One small step for a man

July 20 was the 41st anniversary of a human being landing on the moon.  The tiny spacecraft was guided by computers with far less capability than the one you are using to read this blog.  “One small step for a man,” said Neil Armstrong, “one giant leap for mankind.”   Was it really?  Watch the video of that dramatic 1969 telecast.  (If it isn’t appearing in your browser, click “comments.”)

King Herod’s face

Biblical Archaeology Review has published a portrait of one of the king Herods, one of the “tetrarchs,” based on computer enhancement of images on rare coins of the time.  This is not the Herod who slaughtered the innocents–that was Herod the Great.  Nor was it the Herod who killed John the Baptist and who questioned Jesus–that was Herod Antipas.  This was Herod Philip II, who did, however, rule in Galilee when Jesus was there.   So Jesus might well have seen him.  From the article:

Herod Philip II (4 B.C–34 A.D.), one of the sons of Herod the Great and ruler of the eastern Galilee and the Golan during the time of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, was the first Jewish ruler to have his portrait emblazoned upon a coin.

Coins with portraits of Herodian kings are extremely rare because of the Jewish religious prohibition of graven images. Only a handful of Philip’s coins have survived, and even these are well worn with largely indistinct busts.

Biblical coin specialist and researcher Jean-Philippe Fontanille has developed a new technique to recover the original minted impressions of ancient coins. Using the latest in computer imaging technology, Fontanille superimposes digital images of multiple ancient coins from the same issue, adjusting for differences in size and orientation. After keeping the best-preserved parts of each coin image, digitally removing worn or missing areas, and then merging and blending the remaining elements, Fontanille produces an “idealized” composite of the coin as it would have appeared in ancient times.

via Strata: Did Jesus Know This Face? | Biblical Archaeology Review | Bible History Articles.

Herod Philip II

The mystery of the medieval maps

More evidence that our ancestors were not stupid:

Where and how did medieval mapmakers, apparently armed with no more than a compass, an hourglass and sets of sailing directions, develop stunningly accurate maps of southern Europe, the Black Sea and North African coastlines, as if they were looking down from a satellite, when no one had been higher than a treetop?

The earliest known portolan (PORT-oh-lawn) chart, the Carta Pisana, just appears in about 1275 — with no known predecessors. It is perhaps the first modern scientific map and contrasted sharply to the “mappamundi” of the era, the colorful maps with unrecognizable geography and fantastic creatures and legends. It bears no resemblance to the methods of the mathematician Ptolemy and does not use measurements of longitude and latitude

And yet, despite its stunning accuracy, the map “seems to have emerged full-blown from the seas it describes,” one reference journal notes. No one today knows who made the first maps, or how they calculated distance so accurately, or even how all the information came to be compiled.

“The real mystery is that if you took all the notebooks from the sailors used in making these charts, along with the coordinates and descriptions,” Hessler says, tapping the glass that covers the ancient vellum, “you still couldn’t make this map.”

via Library of Congress holds conference on origins of portolan charts.

The article reports on research using high-tech mapping technology that proves just how accurate these ancient maps were.

The blood of Russians washed away their sins

So what is orthodox about this teaching from an Orthodox patriarch?

Church debate in Russia continues to simmer over the role of  dictator Josef Stalin, but Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church has said in a Moscow sermon that the Second World War was redemptive for his country, while making  no mention of the former Soviet ruler's name in his address.

“The church does not look at the war as historians or politicians do,” said Kirill on 9 May at the Church of Christ the Saviour. “The church has a particular stance, a particular spiritual point of view.” The Patriarch said he believed the war had redeemed Russia from its sins.

“We know what took place among our people after the bloody events of the beginning of the 20th century,” said Kirill. “How many lies, how much evil and human suffering there was. But God washed away these lies and this evil with our blood, with the blood of our fathers, as has happened more than once in human history.”

“And that is why we must come to a special understanding of the redemptive meaning of the Great Patriotic War,” Kirill added.

The patriarch did not mention by name Stalin, who led the Soviet Union during the Second World War, but the church leader did take issue with historians who equate Nazi Germany with Stalin-era Russia.

“When some homegrown historians tell us that the evil here was no less than there, they are not seeing beyond their own noses, and fail to see the divine horizon beyond their extremely primitive and sinful analysis,” said Kirill. “The Great Patriotic War [as Russians call the Second World War] revealed to us God's truth about ourselves. It punished us for our sins but revealed to us the great glory and strength of our people.”

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: Russian Patriarch avoids ‘Stalin’ as dictator debate simmers.

You get that in Dostoevsky too, the notion that OUR sufferings are what redeem us.

Bo Giertz’s new novel

Bo Giertz (1905-1998) was a confessional, orthodox Lutheran bishop in the Church of Sweden. He was also a notable novelist. Many of you have doubtless read  Hammer of God, about three generations of pastors, each facing the various challenges to the Gospel of each era.   That novel has been a life-changer for many readers.

Now, at long last, another Giertz novel has been translated into English, The Knights of Rhodes.

It’s a historical novel about the Knights Hospitaller and the siege of Rhodes.  The Hospitallers started as a hospital order–which remained a part of their ministry–but they became a military order during the Crusades.  Think monks–complete with vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, as well as performing the daily liturgies–plus swords and cannons.  This novel is set in the 16th century, with the knights in their formidable citadel on the island of Rhodes having to face the Turkish empire under the young sultan Suleiman, beginning his plan to conquer Europe.

The characters come alive and stay in the mind.   The battle sequences are thrilling.  The spiritual complexities are fascinating.

The Knights of Rhodes is not as pre-occupied with theological issues as Hammer of God, at least not on the surface.  And yet, even this story of Roman Catholic monastic knights is full of what Luther was preaching about the same time as the Turkish invasion.  The characters have piety of various kinds, but in a climate of sin, violence, betrayals, and the competition of a triumphant Islam, they need to discover Jesus and the Theology of the Cross.

Not only all of this, but the translator is our own Bror Erickson, frequent commenter on this blog.  Let’s give it the Amazon bomb treatment, buying it up and advancing its sales ranking  (currently in the 800,000s) to attract other people’s attention to it.

I do have one complaint:  Doesn’t Wipf & Stock have any copyeditors or proofreaders?  There are typos and other mistakes on every page. (Bror, insist on a new edition!  If you need someone to do the copyediting, I’ll do it.  The book deserves that.)

Anyway, you can buy it by clicking the links.

Four dead in O-hi-o

Coming home from Fort Wayne, after the baptism and the call service I was telling you about, we stopped for the night at a motel in Kent, Ohio.  It turns out, that is the location of Kent State University, where 77 National Guardsmen fired on some 2,000 protesters of the Vietnam War, killing four and wounding nine.  As many as three of the fatalities were not even part of the demonstration, either onlookers or students on their way to class, one of whom was in ROTC.

Anyway, Kent State was holding a conference on the event, which marks its 40th anniversary today.

I was a student back then, hardly an activist, but I remember the trauma of it, the thought that our government could kill us.  Shocked too that many of our parents said that if we protested we would deserve it.

I know, I know:  Both sides were just young adults.  The guardsmen, the same age as the privileged college students with their draft deferments, scared to death of the rocks and tear gas canisters that were being thrown at them.  Investigators found that 67 shots were fired.  Surely they weren’t all aimed to kill, or many more would have died.  Those who were shot were from 300-500 feet away from the Guardsmen, but stray bullets go a long ways.  Here are more details.

We think America is polarized today, but it was nothing compared to 1970.  May the American military never again be unleashed on its own citizens.

The motel we stayed in had a breakfast.  There was a guy about my age in a wheel chair.   We exchanged pleasantries.  In researching this post, I came across his picture.   He was one of the wounded, paralyzed when the bullet pierced his spine.   He was there for the conference.