Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem

Last week I visited Yad Vashem, the memorial to the more than 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. I invite the reader to visit their website yadvashem.org, and to study indepth the enormity of the Holocaust, which I cannot begin to describe in this short space.

Our wonderful guide, Dani, told about how his maternal grandmother, Dora, singlehandedly arranged for her whole family to flee the Nazis to Palestine; only one sister remained behind, and she perished in the death camps.

Dani also reminded us that it’s easy to fantasize that we would have done right by the Jews, “if only we had been in Europe in the ’40s.”

The main hall at Yad Vashem

Not so, apparently! Out of the millions of Europeans livin at the time, only a relatively handful are on Yad Vashem’s roll of honor (The Righteous Among the Nations, which includes Oskar Schindler, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom) for those who protected Jews. Then as now, the vast majority of people don’t want to get involved, especially at the expense of their own careers, families, and even lives.

We also don’t remember that many Christians abhorred the Jews back in the day, even before the Nazi propaganda came along. So defending Jews was thought by many to be shielding God’s particular enemies from their just deserts, just as some assert today.

Beware the “moral equivalence fallacy” of ranking every inconvenience or difficulty we face as “just like the Holocaust.” Still, one of several takeaways for me, one way to live out the lesson of Yad Vashem is to stand by groups that are unpopular today. Jews, to be sure – especially with rising antisemitism in the US, and the new popularity of Holocaust Denial and the naive acceptance of that old forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Zion – but also other marginalized groups. Just this past week in Portland, decent people defended two young Muslim women; two of those heroes were knifed to death, and the third nearly died. Some Muslims in Oslo have stood up for Jews; some Christians try to defend gays against violence; some atheists, although in a very backhanded way, defend the Christian Asia Bibi, as have a libertarian senator and a Democratic one; etc. I bring up these specific examples, since my readers are Christians, and thus atheists, gays, Democrats, and Muslims are typically part of the “Other” – just as Jews were the Other in 20th century Europe and often are today.

Jesus was probably referencing this well-known inn in his parable of the Good Samaritan

On my trip to Jerusalem, we also passed by the inn that is thought to be the inspiration for the parable of the Good Samaritan, who took the mugging victim to the way station between Jericho and Jerusalem – “Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34). According to the Lord’s teaching, the story is about giving justice and mercy to those who we feel lie outside of God’s people. By showing mercy, the Samaritan was not rejecting Samaritanism nor affirming the superiority of Judaism; he was simply trying to embody God’s loving care.

If we risk ourselves only for those we recognize as God’s people,
we may be good guys,
but we are not Good Samaritans.

PS. Well, I guess I should have seen it coming: someone just wrote in, anonymously, to inform me that the Holocaust is a “myth” concocted by those awful lying Jews to make people would feel sorry for them. The evidence he or she gives: that uber-crackpot Stephen Anderson of Tempe, AZ, has a YouTube video that says so! (Btw, in my experience, it’s never a good sign when someone begins a video by saying, “Now, I’m not a racist! I swear I don’t have a racist bone in my body! However…”)

Look up the Yad Vashem website. Six million Jewish dead is not some phony number that people invented. There is an actual list, containing up to this date over 3 million names of Jews who were annihilated, with their ages, relatives, home towns, etc. Facts, people, lets deal in facts, not the “it-seems-to-me-ism” and sub-amateur sleuthing that is so fashionable in our age of social media.

“Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem,” by Gary S. Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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My Favorite 5 New Testament Archaeology Discoveries in Recent Years!

To download the full article with all images and notes, click here: Shogren_Archaeology of the New Testament

Usually it’s the Old Testament that garners all the publicity for archaeological finds, and for good reasons: the Israelites inhabited the land for centuries and left behind all kinds of artifacts. Jesus and the apostles did not erect buildings or put up inscriptions or make special clay pots.

Nevertheless, New Testament archaeology has yielded some excellent and surprising finds. My criteria here are: finds from the last few years; finds that reveal some sort of physical evidence for the New Testament story; and frankly, things that I find cool. Consult an expert for rankings of findings in order of scholarly importance.[i]

#5. The Pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Siloam (John 9) was discovered in 2005, and it fit very neatly with the biblical description of the place where the blind man washed and was healed. The Pool of Bethesda, by contrast, was discovered long ago but positively identified only recently.[ii] It lay just north of the Temple, by the Sheep Gate, as John states.

In John 5, Jesus visits Bethesda and sees the lame man who had been waiting for years. John describes the structure as a pool “surrounded by five covered colonnades.” Now, a five-sided structure would have been rare indeed, and some skeptics used to dismiss John’s description and other elements of his gospel as a myth. But sure enough, the ruin of Bethesda shows that it definitely did have five colonnades and porticos, just as John describes it – and its architectural oddness is probably the reason why he mentioned it in the first place! It appears that the pool was a mikveh, that is, a place where people would bathe to purify themselves before entering the temple.[iii] The Pool of Bethesda backs up what John says, and suggests that he had reliable information about its details.

The Pool of Bethesda

#4. The Magdala Synagogue. We remember Magdala principally because it gave Mary her nickname, Mary Magdalene (more…)

Christians and “Coincidences” or Is There a Hex in the Patternicity?

This article has many images and footnotes; I encourage the reader to download it as a pdf here: Shogren_Christians and Coincidences

It happened just the other day: I had been thinking about James Bond, and later when I pulled out a form of identification for the bank teller, I noticed that my ID number began with 007! Was I a secret agent? Perhaps one suffering from amnesia?

Or, let’s say a man “has a system” for beating the Vegas roulette table. He has noticed that black has come up eight times in a row. So he bets everything on black, because “there’s clearly a pattern to the wheel tonight.” Meanwhile, a man across from him is thinking to himself, “I’d better put everything on red, since it looks like it’s due to come up.”

A child and her companion lie on their backs, looking up at the clouds. “That one looks like a giraffe!” she says. “And that one a camel!” “No, not a camel, look at it upside-down, it looks just like an octopus.” One child says, “An angel!”; another says, “Actually, it looks quite like Charles Darwin!”

We have all played this game without realizing that we were doing pattern recognition. As Paul Simon wrote many years back, in the song “Patterns”:

The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves,
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees,
And the light from a street lamp
Paints a pattern on my wall,
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl.

Leaves, shadows, trees, indecipherable scrawling – these can all seem like messages because of our human tendency for patternicity. So can tortillas and numbers and corporate logos, as we shall see.

This is why astronomers speak of the Horsehead Nebula, which was not modeled after a terrestrial animal, but just sort of looks like a horse!

From ages past, people have imagined patterns in the stars and constructed “constellations” of animals, gods, heroes. And we can get a cross-check on patternicity by seeing how different cultures “read” the same stars –  it’s Orion in European legend, but the same stars are a hunter and his dogs chasing a deer in India. Mr. Rorschach invented his famous ink blots on the basis of human pattern recognition (“Ummm…is it, maybe, two ducks kissing?” “Okay, Mr. Anderson, we’d better make it three sessions per week!”)

We are wired to quickly detect patterns in the data we see and hear. This is a huge help to get us through the day: when our alarm clock goes off, we don’t have to puzzle over, “Now, what could that buzzer possibly mean?”

But for some people, that recognition faculty goes beyond what is useful (more…)

What I read in 2016, the short list

I have always been a big reader, but never anything close to my list for 2016. That’s when I began to use the wonderful online group, Goodreads.com, to log the books that I have read, am reading, and want to read. I am up over 1900 books that I have logged as “read” in my lifetime, so far, but I know there are hundreds I cannot remember; I imagine the number should be more like 2500.

“Do you want that reading list Super-Sized?”

Over Christmas break 2015 I decided to join their Reading Challenge for 2016, and set a (as it turns out, too ambitious!) personal goal of 150 books/plays this year, including the complete works of Shakespeare, the Koran, and others, let alone material for class prep. Typically I am reading eight books at a clip; some short documents, some long tomes, some Audible recorded books from Amazon.

Overall, I read a lot more non-fiction this year than I usually do, although I also read some marvelous fiction.

Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:

Russian themed. Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862) was excellent. I am about a third of the way through the fictionalized biography of Trotsky by Leonardo Padura, The Man who Loved Dogs. Dostoyevsky, The Idiot (1868-69) is a Christ-allegory. All are available on Kindle.

George Orwell beyond 1984 and Animal Farm. I have read 1984 a dozen times since Junior High, and decided I should branch out. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a novel (more…)

Is the Earth a flat disc after all?

Is it just me, or is anyone else running into Flat Earth proponents lately? (Check this ARTICLE) People who think NASA is doing mind control over us, that no one has ever been to space, that the Bible teaches the earth is a disc? Yeah, it’s a thing. It’s conspiracy thinking at heart. Basically an extension of the chemtrail/anti-flouridation/man-never-landed-on-the-moon approach to truth and reality. Airlines supposedly fake their travel times, no-one has ever been to the South Pole, all of those outer space pictures were Photoshopped, all Aussies lie about how long their country is (see the map below to deduce why – in a FE model, it would have to be the size of Russia), time zones are a fake, and the stars are just points of light in an umbrella, fixed maybe a few hundred miles up.

01 Flat Earth Society Map (Charles K. Johnson).jpg

Like so

Just for one example, here is a meme I ran into this week, one which “proves absolutely” that the world is flat and the center of the cosmos, and that the stars whirl about us in unchanging position.

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One can disprove it, I think, with a 10th-grader’s knowledge of math and the stars.

To begin with, the first two figures are a smokescreen, since our daily rotation and our annual revolution around the sun would not be expected to alter the shape of constellations in any way. So these two are moot and can be put aside.

As for the third datum, the rate of speed is relevant, although it’s off by a factor of 10! It should be 45,000 mph, not 450,000 mph; this goof doesn’t fill me with confidence in the meme. In cosmic terms, by the way, 45,000 mph is a creeping pace, a little bit more than twice the speed of the space shuttle. The same shuttle that, at top speed, would need 165,000 years to reach the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri.

Anyway, the sun is moving at 45,000 mph in relation to an imaginary fixed point in space, but the meme fails to take into account that the other stars in our sector of the galaxy are all in motion through space as well, and more or less in the same direction. So it’s a bit like asking, “If that horse on the merry-go-round is really moving at 10 feet per second, then how come he doesn’t move further and further away from the other horses??? Therefore, the horse is not moving at all, and if NASA tells you otherwise, they’re lying!!

"I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! What gives??"

“I full-out gallop, but the others keep right up with me! Neigh! What gi-i-i-i=ves??”

Another point, is that in fact constellations do shape-shift over time, but it takes so long that they wouldn’t have seemed to move much in the few thousand years that people have been imagining patterns in them. HERE’s a good short article on the phenomenon, showing that stars have slightly changed their positions over the past couple of thousand years. That is why, thousands of years from now, the Big Dipper will look slightly less like a dipper.

Not that this evidence will change anyone’s mind. As with all such theories, you can cut off one head (or disprove one meme!) and a hundred others will grow up to replace it. That’s one reason why I’m not going to attempt to prove that the earth is really a sphere: I’m following my Golden Rule, “Cans of Worms shall not be Opened on This Blog.”

imagesToxicity warning: Flat Eartherism as such is a relatively harmless notion, but it does seem to come tangled up with anti-Semitism (the Zionists control NASA!), Nephilim mythology, Who Really Killed Diana theories, “Fold up a dollar bill and tell me you don’t see the Illuminati!” handcrafts, and other conspiracy thinking. As careful study has shown, “people who believe in one conspiracy are prone to believe others.” If we need proof, Alex Jones is Exhibit A. Conspiracy thinking is, as the earlier article notes, almost resembles a religion, with a fervor that rivals jihadism for its fury, single-mindedness, and closed thinking. In this case, NASA is the Flat Earther’s Antichrist, Galileo really was a heretic, and “Like the tobacco companies, NASA is now trying to target children with their lies!”

Strange days indeed.

Recommended Link

IBRI has excellent studies on science and faith

Our friend Dr. Bob Newman has a fine article; the title gives it away, but he takes a gentle, pastoral approach to alternative science: Evangelicals and Crackpot Science

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“Is the Earth a flat disc after all?” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Christians and myths

Gullibility is not a fruit of the Spirit. Yes, Paul did say that a Christian “believes all things” (1 Cor 13:7), but what he meant was, “to whatever extent possible, believe the best about other people”.

It’s important to establish this up front, since Christians are regularly bombarded by rumors, many of which are false. Wait ‘til you hear this! someone breathlessly informs us:

They are banning all Christian radio! A guest preacher spoke in our church. “The famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair is leading a movement to take away our freedom!” he exclaimed. “If we don’t act now, then Christian radio programs will be banned!” He gave some details of the crisis, and I signed the petition to the FCC to reject the atheistic petition RM-2493 and keep the gospel message on the airwaves.

The only trouble is, I was sixteen when I put my signature on the petition. Yet decades later, that same warning keeps circulating, given new life by email and then Facebook. (more…)