Rick and Monique

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where did the Magi Originate?

Matthew 2:1-2:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the jews?  For we have seen his star in the East, and we have come to worship him."

I'm positive that most of us have never mapped the travels of the Magi--covered the Wise Men from the east.  We'll start simply--one can deduce that being from the East, they might have travelled West!  "They saw his star in the east" doesn't necessarily mean the star was east of them.  If so, they might have travelled to India.  The word "east" in Greek also means, "The rising," meaning the wise men would have said, "We saw a star at its rising."  In the second revised edition of Werner Keller's book The Bible as History, the following is stated:

"We have seen his star in the east" (Matt. 2:2), said the Wise Men (KJV).  The translation is however incorrect, for the words 'in the east' are in the original en te anatole—the Greek singular-- but elsewhere 'the east' is represented by anatolai—the Greek plural.
The singular form anatole has, it is maintained, quite a special astronomical significance, in that it implies the observation of the early rising of the star, the so-called heliacal rising. The translators of the King James Version could not have known this.
When en te anatole is translated properly, Matt. 2:2 reads as follows: "We have seen his star appear in the first rays of dawn" (pp. 328-329).

So where did the wise men come from?  The book, "Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes" written by Kenneth E. Bailey says this:

Where is East?  The answer to that question depends on where the writer lives.  If an American is visiting friends from New Jersey and tells them that he or she came from "the West," the hosts might infer that the guest is from Pittsburgh.  If someone in the United States Navy is sent to serve in the "Western Pacific" he or she may be stationed in Pacific waters but a a British ship one hundred yards away is in the "Eastern Pacific."

So it is that Christians living in Rome might say something different than one living in a different region, such as in "The Holy Land".  Those from that region would refer to someone across the Jordan River.  Bailey says that this designation survives even today (p. 52).  Matthew, Luke and others would more naturally refer that those from the "East" are those from the east side of the Jordan River, in the Jordanian deserts which connect to the Arabian Deserts.  Furthermore, the wise men arrived with Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  These unique gifts are and were well known to be harvested from trees that only grow in southern Arabia.

The earliest known written text outside the gospels about this particular event was written by Justin Martyr--A.D. 160.  Justin was a Palestinian Christian living in Caesarea.  He wrote about a conversation with a Jew named Trypho (p.53) who told Justin, "The wise men from Arabia came to Bethlehem and worshiped the child and offered to him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh."  Martyr doesn't labor the point or argue against Trypho, but instead states several times throughout the commentary that the wise men hailed from Arabia.  The location is supported by writings by Tertullian and Clement of Rome.  But these facts alone don't prove much...

Isaiah 60:1-5

Arise, shine for your light has come, and hte glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and the thick darkness the peoples, but the Lord will arise upon you and his glory will be seen upon you.  And nations shall come to your light, and the kings to the brightness of your rising.  The wealth of nations shall come to you.  A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come.  They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
Kenneth Bailey writes:

Midian and Ephah are tribal lands in northern Arabia, and Sheba was the name for the part of southern Arabia from which the Queen of Sheba was the name for the part of southern Arabia from which the Queen came with "much gold" (I Kings 10:2).  Frankincense is unique to southern Arabia.  In verse 7 of Isaiah continues as he reports "all the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you."  Shepherds were also involved.  To the child came Arab wise men from the desert on camels bringing gold and frankincense.  And Shepherds visited the child, not the city...

I guess I'm not sure that these details matter in our celebrations.  They probably don't.  But I want you Christians to know some details so that Christians have a true story to stand on.

Bailey also claims that the wise men were almost always wealthy men (especially in Arabia), and they would not traditionally have travelled in two or three's.  In the time of Daniel the whole of the Chaldean wise men were summoned to interpret dreams, and to perform other tasks appointed to them.  Rich wise men were not singularly curious and they were interested in power and interested in prophesy and interested in knowledge and interested in astrology.  It would have been more typical that many men travelled together, because the prophesy was widely known.  Matthew and Luke (and Pharisees and Sadducees) would have known their reputation well.  Arabian wise men would have also travelled with animals and servants...rich men travelled with servants to perform any manner of tasks including protection, negotiations and scouting (p. 53-54).  And their gifts would not have only been "tokens" of wealth in worship--they would've flowered a prophesied king with these gifts.  They had reputations to uphold afterall.

Either way, I suppose this knowledge won't change your celebrations.  But I encourage all of you to shower each other with excellent gifts, with great feasts, with deep love, and with a majestic sense of worship for a King who saved you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jesus Christ and the Racing Donkey

I've told the story before. Two Christmases in a row.  I  can't repeat the same angles covered the last two years.  But my needs are the same.  I fervently want Christians to celebrate Christ's birth. I want you to know the story correctly, because by knowledge you'll be able to enjoy getting to know the middle eastern people, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus Christ himself.  

I want you to say, "Merry Christmas!" and I don't want you to tolerate "Happy Holidays." There are more holidays in February, including one goofy little day called "Valentine's Day." You and I don't call it a holiday do we? We call it what it is.  

Christmas--much more than a holiday for you, but you're not even sure why. You want...

You want the courage to celebrate Christ's birth...Christmas.

Or you want to be like everyone else. You want to give gifts and fill stockings, coo at magnificent chocolate and colorful blinking lights. And fireplaces will be stoked, even in Florida and California. Even the warm states whimsically sing about their desires for white Christmases, ham and hot chocolate. And at the right moment, you just might recite nostalgic poems about quiet mouses, milk and cookies and fake fat guys with greased up coats so they can slide down your chimney.

You want to believe a cute story about a Benevolent Caesar, a mean-hearted Herod, and a calm but hurried Joseph and Mary.  So, I've thought of a way to tell you what I want you to see.  You get to choose which story you want to celebrate though.  You can take the following story and run with Christmas the way its always been done...go ahead, it'll be warm and fuzzy and cute.  Or you can read the scriptures and know the truth.  

Here it is, a third way, a third year.  Next year, I'll do it again.

So Caesar says, "Be Counted!  But you, Jews, must go to the place of your origin!"
Caesar Agustus comes up with an idea to count people in his kingdom--a census, in part to help him figure out how many taxes can be collected.  So, everyone gets packed and ready to go.
A pregnant Mary and an adoptive father Joseph turned toward each other, each with worried expressions.  Joseph devises a plan.  They must leave, and they must leave tonight!
So in less than an hour Mary begins packing and Joseph sets off to make a deal for the fastest donkey in the Nazareth area. He finds his brother there.  Phillip his brother also needs a racing donkey.  They both find the perfect racing donkey for them...and it happens to be the exact same racing donkey!  They fight over this one particular donkey--one a little taller, stronger and sleeker than all the rest of the donkeys. It almost comes to fists, but the owner of the racing donkey facility broke it up and said, "Look, this really is about money." So Joseph was a bit more successful with his carpenter business and had a few more sestarius and an extra gold coin, and so his brother was out of luck.
So Joseph hopped on the donkey and made him run home...kind of a warm up for the journey the donkey would carry them through.
They got home and Mary, who'd solicited some help from another sister, Babette.  Babette had packed already, but her husband was slow, and so she came to help her pregnant sister.
Now Joseph was kind of competitive and he wanted to be the first of his family to be counted in the town of their ancestors, Bethlehem. For some reason it was important--he needed the leverage I suppose.
So he kind of rudely said, "Mary, we gotta go!" He got the donkey ready very quickly, then, went into the house to retrieve something.
So, since Joseph was not there to help Mary get onto the donkey, Babette cupped her hand so Mary could use her as a step to get onto the donkey.  Mary had mentioned that this racing donkey was quite tall.
But, what the ladies didn't know is that Joseph in his spare time had built a step stool.  When he got the racing donkey home he thought, "My new step-stool would work perfectly for Mary!"  He came running out of the house with the step-stool just as Mary was putting her foot into her sister's cupped hands.
"No no Babette! You're playing with our babies life doing that!" Joseph said.  "What if she falls?"  And to add some weight he added, "Our baby is God's son!"
"Oh Joseph, I'm a strong working woman, i've done this before, you know that...and stop being so melodramatic ya big goofball."
"Stop it Babette, I have made this step-stool, don't you see?"
Mary smiled at the two competitors, and put the step stool in front of the obedient donkey, stepped up and sat on the donkey.
"Joseph honey, we have to go."
"Right," replied Joseph, somewhat curtly.
And so they set off into the desert. Joseph, being in good shape was still no match for the racing donkey. Mary was a bit of a novice, but this racing donkey had been trained well. So when Mary noticed that Joseph was three or four hundred paces behind, Mary said, "Slowwww donkey," and the donkey slowed to an easier gait. Joseph caught up breathing hard.  He was kind of mad, and he wacked the racing donkey on the butt, and it lurched forward, but then stopped walking altogether.
"Slow down donkey! What the world man?"  Joseph was exasperated.
This was not the talking donkey told from the scrolls, so the donkey said and did nothing.  Joseph secretly wished the donkey could apologize.
Ten minutes passed.  Joseph sucked down half of one of the canteens before he was ready to go.  He gave the command and they all trotted off.  They should still be there first.  They only had a few kilometers to go.
"Oh no Joseph!" said Mary. She looked terrified. "I just had a terrible contraction."
"We better hurry."
So they picked up the pace, but Mary's contractions were already three minutes apart.
So they ran. The racing donkey was ahead of a running Joseph. Adrenaline streamed through Joseph, who was also very strong, and he ran faster than he'd ever run. The racing donkey seemed relaxed and was in good shape, and of course was a ways ahead of Joseph, but not too far.
All of a sudden...
"Oh no," said Mary to no one really, Jospeh was too far behind. Her water had broken all over the racing donkey.
"Gross," said Mary. "Giddyup racing donkey!"
So the racing donkey took off like a flash. Poor Joseph could only yell, "Wait wait!" but to his credit, he had something extra in his legs and really picked up the pace.
The donkey covered 7 kilometers like a flash of lightning. Mary was really happy about the racing donkey. So, they got to town and Mary started to talk to people on the edge of town saying, "My water broke all over this racing donkey here and I'm going to have a baby soon, and this baby is going to be God and so we need a room!"
But she was a woman, and she was talking crazy. A few people took pity on her crazy plight, and put a couple of coins in the water cup hanging from the racing donkey.
Meanwhile Joseph made it to town and fell over at the gate, dirt cased his lips. The wind had come up a bit and it was dusty out there. The racing donkey took off with the canteens and so what was he going to do?"
He found Mary and the racing donkey. Mary was crying.
"Mary, what happened, you took off like a shot lady!"
"My water broke," she said, tired. "And I hate this town, no one will give us a hotel room."
"Oh crap."
So Joseph, being a man, had more credibility, and began asking hotel owners for room...it was a patriarchal system, what were they gonna do?
"We are in the line of David!" yelled Joseph. "We are in the family of the King, we need a room!"
"I'm sorry," everyone said, "The Sprintolicum Camel Cup is tomorrow, and all the best camel racers are here. The town's just full of fans."
Mary tried to dry off the racing donkey, but the contractions were terribly painful, so she said down and tried to breath slowly. Her doctor Amin Pater Lamaas gave her some ideas about breathing.
One guy from a small inn far away from the racing grounds finally gave them something positive.
"I own an old cave," he said. "You can have that. There's animals though."
"No problem man," said Joseph, relieved. "I'm around animals all the time!  We just need to give birth to God tonight and we got a later start than I wanted, y'know how that goes."
"I do, I'll see what the town doctor is doing, and he can maybe help you!"
"Oh, one thing," stammered the inn owner, "These Bethlehem December nights get kind of cold, take these blankets."
"You're very kind," said Joseph.  Mary simply whimpered.
So Joseph and Mary, and a goopy racing donkey headed to the cave. But Mary knew they couldn't wait for the doctor.  Jesus wanted to be born faster than the doctor could get here.  So Mary leaned back against a hay bale and said,
"He's comin'!"
Joseph reached out his hands and caught their son, whom they named Jesus, as he popped out of the womb. God births faster than most babies. Added to that, the boy, Jesus, never cried, not even once.   And the animals were silent.  Joseph and Mary were both amazed.
Meanwhile thousands, maybe thousands upon thousands of singing angels appeared in the barley fields where sheep slept and simple shepherds watched over them, while playing an competitive marble game.  These angels smiled deeply.  Their teeth flashed like lightening.  The angels clamored about joyfully, warming up their voices while taking their places on the celestial choir stands.  But the several weak and meek shepherds hated music, and the light from the Angels was very bright, which also irritated them.  Added to that, they had never seen Angels before, so they dropped down to the ground in fear. All-the-while, the Angels were sweetly singing o're the plain.  One big angel who called himself Michael (the shepherds, who weren't very learned, still thought to themselves that they remembered hearing about an Angel Michael from the readings in the Synagogue, and wondered if this Michael was the same Angel) tapped the shoulders of the Shepherds and said, "Don't be afraid, we're just a choir man!" The head shepherd (called the "Master Shepherd) looked up bravely at the angels.
"Go and find Jesus in the cave, he is God," said Michael the Angel. "These Bethlehemites didn't even care that this family was in the line of a very famous king, king David. And they couldn't care less that Mary's water had broken all over the racing donkey. So, he's in a cave nearby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Shouldn't take long."
Meanwhile, all the animals in the cave, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, had grown golden halos over their heads. Mary and Joseph and Jesus's halos were more pronounced though, and you could see lots of colors in theirs.
Night moved toward early dawn.  Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the recently arrived shepherds, and three wise men, whose visit surprised and confused the small family, all bowed before the manger; and swayed side to side while the angel's concert continued over them.
But it wouldn't last long...danger by the name of King Herod and his mean Roman Soldiers would upset this peaceful little scene very soon, and Mary, Joseph, a desperately young Jesus, who shouldn't be traveling yet, would have to take up their gear and their racing donkey and flee to Egypt.
to be continued...
The End

Or you could believe what I read in Revelation 12 and in Luke 2. The angels were an army...a host of them there to fiercely guard the birth of Jesus Christ. Scripture also says in Luke 2, "And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should give birth." They got there in plenty time...days ahead even, and probably not in December.

You could also understand that the word "Inn" does not mean "Hotel." If you must know, it means "House." What you should know is that the stable was attached to the house and probably in an open room next to the "living" room, so that heat could be transferred throughout the building. Simple village homes in Palestine, and in homes in that general region often owned animals but did not have separate storehouses for them, but instead kept them in an adjacent room. Homeowners brought their animals in to be cleaned, and to prevent the theft of their animals.

Homes often had a room for guests, technically called a "prophet's chamber"  (see 1 kings 17:19). The main room was a family room where they cooked and lived.

You should believe that they, being in the town of king David, in the Lineage of King David, wouldn't be treated badly. The Middle Eastern culture took (and take) their lineages very seriously.  Furthermore, this was the first census where Jews were affected and so Mary and Joseph were not alone. They were there with family most likely. Furthermore, Elizabeth lived only a short distance away, and if it really came down to it, they could go there. Mary was there for three months for cryin-out-loud. They were there for days, and another guest of a friend or family member was in the prophet's quarters, and so they slept in the living room, next to the stable. And, there was no bed for a baby in the living room, so they used a manger from the stable. Maybe they had to make some room in the stable area? It was most likely very clean.

Either way, they were there for days--no rush--no racing donkey on whom Mary's innards spilled.  In fact, there was no mention of a donkey in the story at all.

And the angels were a fierce and loyal bunch...and ready for anything. And the shepherds were sick with fright and you would be too. But the angels were there to pronounce birth of the one who would bring peace to the world, and the Shepherds had needn't not be afraid--all that is true.

Read Luke 2, Matthew 1 and Revelation 12. Then celebrate.  Celebrate confidently, and celebrate with a mighty force.

God Bless.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Library

Lapidary blue skies consumed the east and the west.
Skies of multiple universes,
mine being an eighty by one-hundred twenty-two plot.

A man walks by, reluctant steps
minding the trees
and the breeze
wishing ne'er the exercise.

I should expect my own
Beleaguered reluctance Would reach my soul
Only some years, and maybe even minutes
behind his.

I remember days when rooms full of luggers,
sheltered midwestern men,
hunkered round' and mocked.

As burlesque players might,
fomented foreign accents, New Englander's mostly,
because theirs was about the only accent
reasonably slander worthy,
those labored with hazy endings and round vowels.

"You won't get faa with that caa paaked in the yaad..."

No harm intended beyond guileless luggers, a table and some beer.

While others in malted colonial street bars of New England
hoodwinked stereotypically "those hicks" somewhere
on the crusted shoulders of I-Oh-Way.

No harm intended beyond ingenuous aquiline eyes,
some beer and a table.

Conversations somehow gave them ownership,
membership of some place,
consistent and yet continuously improvised,
There-in lay the bedrock of invention.

Simply, men closer to their independence
than most.

And Schlitz was the norm,
and a glass-full of bud wasn't more or less filling,
and that was fine.

My need for independence festers
and pours out of me like a wound.
I simply long to sit in still life
and carve shapes into the clouds.

I long for the wisp of a benevolent approver.

I found and tended the Geographer's Library,
and discovered the Cartographer's secret,

That all roads eventually lead to the want of home.

One can tell by some dark smiles
what is of joy and thankfulness
that only the honesty of experience
can bare.

And so it is with multiple universes
That some I have seen
leaves so much past.

It strikes me to think of
who deserve the nurtured
cigarette twixt the first two fingers,

Even the dying plant of summer
and the dry leaves of autumn
borne and died most for those who
dare to listen to them fall.

Lapidary skies
and dust like helium rise
in my wake
like a crematory and a dead man's bowl.

I found life in the Geographer's Library.
I flew in lapidary skies,
more free and joyful  than the reigns
of most men,
and contrails of spit, sweat and tears,
and tongue wagging happiness.

"I am trailed by so much history,"
said the geographer.
Far unlike the pendulum
and greater than the scale
The past far outweighs the present,
and only one second should be my future.

And there it is, my cartographer's rendering,
Hindsight is not twenty-twenty,
but the map doesn't lie.

Withal I stand
on nothing more than now,
on feeble legs
in my plot,
in my feathered present,

And I breath free air
and raise my hands,
flaming cigarette twixt
my deserving fingers
and I dance,

Somewhere within the Geographer's Library.