Thursday, January 11, 2018

A FEW WORDS FROM MY WIFE

  My dear bride Patty celebrated her birthday this week (I won't say how old she is, but she is one month younger than me, so now we are the same age again!).  She recently posted this on her FB page, and I was quite impressed with it.  Patty is a woman of deep faith and deep thoughts, and she occasionally shares these in the form of online devotions like this.  So I figured I would share it with all of you.  Read on and enjoy!


                                                       ONE WAY OR MANY?


I have had several instances recently where people say things like it would be unfair of God to only accept those who believe in Jesus. Or that all the ways and religions lead to God. I thought I would explain in my limited view why I believe it is both right and fair that Jesus is the only path to God.
It all begins with the love of God for his creation. God, who knows the heart of man, looked at his creation, who was created to have fellowship with God, in His very image... and eternal, and saw great wickedness. In his love for His creation God mourned. God did not seek revenge, did not seek to punish. He just deeply mourned the loss of His creation that had removed themselves from God's presence by pursuing wickedness. 


A system of sacrifices did not suffice to permanently restore a relationship with God. It could not depend on what men do, since they do not have the ability to stay pure 100% of their lives. There would be moments of weakness and moments of doubt. Man contemplates temptation and thinks on wickedness even if he might not show it. Man's salvation could clearly not come from man.
Therefore God himself, emptied himself of his "Godness" came to earth and was born to grow up a human in a modest and humble home. GOD, called Jesus, did live a life without wickedness. There were no moments of weakness in faith or doubts. He did not contemplate sin. In other words, Jesus did something man cannot. He lived a perfect and righteous life if God's eyes. JESUS, in full knowledge of what the price would be (His death in a very brutal way) offered himself, our very creator, as a sacrifice for our wickedness to forgive all past and future sins and to once and for all restore a relationship with Himself that is eternal for all who choose. 


  THIS IS AN ACT THAT DEMANDS A RESPONSE. This is God, who died for you and for me. Not a surrogate, not a prophet, but God. He did not send a messenger, he did not remove our free will and force a response. He died, to offer us a way, demanding nothing from us except that we believe and honor His sacrifice on our behalf. 


 Jesus is the only way, because it was God who came down and allowed Himself to be tortured and murdered for each and every individual on Earth. I don't know of another path or religion that has God personally act to save every person. Jesus is the only way, because all other ways pale in comparison, and pale in forgiveness' power. No other way i am familiar with has a single act forgive past present and future sins for believers. None other require nothing from man outside of belief . If man could not save himself, forcing God to take on the entire burden of out salvation, then man can't do it today either. It is not unfair for God to make this single event the way He chooses to judge. After all, He died for you, what more do you want. It is fair, because God did all the work and requires nothing other than for us to acknowledge what God has done for us.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Ten Reasons to Believe the Gospels Were Telling the Truth

   I take a lot of smack-talk from my various atheist friends over why I would place so much importance in a two thousand year old book, so much so that I stake my immortal soul on its truth.  While I do recognize that belief in Christianity is ultimately a step of faith, I also believe that faith doesn't have to be blind.  I think that history and archeology make a strong case that the Gospels are telling the truth about who Jesus was and what He did.  I first wrote this a couple of years ago, but I have recently updated and expanded it - so here you are:


TEN REASONS TO BELIEVE THE BIBLICAL GOSPELS

ARE TELLING THE TRUTH
(with a couple of new bonus reasons added free of charge!)
 

 

1.  First of all, they were written well within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life.  The Rylands Papyrus fragment (about 6 verses from John 18) is reliably dated to 125 AD.  Considering that it was found in the Egyptian hinterland, hundreds of miles from Ephesus, where it was written, this would certainly seem to indicate that John's Gospel was composed a decade or two earlier - which would put it in the 90's AD, which is exactly when tradition has always claimed it was written - by a very aged Apostle John.

2.  The Diatesseron - the first ever harmony of the four Gospels - was composed around 178 AD, which shows that not only did all four Gospels exist at that point, but that all four of them were already regarded as authentic and authoritative by that time.  Neither the “Gospel of Thomas,” nor any of the other Gnostic Gospels, were included in this work, only the four New Testament Gospels.

3. The earliest Christian writings outside the NT - I Clement, the Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas, and the writings of Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Ignatius - all contain recognizable quotes from the canonical Gospels. They quote these Gospels as authoritatively as they quote history.  All four of those works date from the period of 90 AD to 160 AD.  The Gospels must have existed for a considerable period of time and been widely recognized as Apostolic in origin for the Church fathers to regard them as the go-to source to settle doctrinal disputes.

4.  The Magdalene papyri (several verses from the Gospel of Matthew) are now generally dated to the end of the Second Century, however, one paleographer has made a very convincing case that the handwriting on them is much closer to First Century than late Second/early Third Century writings.  This could place these three papyrus fragments as early as 70 AD.  If so, they would now be the earliest known pieces of the New Testament.

5.  Papias, who died in 130 AD, left an account of the origins of all four canonical Gospels.  Although his full works are no longer extant, he is widely quoted by later Christian sources, most notably Eusebius.  He linked every one of the Gospels to an apostolic source.

6.  Josephus' testimony about Jesus, although almost certainly interpolated by later Christian copyists, is still considered authentic by a strong majority of scholars, as are his references to the death of John the Baptist and James the Just - and while details vary, all three citations generally corroborate the NT narrative.

7.  The recent discovery of a fair-sized fragment of Mark is reported to date to approximately 70 AD, although the scholarship on it is, as yet, unpublished.  If authentic, this would be the strongest piece of evidence yet that the Gospels were based on eyewitness testimony. (Two years later, there has still been nothing published about this find, so it may prove to be either a hoax or else wrongly dated – or else the analysis is simply taking longer than was originally thought.)

8.  Paul's account of the Last Supper in II Corinthians, a book universally recognized as authored by Paul around 54 AD, follows Matthew's account of the event very closely.  No serious scholar disputes that Paul wrote this; therefore, Matthew’s version of the first Communion was already in circulation by the mid-50’s AD.

9.  Paul's list of the Resurrection appearances in I Corinthians 15 also follows the order and general outline of the Gospel accounts. 

10.  Finally, the Anti-Marcionite prologue, written around 150 AD, defends the authenticity of the four Canonical gospels while condemning Marcion's rejection of Christianity's Jewish roots and his dismissal of Matthew's Gospel. 

 

BONUS:  The fact that the mainstream church rejected about two dozen pseudepigraphical Gospels written in the Second and Third Century but universally accepted the four Canonical Gospels as authentic shows that they were of considerable antiquity and long-established credibility, long before the later councils of Nicaea and Hippo formalized that recognition.

BONUS THE SECOND:  None of the four canonical Gospels have ever been attributed to another writer.  But three of the four Gospels were linked to very minor figures in the New Testament narrative (Mark, Luke, and Matthew). This is a strong argument for their authenticity.  After all, if you were writing a forged account of Jesus’ life, why not attribute it to one of the heavy hitters among the disciples, like Peter or James?  Why attribute them to men who are barely even mentioned in the rest of the NT – unless those men were the actual authors?

Monday, December 25, 2017

REFLECTIONS ON THE CHRISTMAS PRESENT

   OK, this title is a teeny bit misleading by design.  It's not really about "the Christmas Present," as in this year's Christmas of 2017.  It's about THE Christmas present, a most amazing gift that was presented to me by my mother this evening.  I've been given many great gifts over the years, but this one surpasses all the others.

   What is it? you ask.  A new car, a fully furnished lake house, a one hundred per cent foolproof guide to getting my books on the New York Times best-seller list?  Nope, none of the above (although if any of you have that last one, feel free to send it to me!).  No, what my Mom gave me was a Bible.  Not even a new Bible, a used one.  As a matter of fact, it is more used than just about anything in my house other than my Indian arrowheads and my small collection of Roman relics!

   You see, in 1834, a 27 year old Kentuckian immigrated to the province of Northern Mexico known as Tejas.  His name was Obadiah Smith, and he brought along his wife Elizabeth and a brand new Bible they had purchased in New Orleans, LA before crossing the border. (Illegally, I might add, since under the Decree of April 6, 1830, immigration from the USA to Texas had been suspended.  That's right - I'm a descendant of the ORIGINAL "wetbacks"!)  Obadiah was my grandfather's grandfather, and now I am the fifth in a long line of Smiths to own this treasured family possession.

   As a child, I loved this Bible.  I thumbed through it, looking at the list of births, marriages, and deaths recorded in the section between the Old and New Testaments.  I stared in wonder at the recorded births of two family slaves, one born in 1850, the other in 1853.  My Grandfather Smith, whom I never met (he was born in 1889 and died in 1959, four years before I was born), remembered those former slaves, now in their 40's, coming across the border from Louisiana to visit their former mistress, his wife Elizabeth, at Thanksgiving every year when he was little.  They always brought him presents, and he looked forward to their arrival. (This is not an attempt on my part to put some sort of rosy tint on the "Peculiar Institution," it's just a family memory my Dad passed on from his Dad.)  I also enjoyed trying to figure out an inscription in the back, written in fading pencil, of some sort of home remedy for headaches.

   When I was around ten, I drew a treasure map on a piece of notebook paper and stained it yellow with tea so it would look old and then secreted it for several weeks in the pages of this old Bible. Then I "found" it and tried to convince my siblings, all older than me, that it was the real deal.  I'm not sure what gave it away - the fact that I used a ball point pen, or that the paper was, in fact, official H.R. Puffinstuff stationary!  (Fellow late-stage Baby Boomers will get that reference instantly, for the rest of you, there is Google!)

  Now as a grown man, I look at this old book and think of all the history that has unfolded since my grandfather's grandfather bought it for three dollars and fifty cents (quite a large sum in those days, I might add!) so long ago.  Andrew Jackson was President in 1834; thirty-seven men have held that office since then.  (No, that's not a math error, Grover Cleveland served non-consecutive terms and was both the twenty-second and twenty-fourth President of the United States!)  This Bible was loaded into a wagon headed for the Louisiana border during the Runaway Scrape phase of the Texas Revolution, and was sitting on a shelf or table in my family's home during the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the War on Terror.  It has survived the Panics of 1837, 1873, 1893, and the Great Depression.  There were twenty-four states in the Union when this Bible was purchased, now there are fifty.

  Abraham Lincoln was a struggling storekeeper when Obadiah bought this book; Queen Victoria was an unknown teenage great-niece of the popular "Sailor King" William IV of England, and France was still a monarchy under King Louis Philippe.  Winston Churchill would not be born for another forty years.  All the gold in California was still buried in the foothills above Sacremento, and Santa Anna had just wriggled his way into power as the President of Mexico. Much of the world was still unexplored by Europeans, and the technologies that would transform the nineteenth century were either not yet invented (the telegraph and the camera) or in their infancy (the locomotive and the assembly line).

   All this history and more has come and gone since this book was purchased by an anxious young newlywed on his way to make a new life in the undeveloped, mostly unexplored territory of Texas.  One can never truly own such a piece of history - we can guard it, protect it, care for it, and then pass it down to the next generation.    My Dad's wishes were clear - since I am the pastor in this generation of my family, I am to be the caretaker of this sacred text for the duration of my life.  When I die, my nephew Thomas, the only one of the ten Smith grandchildren who will carry on the family name, will have it next.  From there, it will pass to a generation yet unborn.

   But this Christmas, it belongs to me and my house for the first time.  It is a gift that is awe-inspiring, humbling, and one that reminds me of the sacred event we celebrate this season.  The pages may be yellowed with age, the language archaic, and the print tiny, but Luke Chapter Two still reads:
"Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

Amen!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

OLDER AND MORE MARRIED THAN EVER BEFORE!!!

  December is a crazy month for everyone.  There's Christmas for most folks, Hanukah for our Jewish friends, and New Year's Eve for everybody.  Time off work for parents, time out of school for kids, seeing relatives you generally only see once a year, buying gifts, it's all a lot of fun and a lot of stress.

  But in the Smith household it gets even crazier during this season.  You see, December 13 is my birthday, December 15 is our anniversary, and then my wife celebrates her birthday January 9.  Of course, with both of us being teachers, this comes in the middle of semester exams for me and Christmas programs for my wife, who teaches music, as well as the normal holiday hullabaloo that everyone goes through.  Needless to say, by February we are flat broke and ready for the relative calm of - well, the rest of the year.

   So, want to walk through the last few days with me? 

  I woke up on my birthday, now 54 years of age.  That means, for the next three months, I am 54 and my wife is only 53. I will be an "old man" till January 9, and then I will mysteriously become young again.  Funny how that works!  Anyway, she woke me up with a kiss and a "Happy Birthday!" and then started in.

  "Do you need a cane to get out of bed?  Or maybe my Mom's walker? Oh, wait, I bet you can't hear me!  Shall I go buy you a hearing aid?" 

    It's going to be a long three weeks.

   Really, birthdays used to not bother me as much, but recently they really have begun to get on my nerves.  I mean, before 40, they are nothing.  When that first digit is still in the threes, you can still honestly refer to yourself as a "young" person.  Then, in the forties, the self-deception begins.  It helps if you look somewhat young for your age, which most folks say I did and still do.  It's always nice to find and, if possible, hang around with people who are younger than you but look older (and if they are fatter than you that's a bonus!).  But in your forties, you can still reasonably say that you are young, or at least, on the low side of middle aged.  After all, you are still active, look relatively decent, and can do most of the stuff you always did.  But you begin to notice those activities take a bigger toll on you than they once did, and you take longer to recover from them.  Then you hit the late forties, and that "I'm still young!" claim rings more and more hollow.

   Then fifty comes along - the big Five Oh, the Half Century mark.  At that point, you have to grudgingly acknowledge that you are, by no stretch of the imagination, young anymore.  You may still feel that way from time to time (although those moments are fewer and further between), and you are certainly still allowed to act as immature as ever (something I specialize in, and working around teens every day gives me an excuse).  But the fact is, after fifty, you're getting old.  And every year over fifty, you realize that you are beyond halftime and  in the third quarter - maybe even the fourth, who knows?  You just want to avoid the "sudden death" part of the game if you can.  Well, honestly, "sudden" death begins to have a certain appeal as you watch people not that much older than you going by inches from cancer, or diabetes, or any one of a number of other problems that can sneak up on you at any minute once you're past fifty, mostly because you accidentally and not on purpose ate several thousand cheeseburgers and fried pieces of chicken when you were much, much younger (like last week!).

   But it was a nice day, nonetheless.  My seventh graders brought me a cake (although they had this odd idea that I was supposed to share it with them - doubtless some adolescent concept that has come along since my time, but I humored the quaint notion and divvied it up with all seventeen of them, just to be nice).  My wife got me a card that said "So you're a year older!  Look at the bright side!"  Now that's an admirable sentiment, until you open the card and it says: "Just kidding, there is no bright side!  There's a bright light, but you're gonna want to stay away from that . . ."  Very funny, dear.  Actually it was pretty funny, to tell you the truth.  My daughters got me a $40 WalMart gift card and a birthday card that had a picture of Jesus distributing loaves and fishes to a crowd, who were all whining about whether the fish had been tested for mercury, if the bread was gluten-free, et cetera, with an inside quip that said:  "Ignore the complainers and have a happy birthday!"  Good advice there, but what if I am the complainer?  However, they also made me my favorite chocolate cake in the world, and I DIDN'T have to share it with a hungry class full of seventh graders, so bonus points for them there.

   The day after my birthday I got a late present from my best friend, Ellie, and her daughter - a hardcover copy of George W. Bush's biography of his Dad (a beautiful little book, I had read it but didn't own a copy), and also a STAR WARS calendar from Ellie's little girl, who knows my taste in movies all too well.  So, overall, despite my advancing years, I must admit this year's birthday really didn't suck.

   Friday night was our 33rd wedding anniversary.  Thirty-three years together for me and Patty, sometimes it feels like it's only been a few weeks (and, very rarely, it feels like it's been several centuries!).  We both had to teach all day, but we met up after school and ate supper at Chili's (which was largely paid for by a gift card from work, always nice to go get good food and not have to pay for it!).  I still think's Chili's original chicken crispers are perhaps the best you can get anywhere, and when you have cream gravy to dip them in - well, the world is your burrito!  (Wow, I am really mixing up my food metaphors, aren't I?)

   After dinner we went out on our big anniversary date:  a movie night to see STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI!  Now, I would not spoil anybody's enjoyment of the film by listing spoilers here in my blog  (OK, OK, I lied, HUGE spoiler here - Gandalf is not really dead!  He returns as Gandalf the White!), but we both enjoyed the movie immensely.  The fact is, we have watched EVERY single STAR WARS movie in the theater together since the summer between seventh and eighth grade, when we watched A NEW HOPE together as (barely) teenage sweethearts.

   So all in all, it's been a nice week, despite the fact that I am standing on the brink of encroaching senility, catastrophic organ failure, and the explosive ear hair growth that is the curse of us old geezers everywhere.  I guess getting older and more married than ever before is not that bad - still, I kind of like the idea of letting anniversaries take the place of birthdays.  Next year I will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of my twenty-fifth birthday right before I celebrate my thirty-fourth wedding anniversary.  Then let's see her call me "old" for three weeks straight!!!
    PS:  Did I mention this month is expensive?  You can help out your favorite penniless author avoid the doghouse for not buying his wife a birthday gift AND the humiliation of eating cat food for the rest of January by clicking this link and purchasing one of my marvelous novels. They are guaranteed to entertain and are absolutely, one hundred per cent gluten free!!!

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&text=Lewis+Ben+Smith&search-alias=books&field-author=Lewis+Ben+Smith&sort=relevancerank

Monday, December 4, 2017

A NEW SHORT STORY WITH AN OLD TITLE!

  I had no intention of writing a new blog post tonight, and in fact had no clue what my next post was going be.  But I was shopping at Wal-Mart earlier today and noticed something odd: a trio of young men, one with both arms free, one with his left arm in a sling, and one with his left arm amputated at the elbow, all standing there and talking like old friends.  It was just an odd sight, and I mentioned it to a friend of mine who is also a writer later this evening.  She issued me a challenge: that we should each write a short story describing how these guys came by their injuries.  So while I sat grading Dual Credit U.S. History tests, this story was churning and turning in my head, and when the tests were graded, I sat down and wrote the first story.  This morning I got an email from Ellie with her story. Hers is a LOT shorter and a LOT darker than mine, but like everything she writes, it's pure genius. I have included it after my own entry; I think hers is actually better and delivers quite the punch, but I'll let you decide for yourself:




                               A FAREWELL TO ARMS

                                  (OR, THE PERILS OF REPTILE WRESTLING!)

 

 

          Mike, Charlie, and Bob – or, “Slugger, Peanut-head, and Scrappy,” as they called each other – stood in the deli in the front of a Wal-Mart store in a nondescript little Texas town.  All three of them were twenty-five or thereabouts; scruffy looking young white men with shaggy hairdos, goatees, and assorted tattoos on their arms.  In short, they looked like any other trio of millennial skate-rats that could be hanging out in any mall or store in America, checking out the babes and seeing if they had enough money to buy some Jack Daniels, or at least a case of Budweiser – but with one exception. While Mike (Slugger) had two long, hairy arms with a yin and yang symbol tattooed on one and a geisha on the other, Charlie (Peanut-head) had one arm tightly wrapped in a white gauze bandage and supported by a sling.  Bob – AKA Scrappy – did him one better:  his left arm was missing at the elbow and had been for a long time, as evidenced by the well-healed stump that he swung back and forth as he talked with his friends.

          Brittany Jane and her best friend Daisy saw the three guys standing by the deli and checked them out.  It was freaky, thought Brittany, with the three of them standing there in a row, one with both arms present and useful, one temporarily disabled, and one permanently maimed.  She was a pretty, perky young blonde with a long track record of getting guys to do whatever she wanted, so she decided to find out what their story was.

          “Hey, guys,” she said.

          “Hello yourself, sweet thing!” said Mike.

          “Ignore him, lady, we just took him out of the special kids’ home yesterday,” said Charlie.

          “Actually, they’re both retarded,” said Bob.  “I’m the only respectable one in the bunch.  How are you doing?”

          Brittany laughed – she loved watching guys trip all over themselves when she turned on her signature smile.  Daisy, who was quiet and shy by comparison, enjoyed watching her brassy friend turn guys into gibbering idiots.

          “The three of you are quite a team,” she said.  “I couldn’t help but notice your injuries.  Were you, like, in Iraq or somewhere?”

          “Worse, we’re from Louisiana!” said Scrappy.

          “So what happened to your arm?” she asked.

          “This old thing?” he said, waving his stump.  “Well, it’s a bit of a long story.”

          “If I buy you each a latte, can I hear it?” she said, curious now.

          “Sure thing, sweetcakes!” said Bob.

          “She’s gonna put vinegar in yours if you keep that up, moron!” said Scrappy.

          “I’ve heard worse,” she said.  “You guys order and I’ll pay.  Daisy, you get one too!  But -” she gave the men a sour look – “if the story’s no good, you three have to take us out for Mexican!”

          The three millennials ordered their coffees and sat down side by side, across from the two girls.  Brittany and Daisy were both cute and they knew it, and the guys were already trying to figure out which two of them were going to score dates and which one would strike out.

          “OK, fellas, story time!” said Brittany.

          “All right,” Scrappy began.  “My real name is Bob, but my buds here call me Scrappy because I love a good fight.  We all grew up in Sabine Parish, just across the border, near Toledo Bend lake. We used to fish, hunt, drink, and chase girls all summer long up and down the eastern shore.  Lots of parks and campgrounds, lots of pretty, bored chicks trying to get away from their family vacations for a few hours.  Well, one day we were tossing a frisbee back and forth at Huey Long State Park when Peanut-head here” -  he nodded at Charlie – “made a bad throw and the disk went into the water.  Well, we were all in our trunks anyway, so I dove in after it, hot-dogging it off the dock and swimming underwater and generally being a show-off.  I was holding the frisbee up to show I had it and yelling ‘There can be only one!’ when something grabbed my free arm and yanked me under, hard!”

          “Wow!” she said.  “What was it, an alligator?  My Dad always said that lake was full of them.”

          “It was the biggest gator I ever saw, fourteen feet if he was an inch,” interrupted Mike.  “He surfaced with Scrappy here in his mouth, screaming bloody murder, going into a death roll. I jumped off the dock without thinking and grabbed goofus here by his free arm, with Peanut-head right behind me, and we played tug-o-war with that gator for what felt like five minutes, although it was probably just a few seconds. I remember seeing that the beast was really old, with lots of scars, and one of his front legs had the foot bitten clean off.  About that time I heard a loud ripping sound, and we went tumbling over backwards with Scrappy landing on us.  The water was churned up and bloody, and we all floundered back to the beach as fast as we could, but the gator had done made off with Scrappy’s arm!  I grabbed my belt out of the truck and used it as a tourniquet while Peanut-head called the ambulance.  In the middle of all this, Scrappy suddenly held up his good arm and somehow, he was still holding the stupid frisbee!”

          “I was pretty light-headed,” said Scrappy, “but I remember tossing it back to Peanut-head and saying, ‘Keep it out of the water next time!’ right before I passed out.”

          Brittany was impressed despite herself, and Daisy was staring in wide-eyed wonder at the one-armed storyteller.

          “Wow, that’s a great story,” Brittany said.  “I’ve never met someone who survived an alligator attack before!”

          “Oh, that’s not the half of it!” Peanut-head told her.

          “There’s more?” she said with a raised eyebrow.

          “You think I was gonna let some oversized lizard eat my friend’s arm and get away with it?”  he said.  “Me and Slugger started hunting that critter the very next weekend.  Problem was, he was an old gator that didn’t move around much, and his haunt was in that state park.  He had lost most of his fear of people, too, and that made him dangerous.  It’s a miracle he didn’t eat some kid in that swimming area, but there were usually enough jet skis around to keep him scared off.  We talked to the rangers, but they were absolutely insistent that we could not shoot him anywhere in the part itself.  So we got a john boat and began following him all the time, whenever we could see him.  He was easy to track; he was hands down the biggest gator on that part of the lake.”

          “After I got out of the hospital I joined them,” Scrappy said.  “I owed that dang gator one for eating my arm!  So we rowed around, or used a trolling motor, for the next two summers, tracking the stupid beast.”

          “I’m not sure how stupid he was,” said Slugger.  “He never once let us catch him outside the park. It was like he knew exactly where the property line was!  We sure knew – we had it figured out just how far the park extended on either side of the public swimming area, just in case we caught that gator over the line.  But we never did!”

          “But a few weeks ago we noticed that one of his new basking spots was only about twenty feet from the line,” said Peanut-head.  “So we decided, if the gator wouldn’t leave the park on his own, we might help him a little, you know?”

          “Wait a minute,” said Brittany.  “You decided to kidnap an alligator?”

          “Well, I wouldn’t call it kidnapping,” said Scrappy.  “Just relocating to his place of execution.  The state does it to criminals, right?”

          “And for what it’s worth, this gator was getting really bold,” said Slugger.  “I watched him follow a fisherman down a hundred yards of shoreline, waiting for him to step off the bank.”

          “I actually hit him with a boat paddle once because he was so close to some kids swimming,” said Peanut-head.  “It was just a matter of time before he actually ate somebody.”

          “So, anyway, about two weeks ago, we saw him basking on a mud bank just a few yards from where the park’s property line ends,” Scrappy said.  “We decided that it was time for Mr. Gator to meet some Louisiana justice!”

          “We had actually gone to the gator farm and practiced wrangling some smaller alligators, just to get used to it,” said Slugger.  “My cousin works there and he got us in after hours.  So we ran the boat up on the bank a hundred yards away and cut up into the woods with some rope and duct tape.  Me and Peanut-head led the way, with Scrappy bringing up the rear since he was short-handed, so to speak!”

          “Up yours, dipweed!” said Scrappy.

          “Well, hey, we let you carry the most important piece of equipment,” said Peanut-head.

          “What was that?” asked Daisy, speaking up for the first time.

          “The gator-killer,” said Scrappy with a grin.  “A .44 automag!”

          “So anyway,” said Slugger, “I jumped on the gator’s back and pinned its head down, just like the old Crocodile Hunter used to do! He was monstrous strong, mind you, and it was all I could do to keep him from dragging me into the lake!”

          “I was busy trying to duct-tape its mouth shut,” said Peanut-head, “Which was hard because the old monster was slick with mud and thrashing its head back and forth really hard.  About that time it bucked old Slugger off just like it was a rodeo bull, and all of a sudden those big old jaws came clamping down on my arm!  I was squalling like a castrated calf, and that monster started dragging me to the water.  Then Slugger here got ahold of my free arm and was trying to pull me loose, and all I can think is: ‘Here we go again!’  Then old Scrappy comes running up with that pistol.”

          Scrappy cut back into the story before his buddy could finish.

          “I was scared half to death,” he said, “but all I could think was that oversized lizard was NOT going to eat my friend’s arm too!  I stuck that pistol right at the base of its skull and pulled the trigger before I could chicken out.  The gun kicked so hard it went flying out of my hand, and I ran after it because I thought I might need another round.  But when I grabbed it and whirled around, that gator was barely twitching.  That .44 made a hole the size of a marble going in and about the size of a softball going out!  The vet who looked it over called it a perfect ‘internal decapitation.’  He had to explain to me what that meant, but apparently I cut the gator’s head off with that bullet without actually cutting its head off.  That make sense to you?”

          “Yeah,” said Brittany.  “I saw it on Forensic Files one time.  Severs the spine but leaves the neck muscles attached, is what it does!  So what did you guys do next?”

          “Well, I bandaged up Peanut-head here,” said Slugger.  “Then all three of us dragged that gator to the other side of the property line and laid him out on a mud bank there.  After that Scrappy helped our buddy back to the boat while I went over to where the tussle happened and tried to erase as much of our tracks and the blood as I could.  When I was done, we got on our cells and called the ambulance and the Game Warden.”

          “I had to have about fifty stitches on my arm,” said Peanut-head, “But the doc said I’ll have full use of it.”

          “We’re all going in together to get the alligator stuffed and mounted,” Scrappy said.  “We’re opening a bait shop next year, and we’re gonna hang him on the wall behind our counter.”

          “That was the best story ever!”  said Daisy.

          “I agree,” said Brittany.  “In fact, I think I’m gonna buy you guys Mexican.  TaMolly’s OK?”

          “That’s the place just down the service road, isn’t it?” said Slugger.

          “One and the same,” she said.  “Tell you what, since we’re an odd number, I’m gonna text my friend Jessica and have her meet us there.  Think you could tell her the whole story again?”

          “Why not?” said Peanut-head.

          “Well hop in your car and follow me!” she said. “I’m driving the bright yellow Mazda parked over by the cart corral on the pharmacy end of the store.”

          “We’re in a black F-150,” said Slugger.  “See you in a few.”

          The three guys didn’t say a word till they got in the truck, then all three collapsed in hysterical laughter.

          “A giant, three-legged gator?  Really?” said Slugger.

          “It sounded better than a lawn-mower repair accident,” said Scrappy.  “Thanks for playing along!”

          “And it definitely sounded better than getting my arm half chewed off by my ex’s Rottweiler because I was trying to break into her house and get my PS4 back,” said Peanut-head.

          “Well, let’s go over the details again, and make sure we have the story straight,” said Slugger, “and we might have a very fun evening ahead of us!”




AND HERE IS ELLIE'S STORY:

                                                   Grisvard: A Tale in 100 Words
 

“There’s no telling how much flesh the Master will extract in exchange for His blessing?” the Millennial nervously inquired.

“No,” answered the acolyte, missing an arm, result of the Old God’s “kiss.”

“Stick your arm in the black portal below the hidden storeroom at Wal-Mart,” the second acolyte told him, pointing to his bandaged limb. “Sometimes, He’s hungry, sometimes he only…nibbles.”

Heart-pounding with excitement at the idea of feeding the ancient master, slumbering these 7,000 years in the Cavern of Miseries, the initiate nodded and proceeded to the sacred altar, to offer his right arm in exchange for Grisvard’s blessing….
         

Thursday, November 23, 2017

THE SHOCKING TRUE HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING!

   I've consistently run a little late on my blog updates of late, so for once I thought I would be early.  Since my topics have been pretty serious and academic of late, I figured something fun and lighthearted would be in order.  One of my closest friends wrote this and posted it on a message board we both belong to, so I asked her permission to share it with the world here . . . and it's a total hoot!  Without further ado, I present to you:


               THE TRUE HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING

                                                       By Ellie R.

 

I hereafter present the true story of Thanksgiving, in order to combat increasing ignorance on the subject of American history. (Fun fact: there was no history before American history.)

Back in 1620, wanting better shopping choices, a bunch of black-clad Goths called pilgrims put on their tall hats and left England to settle in the Netherlands, but the climate depressed them, so led by Miles Standish and Abraham Lincoln they brought back tulip bulbs and grew May flowers in Kew Gardens and that’s why they named their boat the Mayflower, which they built forty Cupids long on Valentimes Day expecting rain for forty days and forty nights, packing the ship with two of every kind of animal except unicorns and dinosaurs (which unlike unicorns never existed), and they let on three wise men who had GIFs, and flew a flag sewn by Betsy Ross and other first ladies.

(Historians say this error about the expected flood was based on lack of corrective eye wear back then and poor light for reading, so they confused the Bible with Poor Richard’s Almanack.)

The failure of the rain to appear embarrassed the pilgrims, who faced many taunts from the English, as they paused their oppression of the Irish long enough to say such things as: “You are all overweight, falsely polite, you drive on the wrong side of the road, and your accent makes you sound like you’re talking out your noses!”

“Yeah, meet us at Yorktown in another 160 years and we’ll see who’s laughing then!” ten-year-old George Washington replied with his most beloved quote as he hurled a silver dollar at them from across the Delaware while chopping down a cherry tree to make himself some wooden teeth.

Meanwhile John Quincy Adams took a nude swim and roundly mooned them, and John Hancock made some very large rude signs, so large in fact that King George had no trouble reading them without his spectacles, and promptly went mad for fifty years because he he had the blood disorder porpyheria that may have made him a vampire.

With that the pilgrims got onto their three boats, Ninapeentaasantamaria, the Mayflower and the SS Minnow, and sailed west across the Atlantic from Independence Hall Philadelphia on July 4th. The SS Minnow, despite having a fearless crew, was presumed lost with its seven passengers, including millionaire JJ Astor and a cute boy named Jack (who invented making out in a car), and the Ninapeentaasantamaria caused Columbus Day, but the Mayflower reached America on Black Friday, finding a land of ample shopping opportunities and fine deals on electronics, even though they hadn’t been invented by Ben Franklin yet. Soon the pilgrims had eaten two of every kind of animal and many of them starved, so they ate the three wise men with a side order of frankincense and myrrh.

However the Mayflower landed near Cambridge, Mass (“Our fair city!”) hundreds of miles above where the Virginia colony existed with its shopping opportunities and very large grapes, so the people made friends with the Cleveland Indians (who were good at fishing and growing corn) and farmed tobacco and spread smallpox and undertook other crimes against humanity, populating America from their base at Ellie’s Island, until they got fed up with the high price of tea and stamps and the revolution came on July 4, 1976, at which time Alexander Hamilton, a gay Puerto Rican, sang a lot and eventually got shot after he angered Aaron Burr for coming out with the larger half of the wishbone on Thanksgiving day in 1492.

Uh, I think there was also something about “Four Score Years Ago…” apple pie, and landing on the moon but I covered most of it, so anyway enjoy your turkey and be proud you’re American, or at least married to one, or barring that friends with some, and if none of that applies to you, sigh, I am so, so sorry you have so little in life to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

WAS JESUS OF NAZARETH A REAL PERSON?

     Wow!  Another week, another 400 views for this little blog!  I appreciate all of you who stop by and read this every week more than I can say, and I hope what I write is always worth your time.

     I have never been one to shy away from debate, and this week has been an exceptionally frustrating one in that regard.  A longtime atheist sparring partner of mine has recently adopted the position that Jesus of Nazareth never even existed as a historical person.  In fact, he's taken it one step further:  He says both the books of the New Testament, and Christianity ITSELF did not exist prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, when the Romans, led by Emperor Constantine and Bishop Eusebius, simply cobbled it together out of existing religious themes in order to create a single religion in order to unify the Empire.

    Now, honestly, that latter claim is so ludicrous that I am not going to address it at length.  There is Christian graffiti in the Catacombs of Rome dating to the earliest decades of the Second Century AD, and there are so many Christian authors that wrote commentaries on the Gospels and the Books of the New Testament in the Second Century (Clement of Rome, Papias, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Justin Martyr, just to name a few, plus the various Gnostic Gospels and epistles, written in the Second and Third Centuries) that claiming there were no Christians prior to Constantine's time is to deny history that is universally accepted by virtually all scholars, liberal and conservative, agnostic and faithful. Plus you'd still have to account for several hundred manuscripts of Christian writings that have been carefully and accurately dated by archeologists to the Second and Third Centuries.  Frankly, denying the existence of Christianity prior to the Council of Nicaea is to deny eighteen hundred centuries of history, scholarship, and research, much of it by non-Christians.

   But, the first point is certainly worth rebutting.  Too many people today are willing to accept what they read on the net at face value, and so if they see someone claiming that Jesus never existed, then they pick the idea up without thinking much about it and pass it on to someone else.  That's how falsehoods grow and thrive in the digital age - anyone can write up anything in halfway coherent prose and post it online, and the whole world accepts it as true.  "Fake news," indeed!

    So let me be clear:  I can respect anyone who says that "Jesus of Nazareth was a significant historical figure, but I do not believe he was the son of God, or in any way divine." I do not agree - I would not have devoted so much of my life to the Gospel if I did - but that's a conversation that we can have, and I'll enjoy going back and forth with it.  But when someone says: "Jesus never existed," that gets my hackles up.  So - what evidence is there?

    THE NEW TESTAMENT - There is a knee-jerk assumption that the Gospels, and the other writings that make up the New Testament, are somehow unreliable because they were all written by people who believed that Jesus was the Son of God.  That is not necessarily an accurate assumption - is a biology textbook automatically suspect because it was written by someone who believes in evolution?  While the dating of the books of the NT is always controversial, the vast majority of scholars who have studied the issue (this includes both Christian and non-Christian scholars) agree that most, if not all, of the NT books were written in the First Century AD.  Even John's Gospel, acknowledged for centuries by Christians to be the last of the four, had been around for some time by 125 AD.  That is the scientific date of the Rylands Papyrus Fragment, a hand-sized piece of John's Gospel discovered in Egypt about 80 years ago.  It has been dated several times by various methods, and the date is as certain as that of ANY ancient text.  Paul's letters, which clearly refer to Jesus as a real person AND a divine being, were all completed by the year 68 AD, when Paul was martyred.  So in the NT we have 27 documents that all refer to Jesus as a real, flesh and blood person, all of them written within less than a century of His death in 33 AD.  We know the rough timeframe of his birth and a much more specific time for his death, as well as the places where he lived and ministered.  If we accept traditional authorship, then several books of the New Testament - John, Matthew, I and II Peter, James, Jude, and the letters of John - were written by men who knew and followed Jesus personally.  The others were written by men who knew those who knew Jesus.  Even if you reject the traditional authorship, you still have a substantial body of work that would have been written while the eyewitnesses of Jesus' life were still alive.

GREEK AND ROMAN SOURCES -

  Well, first of all we have Tacitus, who wrote his Annals, an account of Roman history, around the year 116-117 AD - again, LESS than a century after Jesus' crucifixion.  He said this about the aftermath of the Great Fire of Rome: 

 "N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular. 

   Now, Tacitus didn't care for the Christians, obviously - but that makes his testimony all the more valuable, since he is a hostile witness.  This passage occurs in all extant copies of his Annals, and is in the same classical Latin he uses throughout.  What does he verify, then?  That there were Christians in Rome at the time of Nero and the Great Fire (64 AD), and that their founder was a man known as Christ, who lived in Judea during the time of Emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD) and the governorship of Pontius Pilate (27-37 AD).  That's strong corroborative evidence.

   Lucian of Samosata, who lived from 115-200 AD, made a reference to Christianity in one of his satires, The Passing of Peregrinus.  The title character was a former Christian who became a cynic philosopher.  Again, Lucian's reference to Christians is derogatory, but he also acknowledges that the faith was founded by a real person:  "after that other whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.   For having convinced themselves that they are going to be immortal and live forever, the poor wretches despise death and most even willingly give themselves up. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws."

   Again, a hostile source identifies the founder of Christianity as a real person who was crucified in Palestine sometime prior to the Second Century AD. This is an ancient work whose authenticity has never been questioned by any serious scholar, and it contains a clear reference to the historical Jesus.

 Yet another source is Celsus, a Greek philosopher who despised Christianity.  He is quoted (and refuted) in the works of Origen, but his statement on Jesus is still interesting:  "Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god."

  The bit about Panthera was common gossip among the foes of Christianity, probably a play on words - Jesus was referred to by the early church as "ben Parthenos" - "son of a virgin," and it's a short hop there  in Greek to "ben Pantheros" - Pantherus being a common Roman name.  But still, what does Celsus say?  That Jesus was born to a young woman, betrothed to a carpenter, and that he spent time in Egypt as a boy, that he was possessed of seemingly supernatural powers, and finally that he made claims to divinity.

Roman governor Pliny the Younger also wrote a letter around 112 AD to the Emperor Trajan, asking what to do with Christians.  His only direct reference to Jesus is this:  "On a fixed day they used to assemble before dawn to sing an antiphonal hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath not for any criminal purpose, but to commit no fraud, no robbery or adultery, to bear no false witness, and not to deny any debt when asked to pay up.   After this it was their custom to separate and to reassemble to eat a communion meal, all together and quite harmless."

    Three things to note here: One, that Christians clearly worshiped Jesus as a God during the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD), and that they observed the communal meal mentioned in the New Testament.  Last of all, Pliny never refers to "Christ" as a myth or legend.

   Rounding off our Greco-Roman sources is the letter of Mara ben Serapion, a Stoic philosopher captured by the Romans in 73 AD.  He wrote a letter to his son that contains this reference:
What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the "new law" he laid down.
If the date most scholars assign to this letter - around 75 AD - is accurate, this is quite possibly the earliest extra-biblical reference to Jesus.  While Serapion does not mention Jesus by name,  there was no other person during that time frame, known as the "King of the Jews," who was executed - nor who would have lived on through the "new law" he introduced.
    So what do all these sources agree on?  That Christianity was introduced during the first half of the First Century AD by a real, physical person named Jesus of Nazareth.  All of these men, except possibly Serapion, were foes of Christianity and regarded the Christian faith as a vile superstition - yet NONE of them claimed that Jesus was a mythical figure, a legend, or a fabrication.

JEWISH SOURCES:  At the head of this list stands Josephus, the foremost Jewish historian of the ancient world.  There are two passages in his Antiquities of the Jews that refer to Jesus, one of which is universally accepted by all scholars, the second of which is controversial but still worth mentioning.  Let's go with the one we're sure of first, an account of the death of James: 
Being therefore this kind of person [i.e., a heartless Sadducee], Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally, “sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.1

What does this show us?  That around 62 AD, during a time when the old Roman governor had died and the new one was on his way to Judea, the High Priest Ananus put to death a man named James, the brother of Jesus "who is called Messiah."  (Note: This is a Jewish translation; Josephus wrote in Greek and used the title "Christos.")  Therefore, before 62 AD, there was a man named Jesus whom some called the Christ.  Skeptics have tried to argue (in a long and incredibly boring YouTube video my friend forwarded to me, most recently) that the "Jesus" in question was Jesus ben Damneus, who succeeded Ananus as High Priest.  This founders on two things:  One, Josephus never mentions a character in passing without explaining him first, and second, there is no evidence Jesus ben Damneus was ever "called Messiah."  Of course, they respond that the "Messiah" bit was a later Christian interpolation, but there is ZERO manuscript or historical evidence for that.  A Christian interpolator would have simply called him "James the Brother of Jesus,"  "James the Lord's Brother," or "James the Just" - the titles by which James was known to them. So there must have been an earlier reference to Jesus, and sure enough, a few pages back, in Book Three of Antiquities of the Jews, we find this reference, the infamous Testimonium Flavinium:

Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him, for on the third day, he appeared to them restored to life. The prophets of God had prophesied this and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.


   "Jesus-mythers" will tell  you all day long that this passage is a shameless fabrication inserted into the text by a later, Christian scribe.  However, the vast majority of scholarship - and this encompasses both Christian and non-Christan scholars - have concluded that the core passage is authentic, with some interpolations added by a Christian scribe later on to turn this into a positive witness of Jesus as Messiah instead of an account of the death of a would-be Messiah. There is a nice summary of the debate in the Wikipedia entry on the Testimonium Flavinium, and a more scholarly treatment in the Biblical Archeological Review entitled "Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible." In short, most historians and scholars believe that Josephus did, in fact, write a short summary of the life of Jesus in his Antiquities.
 
   Finally, there were no more rabid opponents of Christianity than the Jews of the Second Century onward.  Many Talmudic references to Jesus were either censored or edited later on to make the references to Jesus less clear - their favorite tactic was to erase His name and describe Him as "Such a one" - but the references are still there.  The Babylonian Talmud, compiled around 400-500 AD from earlier writings, states:
  Jesus was hanged on Passover Eve. Forty days previously the herald had cried, “He is being led out for stoning, because he has practiced sorcery and led Israel astray and enticed them into apostasy. Whosoever has anything to say in his defense, let him come and declare it.” As nothing was brought forward in his defense, he was hanged on Passover Eve.

While this reference is later in date than the others, and somewhat confused (note the contradiction on Jesus' death - it references him being stoned and hung (a Jewish euphemism for crucifixion) in the same Passage - it is very clear that he was considered to have been a real person who was actually executed on the eve of Passover.  There are several other Talmudic references, but this is the most clear.

   Was Jesus a real, historical person?  I will conclude with the words of atheist scholar Bart Ehrman:
". . . as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist."