Color photos of Tsarist Russia

A Russian photographer used a complicated method to create color photographs way back before the Communist revolution.  The photos of Russia under the Tsar, dating from 1909-1912, are quite stunning, reminding us that history consists of real people, just like us.  See Russia in color, a century ago – The Big Picture –


Cranach’s book of portraits

Thanks to Paul McCain for tipping me off to this remarkable book of portraits by Lucas Cranach (or possibly his son or his workshop), now made available in digital format online by the Dresden State Archives and Library.

It’s called Das Sächsische Stammbuch: Sammlung von Bildnissen sächsischer Fürsten, mit gereimtem Text; aus der Zeit von 1500 – 1546. That is, in my rough translation, The Saxon Family Album: A Compilation of Pictures of the Saxon Nobility with Rhymed Text, from 1500-1546. It consists of a hand-written manuscript with portraits of the Saxon Princes, Counts, and Electors and their families, virtually all of whom were key players during the Reformation.

Here is John the Steadfast, along with his wife Elizabeth. He is known as “the first Protestant”–the first “protester” of the Church of Rome to be called by that name–and without his forceful defense of Luther (even more so than his father Frederick the Wise) and his practical provision for the evangelical churches, the Reformation would have been crushed.

If anyone can make out and translate the accompanying verses (the larger page is here, he or she will receive the thanks and accolades of us all.

UPDATE: This portrait is Duke John of Saxony, not John the Steadfast. Thanks to Martin Winter who did make out and translate the German verses, so we heap on him the thanks and accolades that we promised. John the Steadfast is on p. 213 of the book, which you can easily find via the link. Martin translates the verses about him, and they are very inspiring. (Go to the comments.) I wonder who wrote those verses, if they too are by a Cranach.

Pardon Billy the Kid?

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is considering issuing a pardon for Billy the Kid, the wild West gunslinger who killed as many as 21 men.  The descendants of Pat Garrett, the lawman who shot the outlaw in 1881, are opposing the idea.  See A pardon for the notorious Billy the Kid? –

Billy the Kid

New theories on the Dead Sea Scrolls

Some scholars are thinking that the Dead Sea Scrolls, those ancient texts that include some of the oldest copies of the Old Testament, may not have been the property of the Jewish sect known as the Essenes.  They might have come from the Temple itself:

Recent findings by Yuval Peleg, an archaeologist who has excavated Qumran for 16 years, are challenging long-held notions of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Artifacts discovered by Peleg’s team during their excavations suggest Qumran once served as an ancient pottery factory. The supposed baths may have actually been pools to capture and separate clay.

And on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, archaeologists recently discovered and deciphered a two-thousand-year-old cup with the phrase “Lord, I have returned” inscribed on its sides in a cryptic code similar to one used in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

To some experts, the code suggests that religious leaders from Jerusalem authored at least some of the scrolls.

“Priests may have used cryptic texts to encode certain texts from nonpriestly readers,” Cargill told National Geographic News.

According to an emerging theory, the Essenes may have actually been Jerusalem Temple priests who went into self-imposed exile in the second century B.C., after kings unlawfully assumed the role of high priest.

This group of rebel priests may have escaped to Qumran to worship God in their own way. While there, they may have written some of the texts that would come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Essenes may not have abandoned all of their old ways at Qumran, however, and writing in code may have been one of the practices they preserved.

It’s possible too that some of the scrolls weren’t written at Qumran but were instead spirited away from the Temple for safekeeping, Cargill said.

“I think it dramatically changes our understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls if we see them as documents produced by priests,” he says in the new documentary.

“Gone is the Ark of the Covenant. We’re never going to find Noah’s Ark, the Holy Grail. These things, we’re never going to see,” he added. “But we just may very well have documents from the Temple in Jerusalem. It would be the great treasure from the Jerusalem Temple.”

via Dead Sea Scrolls Mystery Solved?.

Bo Giertz’s new novel (revised)

As I posted a while back ago, our friend on this blog Bror Erickson has translated a book by the Swedish Christian novelist Bo Giertz, The Knights of Rhodes. In my review, I complained about the large number of typographical and other errors. After corresponding with Bror, I agreed to correct the mistakes. So now, available on is a NEW edition of the novel. This is the one you need to get. I’ll repeat my review to remind you why:

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.

Buy it by clicking the links and this blog will get a cut of the proceeds, which will go towards the expenses run up by this little venture  (paying for the server, the software, etc.).

Maltese Cross

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.”)