Christianity, Modernity and the Idol of Education

The essence of education today is the undermining of everything that stems from the past. The catch-phrase for such uprooting is “social justice,” which is a misnomer, since there can be no justice when the intent is the destruction of all that came before. True social justice does exist, of course, and is the consequence of Christian morality. The early followers of Jesus, in the Roman world, first invented social justice when they undertook good works for no tangible reward. For example, they would collect the abandoned bodies of the poor and give them a decent burial; or rescue babies left in the open to die of exposure; or pool funds to buy the freedom of slaves who were never coerced to become Christian. Real social justice is the quiet work of aligning society to the ways of God – thus negating both politics and power.

What we see today is the subversion of Christian virtue, so that good works are turned into a power dynamic, where groups claiming “historical marginality” are sanctioned. Since everyone still agrees that goodness matters – modernity has given it a political definition – empowerment. In effect, modernity is a process of subversion.

But what is modernity? Briefly, it consists of four types of narratives: that physical reality exists separate from God, so it matters little if God exists or not (i.e., secularism); that each person is autonomous (i.e., individualism); that we can create who we are according to any image of ourselves we desire (that is, self-deification, or auto-theism); and that the world will only keep getting better because of technology (i.e., progressivism and presentism). “Narrative” means an explanation which is repeated constantly to maintain coherence within a group.

(Here, it is important to point out that “postmodernism” is a fake term, adapted from architecture. Few understand this, though ignorance has never stopped anyone from fulminating. The term is fake because no one has yet proven, once and for all, that the world has actually moved beyond modernity – that the world no longer functions as modern. Thus, even though much ink, virtual and actual, is continually being spilt on the horrors of “postmodernism” – the horrified only end up wrestling with modernity – and losing in the process, because the “post” keeps moving).

The consequence of these narratives runs deep. Secularism assures everyone that life can be good and happy without God (which highlights the grand failure of the Church). Individualism entrenches self-indulgence. Auto-theism gives purpose to life as the ceaseless pursuit of pleasure (aka, self-fulfillment). Progressivism demands the construction of utopias because progress alone knows how to fabricate a better world, the first step to which is righting all the imagined wrongs inherited from the terrible past.

In all this, modernity seeks to overcome and replace Christianity (which it holds created all the defects of the past which now need correcting). Tis will lead to the creation of the New Man (down to gender). This New Man will be the great citizen of the coming utopia. But until that high stage of human evolution arrives, men and women must be remade, because they cannot function in the imagined utopia as they are, tainted by Christianity – and being nothing more than bio-mass, they must be perfected by modernity. Such is modernist “salvation.”

Thus, for some, “salvation” will come as transhumanism, where humanity merges with machines to live forever, while the brain is lulled by pleasure-inducing psychotropic drugs (as Yuval Noah Harari fantasizes). For others, redemption will be found in neo-paganism, or “archeofuturism,” where the old gods are again worshipped and life returns to a pretend-time before Christianity came along and ruined everything. And then there are those who work to “save” the planet, rather than humanity – by ridding the earth of its most pernicious foe, the destructive human being. Modernity’s inherent anti-natalism serves this fantasy well, via abortion, gender fluidity, homosexuality, contraception. Babies are the great evil. This is the return of human-sacrifice that is inevitable whenever Christianity weakens.

All three of these utopias (really dystopias) are promoted and justified by the education system. Nevertheless, they are failed endeavors (as all mad schemes tend to be) – for consciousness cannot be reset to some default mode. Once the mind knows something, how can it then unknow it? After two-thousand years of Christianity, how can the Christianized mind and its accomplishments be undone? Thus, how do you worship Odin and Thor, with an iPhone in your hand? Or, how do you become a machine when you still have to lull the brain with drugs? And, how do you work to get rid of humans, while also decrying wars, weapons, climate change, gun-violence and murder? In all this barren wasteland of modernity, the soul cries out in its exile for something greater than the immediate. That cry dismantles modernity, and justifies Christianity.

This habit of fantasizing about dystopias is, in fact, the legacy of the true father of modernity (whom few mention, for obvious reasons), namely, the Marquis de Sade. He described meticulously, and unflinchingly, what a world without God is all about – relentless hedonism enabled by the cruel exertion of power, in which the weak are used and then destroyed. Pleasure is the only purpose of life. The world that comes after morality is Hell itself.

Those beguiled by the allure of an atheistic world that will yet be decent, just, kind and good, without the bother of superstition about a Man in the Sky, should lower themselves into the world of de Sade and honestly admit whether they would like to live in it. You cannot have all the benefits of a Christian civilization and then imagine that all of it can be sustained by the Godless. That is simply dishonest. Thus, every atheist should be asked what s/he thinks of de Sade. Any form of revulsion only means that that person’s atheism is simply a lie. The choice before the world is simple, therefore – the Marquis de Sade or Christ. If you say neither – then modernity will give you de Sade by default, because modernity does not have Christ. Recall, this choice was once made earlier, when Barabbas was on offer.

Because modernity is the logic of education today, it offers neither instrumentalism nor idealism. This makes it a false idol that people are taught to worship as the great benefactor of humanity. The fact is that degrees have little to do with jobs, and the ideas being taught in schools have little to with God, or transcendence, let alone civilization. There is only the tiresome rhetoric of fashioning utopias that shall come once all the old systems of oppression are finally destroyed.

Those that advocate STEM are near-sighted modernists, who cannot answer two fundamental questions. How many scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians can industry actually support, let alone need? And, how is cheap labor to be addressed, for there are competent STEM workers the world over? This means that more STEM only adds to the problem of modernity.

Then, there is the fact of how degrees are obtained – by way of massive debt. Few speak of the ethics of educational institutions selling their products (degrees) by way of the debt-industry. Thus, education becomes a corrupted function of capitalism, which destroys lives by turning young people over to debt-slavery. The massive human trafficking industry functions on exactly the same model, where persons trafficked must first pay off the debt owed to those who trafficked them. Likewise, graduates must first pay off those that “educated” them.

But what is to be done? First, the Church needs to ask herself – why can she no longer bring people to God? Why must people, who once were her flock, now chase after “spirituality,” and even neo-paganism, to look for God – or give up and embrace atheism or agnosticism? Once this question is properly understood and then fully answered, the Church can finally counter modernity. Until then, the Church will continue to be another function of modernity, just another narrative.

As for education, it must once again be aligned with the Christian understanding of life. To do so, schools must be made smaller and community-based, which would make them the responsibility of parents and the parish church (but only those churches that actually want to resist modernity). The lure of institutionalization must be avoided – because nothing is more soulless than vast bureaucracy.

The content of education must be made fully anti-modernist, which can best be done by using the medieval trivium and the quadrivium. The greatest need right now is to build base knowledge (now utterly lost) which will then lead to holy wisdom. This can only be done through the teaching of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. Afterwards must come the teaching of music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. These seven subjects will not only stop the destruction wrought by modernity (by making meaningless its various narratives) – but they will also prepare the mind for truth (a quality now being lost, if not lost already). Truth alone can knock down the false idol of modernity and its attendant education system, because truth and Christ are one.

Afterwards, these schools must lead into smaller, focused learning centers, again parent-organized and parish-based, that are instrumental in nature (apprenticeships, including music), or idealist (which teach history, philosophy, classic literature, languages and theology). There is no longer need for universities and colleges and their meaningless degrees. As for the cost, teachers must be given housing, allowances for necessities and a small stipend. This cost would be borne by the parents and the parish-church.

Historically, education was never about jobs. It was about giving humanity the moral equipment to do good works and to struggle for Heaven. It was about the care, cultivation and salvation of the soul through the pursuit of truth. The by-product of such an education was civilization, and thriving industry. If we still want civilization, then we will have to abandon modernity – because the one cannot contain the other.

Such deinstitutionalized education will require a great deal of courage and faith – because it will mean choosing to live forever against the modern world. And it will require the Christianization of capitalism. Here that moving remonstrance of Jesus should be brought to mind – What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his soul? Can there be a better rebuke of modernity and a better summation of what real education is all about?

The photo shows, “Christ in the Garden of Olives,” by Paul Gauguin, painted in 1898.

The Ontology Of Salvation

I cannot begin to count the number of times I wished there were a simple, felicitous word for “ontological.” I dislike writing theology with words that have to be explained – that is, words whose meanings are not immediately obvious. But, alas, I have found no substitute and will, therefore, beg my reader’s indulgence for dragging such a word into our conversations.

From the earliest times in the Church, but especially beginning with St. Athanasius in the 4th century as the great Ecumenical Councils took shape, the doctrines of the Church have been expressed and debated within the terms related to being itself.

For example, St. Athanasius says that in creating us, God gave us “being” (existence), with a view that we should move towards “well-being,” and with the end of “eternal being” (salvation). That three-fold scheme is a very common theme in patristic thought, championed and used again in the work of St. Maximus the Confessor with great precision, as he matured the thought of the Church as affirmed in the 5th Council.

At the same time, this language of being was used to speak about the nature and character of salvation, the same terms and imagery were being used to speak about the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. That language continues up through the Seventh Council and is the language used to define the doctrine of the veneration of the Holy Icons.

Conciliar thought, carried on within the terms of being (being, non-being, nature, person, existence, hypostatic representation, essence, energies, etc.) can be described as speaking in the language of “ontology.” Ontology is the technical name for things having to do with being (“onto” as a prefix in Greek means “being”).

There is a “seamless garment” of theological exposition that can be discerned across the range of the Councils. It is ontological in character.

Tremendous work and discussion on the part of the fathers resulted in a common language for speaking about all of these questions. Thus, the term “person” (an aspect of “being”) is used both for speaking about the Trinity as well as speaking about human persons and the one person of Christ in two natures.

It is the primary “grammar” of Orthodox conciliar thought. No other imagery or language receives the kind of imprimatur as the terms raised up into the formal declarations of the Church’s teaching. To a degree, everything else is commentary.

Many other images have been used alongside the ontological work of the Councils. The Church teaches and a good teacher draws on anything at hand to enlighten its students. Nevertheless, the dogmatic language of the Church has been that of “being.”

So what constitutes an “ontological” approach to salvation?

Here is an example. “Morality” is a word and concept that applies to behavior and an adherence to rules and laws. “Immorality” is the breaking of those laws. You can write about sin (and thus salvation) in the language of morality and never make reference to the language of being.

But what is created becomes a sort of separate thing from the conciliar language of the Church. Over the centuries, this has often happened in theology, particularly Western theology (Protestant and Catholic). The result is various “departments” of thought, without a common connection. It can lead to confusion and contradiction.

There is within Orthodoxy, an argument that says we are on the strongest ground when we speak in the language of the Councils. The language of “being” comes closer to accurately expressing what is actually taking place. Though all language has a “metaphoric” character, the language of being is, I think, the least metaphorical. It is about “what is.”

Back to the imagery of morality. If you speak of right and wrong in terms of being, it is generally expressed as either moving towards the path of well-being-eternal-being, or moving away from it, that is, taking a path towards non-being. What does the path of non-being look like? It looks like disintegration, a progressive “falling apart” of existence.

The New Testament uses the term phthora (“corruption”) to describe this. Phthora is what happens to a body when it dies. Death, in the New Testament, is often linked to sin (“sin and death”). It is the result of moving away from God, destroying our communion with Him.

For most modern people, death is seen as simply a fact of life, a morally neutral thing. It can’t be a moral question, we think, because you can’t help dying. But, in the New Testament and the Scriptures, death is quite synonymous with sin.

When Adam and Eve sin, they are told that it will result in death (a very ontological problem). A moral approach to that fact tends to see “sin” as the defining term and death as merely the punishment. The ontological approach sees death itself as the issue and the term that defines the meaning of sin. Sin is death. Death is sin.

And so, the language of the Church emphasizes that Christ “trampled down death by death.” In the language of ontology, that simple statement says everything. “He trampled down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowed life.” This includes the destruction of sin, freedom from the devil, forgiveness of sins, etc. But all of those things are included in the words of “death” and “life.”

An advantage in speaking in this manner can again be seen in comparing it to a simple moral approach. Morality is about actions, obedience, and disobedience. It says nothing about the person actually doing those things (or it can certainly avoid that topic).

It can mislead people into thinking that being and existence are neutral sorts of things and that what matters is how we behave. This can be coupled with the modern heresy of secularism in which it is asserted that things have an existence apart from God, that the universe is just a “neutral no-man’s land.”

The ontological approach denies this and affirms that God upholds everything in existence, moment by moment. It affirms that existence itself is a good thing and an expression of God’s goodness. It says as well that it is the purpose of all things that exist to be in communion with God and move towards eternal being. It is the fullness of salvation expressed in Romans 8:21-22.

Moral imagery also tends to see the world as disconnected. We are simply a collection of independent moral agents, being judged on our behavior. What I do is what I do, and what you do is what you do, and there is nothing particularly connected about any of it.

The language of being is quite different. Everything in creation that exists shares in the commonality of created being. What happens to any one thing effects everything else. There is true communion at the very root of existence.

And it is this communion of being that the fathers use when they speak of Christ’s Incarnation and our salvation. When the Creed says, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man,” it is speaking about salvation. It does not say, “Who, in order to pay the penalty that was due…”

Such language can be used and has been used, but it is not at the heart of the Conciliar words of the Church. It is not recited every Sunday.

So how does Christ save us in terms of being? In essence (no pun intended), He became what we were in order to make us what He is. He became man, entering and restoring the full communion which we had broken.

The Lord and Giver of Life, the Author of our Being entered into dying humanity. He took our dying humanity on Himself and entered into the very depths of that death (“suffered death and was buried”). He then raised that same dying humanity into His own eternal life. This is our forgiveness of sins.

If sin is death, then resurrection is forgiveness. Thus we sing at Pascha: “Let us call brothers even those that hate us and forgive all by the resurrection.” That sentence only makes sense in terms of the ontological language in which it is written.

We do bad things (immoral things) because we have broken communion with God. “Sins” are the symptoms and signs of death, decay, corruption, and disintegration at work in the soul. If left unattended, it will drag us into the very depths of near non-being in what can properly be described as hell. This is reflected in the Psalm verse, “The dead do not praise the LORD, Nor any who go down into silence.” (Psa 115:17)

In Holy Baptism, we are asked, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” This is the language of being and communion. St. Paul tells us that in Baptism we are united to Christ in His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. He then adds that we should “walk in newness of life.” That union with Christ and infusion of His Life creates a moral change that can be described in the language of being.

The unity of language, I believe, is very helpful and salutary. It is easy for modern believers, nurtured in the language of morality, to hear teachings about the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, etc., and think, “What has any of that got to do with my life?” That is a natural conclusion when salvation is expressed in a language that is separated from the language of the doctrinal foundations of the Church.

There are some who have pushed the moral language into the language of the Trinity, such that what is important is the Son’s propitiation of the Father’s wrath. Such terms find no place within the Conciliar thought of the Church and can (and have) created problems.

It is not that such terms have no use nor that they have never been used by any of the Fathers at any time. But they have a long history of being misused and distorting and obscuring the foundational doctrines of the Church.

In my own life, I personally found the language of being, when applied to my salvation, to explain the meaning of Scripture more thoroughly and connect my daily life and actions to the most fundamental doctrines of the Church.

It allowed me to read St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory, St. Maximus and a host of others without feeling that I had come to something foreign. It more than adequately addresses moral questions, whereas moral language cannot address anything else and creates problems and heresies when it is imported into the language of the Trinity.

I should add that I have worked within this for nearly 30 years and have found nothing within Scripture than cannot be understood within the ontological understanding and that doing so frequently takes you deeper into understanding what is actually going on. It also forces you to ask the questions of “how does this relate to everything else?”

I hope this little introductory train of thought is helpful for those who are thinking about these things. It should explain why I see this as important and something that goes to the very heart of the Orthodox faith.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “The Assumption of the Virgin” nu Francesco Botticini, painted ca. 1475-1476.

Why God Hides

God hides. God makes Himself known. God hides.

This pattern runs throughout the Scriptures. A holy hide-and-seek, the pattern is not accidental nor unintentional. It is rooted in the very nature of things in the Christian life. Christianity whose God is not hidden is not Christianity at all. But why is this so?

In a previous article, I wrote: “Our faith is about learning to live in the revealing of things that were hidden. True Christianity should never be obvious. It is, indeed, the struggle to live out what is not obvious. The Christian life is rightly meant to be an apocalypse.”

God is not obvious. That which is obvious is an object. Objects are inert, static and passive. The tree in my front yard is objectively there (or so it seems). When I get up in the morning and take the dog outside, I expect the tree to be there. If it is autumn, I might study its leaves for their wonderful color change (it’s a Gingko). But generally, I can ignore the tree – or not. That’s what objects are good for. They ask nothing of us. The freedom belongs entirely to us, not to them.

This is the function of an idol – to make a god into an object. He/she/it must be there. The idol captures the divine, objectifies it and renders it inert and passive.

The God of the Christians smashes idols. He will not stay put or become a passive participant in our narcissism. He is not the God-whom-I-want.

Christ tells us, “Ask, and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” The very center of the life promised us in Christ requires asking, seeking and knocking. The reason is straightforward: asking, seeking and knocking are a mode of existence. But our usual mode of existence is to live an obvious life (a life among objects).

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to buy an icon and add it to your icon corner than it is to actually spend time and pray in your corner? There is a kind of “Orthodox acquisitiveness” that substitutes such actions for asking, seeking and knocking. Acquisition is part of our obvious form of existence. We have been trained in our culture to consume. We acquire objects. On the whole, we don’t even have to seek the objects we acquire, other than to engage in a little googling. We no longer forage or hunt. We shop.

But we were created to ask, seek and knock. That mode of existence puts us in the place where we become truly human. The Fathers wrote about this under the heading of eros, desire. Our culture has changed the meaning of eros into erotic, in which we learn to consume through our passions. This is a distortion of true eros.

Christ uses the imagery of seeking or true desire (eros) in a number of His parables: The Merchant in Search of Fine Pearls; The Woman with the Lost Coin; The Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep; The Father in the Prodigal Son; The Treasure Buried in a Field…

But how does seeking (eros) differ from what I want? Are these parables not images of consuming? Learning the difference is part of the point in God’s holy hide-and-seek. The mode of existence to which He calls us must be learned, and it must be learned through practice.

Objects are manageable. They do not overwhelm or ask too much of us. Consumption is an activity in which we ourselves always have the upper hand. St. James offers this thought: “You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3).

What we seek (eros) in a godly manner, is something that cannot be managed or objectified. It is always larger and greater than we are. As such, it even presents a little danger. It may require that we be vulnerable and take risks. We are afraid that we might not find it while also being afraid that we will.

The parables are not about a merchant with a string of pearls, or a woman with a coin collection. The merchant risks everything he owns just for the chance of buying this one pearl. The woman seeks this coin as though there were no other money in the world.

When I was nearing the point of my conversion to Orthodoxy, a primary barrier was finding secular employment. It’s hard for someone whose resume only says, “priest,” to get a job or even an interview for a job. That search had gone on, quietly, for nearly two years. It was not an obsession – rather, more like a hobby. But one day, a job found me.

The details are not important here. But the reality is. The simple fact that a job was likely to happen, that I only had to say, “Yes,” was both exciting and frightening in the extreme. If I said yes, then everything I had said I wanted would start to come true (maybe).

And everything I knew as comfortable and secure would disappear (with four children to feed). And if everything I said I wanted began to come true, then the frightening possibility that I might not actually want it would also be revealed! I could multiply all of these possibilities many times over and not even begin to relate everything that was in my heart.

But the point that had found me was the beginning of the true search. The risk, the reward, the threat, the danger, the joy and the sorrow, all of them loomed over me, frequently driving me to prayer. I made the leap and began a tumultuous period in my life. But my life, like most, eventually settled down and slowly became obvious.

St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, one of the great monastic heroes of the Celtic lands, had a way of dealing with the obvious. He would walk into the North Sea from the island where he lived, and stand in the waves up to his neck. It was a dangerous sea, not like an American beach.

He stood there at the point of danger – and prayed. St. Brendan crossed the Atlantic with his monastic companions in a boat made of animal hides. Countless thousands of monastics wandered into deserts, forests, holes in the ground, islands, all in order to place themselves at that point where God may be found. Seeking God is not done in the place of safety, though it is the safest place in all the world.

Eros does not shop. True desire, that which is actually endemic to our nature, is not satisfied with the pleasures sought by the passions. It will go to extreme measures, even deep into pain, in order to be found by what it seeks.

All of this is the apocalyptic life of true faith. The question for us is how to live there, or even just go there for once in our lives. I “studied” Orthodoxy for 20 years. All of my friends knew (and often joked) about my interest. Many said they were not surprised when I converted.

I was. I was surprised because I know my own cowardice and fear of shame. If you liked Ferraris, your friends wouldn’t be surprised if you had photos and models, films and t-shirts. But if you sold your house and used the money to make a down payment on one, you’d be thought a fool, possibly insane. Seeking God is like that.

There are quiet ways that do not appear so radical. The right confession before a priest can be such a moment. Prayer before the icons in the corner of a room can become such a moment, though it takes lots of practice and much attention. They cannot be objects and the prayer cannot be obvious.

All of this is of God, may He be thanked. We do not have to invent this for ourselves. It is not “technique.” The God who wants us to seek is also kind enough to hide. Finding out where He is hiding is the first step. Finding out where you are hiding is the next. But the greatest and most wonderful step is turning the corner, buying the field, selling everything that you have, picking up the coin, making that phone call, saying “yes” and “yes” and “yes.”

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “The Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio, painted in 1606.

The Crucifixion, Part 3

As mentioned, giving the victim a proper burial following death on the cross during the Roman period was rare and in most cases simply not permitted in order to continue the humiliation – it was common for Romans to deny burial to criminals, as in the cases of Brutus and his supporters (Suetonius, Augustus 13.1-2) and Sejanus and company (Tacitus, Annals 6.29). The corpse was in many cases either simply thrown away on the garbage dump of the city, ‘buried’ in a common grave, or left on the cross as food for wild beasts and birds of prey.


Petronius, in the Satyricon (111), writes an amusing – to the Romans at least – story about a soldier who was tasked to guard the body of some crucified criminals from theft.

The soldier manages to lose one of the corpses, however, when he diverts his attention from the crosses in order to pursue an amorous interlude with a widow mourning for the loss of her husband (who was buried near the execution site):

…Thus it came about that the relatives of one of the malefactors, observing this relaxation of vigilance, removed his body from the cross during the night and gave it proper burial. But what of the unfortunate soldier, whose self-indulgence had thus been taken advantage of, when next morning he saw one of the crosses under his charge without its body! Dreading instant punishment, he acquaints his mistress with what had occurred, assuring her he would not await the judge’s sentence, but with his own sword exact the penalty of his negligence. He must die therefore; would she give him sepulture, and join the friend to the husband in that fatal spot?

But the lady was no less tender-hearted than virtuous. ‘The Gods forbid,’ she cried, ‘I should at one and the same time look on the corpses of two men, both most dear to me. I had rather hang a dead man on the cross than kill a living.’ So said, so done; she orders her husband’s body to be taken from its coffin and fixed upon the vacant cross. The soldier availed himself of the ready-witted lady’s expedient, and next day all men marveled how in the world a dead man had found his own way to the cross.

Beyond the baudiness and light-heartedness of the anecdote lies the seriousness with which Romans could take the matter of guarding victims: the soldier guards the crosses for three nights, and fears for his life when the theft is discovered.

The prevention of burial also serves to show a graphic display of the power of the Roman Empire: by not allowing the victims even a decent burial, it is declared that the loss of these victims is not a loss to society, but far from it, they actually served to strengthen and empower Rome, ridding the Empire of its enemies and maintaining the status quo and preserving law and order.

Because of these details, some, like John Dominic Crossan, suggest controversially that it was improbable that Jesus was given a proper burial, as the Gospels relate; instead, he might have been thrown in the waste dump in Jerusalem. Indeed, there were times in which Roman officials in Judea behaved like their counterparts in other areas of the Empire.

When Publius Quinctilius Varus, then Legate of Syria, moved into Judea in 4 BC to quell a messianic revolt after the death of Rome’s client king Herod the Great, he reportedly crucified 2000 Jewish rebels in and around Jerusalem (Josephus, Antiquities 17.295).

Later, the procurator of Judea, Gessius Florus is said to have ordered indiscriminate crucifixions, including those who were actually Roman citizens (Josephus, Jewish War 2.306-7). And, finally, in 70 AD, the general Titus ordered hundreds of Jewish captives to be crucified around the walls of Jerusalem in the hopes that this would drive the Jews to surrender (Jewish War 5.450). Josephus does not state explicitly that the bodies were left hanging, but that would be entirely consistent with the general purpose of these crucifixions.

Even so, one needs to consider the situation of the Province of Judea within the time of Jesus: at that time the situation was (in one sense) peaceful enough that events in and around Jerusalem were not always under control of the Prefect of Judea. While there is a small contingent of soldiers stationed in the Antonia Fortress, the day-to-day government of the city is largely left to Jewish hands, specifically the high priest and the council, who were accountable to the Prefect (in this period, Pontius Pilate).

The Prefect in turn was accountable to the Legate of Syria, and it was the interest of all to keep the status quo undisrupted. It would then be a mistake to assume that episodes like those of Varus, Florus, and Titus are typical of the situation surrounding Jesus’ burial.

However, taking victims of crucifixion down from their crosses and burying them was not unheard of. Philo (Flaccus, 10.83-84) tells us that:

“I actually know of instances of people who had been crucified and who, on the moment that such a holiday was at hand, were taken down from the cross and given back to their relatives in order to give them a burial and the customary rites of the last honors. For it was (thought to be) proper that even the dead should enjoy something good on the emperor’s birthday and at the same time that the sanctity of the festival should be preserved. Flaccus, however, did not order to take down people who had died on the cross but to crucify living ones, people for whom the occasion offered amnesty, to be sure only a short-lived not a permanent one, but at least a short postponement of punishment if not entire forgiveness.”

Josephus (Jewish War 4.5.2) relates that Jews took down the bodies of those who were crucified during the Great Revolt, as is the command in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (“When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse“).

In Jewish thought, giving a proper interment for someone — even the dead of their enemies — was considered to be ritual piety (2 Sam. 21:12-14):

“…But the rage of the Idumeans was not satiated by these slaughters; but they now betook themselves to the city, and plundered every house, and slew every one they met; and for the other multitude, they esteemed it needless to go on with killing them, but they sought for the high priests, and the generality went with the greatest zeal against them; and as soon as they caught them they slew them, and then standing upon their dead bodies, in way of jest, upbraided Ananus with his kindness to the people, and Jesus (ben Ananias) with his speech made to them from the wall:

Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun. I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city…”

In a few cases, concessions can be made if relatives or friends of the victim asked for the corpse to give it a decent burial. The discovery of the bones of a victim who died of crucifixion discovered in 1968, within an ossuary inside a tomb may suggest that giving proper burial to crucifixion victims (as in the case of Jesus), while being rather rare, was not unknown.

Despite being mentioned in many literary sources for the Roman period, few exact details as to how the condemned were affixed to the cross have come down to us. But we do have one unique archeological witness to this gruesome practice.

In 1968, building contractors working in Giv’at haMivtar (Ras el-Masaref), just north of Jerusalem near Mount Scopus and immediately west of the road to Nablus accidentally uncovered a Jewish tomb dated to the 1st century AD. The date of the tombs, revealed by the pottery in situ, ranged from the late 2nd century B.C. until 70 A.D.

These family tombs with branching chambers, which had been hewn out of soft limestone, belong to the Jewish cemetery of Jesus’ time that extends from Mount Scopus in the east to the tombs in the neighborhood of Sanhedriya (named after the Jewish Sanhedrin; it is not certain, however, whether the tombs, which are occupied by seventy people of high status, were the burial places of Sanhedrin officials), in the north west.

A team of archeologists, led by Vassilios Tzaferis, found within the caves the bones of thirty-five individuals, with nine of them apparently having a violent death. Three children, ranging in ages from eight months to eight years, died from starvation. A child of almost four expired after much suffering from an arrow wound that penetrated the left of his skull (the occipital bone). A young man of about seventeen years burned to death cruelly bound upon a rack, as inferred by the grey and white alternate lines on his left fibula.

A slightly older female also died from conflagration. An old women of nearly sixty probably collapsed from the crushing blow of a weapon like a mace; her atlas, axis vertebrae and occipital bone were shattered. A woman in her early thirties died in childbirth, she still retained a fetus in her pelvis.

The late Professor Nicu Haas, an anthropologist at the Anatomy School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem-Hadassah Medical School, examined one of the bones, which were placed inside a stone ossuary (right) placed inside one of the tombs which bears the Hebrew inscription ‘’Yehohanan the son of Hagaqol’.

The bones were those of a man in his twenties, crucified probably between 7 A.D., the time of the census revolt, and 66 A.D., the beginning of the war against Rome. The evidence for this was based on the right heel bone, pierced by an iron nail 11.5 centimetres in length.

The nail penetrated the lateral surface of the bone emerging on the middle of the surface in which the tip of the nail had become bent. The bending of the tip upon itself suggests that after the nail penetrated the tree or the upright it may have struck a knot in the wood thereby making it difficult to remove from the heel when Yehohanan was taken down from the cross.

The point of the nail had olive wood fragments on it indicating that Yehohanan was crucified on a cross made of olive wood or on an olive tree, which would suggest that the condemned was crucified at eye level since olive trees were not very tall. Additionally, a piece of acacia wood was located between the bones and the head of the nail, presumably to keep the condemned from freeing his foot by sliding it over the nail. Yehohanan’s legs were found broken, perhaps as a means of hastening his death (Crucifragium; cf. John 19:31-32).

Haas asserted that Yehohanan experienced three traumatic episodes: the cleft palate on the right side and the associated asymmetries of his face likely resulted from the deterioration of his mother’s diet during the first few weeks of pregnancy; the disproportion of his cerebral cranium (pladiocephaly) were caused by difficulties during birth. All the marks of violence on the skeleton resulted directly or indirectly from crucifixion.

He also postulated that the legs had been pressed together, bent, and twisted to that the calves were parallel to the patibulum, with the feet being secured to the cross by one iron nail driven simultaneously through both heels (tuber calcanei), and also deduced from a scratch on the inner surface of the right radius bone of the forearm, close to the wrist, that a nail had been driven into the forearm at that position.

However, a subsequent reexamination by Joseph “Joe” Zias, former Curator of Archaeology and Anthropology for the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Eliezer Sekeles in 1985 found that many of the conclusions upon which his attempted reconstruction were made were flawed. The nail which Haas reported to be 17-18 centimeters in length was but 11.5 centimeters, making it anatomically impossible to affix two feet with one nail.

Furthermore, despite the original belief that evidence for nailing was found on the radius, a subsequent reexamination of the evidence showed that there was no evidence for traumatic injury to the forearms; various opinions have since then been proposed as to whether the feet were both nailed together to the front of the cross or one on the left side, one on the right side, and whether Yehohanan’s hands was actually nailed to the cross or merely tied (Zias’ reconstruction of Yehohanan’s posture, at right).

While the archeological and physiological record are mostly silent on crucifixion, there are possibilities which may account for this: one is that most victims may have been tied to the cross, which would explain the lack of any direct traumatic evidence on the human skeleton when tied to the cross. The other is that the nails were usually either reused or taken as medical amulets, as stated in Part 1.

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, “Compassion,” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1897.

The Hope That Is In Us

“Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” These words of Christ, spoken to Thomas and recorded in John 20:29, have often been misunderstood. Some suggest that Christ was offering a blessing to those who believe in Him without any evidence at all, who accept Him on blind faith. This is not what Christ meant, for Thomas never accepted Christ on blind faith in the absence of any evidence.

Indeed, Thomas had plenty of evidence and reason to accept Jesus as the Christ, including the many miracles he saw Him perform. By these words Christ was not affirming the necessity of blind faith, but offering a blessing to those who believed in Him even though they never experienced a resurrection appearance as Thomas did.

For there are all sorts of reasons for believing in Christ and all kinds of evidence for the truth of Christianity, even apart from experiencing a Resurrection appearance as did the apostles. St. Peter told his new converts to always be ready to make a defense to anyone who called them to give a reason for the hope that was in them (1 Peter 3:15), and so Christians must have reasons for their hope in Christ. I would like to mention three of them, three pieces of evidence for the truth of Christ’s Resurrection.

These pieces of evidence all presuppose the essential reliability of the Gospel accounts. That in itself is not unreasonable, for the Gospels can all lay claim to relate first-hand eye-witness testimony: Matthew was one of the Twelve, as was John, who repeatedly stressed the first-hand nature of his testimony (e.g. John 19:35, 21:24). Luke wrote his account after consulting with many first-hand witnesses (Luke 1:1-4), and Mark wrote his account after listening to Peter’s reminiscences in Rome.

And the first three Gospels were written within about thirty years of the events they recount—i.e. they were practically contemporaneous with those events. Moreover, the Gospel writers wrote and circulated their writings while surrounded by a hostile group of people (the unbelieving Jews) who would have contested and contradicted their reporting if it veered from the known facts, and this hostility acted as a kind of control to keep the writers’ accounts accurate. So we may have confidence in the essential accuracy of the Gospel accounts.

The first piece of evidence is the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb. The apostles were publically proclaiming in the very heart of the Temple the Resurrection of Christ (and the consequent guilt of the Sanhedrin for the crime of having the Messiah crucified), and all the enraged Sanhedrin could do in response was to arrest Peter and John and to threaten them, telling them to cease and desist (Acts 3-4).

They could have shut down the whole apostolic enterprise and crush out the nascent Christian movement then and there—all they needed to do was to produce the corpse of Jesus, who had been buried a scant distance away from the Temple. But this they did not do. Why not? Obviously because the corpse of Jesus was no longer in the tomb and available to them.

So where was it? Why was it not in the tomb? The apostles’ explanation was that the tomb was now empty because God had raised Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus had emerged from the tomb, meeting with His disciples during the following forty days before being taken to heaven.

The Jewish explanation for the emptiness of the tomb was that the disciples came by night while the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb were asleep and these disciples stole the corpse (Matthew 28:12-15). Let us examine this explanation at greater length, for it contains a few problems.

The first problem with the explanation is the presupposition that a Roman soldier on guard duty would fall asleep—something which would bring swift and violent response from his commanding officer if he were caught.

Yet this story asks us to believe that all the soldiers on guard duty fell asleep, and all at the same time, and that they fell so soundly asleep that the disciples sneaking up, unsealing the tomb, moving the huge stone, and making off with the corpse didn’t wake them.

Even harder to believe is that the disciples stopped in the midst of this dangerous theft and took time to strip the corpse of its grave-clothes before carrying it away (compare John 20:6-7).

The Jewish explanation produces more questions than answers. Even if the apostles could somehow have sneaked up unseen on the Roman guards, and waited until all the guards fell so soundly asleep at the same time that they did not stir when the stone was noisily moved and the corpse stripped and stolen, why would they do this? What did they have to gain from it?

All they had to gain from their leadership of the Christian movement is what they in fact did gain from it—namely, suffering, poverty, hardship, and eventual martyrdom (see 1 Corinthians 4:9-13). And where did they then bury the corpse? And how could such a burial escape detection in a city swarming with their enemies to such an extent that they had to lock the doors when they met together? (see John 20:19).

And why would they persist in such a lie? It is incredible to imagine that such a colossal conspiracy would not somehow have leaked out, especially as persecution arose. Moreover, the Jewish explanation is not even self-consistent: if the guards were all asleep, how could they know that it was the disciples who stole the corpse? The whole thing is harder to believe than the Resurrection.

The second problem with denying the historicity of the Resurrection of Christ lies in the change in the apostles. From the time of Jesus’ arrest, during His trial and crucifixion, and immediately after His death, they all displayed tremendous cowardice—or (to put it more charitably) a tremendous concern for their self-preservation.

During His arrest, they all forsook Him and fled (Mark 14:50), and Peter, when challenged a number of times as to whether he was part of His movement, repeatedly denied even knowing Him (Mark 14:66f). None but John were present at His cross, and after His death, when they met together, they made sure that the outer door was locked, for fear of being arrested by the Jews—all in all, not a great display of courage and boldness.

Yet fifty days later they were so bold that they publically preached to anyone who would listen that Jesus was the Messiah, risen from the dead, and openly accused the Sanhedrin of disowning the Messiah and having Him killed (Acts 5:28). Arrest, flogging, and threats of further punishment could not deter the apostles.

The question is: what produced this change of heart and inspired this new boldness? The apostles explained it by saying they had seen the risen Lord. If they did not in fact see the risen Lord, what other explanation could there be for such a swift, radical, and unanimous change of heart among all of them?

The question becomes more acute as persecution of the Church intensifies: even when martyrdom threatened, the apostles continued to preach that they had indeed seen the risen Christ. Who would die for what they knew was a pointless lie? The apostolic boldness is only explicable if they were telling the truth about the Resurrection.

The third problem with denying the Resurrection of Christ is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. He was adamantly opposed to the Christian movement, and took drastic and effective steps to try to crush it out. He was present for the martyrdom of Stephen, and ravaged the Church in Jerusalem, entering house after house and dragging off to prison the disciples of Jesus, both women as well as men (Acts 8:3).

Not content with this, he requested and received authorization from the high priest to journey to far away Damascus and arrest any disciples of Jesus he found in the synagogues there.

Accordingly, he journeyed to Damascus, but upon arriving there, when he entered the synagogue, instead of denouncing Jesus as a false-Messiah and arresting His disciples, He proclaimed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. What produced such a sudden and stunning volte-face?

Saul (also known as Paul) explained it by relating that as he approached Damascus he received a visitation from the risen Jesus, an encounter which converted and temporarily blinded him.

Then one of Jesus’ disciples, Ananias by name, found Saul in the city, explained that Jesus had appeared to him in a vision, and sent him to heal Saul of his blindness, which he did. If one rejects Saul’s explanation of what caused his volte-face, what other explanation could there be? And once again, we may ask, why would Saul lie? What would he have to gain by it?

There are other reasons for accepting the truth of the Christian Faith as well—reasons having to do with subjective experience of the presence of Christ, and of contemporary miracles and answers to prayer.

But these three historical reasons, I submit, are sufficient—or at least they were sufficient for me. If Christ did rise from the dead, then the emptiness of His tomb, the change in the apostles, and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus are all adequately and fully explained. If His Resurrection did not in fact occur, these three things remain inexplicable.

At the very least the burden of proof shifts to those who would deny the Resurrection. Such historical evidence constitutes a reason for the hope that is in us—and challenge to those who would deny the Resurrection and choose to live without such hope.

Father Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.

The photo shows, “The Doubting Thomas” by Leendert van der Cooghen, painted in 1654.

The Sadducees: What Do We Know?

In the famous account of the meeting of Christ with the Sadducees (Luke 20: 27–40), the question is brought up of the resurrection of bodies (in other words, their “recovery” after death). More importantly, the representatives of the “party” that was once the majority in the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees, seek to ask the “Master,” the “Rabbi,” the “Doctor” this fundamental question to which they think they have the correct answer. They hope to bewilder the man they are addressing, and care little for the title they use for him. But their hopes are dashed by the answer they receive: after the Resurrection, men will be like angels.

Our God is the God of the living; there is thus a life after life. But the conception of the afterlife among Jews, as embodied by the Pharisees and mocked by the Sadducees, is indeed so simplistic that it can only lend itself to derision.

On the whole, this controversy illustrates the refusal of history by the Sadducees, who themselves are an enigma. They were members of the priestly class, who were in conflict with the Pharisees, and who refused the very idea of ​​resurrection. That’s about all we know about them – aside from the reference that their name makes to Zadok, high priest under David. They were also supporters of the Romans, during the time of Christ, who lost control of the Sanhedrin to their opponents, the Pharisees.

In comparison to the Pharisees, the Sadducees held a very “modern” and simple doctrine – after death, there is nothing. The soul disappears, there is no other world, there is no destiny. Man has the free choice between good and evil in this life. After death, it is all over. Their doctrine denied all “post mortem” reality. In this they opposed the Pharisees who believed in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the “good” – the “bad,” on the other hand, fell prey to eternal punishment.

The “theology” of the Sadducees was the work of a group of priests, who founded the sect, and who were vocal on the theological as well as the political level. They recognized value only in the Torah, thus dooming the rest of the Bible to nothingness. And, although a minority, their “lobby,” during the time of Christ, dominated the priestly caste. Thus, for them, history did not exist, Providence did not exist, only the chaos of human choices reigned. Man had before him neither a future, nor hope of resurrection. It can be said, without caricature, that the Sadducee is the prototype of today’s “average atheist,” – and he was a priest! For him, the Messiah was the hero of a myth.

Let us return to the controversy with Christ on the subject of the resurrection of the body, taking into account that for the Sadducees the world as it is, is nonsense. And, indeed, their position is quite singular, since all the peoples of the earth, of all times, believed, until the eighteenth century in Europe, at least, in a transcendence, including at least one god, or a pantheon, and an afterlife. The memory of a primitive religion is common to all of humanity. But the Sadducees, for their part, had managed to eliminate the history of Israel – and they were practically in power! Nevertheless, the Hebrews believed in the resurrection, since Moses at least (just like the Egyptians, by the way). Did not God promise to restore the world?

And the answer Jesus gave took them for a loop – first, that the dead are indeed resurrection, and two, that the resurrected will be like angels. His opponents, who knew the concept of “angel” but did not believe it, could not imagine such a metamorphosis. And the answer also highlights the idle nature of their question.

We should note that the angel-analogy relates only to the condition of men and women resurrected, who then will have no carnal relationship because they will not feel the need. And the Talmud does tell us that in the Otherworld, you do not drink, you do not eat, all are equal and in harmony. The body of the resurrected undergoes a metamorphosis.

But why should angels not have carnal relations? Simply because they are not susceptible to death and thus do not survive by procreation. (We might suppose that angels also multiple, but that is a different discussion).

Here it seems that Christ establishes a causal relationship between carnal reproduction and the necessity of death. In Heaven, one does not die, one does not die any further. The carnal relation is really a continuation of the original decay. Adam and Eve, after the fall, lost their garment of Light, and, being naked, they were then covered with skins of animals and subject to death. But in the hereafter, people, as began with their first parents, find a body of Light. They participate in the mystery of the resurrection. And the Resurrection of Christ is the principle of all resurrection: by resurrecting, he resurrects in the entirety of his being, body and soul.

Thus, the pool of the Sadducees is paved over! Risen humanity will participate in the rightful filial dignity of the risen Christ, in which filiation and rebirth from the dead together proclaim Him Son of God.

We also notice the Sadducees’ petty notion of sexuality, expressed in a manner that regulates the lot of widows. For the Sadducees, marriage is nothing but a carnal union, we may say a bestial one, since it denies all transcendence accessible to mankind. Marriage, in this case, only a system of filiation; and it is a fact, recognized and regulated by the Law, that the only husband of the woman is the first deceased brother. And yet, clinging to the Law, it seems that the Sadducees have not understood, in their pettiness and narrow mindedness, the full significance of marriage, nor have they grasped the grandeur of human destiny.

Christ makes Filiation holy by his Divinity, by opening us to the omnipotence of God, and thus reminding us of the promise of history, which includes our very own resurrection.

Father Frédéric Guigain was born in Paris, and obtained a DEA in philosophy at the Sorbonne (Paris IV). He was ordained a priest in the Maronite diocese of Jbeil-Byblos (Lebanon) in 2001, and assumed various tasks of pastoral care in Nigeria (Port-Harcourt), Italy (Rome-Albano) and Lebanon (Diocese of Jbeil). He was a parish priest in Amsheet, in charge of the chancery of the bishopric, and chaplain of the diocesan committee for youth ministry. He is currently vicar of the parish of Saint-Cloud in the diocese of Nanterre.

The original version of this article is in French. This English translation is by N. Dass.

The photo shows Christ teaching, from a French breviary, dated to ca. 1511.

Parable Of The Sower

Every Society has its dream of a better world. The classless society, the American dream; Utopia. Martin Luther King spoke about having a dream where black and white would no longer be segregated.

We hear our politicians when it’s coming up to election time talk about a fair and just society. The former British Prime Minister David Cameron talked about the ‘Big Society’. Not sure whatever happened to it.

The Jews of the first century were no different to us in wanting a better society and a better world. In the Old Testament, we can read from Judges on through to Kings and Chronicles all about the different rulers and kings Israel had and what sort of society they tried to create.

But as time went on it became clear that it would take an extraordinary intervention on God’s part to transform this present evil world into the sort of world where God’s people would really feel at home.

A decisive victory over the power of evil would have to be won, a victory no ordinary human being could ever achieve.

The people looked forward to the arrival of a supernatural deliverer, the one who would be anointed like the mighty heroes of the past; a new David; but greater even than David was. They waited for The Messiah.  

Don’t worry said the prophets; things look pretty bad for us Jews in this present wicked age.

But soon the Messiah will step out of the wings of history; and then at long last the kingdom of God will begin.

Can you imagine the shock that must have gone through the population of Galilee when Jesus, a young carpenter from Nazareth, started to wander around their towns and villages saying it had happened? ‘The kingdom of God has Come’. Its arrived. ‘Repent and believe the good news that I bring’. That’s what he said.

Many as we know were naturally very sceptical. They were not unfamiliar with lunatics who indulged their megalomaniac fantasies by pretending to be the Messiah.

But this man did not just make messianic claims; he cast out demons, he healed the sick, he raised the dead. He feeds 5000 plus people with a few fish and some loaves. He forgave people. And he taught. He wasn’t just all talk.

There was a charisma about him that had not been seen in Israel since the days of the greatest prophets 500 years before. There was even a rumour than he was Elijah or Jeremiah back from the dead.

The word ‘kingdom’ in that part of the world meant a great deal to the Galilean masses. The mere mention of the kingdom fired up their most fanatical zeal, and inspired their most passionate commitment.

All Jesus had to do when confronted by this vast multitude was to work a miracle or two and deliver a suitable firebrand speech and the whole of the Galilean countryside would have erupted enthusiastically for his Messiahship.

 He could easily have whipped up the crowds to march on Jerusalem. As some political leaders try to do even today.

But the extraordinary thing is, he didn’t. Instead he told them a story.

He had power greater than every nation combined together on planet earth at his disposal. But instead he tells the people a story. Can you imagine this great crowd coming to him from town after town, full of expectancy, hanging on to every word and ready to do as he commands? Then He sits down and tells them a Story.

Not a straight forward type of story; but a bizarre perplexing riddle of a story called a Parable. People are more open to stories; but not everybody; this is the strange conundrum.

Even his closest friends were utterly bewildered by this kind of approach. What on earth are you doing Jesus they asked him. What is this parable business all about?

Then he explains to them; ‘the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that though seeing, they may Not see, through hearing they may Not understand. What does he mean? These are unpopular and controversial words.

What Jesus says here clearly seems to contradict the popular view of parables as moralizing stories told to aid the understanding of simple rural people.  

On the contrary; Jesus says he speaks in parables not to make it Easier for people to understand, but to make it Harder. Though seeing, they may Not see, though hearing, they may Not understand. Whatever you make of that, its quite clear that Jesus was not as impressed by these crowds, streaming out of Galilee to see him, as we might have been, if we had been there.

Jesus was not convinced that they were on his wavelength.

You see Jesus grew up with these people; he knew perfectly well what their ideas of the kingdom of God were; and that they were as different from his own ideas……. as chalk and cheese. As day to night. He had to take a different way with them. The last thing he wanted to do was to foster their mistaken notions by courting popularity with them. He was going to make things difficult for them.

He hints in fact that he feels rather as the prophet Isaiah did, when he was told to preach to a people whose hearts would be Hardened against his words.

Yet At other times Jesus speaks to the crowds and challenges them; he who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Verse 8. So how do properly assess what Jesus is saying here.

This particular parable acts as a type of filter. You know what a filter does. It sifts.

Among the thousands who come to see and hear him for all the wrong reasons; he believes there are Some, just some who are genuinely Open to the truth.

A tiny minority maybe, amid that vast spiritually deaf multitude; but though few, they Did have ears to hear.

His parables were like a type of Filter that identified those True disciples.

They identified those who came to Jesus looking for just a political leader, a nationalist revolutionary, or a spell binding miracle worker, they went away disillusioned. Or I want you Jesus to give me the wow factor; take away all my troubles and tribulations, then I can get on with living for myself.

They found to their disappointment a teller of stories. But those who were drawn to him by some deeper magnetism stayed. In their hearts God’s spirit was working. They were being inwardly called to follow him.

Though they were perplexed at first, just like all the others, they were also intrigued, longing to understand what he was really getting at, sensing that somewhere buried in the obscurity of his parables lay the clue to that kingdom of God for which their hearts longed.

To you he says to them; ‘the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given’. But for some you have to take it a step further.

You will never find the kingdom, or Jesus for that matter if you do not allow your mind and heart to be opened. You need to move closer to him.

This is in fact, a fundamental characteristic of all Jesus’ ministry. You don’t get to grips with his message from the safe distance of a detached curiosity.

Unlike so many orators and some preachers of today; Jesus’ head was never turned by the flattery of the crowds.

He wasn’t fooled by the illusion of success that big numbers conjure up, he saw through all that hype. Instead he was perfectly content to Invest himself in just Twelve men and the handful of women Luke names for us. Provided they were real listeners, real learners, and real disciples, he was prepared to give the whole of himself to such a tiny band.

The parable of the Sower acts as a sifting process because

 behind this imagery of the sower and the seed is the solemn and serious truth that only some who hear his words are ultimately blessed by him and saved.

You know the way when people joined the Gold Rush in America back in the 1800’s. You see the prospectors sifting through a pile of dirt and stones from the river bed as they look for gold. And then they start to gradually wash all the debris away, until there is just one or two gold nuggets left.

Though there may be many whose initial response to the gospel looks promising, the path of being a follower of Jesus proves too demanding. They can’t hack it.

Different people view the meaning of parables differently. Some feel that parables are deliberately mysterious and elusive. But by drawing us into this particular story Jesus brings home some truths that we were not aware of which can strike home and leave us uncomfortable, perplexed and wanting more.

No matter whether we understand this parable, this story; at the first or second or third or fourth attempt; it can take years; Jesus still gets his message across. He wants us to hear it; to think carefully about it; and respond to it.

The photo shows the icon, “Christ the Sower of Seeds.”

Nahum The Carpenter, The Fourteenth Epistle

While Ezra and Ezekiel are hard at work secretly planning The Event, some interesting situations are making for some stories about Nahum’s and Ezekiel’s lives.

Nahum and Ruth often give thanks for having both of their sons home and healthy. Ruth still has nightmares when she thinks of the condition Ezekiel was in when he arrived home in that large industrial caravan. Seeing him in a coma with an extremely high fever caused both her and Nahum to think he may die.

Because of the professional loving care of Elizabeth and Hannah he is alive and well today.

Nahum continues to search for answers to situations that occur and result in such good fortune for his family. He reflects on Ruth coming to his father’s shop to see him when he was thirteen, how Elizabeth found Ezra in a pile of mud after falling off his horse, how Yohanin and Miriamme sold them their beautiful property, at how Jonathon came along and bought his old property, and now this! His son comes home almost dead and he falls in love with his nurse. I truly believe God has his hand in our lives and I am so glad we get to worship his son Jesus now.

Over three months have passed since that troubling day Ezekiel was brought home by the large caravan. He is almost his old self again and working closely along side Isaac. However, his memory still plays tricks on him.

Every day, it seems, he remembers something new from his past. It often troubles him because the memory is incomplete. He would like to know more about his recovery, but knows if he asks anyone it will only bring back bad memories for them too. He is very close to asking Hannah, because he knows she is strong and will be able to handle the situation. He has to find the right time.

One night, Ezekiel and Hannah were chatting and discussing their future. Ezekiel was in a reflective mood and seemed to be day dreaming a bit. Finally, Hannah said is there anything wrong? He replied nothing is wrong, but I sometimes get this feeling that my life was spared and you and Elizabeth and my family were part of that saving event.

I have only brief glimpses of my condition and remember little things about my healing, but I cannot help but wonder why I was so fortunate to have made a complete recovery. Hannah pointed out to him that there is a place in the bible that says there is a time to live and a time to die. It is your time to live.

He again reiterated that he is so thankful to God and his family for saving him, but wonders what really happened to him.

Hannah, using all her nursing and “patient” patient training said, ok, let me tell you what happened. He was all ears!

She said that when I first saw you I knew you were very ill, but I knew in my heart you would recover.

He asked if she would tell him about his time at the clinic and what had taken place there. She told him that she and Elizabeth were waiting for him. You had a very high fever and  basically in a deep sleep or coma and was unaware of your surroundings.

She told him she started treating him with a new herb she heard about from Dioscorides  called Yarrow. We bathed you, put you in a clean robe, gave you lots of water to drink and let you rest, along with big dosages of the new herb.

She also confided to him that she considered him a different and special patient. I did not know what the difference was, but I found some kind of connection with you. She put it down to the fact it was Ezra’s brother, but she was not sure? With that, he squeezed her hand and said simply I am so glad you did!!!

She continued. Elizabeth had arranged for the family to take turns sitting and monitoring you. We needed to continue with our duties at the clinic. The clinic was busy and we were concerned over your slow recovery, we were getting tired and worried. Elizabeth decided to ask her younger sister, to come and help at the clinic. This was a brilliant move as the young girl possessed the same qualities as her older sister and was a big help.

One morning you really scared us! You sat up in bed, calling out names and places that made no sense. You were very delirious.

Six days after you arrived with the fever, you were still in a coma. We were now getting very worried.  It is common knowledge that if it exceeds ten days the patient will likely die. I was convinced that it is a serious fever but not malaria. I had treated malaria patients before and your symptoms were different.

The following night on your mom’s watch this time, you had another delirium attack, worse than the others. Everyone is extremely concerned now. Nahum sent Simon to fetch Isaac.

All the family is awake late into the night. Isaac has arrived and he is preparing to have a prayer service for you. Your family, Miriamme and I gather around your bed and Isaac leads us in prayer.

He speaks to God as though he was speaking to a friend, asking for a favour. He is very careful to continually tell God that “we” all want Ezekiel to get well and to live. If it is God’s will to take his life, please God give us the strength and wisdom to understand and accept it.

Your poor mom was in tears and hugs Isaac for his prayer and for thanking God for the life Ezekiel has lived to this point.

Next morning.  Miramme brought you some  porridge, which you ate with haste, a good sign. She then asked if she could make a suggestion. She was very careful to ensure she was not interfering with our treatment, we asked her to continue.

She said that many years ago her grandmother had been given her some tea, she thought it was from India. We have kept it all these years sealed in a waxed jar. We only opened it when someone was really sick or had a fever. I used it on Yohanan some years ago and he got better. I resealed it and put it away. I just thought of it today. I asked her to mix a potion for you and she gave it to you.

We are all very tired now. It is about 3:00 am. We decided to try and sleep and leave Isaac to watch over you for a few hours.  We went to sleep with heavy hearts and prayers on our lips.

It was just before dawn when Isaac crept quietly out of your room and came to my bedroom and woke me.   He asked me to wake up the others as he thought you were coming to. 

They stayed in the back ground as Isaac gently helped you to sit up. In thinking about it now, it was kind of funny as you sat up as though nothing had happened, you rubbed your eyes, stretched your arms and said, where am I? what is going on?

 Now I am embarrassed to tell what happened next! Ezekiel said what do you mean? was I rude or something? No. she said you looked around and asked where the angel went?

We assumed you were still delirious, but you said you remember seeing a beautiful girl here patting you with cool cloths, and giving you cool water, she looked like an angel.  Where is she? The family all looked at me and I was so overcome with a feeling I have never experienced before that I ran out of the room.

Ezra went over to you and very quickly told you what happened, your trip home via a caravan, your stay at the clinic and your very serious high fever. He then said you have a nurse by the name of Hannah, I think that is who you mean.

With that he called me back into the room. As i approached you, your face lit up and you almost shouted, that’s her, she saved my life. I went over and said Hi, I am Hannah and I gave you a kiss on the forehead. You tried to hug me but you were too weak, you just said thank you.

 Ezra went to the back of the clinic and came back with the roller chair. A few months ago, Elizabeth went into the shop and told Simon and Bart she had a request!

She asked them if they could put wheels on the back legs of this heavy wooden chair, and handles on the back, this way she could transport patients without having to tote them or make them walk slowly. The boys smiled and obliged her with the roller chair.

Ezra gently placed his brother in the chair and wheeled him out to the latrine and then to the little pond behind the shop. Ezekiel was able to wash his hair, beard and body which made him feel like a new man. He toweled off and Ezra wheeled him back to his bed, which had been made up with clean sheets and pillows. You went back to sleep and we all met in a big circle and Isaac again led us in a prayer of thanksgiving for returning you to us. It was so emotional; we were all crying with joy.

The next day Miriamme said she would make you some hearty soup and that I should enjoy it with you, so we had our first meal together!!!

When we finished eating and were chatting you surprised and embarrassed me a little when you said: I suppose since you are my nurse you know all about me. I said, yes, I think so. You replied, OK, but I know nothing of you, tell me about yourself. So I proceeded to tell you all the things you now know. You were very pleased and we seemed to grow closer the more we got to know each other.

You stayed in the clinic two more days and on the last day Miriamme asked you to dinner, she would make one of your favourites, dumplings. She said she would make them at Elizabeth’s as she had the larger rooms. Again, she asked me to join them.

We enjoyed our feast and later enjoyed a quiet evening chatting and talking about what we might like to do in the future, I really enjoyed it. I had never spent quiet alone time with a man before.

About nine o’clock there was a knock on the door and Ezra came in. He sat and chatted and helped us finish the wine. He then said he would see to his horses and return and take you to the latrine. I said, thank you, I will leave in a few minutes.

Do you remember what happened next? She asked playfully! Now it was Ezekiel’s turn to blush! Yes, I sure do, it was my first time kissing a girl on the lips and it felt so good.

When they had composed themselves and Ezekiel was happy to find out the truth he told her some more good news.

Ezekiel said he had been asked by Isaac during one of his visits home, if he would consider taking over Isaac’s work as he was getting old and the travelling was making him very tired. I am considering his offer, but I do not feel capable of filling Isaac’s shoes.

Isaac has been very patient and kind with me, he has pointed out that it is not a case of me filling his shoes, but rather an opportunity for me to continue teaching about Jesus, but doing it my way.

When he put it like that, I felt I would try it and see how I make out. Over a year has passed and I feel the people are believing in my teachings and willing to follow me in their worship of this man Jesus. It is very satisfying, and people have been very kind and generous to me by giving me food, gifts and gold. I think I am ready for a wife!

One night after dinner at Hannah’s home, Ezekiel asked her parents if he could speak with them alone. Hannah knew what was coming! Unlike his older brother and father who both had difficulty with words, Ezekiel was quite confident and spoke very eloquently with her parents.

At the conclusion, they called Hannah back into the room and they agreed on a wedding date and of course, the young couple already have a home to move into.

The wedding took a few months later, Ezra and Elizabeth arranged for the wedding celebrations and due to the on going threats to Christians it was a low-key event.

It took place at Hannah’s parents farm and again many of Ezra’s “horse friends” served as custodians of the guests’ horses and wagon, as guards around the perimeter of the farm and some helped with the grilling of the meat.

It was a truly exciting and dramatic day for all concerned. Considering it was just over a year since Ezekiel almost died, reliving the tragic death of Isaac, remembering so many Christian friends who had been murdered recently and most importantly recognizing the contributions these two young people were making to their country and to their fellow man.

Both Hannah, for her work at The Clinic, and Ezekiel for his preaching and his work spreading Jesus’ word to so many people they were truly loved by so many, and it was with great satisfaction they were able to say a small thank you at their wedding.

Similar to Elizabeth and Ezra a few years earlier, the young couple borrowed two of Ezra’s horses and rode to a beach resort a few hours away for a few days of wedding celebration.

The photo shows, “The Resurrection of the Son of the Widow of Nain,” by Wilhelm Kotarbiński, painted in 1879.

The 21 Martyrs

This book is, brought to the temporal sphere, Revelation 20:4. “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”

Martin Mosebach’s The 21 is an exploration and explanation of the twenty-one Coptic Christian migrant workers killed by Muslims in 2015 for refusing to apostatize from their Christian belief, a martyrdom made famous by the slickly produced video through which the killers broadcast their bloody work.

The 21 also embodies how, and under what circumstances, Muslims could be allies with Christians in the American wars to come, against a ruling class whose totalitarian doctrines they both oppose, concluding that while many obstacles exist, that was theoretically possible, and certainly desirable.

But this book shows that in what Muslims call Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam, those places where Islam has once been supreme, there can be no such cooperation, since there by definition there Islam must rule, and no observant Muslim would disagree, although what that exactly means is interpreted in different ways.

The martyrdom of the Twenty-One was a planned operation. The killers researched the names of the workers, who lived together as they gathered money before returning home. They took them, and held them for two months, before marching them out to a nearby Mediterranean beach and sawing their heads off with knives.

They then released the video, titled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” By that nation, they do not mean America, as Americans probably assume (and Mosebach also seems to assume, at least in part), but explicitly “Rome.” That doesn’t mean Pope Francis, either, who is no threat at all to Islam.

Rather, it means, in this brand of Islam, Christians collectively, especially as represented by their national powers, since Islam’s main objection is not to Christian belief as such, incorrect as it supposedly is, but to Islam not ruling in the temporal sphere, a pattern of thought that non-Muslims find hard to understand.

Those who murdered the Twenty-One hold a mainstream, though not majority, view of what must be done to achieve and maintain the supremacy of Islam. In their minds, they are responding to the crimes of Christians.

Their video begins with footage of Barack Obama apologizing for those supposed crimes, and to them the killings are the blood price, for a simple apology is inadequate. (We can ignore that Obama should, objectively, never have apologized, for there is nothing that any part of Christendom or the West, America or other, has ever done as a collective entity that requires any form of apology to any Muslim, including, especially, the Crusades).

We should not focus on the killers, though; they do not appear except as bit players in this book. Rather, what The 21 explores extensively is primarily Egypt’s Coptic Christians, strangers to the West, and secondarily their relationship with Egyptian Muslims, who invaded and still occupy their lands.

The author, a German journalist (this book was originally written in German), set out to learn more about the martyrs, traveling to Egypt to talk to the great and the small among the Copts. He learned about their families, their religious and political milieu, and, most importantly, why they acted as they did.

Mosebach divides the book into twenty-one chapters, each headed by a picture of one of the martyrs, some taken from the video of their deaths, some from hagiographic iconography made after their deaths. The book packs a tremendous amount of information into relatively few pages—since Americans know almost nothing about Egypt, and even less about the Copts, and both are alien to American sensibilities, the reader learns a lot.

True, Mosebach shows cognitive dissonance. He shows empathy, sympathy, and admiration for the martyrs, and offers an informative view of the Coptic Church, but every single time he pulls back to examine the broader world, of Egypt, of Islam, or the entire globe, what he has to say is Merkel-ite nonsense. Fortunately, most of the book is narrowly focused on the Twenty-One, not the globe, so this is a relatively small defect.

The martyrs were mostly young men in their twenties or thirties who had gone to Libya to find work. Sixteen were from the small town of El-Aour, in Upper Egypt; the others came from other Egyptian towns, except for Matthew Ayariga, from Ghana. He was not Coptic; it is not even clear if he was originally Christian, but as with other saints throughout Christian history, he voluntarily joined, receiving, if no other baptism, the baptism of blood.

Ayariga is visually central to all depictions of the martyrs; with his black skin, he stood out, and both the killers and the iconographers put him in the center of all group depictions. Mosebach did not talk to his family, and little is known about his background, but as Mosebach notes, he was like Saint Adauctus, whose name means “added man” since his real name was unknown, who volunteered his Christianity when he saw Saint Felix being led to death during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, and was then also executed.

I’m familiar with the basics of Coptic theology and history, but how those things translate to the modern world I didn’t know. The Copts split from mainstream Christianity when their position, called Miaphytism, that Christ had only one nature, combining human and divine, rather than a separate human and a divine nature (unconfused and indivisible) was rejected at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.

This division created the Oriental Orthodox, of whom there are about 100 million in the world, and whose liturgy and organization is very similar to the Eastern Orthodox, with whom they are not in communion, although to an outsider, they are nearly indistinguishable.

Mosebach does an exemplary job of trying to understand and get inside the Coptic mind, despite that he appears not be religious himself. Most of all, he correctly identifies the centrality of the Divine Liturgy. “From the very first moment, it is clear that the exclusive intention of the holy devotion is the realization of God’s presence, and everything that happens in this liturgy has to serve this extraordinary purpose. . . . Time and eternity are bound together as one, in a sphere where past, present, and future have always already happened, and at the same time are now happening again.”

The Orthodox believe that once a church is consecrated, an angel stands by the altar, forever in and out of time worshiping the Triune God, so that when we enter the church, we are not commencing a worship service, we are joining one already in progress. You cannot understand the Copts, or the Orthodox, without grasping the numinous nature of the Liturgy, where seraphim serve at the altar alongside the priest, uniting Heaven and Earth in an unbroken chain of timeless moments.

What unites all the Copts is steadfastness in faith. Since nobody paid much attention to the Twenty-One when they were alive, they are somewhat one-dimensional. Their families offer similar generalized characteristics: “He was quick to forgive.” “He was calm, obedient, and quick to confess.” “He gave alms even though he was poor.” “He was compassionate and strove to help others.”

But their deeds, both their refusal to apostatize and their calm demeanor when being led to execution, with only low cries to Christ as they died, exemplify that steadfastness, and their witness to Christ at the most basic and essential level. It is this steadfastness that seems to unite all the Copts, an eternal cord binding them together.

You could transport today’s Copts to the age of Nero, and nothing would be much different, neither daily life nor their resolve in the face of persecution.

Mosebach visits the local Coptic bishop, who embodies this steadfastness in faith and combines it with an untroubled feeling of superiority to Islam, a latecomer as far as he is concerned. Mosebach describes the bishop as “the absolute archetype of a pragmatic, forward-looking reactionary—a kind of leader utterly unknown in the West.” It does not bother them, quite the opposite, that theirs is the Church of the Martyrs.

This same attitude permeates all the Copts, including the families of the martyred. While they have the normal human sadness, it is greatly exceeded by their unalterable conviction that their beloved sons and brothers have received the crown of martyrdom, and they offer iconography in that vein. In most of their families’ houses, they also have and show the video of their killing, proud, rather than traumatized.

And they ascribe miracles to the Twenty-One, small ones, local ones, but all in the ancient tradition of martyrology. They embody, as one of the fathers says, King David’s behavior in II Samuel, who when his son died, did not mourn anymore, for “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” As Sarah Ruden notes in her excellent book on Biblical translation, The Face of Water, this verse in the original Hebrew conveys the meaning that the child will never return—but the father will keep moving toward the child. So with the families of the Twenty-One.

Beyond their cohesive religiosity, it is apparent that the Copts are, in the manner of many minorities in Muslim lands, both second-class citizens and more materially successful than the majority population. Mosebach says that Egyptian Muslims see all Copts as rich (while still having contempt for them), and although that’s obviously not true, since many are merely poor farmers like the Twenty-One, it is more true than not.

No doubt this is because the Copts are not bound by the inertia and fatalism, along with male laziness, that characterize Muslim societies. Plus corruption—according to Mosebach, even though (like all Muslim countries) Egypt makes it very hard to build new churches, still, new Coptic churches are springing up everywhere, because the Copts bribe the authorities to look the other way.

The Copts also run large related institutions, such as hospitals (including “the largest and most modern in Upper Egypt”). That is, the Copts are bound up with the world. Other than monastics (something that has revived in modern times), they do not retreat from, but rather engage, the world.

Can this ancient Coptic way of life can survive modernity? It is not a promising sign that within living memory Coptic villages have changed from their ancient form of order and cleanliness to ugly, trash-filled sprawls of half-finished concrete block buildings.

The old roles, where everyone had a place in an extended family, have faded. Atomization has increased, even if it is not anywhere near as bad as in the West. According to Mosebach, these changes are not the result of increased wealth, but flow from some other source, which he does not identify, although he implies the Aswan Dam had something to do with it.

My guess is television and increased ability to move from the place of one’s birth, but I don’t know. Most importantly, Mosebach does not address whether the Copts are having children, which is all that really matters. Yes, there seem to be many young Copts, and Mosebach relates how they are enthusiastically religious, like the Twenty-One, but if Egypt ever becomes wealthy, will the Copts fall away, leaving their faith and contracting like other societies around the globe? These seem to me to be the essential questions, and not ones the Copts are asking themselves.

Whatever happens, though, the Copts will still be oppressed by the Muslims. They have been oppressed for fourteen hundred years, ever since Islam conquered Egypt. Like many Middle Eastern Christians, when Islam arrived they unwisely did not perceive Islam as much of a threat, or even welcomed it, tired of taxation from the Roman Empire, then sited in Constantinople, and of being viewed as heretics by most of Christendom (not to mention that Islam itself was initially viewed by many as merely another Christian heresy, not all that different from other brands of Christian belief).

As always with Islam, which has no interest in proselytizing, only in the dominance of Islam, the treatment of the Copts varied over time, with the one constant that their subordination was always enforced. Mosebach mentions how all the mighty churches of the Copts were torn down and “the columns and Corinthian capitals of those venerable ruins have been visibly incorporated into Cairo’s most beautiful mosques.” He seems to think that should make the Copts feel better.

For the most part, though, the Muslims and Copts historically managed to co-exist. It is only in the modern world, with a newly militant resurgent Islam and the technology of global communication and new weapons, along with oil money, that the Copts, like all Middle Eastern Christians, are threatened with expulsion or extermination.

Mosebach says “violence isn’t an option, probably not even for fanatical Islamists, because there are too many Copts to simply drive them all out or murder them. In other words, the Turkish solution for Armenians and Greeks is no longer on the table.”

But he gives no reason why that’s true, and for large numbers of Muslims, though probably far from a majority in Egypt, that solution is very much on the table. And since it only would take one such successful campaign to wipe out the Coptic presence in Egypt (ask the Chaldean Christians—thanks, George W. Bush!), the Copts will always be at risk, whatever wishful thinking Mosebach wants to engage in.

How the Copts are to solve this problem is unclear to me. Fighting isn’t going to work—even if the Copts really are a quarter of the Egyptian population, as they claim, they don’t have the weapons, and aren’t going to. Mass conversion of Muslims to Christianity, transforming the Middle East, sure would be nice, but such a thing has never happened in human history—Islam is a strong religion highly resistant to the lure of conversion.

True, as Mosebach quotes Tertullian, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” but there have been a vast number of Christian martyrs in Muslim lands over the past fourteen hundred years, and mass conversions haven’t started yet, though the martyrs doubtless do strengthen the Church.

Israel conquering the Middle East and converting all the Muslims to Judaism would be a good alternative, although that’s even less likely. Probably the best approach, if not solution, is to ensure that the Middle East isn’t infected with democracy, something that in Muslim countries leads at best to the unleashing of Muslim hatred against Christians in a stable system, and often to genocide against Christians when the political system collapses, as it always does in these societies for which democracy is not a good fit.

Instead, the Copts (and us) should support, or at least not oppose, strongmen such as the Assads, or the current Egyptian military dictatorship, because those men both maintain order, which benefits minorities, and tend to rely on Christians as a counterweight to Muslims who want a theocracy.

Thus, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi keeps the Muslim Brotherhood down, which is a service to the world in general and to Christians specifically, if you ever read Seyyid Qutb. Mohammed Morsi would, sooner or later, have turned to exterminating the Copts. And America would have ignored it, since the Left is fine with Christians being exterminated, and the Right, or at least Republicans, are too cowardly and weak to take any action that is seen as benefitting Christians specifically.

Mosebach’s proposed solutions to the “Coptic question,” that is, the oppression of the Egyptian Copts by the Egyptian Muslims, are equally stupid. He sounds like a clueless Eurocrat, peddling old and tired cant. “We shouldn’t resign ourselves to a permanent state of injustice and violence. . . .

After all, there are think tanks working hard to solve the world’s problems. These thinkers, of course, would know exactly what questions to ask: Isn’t there any way that the Coptic community and Islamic majority might eventually live in peace and harmony?

What kind of international peace conference, United Nations intervention, peace mission, transnational roundtable, or moderated conflict resolution might take care of the ‘Coptic question’?” Blurg. Mosebach’s “solutions” are so obviously dumb and ineffective as to be offensive. No such mechanism has ever solved a single problem in the Middle East, and none ever will.

Mosebach’s Pollyanna attitude toward Coptic survival is just one example of his general geopolitical blindness. Most of this stems from the same source—the author’s desperate desire to assign some share of blame to the United States, and to the West more generally, and to exonerate Islam from blame. Thus, Mosebach early on preaches “One must be careful not to view this massacre as one more chapter of an ongoing religious war—that would be false use of religion.”

Instead, Mosebach entertains the idea that the killers were “mercenaries who can be bought to commit all kinds of bloodshed, perhaps to benefit the Americans or the Russians, or maybe the Syrians or the Muslim Brotherhood.” Or maybe they were just “pawns on a board whose actual players and goals are unknown to them.”

This is a dumb fantasy; the killers were ISIS militants, part of a much larger group with coherent ideals and many other similar acts to their name, and both their actions and justifications are part of a long and coherent tradition within Islam. One more chapter of an ongoing religious war is exactly what this is. Reaching for tinfoil-hat theories to explain that obvious fact away makes Mosebach seem like a clown.

Such blinkered stupidity is on display more than once. The American prison at Guantanamo Bay, where a few hundred captured Muslim enemies were held (although by any other country, and in any other past war, they simply would have been summarily executed), in conditions of comfort where they are allowed to practice their religion and any disrespect to their religion is punished, is “where the United States has permanently ruined its reputation as nation that respects the rule of law.” No, Saint Joseph was not a “migrant worker.” No, the Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia was not killed in a religious dispute. And so on.

Beyond the Copts, as to the core geopolitical problem the book details, Muslim mass murder of Christians (on display yesterday in Sri Lanka; tomorrow on display somewhere else), the correct solution is the one Donald Trump implemented and brought to a successful completion recently—kill in battle all Muslims who fight for ISIS or any similar brand of Islam.

True, that that would be less necessary if we had not destabilized so much of the Middle East, since the local Muslim rulers would have done it for us, but that’s water under the bridge. But as I say above, these are stopgap measures; in the modern world, there can be no permanent peaceful coexistence on equal terms between Islam and Christianity on at the level of the nation-state, so long as Islam’s adherents actually believe.

There never has been such coexistence, and there never will be. Any society with a large number of Muslims will face the problems inherent to and generated by Islam. This is unfortunate, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Certainly, it is equally true that on an individual level Muslims and Christians can get along fine, but to confuse personal relations with the relations of power that must characterize any human society is a basic mistake.

This English translation of The 21 was sponsored by, and the book published here by, Plough, the publishing house of the Bruderhof. The Bruderhof are practitioners of radical Christianity, “they renounce private property and share everything in common in a life of nonviolence, justice, and service to neighbors near and far.” In other words, they live the life of the very earliest Christians.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like if all Christians lived that life. Would they simply be exterminated by their enemies, as would seem to be the logical and inevitable result, especially in the modern world? Or would their example change the world to be something different, and better, than it is?

I worry, sometimes, too, that I err by advocating meeting, and preparing to meet, the enemies, rather than adopting the simple Christian life. But, like the scorpion, it is in my nature, and the Christian tradition of armed defense has nearly as long a pedigree as pacifism.

If I am wrong, at least I am in good company, and this book suggests I am not wrong, even if the Twenty-One took another path.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “The Twenty-One Martyrs” by Wael Mories, a Coptic painter.

The Myth Of “Islamic” Spain

I have just finished reading a volume that should be a required text for anyone enthusing about how enlightened and tolerant Spain was under Islamic rule in medieval times, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise by Dario Fernandez-Morera.

The enthusiasm for the glories of tolerant Islam is suffused throughout modern scholarship, to the point of embarrassment. It is difficult not to conclude, after one looks at the actual historical facts that the scholars ignore and suppress, that their enthusiasm for Islam finds its roots in their distaste for Christianity. It is certainly not rooted in the historical evidence itself.

In this vision of Islamic Spain (renamed by the Muslim conquerors as “al-Andalus”), all three monotheistic faiths got along famously and all three enjoyed cultural flowering and prosperity under the watchful eye of a tolerant Islam.

In this version of history, the Christians of Spain were a benighted, primitive, and ignorant lot, who fortunately for them, ended up under Islam, which then offered them previously undreamt of opportunities to learn tolerance and culture. In this paradise Jews, Christians, and Muslims coexisted in a happy sunlit land, enjoying the benefits of convivencia—at least until the horrible Christians spoiled it all at the Spanish Reconquista, which recovered the land for Christendom and brought again the blight of intolerance and darkness to their land.

A few quotes will suffice to give the outlines of this vision. From David Lewis, two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner and author of God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe: “[In the Middle Ages there emerged] two Europes—one [Muslim Europe] secure in its defenses, religiously tolerant, and maturing in cultural and scientific sophistication; the other [Christian Europe] an arena of unceasing warfare in which superstition passed for religion and the flame of knowledge sputtered weakly.”

Or from an article in The Economist from November 2001, just a few months after the attacks of 9-11: “Muslim rulers of the past were far more tolerant of people of other faiths than were Christian ones. For example, al-Andalus’s multi-cultural, multi-religious states ruled by Muslims gave way to a Christian regime that was grossly intolerant even of dissident Christians”. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair climbed on the bandwagon, saying in 2007, “The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones”.

In this Islamic paradise, Christian dhimmis, (literally, “protected ones”) were content with their subordinate lot under their Muslim lords, happily paying the jizya tax required of all dhimmis or conquered peoples living under Muslim domination, finding the good life under Islamic “protection”. (Paying money for “protection” is usually always a bad sign, as victims of the Mafia can attest).

Nonetheless, the picture proffered by the proponents of Islamic tolerance is one wherein the protected dhimmis had no reason to complain, and were justly grateful for the security and the opportunities they enjoyed. I can almost hear the strains of the music with which Gone With The Wind opens, and see the words coming up on the screen: “There was a land of cavaliers and culture called al-Andalus. Here in this pretty world, gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Muslim knights and their ladies fair, of master and of slave…Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A civilization gone with the wind…”

Ah, al-Andalus, now gone with the wind: those happy dhimmis, contented and protected under their gallant masters! How sad that such gallantry is no more than a dream remembered! How sad that it is now gone with the wind!

Or…maybe not.

Maybe the slaves were not all that contented and happy under their gallant masters’ protection, just as the happy land of cavaliers and cotton fields fondly remembered as “the Old South” existed only in the minds of those able to select among the facts and ignore the hard reality that obtained among those working the cotton fields. Maybe it all looked rather differently to the slaves themselves. And maybe the vision of a tolerant al-Andalus is no more accurate than the vision of a tolerant and gallant Old South.

As Fernandez-Morera’s book points out, the picture of a tolerant Islam can only be drawn by selecting among the facts and zeroing in on a few of the upper classes, while conveniently ignoring the mass of people and suppressing certain other facts—even facts about those upper classes.

Thus we are told that women in Islamic Spain “were doctors and lawyers and professors” (thus John Jackson, The Empire of the Moors, 1991). One would never guess from this that free, respectable, and married Muslim women were required to be domestically cloistered, and veiled whenever they left the house, and that they could not be seen by anyone but their families. They were also routinely circumcised.

The women who were “doctors and lawyers and professors” were the sexual slaves of rich men, for whom the restrictions binding free respectable married women did not apply. As the Arabist Maria Luisa Avila points out, the slave girls engaged in these activities not out of their free will, but as a reflection of their condition as slaves and as a result of the specialized training to which they submitted. Free women were not really free when it came to learning.

Moreover, those who attended the talks of a woman transmitting hadiths or stories about Muhammad found themselves listening to them speaking behind a curtain, since respectable Muslim women could not mix with men. And it is likely that the women “doctors” were those responsible for providing female circumcision, since no man was allowed to see the genitals of a woman who was outside his family.

As far as tolerance for other faiths was concerned, the Maliki school of law which governed al-Andalus was among the strictest. Under it, as in the rest of the Islamic world, the Christian dhimmis were relegated to the very bottom of a heavily stratified social ladder.

At the top stood the Arabs, then the Berbers, then freed white Muslim slaves who converted to Islam, and then former Christians who converted to Islam. The dhimmis occupied the bottom rung, and they were never allowed to forget it. They had to pay the jizya tax for their protection, and were subject to a multitude of laws enforcing their fifth-rate status.

Thus, for example, a Muslim who raped a Christian woman would be lashed, while a Christian who raped a Muslim woman would be killed. A Muslim was entitled to blood money (i.e. compensation for injury or death), while a Christian was entitled to only half. The legal testimony of a Christian against a Muslim was not acceptable in court.

A Muslim could not initiate a greeting when meeting a Christian, but rather a Christian must greet a Muslim first. Only Muslims could celebrate their religion publicly and outdoors. Christians could not walk through Muslim cemeteries because this would defile the Muslim graves. Water, food, garments, and utensils touched by a Christian became polluted and could not be used by Muslims. Christians were rarely allowed to build or even repair their churches.

They could not display crosses upon their persons or on the outside of their churches. They must stand up in the presence of Muslims. They could not carry weapons. They must not ride horses in Muslim areas, and had to ride donkeys side-saddle so that they could readily dismount and genuflect before Muslims. And of course Christians could convert to Islam, but any Muslim converting to Christianity (or Judaism) would be killed.

Not surprisingly, there were sometimes riots among the populace, and sometimes martyrdoms. Occasionally Christians rebelled, publicly denounced Muhammad as a false prophet, and proclaimed Jesus as divine, with the result that they were put to death (such as the famous martyrs of Cordoba).

Most Christians were prepared to tolerate their fifth-rate status and not rock the boat. But there should be no doubt that the boat in which they uneasily sat was not one which promoted tolerance or represented a happy garden in which everyone mixed and worked together as equals.

The academics who praise medieval Islamic Spain as a pretty world where convivencia and gallantry took their last bow are not telling the whole story. To learn the rest of the story (as Paul Harvey would say), we need to hear other voices as well. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is a good place to start.

Father Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.

The photo shows, “The Slave Market,” by Otto Pliny, painted in 1910.