Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fire from Heaven


The bible is a mixture of history, literature and religious doctrine.  The historical perspective seeks to extract history from the mix. Judaic scripture covers a broader expanse of time. Comparatively, that which is Christian does not have as much in the way of extra-biblical verification. Nevertheless, there are passages in the Christian scripture that call attention to certain events that can be viewed in relation to archaeological or textual discovery.
The following passage refers to Pontius Pilate, Galileans and an action that Pilate with which he was associated. While much historical investigation has been dedicated to showing the existence of Jesus, this statement allows us to examine imperial doctrine as it related to conquered people.

There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

It has been shown that stories about the emperor identified him as the son of the god of war; that he was also given the title, “high priest,” for his role in promoting human sacrifice for the peace of the imperial city through the call for war, the execution of those found to be guilty of crime and the extermination of people found to be troublesome to peace in the empire (genocide).

The next citations will show that there was an imperial religion (the religion of the emperor for the people of the empire). This religion was used to identify dissidents who could have their blood “mingled with their sacrifices” for the imperial city.
Pliny the Younger was the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. He had written a letter to the Emperor Trajan around 112 CE where he described the morality of Christian religious practices, but categorized the teaching of Jesus and his followers as “excessive and contagious superstition.”

Trajan wrote back: “No search should be made for these people; when they are denounced and found guilty they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that when the party denies himself to be a Christian and shall give proof that he is not (that is by adoring our gods) he shall be pardoned on the ground of repentance, even though he may have formerly incurred suspicion.”

It was stipulated that the name of the accuser must be admitted to avoid the establishment of a precedent that would encourage anonymous accusations. While it may sound as though Trajan was being compassionate, he was clarifying that he was not seeking to exterminate all Christians. He was using the accusations against them to limit the persecution to coerce conversion to the imperial religion.

The citation from Josephus specifically describes an incident that took place between Pontius Pilate and the Jews over his placement of images of Caesar in Jerusalem:

“Pilate…brought those images to Jerusalem, and set them up there; … when the Jews petitioned him again [to remove the effigies of Caesar from Jerusalem], he gave a signal to the soldiers to surround them, and threatened that their punishment should be no less than immediate death, unless they would leave off disturbing him, and go their ways home.”  (“Jewish Antiquities,” Ch. 3:55-59) 
The Jews were threatened with death, but they stated that they would not transgress their law. Pilate withdrew the effigies of Caesar from Jerusalem to Caesarea. Another incident that occurred while Pilate was in Judah saw 4,000 Jews banished to an island.

Biblical criticism places Luke after Mark and Matthew in the order in which they had been written. It is conceivable that the sacrifice of Galileans was a reference to an event that took place after the crucifixion of Jesus.  It is unique to Luke. It was placed in the context of the gospel to record an escalation in the persecution of Christians.
Galileans were residents of Galilee. They were associated with Samarians by Judeans and with the zealots by the Romans. Galileans are mentioned as residents of Galilee in John 4:45 and Acts 2:7. Judas the Galilean is named as the leader of an unsuccessful revolt in Acts 5:37.

Julian the Apostate (331-363 CE) would come to call all Christians, Galileans.
This association of a whole group with the violent acts of a small sect has taken place in our time as well. It was common to identify “Jihad” or “holy war” as an extremist doctrine prior to the invasion of Afghanistan. Afterwards, the opposition to Jihadist doctrine came to be used as a justification for the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. The invasions served to reinforce Islamic fears that western claims to government as representative of human rights were being used as a pretense for wars of aggression.

Spirit as Fire
From Exodus 3, Psalm 63, 1Corinth 10, Luke 13.

The bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.
An angel appeared in the flame with the name
that cannot be expressed in word. It can only
be heard with faith in life:

“I am the God of your ancestors;
the one from many nations;
the laughter from unexpected events;
the champion who wins against expectations.
I AM what I AM for who I AM”
Our ancestors were under the cloud.
They passed through the sea.
They were baptized into the law
of liberty. They witnessed the flame
that burned without being consumed.
They consumed spiritual food and drink.
They drank from the Spirit
that led them to the Rock of Christ.

They were tested by trials
that called them to look beyond
the things that can be seen.
They were not tested beyond
the ability to endure the trial.
A way out was provided with the test,
so they could endure it.
They believed that the call to faith
in a better life needed to be recorded
for us in our time.

Do you think that all those
who were killed by cruelty
were worthy of punishment?
Do you believe that all those who died
in natural disaster deserved their fate?
If you should die believing that God
is cruel, you will not have experienced
what it was to live with faith in love.

Ancient Inspiration
for our ancestors,
you have become my God.
I will not be tested
beyond my strength.
I will seek you eagerly.

My soul thirsts for you.
My flesh longs for you
as in a barren land where
there is no water.
I have sought your face in a holy place
that I may give you praise for your power
and glory.

I will bless you as long as I live
and lift up my hands in your name.
You have been my helper.
I will rejoice in the shelter
that you provide for me.

When the government uses cruelty, violence or lethal force as power to establish religion, it is not good for the state or the religion. When Augustine wrote about his conversion to faith, he used the bible and classic literature from Greco-Roman civilization to guide his work. When he wrote the City of God, it was inspired but it was directed towards the establishment of Christianity as the imperial religion. Crucifixion was ended and the Coliseum was no longer used for human sacrifice after this design was instituted, but people could still be tortured, killed or over-taxed for not belonging to the imperial religion.

This practice continued beyond the boundaries of the Roman empire. While Pelagius was in error regarding the expression of belief in moral perfection, the work of Augustine was not declared as erroneous by a council because the councils were following the model for political organization that had been established within empire. There was widespread toleration for the proposition that empire had to entertain one legal religion because the emperor or a king could only adhere to one religion.
The life of Chad had been lived in the English midlands during the seventh century. His humble lifestyle helped people to believe that bishops were not elevated in order to live at the expense of the people.

Take the lowest place when invited to the party.

Chad (Ceadda) died 672 CE
"In 669, a new Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, sent by Pope Vitalian arrived in England. He immediately set off on a tour of the country, tackling abuses of which he had been forewarned. He instructed Chad to step down and Wilfrid to take over.

“According to Bede, Theodore was so impressed by Chad's show of humility that he confirmed his ordination as bishop, while insisting he step down from his position… (Chad had said that he always thought himself unworthy of the position, so he would gladly step down from it.)

"Archbishop Theodore refused to consecrate a new bishop. Instead, he recalled Chad out of his retirement at Lastingham. According to Bede, Theodore was greatly impressed by Chad's humility and holiness. This was displayed particularly in his refusal to use a horse: he insisted on walking everywhere. Despite his regard for Chad, Theodore ordered him to ride on long journeys and went so far as to lift him into the saddle on one occasion."

While there were humble clergy during the time when christianity was the religion for the state as empire or kingdom, it did not significantly reduce the propensity for sectarian strife where there was only one legal religion.

Freedom of religion was added in the first amendment to the US Constitution by James Madison. It is quite possibly the most radical proposal regarding the relations between government and religion (let alone church and state) in the history of the world. It is a human right that acknowledges the value that religion holds for teaching morality as a means for achieving civility in representative government.
The English divine right of kings had been a re-statement of the Chinese mandate from heaven. Both were attempts to justify imperial legalism, a political doctrine that promoted the severe punishment of those found guilty of crime as religious belief.

Constitutional democracy had been designed to take apart the claim to absolute power in government with the separation of powers. The international oligarchy that promotes the industry for war has undermined the ability to take down the claim. This has been accomplished with tax loopholes, breaks and government decisions that benefit the wealthiest citizens at the expense of the rest of the population. 
This juncture of history shows us that it has been the accumulation of profit with war that has motivated the elite to override social and national security concerns for their advantage. Currently, money is being used to buy decisions through lobbies, campaign contributions and propaganda communications. While the wealthiest citizens and their corporations are not paying the same proportion in taxes, the elitist advantage is being used to discount the power of the people.

There is a heaven on earth not worth our support.
Adele – Skyfall

Let the sky fall.
When it crumbles,
we will stand tall
and face it all together
at skyfall.
Individual rights are relative to the respect shown for the rights of others. Elitist privilege cannot be allowed to rule out the right to provide for basic needs. Record profits shown during hard economic times show that too much support has been given to corporations. The sequester shows that national and social security are suffering from the advantage being given to the elite.

Stand tall. Face it all together at skyfall.

Steve K.

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