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29 September 2015 @ 09:12 pm
My genealogy hobby hasn't gotten a lot of attention. I've been trying to do something at least once a week, looking for matching trees and relevant data for the folks I have documented. Ancestry.com has made this almost like a game, which is good, but it doesn't take away the tedium of plucking through one name after another.

Another thing ancestry.com has provided is a DNA test for a really reasonable price. At first, I was happy to use the tools on the site to examine heritage info and search for relatives -- and these are very nice tools for this. A previously unknown, probable relative contacted me through the ancestry.com site and told me about gedmatch.com as a means to compare our DNA kits.

Gedmatch.com is a free site where you can upload your DNA and GEDCOM data, then perform a number of searches and comparisons against their data. I was able to calculate heritage data using several different strategies, even showing how much and where each individual chromosome came from which bronze-age source. DNA kits can be compared between two or three people, or compared against the entire database. Fundamentally, these aren't different services than those provided by ancestry.com, and the ancestry.com GUI is very modern, while gedmatch.com is more a 90's style, home-rolled job, but I think the latter provides more interesting results.

Another tool I've been playing with lately is Oxy-gen. This tool lets me convert my GEDCOM file into a static website, a SQL-based PHP website, an Oracle app, or an XML data pool. The HTML version is surprisingly dynamic, providing all of the expected pedigree and prodigy trees and directory features. It has a feature that puts all of the event information into a calendar for quick reference. Now I can look on any day of the year and see who else in my family was born, married, or died on that day. The SQL/PHP version appears to have more features, but was buggy enough to not actually be useful.

Another feature of the Oxy-gen-built application was a tree specifically for me (since it's my tree), showing ancestors going back 23 generations. I've got five names of Irish ancestors born in the 1200's. I don't have a lot of confidence in this connection, but this is what I've found. From the beginning of the ancestry tree, though, I thought it was interesting how each generation doubled. For me, my 9th and 10th generations of ancestors were folks who were born prior to the American revolution: there should be over 500 7th great-grandparents, and over a thousand 8th great-grandparents. Mathematically, this means that 23 generations back, I have 8.4 million 21st great-grandparents. Even so, being able to potentially name two of them is still exciting.
31 July 2015 @ 12:20 am
Today was a watershed day. What started as a lark, a fun weekend idea, turned into a horrible, week long embarrassment. I was going to give it up today, if plan "N" hadn't worked. The worst part was that it wasn't technology that nearly stopped me: it was a hole.

Outside my window, I had hung a small feeder several years ago. When I kept it filled, huge crowds of birds would fill the tree around it. I tried to identify all the birds that visited, but with only a few seconds before they fly off, flipping through the Audubon book wasn't working.

Last Friday, I decided it was time to get an IP camera. I would set it up, aimed at the feeder, and would be able to take still images, short videos. Maybe I would even watch it when away from the house. I did some quick reviews and it seemed that $100 would get me a pretty snappy camera.

I ran up to Fry's and reviewed every IP camera they had on the shelf. Although most of them advertised HD resolution, none of them provided better than 30FPS at that price point. They also had a fairly consistent, cheap plastic construction that didn't promise to do well in an outside environment. Then, on the bottom shelf, off to the side, I found a couple of remaindered items pushed back into the shelf. It was a pair of old-school, hardwired cat 5, Toshiba IP "bullet" cameras. Built for outdoor use and ready to go, out of the box. So I got one. I found out later that my $125 purchase was worth $550 just a few years ago.

Saturday morning, I pulled the new camera from its box, plugged it in, and was immediately connected to the view through my web browser. The camera seemed to work perfectly, like a charm, straight from the start. The next day, I pushed a connected up camera out a window and played with a couple of mounting options on the porch, but wasn't happy with how far away the feeder was. Monday, I settled on a place that was great for the feeder, but pretty horrible for installation because it was so far from the router.

Just above the spot where I installed the camera mount was a long abandoned cable installation, with the wire snipped at the wall inside the house. Once the wire was removed, I had a tiny 1/4" hole drilled through the outside wall, teasing me about how easy it was. All I had to do was use a handy spade bit to widen the hole larger than the 3/4" wide data cable. What I didn't expect was having to drill through five solid inches of wood.

I started on the outside wall. The drill was a little cranky, but it pushed its way through nearly an inch of wood into the gap behind and I was elated that this would be so easy. Working on the inside was a different story. Drilling through several inches of frame wood meant that my spade bit ran out of length before the hole did. Home Depot trip number one resulted in acquiring a 6 inch spade bit extension and a 12 inch spade bit. Since my old bit plus the extension eventually did the job, I was able to return the longer spade bit unopened. Yay, me! Day one, and I had one, 7/8" hole through my outside wall where the cable wire used to be.

Once the hole was drilled, I discovered that it was too small and janky to be able to fit the nine different jacks on the end of the camera's cable tail. An attempt to shape the tail with foil failed for being too thick. A second attempt with cling wrap nearly ended the whole project in failure when the tips got stuck by the unraveling wrap when the tail got stuck going in, then refused to come out. I ended up drilling another 7/8" hole through the outside wall, into which I got a knife in to cut the plastic free. As the sun set, I was finally able to withdraw the tail, unharmed, from the hole. I admitted defeat for another day. Day two, and I had two (or one and a half) 7/8" holes, and still no camera installed.

Another day was spent trying to widen the hole, smoothing it out and clearing all the blocks. An effort to use a larger spade bit to make the hole bigger flamed out when I wore myself out after only a half-inch of change. It was time for Home Depot trip number two: for drill-mounted grinder bits that ultimately finished the job. The tails were remolded with cling wrap, but string was wrapped along the length to keep everything tight together and to give something to tug on. But the tail was still just a smidgen too wide right at the tip, so I knew it wasn't worth trying further in. Day three ended in defeat early, and I was most grievously pained about it.

Today, I thought about my options: I could remake the tail again, rearranging some of the larger components; I could drill another hole, this time one and a quarter inches wide -- but it would still require me to remake the tail. Or I could put everything back in the box, drive back to Fry's and admit defeat to the returns guy.

I started with the tail, with both my big and small spade bits on the table for measurable confirmation. By this point, I knew what worked well and what didn't when trying to wrap components. Thin strips of wrap, gathering sections at a time, until the whole thing was covered with a large sheet of wrap. All very thin, yet flexible. The string was wrapped all the way up, with a set of loops for a two-sided harness to guide the tail through the hole.

Once again, I sent the guide stick tied to the string through the hole, and Zoe grabbed it, pulling gently on the string as I guided the tail into place. We had developed a system of balanced tugging so that whenever it stuck, I would pull it back a little and twist, hoping to coax another bit of movement. The first several times we tried this, it was an exercise in frustration. But this last time, it all happened so fast, I was left in disbelief. She cheered, I cheered, we both lunged to grab our respective ends so it wouldn't come out again.

I mounted the camera, then unpackaged the tail before I hooked it to the fifty foot cat 5 cable that just stretched from the router, around the walls, to the camera. Back outside, I aimed and focused it, with Zoe providing image quality confirmation. I added a giant globs of silicon around the cables (and putty for the remaining hole), and all was complete.

After all the work to get this far, I was hardly able to believe it finally worked. Of course, by the time I was done, it was dark, so I'll have to wait until the morning to see how the birds look on it. But the feeling of having defeated the hole was righteous.
06 April 2015 @ 06:23 am
Something that's been getting on my nerves has been reading or hearing pronouncements about the purpose of Christianity, generally in the context of folks badmouthing other people's execution of their faith. "Thats not Christian!" they exclaim, "Jesus said to do this other thing!" The sad part is that the one defining purpose is usually wrong.

In reality, Jesus had very little to do with the creation of the Church, its Rites, or its theology. The words of Jesus aren't relevant to the workings of the global, land-holding bureaucracies, nor to the priesthood, and not to the seminaries. When time comes to make a decision in the Church, they appeal not to the words of Jesus, but to their official hierarchy of authority, and the decision is made at the appropriate level based on Roman traditions and financial considerations.

There are people, many wonderful people, who have as their personal faith a moral impetus to volunteer and give aid to others. Quite often these people are guided and inspired by the words of Jesus from the Bible. Many churches provide opportunities for their congregation to volunteer and some exhort their membership frequently to participate, but these actions -- while laudable -- aren't the purpose of Christianity, nor are they the purpose of the Church.

The purpose of the Church is to ensure the continuity of the Church. They may claim additional purposes, but it is clear that these are subordinate to and supportive of the primary purpose. It's so important, it goes without saying. One can imagine there are likely many wealthy, powerful people who would prefer to keep the Church, and their positions, intact.

Please note that feeding the poor is not the purpose of the Church. Housing and medical care is not within the provenance of the Church. The Church is happy to organize funds and coordinate with local and state authorities and groups and help provide these services, as they can. But the Church is not really focused on these things because these aren't the purpose of the Church.

Let's be honest: the phrase "the purpose of Christianity" implies that there was a deliberate creation activity that lead from someone having an idea to the existence of a global organization in one go. This is clearly not the case. There is very little continuity in the expression of the faith from one century to the next, from Constantine to the present day. Whether the initial creation of the Gospel stories and assorted Epistles was the result of a social transformation in a local folk tradition, or a black joke at the expense of the remaining members of a subsumed culture, the original purpose of the faith has no bearing on how people wield it today because the faith has repeatedly bifurcated into a myriad of often contradictory communities. There is simply no saying "Christianity is not something", because you can nearly always find an example in history, or around the block, that says it is.
28 March 2015 @ 10:55 am
Imagine a magic lantern that, when rubbed, would deposit a million dollars in your bank account, but would in exchange kill a child in the Southern Hemisphere. How many times is is okay to rub that lantern? Is once enough? Maybe ten times? What if you need a billion dollars? Aren't the lives of 1000 people you don't know worth a billion dollars? And when you're done, should that ever happen, do you throw it away, or give it to your children? Do you tell them about the tradeoff?

Bad news folks:the magic lantern is real. We rub that lamp to a fine sheen.

When the US of A was founded, it brought along many of the traditional laws from England, including a general prohibition on "trusts", which were legal fictions designed to accumulate non taxable wealth and shield the owners from liability. It seems their emphasis on accumulating money offended many people. When the legal fiction of the "corporation" was devised, the owners would take an effort to show the public how they were serving the common good by providing a needed good or service. This has helped smooth the way such that corporate business structures are now the standard. But in the recent decades, the notion that corporations exist to do any other than generate profits has flittered away.

This emphasis on generating ever larger profits has done this country a great disservice. The old prejudice against trusts seems wise in hindsight. After a corporation has exhausted the profit potential for its markets, it must then turn to picking its workers' pockets and draining tax coffers to provide an increasing share of money to the very, very wealthy. All with only lip service done towards the notion of community service, and no efforts made toward community integration with jobs, services, training, or health care.

Why is higher education so expensive? Because businesses used to take on a large part of educating their incoming workers, and now they expect them to arrive pre-trained and over-educated. Why is health care so expensive? Businesses had been providing most of the health care costs for their workers, but over the years shifted a larger percentage of that load back on to the workers. Taking care of workers costs money, and the very wealthy need that money. It's important.

As an added bonus, this undue emphasis on profits facilitates economic "bubbles": periods of radical price swings for a given commodity, based primarily on the speculation by a small pool of investors holding enormous piles of cash. There was a bubble -- and a boom and bust cycle -- related to nearly anything you can look out and see on any American city. Land, houses, railroads, automobiles, computers, potatoes... and many other things have all spawned one, if not several, bubbles. Too much money with nowhere to go. And of course, the damage of every crash falls on the not rich, every time.

For the primary investors in a corporation, they rub the lamp, and a million dollars appears in their bank account. And someone in a third-world factory or field dies from exploitation and greed. There's never enough money, they never stop rubbing the lamp. They see this as their birthright to be passed down to their children. Today there are fewer than 500 such people who control the vast portion of the world's wealth. When they sneeze, nations go to war.

What to do? There are things that have helped in the past, and methods folks have used to bypass periods of oligarchy and corrupt markets. Folks used to make and grow nearly everything they needed, and nowdays, folks rarely make their own food anymore. At best they pour it out of a box before they microwave it. A lot of money these corporations make is from processed foods, bulk textiles, and soaps. Any food, textile, or soap that you make yourself or buy from a local farmer type is money that helps community and doesn't go into corporate pockets. And if you're making your own food or textiles, any extra can be bartered for other goods or services.

But this solution only preaches to the crowd. It doesn't convince the well funded to support political changes that make them less wealthy. History has shown that only dire threat is sufficient to induce such support. Although sometimes, after periods of great calamity, we'll get folks like FDR, who was wealthy, but felt he had an obligation to society, and the nation. And don't forget, FDR was despised by the upper class for his higher taxes, as they saw it, their money was being wasted on drunks and Irishmen.
21 February 2015 @ 10:42 am
My contract came up for renewal, and with it came an addendum: a big fat bonus for finishing something by a specific date, one month in the future. It left me feeling insulted and belittled.

Since last year, I've gone from being an integral figure in any planning or management effort, to an afterthought. In a lot of ways, this has been fantastic: I don't have to think about 95% of the IT stuff I used to have to care about. There is now just one thing I have to do: keep the business management system going, and make improvements as requested.

One might think that a major change to a set of fundamental business processes managed by my system might be cause to bring me into the introductory discussions to discover things like the amount of work required, and reasonable schedules for development and testing for all these changes. But that didn't happen.

Instead, when a situation arose that would bring in-house the entire testing protocol of another company, I wasn't brought into the discussions until the very last minute, when I was told that I had about four months to make all the required changes. After making a very aggressive (and patently unreasonable) project plan to accomplish this in the given time, I was then told that we needed to make about half of the outlined functionality work within a month.

I was told they would start with a small subset of the total range of tests after that first month, only small animals, and that they would only send a few at a time. The full range wouldn't be expected until after I had been able to make all the needed changes months down the road. Instead, the partner company stopped all in-house testing and put the entire load on us, three months early. Then they came unglued when the test results they got weren't 100% correct, resulting in two long lectures to me from upper management about how important the project is, all suddenly caring about testing cycles and release schedules.

After the first crazy mad month of building, I've spent the last two months playing catch-up and putting out fires. When I warned my clients that I wasn't able to keep to the schedule due to the changes in the project, the president of the company suggested that they should limit my pay until I finished the projects as outlined. This alone nearly made me walk. I told them in no uncertain terms that this would never happen. I am contracted hourly because I am the expert, and the only person on the planet who knows how this system works. I was not about to let them piece-meal my contract away.

If they had brought me in to the conversation early, saying that they had these things they wanted to do and wanted my opinion about how quickly things could be changed, I would have been able to give them some pretty comfortable and reasonable plans. If they had, I could see holding some personal obligation to keep to such schedules. But it wasn't my decision to take on this business, it wasn't my decision to accept an abbreviated schedule, and it wasn't my decision to choose to work on this rather than the rather extensive list of known issues already in the system. My deal is that they pay me an hourly rate for every hour I work for them, regardless of what I'm working on.

So I get this bonus addendum on my contract and it seriously makes me want to tear the whole thing up. Oh, look: some extra cash if I can magically make a deadline I've already said twice isn't going to happen because the partner company didn't follow the rules. As if I hadn't already been working at 100% to bring in the new functionality and keep everything else running, too. Like I'm just sitting on my thumbs and need some incentive.

So irritated. I'm supposed to be reviewing my contract, but I'm going to wait until I stop feeling so stabby.
28 July 2014 @ 12:41 am
My habit of writing that I had years ago has been refocused into a variety of other endeavors, and it hasn't resurfaced in the form of blogging so much. It's a little disappointing to me, as I enjoy seeing what I was thinking and talking about months and years ago. So I do keep trying to keep up some level of this sort of writing. I also think about why I may not be here as much as I used to. Part of it is that my writing energies have been focused on a couple of fictional works, on video games, and spending time with my family.

Another reason that I haven't been writing, I am ashamed to admit, is that I have been having such a nice time, anything I said would seem like bragging. The last six months, I have been a contract worker again, running my own business, and working from home. The best part is my "new" contract is to continue the work I've been doing for the past five years. The company I had been employed with was purchased, and I declined to be purchased as well. Instead, we agreed to a contract arrangement, which, frankly, pleases me no end.

There was a lot of planning and panic and trepidation regarding the startup of my new business. My previous attempt at self-employment ended in ignominy and an enormous tax bill, and resulting my taking employment in the first place. I refused to be a bad businessman this time. I got an accountant, special bank accounts, tax numbers, and corporate identity. Money goes into a special account from which taxes are paid monthly. It's a good feeling to write myself a nice fat check each month, knowing that everything is in order. Bills get paid, and the gig appears to be long-lasting. Not only do I get to work from home, I have very strict rules about when I can go into the office that pretty much limit office time to meetings only every month or two. Communication with co-workers happens by email and by chat, and the periodic phone meeting.

The best part of the new arrangement isn't what I do, but what I don't do. In my prior employment, I wore several hats. I was the server admin, the network manager, the IT procurement guy and the general troubleshooting guy. Except for the specialty equipment in the lab (which the lab folks handled expertly), if it had a switch, I was eventually in charge of it. While I can do this work (and there wasn't anyone else doing it at the time), it's not really my favorite work, and it frequently got in the way of what I really liked doing, which is writing code and adding features that helped the business work better. Now, not only do I not have the responsibility to fix or manage anything, I'm generally not allowed to. Like a huge weight lifted from my shoulders, my enjoyment of my job went way up the day I stopped having to give a shit about all the electrons and magic smoke in everything. All of my time is spent doing just the one part of my job I really enjoyed. It is fantastic.

I have friends who have shitty jobs and friends with no jobs. I know folks dealing with cancer, and I've known folks who didn't survive it. I have a job I really enjoy, I get paid really well. I'm healthy, my family is healthy. But feeling bad for my friends takes some of the enjoyment out of it.

Another result of this change is the opportunity for a change in location. The money is good enough to start saving, and the job requirements don't include any specific location. Several times over the last decade, my wife and I have discussed moving to the Pacific Northwest, but until now, we've never had both the means and opportunity to do so. Now we have both. Another factor we have been considering is our daughter's schooling. She starts middle-school this year, and we don't want to disrupt her friendships and activities at the high-school level. Se we either go soon, or we have to wait until she's done with high school. Our house is too small for us, so moving is really no longer a matter of "if", but rather "when". So the current plan is to move in June of next year. Now, we're saving cash and furiously researching neighborhoods around Seattle. It's very exciting, after having been in the same house for 16 years, to finally contemplate moving. And the Cascades really thrilled me when we visited them. We're all looking forward to the move.

Part of me, however, is very disturbed by the idea of leaving Texas. I have ancestors who came to Texas as soon as Anglos were allowed here, and their graves are all over the state. The dust of the state has been long incorporated into my DNA. I'm not sure I can live without BBQ and tex-mex in my diet. Leaving this state is big change, no matter where I might end up.

This is balanced against a set of irritations and frustrations that have developed over the years from living in this state. Culturally, I'm not so sure I fit in very well in this state at all. I enjoy being in Austin, but everyone admits that this city is very different from the rest of the state. Governor Perry has led a corrupt and tone-deaf administration that has swept money into the pockets of his friends at the expense of all the other people here. The cruelty of his administration is seen  whenever they turn away federal funding for welfare, education, or health care. The election of Ted Cruz has been a particular source of embarrassment and irritation, one that has highlighted for me how far distant the culture in this state is from my own preferences and ideals. I'm tired of waiting for my fellow Texans to clue in when they all seem so confident that their insanity is genius.
06 February 2014 @ 09:39 am
I just finished Joseph Atwill's book, Caesar's Messiah. I didn't really take me a month to read, I just put it down several times to play video games and be a dad. It's a well-written book that kept me mostly enthralled throughout. But it's also bringing forward some tremendous ideas that frankly take a little time to digest -- and this is coming from the perspective of a guy who already assumed the Bible was largely fiction!

I think what Atwill did really well was to create an understanding of the Gospels as a whole unit, and not a collection of disparate pieces. Scholars have long debated the meaning of the differences between the Gospel tales, and have tried to tease understanding from their respective lacunae. Atwill demonstrates several times that these gaps and textual conflicts were inserted on purpose in order to achieve specific results. Sometimes this was to indicate that there were more than one character with the same name. Other times, the effect was to highlight puzzles hidden in the text. And it is these puzzles that bring out the messages that were presumably embedded to benefit the Flavians.

The key to understanding the New Testament, according to Atwill, is Josephus' "Wars of the Jews". The "history" created by Josephus is our only window on what happened in 1st Century Judea, and it primarily centers upon the actions of the Romans in their conquest. Atwill found that Josephus' description of Titus' campaign, through the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and Masada, was perfectly reflected in the ministry of Jesus in both chronology and character. Many stories only partially relayed by the New Testament were completed in "Wars of the Jews", and most of the puzzles required a careful reading of both the New Testament and "Wars of the Jews".

The resurrection scene in the New Testament -- that point when the disciples discover the tomb of Jesus is empty -- has caused many debates because each book relates a slightly different tale. People arrive in different orders, at different times, and have different encounters depending on which book is read. Atwill uses the time clues in each story to create a single, coherent story. In the process, he discovers the humor intentionally implanted there. First, it become obvious that the tomb Mary first discovers wasn't Jesus' tomb, but the one for Lazarus! Then, as each set of followers appear at the tomb, another set encounters the last and assumes them to the 'angels'. This comedy of errors continues on through all four books and results in the recognition of a key point: there were several messiahs active at the same time -- several Jesuses! -- and their followers didn't recognize each other.

One persistent target of this Flavian satire is particularly hard to read about: the famine during the siege of Jerusalem. Reports that the inhabitants (with well known eating restrictions) resorted to cannibalism was a continuing joke, all the way up to the proclamation of Jesus that he was "living bread", and that his companions were to "eat of him". The story in "Wars of the Jews" about a woman named Mary who kills and eats her nursing child is used multiple times as the basis for a number of jokes in the Gospels. Even the "resurrection" of Lazarus is shown to be another reference to cannibalism.

Atwill comes up with several reasons behind the invention of Christianity, and specifically about why certain elements exist in the New Testament. Primarily, the purpose was to co-opt the militaristic Messiah cult popular at the time, replacing it with a passive, stoic cult more amenable to Roman interests. Secondarily, they wanted a cult that would be attractive to the illiterate underclasses while being obvious satire for the patrician class. Titus wanted folks to mock and hate the Jews, and he wanted to trick the "true believer" Messiah cultists into worshiping him as Christ. Crucially, these works together were key in promoting his dad, Vespasian, as divine so that the Roman Senate would confirm Vespasian as a God. There was, in short, a lot of heavy lifting Titus expected from these works; more to the point, he got a lot out of them.

It is in the last quarter of the book that Atwill really shines. He comes out with an understanding about how the Maccabees fit into the history of the Jewish rebellion, and thus in the Gospels -- also explaining why there are so many people in the Gospels with the same half-dozen names. He breaks out the crucial components of the Jesus story to show which parts derived from the popular messiah cult, which came from Flavian preferences, and which were recycled truisms and prophecies from prior messiahs and prophets. He names the people involved in the creation of Christianity. He explains the mechanic for how the Early Church was formed in the Seven Cities of Asia -- alongside the Imperial cult! He also reviews the dates provided by Josephus in his "Wars of the Jews" and determines that most, if not all, the dating within is highly suspect, as Josephus was far more concerned with matching prophecies from Daniel than having a quotidian fixation on correct dates.

Although I was shocked and surprised by many of the assertions made in this book, I never found myself disagreeing with Atwill's understanding of history. He repeatedly makes his point using nearly every verse in the Gospels, and drags the reader through a series of conflicts in the texts, along with their resolution. I think this would be a difficult book for a practicing Christian to read and an impossible book for a biblical literalist to comprehend. Even I found the book to be troubling in its expose of just how much of the cruelty and evil inherent to Christianity was there on purpose. Accepting what Atwill says is challenging and disruptive, but I'm afraid that arguing against his points would be a much more difficult challenge.

Now I understand why the major media went out of their way to vilify Atwill and confuse his points. This is a dark, dangerous book that I would only recommend to my friends interested in history or Western occultism, because, frankly, I don't expect that anyone else would be able to cope with it.
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23 January 2014 @ 08:18 pm


This particular link to an article about the study on “Bible Mindedness” from Time magazine was specifically chosen to highlight a really nasty choice these editors made. By calling the cities selected as being the least Biblically minded as “godless” is a spectacular dig against all forms of Christianity that weren't among a set of Protestant cults developed in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.

From the article: “The study defines “Bible-mindedness” as a combination of how often respondents read the Bible and how accurate they think the Bible is.”

Both the act of obsessive re-reading of a book, and the belief that the book is literally true and without flaw, are particular manifestations of Protestantism in general, and more particularly in US forms of Protestantism, like Baptist, Adventist, and independent “Bible” churches. These forms of Christianity require the Bible to be their source of authority, as they reject all other aspects of the faith as Catholic window dressing.

Catholics respect the Bible and they certainly know the Bible, but they don't need the Bible. They have the Pope and the traditions of the Church to guide them. They have Saints, they have theatrics, they have a feast or a festival on every day of the year. The ancient city of Rome has been the (nearly continuous) home of the leader of the Church, the pontifex rex since the 2nd century. Their church is so old, even their mythology has a mythology. The Bible is an important pillar of the Church, but it's not the only one for Catholics.

But Protestants reject the Catholic Church. They claim the Catholics are doing it “wrong”. They reject the authority of the Pope, the value of the traditions, and most especially, the paganism of the festivals. The piety of these various Protestant cults was measured by the degree to which they stripped away the joy and pleasure from their practice of faith. Without a history, a leader, or an ancient location to worship, the only thing Protestants had left was the Bible.

Pretty much ever since there has been a Bible, people have jockeyed for the authority to interpret it. When Protestants reject the Pope, part of what they are rejecting is the notion that only the Pope has the authority to interpret the Bible. Baptists, for example, take pride in their tradition that every person has the authority to interpret the Bible for themselves.

The problem is that the Bible wasn't written for the common layman. It wasn't supposed to be a form of casual divination or a catch-all source of authority. It wasn't even originally intended to be in English (primarily as that language hadn't yet been invented at the time). The stories in the Bible were written many centuries ago, about lands and peoples long ago and far away, in languages that are no longer spoken. It is inadequate to state merely that the context for these tales is difficult to comprehend, as the scale of that difficulty is itself difficult to comprehend. The idea that anyone could randomly read a sentence or two from the middle of any book and get something theologically meaningful and valid without years of prior study is the apex of foolishness.

This study by the American Bible Society is much less a measure of the relative religious correctness claimed by the various participants, then a PR campaign by Protestant Bible worshipers to legitimize their one-dimensional theology. What does it really show? Well educated, professional types that tend to vote Democratic and entertain progressive ideals don't spend much time with the Bible, while poorly educated, blue-collar worker types that tend to conservative, Republican ideals only have the Bible. What this has to do with how well we treat each other isn't obvious to me.

30 December 2013 @ 10:07 am
For the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, I received Joseph Atwill's book that claims the Gospels were a deliberate fiction created by the Flavians (who were the Roman dynasty after Nero). At this point, I'm about a third of the way in, but I've already got a few things to say. (Warning: if you like your Jesus all hippie and new-agey, you probably ought to skip this book and the rest of this post.)

First off, it thrills me -- no joke! -- to finally read a book about Early Church history that changed my mind. If you've been playing along at home, you know that I wrote a book stating that the Gospels were a fiction created by Constantine. While I think I did a good job showing how Church history (as we know it) didn't begin until the Council of Nicea, I was less precise with the issue of who actually wrote the Gospels. It also required me to wave my hands a bit at any writings presumed to predate Constantine as being forgeries. While I didn't invent any of the claims, I was able to put together a reasonable explanation.

Atwill's textual analysis of the Gospels is exhaustive, albeit shaky in some places. To my mind, he has adequately shown the Flavian influence and motivation behind the Gospels. His primary point was that the Gospels were written to show that Titus was the "Son of God" and "Son of Man" predicted by Jesus, and further that Jesus was of a type predicted by Moses. In the process, he provides a new reading of the Gospels that makes sense out of every verse by positing that the Gospels were a cruel satire of Titus' campaign in Josephus' "The Jewish War". Many verses which are generally interpreted metaphorically, Atwill contends were literal "prophecy" of things that actually happened.

A brief example is the "fishers of men" episode. In the Gospels, Jesus arrives at a town near Galilee famous for smoked fish, and he tells the boat owners that they will become "fishers of men". While I had always been taught that this was a mystical reference to the evangelical efforts of the Early Church, Atwill provides a more concrete reference. Four decades later, Titus lead his army to a sea battle on the Galilee where they destroyed the boats of the rebellion and left thousands of dead floating on the waters. For days afterward, Galilean boat owners were casting their nets upon the water to draw up the corpses of men. They were literally fishing for men. This is representative of the cruel, black satire Atwill claims the Gospels were written to capture.

The result is unpleasantly satisfying. The dichotome between loving Jesus and angry Jesus is resolved by showing the loving Jesus to be a misunderstanding of the underlying context. Many of the verses that made no sense theologically or even contextually become clear by reading with the Flavian bias. The anti-Semitism that has plagued Christianity from the beginning is shown to be a deliberate, primary effect created by the Gospels. And finally, he shows that the intended result of creating Christianity was to appropriate and redirect the violent, anti-Roman messianic strain of Judaism into a tax-paying, pacifism appropriate for Roman rule.

What this means for me is that I have to go back to the drawing board with my theory. I still hold that Christianity, as we know it, began in Nicea. What I now need to do is to connect Flavian Christianity to Constantine.

10 October 2013 @ 12:09 pm
I've seen this article going around on FB and noticed that it has stirred up some strong reactions. Here's my take.

First, a note about the article, as this has drawn some attention in itself. It's a PR release about a presentation occurring in London the Saturday after next. This is not "journalism", nor is it "a lie". There really is a presentation, and this guy Atwill is scheduled to speak. Some have pointed out that the headline is bogus: to this I agree. There is no ancient confession spoken of in the article, nor, as far as I can tell, in the material Atwill is presenting. But sketchy headlines are hardly unusual.

What Atwill says is that, in his reading of the Gospels, that the historical record of Emperor Titus' military adventures in the Mid-East closely match with the reported ministry of Jesus. What he sees there is an indication that the story of Jesus was cribbed from the history of Titus. The rationale he suggests was that Christianity was a Roman invention devised to quiet rebellious Jewish sects in Palestine. He also places the date of this invention in the 1st Century.

I think it is very possible that Titus' tour was the basis for the story of Jesus' ministry, and even more so if we assign the creation of the Gospels to the 4th Century with the rise of Constantine, as this would have been one of the primary reliable historical records of 1st Century Palestine available to the 4th Century Romans. Whether this was to quiet rebellious Jews is beside the point: by the 1st Century, there were more Jews living in Italy than in Palestine. Why bother? My premise that Constantine created Christianity as a philosophical and patriotic vehicle for his takeover of the Empire. The use of Jewish texts and mythology was appropriate since Jews were familiar across the Empire.

The reason that I so easily accept Atwill's connection between Titus and Jesus is twofold: primarily, it was pretty standard Roman behavior to use historical records as templates for new writings, but also because it answers the question of which predescessor story was used to craft the Gospels