our faith - loving the Almighty with everything we have and everything we are, loving one another and our neighbours with the love we apply to ourselves, and yes - even loving our enemies. Those are the hallmarks of a movement that will know no failure or premature end!

Jesus alone is the one who leads us, our role is always to follow. He speaks clearly to his people, individually, day by day, guiding and encouraging. We must die to self in order to truly live. In poverty we are rich, the humble are lifted up, the powerful are brought low, it's an upside down Kingdom. But it works! And it lasts!

But all human ingenuity, system, power, and organisation will eventually fail - within the church and outside it. For only the Almighty can prevail, and he is love.

04 November 2009

Weird and wonderful maps

I love maps and plans. I always have. Most likely I always will. They encapsulate a place, a landscape, an idea, a society, politics, history, The World at nightwhatever may be of interest to whoever created the map.

Maps convey so much in convenient, overview form. I can pore over a good map for hours and hours.

So imagine my delight at discovering 'Strange Maps', a blog that's updated every day or three with yet another wacky map. Some of these are awesome, most are amusing or intriguing, all are fun providing they're not taken too seriously.

Take a few minutes to view a few of the posts, you won't be disappointed. Here are some that I particularly recommend for the cartophiles amongst my readers.

26 August 2009

Co incidents

Prayeramedic just posted an item to his blog about a 'coincidence'. Everyone will draw their own conclusions of course, Inside York Minsterbut whatever that conclusion may be - it's an amusing story.

Here's another one to go with it.

Back in 1984, the Archbishop of York made the controversial appointment of David Jenkins as the new Bishop of Durham. Three days later York Minster (the seat of the Archbishop) caught fire and was seriously damaged.

David Jenkin's notoriety was based on his widely reported views, particularly denial of both the virgin birth and the resurrection.

What do I think? I think that both these events are much more than mere coincidence. But the question is, 'What do you think?'.

Here are some photos of the fire and the repair work.

13 April 2009

He is risen!

There's a delightful little story going around as one of those email circulars, a friend sent me a Jewish rock-hewn tombcopy of it recently.

The story goes that when Peter and John arrived at the empty tomb, they saw that the grave wrappings had been thrown in a heap, but at the other end of the tomb, the napkin that had covered Jesus face was neatly folded.

There was a convention that when a man ate his meal, the servant would watch. If the master threw his napkin down untidily this was a sign that he'd finished and the servant would begin to clear the table. But if the master folded his napkin this showed he intended to return to finish the meal later.

So the folded napkin in the tomb was significant because to Yahshua's followers it meant, 'I am coming back in a short while'. It's still a great story even though it may not be true. But what is true (and is important) is that Jesus did rise from the grave and that he will indeed return!

Here's a link to the full version that's been doing the email rounds. This article repeats the full text of the story and then explains why it's not really true.

I also found a post on an internet forum that quoted some great notes from Athol Dickson. You'll need to scroll down quite a way to find it, so for convenience I've included it in full below. (Athol Dickson is an acclained Christian author, winning the Christy Award in 2006 and again in 2008.) Not only does he explain that the story is incorrect, he also explains and expands on other aspects of the graveclothes and draws out a good deal of valuable insight.

Lent Among the Folds
Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Beginning with the end in mind I pondered the empty tomb on this first day of Lent. I remembered an email someone forwarded to me recently, one of those sentimental legends people pass around the Internet. It starts with one verse from the Apostle John’s eyewitness description of Jesus’ empty tomb: “He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.” (John 20:6-7) Focusing on that last detail, the folded cloth, the email says:

“In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished. Now if the master was done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, "I'm done". But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because… The folded napkin meant, ‘I'm coming back!’”

It is a nice little story, but I’ve made something of a study of Judaism, including Jewish traditions and cultural practices at the time of Jesus, and never have I heard of such a tradition. So at first I was skeptical. We Christians often try to read too much symbolism into Jewish practices. For example, you will hear it solemnly pronounced at churches around Easter time that the baked brown stripes and rows of little holes in those unleavened wafers Jews use in their Pesach seder (a Passover supper, or service) symbolize the wounds on Jesus’ body when he was crucified. But those stripes and holes only came about in modern times when people started baking matzo mass-production style in factories. Unleavened bread in Jesus’ time would have had neither stripes, nor holes. So we need to use some common sense when we read or hear these kinds of quasi-Messianic theories about Judeo/Christian symbolism.

Still . . . the little story did get me thinking about the folded cloth in the empty tomb, and a certain ancient Jewish dinner table. Since at least the time of Jesus many Jewish families have used a folded napkin in the Pesach seder to hide the afikomen, which is a broken piece of unleavened bread hidden away until the end of the meal, when it is “found” and eaten. We know it was this last piece of bread—the broken afikomen quite possibly retrieved from a hiding place within the napkin folds—that Jesus held aloft and said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” We know this because the next words in the Last Supper account are, “After the supper…” and the Talmud tells us this broken piece of bread was the last food eaten in the seder.

Only three days separated the empty tomb from the moment the disciples witnessed Jesus comparing his own broken body to the afikomen taken from the napkin folds. It makes sense that the folded cloth in the empty tomb would symbolize what Jesus had just accomplished, his broken body risen from the folds of the earth, rather than evoking a second coming thousands of years in the future as the little story above would have us believe. Foremost on Jesus’ mind as he folded his burial cloth would have been the disciples, the people for whom he had just risen from the dead, the people who must now be taught the meaning of the cross and empty tomb. If the gesture of that folded cloth was connected with a dinner table tradition at all, it was not just any Jewish master’s supper, but the Master of all Master’s own Last Supper. Jesus was not thinking of his second coming; he was reminding his disciples to “take, eat, and remember me.” Or so I thought.

Then I remembered the Lord never does just one thing at a time.

It is a sign of God’s omniscience that He accomplishes countless good things with a single word. And in perfect keeping with this fact, God’s “word,” the Bible, often speaks of many things at once. So I began to wonder if that folded cloth might be about both of those Jewish dinner table traditions, the Pesach seder / Last Supper, and a typical Jewish master’s signal to his servant. With that in mind, I remembered this: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) There they are together in one verse: the gospel and the second coming, and both of them connected with the Last Supper. If the bread and wine proclaim the Christ’s death in our place until he comes again, perhaps the folded cloth does the same, pointing to the meaning of the Gospel and to the promise Jesus will come again.

My Lenten meditation was producing fruit. I began to ponder other possibilities, and of course, the Bible being an endless divine self-revelation, several came to mind.

I have not read Sigmund Brouwer’s book, The Carpenter’s Cloth, but I understand it says carpenters and other manual laborers in first century Palestine, as today, kept a cloth handy to wipe away their perspiration as they worked. Being illiterate for the most part, they could not leave an invoice or a note to their customer when a project was finished, so it was a common tradition to signify a completed contract by leaving that cloth on or near the work, neatly folded. It was a tactful way of saying, “I’ve completed the work.” Jesus was a carpenter after all, so the folded cloth might have come naturally to him as a fitting gesture that his Passion was complete. This ties in nicely with the fact that the afikomen was the final piece of bread, and with Jesus’ own words on the cross, “It is finished.” But when the workman sends that signal, he also sends another. The workman’s folded cloth also asks for something. It tells the one for whom the work was done, “I’ve finished my part, now it’s your turn to deliver payment.” We can never repay Jesus for giving his life in place of ours, nor does he expect it. But he does expect our faith to lead to Christian love—to righteous action—otherwise we have no faith at all. Jesus was very clear on this: “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (John 14:15), and of course we have James writing these famous words on the same subject: “Faith without works is dead,” (James 2:26).

Once I really started looking, I kept finding more. John tells us the head covering was neatly folded while the rest of the linen that covered Jesus’ body was only “lying there.” If that means only the cloth around the head was folded, signifying completion, while the cloth from around the body was wadded or disheveled, it might relate to these words, which Paul wrote about the very moment when Jesus rose from the dead: “[Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead….” Might the contrast between that neatly folded head cloth beside the disheveled body cloth signify that Christ’s “body” on earth, the church, must respond to what the head has done? While for Jesus “it is finished,” we still have work to do on earth. Surely Jesus knew his followers in later years would cherish Paul’s abiding metaphor for the church as his body. Surely Jesus also knew that some of us would look back on those two cloths in the empty tomb and connect them with Paul’s metaphor, and be reminded in yet one more way that “Faith without works is dead.”

I found another, more mundane explanation in Adam Clarke’s great old commentary: “The providence of God ordered these very little matters, so that they became the fullest proofs against the lie of the chief priests, that the body had been stolen away by the disciples. If the body had been stolen away, those who took it would not have stopped to strip the clothes from it, and to wrap them up, and lay them by in separate places.” Matthew Henry agrees with Clarke: “Any one would rather choose to carry a dead body in its clothes than naked. Or, if those that were supposed to have stolen it would have left the grave-clothes behind, yet it cannot be supposed they should find leisure to fold up the linen.” In other words, that folded head cloth might have been Jesus’ way of saying, “No one stole me away. On the contrary, I rose up alone. I walked out alone. I alone did this, for I alone could do it. I am Almighty God.”

Still meditating on the layers in the folded cloth, I realized John has some kind of fascination with cloths and clothing. In an earlier part of John’s gospel, he writes of the resurrection of Lazarus, using language very similar to his description of the cloths that Jesus left behind. He tells us of Lazarus’s face cloth and the “strips [note the plural] of linen” that Lazarus had upon his body. When John gets to the crucifixion, again he writes of a cloth that covered Jesus. Strangely, out of all the details he might have mentioned at the outset of this all-important portion of his story, John chooses to begin with soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ underclothes. He takes pains to tell us the garment was “seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.” It is as if he wants us to compare Jesus’ clothes in a before-and-after kind of way. He wants us to notice that Jesus wore one seamless cloth before his death, and many pieces after. But why? Why should this “disciple whom Jesus loved” describe Jesus' underwear of all things, instead of starting the crucifixion scene with his dying rabbi’s suffering? Why take the trouble to tell us very specifically Jesus wore something “seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom” before the crucifixion, but left behind many separate pieces afterwards?

Before Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the tabernacle / temple was the site of countless animal sacrifices for the sins of God’s chosen people. This sacrificial process was overseen by a high priest. The first century Jewish historian Josephus tells us this high priest wore an undergarment that was “…not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck; not an oblique one, but parted all along the breast and the back." (See Antiquities of the Jews, book 3, chapter 7, sentence 4.) In other words, the Jewish high priest wore something seamless, woven in one piece. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us the tabernacle (which later became the temple in Jerusalem) symbolized God’s dwelling place in heaven, the animal sacrifices were symbols of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the high priest symbolized Jesus, the ultimate priest, who entered God’s actual dwelling place in heaven to offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. The rituals at the Jewish tabernacle and temple were living prophesies, intended to prepare the Jewish people to recognize their Messiah when he came. Hebrews also tells us Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect and final, unlike those of the high priests. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, there is no more need for Messianic prophesies, because the real thing has been done. So the contrast between the single, seamless garment Jesus wore closest to his skin as he offered the final sacrifice, and the many cloths he left behind afterwards, symbolizes the fact that there is no more need for the temple, or the sacrifices, or the high priests, or the seamless garments they wore. The ultimate high priest has offered the ultimate sacrifice, which is all anyone will ever need from now on, and forevermore.

In close relation to that, yet another possibility occurred to me. I remembered Numbers 4:5-15 where the Bible says whenever the tabernacle was moved, all of the mysterious, prophetic items within it from the Ark of the Covenant to the Bread of the Presence were to be covered from sight with some kind of cloth. Only when the tabernacle was set up again and those items were again out of sight behind curtains could the covering cloths be removed. We know the main purpose of the tabernacle from God’s own words in Exodus 25:8: "Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” It was built for prophetic symbolism as I already mentioned, but the purpose of the symbolized Messiah was to establish intimate fellowship between us and God. We know this, because John used the very words of Exodus to describe Jesus’ mission: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” But look at the next thing John says of Jesus in that same verse: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

To see the glory of the One and Only, the Lord Most High . . . what an extraordinary claim.

Any Jewish student of the Torah will tell you it's impossible. The purpose of the cloths in tabernacle days was to hide even the symbols of the Lord from unclean human eyes, lest the people be literally consumed by God’s perfect holiness like moths flying too close to a purifying fire (as were Nadab and Abihu). There was a time, as the Lord told Moses, when no one could see His face and live, but Jesus came to change that, and Jesus did change that, as John says very clearly: “we have seen his glory.” There was a moment when John saw a hint of Jesus’ glory. But I don’t think that’s what John meant. The glory John described as “the One and Only” was not just the risen Christ, but also the fearfully holy Creator of Everything, somehow (we can never know how) made visible and touchable. Remembering his warnings to Moses thousands of years before (“cover the Ark”, “you must not see my face”) the God who was Jesus took time to fold that face cloth so those who knew his Torah would notice it, and think about it, and perhaps come to understand some small portion of the wonderful fact that it was no longer necessary.

I enter Lent this year acutely aware that I once hid from God instinctively. But the need for coverings between God and me is over. Jesus died, and the temple curtain hiding the Ark of the Covenant was split from top to bottom (another covering cloth divided, of course). Jesus rose again, with his holy face uncovered. And Jesus can lift away all the other barriers between me and my Creator, if I will just believe.

Just as there is no end to God, so everything Jesus said and did means more than I can ever fully know. In fact, I’m still far from understanding everything there is to know about even one detail: that little folded cloth. But beginning with the end in mind on this first day of forty in the wilderness of Lent, I have come to see the empty tomb as far from empty. It is filled to overflowing with eternal riches, so it is not the end I had in mind at all, but the best of all beginnings.

Posted by Athol Dickson

"One thing I have asked of the Lord and that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple."

17 December 2008

The Antikythera Mechanism

The heavily corroded remains of an intricate and strange looking mechanism were found in 1901 in a Mediterranean shipwreck. The calendar dial of the deviceSixty years later after painstaking cleaning and study, it emerged that the device was a mechanical analogue computer for predicting the movements of the sun and moon in the sky. Various replicas have been built based on the known features of the mechanism.

The Antikythera mechanism makes it abundantly clear that the Greeks were advanced, not only in their scientific knowledge, but also in their mechanical technology. Reports from ancient writers like the Roman author, Cicero, describe mechanisms such as Antikythera. But until the corroded remains were recovered and studied these written accounts seemed fanciful. Surely the ancient world had nothing this advanced?

More recent studies have used high resolution X-ray tomography, and better reconstructions have become possible.

One of the later reconstructions can be seen working in the video below. If you view the video from You Tube you can switch to a higher resolution.

The X-ray tomography data has opened up a new window into the workings of the device. But it has also enabled historians to read a considerable amount of Greek text from the metal surfaces. This text consists partly of labels on the various scales and displays the mechanism used to present the positions of planets, calendar dates and so forth. The remainder of the text is a guide on how to use the device.

A great deal can be learned from the inscribed text. The names of the months varied from place to place in the ancient Greek world and this means we can determine its place of manufacture or intended use to be the central Mediterranean, not as originally supposed the eastern Aegean.

A longer and more technical video is presented on the Nature website (select the high resolution version and watch it in full-screen for the best view). There are also links to the Nature paper by Freeth, Jones, Steele, and Bitsakis, and a Nature news story (though there's a fee for the full text of these).

Wikipedia's article on the mechanism provides more detail for the average reader and has an excellent list of references, links, and suggested additional reading. One of the links is an article from New Scientist giving a good deal of background.


13 December 2008

Central darkness

A delicate and rather tricky subject came up recently on a mailing list I belong to. It was the topic of Islam and the meaning of the term 'jihad'. Light breaking through dark cloudOne of us posted a message suggesting that Islam does not support violence and that if we approach Muslims with fairness and kindness we would find the great majority of them to be peace loving people of goodwill, people who might be able to receive the good news of life in Christ if only we would set aside our fear of terrorism and religious war.

I replied, 'I believe we need to be
very cautious here. I'd be the first to recommend peace over war, love over hatred, gentleness over forcefulness, but there is something deeply dark about Islam.'

The original message post suggested we read the article 'Jihad' Not a License to Murder. As you will see if you read it yourself, it's a review of a book called 'A Deadly Misperception'.

I ended my reply with the following words,
We know that we serve the King of Kings, we know that the Father IS love. Certainly, it is love that will win the day in the end, not violence. We must pour out good things on those around us just like Jesus did. We must bless, not curse. But we should not accept anyone who comes with a different message. Be gentle, yes, always! But also be wise.

What was I getting at? What did I mean by 'something deeply dark'? Let's take a look at two aspects of Islam, what it claims and what it does. But before we start I want to stress that I have nothing in my heart but goodwill towards all people, everywhere, whatever they believe, whatever they do.

Love, sin, and forgiveness - I agree with the person who raised the subject on the mailing list. We must show love and respect towards Muslims whenever and wherever we meet them. We must accept all people at face value, not because they are Muslim or Hindu or Christian or Jewish (or of any belief) but because they are people. This is more true for a Christian than for anyone else. Yahshua told us and showed us that we are to love the Almighty with all that is in us, that we are to love one another as he loves us, that we are to love our neighbour just the same way we love ourselves, and that we are even to love our enemies. So on what grounds might we not love a Muslim?

We have all sinned, nobody walking this earth today or in the past can claim to have lived without sin except for one, Yahshua, Jesus, Isa, however you choose to name him. All have sinned and all will have to stand before the one who sits on the heavenly throne.

Will a person be forgiven or condemned? A Muslim cannot know until the judgement day, but if you have repented of your sin and fallen in sorrow and shame at Yahshua's feet believing he is who he claimed to be, if you have trusted in him and no other, he reaches down and raises you to your feet as a new creation. He forgives you, declares you to be free of sin, accepts you, and welcomes you. He also fills you with his presence so that he lives in you and changes you.

This changed life enables the believer to do things that would previously have been impossible. Loving your enemies is one of those things - Yahshua is love in person, because he lives in me I can love with his powerful love instead of my own feeble love.

So I must love all people even if they wish me harm, indeed even if they do me harm. This is utter foolishness to the world.

So what did I mean when I wrote, 'There is something deeply dark about Islam'?

First, I do not say there is something dark about a Muslim, but about Islam. There's a big difference, a Muslim is a person, Islam is a religion. So what do I mean by 'something deeply dark'?

What Islam says - Islam makes many claims and statements and most of them seem harmless enough. But there is one claim that Christians can never accept, and that is that anyone except Yahshua has preeminence.

Islam makes it very, very clear that Isa, though a great prophet, was a lesser prophet than Muhammad. They explain this by claiming that the New Testament writings have been corrupted since they were first penned. Muslims believe that Isa (Jesus) did not claim to be the Almighty dwelling in human form, this was an error added later. Muhammad is the last prophet, the Great Prophet, earlier prophets (including Isa) brought partial truth but Muhammad brought the full truth and the Qur'an (as recited in Arabic) is error-free. Translations are approximations to the meaning and can never be entirely error-free.

Yahshua said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.' And John wrote, 'This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: the Almighty is light; in him there is no darkness at all.' (John 8:12 and 1 John 1:5)

So we see that Yahshua is light and if we follow him we'll have his light as a guide, and that Yahweh is light without even a hint of darkness. We can see that in the same way the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) must also be light. Only light can illuminate our hearts and lives as he does. There is only one light, made known in three persons.

If we are not walking in the light, we are walking in darkness. Everyone who is not following Yahshua does not have the light and is walking in darkness. And who would want to draw a veil of darkness across our minds to prevent us following Yahshua? Why, the accuser, the enemy, the Prince of Darkness - who else?

Yahshua also said, 'The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!' (Matthew 6:22-23) A follower of Islam, denying that Yahshua is the light, is walking in darkness. See how this can change in the most dramatic way.

Quoting another member of the mailing list,
The Spirit of God will always point men to Christ. So if God is
revealing Himself to men through Islam, or any other religion it
will be evident by that alone.

The history of Islam - There is no space here to cover the history fully, it would take many books. Good places to start for anyone wanting to know more would be the Wikipedia articles on Islam, Muslim history and Muslim conquests. It is the spread of Islam that I want to mention briefly here.

Christianity spread by entirely peaceful means in its earliest phases. Believers were often imprisoned or killed for their faith, but they spread by sharing the good news, not by waging war on those around them. Yahshua criticised Peter for using a sword, and that is the pattern we should continue to follow.

There have been times when so-called Christians have used warfare to spread their control and influence. The Crusades in mediaeval times and the Spanish Inquisition are the most obvious examples of violence of this kind. But true followers of Christ would never use such methods! Knowing that Yahshua preached and practiced love towards enemies, how could we ever think that spreading our faith by war or torture could possibly be right? No, the people who did these things were not walking in the light!

And what of the early spread of Islam? Muhammad used warfare against his enemies, taking control in Yathrib (now Medina) and finally conquering Mecca. After his death, his followers continued to use warfare to conquer further cities and nations.

True followers of Yahshua are people of peace, loving all without distinction. Due to misunderstandings, false teachings, and trusting in worldly power rather than in grace those who claimed to follow Jesus have often fallen far short of his command to bless and love.

The same cannot be said of the followers of Islam where violent means are sometimes justifiable. Christianity has sometimes spread by the sword and should hang its head in shame. Islam has often spread by the sword and sees nothing wrong in that. In this way it swept across the whole of once-Christian North Africa. And the trend continues today. Islam aspires to bring the entire world under it's sway and some elements are willing to kill and maim by delivering bombs or raiding cities. We have seen it again and again and again - New York, London, Madrid, Mumbai.

There is a deep darkness hidden in Islam, it is more than just an absence of light. There is something lurking there that always tries to crush the light when he is brought near. Why is it that in the West, Muslims are allowed to build mosques but in Muslim lands Christians are persecuted? Why is it forbidden to share the gospel even in a 'secular' state like Turkey? Why is a Muslim punished (even sometimes with death) for converting to another faith?

Jihad? - Oh yes, there's the little matter of the meaning of the term 'jihad', also part of the original mailing list message and discussed in 'Jihad' Not a License to Murder.

Dictionaries are compiled by researching words as they are used in print. Or to look at it another way, a word means whatever people mean by it. Words also drift in meaning over time. 'Gay' used to mean no more than happy, colourful, joyful, and fun-loving but in today's dictionaries it has shifted considerably.

So what about the Arabic word 'jihad'. It has two meanings, the underlying sense is of a struggle, striving to achieve something, not giving up. It is sometimes used by Muslims to mean the internal struggle to live a holy and pure life, but it is also sometimes used by Muslims to mean warfare against the non-Muslim world. To claim the word has only the first meaning is simply unsupportable. Like all words - it means what people mean by it, no less and no more.

16 November 2008

Fomalhaut b

What, you may ask, is 'Fomalhaut b'? If you are interested in astronomy you will already know. Fomalhaut bFomalhaut b is a planet circling one of our Sun's nearest neighbour stars.

Fomalhaut b has been imaged twice by the Hubble Space Telescope, once in 2004 and again in 2006. This is important because it's the first time a planet outside our own Solar System has been seen to have moved in its orbit around its central star.

This is extraordinary news indeed. It's the same scale of forward step as Galileo seeing craters on the Moon for the first time, or discovering the rings of Saturn, Halley predicting the return of his eponymous comet, or the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969.

Why is it so important? It's a milestone because astronomers have long assumed that other stars have planets. In recent years the presence of such planets has been indirectly detected, but this is the first time we can claim to have seen the light reflected by an exoplanet. You may not have realised it, but you have just lived through a truly historic moment.

The difficulty of making these images is difficult to grasp. Look at the picture again (you can click the image to see the full-size version).

The star - In the middle of the full image (but near the upper left in the article's thumbnail picture) is a small white circle. This is not part of the image, it was added later, but it marks the position of the star (Fomalhaut). In reality the star would be far smaller, just the tiniest speck, it's shown much larger to make it easy to see.

The obscuring disk - if the Hubble telescope had just been pointed at the star, the overpowering brightness would have flooded the image with light so that nothing but glare would be visible.

To see details really close to the star, it's essential to block the direct starlight. This was done by moving an obscuring disk in front of the star, and this is seen in the image as the irregular black area around the central white dot.

The halo of diffracted light - Outside the black zone, some starlight is still diffracted into the surrounding area. This is the circular zone that looks like the iris of an eye, close inspection of the large version of the image reveals that it's made up of lines of light radiating out from the position of the star. This not a real, distant object, it's created by subtle interactions between the starlight and the structure of the telecope.

The debris disk - The oval shape (clearly visible only in the full-size version) is a band of dust, gas, and orbiting rock and ice particles. It's part of a disk of material which is in the process of condensing into planets. Fomalhaut is a young star and is still developing a planetary system.

The planet - Just inside the inner edge of the dusty band is where astronomers thought there might be a planet, and sure enough when they looked they found one! This is a gas giant, probably much like Jupiter though something like twice as large, and it is so bright that many astronomers suspect it must have a ring similar to Saturn's (but larger).

The real clincher is that the planet appears in two Hubble photos of Fomalhaut, taken two years apart. It has moved, as expected, in its orbit around the star.

For more information see

13 October 2008

After the financial crisis

Maybe, just maybe, it's time to pick ourselves up and get to work. The banking system has been dealt a heavy blow and will never be the same again, The Hoover Damthe British economy was already slowing down without credit availability evaporating as well.

It's possible we've turned the corner, the next few weeks should let us know one way or the other. So what are we going to do now?

It's no good thinking we can go back to business as usual. There's been a financial earthquake, the ground has shifted in unexpected ways, what we thought we knew about the landscape doesn't apply any more. The fault lines have distorted everything.

I think the best thing we can do is to take this as a great opportunity. We in the UK need fresh goals for business, we can't survive on our banking prowess because the banking industry has let us down. We need something new. But what?

For all his faults and appalling acts, Adolf Hitler did some things well. He helped Germany recover from the 1930s depression years and the hyper-inflation that had wrecked the German currency. He put the nation to work building autobahns, steelworks, armaments, power stations. The USA had the same idea, building the Hoover Dam for example. Schemes like this provided jobs for the unemployed, put spending money in their pockets, and got the economy moving again. At the same time they created infrastructure that made agriculture and industry more efficient and in many cases the infrastructure is still in use today.

The autobahns are a good example, and so is the Hoover Dam.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Britain should build armaments, but we could certainly take a tip from the famous Dam. Why not put effort into accelerating our move towards greener energy?

Green projects could get our economy moving again, providing employment at a time when it is showing signs of falling, getting money circulating in our local businesses and shops, and providing green energy for tomorrow sooner than would otherwise happen. Wind farms, the Severn Barrage, geothermal schemes, solar energy for heating and power, wave energy and a beefed up research programme would give us a boost now and put our children in better shape for tomorrow.

And there's an opportunity for export too. If we can develop some of these technologies quickly we may be able to sell hardware or licence our designs. Green industries are new industries and that is where the opportunities will be.

25 July 2008

Biblical Church - Beresford Job

Over the last few weeks I've been reading 'Biblical Church' by Beresford Job who lives north-east of London and meets with the Chigwell Christian Fellowship. And what a fascinating read!

The book is well argued and provides plenty of references both to Bible passages and to well known and respected theologians and Biblical commentators. Job uses this as a technique again and again, pointing out that his conclusions about the meaning of Bible texts and Koine Greek words and constructions are in agreement with expert opinion. Job is claiming nothing new, but he is stoutly proclaiming that as believers we are duty bound to put into practice whatever we see in the New Testament concerning church meetings and governance.

He makes it clear that this means meeting in homes not specially constructed buildings, having small meetings as the norm (tens rather than hundreds or thousands), and the absence of any kind of hierarchical structure. He further points out that it's normal for a local body of believers to eat together as well as worship together, and that meetings are not supposed to be a 'service' led from the front, but instead are an expression of community involving everyone in an active, not passive way.

On the whole, this book complements Frank Viola and George Barna's best-seller, 'Pagan Christianity'. The Viola/Barna book explains how the Church came off the rails in the first place, and also describes the changes necessary to get us back on track. Job's work takes the revised, corrected 'version' of local church and fleshes it out with recommendations on how to get from A to B, what difficulties are likely to be encountered, and how to avoid the major pitfalls. 'Pagan Christianity' could be seen as a theoretical analysis, 'Biblical Church' as a practical handbook (although there is plenty of overlap).

There is one area where my understanding differs from Job's, and that concerns the place of women in church life. But as Job himself says, there will always be differences of understanding and differences of emphasis in the Church, but the truly important thing is that we can (and must) love one another through differences of this kind. We must extend to one another the right to be different.

My advice? Read both these excellent books!

21 July 2008

Love song of the Welsh Revival

I've just read a post on the Koinonia Life Discussion Forum (KLDF). Someone has recently heard this wonderful Welsh hymn for the first time and was deeply moved by the words and music. A hundred years ago it was popular in the Welsh Valleys during and following the great revival of 1904.

Here it is, explained and sung by Huw Priday, first in Welsh and then in English. The words are very, very moving. They capture so eloquently the purpose in Yahshua's heart, his love towards us.

Here is Love, vast as the ocean,
Loving-kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His Love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heaven's eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God's mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and Love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heaven's peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in Love.

There are four verses, you can read all of them on Steph's Blog along with some further thoughts.

The Welsh Language
Welsh is a lyrical language, a beautiful language. It's said to express emotion and poetry more richly and naturally than English. The Welsh are great singers too, wonderful male voice choirs are traditional in the villages of the south, and at the Eisteddfodau (music and poetry festivals) there are competitions for choirs, harpists, and male and female solo singers.

Here are are the first two lines of the Welsh version of the hymn.

Dyma gariad fel y moroedd,
Tosturiaethau fel y lli.

The Welsh Revival
Perhaps this has been forgotten in recent years, but in its time it was a great move of the Spirit just like Lakeland or Toronto. There is plenty about the revival on the web, the Welsh Revival website covers it well.

What does it take to bring about revival? The first requirement is to recognise that there is nothing we can do to cause revival. We could exhaust ourselves with the effort of trying, yet still get nowhere. A revival is a work of the Almighty, not the work of men and women striving. Prayer is surely a good preparation, but quite simply when people put Yahshua in his rightful place at the centre of everything, and when hearts are overflowing with love for him and for one another, then we may see revival. Love must always be at the heart of it because the Father and the Son are Love and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Love. There can be no hint of revival unless Love himself is personally present amongst his people. He is the cause!

It's amazing how many of the old hymns were written during times of personal revival or widespread public revival. We should sing them more often! There are many wonderful songs being written today too, but why throw away yesterday's treasures just because we have found further treasures in our own day?

Thanks for raising this topic. You know who you are.

There are several more versions of 'Here is Love' on You Tube. All worth hearing. There's a delighful recording by the famous singer, Katherine Jenkins, one by Matt Redman, and another by a Welsh male voice choir. (Note: the images in this last video may distress some people.)

19 July 2008


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Why am I interested in astronomy? I think it's because I'm fascinated by the vastness of the Universe and the amazing variety of objects it contains - including, of course, the Earth.

I don't remember when I developed this interest. I do remember being 14 or 15 years old and saving my pocket money to buy 'The Observer's Book of Astronomy' (I still have it), and around the same time I remember watching 'The Sky At Night', a monthly TV program that is one of the longest running series ever. It was (and still is) presented by Patrick Moore whose enthusiasm was intense and exciting. That was in the days when TV was only available in black and white.

I remember being even younger and looking at a nearly total eclipse of the Sun through heavily smoked glass, it was 30th June 1954, just a few weeks before my sixth birthday. Dad wanted me to see the eclipse because there wasn't going to be another like it in the UK until 1999!

I also remember projecting an image of the sun with an old telescope, and drawing the sunspots when there were any to be seen. I used the same telescope at night to look at Jupiter and the four Galilean moons.

The fascination has never left me. The more you learn about distant objects, the more you understand about the structure of the Universe, the more amazing it all seems. When I was a small child space exploration was the stuff of science fiction, but when I was nine the Russians launched Sputnik and space became a real place that could be visited. The world had changed, and so did astronomy.

To me it seems an immense priviledge to have witnessed the beginning of spaceflight and the blossoming of modern astronomy. Astronomy had blossomed once before with the invention of the telescope in the early 17th century, but the flow of new information slowed to a crawl once resolution of the instruments reached the limits imposed by the Earth's shimmering atmosphere. But now we could image and measure from outside the atmosphere and a whole new series of possibilities opened up. I drank it all in.

For me, astronomy is special amongst the sciences. It's special because it reveals how vast and how old the Universe is; it gives a better perspective of our own smallness. So there is a tangible link with my Christian beliefs, astronomy helps me to understand that bringing the Universe into existence was a task requiring unimaginable authority and imagination.

Then there are links with photography because imaging is such an important technique in astronomy. Many astronomical images are breathtakingly beautiful, if you want to enjoy some you can do much worse than visit the 'Astronomy Picture Of The Day' (APOD).

Computing is essential in modern astronomy, and computer simulations of the night sky are interesting and instructive. There are clear links between astronomy and other sciences such as physics, chemistry, and even biology. And there are links with technology too, how would you do astronomy without a spacecraft, a telescope, a camera - it's a long list.

There are powerful links with history and archaeology, astronomy allows dates to be tied to recorded events like solar eclipses and planetary conjunctions. If a Chinese, Egyptian or Sumerian record says there was an eclipse on the 12 day of the eighth month of the third year of so-and-so's reign we may be able to lock the ancient calendar onto a date in our own calendar.

I could continue, but I think you get the idea. We live in an amazing place, so big that this Earth of ours is just a tiny speck. Astronomy shows us how small we truly are. It gives us a sense of proportion. And it's connected with almost everything we are and do.

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