Thursday, January 28, 2016

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives

Pope Benedict XVI
In his book The Spaniard and the seven deadly sins, Fernando Diaz Plaja criticizes what he considers an example of the sin of pride rather common among Spaniards: criticizing a book without having read it. He offers the following example:
Literary judgment is easiest in Spain. I once listened to a radio broadcast where a few writers commented Dr. Zhivago, by Pasternak. The opinions were so hard, sharp and negative, that a lady of the group, with a probably Russian accent, was astonished and asked humbly:
“But how can you say..., where did you read that?” “I have not read the book,” was the astonishing reply. It turned out that, of the four writers who had gathered to discuss the novel, she was the only one who had read it.
November 21st 2012, near the beginning of the Christmas season, was the date of the publication of the book about the infancy of Jesus, third in the trilogy that Pope Benedict XVI dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth (he also signed them in his own name, Josef Ratzinger).
Let’s look at a review issued in a major daily journal in Spain on the same day of the publication of the book:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Dating the birth of Jesus Christ

Copy of Raphael's The Virgin of the Rose
by Manuel Alfonseca Santana
I will not enter here into the nineteenth-century debate on the historical existence of Jesus Christ, for after 1926 historical criticism has unanimously accepted his existence, and the persistence of the idea that Jesus Christ did not exist is solely due to ignorance or anti-Christian bigotry.
In the previous post we saw that December 25 might actually have been the date of the birth of Christ, if we follow a tradition that dates back to Irenaeus. Traditionally, the main argument against that date was the unlikelihood of the shepherds being in the fields in winter, watching their flocks. However, other studies disagree with this statement.
The chronological system used today internationally is the Christian era. After the collapse and disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, the Roman era, which counted the years from the founding of Rome, remained in use for about two hundred years, but in the sixth century, the Scythian theologian Dionysius Exiguus introduced the custom of dating historical events from the birth of Christ. Dionisius calculated that Jesus must have been born around the year 754 AUC (Ab Urbe Condita, since the foundation of the town) and called this year 1 AD (Anno Domini, the year of the Lord). Later dates in the Roman era could easily be translated into the Christian era by subtracting 753 from the corresponding Roman date. As for the years before 754 AUC, in the new era they correspond to negative numbers and can be obtained by subtracting the Roman date from 754 and by adding the abbreviation BC (Before Christ). In this system, there is no year zero.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The celebration of Christmas

Earth lighting in the winter solstice
The time of the winter solstice was the occasion for major celebrations by nearly all ancient peoples. It represents the time when the sun, after losing height for six months, begins again to recover its upward movement. The ancients had always the fear that some year the sun could fail to recover, and would continue down until disappearing forever, a catastrophe for humanity.
In the Roman Empire, the Saturnalia played that role, for Saturn was the god of agriculture and the recovery of the sun was a sine qua non for the success of the next harvest. Also, just by that time the sun entered the sign of Capricorn in the zodiac, which was astrologically linked with the planet Saturn. The festival, which began on December 17, lasted for several days, until the 23rd. During these days, banquets were held, gifts were distributed, and masters served their slaves.
One of the traditional deities of ancient Indo-European peoples, Mitra, had a varied fate, according to the particular people we are talking about. Thus, in Vedic India he was one of the chief gods, along with Varuna and the other asuras, but came to play a secondary role, almost demonic, when in Hindu India prevailed the devas, another group of gods including Siva and Vishnu.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

About consciousness

Mirror Self-Recognition
Steve Jurvetson, Menlo Park)
One of the most serious difficulties faced by materialists is the problem of consciousness, sometimes called self-awareness, the awareness I have of being myself rather than another person or object, the feeling of being the same individual from my first memory to my death, even though every few years all my atoms are changed, and hence the specific matter which makes up my body.
Since the materialist ideology assumes that only matter (in the broad sense) exists, it adopts a reductionist approach, according to which our self-consciousness must be, by definition, an epiphenomenon, the result of the joint action of our neurons. This is a dogmatic stance, without scientific support, as in the present state of our knowledge neuroscience has not the faintest idea about how self-consciousness is generated.