Christmas History


christmas-tree-presents-1171095-1280x1920From time to time much is made of “keeping Christ in Christmas.” The interesting thing is, for four centuries Christians didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth. In fact, to this day no one is sure what date or even what year Christ was born.

Many people speculate that His birth likely occurred in the spring rather than in winter because the shepherds were staying out in the field. But Judea is in the Mediterranean climate zone. Their temperatures would likely have been akin to Southern California, and therefore mild by the standards of those in a northern region. Certainly the colder nights wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Jesus was born in the winter, but we have no evidence one way or the other.

As to the year, the Romans didn’t start numbering their calendar AD 1 because they heard rumors of a new king born in Judea. The system of numbering years before or after Christ’s birth came much later, devised by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth century. Based on his calculations, then, the years following the date he assigned to Jesus’s birth began from 1 forward.

However, historical and Biblical scholarship suggest that Jesus was actually born some two to seven years earlier, depending on which of several questionable dates a person accepts. The process requires taking context clues in the Bible and reconciling them with known historical data. However, the “known historical data” isn’t always precise, and in some instances it’s contradictory.

For example, the Bible clearly states that Jesus was born in the days of Herod the king (Matt. 2:1). History doesn’t agree when precisely Herod died. If he died in BC 4 as many scholars have thought, then clearly Jesus had to be born earlier—perhaps two or three years earlier since the magi may have seen the birth star the night Jesus was born, then began their trip that may have taken as long as two year.

The point is, we don’t have a precise date. Scholars have looked at the calculations of a number of early church leaders who mostly suggest Jesus was born between BC 2 and BC 3. But the point I want to make here is, Christ’s birth was not something the early church thought was so significant that they needed to mark the day and institute a celebration.

Nowhere in the Bible is any mention of celebrating Christ’s birth.

What Jesus Himself instituted was the commemoration of His death with the celebration of communion.

The Bible is pretty big on commemorations, though, which means, God is big on commemorations. He instituted several key feasts and celebrations—holy convocations—the Jews were required to celebrate: Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles. There were daily worship activities and weekly ones. There were commemorative stones, and a celebration that required the people to build booths they lived in for a week. On and on God gave His people objects and events intended to remind them of Him and their relationship to Him.

So no surprise that Jesus, upon establishing the New Covenant, instituted the celebration, the commemoration, of His death.

But what about His birth?

I certainly don’t think God would forbid believers to set aside a day as “Jesus’s birthday,” but He also did not command us to keep such a day. How then did the Church create the tradition of celebrating Christmas?

Apparently in the fourth century in Europe (before Dionysius Exiguus had made his calculation—or miscalculation—about the year of Jesus’s birth), Pope Julius I chose December 25 as the official day to celebrate the Advent. His reasons seem to have involved bringing people into the church and taming some of the raucous pagan celebrations that occurred in December.

The middle of winter was a time of celebration in various places around the world, some because of the winter solstice, some as part of worship of a pagan god. For instance, in Germany the honored Oden and in Rome, Saturn.

The early Church was most likely affected by Saturnalia, a four week period of raucous hedonism in celebration of Saturn. Also around this time the Romans held a festival celebrating children, and another one to celebrate the birthday of Mithra, “the god of the unconquerable sun . . . For some Romans, Mithra’s birthday was the most sacred day of the year” (“History of Christmas“).

The establishment of Christmas, then, seems to have been a “Christian version” of the pagan festivities. The practice spread. By the end of the 8th century the celebration of Christmas had found its way as far north as Scandinavia.

Not until the seventeenth century—after the Reformation—did Christmas take on the religious nature Christians generally associate it with today.

No surprise, then, that the culture has worked hard to reclaim what was once theirs.

I’ve thought more about the merging of the religious with the secular of late, in part because of my reading in I and II Kings. Compromise was the watch word of those years. Worship, God, sure, but also worship Baal and Molech and the Ashtoreth and Chemosh. Sacrifice to Yahweh in the temple, but to Baal on the high places.

The path of Israel’s departure from God is a litany of disobedient acts, prompted by a desire to be like the nations around them.

Human nature being what it is, we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that today professing Christians are moving toward our culture in our behavior, more than we are moving toward God in a desire to be holy because He is Holy (see 1 Peter 1).

We see it in Christmas. We shouldn’t expect our culture to celebrate Christmas the way believers do, but we’ve been handed an opportunity to make Christ known.

If we’re obnoxious and demanding and short-tempered, or if we see Christmas as another excuse for a party, how are we different from that which we’re not to conform ourselves to? But if we live according to the Spirit who dwells in us, the world can learn of God’s patience and love and forgiveness.

And our celebration can go down deeper. We can proclaim the name of Jesus, God Incarnate, God with us, God Who left His throne to reveal Himself to us, that we might be born again. There’s a gift worth giving away.

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Published in: on December 16, 2016 at 7:11 pm  Comments (6)  
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Kids Need To Know: Generations And Perspective


rebels-1438262-640x480When I was a teen, the media talked much about a generation gap, as if this was a new thing. Never in the history of man had teenagers had such dense parents who knew nothing about growing up or about the world or the problems facing young people in that day.

Of course that was just silly. While crises like World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II may have focused teens on things about which their parents also cared deeply, there nonetheless have been other periods of history during which the young people wanted to follow the newest trends and try the latest gizmo or test the waters in a new profession—much to their parents’ dismay.

But parents always understood these inklings and urges because they were once young, too. The truth is, older generations have perspectives younger ones do not. After all, they have been 13 or 17 already, but their teenage children have not yet been 35 or 49.

Further, kids don’t know what it’s like to see a basic technology such as the typewriter be replaced. They likely haven’t seen a new invention such as the VCR not only come but go. Many will not realize the revolution in the way we live our lives that the Internet or cell phones have created.

For most teens, President Obama is the only President whose administration they’ve paid much attention to (if they have paid attention to government at all). Consequently, most teens grow up without an awareness of how the world has changed, even in the last twenty years. They simply aren’t old enough.

In the end, I think it’s easy for teens to think they know more than they do, and I think it’s normal for them to think their parents are being outdated to talk about the way things were—when the Civic Center put up a manger scene or when Linus could recite a Bible passage as part of a Christmas play or when marriage was between one man and one woman.

Teens also don’t remember when there was no such thing as an Amber Alert or when there had never been a mass shooting in a school or when abortion was illegal or cross dressing was listed as deviant behavior in college psych books.

Kids today don’t have the same perspective about something like pornography that their parents have. Before the Internet “adult movies” were rented from a back room of the video store or “girlie magazines” were purchased at “adult book stores.” Teens today don’t realize that there was a time when TV sit coms didn’t joke about threesome sexual encounters or when condom’s weren’t passed out at school by teachers.

I could go on and on, but the point is, teens need a good education by their parents. Yes, parents do understand what kids think and feel because they were themselves once that age. Yes, the world has changed a great deal in the last ten, fifteen years, but this fact only makes the imperative for parents to educate their teens all the greater.

Teens need to know that the majority isn’t always right—which is why following the crowd isn’t always the smartest thing. We all understand the desire to fit in, but we as adults also know the danger of giving in to the “everybody does it” argument. Kids don’t know.

They see strength in numbers and safety in not sticking out in the crowd. If their peers are having sex or doing drugs or sneaking out at night or cheating on tests or running with gangs, that’s what they want to do too, and they can’t see the consequences for it.

[It’s rather ironic that the more we tell kids how special they are, the more they want to be just like everyone else.]

Parents need to educate kids about their own past. They need to tell them what life was like when they were teens. It’s better if parents don’t wait for their kids to turn into teenagers to give them glimpses of life before, but it’s never too late.

And why is it important? Because kids will not realize the direction society is going if they don’t realize where it came from. It’s easy to think of technological advances—“You mean you used to lock car doors by hand?”—and think the world is becoming more interesting, more advanced, more sophisticated. And in some ways it is.

But what’s been lost? What did we use to do before Facebook? Or YouTube? Or Twitter? Did we check our email during dinner? Did we talk about the events of our day or what we’d read or what we’re thinking? As opposed to what meme is going around on the Internet or what TV programs we like most?

We’re not going to change culture to the way it was in 1996 or 1986 or 1976, nor should we want to, but kids today don’t know what it was like to live back then, and they should know. They’ll be less apt to be fooled by someone who tells them how much better the world is now . . . or how things have never been like this before.

Really? People have never been afraid of terrorism from within? Then why did the US Government round up all Japanese Americans and put them into “relocation camps” during World War II? Why were Indian nations put on reservations during the 1800s?

History, like older generations, has much to teach also, whether for the good or the bad. They both allow people to discern patterns and to ask questions [i.e., Why did we oppose socialism during the Cold War with the USSR, but now we’re practicing it?]

Kids won’t know what life was like before . . . unless we tell them. And they can’t judge accurately whether or not the direction we’re headed is positive or negative if they don’t know there’s actually been shifts in society.

Published in: on January 6, 2016 at 7:37 pm  Comments Off on Kids Need To Know: Generations And Perspective  
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History In The Hands Of The Ignorant


The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_FerrisI saw a news item some years ago. Supposedly a Hollywood star came out saying she hates the US holiday of Thanksgiving (the Los Angeles Times published a rebuttal article calling into question Fox’s motivation and journalism for drawing their information from popeater.com, though the Times failed to mention that sites like the Huffington Post also carried the story).

The “news event,” generated by second-hand reports, explained that this star was boycotting Thanksgiving because she didn’t want to be a part of rewriting history or commemorating “what the white settlers did to the native Indians.”

I’d like to rail a little against this one ignorant woman, except I saw something eerily similar from someone in my Facebook network.

YIKES! 😮 How gullible are we? Because some actress supposedly says this horrible thing about Thanksgiving, we rush out and start parroting the sentiments ascribed to her?

Never mind that there are primary historical documents—journals by the pilgrims who actually celebrated that holiday, such as Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford and Mourt’s Relation by Edward Winslow and others—that make it clear Thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of the activity that forced the native Americans off their land.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in New England. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.
Wikipedia

In what way would a gathering that included on average two Indians for every pilgrim settler be reprehensible? Especially when the settlers were thanking God for His provision—not merely for the food, but for the Indians who taught them how to survive.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest. To thank God for their deliverance and the help they had received from the Indians, Bradford held a three-day Thanksgiving feast inviting the Indians to join them in their celebration.
“Strangers, Saints and Indians” by John A. Murray, Wall Street Journal

For the next fifty years, the pilgrims and the neighboring native people groups lived in harmony. And Thanksgiving feasts took place in response to the blessings they enjoyed. Not every year, but with more and more frequency.

So who actually is “rewriting history”?

Certainly not the people who are reading the original source material. And not those of us who celebrate God’s goodness, as the pilgrims did—recognizing that God’s hand preserves and protects and provides.

Think about it. What were the odds that a native American, fluent in English, would “happen” upon this colony of pilgrims so in need of help?

But I’m getting sidetracked.

This well-documented story certainly can be interpreted from a number of angles (for example, by focusing on the English speaking native Americans, by looking at the political developments within the colony, by exploring the relationships of the various native people groups with each other), but it cannot be painted as the beginning of hostilities, pilgrims with Indians.

At least as long as we’re not rewriting history.

And as long as ordinary people don’t start parroting the ideas of the rich and famous who have not done any actual scholarship.

The whole thing is made more ludicrous by the idea that the news article quoting unknown friends of the said Famous Actress might not be factual. So someone repeats the idea that Thanksgiving is celebrating murder because an online news source printed the story that this Star Actress said she’s boycotting Thanksgiving for a reason without any basis in fact.

Are we so ignorant that in this Age of Communication, people will believe something so easy to debunk? The sad part is that believing it turns into repeating it, which soon hardens into rewritten history.

Published in: on November 17, 2015 at 8:17 pm  Comments (8)  
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History And Knowing The Bible Is True


Reading the BibleIn discussing the veracity of the Bible in previous posts, (Prophecy, Archaeology, and Unity), I’ve danced around the evidence of history. History is a part of the discussion of fulfilled prophecy and archaeological evidence and the unity of Scripture. It’s time, I guess, to deal with history head on.

First, Nathaniel, a commenter to an earlier post on this subject said in part

It is certainly true that the verification of one point does not amount to the verification of every point. But when the veracity of a putatively historical document is in doubt, archaeological confirmation is one of the ways that evidence can accumulate on the side of the document’s general reliability. This is done in secular historical research all the time.

I especially like the phrase “evidence can accumulate” because that’s the only way we can know about that which we can not dissect. In discussing the truth of the Bible as a historical document (among other things) I’ve compared it’s study to the study of other historical figures. Take Abraham Lincoln for instance and ask, How do you know Abraham Lincoln lived?

The fact is, we accept the historical record. We have no particular need to check into the details first hand, but if we did, we would find paintings of him and a few photographs. We’d find correspondence and copies of his speeches. Would we then study the photographs to see if they were authentic? Or consult a handwriting expert to discover if there was any way to determine if Lincoln actually wrote the letters? Would we look into the method speeches were copied and preserved in that day in order to see if they were, in fact, valid and reliable?

My point is, we accept the fact that Lincoln existed because we feel there is a preponderance of evidence, and we have no predisposition to question what we have come to believe. I’m not aware of anyone apart from history students doing research to see if what we have come to believe about Lincoln is true. Undoubtedly the writers of the 2012 DreamWorks movie Lincoln did due diligence in their research in an effort to get the details right or at least in order not to stray too far from the truth in their storytelling.

But most regular Joe’s and Josephina’s aren’t wondering every Presidents Day whether or not Abraham Lincoln was an actual person, whether or not he really signed the Emancipation Proclamation, if he actually gave the Gettysburg Address. We accept what the history books tell us because we trust that the people who put them together did the hard work for us.

In contrast, some years ago, a group of people came up with the idea that the Nazis never killed six million Jews in extermination camps. They claimed, instead, this was a lie conjured up by Zionists who wanted to create the nation Israel. In order to reach their predetermined conclusion these “Holocaust deniers” ignore a preponderance of historical evidence.

In the same way, another group has suggested that astronauts never landed on the moon. More recently, a collection of conspiracy theorists deny that children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012—the purpose of the supposed hoax being an attempt to curtail the right to bear arms. Both of these groups argue away the evidence at their disposal, including photographs, eye witness accounts, and forensic evidence.

The point is, conspiracy theorists don’t trust the source from which this evidence is being generated or disseminated.

Clearly, historical proof depends on a measure of trust. Ultimately, a person has to say, In light of this evidence, I believe this particular fact to be true.

Books have been written to give historical proof of the Bible, and certainly it would take books to do so because of the amount of data. I don’t have the time or space to examine all the specifics. But I would like to look at Jesus, since He is the central figure of the Bible. Is there historical evidence that He existed?

In my research, I discovered that most scholars in the fields of biblical studies and history agree that Jesus was a “Jewish teacher from Galilee,” accused of sedition against the Roman Empire, and on the orders of Pontius Pilate, sentenced to crucifixion. One reason for this acceptance of Jesus as a historical person is extra-Biblical evidence.

First, there were believers who provided secondary material in support of Jesus’s life and work, men like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Quadratus of Athens, Aristides the Athenian, Justin Martyr, and Hegesippus. Each of these believers wrote of Jesus, not as a spiritual entity or an idea or a hope, but as a man who lived on earth and fulfilled the claims of the Old Testament for the Messiah of God.

For example, the Hegesippus

converted to Christianity from Judaism after extensively researching the Gospel story for himself. Instead of accepting the Gospel story [as] the word of others, he travelled extensively throughout Rome and Corinth in an effort to collect evidence of the early Christian claims. Hegesippus provides important testimony that the stories being passed around were not watered down, embellished, or fabricated. (“The Historicity of Jesus: Did He Really Exist?”)

Beyond the Church, there were Jewish secondary sources, most notably Flavius Josephus, but also Greek, Syrian, and Roman scholars. One such individual was Celsus,

a second century Roman author and avid opponent of Christianity. He went to great lengths to disprove the divinity of Jesus yet never denied His actual existence. (ibid.)

Perhaps the most telling is the documentation of Jesus’s execution at the hands of Pontus Pilate, recorded by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, a man known for separating verifiable events from hearsay and folklore.

Of course the greatest amount of information about Jesus comes from the gospels. When scholars consider the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as with all historical sources, they examine such things as the authors’ motivations and the source of their information. They also take into consideration the amount of time between the events and the writing, and if they don’t have the original of a document, they look at how many copies are in existence and how closely they compare with one another.

Biblical scholars seem to agree that the book of Mark is the oldest, or first written, so here are some facts about Mark in comparison to other ancient histories:

    *Tucydides’ The History of the Peloponnesian War—written c. 415 BC, earliest copy dated 900 AD, 8 copies in existence.

    *Tacitus’ Annals, a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero, the years AD 14-68—written c. 100 AD, earliest copy dated 1100 AD, 20 copies in existence.

    *Mark’s Gospel—written c. 60 AD, earliest copy dated 200 AD, thousands in existence.

The point is, the gospel of Mark far surpasses the first two well-accepted histories in each of the categories historians consider when verifying the accuracy of a document.

In addition, scholars look at the number of years between the actual events and the recording of them. Here’s a timeline comparison from event to author:

    *The Twelve Tables, the first code of Roman law (c. 450 BC), recorded by Livy (d. 17 AD) 450 years later.

    *The life of Alexander who died 323 BC, recorded by Plutarch c 120 AD, 400+ years later.

    *The life of Jesus who died 30/33 AD, recorded by Mark c 60 AD, 30 years later.

Clearly, the gospel of Mark recorded Jesus’s life and death relatively soon after the events. In fact, undoubtedly people were still living who witnessed the things Mark wrote. And even though any number of people and groups tried to discredit The Way, as Christianity was originally called, none of the arguments was that Jesus simply was a fabrication of the disciples or of Paul or of any of the other apostles.

In other words, there is adequate historical evidence to believe that Jesus lived and that Mark wrote the facts that he gathered and verified. One unsubstantiated idea is that Peter was Mark’s primary source. We know from Peter’s first letter that a father-son type relationship existed between the two, so it’s a possibility, though not a verifiable fact.

Some scholars use a criteria-based approach to authenticate Jesus’s existence. This approach looks at things like how likely a reported event is to contradict an author’s agenda (for example, that a woman first reported seeing the risen Christ would contradict Mark’s agenda to convince people of that day that Jesus had risen from the dead), how many independent sources give consistent accounts (such as the other gospels), how congruent the record is with the cultural context (whether the things Jesus said about the Pharisees squared with Jewish records of that time, for instance), and so on.

It’s quite clear why the vast majority of scholars, Christian and non-Christian, believe Jesus lived. The preponderance of evidence is overwhelming. The conclusion then is this: by examining the facts, we verify that Mark’s account of Jesus’s life and death is reliable.

Expand on this process to the other books of the Bible, which scholars have done. If we allow the historical evidence to speak, and don’t discount parts, as the higher critics do who throw out passages that involve the supernatural, it becomes clear that the Bible is historically verifiable.

Much of this material, but not all, came from earlier posts, one published in October 2014 and another in April 2009.

Published in: on July 10, 2015 at 7:40 pm  Comments Off on History And Knowing The Bible Is True  
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The Different Way God Records History


Columbus_Arrivind_When I wrote the article at Spec Faith referencing Columbus Day and comparing some of Christopher Columbus’s attributes to writers and readers, I had no intention of being controversial. But such has been the deconstruction of the history of Christopher Columbus, the only two comments I received were about the negatives that occurred under his governorship of the lands he claimed for Spain.

I admit, though I minored in history, I knew very little about Christopher Columbus. Though his journal and numerous letters exist as well as written work from various others, notably a priest who complained to the crown about the abuses he witness in the New World, what I learned about his voyage from Spain to the New World was positive for the most part.

However, when the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’s successful Atlantic crossing approached, all kinds of deconstructionists arose. The new party line was that Columbus was a greedy gold digger who abused and enslaved the natives.

As it turns out, some of what these Columbus critics said, is true, though much has been filtered through the lens of what is now politically correct. For example, these present-day critics are horrified that settlers coming from feudal Spain established a type of feudalism in the New World. (For a balanced perspective, I recommend “Honoring Christopher Columbus” by Dr. Warren H. Carroll.)

However, Columbus’s own inattention to important governmental responsibilities, and then his inappropriate responses to the subsequent mess certainly are black marks on his record. But where were those black marks in the history books I studied? By and large, Columbus was portrayed as a man who drew an incredible conclusion—that he could sail west and reach the East Indies—and risked everything to prove that he was right.

He wasn’t right, and that fact was clearly stamped on history. But in the process, of course, he opened up the New World to European conquest. For whatever reason, the black marks of his governorship faded into the background of traditional history. Yes, they happened, but no, they didn’t fit into the unit on great explorers.

Some people say that those who come out ahead get to write the history, intimating that western scholars made an intentional effort to shuffle Columbus’s faults and misdeeds off the pages of the historical record.

And who’s to say that didn’t happen? I went through school believing the apocryphal story about Honest Abe Lincoln cutting down the cherry tree, only to confess when he was confronted with his misdeed.

But all this handling, or mishandling, of history, makes me realize something incredibly powerful: God didn’t write Scripture that way.

Perhaps one of the best evidences of God’s authorship of the Bible is in the very different way Scripture records history. There is no whitewashing of winners, no bypassing the black marks.

Noah, the righteous man God chose to preserve when He judged mankind for their sins, followed God’s instructions to the letter, built an ark, loaded it with animals, and rode out the storm. When at last he made land, when he’d built an altar and worshiped God, he drank himself into a drunken stupor freeing his youngest son to commit some sort of deviant sex act—apparently with Noah, but perhaps with Noah’s wife.

Abraham, the great patriarch of the nation of Israel who trusted God so much he was willing to give up his son at his command, decided to lie about Sarah being his wife because he was afraid.

The people of Israel to whom God listened when they cried to Him, experienced a miraculous release from captivity, but in going free, they worshiped their idols, grumbled and complained against their leaders, and ultimately refused to go into the land God had said He would give them.

In much the same way as those before and after him, King David, the greatest king in Israel’s history, stands exposed in the light of God’s truth as an adulterer and murderer.

In other words, God did not whitewash history. He didn’t show His chosen man, His chosen nation, His anointed king, in the kind of favorable light that human historians show our conquerors, our great statesmen, our explorers.

God’s ways are not our ways. He exposes Solomon’s disobedience, Samson’s lust, Elijah’s discouragement, Peter’s denials. He judges the people He chose and sends them into exile. He brings to light the sin in the church at Corinth and in Jude warns about the false teaching that is coming from within the body of believers.

Human historians do not, have not, would not record history in this way. We know this is so because there are Sunday School versions of the lives of these Biblical figures, and most bypass the black marks or soften them by quickly telling of their repentance.

But what about all those people who died in the desert because of their rebellion against God? What about wise Solomon who turned away from God toward the end of his life, with only a suggestion in Ecclesiastes that he made things right before he died? Our Sunday school lessons don’t bring those parts of the story forward. We don’t cut them from our Bibles, but they aren’t usually the lesson in Sunday school.

That’s the way humankind thinks, the way we write our history, even our Biblical history. But not God. His ways are not our ways. He has no problem showing the faults and foibles of His closest allies, of His greatest friend, of the people He calls His children. It’s one way we can know that God authored the Bible, not a smattering of humans who thought they’d make a history. Scripture is simply too different from the kind of histories we write.

Published in: on October 13, 2014 at 7:00 pm  Comments Off on The Different Way God Records History  
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Hitler Should Not Have Been


Adolf_HitlerA good many people seem to have forgotten that if we don’t learn the lessons of history, we’re doomed to repeat them. There’s a lesson we should have learned from Hitler coming to power.

Hitler’s coming into being is not at issue, but the phenomena over which he presided—the creation of the Third Reich; Germany’s invasion of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland; World War II; the Holocaust—should never have taken place.

At the end of World War I, known at the time as the Great War, Germany underwent a revolution which brought to power a moderate government that walked the line between socialists and communists on one side and extreme right wing forces that believed democracy would weaken the country on the other. The new government took the form of a parliamentary republic system and became know as the Weimar Republic.

As the government was being set up and a constitution written, fighting continued between the extreme forces inside Germany.

A Soviet republic was declared in Munich, but was quickly put down by Freikorps and remnants of the regular army. The fall of the Munich Soviet Republic to these units, many of which were situated on the extreme right, resulted in the growth of far-right movements and organisations in Bavaria, including Organisation Consul, the Nazi Party, and societies of exiled Russian Monarchists. Sporadic fighting continued to flare up around the country. In eastern provinces, forces loyal to Germany’s fallen Monarchy fought the republic, while militias of Polish nationalists fought for independence (“Weimar Republic”)

You might liken these circumstances to the sectarian fighting between Sunni and Shi’a in Iraq along with the Kurds who want their own homeland.

The fledgling German republic faced problems from outside, too. The conquering Allies presented them with a repressive peace treaty which limited the size of Germany’s armed forces, took away land, and required impossible war reparations payments. In addition they maintained a blockade which stifled trade.

Soon the value of the new republic’s currency fell. Inflation grew along with unemployment, and the extreme elements, both left and right, blamed the moderate Weimar government for signing the Treaty of Versailles and for not solving the enormous problems it created.

For a short period, as America extended some financial aid that alleviated some of the pressing problems of the reparations debt and France worked with Germany to solve the land disputes, the Weimar Republic stabilized to a degree.

Then came the Great Depression. With unemployment soaring, the Nazi party gained enough votes in the German parliament to foil attempts to create a working coalition which would allow the government to function. Instead through the use of the emergency powers granted to the president by the constitution, a chancellor was appointed to operate independently of the parliament. Eventually that body was dissolved and new elections took place, bringing a shift away from the republic idea of government.

For three years the chancellor tried to reform the Weimar Republic, often ruling by decrees issued by the president. His policies were unpopular. A new chancellor brought some change, including a second dismantling of the parliament and more elections.

The Nazi party doubled in size but still no party held a majority in parliament. Political maneuvers continued for a year, but in the end, the president appointed Hitler to be the chancellor of Germany.

By early February, a mere week after Hitler’s assumption of the chancellorship, the government had begun to clamp down on the opposition. Meetings of the left-wing parties were banned and even some of the moderate parties found their members threatened and assaulted. Measures with an appearance of legality suppressed the Communist Party in mid-February and included the plainly illegal arrests of Reichstag [parliament] deputies. (“Weimar Republic”)

Late in February the parliament building was set on fire. The following day, using the state of emergency as motivation, Hitler had the president suspend parliament. With the new elections, the last multi-party elections and the last under the Weimar Republic, the Nazis took control.

But where were the Allies?

During all the unrest, the war-weary, depression era governments adopted an appeasement stance with Germany. So when reparation payments stopped, nothing happened. When the military began to rebuild and munitions once again were churned out from German factories, nothing happened.

Having taken a repressive stand early, the Allies now took a permissive approach, letting Germany solve Germany’s problems.

Hitler would not have come to power if the Allies had not treated Germany like a continuing enemy after the war ended, humiliating them and forcing their new government to agree to things that were bad for the country.

Hitler would not have come to power if the Allies had done more to alleviate the economic plight of the country, before the Depression.

Hitler would not have created the havoc he did if the Allies had not appeased him for so long.

So here’s the history lesson. Yes, we are war-weary in the US. Yes, we can say it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place, especially when we hadn’t actually won the war in Afghanistan yet. But as one veteran of Iraq put it, if you break it, you buy it.

If the US doesn’t “own” the new democratic government in Iraq, it is destined to go the way of the Weimar Republic. And who knows what Hitler is waiting in the wings to rise to power.

Published in: on June 20, 2014 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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History In The Hands Of The Ignorant


I saw a news item earlier this week. Supposedly a Hollywood star came out saying she hates the US holiday of Thanksgiving (the Los Angeles Times published a rebuttal article calling into question Fox’s motivation and journalism for drawing their information from popeater.com, though the Times fails to mention that sites like the The Huffington Post also carried the story).

The story, generated by second-hand reports, explains that this star is boycotting Thanksgiving because she doesn’t want to be a part of rewriting history or commemorating “what the white settlers did to the native Indians.”

I’d like to rail a little against this one ignorant woman, except yesterday, before I took off for my family get-together, I saw something eerily similar from someone in my Facebook network.

YIKES! 😮 How gullible are we? Because some actress supposedly says this, we rush out and start parroting the sentiments ascribed to her?

Detail from Brownscombe's First Thanksgiving at Plymouth

Never mind that there are primary historical documents—journals by the pilgrims who actually celebrated that holiday, such as Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford and Mourt’s Relation by Edward Winslow and others—that make it clear Thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of the activity that forced the native Americans off their land.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in New England. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.
Wikipedia

In what way would a gathering that included on average two Indians for every pilgrim settler be reprehensible? Especially when the settlers were thanking God for His provision—not merely for the food, but for the Indians who taught them how to survive.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest. To thank God for their deliverance and the help they had received from the Indians, Bradford held a three-day Thanksgiving feast inviting the Indians to join them in their celebration.
“Strangers, Saints and Indians” by John A. Murray, Wall Street Journal

For the next fifty years, the pilgrims and the neighboring native people groups lived in harmony. And Thanksgiving feasts took place in response to the blessings they enjoyed. Not every year, but with more and more frequency.

So who actually is “rewriting history”?

Certainly not the people who are reading the original source material. And not those of us who celebrate God’s goodness, as the pilgrims did—recognizing that God’s hand preserves and protects and provides.

Think about it. What were the odds that a native American, fluent in English, would “happen” upon this colony of pilgrims so in need of help?

But I’m getting sidetracked.

This well-documented story certainly can be interpreted from a number of angles (for example, by focusing on the English speaking native Americans, by looking at the political developments within the colony, by exploring the relationships of the various native people groups with each other), but it cannot be painted as the beginning of hostilities, pilgrims with Indians.

At least as long as we’re not rewriting history.

And as long as ordinary people don’t start parroting the ideas of others who have not done any actual scholarship.

The whole thing is made more ludicrous by the idea that the news article quoting unknown friends might not be factual. So someone repeats the idea that Thanksgiving is celebrating murder because an online news source said Anonymous said Star Actress said she’s boycotting Thanksgiving for a reason without any basis in fact.

Are we so ignorant that in this Age of Communication, people will believe something so easy to debunk? The sad part is that believing it turns into repeating it, which soon hardens into rewritten history.

How Do We Know the Bible Is True? Part 4


In each of these posts in this series, I’ve danced around the evidence of history. History is a part of the discussion of fulfilled prophecy and of the discussion of archaeological evidence and in the discussion of the unity of Scripture. It’s time, I guess, to deal with history head on.

First, I want to thank Nathaniel for his helpful comment to the Part 3 post. In part he said:

It is certainly true that the verification of one point does not amount to the verification of every point. But when the veracity of a putatively historical document is in doubt, archaeological confirmation is one of the ways that evidence can accumulate on the side of the document’s general reliability. This is done in secular historical research all the time.

I especially like the phrase “evidence can accumulate” because that’s the only way we can know that which we can not dissect. First to morsecOde, then to Andrew, I’ve asked the question, How do you know Abraham Lincoln lived?

The fact is, we accept the historical record. We have no particular need to check into the details first hand, but if we did we would find paintings of him and a few photographs. We’d find correspondence and copies of his speeches. Would we then study the photographs to see if they were authentic? Or consult a handwriting expert to discover if there was any way to determine if Lincoln actually wrote the letters? Would we look into the method the speeches were copied and preserved in order to see if they were, in fact, reliable copies?

My point is, we accept the fact that Lincoln existed because we feel there is a preponderance of evidence, and we have no predisposition to question what we have come to believe is true.

Some years ago, a group of people came up with the idea that the Nazis never killed 6 million Jews in extermination camps. Another group has suggested that astronauts never landed on the moon. Both of these groups argue away the evidence at their disposal.

Clearly, historical proof depends on a measure of trust. Ultimately, a person has to say, In light of this evidence, I believe _ to be true.

Books have been written to give historical proof of the Bible, and certainly it would take books to do so. I don’t have the time or space to examine all the data. But I would like to look at Jesus, since He is the central figure of the Bible. Is there historical evidence that He existed, and especially that He performed miracles, was crucified, and rose again?

In my research, I discovered that most scholars in the fields of biblical studies and history agree that Jesus was a “Jewish teacher from Galilee,” accused of sedition against the Roman Empire, and on the orders of Pontius Pilate, sentenced to crucifixion. One reason for this acceptance of Jesus as a historical person is extra-Biblical evidence, especially writings of Josephus, but also of Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger.

Of course the greatest amount of information about Jesus comes from the gospels. When scholars consider the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as with all historical sources, they examine such things as the authors’ motivations and the source of their information. They also take into consideration the amount of time between the events and the writing, and if they don’t have the original of a document, how many copies and how closely they compare with one another.

Biblical scholars seem to agree that the book of Mark is the oldest, or first written, so here are some facts about Mark in comparison to other ancient histories:

    Tucydides’ History – written c. 415 BC, earliest copy dated 900 AD, 8 copies in existence.
    Tacitus’ Annals – written c. 100 AD, earliest copy dated 1100 AD, 20 copies in existence.
    Mark’s Gospel – written c. 60 AD, earliest copy dated 200 AD, thousands in existence.

Here’s a timeline comparison from event to author:

    12 Tables (c. 450 BC) – Livy (d. 17 AD) = 450 years
    Alexander (d. 323 BC – Plutarch (c 120 AD) = 400+ years
    Jesus (30/33 AD – Mark (c 60 AD) = 25-30 years

In other words, there is adequate historical evidence to believe that Jesus lived.

Some scholars use a criteria-based approach to authenticating Jesus’s existence. This approach looks at things like how likely a reported event is to contradict an author’s agenda, how many independent sources give consistent accounts, how congruent the record is with the cultural context, and so on.

It’s quite clear why the vast majority of scholars, Christian and non-Christian, believe Jesus lived. The conclusion then is this: by examining the facts about Jesus, we verify that Mark’s account is reliable. Expand on this process, and it becomes clear that The Bible is reliable.

Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 1:16 pm  Comments (3)  
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