(I've been putting up excerpts from my novels, and some short stories I have written, on this blog for awhile. Today is a change of pace, but it's a topic that is near and dear to my heart and VERY important to me!)
I have studied New Testament apologetics for my entire adult life. For those unfamiliar with the term, what "apologetics" refers to is defending the accuracy and authenticity of a literary or historical work. Specifically, my apologetics studies have focused on the four canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In general, there are three schools of thought when it comes to these four ancient books which give us the details of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. One is that they are historically accurate and divinely inspired histories, written by eyewitnesses or from eyewitness testimony, to give us a clear, defensible record of the life of the Son of God. This viewpoint also holds that the Gospels were written by the men whose names they bear and no others. The opposite viewpoint, held by a minority of extremely skeptical scholars, is that they are fairy tales which may or may not be based on a real historical person, written decades after the death of Jesus - if in fact He was a real person at all - and contain no accurate historical details about His life. This view holds that the Gospels were written generations later by anonymous authors and credited to the various apostles in order to "sell" them to the early church. The middle way, the interpretation followed by a majority of scholars, is that the Gospels contain a fair amount of accurate information about Jesus of Nazareth, along with a good deal of embellishment and legendary accretion, and were possibly written by the men whose names they bear, or perhaps were at least based on earlier writings/teachings from these men. So in order to discover the "historical Jesus," this middle group would say we have to sift through the Gospel narratives and separate myth and embellishment from fact. OK, with me so far?
So, in this great debate, the question of dating becomes all-important. The earlier the Gospels were written, the more likely it becomes that they were written by the traditionally ascribed authors - and, more importantly, the more actual eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry would still have been alive when they were written. This increases the probability of their preserving accurate accounts of Jesus' words and deeds. So it is no surprise that conservative scholars who believe the Gospels are historically accurate and were written by the men whose names they bear tend to assign an earlier date to the Gospels, while those who believe the Gospels are nothing but myth, legend, and wishful Christian thinking tend to date them much later, while others choose dates somewhere in between. The late dates allow time for the "real" Jesus to be forgotten and the "Christian" Jesus to spring up in His place. So if you are thinking about placing your faith in the Jesus of the Gospels, this issue of dates becomes much more than just a discussion about a group of ancient historical documents. It becomes critical to their credibility.
So what does the actual evidence say? First of all, the mainstream Christian church, from its earliest beginnings, recognized these four books and no others as authoritative. The various "Gnostic Gospels" written in the Second, Third, and Fourth century were never accepted as authoritative by the majority of church leaders, and in fact, the "Apostolic Fathers" - second and third generation Christians who led some of the larger congregations in the Roman Empire between 100 and 200 AD - condemned them as "spurious" as soon as they found out about them. On the other hand, there is not a single instance in which Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John were rejected or even questioned by the leaders of the early church! By the third century, Irenaeus of Lyons regarded them as foundational and sure as the "Four Corners of the Earth." By the 174 AD - around a century or less after they were written - Tertullian, an early church leader, was already composing a harmony of the four Gospels known as the Diatesseron - a sure indication that they were already recognized as uniquely authoritative by that point. The oldest actual physical fragment we have of one of the Gospels that is universally agreed upon is the Rylands Papyrus fragment, which contains several verses from John 18 and is dated about 125 AD. There have been claims of even earlier dates for some manuscripts - some say the Magdalene papyri (a few fragments from an ancient codex of Matthew) may date to 70 AD, and there is a recently discovered papyrus fragment from Mark that may also be around the same date, but both of those claims are hotly disputed among scholars. Three things worth noting out of this whole debate: First, all four Gospels were widely recognized as authoritative by the early church while a dozen or so counterfeit gospels composed by the Gnostics were just as widely rejected. Second, none of the four canonical Gospels have ever been referred to by any other name or attributed to any other author for as long as they have been in existence. Finally, both the anecdotal and manuscript evidence is much stronger for a First Century origin of the canonical Gospels than for a later origin.
After a lifetime of study, here's my strongest argument in favor of an early date for the Gospels - built around the remarkable narrative written by Luke, contained in his Gospel and in the Book of Acts. (I am leaving out John because virtually all the ancient sources and modern scholars agree that his book was written last of all, long after the other Gospels were completed.) First of all, Luke has a well-deserved reputation as the most historical and scholarly of all the Gospels. To cite one example, in these two books, Luke cites over forty various officials and their job titles in the various cities of the Roman Empire that figure into his narrative. In every case, he puts the right man with the right title in the right place at the right time, something even Roman historians didn't always get right! He also doesn't shy away from recording unpleasant truths - Peter's denial of Jesus, the deaths of James the brother of John and of Stephen, the first martyr. AND YET - here is the main point I'm driving at - the Book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before Nero for allegedly inciting riot in Jerusalem. Luke never records the outcome of Paul's trial, or the deaths of Peter and Paul (which we know occurred around 66-68 AD), the great Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-70, or the destruction of the Temple in 70. If Luke was written around 80 AD, as the moderate school of thought suggests, why would he leave out such vitally important events that had a huge impact on the early church? That question looms even larger if we take the more radical, skeptical view that Luke was written around AD 96! There simply is no rational explanation for why the author would not record those events.
What does that leave us with? The most logical answer to the question of why Luke didn't tell us the outcome of Paul's trial is simple: the trial had not yet occurred when the end of Acts was written. That means that Acts had to be completed before 62 AD, which is when Paul arrived in Rome! Logically, that would place the Gospel of Luke even earlier, around 60 AD. The implications of this are huge, as Donald Trump would say! Why? Because virtually all scholars agree that Luke used the Gospels of Mark and Matthew as source material in composing his own Gospel. So if Luke's Gospel was complete by 60 AD, they also had to be completed before that date. That means all three of the so-called "Synoptic Gospels" were completed less than 30 years after Jesus was crucified. Many of his disciples would still have been alive, in other words. Jesus' brothers would still have been alive. Quite possibly, even his mother Mary might have lived to within a decade or less of the time these Gospels were composed. The Synoptic Gospels, then, were about as far removed from the events they record as we in 2016 are from the 1988 election! This is an enormous testament to the authenticity and accuracy of the books that form the core of our knowledge of the life of Jesus, and is one of the reasons why I firmly believe that the Gospels got it right - ALL OF IT.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
My latest novel in print, MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH, is the second adventure of the Capri Team. They are an elite group of Biblical archeologists who uncovered Pontius Pilate's long-lost report to Rome about the crucifixion of Jesus in my first novel, THE TESTIMONIUM. This time, the team, scattered to their jobs around the world, is called in when one of their number, Father Duncan MacDonald, archeological consultant to the Vatican, makes an astonishing discovery in the Negev Desert of Israel, south of Beer Sheva. Today's excerpt reveals the moment of that discovery: A cave uncovered by a construction project is being surveyed when a hidden passage is found in the rear wall, filled in with ancient clay. Ground penetrating radar has revealed the presence of a small chamber at the end of the passage, and now Father MacDonald, along with two members of the Israeli Antiquities authority, is about to remove the stone box blocking the passageway - and get a breath-taking glimpse of what lies inside! Read on, and enjoy!
And remember, you can order MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH in paperback or Ebook format at this link:
And remember, you can order MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH in paperback or Ebook format at this link:
Dr. Lodz met them at his office early the next morning and looked over the report for several minutes in silence. He was dressed in field khakis, and nodded in approval after he read the results of the radiocarbon testing.
“What we have is a discovery with the potential for extreme historical significance – or the potential to be a complete dead end,” he finally said. “A sealed chamber with the passage blocked by a basalt box which may be an ossuary; at least one echo seeming to indicate a pottery vessel inside the chamber, and an inscription that seems to indicate a link with the earliest years of Christianity. As I see it, there are two possible courses of action: one would be to send to Jerusalem for the larger ground penetrating radar unit, and then do a comprehensive survey of the chamber without opening it. The other would be to simply remove the ossuary and open up the passage into the chamber. I have thought it out and discussed it with the Antiquities Authority’s board of directors. What we have decided to do is go ahead and remove the basalt box from the passageway, then install a plastic shield over the entrance and mechanically ventilate the chamber. I don’t need to remind you of the nasty spores and fungi associated with ancient burials. We will analyze the ossuary, if that is what it is, as well as its contents. Then we will send a remote camera into the chamber and see what it holds. At that point, Father MacDonald, we will decide whether or not to act on your recommendation to fly in the members of the Capri Team.”
MacDonald thought a moment, and nodded. “That sounds like a most logical, practical course of action. We have already removed most of the clay plug from the passageway – judging by the shots we got from the RD1000, there are only a few inches of clay left to remove from around and above the box. How will we get it out of the passageway?” he asked.
“First we will punch through the clay directly above the box – there appears to be about eighteen centimeters of clearance between the lid and the roof of the passage,” he said. “Then we will use a vacuum pump to begin ventilating the chamber – no sense breathing in a lungful of dangerous spores while chiseling away the last of the clay! After giving the vacuum some time to work, we can go back into the tunnel and remove the remainder of the clay from around the ossuary, then we’ll slide a rigid plastic sheet under it, levering it just a few centimeters off the ground. Once that is in place, we can slide a pair of metal rods underneath the sheet and slide the basalt box out without damaging it. As soon as we get it out of the passageway, we will cover the entrance back up and begin the full mechanical ventilation of the chamber. If there are any papyrus documents or other perishables inside, it is very important to keep moisture away from them – not that the Negev abounds in humidity!” The Israeli professor had obviously thought their course of action through very carefully, and Duncan could not find any flaws in his approach.
“Well, when do we begin?” he finally asked.
“I have all the necessary equipment loaded into my jeep,” the Regional Director replied. “I’ve commandeered a grad student to assist with the physical labor, and we’re ready to follow you to the site. So now is as good a time as any!”
The two archeologists looked at one another, grinned, and nodded vigorously.
An hour later they had arrived at the site, and unloaded most of their equipment. MacDonald was equipped with a very small tap hammer and several long, screwdriver-like chisels. The grad student, a gangly youth named Lev Jacobsen, was hauling a vacuum pump with a long, narrow plastic hose attached. There was a sizable battery pack attached to it as well as a power cord. Simeon pulled a small, rolling trailer topped by a large platform padded with blankets and covered with a layer of plastic sheeting. Its tires were large and soft, and each one had independent suspension, so that it pulled across the rocky ground outside the cave with an incredibly smooth motion. It had a hitch up front that could attach it to the four-wheeled ATV they had borrowed from the youth camp.
Once they arrived, MacDonald carefully removed the plastic sheeting with which they had covered the entrance to the passageway, and the three scientists shone their lights on the black basalt box looming like a fossil out of its clay matrix. The odd anchor insignia scratched into the end of the box was outlined in shadows, adding to the aura of mystery about the object.
“Dr. MacDonald, would you like to do the honors?” Lodz asked.
“By all means, let the priest be the one to go to his knees!” the Scot said with a good-natured twinkle in his eye. They mounted a powerful Halogen lamp on a metal tripod shining directly into the passage, plugged into a series of long extension cords stretching to a gas powered generator running outside, about fifty feet from the cave entrance. With the strong light behind him, Duncan took his tap hammer and one of the slender probes in hand, and tucked a small measuring tape in his pocket.
The basalt box came within seventeen centimeters of the roof of the passage, which was slightly arched. It cleared the sides of the passage by a lesser distance on each side. MacDonald placed his probe, which was about the size of a long-barreled screwdriver, just below the roof of the passageway and held it parallel with the ground. He figured the clay plug would be thinnest at the very top. Drawing a deep breath and uttering a silent prayer, he struck the handle of the probe gently with the tap hammer.
The probe punched through the clay effortlessly – the plug had dried out since they uncovered the box, and it was only a few centimeters thick next to the top of the passage, as MacDonald had expected. He backed out quickly, not wanting to get a lungful of the air from the long-sealed chamber. Once he was in the main cave, he took a deep breath and asked for the hose.
Holding his breath again, he ran the hose from the vacuum through the hole he’d punched in the clay till it was more than a foot inside the blocked passage, and then signaled Lodz to turn it on. The whirring of the motor filled the air as the atmosphere of the long-sealed chamber was sucked out into the hot Negev wind and dispersed across the ridge.
They waited for about forty-five minutes as the worst of the stagnant air from the ancient chamber was cycled out, then they re-entered the cave and removed the hose from the small opening MacDonald had created. He and bin Yosef took turns crawling into the passage and removing the last of the clay. Now that the plug had been broken through, all they had to do was enlarge MacDonald’s original opening until there was no clay between the roof of the chamber and the lid of the box. Then they could reach in and pull the remaining clay on either side of the box out in large chunks, which were bagged up and kept intact for later study. It took about an hour to remove the all the clay from around the box. They shone the halogen lamp down the narrow opening created on either side of the box, but all it revealed was a small section of the sealed chamber’s back wall, which appeared to be raw, unmodified stone. The opening they had created by removing the clay was simply too narrow to allow them to get much of a view of what lay beyond.
They carried out all the remaining chunks of clay, packed them into sterile plastic boxes, and then returned to the cave so that they could finally move the basalt box from its resting place. Once more MacDonald, as the discoverer of the hidden passageway, was allowed to take the lead. The thin, rigid sheet he carried was made of an opaque, highly rigid plexiglass, and the leading edge had been filed down to bladelike thinness. He carefully inserted that edge underneath the bottom edge of the ancient box, not unlike sliding the bottom edge of a furniture dolly underneath a heavy appliance. It took a bit of pushing and wiggling to finally lever the box up enough for the sheet to begin sliding under it, but once it started, MacDonald was able to steadily work it back. He coughed through his dust mask as the air filled with fine particles disturbed by the box’s movement from the floor of the passage. After ten minutes, he had the sheet shoved back more than three quarters of the way underneath the box. That would do, he thought, and then he backed out to catch his breath.
The two Israeli scholars looked at his work and nodded.
“Well done, Duncan!” Lodz exclaimed. “Now it will be a simple enough matter to insert those bars underneath the plastic and begin pulling the box out. Maybe then we can take a quick look into that chamber before we seal it off and begin properly ventilating it!”
Working together as much as the tight space would permit, they used two long, slender steel bars to lever the near end of the box off the floor of the passageway, then Duncan held the heavy basalt off the ground as they slowly slid the rods underneath the stone box until they neared the end of the plastic sheet. By now the entire box was off the ground, resting flat on the plastic with the two rods supporting it from beneath. The two Israelis began slowly pulling on their end of the rods, gradually dragging the box towards the light, with MacDonald crawling backwards and keeping a hand on top of the basalt artifact to steady it. In moments the end of the box was protruding slightly from the passage where it had rested for so long.
Now came the most delicate part of the whole operation: they had to transfer the box onto the cradle prepared for it on the trailer. They called Jacobsen in to help with the transfer, and then MacDonald and bin Yosef got their hands underneath the plastic sheet supporting the box. Once they had a solid grip, they slid the plastic and the box forward about a foot, allowing Lodz and the grad student to get their hands underneath the back side of the box.
“On three, now, lads, let’s lift her out of there!” Duncan said. “One, two, three!”
The box was heavy, but not burdensome, and it swung clear of the passage with ease and was gently transferred to the wagon, where the plastic sheet was slid out from under it and it settled gently into the padded cradle prepared for it. Once it was in place, all of them gave a sigh of relief.
Bin Yosef grabbed the halogen lamp. “Let’s take a very quick peek back into that chamber before we begin ventilating it!” he said. He and MacDonald pulled their dust masks back into place and crawled through the ancient passageway until their heads were just past where the far end of the basalt box had rested, and only a foot or two from where the passage widened into the chamber. It was a very tight fit for both of them, but once they were as close as they dared get, Bin Yosef shone the lamp into the chamber.
The floor of the chamber was perhaps two feet below the level of the passage, and the near side of it was still shrouded in shadow. Resting against the far wall was a single pottery jar, fairly tall, with its lid still sealed in place. On the floor next to it were the partially articulated remains of a human skeleton, its eye sockets facing straight towards them. One arm was flung out towards the jar, the bones of the hand actually touching its base. The two men looked quickly at each other and backed out.
“We have a burial!” said MacDonald.
“And a sealed clay jar!” bin Yosef said.
Lodz grinned. “Fascinating! I believe there is an inscription on the side of this box as well, although we’ll have to remove some of the clay residue before we can read it,” he said.
MacDonald cleared his throat. “Sir, I recognize that style of jar,” he said.
Bin Yosef’s eyes widened. “So do I! My God, I didn’t realize it until you said it!” he exclaimed.
Lodz looked at them both. “Well, are you going to enlighten me?” he finally said.
“It’s the same kind of jar that was used at Qumran for storing scrolls!” said bin Yosef.
“And it is still sealed!” MacDonald added.
The Antiquities Authority Director let out a long, low sigh. “Excellent!” he said. “We have indeed made a discovery of some significance here. Help me set up the vacuum pump and then seal off the mouth of the chamber. We need to recycle that stale air, but we don’t want to get any modern pollens or contaminants in there.”
They covered the chamber’s entrance with heavy plastic sheeting that was secured to the wall of the cave with adhesive hooks, and then ran two hoses through separate openings. One would suck the old, stale air out of the chamber, while the other would blow in fresh, filtered air from the outside. It was largely a precaution, but over the years, several archeologists had sickened or died from fungal infections contracted in long-sealed tombs and caves, so the Israelis had learned to be careful.
After they finished getting the vacuum pump set up and going, they rolled the trailer out of the cave and hooked it up to a small four wheeler, then slowly drove it across the site to their mobile lab. MacDonald walked alongside, steadying the basalt box with one hand. He needn’t have troubled – the trailer’s unique suspension and the ATV’s low speed rolled it along with hardly a jostle – but one could never be too careful. Once they reached the trailer, the box was lifted again, this time onto a proper lab table, and the plastic and foam they had swaddled it in were removed. MacDonald could see the writing on one side, still partially caked with a thin layer of clay.
“First order of business is to remove that dirt and see what it says beneath,” Lodz said.
MacDonald chose a pair of brushes, one with fairly stiff bristles and the other more soft, and then began carefully brushing and whisking at the side of the black stone box. The clay let go, stubbornly at first and then more quickly, until the letters became clearly visible. The inscription was in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament.
מתיו לוי הסופר אהוב של אדונו
“Mother of God!” MacDonald crossed himself, unable to contain his emotions.
The two Israelis looked at each other in disbelief. The only sound in the lab was the steady whir of the air conditioner. Lodz finally broke the silence.
“Duncan, are you reading that the same way I am?” he asked.
“I think so, sir,” said the priest. “It says ‘Matthew Levi, Beloved Scribe of His Lord.’”
The Regional Director of the Antiquities Authority swallowed hard.
“I think,” he said, “that you might ought to call the Capri Team and invite them to Israel.”
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Not long ago, a friend of mine who is a dedicated atheist posed this questionnaire on Facebook. He asked some very specific questions, so I took the time to answer them in some detail. I've already posted these to my FB timeline, but I reach a different audience here, so I thought I would share his introduction, his questions and my answers for this week's blogpost. Feel free to comment below!
I wrote this questionnaire with the intention of getting Christians to think about and possibly re-evaluate their beliefs, although I am also interested to learn more about what different Christians actually do believe.
I have provided space underneath each question for you to put your answers - please try to be concise and answer the questions yourself rather than linking to other sites.
Please also make sure you actually answer the questions I have asked!
1. There are thousands of different religions in the world, and in the vast majority of cases people follow the dominant faith of the culture they were born into. Is it not arrogant and self-centered to think that your faith is the "true" one and all the others are false?
Why follow a faith if you do not believe that it is The Way? I believe that no other faith has the historical evidence in its favor that Christianity does. Therefore, as a historian, Christianity passes my “smell test.” Islam ultimately depends on whether or not you believe Allah spoke to Muhammad, with no proof offered that he actually did. Buddhism depends on whether or not you believe that Siddartha Gautama actually discovered the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold path, with no proof offered that he actually did. Hinduism requires you to believe that the Great World Soul, Brahman, incarnates himself as 10,000 different deities – again, with no proof offered. Christianity is the most falsifiable religion in the world – its claims are all centered on one set of events that took place in a specific location, during a specific time period, in which God broke into human history in a very dramatic way. And the capstone of all the New Testament claims lies in the Resurrection of Jesus, which I find to be as historically well-established as any other event in the ancient world. Despite your ongoing attempts to prove that the NT narratives are “just stories,” frankly, I find the overall evidence for the Resurrection and the Gospels – not one specific point, but the totality of it all – to be far more convincing than any naturalistic explanation anyone has been able to provide.
2. What is the point of prayer? Surely your god knows what you are going to pray for beforehand - and has already decided on his course of action. Is it not absurd to think that you can persuade god to change his mind?
I shall answer your question with a question. As a father, don’t you want your children to talk to you? Wouldn’t you be upset if they didn’t want to? That’s what prayer is about – it’s not some celestial candy machine where we pop in a request and automatically get a blessing back. God wants us to talk to him because He loves us, cares about us, and desires a relationship with us. The whole Bible is the story of God trying to restore a relationship that mankind had ruptured. And, as any good counselor will tell you, communication is the key to a successful relationship. So God asks us to talk to him, and in His way, through His word, and through the voice of His Holy Spirit, He speaks back to us. Yes, we can ask God for things, and yes, sometimes He chooses to grant them. But that is not what prayer is all about. Prayer is about communion with our Maker - it’s an ongoing dialogue between Father and child.
3. Why does god insist that you worship him? Is he insecure - or an egomaniac?
“Worship” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon term that means “to acknowledge the worth” of something. Now, think about this a moment. We have a divine creator who is all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, who loves His creations enough to incarnate Himself as one of us, and then allows Himself to be tortured to death -simply to redeem us from the horrible fix we got ourselves into by our own stubborn disobedience. He didn’t have to do that – He could have left us to stew in the miasma of our own sin and decadence. Yet He chose to redeem us and restore the fellowship that we had broken. What is the only proper response to that kind of extravagant love except to acknowledge its worth – hence, worth-ship Him? All worship amounts to is recognizing and appreciating God for who He is.
4. Matthew 1:16 "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus."
Luke 3:23 "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli."
The bible is full of contradictions - explain how, even with just the small and fairly insignificant contradiction above, the bible can be the infallible word of god.
Luke 3:23 "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli."
The bible is full of contradictions - explain how, even with just the small and fairly insignificant contradiction above, the bible can be the infallible word of god.
Of all the alleged contradictions in the Bible, this one is perhaps the easiest to explain and the silliest to make a big deal of. It is painfully obvious to even the most casual reader that Matthew and Luke are giving two completely different genealogies, not just for the first generation but all the way back to David’s line. Confusing? Well, we all get two sets of ancestors, one from our mother and one from our father. Matthew was clearly providing Jesus’ LEGAL lineage, from his adoptive father, Joseph. It’s also clear that Matthew’s entire version of the Nativity story is from Joseph’s perspective. Luke, on the other hand, is equally clearly presented from Mary’s perspective, and he provides Jesus’ BIOLOGICAL lineage from his mother, who was also a descendant of David. The fact is that, in the Greek language of the First Century, it was not at all uncommon to use the same word for “father” and “father-in-law.” Note that Luke does NOT say that Heli “begat” Joseph, as Matthew does.
On the larger issue of infallibility – God used human instruments to record His word. The 27 books of the NT preserve Jesus’ teachings, but they also bear the imprint of their mortal authors. So if Matthew and Mark and Luke record slightly different versions of the same sermon, but in the end, each version is essentially says the same thing, the minor variations in the wording simply show how each Evangelist understood and recalled Jesus’ words. It is perhaps worth noting that the same folks throwing a hissy fit about “contradictions” would protest just as loudly if every quotation and story in the Synoptic Gospels was cookie cutter identical to its counterpart in the next Gospel. They would be hollering about “collusion” and “conspiracy” all day long. There’s just no pleasing some folks.
5. Thomas Paine: "Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel."
Please explain why the bible is referred to as the "good book".
Please explain why the bible is referred to as the "good book".
Well, whenever we see a quote that is derogatory, venomous, and hyper-critical, you have to consider the source. Thomas Paine was indeed a noted champion of human liberty, as his authorship of COMMON SENSE attests. However, he was also a bitter, hostile, and miserable human being who burned every bridge he crossed, alienated every friend he made, and poisoned every relationship he entered into. According to the nurse who tended him on his deathbed, he died shrieking in terror at the damnation he knew awaited him. In short, he was a man who looked for the worst in everything, and found it.
But, to answer the question you posted after your quote from Thomas Paine, the answer is simple: The Bible is filled with true stories of humanity in its rawest stage. The Bronze Age was a savage time, and most people who lived then were savages. Even the best among them displayed instances of barbaric and cruel behavior. Any accurate account of human behavior during that time would record similar events. The Bible simply shows humanity as it was during that time.
So why is the Bible “the Good Book”? Because it contains the story of a Creator who never gives up on his creation, no matter how sorely He is tempted by their wicked behavior. He always preserves a righteous remnant, He always counsels His people to walk a higher path. There are times, it is true, when God sends His people to war to eliminate the most egregious offenders – but those who are thus singled out are always given opportunities to change their ways (in the case of the Canaanites, they are given 400 years to do so before God grew fed up with their wickedness). But above all, the Bible is a story of human redemption, and that’s a good thing, so it’s a Good Book.
6. Thomas Paine was referring to the old testament in the above quote. Please explain why the god of the old testament (an angry, vengeful god, worthy of scorn not worship) - is so different from the god talked about in the new testament.
Paul says in Galatians: “When the fulness of time had come, God sent His son into the world.” God did not change, but mankind did. Several enormous factors had shown God’s people (the ancient Hebrews) that the sacrificial system at the Temple, dependent as it was on their own ability to honor God’s covenant, simply could not save them from their innate tendencies to sin and wickedness.
Simultaneously, the establishment of Greco-Roman hegemony over most of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa meant that, for the first time, over a quarter of the world’s population was united under one language (koine Greek), one government, one network of roads, and one legal system. It would be fourteen centuries before such a large area was so politically unified again. This meant that, at the moment Jesus was born, there was a window of opportunity for the Gospel to travel further, faster, and reach more peoples than it ever would have been able to before, and would not be able to again until modern times.
The intellectual awakening that began in Athens in the fifth century BC caused men to ask the big questions – “Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of our existence?” – and simultaneously to realize that the anthropomorphic gods they had worshiped could not answer those questions in any meaningful way. So when “the Word became Flesh, and dwelt among us” – when God finally prepared to reveal Himself more fully than He ever had before – more of mankind was in a position to hear and understand that message than ever before.
Q7 (regarding creation)
a. "In the beginning God created the heaven and earth" ... what was god doing before "the beginning", and where did he reside?
Spoken like a temporal, material being. What was God doing before He made us? He simply WAS. God is not bound or limited by time, as we are. He created time, and he is within it, outside it, and independent of it all at the same time. For Him, the beginning, the end and the middle are all one. The same with where He is - He doesn’t reside in any one place, unless He chooses to do so. He is omnipresent, so to speak of “where He resides” makes no more sense than asking you which one of your cells you live in.
b. Explain how god made light, then separated light from darkness, BEFORE he had created the sun, moon and stars.
I John provides one possible answer to this: “This is the message that we have heard from Him, and proclaim to you – that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” God provided the universe with a portion of His own essence, His light, before He divided that light into the moon, stars, the sun, and all the other luminous bodies that light our heavens at night. Each of them, for all their brilliance, is only a scrap of His great luminance.
Another possible explanation is this: When God revealed the account of creation to the author of Genesis – whether that was Moses, or some earlier source that Moses drew on – the easiest way for Him to do that would have been to show that person what creation looked like from one who was standing on the surface of the earth as God shaped it and cooled it. Looking from the earth skyward, there was a massive blanket of clouds and gases that had not yet thinned into the atmosphere, so there would have been “light” diffused through the clouds, gradually becoming clearer and separated into the heavenly bodies we now recognize as the atmosphere thinned and they became visible.
Take your pick, either way makes sense.
c. Explain why "he made the stars also" - countless billions of them - at the end of the fourth day, when it had taken him all of the previous time to work on just one small planet.
Several things here – “also” doesn’t necessarily mean “afterward” or “all at once.” It just means “in addition to.” Stars don’t contain life, and they aren’t the home to God’s children. Omnipotence means that God can take as long or as short a time to create anything as He wants to. The Bible is not an exhaustive, scientific account of the process by which God made the universe. It is an account of God’s dealings with man, and therefore we are seeing creation from an anthropomorphic view point. To the denizens of earth that God revealed this account to – and I hold to traditional authorship, so that would be Moses around 1400 AD – the stars would indeed be “lesser lights” that were not as important as the sun and the moon, in precedence or in illumination.
d. "And God set them [the stars] in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth". We know that the stars are not set in anything, and they are rather more than just light-givers (particularly as most cannot even been seen from earth). Why is god so ignorant about his own creation?
God is not ignorant, silly! But at the time Genesis was written, mankind was. First of all, “firmament of heaven” was a figure of speech, like “the four corners of the earth.” A good paraphrase might be “up in the sky.” That’s how they appear to us, and that’s how God explained them. The Creation account, as I said above, is not a scientific treatise. It’s an abbreviated account of an enormous process that God gave to explain our beautiful world to His people some 3500 years ago. I’ve often said that the Creation account is like an auto mechanic father explaining to his three year old how the internal combustion engine works. You’re not going to break out the Chrysler tech manual; you’re going to give him a very simplified version of the tale.
As I alluded to earlier, it’s also quite possible that when God revealed this narrative to Moses (or whoever the author was), that he visally re-played the Creation process for him at high speed. Modern science has said that earth’s atmosphere was very thick and opaque early on, then gradually thinned to let the lights of the galaxy become visible. So to man on earth, it would appear as if a vast, diffuse light in the sky gradually resolved itself into two great lights, and finally into a thousand points of light. So God hung the sun and moon in the firmament, and then “he made the stars also.”
7. Thomas Paine: "When I am told that a woman called Mary said that she was with child without any co-habitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband Joseph said that an angel told him so [in a dream!] I have a right to believe them or not; such a circumstance requires a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it; but we have not even this - for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves; it is only reported by others they said so - it is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence."
Please explain why you believe that Mary was a virgin mother.
Please explain why you believe that Mary was a virgin mother.
Every single book of the New Testament consistently refers to Jesus as “the Son of God.” Both Gospels that include the birth narrative – Matthew from Joseph’s point of view, and Luke from Mary’s – mention that Jesus’ birth was supernatural. Matthew was part of the Jerusalem church which was headed by “James the Lord’s brother,” so his information probably came from James himself. Luke most likely had an opportunity to speak to Mary during his research (see the preamble to his Gospel; he spoke to those who were “from the beginning eyewitnesses and servants of the Word.” Jesus performed miracles (something even His Jewish enemies recorded in the Talmud), referred to Himself as the Messiah and the Son of God, and then rose from the dead. A supernatural life, logically speaking, would have been preceded by a supernatural birth. If you start with the Resurrection of Jesus and work backward, all the pieces add up that Jesus was no normal man. Nothing about Him – His words, His life, His preaching, His resurrection – was like Mohammed, or Buddha, or any other founder of any other faith. So why would His birth not be different also?
Granted, all this depends on accepting the Gospels as being accurate. But, after years of research, I am convinced of the following: First, the four Biblical Gospels were written (or dictated) by the men whose names they bear. Second, that the arguments for the later dates of these Gospels proposed by liberal Bible scholars make far less sense and hold far less weight than the arguments for the early dates, so I accept those early dates for all three Synoptic Gospels, with John’s account being written last of all. Given those conclusions, then, the Gospels were derived from very early sources that knew whereof they spoke. They are accurate in many small things, so I take their words for the greater claims as well.
8. Please also explain why you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and why the accounts in the bible of this event conflict.
First of all, the entire origin of the Christian faith makes no sense without a Resurrection. No naturalistic explanation fits all of the available facts – there is, in the words of one author, a “gaping hole in history that is the size and shape of a Resurrection”! I’ve written reams about this and would refer you to some of my earlier comments on the topic. The “swoon theory” doesn’t work, the “spiritual resurrection” theory doesn’t work, the “they made the whole thing up for their own benefit” doesn’t work. Nothing but a Resurrection fits all the facts and circumstances that we know.
Secondly, these so-called conflicts you refer to are simply the minor discrepancies that are the hallmark of genuine eyewitness testimony. This is where the critics drive me nuts, to be honest. If all four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection recorded the exact same version of events, they would say: “Aha! Collusion! The writers obviously got together and cooked up a false tale in advance!” But since they all record different details and impressions instead, the critics say “See! They all record different details! Conflict! Contradiction! THEY’RE LYING!!!”
Think about all the points on which the Gospels absolutely agree: Jesus was crucified. He was removed from the cross late in the afternoon and buried in a nearby tomb. The grave was sealed and guarded. His followers stayed away from the tomb because it was the Sabbath day, and then a group – possibly two different groups – of women came to the tomb on Sunday morning and found the tomb opened and His body gone. They encountered a messenger or messengers who told them that Jesus was not there because He had risen, and then they told the disciples. At various points during the day, the women, two travelers, and then the male disciples, all encountered the Risen Christ. Details vary because each Gospel preserves a different impression of the events, from a different person’s perspective, but in the essentials they all agree. There is no conflict, only minor differences.
9. Jesus apparently died for us, facing god's wrath in our place. Why did he have to do this? Why couldn't god forgive us anyway? Why does god - a perfect being - have negative, human-based emotions like anger and wrath? Is not the whole concept absurd?
There you go again, packing four questions into one. No worries, I will answer them all! First of all – as to WHY? God, in order to be any kind of God at all, must be just. If God is not just, He is not God. One of the principles of justice is that actions have consequences, and forgiveness does not negate those consequences. This leads into your second question. If you were to walk up and punch me in the nose, and I forgave you for it, I would still have a broken nose. I would bear in my body the cost of your action, whether I forgave you or struck back. A God who ignores evil without requiring justice is complicit in that evil. So our evil actions merit His just retribution (wrath), but in His love He chose to take our sentence upon Himself. Therefore the Creator of the universe stepped down from heaven, emptied Himself of many attributes of His divinity (see Philippians 2) and walked among us as one of us. He lived a blameless life, taught eternal truth, and sacrificed Himself to answer the demands of God’s perfect justice so that we would not have to. That answers the third part of your question: It’s not about anger and wrath – it is about having the consequences of our own vile actions deflected from us so that we could be purified, cleansed, and made worthy to stand in the presence of a Holy God. So no, it is not absurd. The true absurdity would be a God that completely overlooked sin, or was sinful in Himself. A just God who pays with His blood the price of our wickedness so that He can restore the relationship that we severed – that is about as far from absurd as you can get. That is love in its most pure form.
10. Please attempt to justify eternal damnation. Surely even the most evil people who ever lived (Hitler, Stalin etc.) don't deserve to be horrifically punished for eternity (and I don't think many Christians have really thought about what eternity really is).
Before I delve into the meat of the question, let me say this – I am sure that the tens of millions of innocents whose lives were snuffed out by those two vile men would mostly agree that both of them deserve to have their entrails ripped out by flaming eels for all eternity while being forced to listen to Justin Bieber songs!
Now, jokes aside – first of all, let’s define damnation. What is it? It is an eternity of exile from God’s presence. That’s it, first and foremost, above all – those who are condemned to hell are banished from the presence of God forever.
So does that mean that all those sentenced to hell will be sitting up to their necks in a lake of fire forever and ever? Well, not necessarily. What did Jesus tell the people of Capernaum? “It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment than for you . . . I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the Day of Judgment than for you.” In other words, hell is NOT the same place for all people. Those who have had ample chances to hear and respond to God’s message will be more harshly judged than those who never got the message. Paul talked about this in Romans 2: “When those who have not the law instinctively do the things of the law, they become a law unto themselves, and their own thoughts will alternately accuse or defend them in the Day of Judgment.” I think, reading those two passages and several others together, it is evident that hell will have levels of punishment that fit the crimes of those who are there. Will this be something like the Nine Circles of Hell pictured in Dante’s Inferno? Possibly, but we don’t know. However, God is eminently just, so I do think that, for those who are sentenced to damnation, the punishment will fit the crime.
But is this just? Here is a quote I heard long ago: “Hell represents God’s ultimate respect for man’s freedom of choice.” Let’s use you as an example. You have spent your adult life dismissing the notion of God. In fact, you spend an inordinate amount of time on social media trying to persuade Christians to reject their faith and stop believing in God. You even said so in your introduction to this questionnaire (what else does “reconsider their beliefs” mean?). In so doing, you have made yourself God’s enemy. So, answer me this – what kind of monster would God be if He then forced you to share His presence, His kingdom, for all eternity? That would be the spiritual equivalent of rape – to force yourself on someone who clearly wants nothing to do with you. So, since you have isolated yourself from God, God will respect that choice . . . forever. That’s what free will ultimately means – each individual’s right to embrace their Creator or walk away from Him.
What about those who never know about God? The Bible is clear that God has littered creation with clues to His existence. He isn’t playing hide and seek with us. Those who seek Him will find Him. But what could be more terrifying than suddenly, upon death, to be forced into the presence of an all-powerful deity that you had no clue existed, and then be forced to dwell with him for all eternity? So the ignorant are also separated from God forever, although the quote by Jesus above shows (at least to me) that their fate is far more tolerable than that of those who heard God’s message and chose to walk away from it.
Monday, May 2, 2016
(I've promised myself I won't start another book till after the first of the year, so I've decided to keep my creative juices flowing by writing short stories that I will publish here, for you, my faithful readers! This one I just completed last week - it's a travel down memory lane to ancient Rome, as remembered by an ancient Roman! Feel free to leave comments below, and paste this link in your social media if you'd like to share the story!)
For a full length novel I wrote, set in the same timeframe, click here to buy
THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE:
Quintus Quirinius slowly lowered himself onto the bench that sat in his atrium, enjoying the sun coming down through the open roof. He rested his back against one of the pillars and stretched his legs out, lifting his tunic just enough so that the sun could warm his arthritic knees. He was eighty this year; old for a Roman, but still fairly fit for a man of his age. He had long ago decided that when his years became an intolerable burden, he would do the honorable thing and open a vein in his arm while soaking in a nice warm bath. He hated the thought of becoming a burden to his sons, and even more the idea of being unable to feed or care for himself. But the fact was he could still get up and down without assistance, he could still walk up the Palatine Hill to the Curia Julia for the meetings of the Senate, and his voice was still clear and strong when he chose to speak to the Conscript Fathers of Rome.
But the truth was Quintus rarely spoke out anymore. The politics of Rome had passed him by, as the twilight years of Augustus had ended with the accession of Tiberius Caesar just two years before. He and the new Emperor were acquainted, and Tiberius did treat him with a certain gruff respect – as much honor as the gloomy Princeps accorded anyone, he supposed. The epic battles in the Senate Chamber were waged by younger men nowadays, and the Senate lacked the power it once had. Oh, the laws were largely unchanged, and to external appearances, the election cycles continued, and the privileges and rights of the Senators were the same as they had been a century before – but it was all a sham. The office of Princeps, with all its unique powers, had been passed by Augustus to his adopted son Tiberius – as had control of Rome’s armies. The Senate was now a debating society more than a legislature, and the Republic, even though its forms endured, was more of a memory than a reality. Rome was an Empire, and the Emperor ruled it.
Not that any of that concerned him these days. He showed up for most of the sessions and voted for the measures that concerned him most deeply, but the shaping of legislation and the delicate back-and-forth of consulting with the Emperor behind the scenes - he left that to younger men. Men like his son, who would be joining him shortly. In fact, as if his thought had somehow shaped reality, he heard the familiar voice echoing from the vestibule.
“Ave, Pater!” Marcus Quirinius called out. “Where are you?”
“Out back, in the peristyle,” called Quintus, “enjoying the morning sun.”
Marcus strode down the hallway and turned past the colonnade, plopping down on the bench across from his father. He was already dressed in his toga, ready for the Senate session that would begin in a couple of hours. He wore the flowing white garment, its sleeves trimmed in purple, with the easy grace that was the mark of a true Roman nobleman.
Quintus studied his son with pride. The boy – he would always think of Marcus that way, even though his temples were greying and he was nearing fifty years of age – was the spitting image of Quintus some thirty years before. Intelligent, ambitious, and courageous, Marcus was a son to make any father proud.
“Eighty years old today!” Marcus said. “Few men live to see so many years, much less such eventful ones. Happy birthday, Pater.”
“Thank you, my son,” Quintus said, more happily than he felt. It had entirely slipped his mind that this was his birthday. Not good, he thought. What was the use of keeping the body spry and fit if you let your mind begin to decay?
“I thought we might go to the Circus Maximus this evening and watch the races,” Marcus said. “My chariot and driver are running in the second set.”
“That would be nice,” Quintus said, although the thought of the crowds and noise was honestly less appealing than a quiet night at home perusing Homer’s works.
“May I ask you something?” Marcus suddenly inquired.
“Of course, my son. What is it?” Quintus replied.
“Do you have any regrets?” the younger man asked.
Quintus arched an eyebrow. “Every man has regrets,” he said.
“I know that, Pater,” said his son. “But is there any one that outweighs all the others? You’ve told me some stories about your youth, but I was thinking of all you must have seen in eighty years. Is there one opportunity you’d like to have back, above all others?”
Quintus Quirinius paused for a moment, and then he closed his eyes and let his mind take him back to a beautiful spring morning some sixty years before.
“Ave, Caesar!” Quintus said as he saw his commander emerge from the door of the Pontifex Maximus’ residence.
Gaius Julius Caesar, Dictator of the Republic for life, gave him a cheery wave, and then turned back to the doorway. His wife Calpurnia stood framed by the doorpost, leaning out to speak to her husband. Quintus saw that her lovely face was streaked with tears, which was unusual. Caesar’s wife was normally a placid and happy soul with an enchanting smile; he had never seen her look this distraught. The great man touched her shoulder, spoke a few words of encouragement, then wheeled about and strode towards his conterburnalis with a smile on his face.
Caesar was clad in a blinding white toga with purple sleeves and trim, the mark of the high rank he held. Only a handful of Romans had ever been appointed to the office of Dictator, and none other had ever served as dictator for life. Broad-shouldered, graceful, and handsome, Caesar was an imposing figure, his thinning locks held in place by the Civic Crown he had earned over thirty years before on the battlefield.
That decoration was the one thing that he and Quintus Quirinius shared in common. Quintus had fought like a lion at the Battle of Pharsalus four years before, when he was only sixteen. He had killed a dozen of Pompey’s men after seeing his older brother cut down before his eyes, and his centurion had recommended him to Caesar after the battle was over. Quintus was one of four men who won the Civic Crown that day, and he was by far the youngest. From that point forward, Caesar, the greatest Roman of them all, had taken an interest in the teenager from the stews of the Aventine, helping him get an education, ennobling him, and now promoting him to a junior officer’s rank.
In turn, Quintus had given Caesar his undying loyalty and affection. To him, the great statesman and general was the living incarnation of Mars, the greatest man he ever had known or would know. If Caesar told him to fall on his sword in the middle of the Forum, Quintus would do it instantly, knowing that the great man would never give such an order without good reason. Caesar accepted his loyalty without question, and frequently used the young officer as a sounding board for his ideas.
Normally, Quintus would never inquire into his idol’s personal life, but the distress evident in Calpurnia’s face haunted him for some reason.
“Is everything all right, Caesar?” he asked as the Dictator joined him.
Gaius Julius Caesar clapped him on the shoulder.
“My young friend,” he said, “one thing you will learn about women as you get older is that they are impossible to live without – certainly I’ve never managed it! But they can be difficult to live with. My wife had a nightmare, nothing more. But she is convinced I should stay away from the Senate today because of it. A fine thought, eh? The Dictator of the Republic shirking his duties because of the dreams of women?”
Quintus smiled. “I imagine you are the main character in the dreams of any number of women every night, Caesar!” he said.
His commander guffawed and slapped him on the shoulder again.
“You may be right,” Caesar said. “But don’t tell their husbands! Now, I have some orders for you, Quintus. I’m a bit early for my meeting with the Senators, so let’s duck into this tavern for just a moment and have a talk.”
The place was nearly deserted at such an early hour, and the barkeep took one look at the Dictator of the Republic standing in the doorway, escorted by a uniformed officer of the Legions, and immediately showed them to his best table, spreading a clean linen cloth over the bench so that Caesar’s toga would not be stained. Quintus took the bench across from his commander.
“A cup of wine each, watered down, if you please,” said Caesar. “And some dates, if they are any good.”
“Absolutely, Dominus!” the man said. “I have fresh ones from the market this morning, and some fine Greek wine that just arrived last week. It is a privilege to serve you, sir!”
Caesar nodded graciously. “It’s a pleasure to spend a few moments in such a fine establishment,” he said. “You keep a clean dining area, which is rare these days.”
“Thank you, Caesar – I mean, er, dominus!” the man stammered excitedly.
“You’re a free Roman, my man, not my slave,” Caesar said. “So don’t call me master!”
“Of course, Caesar – and thank you!” the owner grinned, bowed, and retreated to the kitchen.
“I believe that fellow is fond of you, Caesar,” said Quintus as the man scurried off.
“The people of Rome love me,” said Caesar with a smile, “And I love them. That is the thing that my enemies never have understood. Not Cato, not Cicero, not even Pompey, although he was also quite beloved in his day. I belong to this city, and it belongs to me. My family is ancient, as you know – as patrician as patrician can be – but I grew up in the Subura, among the poor and the foreigners who throng that district. I know all the alleys and byways of the city. I always took the time to listen when the people wanted to talk, and I learned so much from them! For all his pretensions as a Tribune of the Plebs, I doubt that Cato ever spend so much as a single hour among the common folk of the city.”
Quintus wasn’t sure how to respond. Personally, he didn’t understand how anyone could hate Caesar, but it seemed there were many that did, especially among the Senate. But Caesar’s strongest enemies were crushed now, and the rest skulking in the shadows. There would always be some malcontents, he supposed, but Caesar had finally brought peace to Rome.
“How long before we embark on our campaign against the Parthians?” he finally asked.
“I need to meet with the Senate another time or two, to finish setting some reforms in place and organize the government of the Republic until I return,” Caesar said. “I hope to ride out of the city tomorrow. I want you to go ahead of me, down to Brundisium. My nephew Octavian is there, along with a young soldier named Marcus Agrippa. Octavian has great potential, I think. I certainly hope so, because I have just named him my heir.”
“Really?” Quintus was stunned. First, that Caesar should choose such a young and untried person to be his adopted son, and secondly, that Caesar would confide such a thing to him, a lowly conturburnalis.
“What about Mark Antony?” he finally asked.
“Antony is the bravest soldier I’ve ever commanded,” said Caesar. “He will make a good Master of Horse while I am away on campaign. But he is a terrible politician! I can leave him in control as long as he’s under strict supervision, with specific instructions. But letting him off the leash would be a disaster. No, young Octavian plays the long game. He’s every bit as shrewd as I was at that age – I just wish he was more physically fit! Hopefully this campaign will go a long way towards mending that. He’s befriended an excellent soldier in Marcus Agrippa, who is already working with him on his swordsmanship. In another ten years, Octavian will be ready to inherit all that I have.”
Quintus looked at Caesar, clad in white, with no cuirass or leggings, without so much as a dagger strapped to his wrist. It worried him suddenly.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go to the Senate with you this morning?” he finally asked.
“No, I want you to ride out for Brundisium,” Caesar said. “I don’t want an armed escort walking with me to the Senate. I can’t show those jackals that I am afraid of them in the least, or they’ll take it as a sign of weakness.”
“But what about that fortune teller?” Quintus asked. He was a superstitious soul.
“Oh, that fellow? The one who said ‘Beware the Ides of March?’ Ha!” Caesar said. “The Ides are here already, and so am I. Enemies have been predicting my death for twenty years, and it has not happened yet.”
Quintus sighed. “As you wish, Caesar,” he finally said. “But I would rather escort you to the Senate, and then take my leave.”
“You’re a good soldier, Quintus Quirinius, and you have a bright future ahead,” Caesar told him, standing and straightening his toga. “When we get back from Parthia I will have much work for you to do. But for now, I need you to follow orders.”
Quintus stood likewise, popping one last date into his mouth. Julius Caesar surveyed the young man, and then looked around the otherwise empty tavern.
“You know, Quintus, I never really wanted any of this,” Caesar said softly.
“Any of what?” Quintus asked, curious.
“The Dictatorship, the Civic Wars, all of it,” Caesar said. “All I wanted was to come home from Gaul, celebrate my triumph, and then stand for Consul again. Is that such a monstrous crime? I wanted to help mend our broken Republic for a year or two, and then set out to destroy the Parthians, who are the greatest living threat to Rome. Once they were humbled, I would have been happy to come home and take my place among the greybeards of the Senate, counseling younger men and doing what I could to strengthen and preserve our Republic. Now, thanks to that sanctimonious turd Cato, and poor old Pompey, who was foolish enough to listen to him, our Republic is shattered. I will do my best to mend it and set it to rights when I return from this campaign, but it will take me years now. And until I replenish the treasury with Parthian gold, it’s all a wasted effort. So much opportunity thrown away by the selfishness of a few men, who could not stand for me to outshine them. It saddens me, my young friend.”
“You will set things to rights, Caesar, I am sure of that. Your reforms are already taking hold, and everyone praises them!” Marcus told him.
“They praise them now, when I am in the city with my legions camped outside the walls,” Caesar said. “What will they say when I am a thousand miles away? Will Antony be able to fend off the wolves till I return?”
He heaved a long sigh and stepped out into the streets.
“It’s all in the lap of the gods, I suppose,” he said. “All we can do is cast the dice and watch them fly, eh? Farewell, Quintus! Give my greetings to my nephew, and tell him and all the legions that we sail for the East in a week, ten days at most! I’ll be not long after you!”
“Farewell, Caesar,” said Quintus, and watched as the Dictator of the Republic turned and strode purposefully up the street towards Pompey’s Theater, where the Senate was meeting while the new curia was under construction. There was such strength and vigor in Caesar’s stride that the young officer was convinced that the First Man in Rome might well live forever.
He never saw Gaius Julius Caesar again.
“Pater?” Marcus’ voice intruded into his memories. “Are you well?”
“Fine, lad!” snapped Quintus. “Now what were we talking about?”
“Regrets, my father. I asked if you had any,” his son reminded him.
“None at all, my son, none at all,” the old man replied, and then rose and quickly walked back into the house, so that his son would not see the tears that were beginning to roll down his cheeks. In his chambers, he paused and looked at the statue that occupied a pedestal next to his desk. Caesar stared back at him, immortalized in stone, forever strong and vigorous. Quintus reached out with a trembling hand and touched the folds of the cold, marble toga.
“Regrets,” he sighed.
For a full length novel I wrote, set in the same timeframe, click here to buy
THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE: