Timeless Thoughts on Wisdom

Miyamoto Musashi, The Five Rings:

Do not allow your mind to become clouded, but make it expansive, and in this broadness you should place your wisdom. It is utmost importance to polish both your wisdom and your mindset devotedly.

Honing your wisdom, you will recognize what is right and wrong in any situation, and understand the good and bad of everything; knowing every art and skill, and being familiar with every Way, when you have achieved a condition where you cannot be tricked by anyone in the world in the tiniest way — that is the wisdom at the heart of strategy.

Sun Tzŭ, The Art of War:

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight…He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared…If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

King Solomon, Proverbs:

Wisdom calls aloud in the street. She raises her voice in the public squares…Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold…preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you…whoever fails to find wisdom harms himself; all who hate me love death.

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Writing and Launching Your Book

Need some book and writing related activities over the long weekend? Try these from author Jaimie Engle who has been busy this year:

She published the fantasy novel Dreadlands which I reviewed here. You can watch Jaimie discuss How to Launch Your Book where she explains the techniques she used to launch Dreadlands — what worked and what did not.

If that were not enough, she has also released Writing Your Novel: Using the Bible as Your Guide. This how-to takes cues from history’s most read book — and all the drama within — to show how your story can be dramatic, gripping and memorable.

And what writer doesn’t want that?

Categories: Bible, Books, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

From Arabia to the New World

Most people love some sort of fiction whether it film, television or books. Yet, there are adventures to be had in the real world amidst all of its chaos and strife. We already took a look at some fantastic travels into Latin America where the ancient world still hides. Here are some more tales of authors who went on their own adventures to explore lost histories of our past:

Few love stories can claim to have endured centuries, but that of Solomon and Sheba has done just that. Nicholas Clapp set out in Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen to uncover the truth to what is only briefly mentioned in biblical chronicles and some other sources. Traveling through unstable Yemen in Arabia, to ancient sites in Ethiopia and to the Jerusalem, the city of Solomon, he uncovers clues to the lost empire of Sheba that tantalize us with potentially much more hidden in the sands.

Legend has it that Venetian brother Antonio and Nicolo Zeno arrive in North America a hundred years before Columbus. Is it only a legend? Andrea di Robilant tracks them across Europe and to the fringes of the New World to uncover the truth in Irresistable North. Given a recent, new discovery of vikings, should we not take a little closer look at the Zenos?

The Zenos may not be the only ones to beat Columbus as Paul Chiasson writes in The Island of Seven Cities. Ruins on Cape Brenton in northeast Canada, not all that far from Viking sites, could be the remains of a Chinese outpost. If this wasn’t interesting enough, the Zeno brothers had mentioned encountering some sort of non-native settlement in the region. Vikings or Chinese or one of these intermixed with natives?

I’m thinking real life adventures like these beat television any day. So where do you want to go?

Categories: Ancient America, Ancient Documents, Ancient Sites, Bible, History | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rethinking the Nativity

Time for our yearly Christmas history post that I’m sure you’ve been waiting for. It’s always interesting to track down the origins of holiday traditions. Now that Christmas is upon us, many have displayed their Nativity scenes with the usual stable, wise men and donkey. Some interesting facts:

  • The Bible doesn’t state how many wise men there were. Three is divined from the number of gifts. Some traditions list many more Magi.
  • We Three Kings tells us they are from the Orient. Some people may think this means the Far East, i.e. Japan and its neighbors. True today, but not back then. These terms referred to Persia (centered in modern-day Iran).
  • Nowhere does the Bible record Mary riding a donkey, as many images depict. That comes from the Protevangelium of James 17:2: “He [Joseph] saddled the donkey and seated her [Mary] on it; and his son led it along, while Joseph followed behind.”
  • While the “no room in the inn” and Christ being humbled by being born in a barn account is an inseparable part of Christian culture, is it correct? Would Joseph find no relatives and friends in the town of his origin? Did not Mary know people nearby as well? In fact, Luke doesn’t use the Greek word for a “commercial inn,” but the word katalyma, which means “a place to stay.” Luke also defines this as “guest room” in Luke 22:10-12. So they very well may have been with friends or family.
  • The Bible simply reads “manger” as to where Jesus was placed. Assumed to mean that he was in a stable, but very early traditions state that a cave was being used. The mother of Constantine, Helena, had a church built over a cave, the Church of the Nativity. This is all probably wrong. Consider that a “manger” in Middle Eastern homes was in the home itself. This gives us an entirely different Nativity story. We have one where Joseph wasn’t irresponsible in getting his pregnant wife somewhere safe in time (Technically Luke doesn’t state Christ was born the night of arrival in Bethlehem, as commonly misconstrued).
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Jesus, Real and Imagined

There’s seems to be a wave of folks of redefining Jesus: Some wandering hippie, a good guy, hobo, this-or-that-retinterpreted-through-modern-cause or just someone that someone else made up. No, I’m not getting into a religious discussion here, but a historical one. This is also a case study in rooting out bias and agenda. In today’s 24/7 Internet, there’s a demand for a constant flow of articles. We should keep our baloney detector on, no matter what the topic we are reading (whether we like the author’s overall position or not).

Take the article by Chris Sosa, journalist, entitled “Historical Jesus, Not so Fast.” It starts out as if he is going to do what journalists do: A careful examination of an important subject. Very quickly, however, it becomes apparent we have nothing of the sort. Rather it is a repeating of common skeptical claims, not really new to anyone versed in such studies. An agenda emerges quickly.

Especially to anyone who spends 5 minutes looking up the author’s claims.

Claim 1: The Quirinius census (Luke 2:2) was too late to coincide with Herod the Great’s reign (Mathew 2:1) (thus Jesus birth story all out of whack). A couple things Sosa leaves out: Some serious; scholars believe Quirinius was twice governor as implied in Lapis Tiburtinus; inscription.  Others have suggested the translation should be, “this census was before the census which Quirinius, governor of Syria, made.” Not all issues have clear cut answers, but nor is there lack of answers, as implied by the article.

Claim 2: Sosa claims the Gospel of Mark “does not say that Jesus resurrected” stating this was “added at a later date.” Actually, as the translation he references clearly marks, the disputed portion starts at Mark 16:9. The resurrection is mentioned before this in Mark 16:6. The author hasn’t followed his own advice of, “Grab a bible and read along.”

Claim 3: Then there this old stand-by, “…not a single [gospel] agrees with the others on who actually saw [the resurrection].” A cursory review of the gospels reveals that none claim who first saw the empty tomb. That’s an important point (or omission on Sosa’s part). All of the gospels choose different details to focus on of the same events, which is clearly not the same as disagreeing.

Claim 4: Okay, he doesn’t claim anything, only defaults to quoting Bart Ehrman, (infamous) New Testament scholar. Ehrman is a fave among Jesus-debunkers and their go-to guy. Problem is that those who actually test his claims find that he isn’t all that scholarly. In fact, his arguments fail quite spectacularly. That all is beyond the scope of this essay, but finding someone who affirms your view and not testing their claims is not the same as actually proving it. (And Ehrman, scholar he may be, likes to sell his books under tabloidish titled books like Forged).

Claim 5: Sosa then discounts extrabiblical mentions of Jesus, which, obviously, “disintegrate under close examination” when consulting only scholars that agree with predetermined view. Interestingly, though, he doesn’t list all the known references, only ones some people debate.

I’m sure Sosa can “go on for hundreds of pages about the contradictions and historical problems of the Jesus narrative” just as Ehrman has by ignoring thousands of pages — and years — of contrary scholarship. Among other things, they neglect the eyewitness issues and rapid spread of Christianity in face of persecution. Or, very importantly, few Jews ever denied Christ’s existence. By history’s standards, there is far more documentation for Christ than most others we accept as real in the ancient world.

Note here that I didn’t resort to “faith” or talking points or emotion, only history and looking at the documents. Sure, I haven’t gone into a lengthy scholarly dissertation here either, but that wasn’t the point. The point is that we shouldn’t get mad reading an article, or automatically agree with it, without basic verification. Tone can indicate an agenda. A brief article claiming to unseat two millennia of scholarship needs some scrutiny, to say the least.

Regardless of what you think of the New Testament, it is arguably one of the most important documents to come down from antiquity. We have more ancient copies of it than any other document from the ancient world. Even the most revisionist of skeptics and Jesus-debunkers see no reason to claim Jesus was a “myth.”

Earth is flat. Jesus wasn’t real. Aliens traveling light-years in little saucers to abduct humans and make circles in corn fields.

Sometimes we just need to think. Just a little.


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Is the Horror Genre Evil?

I mentioned a book to someone awhile back that was in the horror genre. They were appalled, because they were under the impression that horror was equivalent to Satan making films. I understand where that idea comes from, given the tendency of uncreative horror books and films to be about gore, shock and attacking religion. To say these things are all of what horror is would be a gross stereotype.

Fans of Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Alfred Hitchcock all know that these authors explored the fears and dread of man in a more cerebral way. Most people find this approach more frightening than Freddy Part 500. Is there anything wrong with exploring the nature of man? The battle between good and evil? No, and the definition of horror is fluid and can cross into fantasy and sci-fi, and supernatural fiction is often just another name for it.

Christian writers, to the surprise of some, haven’t shied away from the field. Dante’s Inferno is quite hellish. There’s some heavy evil beings in The Lord of the Rings. Authors like Frank Peretti were writing supernatural fiction long before anyone came up with a name for it. Most shocking to all is that horror classics Frankenstein and Dracula were written with biblical worldviews. Gasp! Our perceptions of these two quintessential horror books have been colored by unfaithful adaptations reinterpreted through modern eyes. H. G. Ferguson writes:

It is hard cold fact that the horror story’s mother and father are Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) and Bram Stoker (Dracula), both of whom wrote out of a biblical worldview. Modern attempts by critics to discredit Stoker’s research in particular are significant. They don’t want to discredit Stoker so much as they want to discredit his worldview. They want the vampire amputated from the Judeo-Christian outlook Stoker held. They want Stoker’s vampire, but they do not want Stoker’s God. This is why so many — but not all — most recent treatments of vampires throw out the Cross as a means of dealing with them. The critics understand Dracula was written from a Christian worldview. Why don’t evangelicals?

There’s more to the Dracula story that leaves one wondering how modern versions and their offspring have managed to stray so far. That in of itself is not the point here:

Just like you don’t judge a book by its cover, nor should judge an entire genre by what low-budget movies have defined it as.


Categories: Bible, Fiction | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Missing Letters from Antiquity

Unknown thousands of writings from mankind’s past have been lost through the centuries, so it’s always impressive when finds are made, as with these Dead Sea Scrolls this month.

One has to wonder, what else is out there?

We know of some missing works, such as at least four letters that the Apostle Paul wrote (referenced in his other letters) that have no known remnants. He also wrote of a journey to Arabia and the intention to go to Spain (no one is sure if he made it). Did the prolific missionary-writer leave no records of these?

Finding these writings would be most interesting — or should I say historic?. Most consider the Bible closed — and any contrary suggestion unthinkable — but wouldn’t these letters be canonical? After all, the epistles state they exist. It would be quite the event, or circus, if such a discovery was made. Not a great disappointment like pseudo-gospels like the Gospel of Judas much ballyhooed a few years ago until scholars took a close look at it. Not that those types of documents don’t have any value, just not the religion-changing headlines often claimed.

Scholar and novelist Paul L. Maier explored the idea of the discovery of a missing part of the Bible in his novel The Constantine Codex. Another example of how it can take fiction to explore ideas some may not like.

And that is why fiction will never die.

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In recent years, Hollywood has tapped into the audience’s desire to see how their favorite characters came to be. In Star Trek we witnessed the coming together of the legendary starship crew. X-Men First Class unveiled the emergence of professor X, Magneto and their teams of mutants. And in Casino Royale we finally saw how Bond became 007. Film isn’t the only place that has been exploring origins. Brian Godawa has been exploring the beginnings of iconic figures from biblical accounts in his Chronicles of the Nephilim series.

First it was Noah, then Enoch. The great patriarch of religion Abraham. Now Joshua comes alive in Joshua Valiant. As in the previous books, Godawa reads between the lines and makes three-dimensional these people that we all know, whether or not one is a reader of the biblical accounts. Those accounts are known for giving us the main points, the purpose of our place in the Great Story. We can argue that this all that is needed and we’d be right, but many of us our curious and inquisitive people. What has been relayed to us are sometimes short on the details on the lives of these people. How they became who they were. Their paths that led them to where we meet up with them in the Bible.

So in this novel on the entrance of Joshua, Godawa continues to draw on what subtle details that the Bible provides, history from the era and other contemporary writings, and extrapolates into the fantasy genre with a cast of warring giants, demons and angels. But one is left wondering where does the fiction end and the history begin?

As I have said in previous reviews, it’s always best to start at the beginning with volume one of the series. You can jump in with this latest entry without much trouble, however. If you’re worried about this being “biblical fiction” that is going to sound like a sermon, put your concerns aside. This written more in the style of high fantasy and definitely not the calm, pastoral stories of children’s books (which have so colored our minds of the source material).

Before the walls of Jericho fell, there was a story to tell. Many stories, in fact. And when you compare the events of those times to the present day, you will begin to see some important parallels and one thing may come to your mind.

Has the War of the Seed begun again?

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Noah’s Ark Lands in Hollywood

Expensive biblical epics haven’t been a staple of Hollywood for decades, but this week saw the release of the first trailer of Noah which will hit theaters in early 2014.

Enter controversy.

Some like J.W. Wartick have written on concerns over possible “divergence from the Biblical story.” Fair enough, but I don’t have a problem with divergence, if it is in the sense Brian Godawa describes:

…there is nothing wrong with engaging in creative license, whether it is magical seeds or six-armed Watchers, or even Noah as a warrior. I don’t even think there is a problem in using non-biblical sources like the Book of Enoch or the Sumerian version of the Flood story, where unlike in the Bible, Noah receives dreams about the coming Deluge. The question is, does it support the spirit or meaning of the original story, or the original author’s intent. Bible believing Christians do not necessarily own this category of Biblical interpretation. The Bible doesn’t say what vocation Noah had before the Flood, only what he was afterward (a tiller of the soil). So if a Christian attacks the notion of Noah as a warrior shaman, he may really be illustrating his own cultural prejudice of the notion of a white bearded old farmer which is not in the Bible either…[bold mine]

However, Godawa does discuss quite a few concerns he had with an earlier draft of the script. Having only seen a brief clip of the movie, and not knowing how the script evolved or was edited, I’m not going to add or subtract from his analysis other than this: I do like how the film trailer does not depict Noah as a pastoral old man leading cute, Narnia-like animals into an ark. This Sunday School-fantasy version ignores the terror — and ultimately the point — of the account: Horrible evil is occurring in the world and mankind will be wiped out because of it. The actual story — an adult one — has been co-opted by preschoolers. Perhaps the film will spark debate on how shallow our take on Noah has become.

Hopefully, the filmmakers chose not to put modern agendas into an iconic account from the ancient world. There’s enough historical contextual sources to draw from, as Godawa does in his own novel on Noah. In a film of this budget, studios try not to be too offensive to anyone. It is a business after all. Then again, many big budget films failed in 2013.

Time will tell if Noah emerges under a rainbow or washes out.

Update [3/2/14, 3/17/14]: After continuing controversy over a film not released, Jerry A. Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), discusses Five Positive Facts and Five Negative Facts about the film. Johnson and the NRB were behind the recent press release from Paramount Pictures which states, “the feature film is a dramatization of the major scriptural themes and not a line-by-line retelling of the Bible story.”

Apparently the NRB thinks the Christian world is not intelligent enough to figure that out on their own. On the other hand, the “Sunday School-fantasy version” of Noah I discussed above that many envision in their minds is not “a line-by-line retelling of the Bible story” either.

And here, Dr. Hugh Ross looks at the biblical Noah account here and here. Or check out his new book that explores this and other issues of Genesis.

Update [4/3/14]: Here’s an interesting debate: Is Noah a Gnostic interpretation or not.

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After Life Everywhere

There have been a scores of books recently on near death experiences (NDEs) and visits to heaven (and an occasional drop into hell). I briefly considered reviewing a wide swath of these, but there’s way too many. But I was also given pause by the thought, “Has anyone looked closely at these? Or is emotion at work here, much like Y2k and 2012?”

No, I’m not skeptical of NDEs in principal as a possibility. Many of these people’s experiences may be true in every detail. Others may have really seen something, though not really know what it was. There may even be a hoax or two out there, but I haven’t heard of many. In any case, I was pleased to find that Hank Hanegraaff wrote Afterlife, in which he does what few others dare to do:

Take the time to really read the NDE stories and see if their claims stand up to simple reason.

For people who don’t like their beliefs to be disrupted, Hanegraaff probably doesn’t make a lot of friends. All that he is doing, however, is some simple critical thinking. Like asking, “Why do so many of these accounts seem colored by the person’s personal beliefs? Why is everyone’s vision of heaven different?” (paraphrasing Hank here). Indeed, those are good questions.

Since many of these accounts come from Christians, Hanegraaff compares the accounts to biblical theology to find the hits and misses. One interesting NDE has a man describing heaven nearly identical to the Apostle John’s version in The Book of Revelation. Was John’s metaphorical attempt to describe the indescribable so perfect that others couldn’t at least try to use different terms? I think experiencing heaven would encourage one to be a little more creative.

I glad someone is out there doing the dirty work. Also a bit sad that using basic reading skills is now “dirty work.” For those who think this is an exercise in futility because they think there isn’t an afterlife, there is a massive body of work from both scientific and theological perspectives that strongly argue otherwise (such as Brain Wars or Immortality, to name a few). But that debate is not the point here.

It’s okay to let emotion draw you into a book, nonfiction or fiction. That doesn’t mean you have to turn the left side of your brain off. Especially in nonfiction.

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