Crucifixion Part 1

This is the first in a 3-part examination of the history of Roman crucifixion.

I. INTRODUCTION

Crucifixion (from Latin crucifixio, perfect passive participle crucifixus, fixed to a cross, from prefix cruci-, cross, + verb ficere, fix or do, variant form of facere, do or make ) is an ancient method of execution, whereby the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross (of various shapes) and left to hang until dead.

German scholar of religion Martin Hengel, the author of the work entitled Crucifixion (full title Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross), originally published in 1977, writes that while authors commonly regard the origins of crucifixion as coming from Persia due to the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus, the practice of impaling or nailing someone to a post or something similar to it, was also found among the Indians, Assyrians, Scythians, Taurians, Celts, Greeks, Seleucids, Romans, Britanni, Numidians and Carthaginians. The Carthaginians is commonly thought to have passed the knowledge to Romans, who then perfected the method.


II. HISTORY

While the origins of this method of execution are quite obscure, it is clear that the form of capital punishment lasted for over nearly 900 years, starting with the Persian king Darius’ (reigned 550-485 BC) crucifixion of 3000 Babylonian slaves in 519 BC and ending with Constantine in 337 AD; thus tens if not hundreds of thousands of individuals have been subjected to this cruel and humiliating form of punishment. There are records of mass executions in which hundreds of thousands of persons have died due to this practice.

It is common belief that crucifixion was only reserved for criminals, as a result of Plutarch’s passage that “each criminal condemned to death bears his cross on his back”, however literature clearly shows that this class were not the only individuals who were subjected to crucifixion. For example, Alexander the Great crucified 2000 survivors from the siege of Tyre on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Condemned Roman citizens were usually exempt from crucifixion (like feudal nobles from hanging, dying more honorably by decapitation) except for major crimes against the state, such as high treason.

The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonour.

Under ancient Roman penal practice, crucifixion was also a means of exhibiting the criminal’s low social status. It was the most dishonourable death imaginable, originally reserved for slaves, hence still called “supplicium servile” by Seneca, later extended to provincial freedmen of obscure station (‘humiles’). The citizen class of Roman society were almost never subject to capital punishments; instead, they were fined or exiled. The Jewish-Roman historian Josephus mentions Jews of high rank who were crucified, but this was to point out that their status had been taken away from them.

Control of one’s own body was vital in the ancient world. Capital punishment took away control over one’s own body, thereby implying a loss of status and honor. The Romans often broke the prisoner’s legs to hasten death and usually (with a few known exceptions) forbade burial.

III. METHODS OF CRUCIFIXION

Crucifixion was literally a death that was ‘excruciating’ (from the Latin word ‘ex cruces’, “out of crucifying”), gruesome (hence dissuading against the crimes punishable by it), and public (hence the expression “to nail to the cross”), using whatever means expedient for that goal. The methods varied considerably with location and with time period.

The Greek and Latin words corresponding to “crucifixion” covered a wide range of meaning, from impaling on a stake to affixing on a tree, to a mere upright pole (a ‘crux simplex’) or to a combination of an upright stake (‘stipes’ in Latin) and a crossbeam (‘patibulum’).

If a crossbeam is used, the victim was forced to carry it on his shoulders, which would have been torn open by a brutal scourging, to the place of execution. The Roman historian Tacitus records that the city of Rome had a specific place for carrying out executions, situated outside the Esquiline Gate, and a specific area reserved for the execution of slaves by crucifixion.

A. SCOURGING

Scourging the victim was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in eases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip (known as a flagellum or flagrum, seen at right) with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron or lead balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals.

For scourging, the man was first stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post.

The poet Horace refers to the horribile flagellum (horrible whip) in his Satires, calling for the end of its use. Typically, the one to be punished was stripped naked and bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it, or chained to an upright pillar as to be stretched out.

The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two Roman officials known as lictors (from the Latin verb ligare, which means “to bind”, said to refer to the fasces that they carried) or by one who alternated positions (some reports even indicate scourgings with four or six lictores). The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the lictores and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death.

There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted — this was left to the lictores to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, Livy, Suetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation where victims died while still bound to the post. Josephus also states that, at the Siege of Jerusalem at 70 AD (Jewish War 5.11), Jews who were captured by Titus’ forces “were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more; yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as great deal them useless to him. “

Flagellation was so severe that it was referred to as “half death” by some authors and apparently, many died shortly thereafter (some survivors were even reported to have gone mad due to the intensity of the scourging). Cicero reports in In Verrem (II.5), “pro mortuo sublatus, perbrevi postea est mortuus” (“taken away for a dead man, shortly thereafter he was dead”). Often the victim was turned over to allow flagellation on the chest, though this proceeded with more caution, as the possibility of inflicting a fatal blow was much greater.

As Pontius Pilate was only the Prefect/Equestrian Procurator of Iudeaea Region (from 26-36 A.D.), he might have had no true lictor of his own, hence regular soldiers might have administered the scourging in place of lictores.

After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim. In Jesus’ situation, this took the form of plaiting thorns (several prickly or thorny shrubs found in Palestine, especially the Paliurus aculeatus, Zizyphus Spina-Christi, and Zizyphus vulgaris may have served for the purpose) into a sort of ‘crown’ (the Gospels use the Greek word stephanon, which usually implies a wreath or garland of some sort; however some think that it is likely that the crown was a sort of ‘cap’ that covered the whole head, as in the illustration at right), dressing him in a purple (so say Mark and John) or scarlet (Matthew) cloak (Matthew and Mark used the Greek word chlamys, which was originally a sort of cloak worn by Greek soldiers made from a rectangle of woollen material about the size of a blanket, typically bordered, and was usually pinned at the right shoulder while John used the word himation, which was a type of cloak worn over the tunic or chiton), in order to mock him as King of the Jews. In addition, he was also provided a reed (kalamos) for a sceptre, which was later used to beat him (Matt. 27:30). However, once the soldiers got tired of this sport, they took off the robe, “dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.”

B. TO THE PLACE OF EXECUTION

It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 pounds (136 kilograms), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75-125 pounds (35-60 kg). was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar.

The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by execution teams composed of four soldiers, headed by a centurion, with the condemned man placed in the middle of the hollow square of the four soldiers.

A herald carried a sign (titulus, epigraphe) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed; alternatively, it would have been hung around the victim’s neck. The board was said to be whitened with gypsum while the lettering was in black; alternatively, the lettering was done with gypsum. The description of guilt written thereon was usually made to be as brief and as concise as possible; the Gospel’s record that Jesus’ titulus merely contained his name and his crime (“the King of the Jews”). Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 5.1) recorded a Christian martyr named Attalus who was led to the ampitheatre to be killed, with a placard being carried before him which said simply: “This is Attalus the Christian.”

At the site of execution, the victim stripped of his clothing (if any) and, at least in Palestine, was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic to help deaden the pain. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. Any article of clothing belonging to the victim became the property of the party of soldiers in charge of the execution, as per the law; thus, the soldiers drew lots for Jesus’ clothes.

There was no ‘set’ posture for someone being crucified; soldiers usually crucified victims in various postures and positions (Josephus mentions that during the Siege of Jerusalem, soldiers crucified those they caught “one after one way, and another after another” to amuse themselves).

Upright posts would have presumably been erected and fixed permanently in such places, and the crossbeam, with the condemned man perhaps already nailed to it, would then be attached to the post. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank serving as a crude seat (known as a sedile or sedulum), was often attached midway down the stipes.

C. TYING OR NAILING TO THE CROSS?

The condemned man may sometimes have been attached to the cross by tying him securely there (some scholars have, in fact, argued that crucifixion was actually a bloodless form of death and that tying the victim was the rule), but nails are mentioned by Josephus, who states that, again during the Siege of Jerusalem, “the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.”

Therefore, other scholars such as Hengel, who here takes along with Hewitt (1932) have argued that nailing the victim by his hands and feet was the rule and tying him to the cross was the exception.

In Roman times iron was expensive; thus, nails from a crucifixion were usually removed from the dead body and reused over and over to cut the costs. Also, objects used in the execution of criminals, such as nails or ropes from a crucifixion were frequently sought as amulets by many people, and was thus removed from the victim following their death.

This is attested to by a passage in the Mishna (Tractate Sabbath 6.10) which states that both Jews and Amorites (a sort of ‘codeword’ for non-Jews) may carry a nail from a crucifixion, a tooth from a jackal and an egg from a locust as a means of healing:

MISHNA IX: It is permitted to go out with eggs of grasshoppers or with the tooth of a fox or a nail from the gallows where a man was hanged, as medical remedies. Such is the decision of R. Meir, but the sages prohibit the using of these things even on week days, for fear of imitating the Amorites.

GEMARA: The eggs of grasshoppers as a remedy for toothache; the tooth of a fox as a remedy for sleep, viz., the tooth of a live fox to prevent sleep and of a dead one to cause sleep; the nail from the gallows where a man was hanged as a remedy for swelling.

“As medical remedies,” such is the decision of R. Meir. Abayi and Rabha both said: “Anything (intended) for a medical remedy, there is no apprehension of imitating the Amorites; hence, if not intended as a remedy there is apprehension of imitating the Amorites? But were we not taught that a tree which throws off its fruit, it is permitted to paint it and lay stones around it? It is right only to lay stones around it in order to weaken its strength, but what remedy is painting it? Is it not imitating the Amorites? (Nay) it is only that people may see it and pray for mercy. We have learned in a Boraitha: It is written: “Unclean, unclean, shall he call out [Leviticus, 13:45].” (To what purpose?) That one must make his troubles known to his fellow-men, that they may pray for his relief.”

As this Mishnaic passage mentions both Jews and non-Jews carrying these objects one can infer the power of these amulets and their scarcity in the archaeological record. Not only Jewish sources attest to the power of these objects; Pliny in Naturalis Historia (28.11) wrote that:

…So, too, in cases of quartan fever, they take a fragment of a nail from a cross, or else a piece of a halter that has been used for crucifixion, and, after wrapping it in wool, attach it to the patient’s neck; taking care, the moment he has recovered, to conceal it in some hole to which the light of the sun cannot penetrate…

Perhaps, however, the number of the individuals crucified may determine the manner in which the execution took form. For example, during the Third Servile War (led by the slave Spartacus), which happened in 73-71 BC, 6600 prisoners of war were crucified along the Via Appia between the cities of Rome and Capua, it would seem plausible that the most quick and efficient manner of death was employed; namely, to simply tie the victim to the tree or cross with his hands suspended directly over his head, causing death within a few minutes, or perhaps an hour if the victims’ feet were not nailed or tied down.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “The Crucifixion,” by Jacopo Tintoretto, painted in 1565.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Tenth Epistle

It has been almost three years since the tragic death of Isaac. Ruth and Nahum are still struggling with his death. It has affected them deeply to the point of depression. Ezra and Ezekiel have tried to console and help their parents but nothing they have done has made them feel any less remorseful.

Another contributing factor to their stress and poor health are the daily reports of mass murders of Christians in nearby towns and cities. Both the Jews, who resent the new Christian believers and the Romans who are angry that the Christians continue to state their belief in Jesus and his preaching ahead of the Roman Leaders.

Now a new fear is gripping the city of Jerusalem! There are rumors of a Roman attack on the city in the next few years. The attack will be against the Jews, but the new Christians are worried they may be part of the attack too. Many have already fled to other countries.

Nahum and his boys have discussed the possibility of an attack either by Jews or Romans. Considering their relationship with many Jewish customers and the recent non threatening actions of the Roman soldiers they have agreed to continue living their lives as they have been for seventy years.

Nahum and family are feeling safe, but many of their friends and customers have been slaughtered by Jewish rebels as they try to eliminate the followers of Jesus.
The Jews are also shocked and angry thousands of Jews are converting to this new Christianity every day. Even in time of persecution, Jesus word is bringing in new followers.

It is fifty years since Nahum took over his fathers carpentry and leather shop. The boys believe a celebration should be held in honour of this accomplishment.

The boys have been secretly planning an event that they hope will help bring some closure to the death of Isaac and the hundreds of his followers. They also hope it will bring some happiness back into the lives of their parents.

It is a large event they are planning, a huge amount of work and planning and even some fear of the Roman soldiers and the Jewish rebels. After all, Nahum was one of the mob who joined together and shouted CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! and some of those people have remained faithful to the Jewish faith but are still customers today.

After three months of talking, checking, enquiring (secretly) and praying about their plan, they have decided to tell their wives on Saturday night of the plan.

Following dinner, Ezra asked the two ladies to join them in the sitting room where the boys presented their plan. The ladies were awe struck and for some time did not reply. After a while, Hannah looked at Elizabeth and said do you think the ladies from the Guild would be willing to help with the food. There were about fifty women in the Guild, she replied, I am sure they would.

With that Hannah said, ok, lets do it! They all agreed they should keep it a secret from Ruth and Nahum, but should discuss it with the larger family before undertaking such a big event. They made a plan for each of them to reach out to various family members and get their approval. They are to meet again in two weeks.

Two weeks later the two couples met and exchanged the results of their respective visits. The visits all went well, and many of the visits resulted in offers to assist. Joshua said he had four large barrels of fine wine he would bring! That was an important aspect that they all smiled about.

The most important and dangerous part of the plan was the fact the event would be open for both the new Jesus people; Christians, and the Jewish community. They would also have to get the approval from Claudius and the Roman soldiers. Was this too dangerous a mix? Only time would tell.

The Christian community around this part of Jerusalem was not being persecuted by either the Jews or the Romans, however, only a few miles away there were horror stories of mass killings, tortures and persecution of the Christians. Would this Event be noticed by these factions who could easily slaughter hundreds of unarmed, innocent people.

Ezra and Ezekiel decided on a plan that would give them some assurance of a safe and danger free event. They would consult with various people to get their reaction to the idea.

When the boys reconvened the next week, they were pleased with the responses they got from their contacts. Ezra has spoken with some of his Jewish friends and leaders while Ezekiel visited Claudius.

They were assured from both fronts that there was no danger if they agreed to two rules. That there be no religious activities, and no political involvement or participation. Both boys agreed this could be attained, although they were very disappointed they could not talk about their new friend Jesus, but realized the danger that could come to them if they aggravated the Romans or the Jews. They decided to ask God for forgiveness and forged ahead with their plans.

Now it was time to get to work, and there was a lot of work for everyone. They decided they would have a meeting during one afternoon when they knew Nahum would be at home. Also, there would be no suspicions about a secret meeting held during the day.

On Thursday, fourteen people arrived at the shop. Ezekiel took the lead and presented the plans. He was supported by Ezra, Elizabeth and Hannah.

The Event would be a celebration of fifty years of Nahum The Carpenter. There would be an open invitation to anyone and everyone. There would be food, wine, children’s games, music, horse and wagon valet service, and Ruth and Nahum would be comfortably seated where all the guests could stop by and say hello.

This brief synopsis begged many questions! Who would do the cooking? Abraham had volunteered to cook a large steer on an open pit; Elizabeth and Hannah had spoken to two local Ladies Guilds and over forty ladies would look after the remaining food. Market Man had offered to bring large baskets of fresh fruit, and of course Joshua was bringing the wine.

Who was looking after the children: Hannah and Sara had reached out to three teacher friends and they agreed to assist along with several teenagers from the local schools. What about the horses and wagons. Here, Ezra was so proud of his “horse friends”, many had volunteered to meet the wagons and after unloading the passengers would drive the wagons to near by fields where there would be shade, water and hay for the animals. There were enough volunteers that they could take turns and still enjoy some of the festivities too.

What about the music? This proved to be another proud moment for the two boys. First of all Ezekiel had played in a band with some of his friends. They enjoyed sacred music as well as some of the present day modern music. They would play in an area where people could listen, dance and sing as they chose. Then, the big surprise came from Sara and Hannah. They had met a young girl, Demetra, while at medical school in Athens. As well as training in the medical field she was also an aspiring entertainer. She followed the music of Sappho and her brother accompanied her on the Lyre. Both Hannah and Sara had attended several of her concerts while training in Athens. Although her music was primarily Greek, her beautiful voice and amazing poetry of Sappho made for wonderful musical entertainment.

When contacted by Sara she agreed to come if she and her brother could be given some travel expense money and a place to stay. Hannah explained that the Medical Centre had saved enough to assist with travel expenses and Elizabeth had offered the new home that had been Miriamne and Yohanan’s apartment as a place to stay.

The participants were all nodding their approval as the couple explained their plans. Two final questions were asked: how many people did they expect, and who was going to pay for all this? Again, the boys explained they had done some research and came up a number of 300 guests! since much of the labour was being donated, most of the costs would be assisting in paying for the food.

The boys had prepared a budget for the purchase of the foods and to reimburse the ladies for the purchase of vegetables etc. This would not be an issue.

On Monday Ezra and Ezekiel retraced their steps of a few weeks ago and revisited the leaders to advise them the Event was a go. Now it is time to get to work.

The photo shows, “The Marriage at Cana,” by Tintpretto, painted in 1561.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Ninth Epistle

Baby Paul was growing very fast and was a very happy, contented little boy. He was the recipient of much love from his parents, his grandparents and of course Miriamme. He loved the outdoors and was particularly happy when his father took him for a ride on one of his horses.

Life for the Nahum family was very satisfying. The shops were flourishing; the clinic was a very important place in the community. Hannah was continuing to improve her medical competence by taking courses in Italy and Greece, Sarah also went to Greece to get her medical training and the family was enjoying good health. Their new Christian Church was also growing. Isaac was not only leading many services but also training new disciples to assist him. Ezekiel was taking over many of Isaac’s missions and developing into a well respected Christian Leader.

Nahum was coming to the shop three days a week and going to see Market Man every other week. Ezra went to the shop every morning, and if not needed, he would go and tend to his horses. Samuel and Ethan handled all the work in the shop now and Bart and Simon managed the blacksmith and carriage shop.

Market Man was advised to come to the shops next Monday, after lunch.

The men had completed the carriage in much less time than expected. It looked great and had some unique features. They had made a retractable roof for the driver that could be tilted back on clear days, they had made a step board for the driver that prevented any stones or debris from the horses hitting him; the two boys had made leather seats and backs and of course it also had the glass windows.

On Saturday Nahum, Ezra and the four men took the carriage for a test run around Ezra’s farm. Ezra used a team of his highly trained horses to pull the carriage. Each man was given a chance to drive the carriage. It all went smooth.

When they returned to the shop they decided to take one more trip, this time on the road. They drove to Hannah’s parents, Jonah and Abigail. They were pleased they did not encounter any traffic so the carriage was still a secret. When back at the shop the men all pitched in, checked everything over and cleaned all the road dirt and dust off and it was like new again.

On Monday Market Man rode his horse to the shops and arrived to find his carriage hitched to a beautiful team of grey horses. Ezra explained that the men had done such a great job in completing the work ahead of schedule and cost and if Market Man agreed they would give him the team in exchange for his horse, he was delighted.

Once he looked over his new carriage he asked if the young artist was here. Simon called his sister and the young artist, Leah from the office. The shy girl was hugged by Market Man and he told her he had arranged with an artist friend of his who has a gallery near my market, to give you lessons every Saturday that you can make it to town. Her mother was crying and Leah was giggling with pure joy.

Nahum and Ezra accompanied Market Man back to his home with his horse hitched behind for Ezra to ride home. Market Man was absolutely delighted with his new carriage and said he could hardly wait to show Jonathon.

Abraham and Naomi were neighbours of Hannah’s parents, Jonah and Abigail. Their families had been friends for decades. One afternoon while each man was tilling his fields, Abraham, tethered his team and went over to speak with Jonah. He extended an invitation to Jonah, Abigail and Hannah, and the new boy friend. They agreed upon Friday night.

Abraham was a big strong affable man, who loved to enjoy a good time. He had always teased pretty little Hannah and called her his girl friend. When the family arrived, Abraham picked up Hannah and gave her a big bear hug, Hannah squealed, like she always did, and gave Abraham a big kiss on his forehead. Poor Ezekiel had never seen anything like this and was momentarily startled, but Hannah soon explained the situation to him and they all had a good laugh.

After tea was served, Abraham took over! He explained, again, to Ezekiel that Hannah was his girl friend and he was jealous that she had chosen you instead of me, more laughs. He went to explain that he had changed from cattle farming to crop farming and that he did not require a hired hand anymore. He said the house that his father had built for him forty years ago was sitting empty now. He continued by saying he had asked the Tax Man to find a way that Abraham could sever a piece of his farm with the house on it and sell it.

A few months ago it was all legalized and he had a crew build a fence around the home and five acres. He now wanted to sell it and he wanted Hannah and her new friend to have the first opportunity to buy it. He did not need the money, so was asking a below market price for the property.

The young couple and their families were overwhelmed by the kind offer from this friendly neighbour. They were almost unable to speak, finally Ezekiel stood up and made a wonderful speech covering all the necessary points, which included, thanking them for the kind offer, the wonderful love that had grown between the two farming families over the years, his appreciation for his own family and last but not least the new love and admiration he had for Hannah. He ended by going over to her parents and giving them each a kiss.

Abraham, in his rough and tumble style made a joke of it and said enough of this lets toast it with some wine!

The young couple made all the financial arrangements and the deal was completed within a month. They had a home when they got married.

To add to the excitement of Nahum and his extended family was the news of another baby in the next few months.

The one sad part to this story was the passing of Yohanin in the early spring. Following his delightful ride in Jonathon’s carriage his health deteriorated. Miriamme asked Isaac and Ezekiel to join them for tea one Sunday afternoon. Yohanin was very weak but he made up his mind to sit up when his friends arrived. After some pleasant conversation, Isaac asked everyone to join him in prayer. He then presented a wonderful tribute to the little man, highlighted by the fact the couple had sold their farm to Nahum and that they had dedicated a section to be used for a church.

Yohanin with a voice just above a whisper said he wanted to say three things: thank you to all his friends for their love over the years; he wanted to thank God for allowing him to live long enough to see the birth and death of Jesus and lastly for the lifelong love of his dear wife Miriamme. With tears running down their cheeks the couple embraced like a couple of newlyweds.

When the guests left,Yohanin said to Miriamme I would like to go to bed, would you please come and snuggle with me. For the next hour or so, the couple reminisced about their life, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying. Yohanin then quietly kissed his wife, said I love you and went to sleep. He never woke up!

Isaac and Ezekiel conducted a funeral for Yohanin which took place on the piece of property which was to be used for a Christian Church. Much like the tribute given a few days ago, Isaac reminded the crowd of over two hundred people of all the accomplishments and kindnesses and love Yohanin had delivered over the years. He also paid tribute to Miriamme who sat in the arms of Elizabeth. It was a wonderful good bye to a wonderful man.

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.

The photo shows, “Christ’s Farewell to Mary,” by Piotr Stachiewicz, painted in 1900.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Eighth Epistle

I should explain how the request to build wagons with seats on them came about. It all happened after the purchase of Yohanan and Miriamme’s farm, about two miles outside of Jerusalem. Here is the story!

What was once Nahum’s grandfather’s little leather shop is now a multi-functional operation.

It all started with a visit by Isaac to Miriamme and Yohanan’s. The elderly couple asked Isaac to invite Nahum and Ezra to come to their home for dinner on Friday.

Nahum and Ezra left early with Samuel and Ethan managing the shop. They rode their horses to see Yonanan and Miriamme.

Miriamme had prepared a sumptuous dinner and while the couple was certainly showing their age, they were both able to chat and converse very well.

After dinner, the couple surprised Nahum and Ezra when they presented them with a proposal that neither of them expected.

They told the men that they were now too old to run their farm and would like to sell it to Nahum and his son. They had two conditions, and they believed only Ezra could fulfill these conditions.

So, what are the conditions? Well, number one they wanted to be promised that the course piece of property at the east end of the farm, near the side road, would be the home of a future Christian Church.

Number two, they would like Ezra and Elizabeth to live in the main home and Yohanan and Miriamme would live in the small apartment. They would live separately, but wanted the security of knowing that someone was close by if/when needed. The amount they wanted for the farm was significantly less than the market value, partly because they had no heirs, but mainly because they wanted a Church built on their property.

Nahum and Ezra left with a promise they would return within three days with their answer.

When the two men reached town, they decided to meet with their wives immediately as this was a significant offer and affected all of them. They met at Nahums late into the evening.

The wives were more awe struck than the men! They could not believe they could be blessed with such a kind offer. They all agreed that Nahum should visit the Banker tomorrow morning to secure necessary credit and paper work.

The meeting with the Banker went well, Nahum had saved over the years and Ezra had received large gifts of money at their wedding. Also, Nahum was a respected businessman and member of the community so a small loan was no problem.

Nahum, Ruth, Ezra and Elizabeth returned to the couples home on Monday. Nahum said he would like to accept their offer and he had made arrangements with the Banker Man to transfer the funds into their account. Elizabeth startled the group when she stood and said she had another condition on the offer. Miriamme was quick to reply that the offer they had presented to Nahum was not open for dispute. But Elizabeth stood firm and said she insisted. Ok, Miriamme said what is it??

Elizabeth replied that the deal depended on Miriamme agreeing to teach Elizabeth how to cook and bake. The old woman jumped up and threw her arms around Elizabeth and said you will be my daughter. The deal was completed that night.

Now came the need to sell the old shop which was difficult for Nahum, because it had been handed down for four generations.

One day a well dressed man riding in an elaborate carriage stopped at the shop, looking for Nahum. His name was Jonathon; he was a very wealthy land developer who was looking for property to build an inn. He said he was talking to Banker Man who told him about Nahums shop being for sale.

He thought the site of the old shop was ideal as it was just off the main roadway and stood alone, not too close to any other buildings. Of course Nahum was anxious to sell, even though his heart was still aching about giving up his family property.

The discussions were very short, both parties agreed on a price and a closing date and both parties were happy!

Over the next six months a new shop was built with a modern, clean bright Medical Centre for Elizabeth.

One day just after the new shop opened a carriage stopped out front and Jonathon got out. Nahum welcomed him warmly and invited him for a tour.

Jonathon then said to Nahum and Ezra, within an hour a large wagon would be arriving with something for the new shop. A short time later a four horse team with a huge wagon arrived. The driver parked and two riders proceeded to climb up and open the load. They then dropped down two large crates.  Inside was some furniture. Nahum and Ezra went over and shook Jonathon’s hand and gave him a warm hug. Jonathon explained that when he was ordering furniture for his new inn, he thought you might like to have some new furniture for your office and lunch room. He added that he appreciated the honest way they had conducted the sale, and for the wonderful job Ezra had done on his lawns. He was very grateful.

While they were dismantling the crates Jonathon asked who the elderly couple was. When Ezra explained he walked over and introduced himself. Yohanan was so in awe of the carriage that he could hardly speak. He finally said, Mister that is the most beautiful carriage I have ever seen!. Thank you Jonathon replied, would you like to see inside, oh please may we? With that the driver was instructed to show them.

Jonathon then went over and whispered in Ezra’s ear. With a huge smile Ezra replied FOR SURE!!!!

When the couple got down Jonathon approached them and said, I am driving to my new inn to oversee the unloading of the wagon, and then I am returning home, would you like to join me? I will drop you off back here in about six hours. We can stop and have dinner on the way back.

The couple looked at each, neither one knowing what to say! They were both in such awe now. Finally Ezra said, ok let’s go, I will join you, I can sit with the driver and you two can stay inside. Oh my, Miriamme replied, let us go home for a few minutes to put on nicer clothes. Both men smiled and said take your time!

A few minutes later they returned nicely attired in their best clothes and Miriamme brought along some fresh biscuits she had baked and some cold tea. They were both so excited to ride in such a luxurious carriage. It was a monumental day for the couple.

**************

Elizabeth woke Ezra one early morning and said she was going into labour. Ezra called Miriamme from her sleep and the two of them helped Elizabeth deliver a healthy little boy. They said they would name him Paul, after the disciple Zeke had been working with. The grandparents were delighted.

A few weeks later a baptismal was held and the usual discussion by the grandparents took place with each pair claiming Paul looked like their side of the family. Elizabeth, Ezra and Miriamme all smiled to themselves. It was truly a happy gathering.

*************

During the next year Nahum and Ezra had the good fortune to purchase a blacksmith shop from old friend Seth who wanted to retire and actually move not far from the new shop.

Nahum was always proud at how the ladies in his family could speak freely and be part of any and all discussions. When the discussion of the blacksmith shop came up Elizabeth and Ruth with support from Hannah, said the blacksmith shop should be a separate building away from the main shop and the clinic. Nahum and Ezra were surprised and proud of the ladies for speaking up and making a good point. It was agreed the blacksmith shop would be away from the clinic and downwind too.

The deal went smooth with Seth supervising the transition and relocation. While this was taking place another friend mentioned to Ezra that his cousin was a blacksmith in Rome but wanted to return home. When Nahum and Ezra were interviewing the young man, Bartholomew or Bart, he asked if they had considered building wagons now that they had a blacksmith shop. They were surprised but said why are you asking? He said that a friend of his who worked at the same large plant in Rome, building wagons, was also looking to move back to the Jerusalem area.

It was not long after that Bartholomew, or Bart and his friend Ethan were members of the Nahum the Carpenter shop and they were now making sandals, repairing harness, fixing implements and building wagons! Much different to the shop of twenty years ago!.

When Joshua heard of this he was so anxious to see Nahum and ask him if he could order a new wagon. He ordered one for himself and two for neighbours. The wagon business had started.

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.

The photo shows, “The Forge of Vulcan,” by Francesco Bassano the Younger, painted in the latter part of the 16th century.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Seventh Epistle

Joshua and Zilpah came to visit Nahum and Ruth one Sunday. During their visit Joshua asked Nahum if he had heard of a travel wagon? Nahum said Simon referred to it once in a conversation with a local farmer.

Joshua said he and two of his farmer neighbours were realizing how difficult it was to move workers from one place to another, they had to take small carts of a horse each. He said he had heard that a company in Rome was building them and farmers were finding them such a time saver, and they were even using them to transport family and friend, some held as many as fourteen people. Nahum said he would ask Simon for more information.

Simon showed Nahum a drawing of a farm wagon that could have seats added to transport people. He had made some in Rome. He said they were easy to build.

When Nahum told Joshua he ordered three.

Samuel and Ethan said they would make padded leather seats for even more comfort.

The boys completed the three wagons and Ezra delivered them using a team of his well trained horses to pull the first one and tow the other two behind.

The farmers were delighted in their new mode of transport and felt the cost would soon by paid for by the time saved in moving workers. They also appreciated the fact they could take their family all in one wagon now too.

As Elizabeth and Ezra were going to bed Elizabeth leaned over and gave her husband a kiss. She said, Ezra, if nothing happens in the next month we will have to invite our families for lunch again! He sat up and asked are you pregnant, yes she smiled back at him.

Ezekiel was improving every day and was now going out and meeting with Isaac whenever he could. Isaac was giving him an overview of his preaching area and the places where “Churches” had been established.

One evening Nahum surprised his son when he brought Hannah back with him from the shops. Again, she had prepared herself well for the surprise visit, hair all nice, a touch of rouge on her cheeks and another pretty dress.  Nahum had arranged for the two of them to dine at one of the areas nicer dining rooms. They made such a cute couple.

Ezekiel made Hannah’s day when he told her he had decided to stay in Jerusalem area and take over some of Isaacs missions. He also said he was looking to buy property but was not sure where. She was even more delighted when he asked her where she would like to live! Hannah said she had some ideas, but would need to think about them first. Any decision was put on hold for now.

They had a delightful evening and when they returned home Ruth and Nahum sat with them for some time enjoying some of Joshua’s wine, it was a very pleasant evening for all of them. Ruth showed Hannah to the spare room and the family went to bed very happy.

Nahum made his usual bi-weekly stop at Market Man and was surprised when he was asked if Market Man would be able to visit his shops and meet with Ezra. Nahum agreed to meet Market Man at the edge of town on Friday at 8:00 am.

The two men rode to the shops where Ezra was waiting with tea and biscuits for them. Market man asked for a tour and a chance to meet the staff. In particular he wanted to meet Samuel and Ethan. He surprised the two young men when he presented them each with a bag of shekels, a considerable amount too!

He praised them for their quality of workmanship and their creativity. They were pleased, excited and slightly embarrassed all at the same time.  Nahum and Ezra were proud of their “two boys”!

They returned to the meeting room where Market Man produced a drawing of a carriage he had seen recently. He explained to Ezra that he had opened a second store at the far end of town, in an area that served mostly farmers and wine growers; it was quite far from his original shop.  He said he was finding it difficult to transport his people, either between shops, to Church, to family gatherings or to other social events so he wanted a carriage! He showed them his rough drawing.

Nahum and Ezra looked at it and asked Market Man if it would be ok to bring Simon and Bart into the meeting, He agreed.

When the two men arrived, Market Man explained how he was so impressed with Jonathon’s carriage and how much use he got out of it. He explained he wanted a carriage similar, but different and told them his plans and ideas.  Ezra noticed the two men smiling and winking at each other when they heard what Market Man wanted, but said nothing.  The two men looked over the drawings and suggested they could come up with their own set of drawings and a cost estimate in a week. Market Man agreed to return next Friday.  He then thanked them for their time, for the tour and the tea and rode home.

When he had left, Ezra said, ok boys what was so funny. Bart said, wait a minute and he left. He returned a few minutes later with two large scrolls. He opened them and he and Simon explained that they had been designing a carriage in their spare time and they thought it would be perfect for Market Man. Ezra told them to take time off and work on the drawings, they said they would, but would also work on their own time too as they really enjoyed the opportunity.

Over the next few evenings and on Saturday and Sunday, the two men worked on their design. Simon was anxious to use some new glass for the windows. A friend in Rome had sent him two sheets carefully wrapped on a board, telling him they were now producing this product in Rome. He wanted to put glass in the doors so the occupants could look out and still be protected from the elements. It had been used for some time in making bottles and baubles, but now they were making it in a sheet form.

While working on the drawings at home, Simon’s niece became fascinated with her uncle’s work. She was fourteen and wanted to be an artist. She had produced some nice art work already. She said, Uncle, I can make a really nice picture of your carriage if you want. He said sure go ahead.

The next day, she asked her mother if she could stay home from school and work on the carriage drawing. Her mother said definitely not. Simon intervened and whispered to his sister that maybe, just maybe, if the art was very good she may get paid for it. Her mother relented and the girl took out her oils and started.

By the time Simon arrived home the next day the picture was on an easel in the outdoor sitting area. Simon was absolutely shocked when he saw it. It was a masterpiece; he could not believe his young niece could produce such a professional piece of art.

He took it to the shop the next day the men were all amazed, they thought the drawing itself would be enough to sell Market Man on the carriage.

The four men sat down and went over the costs of materials and suggested cost of labour. Simon and Bart had a figure in their head as to the selling price, but they wanted to see what Nahum and Ezra came up with.

To their surprise the prices were very close, Ezra being a bit more expensive. He had put in a 10% extra fee for “hidden and unexpected costs” the two men agreed.

They were prepared for Market Man when he arrived before 8:00 am on Friday. Samuel had framed the young girl’s art and it sat on an easel when you entered the meeting room.

When Market Man entered he took a look into the room and stopped in his tracks. He was almost shaking when he asked with a stutter is, is that my, my carriage? They said yes that is what it will look like. He went over to Nahum and hugged him and said you sure do run a professional operation here. He then asked who painted it. When Simon told him, he asked if he could meet the young lady some time, and Simon said when we call you for an inspection of the work progress in about a month I will make sure she is here.

When the boys completed their review of the plans, Market Man was smiling from ear to ear. When they told him the cost, plus or minus 10% he said that is a bit more than I expected, but I did not expect to see the additions of a removable roof over the driver, or the leather bound seats inside. He turned to Nahum and said when I return to my store after leaving here, I will stop at the bank and make a deposit of 20% in your account, please proceed.

The men all shook hands and Market Man mounted his horse and left for the bank.

During the next two months the men made sure all customers were looked after but they really tried to concentrate on the carriage. Bart had completed the frame, the wheels he ordered had arrived, and Simon had built some of the wooden sections and was now working on the doors.  Samuel and Ethan were about half way through making the seats and arm rests. The men told Nahum to arrange for Market Man to come by for an inspection in two weeks.

Ok, Elizabeth said to Ezra, we have to have another family get together.  He said I will tell my dad and he can get word to your folks and Joshua and Zilpah. We should make sure Isaac, Miriamme and Hannah are invited too.

When her mom and dad found out they asked if they could host the party, they wanted to spend time with Paul, and they suggested everybody plan to come on Saturday, stay overnight, go to Church then have the get together next Sunday afternoon. They all agreed.

 

John Thomas Percival continues working with wood and pondering about the early history of Christianity.
The photo shows, “The Arrival of Caesar,” by Ettore Forti, painted ca. 1890s.

 

Roman Dictatorship: Some Observations

The relevance of the relationship between the powers granted by states of emergency and the transition to authoritarianism and dictatorship is perhaps self-evident to any student of political science aware of history and contemporary events.

We will define authoritarianism broadly as a regime maintaining obedience through the use of the fear of coercion, and thus the foundation of the state is not legal authority but rather power exercised through an informal dictate. Dictatorship will be defined as the exercise of a like dictate, except under a public, systematic and formalised power rather than a hidden one.

Both types of regimes are characterised by elites of converging interests as well as the use of crisis in order to justify the power of the regime, and the loss of individual liberties. As such, these states have been characterised as crisis states which function in a nigh perpetual state of emergency despite professing outward belief in rights and the will of the people.

Thus, the struggle to preserve the sanctity of sovereign laws over arbitrary mandates of power depends precisely on the separation between normal legal and political procedures and those of the state of emergency.

It is precisely this struggle and conundrum over the distinction between the state of emergency and the normal rule of law which is made evident by the historical case of the Roman Republic and the transformation that occurred in its state of emergency procedures.

This will allow us to demonstrate such transformation as exemplified by the early institution of Dictatorship and the Senatus Consultum Ultimum, what they demonstrated of Roman politics and law in terms of the blurring between the previously strict lines of the state of emergency and normal legal procedure, and taking special note of the incident of the Catiline Conspiracy.

 

Roman Dictatorship

Arguably the original and thus most famous state of emergency in western political history, Roman Dictatorship presents the first ever attempt at addressing what in political philosophy ever since Aristotelian thought has been the problem of equity; equal applications of the law in all circumstances may be inherently unjust or inadequate, hence calling for a temporary suspension or alteration of laws and legal procedure

In principle, the dictatorship in Republican Rome was magistral office like no other exercising for a limited period of six months the power of imperium or in other words supreme administrative and coercive power in order to immediately deal with an external state of crisis, though it was restricted both legally and through political and religious precedent.

Nevertheless, the description alone cannot do the office justice unless it is situated in its proper historical, legal and functional contexts before one can even approach it ultimate political dimension.

The first paradox brought about by trying to put Roman Dictatorship in a proper historical context is how it could have even arisen in Rome in the first place. It is no great mystery that the city of Rome ever since the foundation of the Republic in 509 BC was weary of monarchy, which it had violently deposed, so much so that word king itself was an insult and a much despised word.

Yet, in the office of the dictator one seemingly finds the closest conjuring to monarchy that could be conceived in a republican government, as the dictator wielded the war powers of the monarchy, superseding those of the consuls and initially having command over all other magistrates.

If one takes Livy’s Histories at face value, the mere purpose of the office as a means of averting crisis and fulfilling a function which could not be carried out by the elected magistrates provides proper justification for the installment of the office in 500 BC, less than ten years since the institution of the Republic in the first place.

The dates themselves cause an issue, as it would have been a precarious action indeed for the people of Rome to have reinstated virtually in every way but name the monarchy they so desperately deposed less than ten years before.

In ​The Origin of Roman Dictatorship, D. Cohen seeks to explain and rationalize the origins of this extraordinary office both in terms of an interregnum, positing that it served as a transition from monarchy to republican government, but also a religious function in the early Republic which required the highest authority. Similar offices were to be found in the other city states of Latium, such as Alba and Caere, though with year-long terms of office.

In particular, the act of religious purification carried out by dictators and last performed in ​363 BC in the driving of a nail ceremony (a religious rite likely of early Indo-European origins) as a response to a pestilence carried out by Manlius Imperiosus demonstrated the nigh-sanctity of the office, above that of the Pontifex Maximus (head priest).

The sanctity of the office is further exemplified by the custom of silence which other magistrates were meant to obey before the dictator, and in conjunction with the dictator’s role as a saviour figure, one can understand how the Roman people accepted the existence of such an office in the early years of the Republic.

Beyond this period, and especially following the course of the Punic Wars in the Middle Republic, the office of the dictator lost further and further independence vis a vis the Senate and its authority to overreach the imperium of the Consuls, and eventually tribunes could veto the dictator’s measures just as those of the consuls.

Having approximated the origin of Roman Dictatorship, situating it in terms of Roman constitutional law is necessary. The procedure appointing the dictator appears at first sight as a simple consultation, whereby the Senate would agree that a state of emergency existed give leave of the consuls to appoint a dictator in order to deal with it.

The dictator’s powers were thus to deal with the specific state of emergency at hand; whether it was an insurrection or an invasion, yet the dictator was also charged with recruiting, assembling and leading the army to deal with the threat at hand. At this point, the legal aspect of the appointment is significant, because after the consuls had chosen a candidate for dictator, the ​Lex curiata de imperio granting the dictator his power of imperium had to be passed by the assembly of the people of Rome.

The dictator’s legal mandate was a popular one, and not senatorial. Indeed, the connection of the office of dictator to the people was also represented in its original title ‘magister populi,’ which translated to magistrate of the people, or more practically of the infantry in war, whereas the second in command of the dictator was the ‘magister equites’ or master of cavalry.

Leaving these military vestiges aside, it must be noted that after the carrying out the task demanded of him, the dictator was supposed to relinquish power and after the ​Lex Repetundarum of 300 BC they could be put on trial directly if they had overstepped their mandate in purpose or time.

What this kind of legal precision shows is the ability of Roman law to adapt to states of emergency in that it is able to preserve the rule of law even when limits to power are temporarily suspended. For if one is to believe in the rule of law, a principle by which the laws are universally applicable, public and their power vested in the state and not the individuals; one must precisely have such limitations and controls over states of emergency.

In addition to formal and legal checks on the powers of the Roman Dictatorship, Naomi Lazar points out in her essay ​Making Emergencies Safe for Democracy: The Roman Dictatorship and the Rule of Law in the Study of Crisis Governmentthat informal controls over the dictatorship were just as important; Rome’s strong republican political culture, the choice of appointees (men with a long and spotless record), and the Senate’s control over the treasury.

Nevertheless, Lazar also points out that 7 of more than 90 dictators passed legislation; the ​Lex Ameliana in 434 BC which enforced term limits on Censors, and the right to hold the consulship for plebeians in 367 BC by Camillus (5 times dictator and named second founder of Rome); showing that dictators favoured reformism while in office.

Roman Dictatorship, then, as a state of emergency shows a surprising level of continuity and formality on the part of Roman law and politics to adequately deal with states of emergency; which is why all appointed dictators relinquished power after the crisis was averted, whether they were motivated by religious and political precedent, legal restrictions or just the belief in the SPQR.

As such, the self-appointment as dictators at the head of private armies by both Sulla and Caesar in the late Republic demonstrate not the lapse of Roman dictatorship into a authoritarianism due to states of emergency; but rather the abuse of that old title to legitimize the illegal seizure of the state. One can thus conclusively say that it is not in the emergency powers of the Roman Dictatorship that the pitfall of autocracy can be identified.

 

The Senatus Consultum Ultimum & Catiline Conspiracy

However, the office of dictatorship was not the only response to states of emergency which the Roman Republic employed, as there was another in the form of the Senatus Consultum Ultimum, which was not enshrined in Roman law, with a loose definition of its limits at best.

Before an explanation of the emergency procedure can be made, one must take a step back and look at the institutional history of the Senate. Founded in the monarchy, the Senate was originally an advisory body to kings until it gained greater powers and independence to make laws after the deposition of the monarchy in 509 BC.

Membership into the senate camy by consular appointment of ex magistrates, until 318 BC when the plebiscitum Ovinium took the power away from consuls and gave it to the office of the censor under the condition that once elected, a magistrate was immediately a member of the Senate.

Thus, the it became less exclusive and at the same time gained some elective legitimacy, yet its members enjoyed a mandate for life; an electoral mandate for life which in of itself is characteristic of oligarchical and elitist governments.

In addition to passing laws, the Senate enjoyed control over the treasury and state finances, as well as the ability to give consultations to the consuls which were not binding but by long precedent were obeyed.

It must be noted that the bureaucratic power of the Senate grew after the end of the Punic Wars with the beginning of the Late Republic period in order to keep up with the overseas territories that had been gained in Iberia, Sicily and the west Balkans.

Likewise, individual Senators became immensely wealthy landowners and property speculators due to the gains of the war.

It is precisely this more numerous and powerful Senate which after the Punic Wars first employed the Senatus Consultum Ultimum (SCU). Following the death of Tiberius Gracchus at the hands of an angry mob of patricians accusing him of trying to make himself king while he was passing reforms against huge agrarian estates, the Senate realised both that the Republic’s military resources were greater enough to defeat any external threat, and that the disaffected mob of Italian refugees left by the wars constituted the only legitimate threat of insurrection.

In other words, a state of emergency potentially prone to giving power to the people through an elected dictator was insufficient and potentially dangerous to state sovereignty. The fear materialised itself in the form of Gaius Gracchus, the younger brother of Tiberius who worked to finish the earlier reforms as tribune of the plebeians, and who had an armed bodyguard.

In 121 BC the Senate first used the Senatus Consultum Ultimum to declare a quasi state of emergency similar to martial law in modern terms, which gave power to the Consuls to deal with the threat after one of Gaius’ bodyguards commited a murder. The consul Opimius used the army to apprehend and execute Gaius Gracchus along with several others, leading to a total death count of over 3000 Roman Citizens.

This went against the Lex Valeria and ​Lex Porcia which forbid the execution of citizens without a trial, and trials without the right of appeal. When put on trial for his crimes, Opimius agreed that he had broken the law but justified his actions based on the SCU as it gave him greater powers of imperium under a state of emergency and with Senatorial decree. Opimius’ acquittal would serve to set a precedent for future use of the SCU despite it not being a written law nor having any previous precedents.

Framing the legality of the SCU was difficult for the Romans themselves, not least of which Cicero who helped expand and define its powers and even used it in the course of his consulship. Indeed, the way in which Cicero defined the SCU by the example of Opimius’ act was that magistrates could indeed overstep the written laws under senatorial decree in a state of emergency and in the defence of the country.

Yet, the authority of the decree and thus the act itself lay in the hands of the Senate, not the magistrates themselves as their power depended on the Senate’s prior approval. In other words, the Senatus Consultum Ultimum meant that a temporary state of war was declared against internal threats to the Republic, but without a temporal restriction, a clear definition of what constituted an emergency, nor a religious or political precedent as was the case with Dictatorship.

The most scathing critique that one could make, and justly so, is that the SCU served as little more than a means of carrying out extra-judicial killing, as was demonstrated by the killing of another tribune in 100 BC, whose executor Cicero defended in a trial 37 years later.

It would be an understatement to say that the SCU demonstrates a direct step in the extra-legal and political use of emergency measures, but before that can be done one must look at the most famous case of the use of the SCU which demonstrates to the fullest its legal limitations; the case involving Cicero himself that of the Catiline Conspiracy.

The events are described most poignantly by Livy as such: ​”​L. Catiline failed twice in the consular elections. He conspired with the praetor Lentulus, with Cethegus and many others, in order to assassinate the consul and the senators, to oppress the Republic and set fire to the city. An army was prepared in Etruria, but thanks to Cicero’s watchfulness the conspiracy was discovered.​” (Livy 102).

Although there is much to be questioned with this pithy description of events on the part of Livy, not the least of which that it was a description made by Catiline’s enemies after his defeat, there is some truth. It is indeed true that Cataline did fail to win elections and pass reforms, and that he plotted to overthrow the Republic during Cicero’s consulship with an army of 10.000 to 20.000 armed men.

Those prominent politicians with whom he plotted with were indeed caught with incriminating written evidence proving the necessity of the state of emergency which had already been declared.

Yet, it was Cicero’s response at this point in the course that is puzzling. Instead of having the prisoners immediately executed, Cicero proceeded to put their fate upt to a vote by the Senate, thus showing that he saw the act of executing them as being founded on weak legal grounds, and furthermore that their fate was the responsibility of the Senate.

​In response to this, Julius Caesar responded in a speech calling for the life imprisonment of the conspirators, rejecting not the evidence of their crimes but the authority of the Senate to sanction their killing without a trail, even in a time of crisis. Caesar’s response can’t be seen as a rejection of the emergency powers, but rather a rejection of Cicero’s interpretation of Roman law and especially the Senatus Ultimum Consultum giving the Senate authority to determine life and death in emergency situations.

Regardless, Cicero acquired a majority vote in Senate and had the conspirators executed, but when Caesar and several other senators tried to leave the senate house in order to protest the vote, Cicero had them threatened by his armed guards, which was illegal but permissible under the SCU. The last SCU employed was that against Caesar in 49 BC, which started a civil war that would bring the end of the Roman Republic.

Ultimately, the SCU demonstrates exactly what one would expect from emergency measures granting limitless power to a single branch of government and robbing the others of their sovereignty, as it took away the authority of elected magistrates and gave supreme authority to the Senate.

The problem is indeed obvious from a legal standpoint as the Senate has the power to declare a state of emergency, determine the scope of threat needed to justify the measures taken, and judge legality of events. In a historical sense, the SCU served as a means of permanently silencing political opposition and the very threat of it created such fierce factionalism that it regularly incited murder.

Yet all this was carried out on the legal basis of a mere senatorial consultation for which there was not even a written law. Such extreme laxity of political procedure demonstrates directly how the laws and functions of the state can be hijacked by political elites and lead to authoritarianism and autocracy.

 

Conclusion

While these examples may be brief and their impact minimal of the modern question of the role of states of emergency in the rise of authoritarianism, the capacity to learn from them is undeniable.

In sum, Roman Dictatorship provides neither the precedent for resembles in any way the conception of dictatorship established at the beginning, whereas the SCU proves a tentative step toward the path of autocracy in loose interpretation and limits.

The conclusion that can be made from this is that without a sacrosanct guarantee of rights protection and the independent mandates of political offices, the rule of law can be disintegrated from within the government and a democratically elected state can transform into authoritarianism.

 

The photo shows, “Cicero Denounces Catiline,” by Cesare Maccari, painted in 1889.

Antony And Cleopatra: Failed Politicians

In 31 BC, the outcome of a sea battle off the West coast of Greece forever changed Roman history. As a result, the young and ambitious Octavian would become Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. Octavian’s victory firmly established his military power and dealt Marc Antony a serious defeat, which would prove fatal.

This battle took place between Octavian’s fleet on one side and the combined naval forces of Marc Antony and Cleopatra VII in the other. The battle is considered a major turning point in the history of Egypt and marked the beginning of Octavian’s complete takeover of the rich North African kingdom. The Roman Senate gave Octavian the title of Augustus four years later.

The struggle between Antony and Octavian was actually about the question of who would rule the Roman World. Antony had allied himself with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, a descendent of the Ptolemaic Greek kings.

Furthermore, Antony and the foreign queen were lovers, even having gone through an Egyptian wedding ceremony. Most Romans disliked such a close relationship between an important governing Roman and a foreign queen. They suspected that he would either give her a large area of Roman territory for her own kingdom, or, worse yet, make her queen over the Romans and himself king in the process. Octavian played on the Roman’s intense dislike of the idea of being ruled by a king and denounced Antony’s supposed plans.

Soon, Antony divorced his legitimate wife Octavia, who was Octavian’s sister. It was not long before there was a full-scale civil war between the two powerful Romans. Antony had anchored his fleet in a small harbor on the Dalmatian side of the Adriatic Sea, and soon Octavian’s fleet had him trapped within his harbor.

Octavian also had his land armies placed in strategic positions to cut off all supplies to Antony’s army and fleet. Antony also had a large army encamped on the shores of the Ambracian Gulf (on the Dalmatian Coast across the Adriatic Sea from Italy). There had been skirmishes and indecisive battles all throughout the Summer of 31 B. C. Near the end of summer, Antony’s supplies were getting low and so was the morale of his troops.

Finally, on September 2, Antony came out to fight. His 220 heavy Roman warships were equipped with stone throwing catapults. They attacked Octavian’s 260 lighter vessels at close range.

Octavian’s lighter vessels were more maneuverable, though, and could use their rams more effectively than Antony’s ships could. Also, Octavian had the great advantage of having the brilliant general and military strategist Marcus Agrippa in command of his fleet. Cleopatra had 60 warships in the battle, including her treasure ship with its purple sails.

The fighting continued throughout the day, with Romans on both sides staining the sea red with Roman blood and killing their fellow citizens in about equal numbers. Then, a very strange thing happened. Cleopatra decided to take her ships and flee.

This act of cowardice dealt a serious blow to the morale of Antony’s men and cheered Octavian’s sailors on to ultimate victory. The battle was nowhere near lost, there was not even a clear indication of which fleet was ahead before Cleopatra cut her cables and ran.

Then, the final blow to Roman morale was struck by Antony himself. Upon seeing his beloved queen fleeing, he chose to abandon his stalwart Roman legions and follow her.

After a desperate chase, he finally caught up with her. Meanwhile, Octavian’s ships made short work of mopping up Antony’s fleet. Many of Antony’s brave seamen surrendered to Octavian and the battle was over.

The issue was not over for Antony and Cleopatra, however. Over the next few months, Octavian’s armies won victory after victory as they advanced through Greece and the East toward Cleopatra’s Egypt.

With their armies falling before Octavian’s advance on every occasion of battle, the two lovers soon saw that their cause was lost. Antony tried to commit suicide by falling on his sword. The wound was not immediately fatal and he found the strength to make his way to Cleopatra’s tomb, where she was awaiting news of the end. Antony died in the arms of his lover.

Cleopatra, meanwhile, had made plans of her own. Rather than be forced to walk in Octavian’s triumphal march through the streets of Rome as a captured foreign queen amid the jeers and insults of the Roman people, she would commit suicide. One of her serving girls brought her a basket of fruit containing a poisonous asp.

When Cleopatra heard Octavian’s victorious troops noisily milling about the streets of Alexandria, she put the snake to her breast and let it bite her. Her death was supposed to be completely painless.

The two serving girls she had also killed themselves by asp-bite, and when Octavian’s troops entered the tomb, one of the girl, still alive, had barely the strength to tell the soldiers that Cleopatra had escaped them in death.

And so ends the tragic tale of the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt and the sea battle upon which turned an empire. The Battle of Actium was not a massive battle between huge fleets; in fact, it was a rather small one.

But after the Battle of Actium was won and lost, there was not a single obstacle in the way of Octavian becoming the first Roman emperor, titled Augustus and master of the entire Western world.

Thus, the marriage between Antony and Cleopatra was a clever bit of political maneuver. This fact is clearly brought out in the Battle of Actium, where each of them sought personal gain, rather than the support of each other. Their suicides were the accepted, noble way out for the vanquished – for in the end, they were failed politicians.

 

The photo shows, “The Death of Cleaopatra,” by Achille Glisenti, painted ca. 1870s.

The Early History Of The Cross

As often happens in matters of scholarly opinion, what is accepted as “true” turns out not to be so upon deeper analysis or newer evidence.

Thus, for the longest while, it was customary to read in books dealing with early Christian history that the use of the cross only gained currency after endorsement by Constantine.

This view was fully expounded by Graydon Snyder in his now “classic” work, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Christian Life Before Constantine.

Many may not know or remember, but poor Professor Graydon was an early casualty in the now-normal “social justice wars.” He was an ordained minister, and had the misfortune of reading a Talmudic account of a man falling from a tree on a woman and “knowing” her by accident.

The Talmud said that this could not be rape. But a female student in the lecture thought otherwise and declared the reading of this passage as the justification of the sexual brutalization of women and forthwith lodged a complaint.

The university, ever eager to forestall offence no matter who gets destroyed in the process, slapped the then-63-year-old professor with a formal reprimand and distributed a memo campus-wide which stated that Graydon had “engaged in verbal conduct of a sexual nature” that had the effect of “creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive” space in his classes.

This was not the end of – the university then assigned a monitor that sat in each of Graydon’s classes and lectures, taking notes of anything that might be considered offensive. Graydon soon retired.

Let the date of this incident come as a valuable lesson to all – the demise of the university system happened long ago. This annihilation of a good man’s character occurred back in 1994…twenty-four years ago.

The 1990s were the halcyon days of such random acts of social justice, when universities eagerly dragged the Trojan horse of postmodernism into the Academy, worshipped it with much fawning, drank the heady wine of relativism and feel into the deep sleep of nihilism – from which they never awoke, for the barbarians descended from the belly of the wooden beast and conquered the hapless “intellectuals.”

And, now only various forms of self-indulgent destruction are offered by universities, where once a proud tradition of civilization held sway. Such is the fate of all Troys, if given into the hands of fools.

But let us return to the matter at hand.

In his book, Graydon categorically decided that no evidence existed for the cross as a Christian emblem before Constantine. This led to the false assumption that Constantine “invented” the cross as a religious sign, because he chose to use it during the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.

Given the popularity of Graydon’s book, this view became the “Gospel truth,” and is still widely repeated without question by historians of early Christianity.

Embedded in Graydon’s argument was a curious turn to psychology…since the cross was a method of execution of criminals, it was, thus, an emblem of shame, and could never have been elevated to a sign of the faith before Constantine’s imperial sponsorship of Christianity.

Popularizers then went to work, imagining Christians in the Roman world desperate to hide their faith, even descending down into catacombs to carry out their worship. And that they invented arcane signs to recognize each other, which only fellow-Christians would know (like the “Jesus-Fish” now often found on car-bumpers).

It all sounds plausible, but is simply not true.

Rather, the primary sign of the faith from its earliest beginnings was not the fish or the anchor or the wheel, or even the Sator-Square – but the cross itself. Graydon’s view is nothing other than an exercise in myth-making, which is finally destroyed by a new book that takes a fresh look at the entire “cross-debate” and offers facts rather than myths.

This book is The Cross Before Constantine. The Early Life of a Christian Symbol by Bruce W. Longenecker, which offers incontrovertible evidence that, from earliest times, the cross bore not only symbolic value but also theological significance.

The evidence Longenecker marshals to bolster this conclusion is impressive indeed, for it engages not only extensive material remains, but also solid literary testimony.

Such an approach also fully justifies the unique character given the cross in Scripture, such as, St. Paul’s famous exposition of the double conundrum of the cross – as a mark of utter shame and the very token of final triumph: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).

Such singularity of the cross links back to Jesus himself, with his well-known exhortation – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

In, effect, then, Longenecker proceeds to uncover not simply the “life,” but the double-life, of the cross – as an instrument of painful execution, and as a symbol of life eternal.

He begins by examining the recent discoveries of various Jewish ossuaries that are engraved with crosses, either erect (+) or recumbent (x) – and these engravings are neither masons’ marks nor decorations.

Thus, the cross had significance in Jewish religious life during the Roman era. And this significance is grounded in Ezekiel 9: 4-6, where the cross is also the “mark” of God, which sets apart the faithful from the rest condemned to death, and is thus the emblem of life, a particular gift of divine grace.

Among the examples Longenecker shows are the Nicanor, Yehudah, Shalamsion, and the Jehosah ossuaries.

Thus, the “prehistory” of the cross is deeply rooted in the very “prehistory” of Christianity itself, namely, Judaic religiosity.

And because the early Jesus movement branched out of the faith of the Jews, Longenecker uncovers the earliest record of the cross’s double-life, both as a mark of God for mankind’s salvation, and as the process of execution that God, in Jesus, bears himself to bring eternal life to mankind.

Thus, the cross has importance far older than Constantine.

Next, Longenecker lays out an elaborate inventory of material and literary evidence.

He discusses the Alexamenos Inscription, the inscriptions in the Baths of Neptune in Ostia, the inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome, rings showing the cross, the famous Crucifixion Gem amulet in the British museum, the various inscriptions in Asia Minor, the graphic use of the cross in the gnostic Books of Jeu, the staurogram in Manuscript P66, and even the rather mysterious cross in a Pompeii bakery (Longenecker has devoted an entire book to the crosses in Pompeii, which is reviewed elsewhere in this magazine).

The literary testimony is even more extensive, and Longenecker deftly moves through it all to strengthen his case.

Thus, he makes use of the earliest witnesses from the first half the of the first century, namely, the Acts of Thomas; the Works of Hippolytus; Cyprian’s Testimonies and To Demetrianus; Tertullian’s De corona, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Against Marcion; and Letters; Lactantius’s Divine Institutes; Clement of Alexandria’s Miscellanies; Minucius Felix’s Octavius (the first Christian work in Latin, little known outside scholarly discussion).

Moving on to the second century, Longenecker musters the Acts of Peter; the Acts of Paul and Thecla; Justin Martyr’s First Apology, Dialogue with Trypho; the Odes of Solomon; the commentaries of Ignatius of Antioch’s on Ephesians, the Smyrneans, the Trallians; and the famous Fifth Ezra; the Epistle of Barnabas; the Gospels and the Letters of St. Paul; and the Johannine Apocalypse (Revelation).

The conclusions that Longenecker draws from this extensive evidence is as follows:

  • The cross is found in various locations, always in Christian contexts – from Gaza and Jerusalem, out to Rome, Spain, North Africa, Egypt and East into Asia Minor and Syria.
  • Time-wise, the cross can be located as a Christian symbol from the first century down to the early parts of the third century AD. In other words, it is clearly used by Christians as an emblem of faith before Constantine.
  • Over the centuries, the shape of the cross evolved from the Jewish erect cross (like a +plus sign) to the more familiar body cross.
  • Longenecker also points out that the crosses found on rings may well have had an apotropaic function – to protect the wearer from demons and evil spirits (an attitude revived by Bram Stoker in Dracula’s aversion to the cross).

With his impressive and sedulous book, Longenecker has finally put out to pasture all the old myths about the cross, perpetrated by Graydon and his followers.

In other words, the cross was a well-established Judeo-Christian religious emblem long before Constantine took it up as his “coat-of-arms.”

For Christians, from the very beginnings of their faith, the cross had a double-meaning: it was the “mark” of God which set apart the believer from the non-believer, with all the significance of life and grace which this election signified. And, secondly, by extension, the cross became the “mark” that Jesus, the God incarnate, himself bore to embody an eternal life bought through horrific sacrifice.

The paradox becomes the solution – the “mark” of God becomes the instrument of torture, and then returns as a greater sign of life.

It is this paradox that St Paul explains: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Torture brings about glory, death leads to life eternal.

The cross is, in effect, the summation of the entire Christian proclamation – because of Jesus, death, though horrid, is not the end.

Longenecker persuasively demonstrates this historico-theological process in the great gyre of history.

 

 

The photo shows, “Christ on the Cross,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, painted in 1870.

Yes, There Were Christians In Pompeii

One of the more famous volcanic eruptions took place in the late summer of the 79 AD not far from Naples.

In the aftermath, the Roman resort towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii lay buried in neatly ten feet of ash. When these towns were excavated, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they showed themselves to be time-capsules, capturing daily Roman life.

Many have been the explorations and questions about Pompeii – one of the more persistent ones being…Were there any Christians living there in that fateful year of 79 AD?

At that time, Christianity was spreading (and rather quickly) throughout the Roman world, and it would not be too great a stretch to imagine the presence of Jesus-devotion in Pompeii. We do know that St. Paul landed in the harbor town of Puteoli (modern-day Puzzuoli) in the year 61 AD (Acts 28: 130-14), which lies about thirty miles west of Pompeii.

Paul mentions that there were Christians in Puteoli, which means that followers of Jesus were already to be found in smaller towns around Naples.

About a hundred years ago, it was a common assumption that there were indeed Christians living in Pompeii. There is, for example, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Last Days of Pompeii, which imagines the lives of ordinary Christians living in Pompeii just before the volcano erupts. This novel became became the basis of many film adaptations.

This view, however, fell out of favor, and scholarly opinion swung the other way, maintaining that there was, in fact, no real evidence of Christian presence at all.

In a rather remarkable study, filled with great insight as well erudition, Bruce W. Longenecker has upended this scholarly assumption (for it is no more than that), and has shown once and for all that there were indeed Christians in the fated Vesuvian town.

His book, The Crosses of Pompeii. Jesus-Devotion in a Vesuvian Town (which follows his earlier work on the cross as a Christian symbol before Constantine, also reviewed in this magazine), offers evidence that cannot be ignored by scholars of Christian presence in Pompeii.

As in his previous work, Longenecker makes use of material remains to make his point.

It can be said without a doubt that books such as this are rare in historical studies – for it has succeeded in rewriting a misunderstood and ignored aspect of Roman Christian life.

The most fascinating part of this book is Longenecker’s own documentation of examples of crosses carved into the Pompeian street paving stones. Through his own endeavor, he has searched and found eighteen such crosses so far. He feels that there might well be more.

The important thing to note here is that these crosses are not just notches or mason marks. They are, in fact, Christian crosses.

How does Longenecker know this? As the book reveals, these crosses function first as pointers, which might lead a Christian to the most important Christian place in Pompeii, namely, the bakery in the Insula Arriana Pollians, where a cross was found, in a prominent place on the wall, made out of raised plaster.

As well, these crosses serve a protective function, in that they are incised onto busy streets to offer protection. The use of apotropaic objects and symbols was prevalent and common in the Roman world, and the cross certainly fulfilled that purpose in Pompeii.

Longenecker rather cogently points out that since these crosses are not modern surveying marks, nor mason marks, nor ancient traffic signs to keep everything moving on the street, they can only be what they look like, Christian crosses.

They have been laid out, with great effort, in a discernible pattern, or plan – to lead the wayfarer to a Christian place.

This, of course, immediately suggests that Christians did not hide their faith, but rather openly displayed it, for all to see. This also very much underscores the behavior of the various martyrs who never hid their faith, when they could easily have done so to escape death.

These street crosses, then, strengthen the other evidence that exists in Pompeii for Christianity, namely, the Christianos Graffito; the Vivit Cross in Insula 1.13; and the Meges stamp-ring.

The graffito, found in a large residence (7.11.11), reads, “audi Christianos…” (“listen to the Christians…), and hints at the practice of preaching which was so helped the quick spread of the faith in the Roman world.

The Vivit Cross, when interpreted means, “he lives,” which is a very powerful summary of the early kerygma – Jesus lives.

The Meges ring shows a cross surmounting a symbol for eternal life. Again, a very concise summation of the Christian message.

These three pieces of evidence have largely been ignored in the scholarly literature dealing with Pompeii. Bur such has been the fate of Pompeii, when it comes to scholarship, which is notorious for being shoddy and haphazard.

This explains the lack of attention given to the question of Christian presence in Pompeii.

Added to this is the fact that scholarly opinion tends to the blind leading the blind, where something is assumed to be settled and done with, and it is then endlessly repeated as proven fact, when it is no more than an opinion that has gained currency.

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill has captured this problem with Vesuvian scholarship clearly when he stated: “Each generation discovers with horror the extent to which information has been ignored, neglected, destroyed, and (the most wanton damage of all) left unreported and unpublished.”

Thus, for many decades scholars, who should have known better, kept repeating what they themselves had only heard – that there were no Christians in Pompeii.

Bruce Longenecker has finally set the record straight. Indeed, there were Christians in Pompeii, and they were an integrated part of daily Roman life, who openly displayed the prime symbol of their faith – the cross.

This remarkable book comes to a moving conclusion in this way… “When the end came on that fateful day in 79, one thing might have caused them (the Pompeian Christians) to look different from their contemporaries. Many of their peers, desperately fleeing the doomed town, fearfully clutched apotropaic devices and statuettes of their deities, from whom they sought deliverance from death. By contrast…Jesus-followers may have left their hands intentionally empty. And perhaps a few with empty hands died with one word on their scorched lips, vivit [He lives].”

The history of Vesuvian Christianity has finally taken a step forward.

 

 

The photo shows, “The Last Day of Pompeii,” by Karl Bryulov, painted between 1830-1833.

The Logos: A Brief History

There has been a surge in the use of the word, Logos, in recent years as enlightened circles of Western scholars are rediscovering their roots. Thankfully, thinkers like Jordan B. Peterson are popularizing the term once more.

Now more than ever, scholars must understand the meaning of this earth shattering word. Analyzing its history is the key to unlocking the indispensable philosophical tradition that accompanies it.

The Christian conception of the Logos is the climax resulting from the synthesis of Greco-Roman philosophy and Judaic belief. Hence, we must understand both to comprehend the Logos’ two-fold history.

The Greco-Roman Logos

To understand The Logos (logic, account, or language) of the Greek tradition we must start at the beginning with magic.

The ancient Greeks believed in magic. Among them, the Goēs (γόης) was a magician that would wander from town to town interpreting dreams, telling fortunes, practicing necromancy, pyromancy, hydromancy, and other acts of divination.  The suffix “-mancy” means “divination by specified means.”

To continue on this etymological dig, divination means, “the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means.” While magic was ultimately the practice of gathering information, not raising armies of the dead, summoning the titans, or any other Hollywood nonsense.

One of these practices of divination by the Goēs was speaking in tongues, that is, glossolalia. In this ritual, the Goēs would babble a series of syllables that poured out of the mouth as pure gibberish.

So, what? Why are we concerned about some ancient man babbling gibberish? Well, because the ritual reveals three revolutionary ancient concepts.

  1. The spirit world had a language, logic, or structure behind it as opposed to being pure chaos.
  2. Human beings have the ability to communicate and engage with the spirit world through language.
  3. Communicating with the world of the divine can be used to reveal truth.

To the ancient Greek Goēs, the world of the divine was not just shear chaos. The forces of the universe had a logic behind them that gave them shape. Their form could be accessed and interacted with using a special language. Hence, the reason for glossolalia.

Language needs a structure in order to exist. If the spirit-world had a language, it meant that it had a structure. The idea that the world of the divine had an order behind it was a revolutionary paradigm.

So, to understand and practice the magic of life, one had to speak the language of life, i.e. biology. The ancient Greeks did not know biology, rather they knew the language of life. This is what biology means: bios (Greek for “life”), and logos (-logy) , which is language or logic. To know biology was, and is, to know the words that relate to life and what those words mean, so that one can “converse” with life.

It’s like “talking car” with auto-mechanics today. When we say someone knows how to “talk car,” we don’t mean that they spend hours physically talking to their car about how the day went. What we mean is that they understand the words and concepts that facilitates their interactions with automobiles.

Every word in a language represents a concept or piece of knowledge. Thus, a science, as a “systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject,” is logos, is language.

Therefore, when the Goēs ascribes language to the spirit world, he starts to engage in building the science of the divine. The more magic words he creates, the more concepts he use to describe the divine.

Divination by the Goēs would start the association with language, with the divine, and with knowledge. These associations would eventually evolve into the Logos.

In addition, the Goēs would profess truths about the cosmos by speaking in tongues. This act assumes that one could draw useful knowledge from the unknowability of the divine.

Iambilichus (245 AD – 325 AD), a Neoplatonist philosopher, connected speaking in tongues with the act of prophecy. He believed that prophecy was the possession of a divine spirit which “emits words which are not understood by those that utter them; for they pronounce them, as it is said, with an insane mouth (mainomenό stomati) and are wholly subservient, and entirely yield themselves to the energy of the predominating God.”

But weren’t the Greeks a bunch of rationalists? Didn’t they move away from that mystical mumbo-jumbo? For a time, the pendulum of philosophy swung from the mystical Goēs to the rationalist Pre-Socratics.

Certainly, the Pre-Socratics (Sophists) were less concerned with the immaterial and more concerned with the material world around them. In their camp are the “physikoi,” a word that can be translated as the naturalists or physicists. To the Sophists, man was the measure of all things and that justice, truth, and love were simply meaningless social constructs. (This is why the postmodernists are simply “Neo-Pre-Socratics”).

But who was talking about the Logos? Heraclitus. Later known as, “the weeping philosopher,” he believed that the world was in a constant state of flux and that nothing truly lasted. In other words, everything was just dust in the wind. But he also believed that different forms of change had their own logos (logic, word, cause, or account) behind them.

It wasn’t long till the pendulum of philosophy swung away from the rationalists to a war veteran named, Socrates. He argued that the Greeks had to go back to looking within themselves for truth, not artificially constructing it.

He pointed to the inscription at the oracle of Delphi that read “Know thyself.” Socrates instructs his followers to see the world with their mind’s eye. A world perceived with the senses was a world of distorted and fickle shadows. This is the meaning of the allegory of the cave.

In the internal world of the forms was truth itself. In this way, we can understand the Socratics as going back to the ways of the Goēs.

Justice, virtue, and truth were immaterial forms existing in a separate reality from our perceptions. Humanity could access this realm using the mind’s eye and engaging in philosophic discourse. Divination from the inner realm of the incorporeal hearkens back to the magic of the Goēs.

Another key idea Socratic idea was that that there a was a form of forms called “The Good” which was the ultimate culmination of virtue. In texts like the Euthyphro he places “The Good” above kings and the gods themselves. He argues that Man worshipped the gods because they were Good, as opposed to worshiping Goodness because it came from the gods. To Socrates the Good transcended Zeus.

But what connects Athens to Jerusalem? In a word, Rome.

The Stoics took on the mantle of Greek thought and particularly Platonist ideas. The Stoics would also grapple with the Logos, sometimes translated as. “the Master-Reason.” They believed that the universe was ordered by this Master-Reason, so that human beings, as rational animals, had a mental connection to the Logos.

The Stoic praise of rationality and logic caused them to argue for the control of one’s emotions, employing reason over passion. With this self discipline, one could live in harmony with the Logos.

It is critical to note that they did not believe that the Logos was God! For example, Cicero claims that Chrysippus thought “the world itself” was “a god, and also the all-pervading world-soul.

This is closer to a rationalist pantheism than the mystic all-loving God of Christendom.

It is not until the synthesis of Judaic thought with Greco-Roman rationality that we arrive at the Western idea of a Christian God.

The God of Abraham and Moses

The God of the Jewish tradition, and the believers of that God, create the culture which allows for the emergence of Christian thought. Their scriptural stories would provide rich ideas that would be mobilized into the philosophy behind the Christ, the Logos made flesh.

The first idea that is central to understanding Judaism and Christianity is the association between language and structure.

In Genesis, the lord of all creation creates in a very specific way. He does not mold matter with his hands, rather he speaks. God said, “Let there be light” and then there was light (Genesis 1:3). From God’s spoken words, all creation comes about.

The connection between language and structure is reaffirmed in the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).

As many may know, humanity attempts to build a great structure, a tower that will rival even God. After disapproving the pointless venture, God halts mankind’s best-laid plans in very strange way. He does not crush the strcuture, or toss a lightning bolt at it to blow it to smithereens.

Rather, he causes all the people constructing it to speak a different language. In their scattered frustrations, they abandon the project in confusion.

The message is clear. With language comes structure. The two are cosmically connected. From God’s words comes forth creation. Interestingly, this connection between language and structure parallels the knowledge of the Goēs.

The most revolutionary idea contributed by the Jews is that of monotheism. Monotheism is more than the belief that there is one God (Exodus 20), for it caries with it the implications of that belief.

The polytheist sees a world of separate and chaotic forces. Each of these forces is represented by a god or goddess. For example, wisdom is manifest by Athena, and erotic love is represented by Aphrodite. These goddesses don’t always get along and their rivalry can lead to chaos. In fact, it is the quarrel between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite that leads to the Trojan War.

But to the Monotheist, there is only one cosmic force or God that reigns supreme above all things. All other forces are idols, false gods, that are ultimately powerless and yielding to the supreme authority of the one true God (Exodus 32).

In this way, all forces are really one thing. Any true dichotomy would destroy the monist nature of the one true God.

For example, one might believe that the world was divided into the combating spirits of pure good and pure evil. If so, one would believe in the duality of two ultimately irreconcilable “logics” behind the universe. This would prevent one from concluding that there is a single logic behind the universe, or Logos.

This monotheistic God is so ultimate that he transcends even the kings of the nations that believe in him. When King Obadiah calls the Prophet Elijah an enemy of Israel for critiquing the corruption of the nation, Elijah retorts that he serves a power that is higher than mortal kings (I Kings 18).

The transcendence of the Hebrew God bears a resemblance with The Good, for the authority of both go beyond the power of kings and other gods. Thus both God and the Good are the highest of all things – and therefore God is good (Psalm 100:5).

Another critical aspect here is the dialogue between God and his people. God is an active force who can converse with his people, such as, Abraham who is specifically called by God (Genesis 12). And God also sends messages though his angels (Genesis 18, and Daniel 9:21).

This dialogue between God and mankind reveals three things:

  1. People derive moral truths and righteous action by God alone.
  2. God and humanity are locked in an covenant, a sort of cosmic contract.
  3. If the contract is not followed, humanity risks downfall and possible annihilation.

God and his messengers reveal to his people the righteous course of action (Exodus 14), and moral truth (Exodus 21:12-14).

This process of divination once again parallels the Goēs who can communicate with the divine and reveal truths.

God becomes the logic behind the universe from which humanity can derive its morality. For example, Moses receives God’s Commandments from God himself. Only then does he share these laws to the people (Exodus 20).

What this shows is that God, the ultimate force behind the universe, demands something from us. If humans comply to the will of God, they will fulfil his covenant.

If humanity breaks his covenant, they risk annihilation, so that ). God reigns down fire and brimstone on the cites of the faithless (Genesis 19). Therefore, those who are in accordance with the logic of the universe shall continue their lineage or existence, while those who are not face death and destruction (Genesis 15).

Christ: The Incarnation of the Logos

Israel is where the hammer meets the anvil. The Christian idea of Logos is forged by the synthesis of Greco-Roman and Judaic thought.

The ancient thinkers like Philo had already started to merge these two great traditions. To Philo, the thoughts of the Creator were equated with Plato’s forms. The culmination of these two were the Logos in Philo’s philosophy.

Before jumping to conclusions, one must realize that this does not mean that Christ studied under Philo or anything like that. But, it does show that ideas from both traditions were circulating among Jewish scholars. More importantly, it shows that there were efforts to link these traditions.

The ultimate synthesis would come with Jesus who is the messiah, the Christ, and the logos (sometimes translated as the Word) incarnate (John 1:14).

Christ and his followers equated the Logos with love (I John 4:8). It is the claim that Love is the ultimate truth behind existence.

To the Christian, the chaos of this world is an illusion. Chaos is just undeciphered order. Because beyond the incalculable madness is the one singular force, ultimately one logic which is God (John 1).

The logos is the ultimate account behind a world of Heraclitan change. It is the single force, logic, explanation, cause, and goal behind veil of our perception. It is God

Nothing is exempt from the Logos, thus it knows all things. Nothing stands apart from the logic of the universe. It is the Master-Reason. Nothing is free from cause, from account, from being. On the contrary, all things are connected, trapped in a single dialectic, one cosmic dialogue (Ephesians 4:6).

The Logos is the ultimate language of languages, the structure of structures. Love is the harmony of being, the universal tongue from which all systems flow as mere dialects of it.

When we stray from love, we are mistranslated (I Corinthians 13). Though never cut off completely (Romans 14:7), we suffer from our inability to be understood. We are thwarted in our frustration from reaching our potential. Thus, we abandon the Tower of Babel.

The Logos is the logic behind Creation. That is to say Love is the Logic behind Creation: “In the beginning God Created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In parallel, the apostle John begins his gospel with “In the beginning there was the Logos” (John 1).

Thus, the Logos is the force and logic of creation and of being. The apostle Paul writes “If I speak in the tongue of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (I Corinthians 13).

Thus, language and being are tied together. What is new is the addition of love in this formula of existence.

From this passage we once again see how language and being are tied together. What is new is the addition of Love in this formula of existence.

The Logos is characterized by the attributes that Socrates gave to Truth (AKA the Good). The logos is eternal, it is constant, everlasting, all-powerful, and knows all things. It is Truth.

This is mirrored by Paul when he states that “Love is patient, Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hope, always preserves” (I Corinthians 13).

Paul’s description of love mirrors Socrates understanding of The Good. Early Christians were very aware of this affinity. Thus, St. Justin Martyr calls the ancient Greek philosopher, “Saint Socrates.” and he also considered both him and Heraclitus as Christians!

Yet the Logos is much more active than The Good. Like the Master-Reason of the Stoics it possesses a demanding quality which engages the rational minds it reveals itself to.

To the Stoics, there wasn’t just a Master-Reason that minded its own business and could more or less go unaccounted for. Rather, the logic behind the universe seemed to demand something from the mankind. Through rationality, mankind could come to know its will.

The Hebrew God mirrors this. God demands something from his people. He is an active force in their lives. The Lord tests them, bears witness, and reveals himself through their history.

But what does the Mater-Reason and the Hebrew-Christian God want from us!? The same thing as the Logos – virtue, the highest of which is love (Colossians 3:14).

To believe in the Logos is to believe in love, to believe in truth, that the light conquers the darkness. Love is a power that transcends kings, nations and even other gods.

The Logos is not some bearded fellow throwing lighting bolts or physically reaching out for David. It is warmth of our hearts, the faith held in our fellow human beings, and the light of the mind. Though it is always testing us, we are ever vigilant. That is what it is to believe in God, the Logos.

 

The photo shows, “The Sermon on the Mount,” by Carl Bloch, painted in 1877.