Thursday, May 13, 2010

Early Christianity and the Hazard of Celestial Phenomenon

Many ancient cultures studied the sky at night and took notice of the movement of the planets, the moon, and the stars; this was natural since many of them (especially those that built pyramids) worshiped the invincible sun. The ancient Egyptians were very good at this: the three kings[the famous pyramids Cheops, Chepren, and Myrch] were built to copy Orion's belt, and their calendar was built around cycles of the star Sirius[useful to determine the flooding of the Nile]; they could even determine leap years based on its position. The Mayan calendar is legendary, and the Babylonians devised dividing a day into 24 hours with each hour subdivided into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 seconds - this was over 4000 years ago, and it has not changed since. The Greeks had their constellations, and the Druids had Stonehenge.

Every once in a while, a few anomalies arose in the heavens, and what is of particular interest is the reaction of a certain culture to them, based on their superstitions and religious beliefs.

1. Bright Stars / Meteors - generally, a sign of blessing. Note the bright star when Jesus was born, as well as reported when Moses and Abram[later, Abraham] were born. There was reported to be a bright star when these historical figures were born: in India, Krishna and Buddha; In China, Lao-tse and Yu [founder of the first Chinese dynasty], in Rome, various Caesers, and Hercules.

2. Eclipses - given how most ancient people felt about sun, this was a dire phenomenon. It also was thought to be a sign of death for some important hero or God, e.g.: Jesus (6th to 9th hour); Romulus (six hours of darkness); Alexander the Great, Aesculapius, and Hercules. The Chinese thought an invisible dragon was eating the sun and banged on drums and shot arrows in the air to scare it away. A Jewish legend states that when their sacred texts were translated in Greek, this desecration happened under three days of darkness. The knave Tertullian thought it was a sign of the wrath of the LORD for infidels and other people who did not believe.

I am uncertain as to whether this is true, but it is said Christopher Columbus was unable to get the uncooperative locals of Jamaica to give him supplies, so he consulted the charts of the sky and found an eclipse of the moon for a few days later. On that day he told the locals to load him up or the moon will disappear; it did, and he received everything he asked for and promised the locals he would return the moon to the sky.

3. Comets - the Chaldeans thought them a harmless, celestial curiosity, and the Greeks were investigating whether or not the patterns could be predicted after Seneca opined they had to move according to natural law. Virtually every other culture on earth was different: comets were also referred to as apparitions[ghosts of dead stars] to herald a time of famine, pestilence, war, or death(a comet is said to have appeared when Nero and Constantine died). The early Church maintained that an angry God was throwing a fiery star in the heavens as a sign against sin and unbelievers. Origen taught a comet meant the downfall of an empire or kingdom. Martin Luther said, at times, they were a sign of God's wrath, and at other times, the works of the devil, and gave comets a new name: Harlot Stars. I suppose this reflects more on Luther than on Protestantism.

The effect of extraordinary events in the sky on the laity was of great use to the clergy. When the early Christians, unable to read and write, poor and despondent, and lacking in education and knowledge, saw any of these celestial events (especially a comet), they took it to mean an imminent sign of God; unable to discern and unable to avert this coming tragedy, helplessness arose. The message in the heavens was serious indeed, and the people, in their inability to fathom a vengeful message of God, became fanatical and hysterical. The early Church leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, did the one thing, the only thing, in which they exceeded exceptionally... they capitalized on the power the masses afforded them as spiritual and religious leaders and used it thusly to control the flock with remarkably predictable success: the consecration of their leadership and advancement of their agendas.

The early Christians sects spent a great deal of effort to preserve the view that comets appeared before times of misfortune, and thus it was a sign from God. This thinking pervaded colleges and universities all over Europe, and as late as the seventeenth century astronomers had to take a vow not to teach anything differing from the theological view of comets, much in the same way they could not teach the Copernican view affirming the motion of the earth. The masses had to endure sermons about comets as instruments of God, both Catholic and Protestant. An interesting nursery rhyme for children of that period:

Eight things there be a Comet brings,
When it on high doth horrid range:
Wind, Famine, Plague, and Death to Kings,
War, Earthquakes, Floods, and Direful Change.

And so it is evident early Christianity's obsession with the supernatural that pervaded the masses from the bottom to the top, all earnestly taught from the lowliest sermons to the highest theological classroom settings in many European universities. There are far more detailed examples, and some theologians made *proofs* that comets were sign of God's vengeful right hand; many parts of sermons then compare to 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' in as much as they are able.

In the late 1500s dissent to this view began to take form, and various minds, including those in various Christian sects, began to have doubts about the various theological explanations for comets. Some people used common sense, and explained that the Church once opposed 'antipodes'[the idea that there is a land mass with people on the opposite side of the earth; when it was known the earth was round, the church had to accept it] and therefore it was sensible that their comet ideas were without reason also.

Pierre Bayle, observing the comet in 1680, advanced the theory that comets were a natural phenomenon, and whether someone died or not during their appearance was coincidence. He also added that only a creature such as man would think his death as a king or prince was so significant that the entire universe should take notice. In 1681, a clergy man Samuel Doerfel had proofs that comets move about the sun in accordance with mathematics, and in 1686, Isaac Newton, using data gathered by observation, proved that comets moved in accordance with the same laws as the planets about the sun. Many other astronomers put forth similar claims. Halley studied diligently all the data he needed to conclude that the comet of 1682 appeared approximately every 75 years; Clairaut predicted exactly when his comet would make an appearance in the sky.

So both the Catholic and Protestant Churches had to submit to the facts on the accordance of the heavenly bodies with natural law as they had to submit to the fact the earth was round and moved about the sun. There were later theological theories trying to connect comets to the Deluge, or, that after a comet was seen, there was an increase in the temperature in the atmosphere (global warming). In 1829, a Dr. Forster published a book to convince readers that comets were associated with every natural disaster imaginable, including locusts. Since Halley, all theological theories were debunked. Even John Wesley [Methodist founder] used reason concerning *Harlot Stars* and accepted the scientific theory, although he became famous for stating: 'Giving up witchcraft is, in effect, giving up the Bible.'


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are not familiar with the latest scholarship it appears:

On the cross of Christ demographics and literacy evidence intersect in Pilate's plaque placed above Jesus in Greek, Roman and latin, showing how Jerusalem was a kind of crossroads of commerce.

Then there was the Pauline corpus dating to 20 years after the sacred Events. Paul was an educated Pharisee and Roman citizen. He certainly was literate as were the "scribes" in abundance.

Then there was the Dead Sea Scross hundreds of years before the Events in the NT are related.

Finally, even those not literate could easily scoff and doubt, except when they saw the blind given sight, the lame walk, etc. Remember the Sophists and Skeptics in the ancient Mediterranean? The proof was in the pudding ----for both the literate and the illiterate.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That should read, "the Dead Sea Scrolls..."

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are distorting the truth about Christianity, my friend. Get away from the lying books you have been reading and try the four Gospels instead.If beauty and truth and love and power is what you are after, you will find it there. God bless you, From Ruth.

4:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read all kinds of books and engage critical thinking, The Hospels are my mainstay

Come visit and see if you wish.

I believe in charitable dialog with those who oppose the Christian Faith and for thirty years have read especially books by these.

I can only hope you will do likewise. Because facts matter.

7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said..., that should read The Gospels are my mainstay (my fingers are not cooperating!)

7:22 AM  
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