Marinduque Island native reaching out for general awareness that our inhabitants have a lot to share with the outside world culturally and environmentally but we must be supported and helped regain our own battered consciousness. Alternative views & pills offered.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


The municipality of Buenavista, the smallest of Marinduque's (still a fourth class province huh), six towns, is located on the southwestern portion of the island-province facing the Tablas Strait. It is populated by 19,607 inhabitants who speak Tagalog with a blend of Masbate and Romblon dialectic influences. Main industries are fishing, farming and trade. It is back-dropped by Malindig Volcano that rises up to 1,157 meters and where the last bastion of biodiversity on this island still thrives on the final 200 meter ascent. Advanced mountain climbers still rise up to the challenge of scaling this majestic mountain (Malindig means steep and elegant). Local folklore foretells of this volcano as the place of 'golden underground cities'. Sightings of golden ships anchored at its foot where the mountain meets the sea still abound in this day and age - the most recent sighting was on Holy Wednesday 2006, when the ship magically attracted thousands of fish sold the next day at P 5.00 per kilo! The fisherfolks wouldn't stop telling you the story...

Malbog Sulfuric Springs some 2 km. away from the town proper await health buffs who find the therapeutic and relaxing effect of hot springs a must when visiting old Buenavista. Other places of interest are the Lourdes Grotto in Sapinit that offers a remarkably good view of the volcano and the Malindig foothills, the beaten coastal path to Libas, Lipata and Yook characteriuzed by a mix of steep cliffs, rocky beaches, smaller coves and quietude interrupted only by the sound of queer birds, wild cats (musang), and monkeys. Elefante Island that once boasted of an exclusive beach club, now gone, but slowly being resurrected, could be visited and its small strip of coral beach could still be enjoyed. The view of the volcano from this island has graced many travel magazines. Bagtingon's cottage industries, backyard butterfly cages in many houses and Bulusucan Falls interest summer visitors and who care for some privacy.


  • At 3:36 AM, Blogger Avram bin Abraham said…

    10 Tevet 5767
    Sunday, December 31, 2006.
    This is a basic overview of all the Jewish history -- all 4,000 years of it.
    Usually when one mentions the word "history" most people break out in a cold sweat. They remember back to high school and they associate history with the memorization of names, dates, places and events necessary only for exams and then promptly forgotten afterwards. This is probably why Mark Twain said, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education."
    So before we actually begin talking about Jewish history, let's talk a little bit about why we need to learn history in the first place. What is history? What benefit does learning history serve?
    History is, first of all, the testing ground of ideas. In the words of Lord Henry Bolingbroke (1678-1751): "History is philosophy with examples." We can talk in theory about ideas, but the passage of time clearly shows us which ideas are right or wrong --what works and what doesn't. So, for instance, a hundred years ago a Communist and a Capitalist could debate which system would dominate the world, but recent history has shown us that Communism has failed and Capitalism continues to flourish.
    There's a tremendous amount of lessons that can be learned from history. As the Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it."
    So the basic reason to learn history, in general, is that people, more or less, are always the same. Empires rise and fall, technology might change, the geopolitical realities of the world might change, but people tend to do the same stupid things over and over again. And unless we learn from the past and remember it, and apply those lessons for the future, we're destined to get stuck in the same rut and repeat the same mistakes over and over.
    This theme applies to Jewish history as well. The Torah teaches:

    Remember the days of old; understand the years of generation after generation. Ask your father and he will relate to you, your elders and they will tell you (Deut. 32:7).
    But Judaism also introduced a concept into human history that is revolutionary in all aspects, particularly in the aspect of morality and the notion of history in general -- the idea of an infinite God who acts in history.
    The Jewish conception of God is that of Creator, Sustainer and Supervisor, which means not a God who created the world and then went on vacation to Miami, but an infinite Being who is actively involved in creation. To put it more philosophically: The entire physical world is a creation of God's consciousness. The universe has no independent existence outside of God "willing" it to exist.
    Everything in the universe is under God's control -- from the quantum to the cosmic. This has monumental implications for the events that take place on the tiny speck in the universe that we call Earth. If God knows and controls everything, then history is a controlled process leading to a destination.
    Since God is the cosmic scriptwriter, director and producer, the events of human history are not random. This is a story with a plot -- a goal. This means we're headed for a specific destination; there is a finish line.
    Before we begin to look at Jewish history we should first step back and get a sense of big picture-the basic outline of both the plot and the timeframe for history.
    The Dawn of History
    We begin counting the Jewish Year One from the creation of Adam who is seen as the physical and spiritual pinnacle in terms of the creation of the world.
    As the Book of Genesis relates it, Adam was created on the sixth day in the process of creation, more than 5760 years ago. (The year 2000 of the Common Era is equivalent to the year 5760 in the Hebrew calendar)
    Adam is unique among the other creatures, inhabiting the earth not just because he gives rise to such an amazingly innovative group of descendants, but because Adam is created b'tzelem Elohim, "in the image of God." (Genesis 1:26) This means he has a soul -- a neshama -- a higher, spiritual, intellectual essence. This Divine spark is the God-like essence we human beings all have.
    Once Adam is completed, God then, so to speak, takes off His cosmic watch, hands it to Adam and says, "Now we switch to earth time." A day becomes a revolution of the earth on its axis, a year is the earth going round the sun once, etc. According to Jewish chronology, God took off His watch more than 5760 years ago.(1)
    There is a profound lesson rooted in the idea of starting the Jewish calendar from the completion of Adam. Just as the movie director starts the cameras rolling when the big actors show up on the set (even though years of preparation may have gone into the project before the actual filming starts), so too does God start His earth clock when Adam appears on the planet. The lesson to be learned form this is that the focus of creation is humanity. God creates an entire universe for human beings. The ultimate question is then, why are we here? What is the purpose of creation?
    Many people believe that God needs us so He created man to serve Him. This is not the Jewish perspective on creation. If God is infinite, then He has no needs or wants. He lacks nothing and there is absolutely nothing we can do for Him. So why were we created?
    One of the most fundamental ideas in Judaism is that God created us give us the ultimate gift: a relationship with Himself, transcendence (in Hebrew the word is dvekut - attachment). Connecting to God is the ultimate form of relationship and that which our soul ultimately yearns for. Every pleasure we experience and every meaningful relationship we make in this world is just a small taste of the ultimate relationship of our soul with our creator. (see: Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Derech Hashem I:2:1)
    That is what the Garden of Eden is all about. It is not, as it is so often portrayed in art, some kind of tropical Club Med. Rather it is the ideal physical-spiritual reality where human beings are freed from all the things that distract them: bills, shopping, carpools etc and are totally focused on achieving the purpose of creation: elevating ourselves and the world around us to the highest possible relationship with God.
    The plot line of human history should have been very straightforward: God places us in a perfect environment where are free to do that which we were created for. We spend the rest of history hanging out in the Garden, perfecting creation and building relationship with God.
    Unfortunately something went badly wrong. Beginning with Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of knowledge, the relationship began to fall apart. Humanity found it too difficult to maintain a relationship with an invisible God. People felt that showing respect to the various visible forces of nature, created by God, would be the way to indirectly show respect to God Himself. What happened however was that within a few generations worship of God was replaced by worship of nature: the sun, the moon the trees... God was forgotten and idol worship was practiced by all. The whole purpose of creation was lost. It is this breakdown of the relationship with God that categorizes the early history described in the Bible. (see Breishis Rabbah 23:10; Mishnah Torah, The Laws of Idol Worship 1:1)
    The Biblical narrative describes how this spiritual decline continues for more than a millennia and a half, until we get to the story of the Flood. The basic plot of this story is straight forward: The purpose of creation is relationship with God. That relationship was totally lost so God decided to "clean out" the world, sparing only Noah (who, alone, maintained a relationship with God). The hope was that Noah would repopulate the world and rebuild the relationship. It doesn't work and humanity continues to decline until the Tower of Babel. The focus of that story is humanity united for all the wrong reasons: to rebel against God. (See Talmud, Sanhedrin 109a) Already by this point in the Book of Genesis things are not going well for humanity. It looks as if God will have no choice but to destroy the world and start again from scratch. But when all seems lost along came one man who changed the course of history.
    Abraham's Mission
    Abraham is great for two reasons. In an almost entirely polytheistic world that has completely lost its relationship with God, Abraham, using only the power of his intellect, chose to see the reality of one God. When we first meet Abraham in the Bible in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 12:1), he is already 75 years old. This may well have been the first time that God spoke to him! This would mean that until that point, Abraham lived his whole life without prophecy, without any kind of outside confirmation that his ideology of monotheism was correct, and this says a lot about Abraham's dedication to truth. (See Talmud, Nedarim 32a)
    Abraham is the ultimate truth-seeker. Now can you imagine being the only person in the world to believe in idea that no one else can comprehend or accept? None of us would have the chutzpah to even whisper this idea to our best friends.
    This brings me to second half of Abraham's greatness. He doesn't care what anyone else thinks. He says "I choose to dedicate my life to ultimate cause; to bring humanity back to the purpose of creation-back to relationship with God." He was even willing to give his life for God. Not because God needs anyone to die for him. (God is infinite-you can't do anything for him), but rather because Abraham understood that without this relationship with God humanity is doomed. This gives us a little indication of Abraham's greatness and his idealism. He did not mind standing alone on the "other side" -- and that is the meaning of the word Ivri, in Hebrew. (see Breishis Rabbah 42:13) He stood on the other side, alone against the entire world.
    This also explains what the concept of "Chosen People" is all about. Abraham, so to speak, says to God: "I choose to live with the reality of you and to bring all of humanity back to that reality." God then says to Abraham: "Then I choose you, and your descendants." What are the Jewish people chosen for? It's not for privilege (although it is a great privilege to be Jewish) but for responsibility. What's the responsibility? In Hebrew the term is called Tikkun Olam, "Fix the World." It is the ultimate cause -- to bring humanity back to the purpose of creation and create the most spiritually/morally perfect world possible. This is the national-historic mission of the Jewish people.
    If we understand the purpose of creation and Abraham's mission then the rest of our plot line for human history is pretty straightforward: Humanity returns to God with the Jewish people leading the way.
    If we understand this concept of the Jewish people leading the way then what happens to the Jewish people in history begins to make sense. When we talk about the Jewish people leading the way it means that they are out in front, like the point man in an infantry unit out on patrol. Just as the point man's job is to the lead the unit and avoid danger, so too the Jewish people's special role in history is to lead humanity to its goal. Just as the point man faces extra danger because he's out in front with added responsibility, so too the Jewish people have always faced unique challenges and danger. To understand this analogy is to understand what is really behind anti-Semitism and the outrageous double standard that Israel and the Jewish people are always judged by.(2) Because the Jews chose for themselves this unique responsibility, they will never be allowed to be like anyone else. The prophet Balaam said it best: "It is a nation that dwells alone and is not reckoned amongst the nations." (Numbers 23:9)
    If we would chart the historical progress of humanity's return to God with the Jewish people leading the way, it would look very much like of graph of Wall Street since 1930: There have been big ups and downs but the overall picture is one of tremendous growth. So too with our story. 3,700 years ago Abraham was virtually the only person who believed in one God.(3) Today there are billions of people, Christians and Moslems, who believe in worldview that is based on Judaism. We still have a ways to go, but humanity has been radically changed by ideas introduced by Abraham almost 4,000 years ago.(4)
    Jewish Time
    The traditional Jewish understanding of the flow of history is similar to that found in all great epic stories: The plot unfolds within a finite time frame and is a clearly delineated into a beginning, a middle and an end. In the broadest of strokes the Talmud, in tractate Sanhedrin 97a, lays out the basic themes and periods of history:
    The world is to exist for six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era...
    The six thousand years mentioned in the Talmud is not calculated from creation of the universe, but rather from the birth of Adam and mirrors the weekly cycle. Just as the Jewish week begins on Sunday and runs through Friday, so too is human history is to comprise a maximum(5) of six millennia of history as we know it. At the end of this weekly cycle we enter the Sabbath, a day of spirituality and rest, so too after a maximum of 6,000 years of history humanity will enter the seventh millennium called "the World to Come," in Hebrew "Olam Haba." The World to Come is synonymous with the Garden of Eden and represents the culmination of the process of returning to God and perfecting the world (see Derech Hashem 1:3:4)
    We see from this quote in the Talmud that these 6,000 years are further subdivided into three 2,000 years periods each with its own theme. The first 2,000 years, from Adam to the Tower of Babel is called desolation. The theme of this period: Humanity is spiritually desolate and has no relationship with God.
    The second 2,000 year period, from Abraham to the completion of Mishnah c 240C.E, is called Torah. The theme of this period is Jewish national history in the Land of Israel and the flourishing of Torah (the Law).
    The final 2,000 year period, from 240C.E. until the year 6,000 (the year 2,240 C.E.), is called Messiah. The theme of this final phase is humanity's return to God (led by the Jewish people). At the end of this period, but before the year 6,000, comes the Messianic Era which is the final preparatory stage before humanity enters the World to Come.(6)

    So where do we, today, fit into this traditional chronology? We are in the final 2,000 year period. Specifically, at the end of the sixth millennium, Friday late afternoon, close to the approach of the Sabbath. From the Jewish perspective we are standing at the edge of history, rapidly approaching the final climatic chapter of human history that precedes the final redemption.
    Cycles in History
    Another profound consequence of the Jewish conception of God is the concept of cycles in history. For thousands of years, through the early 20th century, the ancient Greek conception of time held sway: time has always existed and goes on forever. There is no beginning or end sort of like running on a treadmill-you work hard, but ultimately you go no where. The ancient Greeks (and other Pagan cultures) also believed that the gods created humans to serve them. You were putty in their hands with no control over your destiny. In ancient Greek literature the theme of tragedy is the futility of fighting against your fate. Combine these two concepts, the infinity of time and fatalism and you come up with a very negative and un-empowering view of history and destiny: you're not really going anywhere and your decisions don't matter.
    The Jewish take on destiny and history was radically different. It looks something like this:
    Like a giant slinky opened up, this form represents the idea of repetition that is not static. This is how Judaism understands both the holiday and history cycles work. While other nation's holidays are purely commemorations of past historical events, Jewish holidays, while commemorating the past, are also opportunities for the future. Each holiday in the yearly cycle has a specific theme-a unique spiritual power associated with it: Passover is the holiday of freedom/free will; Succoth is the holiday of joy/how to properly use the physical world. As we travel through this yearly cycle and encounter these holidays, we are supposed to grow in our understanding of these basic concepts similar to getting a yearly software upgrade. If we miss the opportunity, we have to wait till it comes around next year. The idea is that we are not static we move forward, we grow.
    This is also how the history cycle works. Unlike the fatalistic Greeks, Judaism believes that we have free will; our decisions matter; we control our destiny. Because our destiny is in our hands we have to earn our forward progress-whether individually during our lifetime or collectively during the course of human history-it is up to us to make the right decision and move forward. Because we have to earn our forward progress through our own efforts we are constantly cycled through challenges that enable us to use our free will to make the correct decisions and move forward. If we don't decide or make the wrong decisions we will be re-cycled through the same challenge again until we get it right. So how do we know what the right decisions this? There are two possibilities: trial and error (which can be a very long, painful process) or learn from the past-use history as our guide book.
    It is precisely for this reason that we must learn AND understand Jewish history. The great 13th century Jewish scholar Nachmonides said: The actions of the fathers are a sign for the children.
    This is a very famous Jewish saying and Nachmonides was not the only one to say it. What does it mean?
    On the microcosmic level, within the stories of Genesis in the Bible-the earliest Jewish history, we're will see that that which happens to the earliest characters in the narrative will be repeated by their children.
    On a macrocosmic level, the personalities and interactions of the early forefathers -- the patriarchs and matriarchs -- are going to be a model for all of Jewish history, and all of human history. This is why we have to pay extra special attention to what's going on at this early phase of the Bible, because here is where the patterns are set. In this early narrative lies the map, and the guidebook for the future. The destiny of the Jewish people, their strengths, weaknesses and relationship with the Gentiles-all of this is revealed in the early Jewish history of the Bible. Jewish history is Jewish destiny. Learning from the past is the key to making the right decisions about the future.
    This is what we will focus on in this book. The names, dates and places are nice to know, but the lessons of the past are critical to learn for the sake of the Jewish people and humanity.
    Additionally, we must remember that the Jewish people are arguably the oldest surviving people on the Planet Earth, and because they have been spread out throughout the world, when we learn Jewish history we have to pay attention to all of human history. It's a great framework for world history. To understand Jewish history means to build a great deal of general knowledge of the history of the world at large.

    When Jews yearn for a savior, they are yearning for the Messiah.
    It is important to realize that the notion of the Messiah was not invented by Christianity. It is an ancient Jewish idea -- one of the "13 principles of faith" within Judaism. It is recorded numerous times in the various books of the prophets, including Isaiah, Michah, Zephaniah, and Ezekiel.

    The idea of the Messiah is one of the 13 principles of faith within Judaism.

    (Indeed throughout Jewish history, strong leaders arose and for a time where mistaken for the Messiah. But when the Messiah did not fulfill the prophecies -- by bringing world peace etc. -- it became clear he was not the Messiah.)
    The English word Messiah, comes from the Hebrew word mashach which means "to anoint." The Mashiah then, is God's "Anointed One." This, for example, is how the Book of Samuel relates the anointing of David as king:

    Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him [David] in the midst of his brothers, and the spirit of God rested on David from that day on. (1 Samuel 16:13)
    The Jewish definition of Messiah is a Jewish leader (without question, a human being), descended from the line of King David (that is, from the tribe of Judah) who will have the Torah knowledge and the leadership ability to bring all the Jewish people back from exile to the Land of Israel. He will rebuild the Temple, bring world peace, and elevate the entire world to the realization of one God.
    (For Jewish sources for these points in the order listed above see: Deuteronomy 17:15; Numbers 24:17; Genesis 49:10; 1 Chronicles 17:11; Psalms 89:29-38; Jeremiah 33:17; 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Isaiah 27:12-13; Isaiah 11:12; Micah 4:1; Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:6; Micah 4:3; Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 40:5; Zephaniah 3:9; Ezekiel 37:24-28.)
    The Prophet Isaiah, whose prophecy on this subject is perhaps the best known, describes the Jewish Messianic Vision with these words:

    In the days to come, the Mount of God's House shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills. And all the nations shall stream to it. And the many peoples shall go and say: "Come, let us go up to the Mount of God, to the House of the God of Jacob -- that He may instruct us in His ways, that we may walk in His paths." (Isaiah 2:3)
    And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore... (Isaiah 2:4)
    [At that time] the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid, the calf and the beast of prey shall feed together with a little child to herd them. (Isaiah 11:6)

    Since the notion of a person who will redeem the Jewish people is a fundamental, philosophical part of the Jewish worldview, it is not surprising that the expectation of that redemption always appears at times of crisis.
    Indeed, the sages say that the Messiah will be born on the 9th of Av, the worst date in the Jewish calendar when the worst disasters befell the Jewish people (see Parts 13, 23 and 35).
    The Book of Ezekiel, for example, talks of a final showdown -- the War of Gog and Magog -- a terrible war when all the nations turn against the Jews. According to one possible scenario, this is when the Messiah is expected to come and bring final redemption.
    This is why, when times are very bad, the Jewish people are prone to think that the final showdown is now. It looks like things couldn't get worse. If so, the Messiah must be right around the corner.
    The Roman occupation was such a dark time in Jewish history. Some of the most brilliant of the rabbinical sages had been murdered by Herod. Corruption had crept into the Temple hierarchy. Jews had split into three major groups:
    the wealthy Sadducees, who denied the authority of the Oral Law, pledging allegiance to Rome;
    the fanatical Zealots ready to battle Rome to the death in a suicidal war;and
    the mainstream Pharisee majority, still loyal to Torah and Oral Law, caught in between.

    The teachings of these splinter sects did not catch on in any significant way among the Jews.

    Out of this chaotic time -- marked by virulent anti-Semitism and cruel oppression of the Jews -- were born a number of splinter sects, whose members believed that the Apocalypse was at hand. Finding a receptive ear among the disfranchised, these sects preached that the ultimate battle of good versus evil would soon be fought, followed by the Messianic redemption of humanity.
    The Dead Sea Cult -- which became famous in modern times after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and which may or may not have been associated with the Essenes -- was one such sect, but there were many others.
    The teachings of these sects did not catch on in any significant way among the Jews. In the same way that the Jews usually rejected foreign religions, they also rejected attempts to tamper with the inner workings of Judaism.
    Nevertheless, at this tumultuous time, the Jews were more susceptible than ever before. The countryside was alive with charismatic healers and preachers, and people flocked to them hoping to hear prophecy that the years of strife and suffering were at an end.
    The one who would become most legendary, was Joshua, or Jesus, who later in history came to be called Christ, which is Greek for Messiah.
    It is outside of the scope of a Crash Course in Jewish History to describe the beginnings of early Christianity under Jesus. Currently, there exist approximately 2,700 books in print on the subject, many of them written in recent years discussing the issue of the historical Jesus vs. the legendary Jesus, and debating what he said or did not say and what can be said of him with any certainty.
    (For those interested, one good source is a highly readable book by the award-winning British biographer A. N. Wilson, Jesus: A Life, which thoroughly analyzes all the data and throws in a fair amount of fascinating speculation as well.)
    Historically speaking, very little is known. There are several references in the Talmud to various personalities of whom the rabbis disapproved and some have speculated that one or more of these references are to Jesus. The closest possibility is Yeshu HaNotzri, but according to Jewish chronology, he lived at the time that Joshua Ben Perachyah led the Sanhedrin (circa 150 BCE) and, therefore, predated Jesus according to Christian chronology by almost 200 years.
    One would expect -- if Jesus was at all influential in his time -- that his contemporary, the historian Josephus would have devoted considerable space to him. However, Josephus is all but mum on the subject and the few references which supposedly relate to Jesus are considered by virtually all scholars to have been added later by Christian monks who copied such texts for church libraries.

    Josephus is all but mum on the subject of Jesus.

    The best we can say with certainty is that the Christian world does agree that Jesus was a Jew who was familiar with the Torah, observed the "Law of Moses" and taught many of its precepts, though he also departed from some of them.
    One of the most famous of his teachings consists of two Torah quotations that were staples of Judaism and echoes the emphasis of the rabbinic teachings of his era. Asked to name the greatest commandment, Jesus, as cited in the Gospel of Matthew (22:37-40), replies:

    "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments."
    "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" is a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:5. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is from Leviticus 19:18. These teachings predated Jesus by some 1,300 years.
    Of course, the gospels, which are said to record what were the teachings of Jesus were written in Greek many years after his death (which, incidentally, Christian sources give as 32 CE or some 35 years before the destruction of the Temple.)
    Who were the Jewish followers of Jesus?
    The members of the Jesus sect were clearly religious Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They could not have believed that Jesus was "god" and remained Jewish, as such a belief would have been complete idolatry in Jewish eyes and would have appeared closer to the Greco-Roman pagan beliefs where gods took on human form and had relations with humans.
    (Indeed, the concept of "son of God" appears later in Christian theology, though the gospels make much use of the term "son of Man" which is taken from the writings of the prophets and refers to the Messiah.)

    The gospels make much use of the term "son of Man" which is taken from the Messianic writings of the prophets.

    At any rate, the Jesus sect in the Land of Israel was short lived. After the dispersion of the Jews by the Romans following the failure of the Bar Kochba Revolt, the Jewish followers of Jesus disappeared along with the Essenes, the Sadducees and the Zealots. (The Pharisees survived in part due to the vision of their leader, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai as we saw in Part 34)
    So where did all the Christians comes from? Indeed, where did Christianity come from?
    For the answer, we must look at another colorful personality who appeared on the scene after the death of Jesus, and who is given the credit by virtually every historian of Christianity for spreading the message of Jesus worldwide, if not fashioning Christianity for the consumption of the pagan world.
    He was a Jew -- originally known as Saul -- who became famous in Christianity as "Saint Paul."
    The Jesus sect in Jerusalem remained small and was simply not spreading among the Jews. Indeed, it had become offensive in Jewish eyes and the Jesus followers were considered heretics.
    The attitude of the rabbis was that these people, Jews though they may be, are pursuing an ideology that is off the Jewish path and their skewed beliefs are going to pollute the Jewish people. This is a splinter sect that has no place in Judaism, therefore, we've got to drive them out.
    One of those who took the driving-out part seriously was a Jew named Saul, originating from Tarsus (a city in Asia Minor, today's Turkey).
    But, as he later wrote in his "epistles" or "letters," after participating in persecutions of the Jesus sect, Saul had a sudden change of heart. He wrote that Jesus appeared to him in a vision and dissuaded him from persecuting his followers.
    Following this mystical encounter, Saul disappeared from the scene to re-emerge some 13 years later (circa 47-60 CE) as Paul, a missionary to the gentiles.
    When he re-emerged on the world scene, Paul introduced some revolutionary ideas, which at first caused some furor among the more seasoned Jesus followers. During a dramatic meeting with the Jesus sect in Jerusalem, his viewpoint won: the new religion would separate from Judaism.

    Paul's viewpoint won: the new religion would separate from Judaism.

    Paul went off on a series of missionizing journeys in which he was highly successful in attracting converts to the new religion -- Christianity.
    Paul preached monotheism to be sure, but with one radical innovation. The way of salvation for Gentiles was now much simpler: belief in Jesus replaced observance of the commandments.
    Through Paul's efforts, and the zeal of his early disciples, Christianity experienced a meteoric rise in popularity. Its initial successes were all in places where the non-Jewish inhabitants had had significant exposure to Jewish ideas.
    We had previously talked about the tension in the Greco-Roman world that pitted Hellenism against Judaism. But we neglected to mention that there were Romans who were very much attracted to Judaism.
    This was especially true in the 1st century CE when, under Nero, the decay of Rome began and thoughtful, intelligent people saw the empire turning into a cesspool of decadence, violence, and overall immorality. Such people were looking for stability, for a universal moral view of the world, and they were casting their eye on some more exotic forms of worship than the official state religion.
    Their search brought to Rome many alien religious cults -- in particular the worship of Mithra, the Persian god of light and wisdom, who became identified with Helios, the Greek sun god, as well as Sol, the Roman sun god. This cult came to be so popular that the Romans named a day of the week - "Sunday" - in honor of Mithra, and celebrated the sun god's birthday in late December in conjunction with the Winter Solstice.

    According to the Roman writer Varro, Rome had in excess of 30,000 gods and 157 holidays a year.

    Loyalty to the state gods was further weakened by the Roman policy of stealing the gods of conquered peoples. The "captured gods" were then "owned" by Rome and incorporated into the official pantheon. As the empire grew, the number of gods multiplied wildly. According to the Roman writer Varro, at one point, Rome had in excess of 30,000 gods and 157 holidays a year. Who could keep them straight, or, for that matter, take them seriously?
    Another important factor was the constant threat of internal rebellion and external invasion with which they lived. The feeling that merciless fate and a cruel death lurked around the corner made one anxious and fearful. (Perhaps all those hours of watching minor criminals butchered at the Coliseum created a subconscious of "there but for the grace of one of the 30,000 gods go I.")
    The atmosphere of impending doom was only heightened by all of the murderous intrigue in politics, by the general corruption, and by the apparent state of moral decline. People gorged themselves on delicacies, then vomited so they could consume even more food. Meanwhile, at the public baths, endless sex orgies with slaves and prostitutes were the way to spend the night.
    Historian Michael Grant, in The World of Rome (p. 129), sums it up as follows:

    "The Roman age was a time of not only uncontrolled blood lust but pessimism and nerve-failure regarding the powers of man to work his own future. The existence and propaganda of the imperial government claiming support of the old gods did not remove the deep-seated feeling that every man was adrift, and everything hazardous. So the presiding deity of nerve-failure was Fortune. 'Throughout the whole world,' says Pliny the Elder, 'at every place and hour, by every voice, Fortune alone is invoked and her name spoken ... We are so much at the mercy of chance that chance is our god.'"
    In such an atmosphere, the Jewish view that one is not lost at sea in a random and hostile universe, but is looked after by a one, omnipotent and loving God, who orders and runs the world, was likely to get a receptive hearing.
    However, conversion to Judaism has always been a major undertaking, one which has historically required the prospective convert to demonstrate his or her sincere desire to follow the Torah's teachings.
    Nevertheless, Roman historical records show us that Judaism did catch on, especially in major cultural centers such as Rome and Alexandria. The best-known exporter of hybrid Jewish ideology was Philo Judeas, who lived and taught between 20 BCE to 50 CE. Strongly influenced by Hellenism, he sought to fuse Greek philosophy with Judaism and to export this mixture to the world. Philo was a prolific writer with a considerable following.
    Among those who converted at this time was Onkelos, reportedly Nero's nephew, who subsequently translated the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. And historians say Pompeia, Nero's wife, also converted to Judaism, and that Marcus Aurelius seriously considered it.
    It cannot be denied that the message and lifestyle of Judaism was very attractive to many Romans. Historian Howard Sachar, in his History of Israel, p. 111, suggests an explanation for why this was so:

    "The conditions were highly favorable. The old paganism ... was decaying, and sensitive minds were repelled by it. The clear-cut monotheism and the rational practices of the Hebrews, expounded with charm by the Hellenized Jewish writers, made a deep impression. There were great numbers of converts, if not officially to Judaism, at least to Jewish practices and ideals."
    This is not to imply that, just because some citizens of the empire converted and many more openly sympathized with the Jews, that the religion of Moses was taking Rome by storm. The reason why was not simple: Jewish laws, restrictions and rituals seemed difficult to follow. While certain commandments such as Sabbath rest and dietary laws were very popular and relatively easy to observe, other rituals of Judaism were seen as too extreme and too difficult -- for example circumcision and sexual abstinence during a part of each month.
    Additionally, many saw Judaism as a national religion of a specific people -- that is, being Jewish meant not only ascribing to a religious faith, but also adopting a different national identity. Naturally, if you were born in Rome, you surely did not want to appear to be giving up your Roman citizenship. It didn't help matters that Judea was one of the most rebellious and troublesome provinces in the empire, and Jews in general were often viewed with suspicion and hostility. This no doubt caused many Romans to think twice about joining Jewish ranks.
    This is where Paul stepped in.
    Paul's shrewdness was to retain the most appealing parts of Judaism and the close connection to the Bible, while dropping the "objectionable" components.
    Paul preached that belief in Jesus replaced the laws of the Torah -- that is, all the commandments that the Romans who were attracted to Judaism found so cumbersome.
    By converting to Christianity, a Roman was able to subscribe to the Jewish view of one loving God, as well as to the Torah's moral vision of peace, justice, and love of one's neighbor. A Roman could subscribe to these ideas without having to become "different" in the way Jews were "different."
    Thus Paul removed the barriers and opened the floodgates.
    Writes John G. Gager in Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity (p. 140):

    "...Christianity preserved all the advantages of its Jewish heritage but without the only two factors that might otherwise have inhibited its growth: the obligation of the ritual law and the close connection between religion and national identity. By proclaiming that the Christ was 'the end of the law' and by presenting itself to the world as 'the new spiritual Israel,' Hellenistic Christianity was able to reap the political and social fruits that had been sown by three centuries of Hellenistic Judaism."
    Needless to say, observant Jews objected to Paul, a Jew whom they saw as the worst kind of heretic. Indeed, because of Jewish complaints against him, Paul was arrested by the Roman authorities, held for a time under house arrest, and finally executed in or around 67 CE (the year of the start of the Great Revolt against Rome in Israel.)
    Christian tradition has it that Paul and the chief apostle of Jesus, Peter, were buried on Vatican Hill, the current seat of the Roman Catholic Church.
    After the death of Paul, Christianity continued to evolve and grow. Many controversies arose as the new religion struggled to develop its core theology.
    As this is a Crash Course in Jewish History and not a treatise on Christianity, we are not going to get involved in the discussing the development of the Christian dogmas of the Trinity, virgin birth, resurrection, etc., nor of the various "heresies" which flourished in early Christian Church. For those interested in the subject, the premier work is by Christian historian Paul Johnson, titled History of Christianity.

    It took some 300 years for the early Christian Church to get down its core dogma.

    Suffice it to say that it took some 300 years for the early Christian Church to get down its core dogma, which turned out to be a synthesis of Jewish ideas, Greek ideas and other pagan ideas. With the growth of Christianity came stiff resistance from official Rome -- the new religion was catching on too well and threatening the state religion and therefore stability of the state. Christianity was outlawed in Rome and those who were caught practicing it were regularly crucified or fed to the lions in the Coliseum.
    These persecutions which came in waves (depending on the tolerance level of the Roman Emperor in power) actually served to make Christianity stronger. In this regard, the Christians were following the precedent-setting behavior of the Jews in the days of the Greek Empire. (Back then, no one died for their religion -- no one, except the Jews.
    And then, suddenly, in 312 CE, a remarkable thing happened which dramatically changed Christian fortune and led, within a dozen years, to the elevation of Christianity to the state religion of the Roman Empire. The remarkable thing was the conversion of Constantine, who would become the Emperor of Rome.
    On the eve of a battle with his rival for the throne of Rome, Constantine reported that he had a dream of Jesus followed by a vision of a cross superimposed on the sun.
    Constantine was prone to visions, having a couple years earlier claimed seeing the sun god Sol in a grove of Apollo in Gaul. The juxtaposition of the two -- cross and sun -- was an omen for victory and, when Constantine won the battle, he gave the credit to his new-found god and converted to Christianity.
    Oxford scholar David L. Edwards, Provost of London's Southwark Cathedral and author of Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years, openly doubts the sincerity of Constantine's conversion as do other Christian scholars.
    But such are the quirks of history. Soon Constantine was emperor and he chose to establish his capital in the east, in Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinople.
    Eventually, the empire would split into two - the Western empire would collapse in the 5th century, but the Eastern empire would survive another thousand years.) Thus, Christianity became the official state religion of the new order - the Byzantine Empire.
    Constantine had initiated a unique way of seeing Christianity - by a merging of pagan and Christian symbols (sun and cross). Over the next few hundred years much more such synthesis followed.
    Though Christians like to see Christianity as "the religion of love" and Judaism as "the religion of law," looking at Constantine's record, a Jew might well ask: "What's love got to do with it?"
    Writes Johnson in History of Christianity (p. 68:

    "He [Constantine] had no respect for human life, and as emperor he executed his eldest son, his own second wife, his favorite sister's husband and 'many others' on doubtful charges ... He was much criticized for condemning prisoners of war to mortal combat with wild beasts at Trier and Comar and for wholesale massacres in north Africa."
    It didn't help that there was soon unleashed a bitter struggle for wealth and power that was bound to come with being the only act in town.
    With the aim of eradicating paganism, Christian mobs scoured the land of the empire smashing idols and burning temples. Writes Johnson (p. 76):

    " [the Church] transformed itself from a suffering and victimized body, begging toleration, into a coercive one, demanding monopoly..."
    Cynics have charged that once it became a state power, the Christian Church turned the cross into a sword, and its ability to convert the Western world had less to do with its message than its methods. By the late 4th century CE the official government efforts at intimidation through laws and decrees - aided by mob terrorism - succeeded in imposing Christianity on the majority of the empire.
    With the disappearance of paganism, Judaism began to stick out like a sore thumb. As always, it was strange and separate, and it wouldn't compromise. The stubborn Jews, as they had done with every other religion that had assaulted their belief system previously, were obstinately refusing to bow to the new order.
    This presented a special problem, as William Nicholls explains in Christian Antisemitism: A History of Hate (p. 90):

    "...the very presence of the Jewish people in the world, continuing to believe in the faithfulness of God to the original covenant ... puts a great question against Christian belief in a new covenant made through Christ. The presence of this question, often buried deep in the Christian mind, could not fail to cause profound and gnawing anxiety. Anxiety usually leads to hostility."
    Within a short time, Jews living in the Empire had lost most of their civil rights. (For example, for a Jew to marry a Christian was an offense punishable by death.) The Jewish Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin, was forbidden to meet, and sermons against the Jews, often inciting violence, were routinely preached. The idea of presenting Jews as the killers of Jesus originated at this time, though it was not popularized until several hundred years later.
    By the early 7th century when the Byzantine might began to wobble - facing attacks from the Persians who swallowed up chunks of the territory and even took Jerusalem - the Jews living in the empire were in a very precarious position. Anti-Jewish legislation, heavy taxes and outbreaks of violence and forced conversions, all had taken their toll on the population. Hoping to find a respite from the Christians, some fled back home to safety. But when the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius reclaimed Jerusalem in 629 CE, the poor Jews who found themselves there were brutally massacred.
    Praying for relief, these Jews no doubt could never have dreamed that relief would come in the form of a "mixed blessing" from a most unexpected place - from Saudi Arabia. There in Mecca -- a place that had long been the center of pagan worship at the famed Black Stone of Kaaba -- an unusual man named Mohammed was preaching an unusual message.

  • At 12:04 AM, Blogger cruise said…

    parang gusto ko pumasyal sa marinduque because of this post, i like fresh fish (ang mura ha), at refreshing and therapeutic bath sa mga hotsprings..


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