As I won’t be able to get to my blog for a few days, well not much, and I am rubbish at sending cards, please consider this an e-card from CJ! This year’s card is a picture taken by the very talented Ed Woods a few days ago in Buxton: Ed is here in Cheltenham for Christmas, and I thought this was really pretty…
And my old RD.net Christmas message seems appropriate, as it covers most of my my friends and readers (the two are really mutually inclusive categories…)!
“Evening! I have been meaning to write a little Christmas post, so I will. It’s in lieu of cards – I have not been organized enough to send any of those in over the last decade. I am one of those people who is today considering buying a few presents tomorrow and will doubtless hand them to friends and loved ones mid-January. My crapness is legendary! (As I give them random gifts through the year they tend to forgive me and not lynch me!)
A long time ago, far from here, a child was born. A VERY special child, utterly unique – a child who would grow in to a wonderful, special person. A child whose life would touch many – who would laugh, love and suffer.
Schmaltzy it may be, but we are all unique. It does not matter if we knew our parents, have big families or no one in the world – we are each absolutely unique, and absolutely worthy, at least potentially. We are all in a sense special, from the most disorganized old pseud like me, to the most brilliant scientists. We have one life (Buddhists and other reincarnationists please forgive this claim!) and one chance to be happy, and make others happy in this world.
At the risk of being banned or warned i’ll do a brief preachy bit: I believe in the radical equality of worth of every human being. The baby Jesus grew up to teach us that we should love one another, as God loves us all: crap will happen to us all, as he reminded us that the rain falls on the good and bad alike, but we are all worthy of love. Those who deny the value of others, the hypocrites who are without compassion, deserve to be spoken against – but our love should extend to even our enemies. It’s hard to be enemies with someone you love.
Now this love thing is pretty hard, and lets face it we all get it wrong. You try not to hold grudges, you try to be understanding and rational, but as Schiller remarked “with stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain”. My personal struggle is with people who say “love the sinner, hate the sin”. I can see the logic, but so often it means condemn you for what you are, and feel good about it. That’s pretty sick.
Now you don’t need religion to decide we are all special and unique – genetically it’s true, and physically it’s true, and mentally it’s true. Every death diminished us, as John Donne reminded us – priceless experiences lost. However, all too often, we forget that fact.
And right now, here is my Christmas thought, in true Jerry Springer style. You are special, and worthy of love, and deserve good things. We are always being told to love others, our enemies etc, but hell, this Christmas be good to yourselves. I joke about how rubbish I am, but I’m completely happy being CJ, and you should all love yourselves. (Well maybe not literally and physically, at least in public; don’t want you spending Christmas in jail!). Remember, it’s hard to love others if you don’t like yourself. You are in my experience a wonderful wild and wacky bunch, and I hope you all realize how special you really are!
Now I don’t think Prof Dawkin’s would disagree with me on this. This week I re-read The Selfish Gene, and it struck me I agree with the Prof here. You all know by know that I equate “original sin” with the selfish genes, our inherited mammalian traits, and you all know that I think we can rise above petty territorialism, self aggrandizement and aggression to build a better, more rational world. I’m no speceist – I love trees, lichen, moths, cats and the city streets – but humans have a unique ability, according to the Prof and to I, to rise above our genetic imperatives. Read that famous last chapter of The Selfish Gene again, the one detractors so often ignore, and you will see that humanity has a unique chance to shape their evolution, to forge their future, to have a society in no way “red in tooth and claw” – a special dignity. As far as we know so far, we are pretty unique in this as a species – so let’s not blow it dudes!
So love yourselves guys, and be good to yourselves this Christmas time.
It only remains to say to you all have a wonderful festive season, and a splendid annual rotation of the sun to follow!
Happy (insert whatever you want to celebrate!) “
and for those with a sense of humour, a favourite story of mine, by HH Munro – Saki – now long out of copyright…
Respectfully dedicated to my pagan. psychical research and occultist mates…
The She Wolf
By Saki (HH Munro)
LEONARD BILSITER was one of those people who have failed to find this world attractive or interesting, and who have sought compensation in an “unseen world” of their own experience or imagination – or invention. Children do that sort of thing successfully, but children are content to convince themselves, and do not vulgarise their beliefs by trying to convince other people. Leonard Bilsiter’s beliefs were for “the few,” that is to say, anyone who would listen to him.
His dabblings in the unseen might not have carried him beyond the customary platitudes of the drawing-room visionary if accident had not reinforced his stock-in- trade of mystical lore. In company with a friend, who was interested in a Ural mining concern, he had made a trip across Eastern Europe at a moment when the great Russian railway strike was developing from a threat to a reality; its outbreak caught him on the return journey, somewhere on the further side of Perm, and it was while waiting for a couple of days at a wayside station in a state of suspended locomotion that he made the acquaintance of a dealer in harness and metalware, who profitably whiled away the tedium of the long halt by initiating his English traveling companion in a fragmentary system of folk-lore that he had picked up from Trans-Baikal traders and natives. Leonard returned to his home circle garrulous about his Russian strike experiences, but oppressively reticent about certain dark mysteries, which he alluded to under the resounding title of Siberian Magic. The reticence wore off in a week or two under the influence of an entire lack of general curiosity, and Leonard began to make more detailed allusions to the enormous powers which this new esoteric force, to use his own description of it, conferred on the initiated few who knew how to wield it. His aunt, Cecilia Hoops, who loved sensation perhaps rather better than she loved the truth, gave him as clamorous an advertisement as anyone could wish for by retailing an account of how he had turned a vegetable marrow into a wood pigeon before her very eyes. As a manifestation of the possession of supernatural powers, the story was discounted in some quarters by the respect accorded to Mrs. Hoops’ powers of imagination.
However divided opinion might be on the question of Leonard’s status as a wonder-worker or a charlatan, he certainly arrived at Mary Hampton’s house-party with a reputation for pre-eminence in one or other of those professions, and he was not disposed to shun such publicity as might fall to his share. Esoteric forces and unusual powers figured largely in whatever conversation he or his aunt had a share in, and his own performances, past and potential, were the subject of mysterious hints and dark avowals.
“I wish you would turn me into a wolf, Mr. Bilsiter,” said his hostess at luncheon the day after his arrival.
“My dear Mary,” said Colonel Hampton, “I never knew you had a craving in that direction.”
“A she-wolf, of course,” continued Mrs. Hampton; it would be too confusing to change one’s sex as well as one’s species at a moment’s notice.”
“I don’t think one should jest on these subjects,” said Leonard.
“I’m not jesting, I’m quite serious, I assure you. Only don’t do it to-day; we have only eight available bridge players, and it would break up one of our tables. To-morrow we shall be a larger party. To-morrow night, after dinner – “
“In our present imperfect understanding of these hidden forces I think one should approach them with humbleness rather than mockery,” observed Leonard, with such severity that the subject was forthwith dropped.
Clovis Sangrail had sat unusually silent during the discussion on the possibilities of Siberian Magic; after lunch he side-tracked Lord Pabham into the comparative seclusion of the billiard-room and delivered himself of a searching question.
“Have you such a thing as a she-wolf in your collection of wild animals? A she-wolf of moderately good temper?”
Lord Pabham considered. “There is Loiusa,” he said, “a rather fine specimen of the timber-wolf. I got her two years ago in exchange for some Arctic foxes. Most of my animals get to be fairly tame before they’ve been with me very long; I think I can say Louisa has an angelic temper, as she-wolves go. Why do you ask?”
“I was wondering whether you would lend her to me for to-morrow night,” said Clovis, with the careless solicitude of one who borrows a collar stud or a tennis racquet.
“Yes, wolves are nocturnal animals, so the late hours won’t hurt her,” said Clovis, with the air of one who has taken everything into consideration; “one of your men could bring her over from Pabham Park after dusk, and with a little help he ought to be able to smuggle her into the conservatory at the same moment that Mary Hampton makes an unobtrusive exit.”
Lord Pabham stared at Clovis for a moment in pardonable bewilderment; then his face broke into a wrinkled network of laughter.
“Oh, that’s your game, is it? You are going to do a little Siberian Magic on your own account. And is Mrs. Hampton willing to be a fellow-conspirator?”
“Mary is pledged to see me through with it, if you will guarantee Louisa’s temper.”
“I’ll answer for Louisa,” said Lord Pabham.
By the following day the house-party had swollen to larger proportions, and Bilsiter’s instinct for self- advertisement expanded duly under the stimulant of an increased audience. At dinner that evening he held forth at length on the subject of unseen forces and untested powers, and his flow of impressive eloquence continued unabated while coffee was being served in the drawing- room preparatory to a general migration to the card-room.
His aunt ensured a respectful hearing for his utterances, but her sensation-loving soul hankered after something more dramatic than mere vocal demonstration.
“Won’t you do something to CONVINCE them of your powers, Leonard?” she pleaded; “change something into another shape. He can, you know, if he only chooses to,” she informed the company.
“Oh, do,” said Mavis Pellington earnestly, and her request was echoed by nearly everyone present. Even those who were not open to conviction were perfectly willing to be entertained by an exhibition of amateur conjuring.
Leonard felt that something tangible was expected of him.
“Has anyone present,” he asked, “got a three-penny bit or some small object of no particular value -?”
“You’re surely not going to make coins disappear, or something primitive of that sort?” said Clovis contemptuously.
“I think it very unkind of you not to carry out my suggestion of turning me into a wolf,” said Mary Hampton, as she crossed over to the conservatory to give her macaws their usual tribute from the dessert dishes.
“I have already warned you of the danger of treating these powers in a mocking spirit,” said Leonard solemnly.
“I don’t believe you can do it,” laughed Mary provocatively from the conservatory; “I dare you to do it if you can. I defy you to turn me into a wolf.”
As she said this she was lost to view behind a clump of azaleas.
“Mrs. Hampton – ” began Leonard with increased solemnity, but he got no further. A breath of chill air seemed to rush across the room, and at the same time the macaws broke forth into ear-splitting screams.
“What on earth is the matter with those confounded birds, Mary?” exclaimed Colonel Hampton; at the same moment an even more piercing scream from Mavis Pellington stampeded the entire company from their seats. In various attitudes of helpless horror or instinctive defence they confronted the evil-looking grey beast that was peering at them from amid a setting of fern and azalea.
Mrs. Hoops was the first to recover from the general chaos of fright and bewilderment.
“Leonard!” she screamed shrilly to her nephew, “turn it back into Mrs. Hampton at once! It may fly at us at any moment. Turn it back!”
“I – I don’t know how to,” faltered Leonard, who looked more scared and horrified than anyone.
“What!” shouted Colonel Hampton, “you’ve taken the abominable liberty of turning my wife into a wolf, and now you stand there calmly and say you can’t turn her back again!”
To do strict justice to Leonard, calmness was not a distinguishing feature of his attitude at the moment.
“I assure you I didn’t turn Mrs. Hampton into a wolf; nothing was farther from my intentions,” he protested.
“Then where is she, and how came that animal into the conservatory?” demanded the Colonel.
“Of course we must accept your assurance that you didn’t turn Mrs. Hampton into a wolf,” said Clovis politely, “but you will agree that appearances are against you.”
“Are we to have all these recriminations with that beast standing there ready to tear us to pieces?” wailed Mavis indignantly.
“Lord Pabham, you know a good deal about wild beasts – ” suggested Colonel Hampton.
“The wild beasts that I have been accustomed to,” said Lord Pabham, “have come with proper credentials from well-known dealers, or have been bred in my own menagerie. I’ve never before been confronted with an animal that walks unconcernedly out of an azalea bush, leaving a charming and popular hostess unaccounted for. As far as one can judge from OUTWARD characteristics,” he continued, “it has the appearance of a well-grown female of the North American timber-wolf, a variety of the common species CANIS LUPUS.”
“Oh, never mind its Latin name,” screamed Mavis, as the beast came a step or two further into the room; “can’t you entice it away with food, and shut it up where it can’t do any harm?”
“If it is really Mrs. Hampton, who has just had a very good dinner, I don’t suppose food will appeal to it very strongly,” said Clovis.
“Leonard,” beseeched Mrs. Hoops tearfully, “even if this is none of your doing can’t you use your great powers to turn this dreadful beast into something harmless before it bites us all – a rabbit or something?”
“I don’t suppose Colonel Hampton would care to have his wife turned into a succession of fancy animals as though we were playing a round game with her,” interposed Clovis.
“I absolutely forbid it,” thundered the Colonel.
“Most wolves that I’ve had anything to do with have been inordinately fond of sugar,” said Lord Pabham; “if you like I’ll try the effect on this one.”
He took a piece of sugar from the saucer of his coffee cup and flung it to the expectant Louisa, who snapped it in mid-air. There was a sigh of relief from the company; a wolf that ate sugar when it might at the least have been employed in tearing macaws to pieces had already shed some of its terrors. The sigh deepened to a gasp of thanks-giving when Lord Pabham decoyed the animal out of the room by a pretended largesse of further sugar. There was an instant rush to the vacated conservatory. There was no trace of Mrs. Hampton except the plate containing the macaws’ supper.
“The door is locked on the inside!” exclaimed Clovis, who had deftly turned the key as he affected to test it.
Everyone turned towards Bilsiter.
“If you haven’t turned my wife into a wolf,” said Colonel Hampton, “will you kindly explain where she has disappeared to, since she obviously could not have gone through a locked door? I will not press you for an explanation of how a North American timber-wolf suddenly appeared in the conservatory, but I think I have some right to inquire what has become of Mrs. Hampton.”
Bilsiter’s reiterated disclaimer was met with a general murmur of impatient disbelief.
“I refuse to stay another hour under this roof,” declared Mavis Pellington.
“If our hostess has really vanished out of human form,” said Mrs. Hoops, “none of the ladies of the party can very well remain. I absolutely decline to be chaperoned by a wolf!”
“It’s a she-wolf,” said Clovis soothingly.
The correct etiquette to be observed under the unusual circumstances received no further elucidation. The sudden entry of Mary Hampton deprived the discussion of its immediate interest.
“Some one has mesmerised me,” she exclaimed crossly; “I found myself in the game larder, of all places, being fed with sugar by Lord Pabham. I hate being mesmerised, and the doctor has forbidden me to touch sugar.”
The situation was explained to her, as far as it permitted of anything that could be called explanation.
“Then you REALLY did turn me into a wolf, Mr. Bilsiter?” she exclaimed excitedly.
But Leonard had burned the boat in which he might now have embarked on a sea of glory. He could only shake his head feebly.
“It was I who took that liberty,” said Clovis; “you see, I happen to have lived for a couple of years in North-Eastern Russia, and I have more than a tourist’s acquaintance with the magic craft of that region. One does not care to speak about these strange powers, but once in a way, when one hears a lot of nonsense being talked about them, one is tempted to show what Siberian magic can accomplish in the hands of someone who really understands it. I yielded to that temptation. May I have some brandy? the effort has left me rather faint.”
If Leonard Bilsiter could at that moment have transformed Clovis into a cockroach, and then have stepped on him, he would gladly have performed both operations.
Well, anyone who does not know that cj.23 or Jerome is me, is probably not going to be excited by my blog anyhow! And having finally worked out how to change the title, I thought I would. If anyone wants to know where the title is from -
Lather by Jefferson Airplane.
Lyrics (c) RCA Music.
Lather was thirty years old today,
They took away all of his toys.
His mother sent newspaper clippings to him,
About his old friends who’d stopped being boys.
There was Harwitz E. Green, just turned thirty-three,
His leather chair waits at the bank.
And Sergeant Dow Jones, twenty-seven years old,
Commanding his very own tank.
But Lather still finds it a nice thing to do,
To lie about nude in the sand,
Drawing pictures of mountains that look like bumps,
And thrashing the air with his hands.
But wait, oh Lather’s productive you know,
He produces the finest of sound,
Putting drumsticks on either side of his nose,
Snorting the best licks in town,
But that’s all over…
Lather was thirty years old today,
And Lather came foam from his tongue.
He looked at me eyes wide and plainly said,
Is it true that I’m no longer young?
And the children call him famous,
what the old men call insane,
And sometimes he’s so nameless,
That he hardly knows which game to play…
Which words to say…
And I should have told him, “No, you’re not old.”
And I should have let him go on…smiling…baby-wide.
As far as I know it was written for Skip Spence’s thirtieth: “never trust anyone over thirty” was a hippy motto, but I still, after my years with the Nameless Anarchist Horde and roleplaying games, find it strangely apt and moving. It ended my set at the Axiom, on the goth night I dj’d to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, a great track to go home too. Yes I used to be a goth dj! Indeed do many things come to pass!
I’m a huge fan of Jefferson Airplane as my friends all know, and if you are wondering what they sound like – amazingly diverse is the simple answer. But here is Lather! Do have a listen…
It seems bizarre to many that some people believe that Jesus never existed. Not Jesus the figure of faith, miracle working Son of God – nope – even a historical holy man Jesus, who inspired the stories in the bible. Many honestly believe it is all made up. They are almost certainly wrong, and this is probably down to peoples lack of understanding of how historians work. This is not a religious question, not one of faith, but one of history, and historians atheist, Jewish, Hindu or Christian can all agree on this. Hey, let me start at the beginning…
Spending a lot of time as I do chatting on hard core sceptic and atheist forums (and yes I’m a sceptic myself, but a Christian as it happens) I was increasingly bewildered in the middle years of this decade to find a massive upswing in the belief that Jesus who inspired the Christian faith never existed, but was a mythical construct, or based on earlier pagan redeemer figures. This is a position taken seriously by no mainstream historian, and complete rot, but after the QI Christmas special in which the usual Mithras crap was spouted and Stephen Fry put attempts to put the record straight down to Christian propaganda I was outraged enough to become combative and actually engage the “Christ Mythers”, that is not Christians, but people who deny there was a Historical Jesus.
I was astonished by the vehemence, ignorance and appallingly bad scholarship which met my early attempts, though the JREF forum (James Randi Educational Foundation Forum) had long since been a place where this nonsense was attacked, as befits a sceptical community, and after a couple of years anyone arguing it on Richard Dawkins forum is likely to get shot down – but the real change there came where Timothy O Neil an Australian atheist joined me and made a principled stand against this nonsense.
* Pliny the Younger, writing in Bithynia c.111AD Pliny is concerned about how to handle an outbreak of Christianity in his region. He writes to the Emperor Trajan, and the relevant part for our inquiry is
“They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
This merely shows Christ was worshiped in Asia Minor, and a reference later in the letter says that some has apostatized up to twenty five years before, so the churches were established there by c.85AD, and probably before. I don’t think Paul ever got this far north.
You can read the whole letter (and Trajan’s response) here
and the excellent historical resource Peter Kirby’s Early Christian Writings website has a couple of links to articles on this letter.
Trajan’s response was
“You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.”
It seems that Trajan was well aware of Christians, and that some persecution occurred presumably as a threat to the State through their “atheism” as it was usually termed. Beyond establishing that Christ was worshiped as God this comparatively early stage, it leads us no closer to the Historical Jesus, but it seemed as good a point as any to begin!
Let’s move on to Suetonius, 115CE
Early Christian Writings ( http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/suetonius.html ) is excellent as usual here – so it seems pointless for me to rehash what is said already there.
Suetonius wrote in The Life of Claudius (25.4)
“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”
He also notes the presence of Christians -
“Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition “
Now Claudius from 41 to 54CE, so is this Chrestus actually Christus, Christ? Did rows in the synagogue (and recall Christianity was still part of Judaism at this point) lead to the expulsion? It seems not unlikely, and agrees with the account in Acts. Traditionally dated to 49CE, this event is probably within twenty years of the crucifixion so very early – but its not certain. the instigation of Chrestus seems to imply someone alive, but if Suetonius who was writing some seventy years later was using a lost source, it would be an easy mistake to make. I think this probably does represent the earliest Christian missions to Rome – and yet again, it brings us no closer to the Historical Jesus…
Nero ruled from 54 to 68CE. As we shall see other references exist tot he Christian community in his reign in Rome.
Tacitus, Annals – c.115AD
Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”
It probably goes without saying that Early Christian Writings is the best place http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/tacitus.html to start your evaluation.
The possibility this is a Christian interpolation strikes me as highly unlikely – we have an independent reference to Neronic persecution in Suetonius (see above) and it is very unflattering. However none of the Christian Church Fathers make mention of it . It strikes me as entirely probable. Note Pilate is described as a Procurator, but in fact was a Proconsul, a simple enough error, Tacitus using a contemporary title resulting in this anachronism.
The absolutely central issue here is where Tacitus got his information from. It may well have been a Roman source, as Christian sources are unlikely to express these kinds of feelings, and Tacitus appears to have despised Christians. One can’t help feel Tacitus had some early reference from which he worked for the Neronic persecution at least — the references to public sympathy brought about by the persecution have that feel.
A common claim I often see is that it is odd that none of the Church Fathers mention the Neronic persecution (they do) or Tacitus’ mention of it. I may as well address it briefly here before proceeding.
Eusebius cites the Church Father, Tertullian (155-230), Defence 5
“Study your records: there you will find that Nero was the first to persecute this teaching when, after subjugating the entire East, in Rome he especially he treated everyone with savagery. That such a man was author of our chastisement fills us with pride. For anyone who knows him knows him can understand that anything not supremely good would never have been condemned by Nero.”
I think that Tertullian is here drawing directly on Tacitus, and his account (cited above) of the Neronic persecution. I may be wrong, but “Study your records” implies that Tertullian was referring to a Roman authority, and Suetonius or Tacitus fit the bill, and Tacitus best.
Phlegon of Tralles, c130-160??? EDIT: or possibly much earlier, writing circa 80CE – see links for detailed discussion.
Jerome wrote –
Jesus Christ, according to the prophecies which had been foretold about him beforehand, came to his passion in the eighteenth year of Tiberius, at which time also we find these things written verbatim in other commentaries of the gentiles, that an eclipse of the sun happened, Bithynia was shaken by earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings collapsed, all of which agree with what occurred in the passion of the savior. Indeed Phlegon, who is an excellent calculator of olympiads, also writes about these things, writing thus in his thirteenth book:
(Phlegon) – “In the fourth year, however, of olympiad 202,* an eclipse of the sun happened, greater and more excellent than any that had happened before it; at the sixth hour, day turned into dark night, so that the stars were seen in the sky, and an earthquake in Bithynia toppled many buildings of the city of Nicaea. These things [are according to] the aforementioned man.”
The events referred to are from 32CE, a possible date for the Crucifixion and darkening of the sky. Yet in Jerome’s translation Jesus is never mentioned! My suspicion is that he was referring to Jesus, and that Jerome was honest here, as that is his implication. However Phlegon was clearly extremely credulous and loved fortean phenomena – see his
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phlegon_of_Tralles – Wikipedia entry
, so I hesitate to put much emphasis on him. Still he mentioned Jesus and prophecies fulfilled, and was a secular historian. Good technical discussion complete with excellent links and analysis to be found on Textcavation –
This brings us to Thallus, writing somewhere between 50 and 150CE
The key passage here by being quoted by Julius Africanus in alost work, but quoted by George Syncellus in a 9th century text! Does not inspire confidence does it, but very normal for recovering historical data
Here is the passage from Africanus –
“A most terrible darkness fell over all the world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake, and many places both in Judaea and the rest of the world were thrown down. In the third book of his Histories Thallus dismisses this darkness as a solar eclipse, unreasonably, as it seems to me. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on Luna 14, and what happened to the Saviour occurred one day before the Passover. But an eclipse of the sun takes place when the moon passes under the sun. The only time when this can happen is in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last day of the old moon, when they are in conjunction. How then could one believe an eclipse took place when the moon was almost in opposition to the sun? So be it. Let what had happened beguile the masses, and let this wonderful sign to the world be considered a solar eclipse through an optical [illusion]. Phlegon records that during the reign of Tiberius Caesar there was a complete solar eclipse at full moon from the sixth to the ninth hour; it is clear that this is the one. But what have eclipses to do with an earthquake, rocks breaking apart, resurrection of the dead, and a universal disturbance of this nature”
There are three good sources for study of this – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thallus_%28historian%29 Wikipedia is succinct and good , but also see
Textcavation and for all you atheists out there the generally very sound Richard Carrier.
I don’t aim to make any real judgements myself at this point, just chronicle the key texts, but I will end here for today. More tonight or tomorrow!