Sunday, July 3, 2011

going into hiding

Well, a lot has happened to the project over the last few weeks.  Some things incredible, outstanding and uplifting.  Others terrifying and soul destroying.  I have to go away now, and I’m not sure for how long.  I’m going to be out of touch with the Internet, so I guess this is the end of my blogging days for a good long time.  I’ve given all my notes, thoughts and scribblings to a good friend.  He’s a writer and he thinks he can turn what happened into a book and maybe even get it published.  Obviously he’ll have to call it fiction, because there’s no proof that it ever happened.

The scrolls told me something awesome, something beautiful.  Something to take your breath away and leave you stunned.  Just knowing it happened has left me with a feeling of peace despite everything else that followed.  We found a story of love and heroism, so glorious that you have to feel that the world is not yet lost, that we may yet see a new day dawn.  Trouble is, what followed the discovery also told me that there are still people in this world who will go to any lengths to prevent the tale from ever being told.  It lay hidden in a cave in Southern France for 2,000 years.  It was found and almost immediately hidden away again.  Maybe for a few more years, maybe decades.  Perhaps even another 2,000 years.  Who knows.  Certainly I don’t.  Still, even with no proof, I still hope for the best, hope that my writer friend can at least make the story known, even if it’s only as a fictional tale.

So, if you want to know more, here’s the web site he’s set up.  Read the story, have a little faith.  It’s a beautiful world we live in, maybe one day we can all enjoy it.

With hope


Monday, May 30, 2011

Explaining the Celt

I’ve had to stop translating for a while to check all the information contained in that document.  I’ve spent days checking histories of Gaul and as far as I can tell, everything related by Cuchulain is true.  The Celts really did have an empire that ruled most of Europe long before the Romans.  To my huge surprise, they really did conquer Rome, around 360 BC and were punished for it in 295 BC when Rome destroyed their city of Senones and began a pogrom to systematically destroy the Celtic nation.  This means we have a dateline.  The Celt claimed 400 years ago, which would put their tavern conversation around the year 30 AD.  Not an exact date, but we’re definitely in the right century. 
He claims his name is Cuchulain, which is the name of an ancient Irish Celtic hero from the year 200 BC.  He refers to Hannibal and Spartacus and those dates match.  His tale of the fall and fate of Carthage has been well known and well documented for years.
This treasure trove of scrolls is becoming more and more important with every text I translate.  It’s opening up the first century and times before like nothing else has ever done.  It’s telling us that they knew much more about their history and heritage than we’d ever believed possible.  The Celt’s recollections cover more than a millennium of his own history.  He even talks of the ancient traders of Briton and Iberia, which is the old name for Spain.  Surely those can only be the Beaker Traders!  How they managed to keep that depth of memory alive for more than a thousand years is astounding.  These scrolls could confirm or refute the hundreds of theories proposed about the centuries and cultures before Christ was born.
The way he mentions Alexander and being there when they built the city confirms they’re in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, at the mouth of the Nile.  But who are they and what are they doing there?  Yoshai sounds like a Jewish name.  He sounds like a fairly young man.  Was he a merchant, a priest, maybe a scribe?  Who is she?  Her demeanor and education seem to be Jewish, but with an odd, almost cosmopolitan attitude mixed in.  Hopefully the rest of the scrolls will explain.
Hey, I’ve just realized!  We have an exact date!  The Celt said “with Vircingetorix at Alesia, only 72 years ago.”  His other dates seem to be using the Roman calendar, AUC, which means ‘ab urbe condita’, dating zero from the foundation of Rome, though that still leaves us a bit fuzzy.  Best estimates are that Rome was founded somewhere around 753 years before the birth of Christ, give or take a few years depending on which author you read.  They’re all around the same timeframe though.  But Alesia!  That was the last great battle of the united Celts of Gaul against the Roman armies of Julius Caesar.  They lost the battle and as Cuchulain laments, that was pretty much the end of Gaul.    It’s very well documented that Alesia took place in 52 BC, which places the storyteller in the year 19 or 20 AD, twenty years after the birth of Christ and some fifteen years or so before he was crucified! 
I asked for something stupendous in these scrolls.  I guess the Gods heard me!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Miri - A Meeting in Alexandria (part 2)

He stopped talking, sighed in remembered anguish and gazed sadly into his ale for a long moment.  He looked around the table, taking in our silent faces, took another drink, smiled sadly and continued. 
“Ah, you think this just a tall tale.  Think me mad or a simple-minded story teller.  Think again, my friends and then think of mighty Carthage.  Ah, yes, we fought both sides there too.  Carthage challenged Rome, somewhere around the time my tribe was trying to pillage Delphi and for two hundred years after that, Carthage stood tall and proud.  But for two hundred years Rome plotted and planned, ducked and parried.  Go to Carthage now.  It’s easy to find.  Sail for North Africa and cruise along the coast towards the gates of Heracles until you come to the barren lands.  Those were once the most fertile lands in North Africa.  When Rome destroyed the city they sowed the ground for a hundred leagues around with salt!  Nothing grows there now.  Nothing lives.  Nothing will for hundreds of years, for the salt was sown deep and heavy.  It will be many generations yet before the rains wash it out, if they ever do.  Rome is not to be crossed, young sir.  You may win for a year or two, perhaps even your lifetime, though it will be a life of constant war.  Never fear though, sooner or late, Rome will return and destroy you.  The harder you beat them, the harder they will strike back at you.  Look at we Celts.  We conquered Rome, in a war lasting maybe a year.  For that a city was destroyed, her people obliterated and the Keltoi tribes scattered to the four winds.  Carthage fought Rome for 200 years and for that their entire nation was wiped off the face of the earth.”
“We Celts have fought Rome since Rome was built.  We have always fought for ourselves, but we also fought with the great Hannibal, when he crossed the Alps and nearly succeded in taking Rome from behind.  We marched with Cenomaros under Spartacus when he rallied the slaves and tried to make Rome see them as free men.  We died with Cassivellaunus when he defended Briton and we bled again with Vircingetorix at Alesia, only 72 years ago.  Alesia was the last great battle for a free Gaul.  My great grandfather fought there!  Fought and lost.  We seem to lose to Rome on a regular basis.” 
“But we have our triumphs too.  We rode with the great Alexander and helped him build his empire.  We were here in Alexandria 300 years ago when he decreed the building of this fair city.  We rode with Rome too and helped them build their empire, even though it cost us our own.  We are scattered now, tribes blown to the winds, many of us lost.  The Insubres, the Boii, the Cenomai, the Tectosages and Tolistobogii, so many others, all vanquished.  Once proud tribes and nations, gone forever, wiped from the face of the earth by the eagles of Rome.  All now bow to Caesar.
Know you that we all live in cycles.  As some go up, so must others must go down.  Epona, my beloved Goddess of the horse, once mighty, now just a fading memory, though I see shades of her here in Egypt, in sweet Isis.  Our priests were the great druids, much learned in the ways of the great earth Gods and Goddesses.  Like your rabbis they were our teachers, our judges.  They discussed philosophy, led us in worship, were our sacred holy leaders.  They gave us the lore, asked the Gods to favor us.  The Romans mocked them, as they do your rabbis, laughed at their knowledge, disparaged our Gods, distorted the words, twisted the truth to meet their own mortal needs.  Within the sacred oak groves a man could find the Gods, find peace and be granted forgiveness.  The Romans have destroyed all that.  As they did with the Greeks, they picked out the things they liked, the Gods they are comfortable with and turned the rest to dross.  The oak grove is still peaceful, but the Gods have gone, fled west.  Only in Briton now can you find the true Celt and even there Rome harries them.  Celts like me are still around, fighting for any who pays our price, but soon we’ll be gone too.  The peoples we live with will absorb us and our ways.  Our beliefs will disappear, like dust scattered on the sands of the desert.  Only our beloved horses will remain, though I suppose they too will serve Rome.”
He sighed deeply, leant his elbow on the table and propped his chin on his fist.  He seemed to have lost himself in somber revere.  No smile now.
Yoshai took a deep breath himself, rose and rested his hand on Cuchulain’ shoulder. 
“Come my friend.” he said gently.  “You have been alone for far too long.  Come with us and have a home again for a little while.”
With that he turned and walked towards the door.  I looked at Cuchulain again, offered him a small smile, then rose and followed after Yoshai.  The Celt stared into the empty ale mug for a few moments, shrugged, rose, paused a moment and then followed. 
“Another cause perhaps.” he thought.  “Another task from the Gods.  Perhaps this one will be the true one.  Gods willing, perhaps the last one.”
He followed Yoshai and me into the night of Alexandria and just like that, Cuchulain left his old life behind and joined us.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The next Scroll Transation - Miri - A Meeting in Alexandria (part 1)

Miri - A Meeting in Alexandria

Last night I dreamt of our first encounter with the mad Celt.  We’d been in Alexandria a little over a year and had developed the habit of ending the day sitting quietly in a tavern, discussing the days events and teachings over a mug of watered wine.  One night, seemingly out of no-where, this monster of a man appeared and greeted us as though we were long lost comrades.  We were so stunned at his audacity that we all three just sat there as he staggered up to our table and launched into a drunken monologue.
“Greetings,” cried this huge barbarian, throwing his arms wide, then slamming his empty tankard down on our tablet.
“I am Viriathus Cuchulain, the Celt, of the Tribe Trocmi, out of Anatolia and 400 years ago my people stormed the city of Rome and burned it to the ground!”
With that he dropped into the chair he’d dragged up to our table.  He stood over 6 feet tall and must have weighed 200 pounds or more, all of it muscle.  I thought the chair would collapse, but while it creaked and wobbled, miraculously it held together.  The man shouted at the tavern keeper to bring more ale and wine for all and then he smiled at me.  I remember that smile, so big and happy.  It seemed as if he didn’t have a care in the world.  Years later, Simon would snidely refer to it as a big dumb grin for a big dumb Celt, but I always loved that smile.  And we all learned very quickly that Cuchulain was anything but dumb.
“So,” he said, turning to look Yoshai in the face, “I see you plan to throw off the Roman yoke!  Drive them from your homeland and regain your freedom!  Hah!”
I glanced at Yoshai, almost swallowing my heart in terrified surprise.  How did he know we planned to fight Rome?  We had said nothing like that tonight, nor any other night in a public place.  Those discussions were held very quietly in our rooms, late at night like any good conspirators.  Yoshai glanced anxiously around the room.  Roman legionaries failed to leap out at us from the shadows.  No-one waited to drag us off in chains.
“What?” The madman laughed at our reaction.  “You think I don’t know?  You think the whole wide world doesn’t know that the Jews of Israel would like nothing better than to wipe the Romans off the face of the earth?  Relax!  Everyone in every Roman colony has the same thoughts now and again.  Most never do anything about them, but woe unto those who do.  Listen and I will tell you a tale that you need to know.  ‘Tis a tale of great deeds, valiant warriors, hopeless battles fought and sometimes won, more often lost at great cost.  I give you the tale of my people, with all its warts and glory.”
Yoshai closed his mouth and subsided back into his chair.  It was almost funny, except for the sudden heart pounding fear of being discovered and crucified by the Romans.  I don’t think I’d ever seen Yoshai quite so lost for words before.
“Have you heard of we Celts?  Ah, but you probably know us as Gauls.  For over 1,000 years my people have ruled Gaul.  Our warriors were strong and restless and our chariots spread us wide.  We took to the western seas and found islands off the coast of Gaul.  Many of us settled there, behind the white cliffs on the green hills of Briton.  It was there we found our ancient brethren, those who once travelled and traded many generations before.  From there we followed their old trading routes, down into Iberia.  We were and still are, a warrior people.  Some of us farm, some herd, but the younger sons soon tire of those games and take to raiding and counting coup.  As a young man, I often showed my bravery and daring.  Many times I snuck into the camp of a neighboring tribe and stole their cattle, herding them back to my town, showing the people my abilities!”
“I was eighteen when I stole my first wife,” he paused for a moment, “though she is long returned to the earth now.  Gods, she was a beauty, hair the red of dancing flames, much like yours, my lady.” he said, gesturing at my dark red hair.  It was an unusual color for a Jew and had drawn many a comment over the years. “But oh, what a temper she had to go with the flames!”  His voice saddened and he paused again, lost in his memory.
“Now, where was I?  Yes!” he took a huge gulp from his mug and waved at the inn-keep for another.  “My people ruled Gaul, a thousand years of almost peace.  Nothing  more than a little tribal bickering and youthful pranks.  We built an empire spanning the known world.  From Halshtat in the Germanies, where our salt mines supplied the tribes for thousands of leagues around, to Briton off the coast, west to the wide waters, east to the lands of the Persians and beyond.  The Greeks called us the Keltoi and looked upon us as a civilization equal to their own.  We ruled when Rome was nothing more than a village of mud huts, the legendary wolf twins Romulus and Remus not even born.  With the coming of Rome we became the barbarians, the peoples outside the Roman Empire.  Lucky for Rome we never united.  Ah, but that was our downfall.  We had too many little chieftains, no single great leader to call us together and wield us like the mighty weapon that we could have been.  And so a great nation of many tribes fell one by one to the Legions.”
“We spread across Gaul, beyond the Alps.  Many tribes, farmers mostly, with their younger sons out for adventure.  For years we lived our lives in comfort, never at war, but never quite at peace with ourselves.  But we grew jaded.  Many took to living in towns, staying in one place for many years at a time.  Some 400 years ago we took a liking to the town of Senones, near Sentinum just north of Rome and many settled there.  We became friends with the nearby Etruscans, which is to say we had the occasional minor war with them but neither side was ever really hurt.  A little youthful mischievousness, just to keep things lively.  Cattle raids, wife stealing, counting coup. 
One time though, after we had blooded the Etruscans noses in their city of Clusium, the Romans decided to intervene.  First they sent envoys to us, offering to parley a peace agreement between Clusium and Senones, but then they turned against us and fought beside the Etruscans.  Now for many years the Etruscans had known they could not beat us and we had no desire to beat them.  Striving against a near equal is good for the soul.  The young still needed a tribe to count coup against.  But when the Romans joined them, they thought they could rid themselves of us, so we were forced to crush them on the battlefield.  We burned Clusium as their punishment.” 
“This loss of our proving grounds angered us, so we marched on Rome.  Some 360 years after they founded their great city, we stormed their gates and took their great city away from them.  We ruled there for a year or so, but Rome was not home, so after we forced them to pay us a huge ransom in gold we left, returning to our homes in Senones.  We had beaten the great Romans into the ground.” 
He paused and looked around the table at our disbelieving faces.
“What?” he growled.  “You do not believe me?  You think no-one has ever beaten the Romans?  Ask any Roman!  Though they will tell you a slightly different tale they will still admit that we conquered Rome and soundly thrashed her great armies.  But we lost interest.  We had no great urge to build and rule an empire.  We leave that kind of  foolishness to others.  We simply wanted a little variation in life, a little spice now and again.  As you wish to do with your homeland, we returned to ours, expecting to live in peace, thinking our war with Rome was over.  But it wasn’t.  Rome does not lose.  Not ever!  The term ‘forgive and forget’ is meaningless to the Romans.  ‘Never forgive, never forget!’, now that is pure Roman!”
“Thinking nothing more of the war, my tribe moved further east, into Macedonia.  Our young had to cease their warrior sports, as our neighbours quickly grew annoyed with us.  Instead our young men became free mercenaries.  We fought for our neighbors, for their enemies, anyone who would pay us.  By the Gods, we even fought for Rome.  Even now, many Roman Centurions are Celts, though few will admit it these days.  Look at me!  I was once a centurion in the ranks.  Hah!”
“Aye, we fought for Rome and we fought against Rome.  In the wars with Carthage, there were Celts on both sides.  Ten thousand of us marched on Rome with Hannibal when he crossed our Alps.  Four thousand of our cavalry rode out with the Romans against him.  Alexander used us when we conquered Egypt for him and we supported Ptolomy later.  We were there when they raised the great lighthouse of Pharos and many of our ships use that beacon to this day.”
“Ha!” he laughed softly, “There are Celts on all sides these days, though you’d never know it from the way they dress!”
He stroked his hair, his hand moving down to his beard, tugged gently at the gold band he wore around his neck.  “No-one dresses like a true Celt any more!” he said sadly.  
I studied him carefully as he stared mournfully into his mug.  Was this really a madman from the outer lands, the barrens?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  His hair was long, but carefully oiled and braided all around his head.  The hair braids were very fine and tight.  He must have taken hours to do his hair.  I couldn’t help but smile.  Why, he must take more care of his hair than both my sisters combined!  He was clean and his clothes, though obviously worn, looked to be well made and of good quality.  Around his throat he wore a torque, the first I’d ever seen.  It was finely worked, two inter-twined snakes curled around his neck, the mouths of each holding a ball the size of my thumb, the balls resting at his throat beside his collarbones.  With a shock I suddenly realized it was made of gold.  This madman carried the wealth of a Judean village around his neck as jewelry!  His leather tunic was worn, but obviously well made, with a fine tapestry embossed into the leather, the intricate pattern curling around the collar and down both the front and back of the jerkin.  A huge moustache lay across his lip, curled up at the ends.  In the dim light he bore a strong resemblance to an Auroches bull and much of their savagery lay within him.
He must have felt my intent gaze, for he looked up, gave me that smile again and continued with his tale.
“My tribe was one of the lucky, for we were part of the group that moved east.  A hundred years after we toppled Rome, on our way drifting eastward, we swept down through Macedonia towards the great temples at Delphi.  We were going to plunder the Temple and take the holy offerings, but the Gods turned against us.  Taranis, Lord of the Thunders, grew angry with our pride and struck down our armies, sending against us such storms as we’d never seen before.  We fled, ragged bands running both north and east.  My tribe crossed the Hellespont that year and we fled into Anatolia.  For many years we lived there peacefully, sending our young warriors off to fight for whoever wished to hire them.  We had been beaten and battered, but we fared better than those we left behind.  We left, but many of our brother tribes remained in Senones.”
“Remember Rome now, our beaten foe.  Our great failure was that we had forgotten her.  Remember her Legions well if you plan to battle them!  We thought it was over and done, but Rome doesn’t lie quiet.  While my tribe was wandering east and thinking foolish thoughts about Delphi, Rome took Senones.  Took it and obliterated it!  The whole city, burned to the ground!  The men fell to the last and those few who survived the fight to lay down their weapons in surrender were slaughtered where they stood.  The women were given to the legions for sport.  The young men were crucified by the thousands.  Only the very youngest were spared, those too young to remember anything of family.  Those they took into slavery.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Gnostic Philosophies - discussion with a beginner

“I don’t think I like the Gnostics.”
Sebastian took a sip of coffee, frowned and continued.
“I’ve been doing some research on the web and several sites report their beliefs as anti-Christian and, well, ugly!  They say the material world was created by an evil demi-god, to entrap human souls.  They claim that only be denying God, denying the body and the world can one be holy.  It speaks against everything the Church stands for.”
“Hmm.”  I responded.  “Not sure which sites you’ve been looking at but you do have to remember that everything on the web isn’t necessarily true or factual.  My own research suggests that those types of beliefs were held by only very small and extreme sects.  Think of some of our own cults, like Waco Texas or Jonestown.  They claimed to be true Christians, but would you or I accept them as such?
Generally a Gnostic was expected to study the world and learn God’s wisdom from his study.  Some believed that if you learned enough and found the deepest secrets, you could enter heaven without actually dying.  Many Gnostics claimed that this is what Christ actually did.”
Sebastian looked surprised.
“But surely that can’t be right.  Certainly Christ ascended to Heaven, but first he died to cleanse us of our sins.  Surely without his actual death and resurrection, his ascension would be meaningless.”
“Well, certainly it opposed the basic tenet of the Christian sect which eventually became the Catholic Church.  They claimed that their teachings were the Word of the one and only God and contained all knowledge, that further search was neither required nor acceptable.  That sect said the everything we need to know to live our lives according to God’s word has already been written.  Given that fact we should not search for new knowledge, but rather accept that dispensed by the sects priests.  That’s very similar to what the apostle Paul preached.  In one of his Letters in the Bible, he tells the people to heed his words alone and do what he tells them without question.  That dogma was so strong during the Middle Ages that the simple act of questioning the Bible and searching for new truths was enough to get you branded a heretic and burnt at the stake! 
In the 1st and 2nd  centuries a surprising number of  people could read, but within the Pauline Christian sect they were told not to read the holy writings themselves, as they would become confused.  Everything they needed to know would be given to them by Paul and later by his designated priests.  That was the approach that became the dominant sect and later the Catholic Church as we know it today.   During the Middle Ages in Europe the only correct interpretation of the Bible teachings were dispensed to the common person by the priests of the Holy Catholic Church and only by the priests.  Penitents were not allowed to try and learn for themselves, so the priests became that much more powerful.” 
Sebastian was silent, thoughtful.  I watched him in silence.  He struck me as the quintessential clerical scholar.  He was dressed in turtle-neck, jacket and tweed pants.  When he spoke, his voice was soft, almost a monotone and slightly hesitant.  He always sat on the edge of his chair, slightly hunched forward, almost as if he was praying.  I could see he wasn’t happy with what I was saying.  I was having trouble accepting that someone in his profession could be so na├»ve, but it seemed his work had centered mainly on the later Greek and Latin versions of the bible books.  He’d never encountered documents as old as what we had here, nor it seemed, anything of the contents we were dealing with.  Wondering why the Professeur had hired him I continued.
“Then there was the Jewish approach, which was that every man should and must read the Jewish holy book, the Torah and that all aspects of life and the Torah teachings should be discussed so every man could understand Gods teachings.  However, like the early Catholics, while the Jews could discuss the Torah and argue about its interpretation, they were not free to question its content, for it was the word of God.   The Gnostics simply extended the Jewish approach and encouraged every believer to read and do their own research, but to also question everything, including the holy documents and apply logical thought to them, forming their own opinions of their validity.  That definitely didn’t sit well with the Jewish rabbis and caused direct conflict between the Gnostics and the jews and the Peter and Paul sects that later became the Catholic Church.”
“You don’t really care for the Church do you?”  Sebastian asked quietly, “Even though you are Catholic.”
“I care more for the truth.” I replied quietly.  From another his words might have stung, but Sebastian had such an air of naive, unquestioning, child-like acceptance about his religion that made it nearly impossible to get angry.
“I care about finding out what the truth is, getting at the facts.  If the facts support that Church then I can support the Church too.  But usually the facts disagree with the Church’s various interpretations of history.  My parents were good Catholics and so followed the Catholic teaching, quite religiously if you’ll excuse the pun.  I did too to begin with, but something happened to me when I was young which destroyed my faith.  Later, when I was taught the scientific method at college, I found it made more sense than my Catholic upbringing of blind acceptance.  It tends to match the Gnostic approach quite closely too, which may be why I find it easy to identify with these writers.”
I told him of the scroll I just finished translating, of Miri’s encounter in Alexandria. 
“Mercales’ Greek Heresy is almost the epitome of the mainstream Gnostic philosophy and he makes it quite obvious why every centralized church since the very first one has condemned it as heresy.  It’s interesting that it’s so similar to the scientific method of today, ironic that they were both branded as heresy by the Church.  Strange how history circles upon itself.
Mercales taught that we should question the world, ask to see the proof, base belief on the most likely probability, use Occam’s Razor to cut through the garbage to find the simplest and usually the most likely, answer.”
“You mean you’re saying we should question the truth of the Bible?”  Sebastian exclaimed, his jaw dropping, looking completely scandalized.  Perhaps I’d gone too far.  “Surely you accept that the books of the Bible were given to us by God and that they contain the word of God.  They are the words of God as given to Jesus and the Apostles.  The Apostles wrote the New Testament to give us guidance through this world.”
There didn’t seem to be an easy way to handle this, other than give him some hard facts to work with and hope he could swallow them without choking.
“If you do the research, you’ll find that many ‘books’ were written in the first couple of centuries after the coming of Christ.  The first two or three centuries were a time of great confusion and competition, as many competing “Christ” sects were established and they all competed to gain adherents.  In 325 AD, the Catholic Church elders finally got together at the Nicene Council under Charlemagne and codified their beliefs.  Prior to that we have letters between various church elders where they list the books that would form the accepted bible and other lists of books which would be cast out as heretical, to be destroyed on sight.  It’s probably due to this approach that the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls came to be hidden and buried.  They include many of the forbidden books and writings.  The local religious groups had a choice.  They could follow in blind obedience and destroy the books as ordered by the Bishops in far away cities, or they could hide them away and pretend they had been destroyed.  Thus the Gospels of Mary and Thomas survived originally as no more than an entry on a church list of writings to be destroyed.  Only in the last hundred years or so have the actual documents themselves been found.
The earliest list of heretical texts comes mainly from one man, a Christian priest named Irenaeus.  Somewhere around 175-185 AD, Irenaeus was sent to Rome by his Bishop, Pothinus, asking the Christian High Bishop in Rome to intercede in a squabble about doctrine and confirm that the Montanist sect were heretics.  On his arrival in Rome, to his horror, Irenaeus found that Eleutheerus, the highest Christian Bishop of Rome, had embraced the Montanist creed as the one true faith.  To make matters worse, he also met an old school buddy who had embraced yet another heresy, that of the Gnostic Valentinian.   You can see that back then there were sects galore and everyone was trying to label everyone else a heretic.  So, in a state of total confusion, Irenaeus returned to Lyons only to find that Pothinus has died a martyrs death.  Irenaeus took over as the Bishop of Lyons and immediately launched a life-long crusade to wipe out all the other heresies, Gnostic and otherwise.  He is considered to be one of the earliest and most militant of the bishops of the sect that was to became the Christian Church.
Soon after becoming Bishop, he wrote a treatise aptly named ‘Adversus Haereses’, or ‘Against Heresy’.  The full title was “Refutation and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So-called”, which probably gives you an idea of his state of mind.  Ironically, this has turned out to be the greatest source of Gnostic information.  Irenaeus chose to describe the Gnostic beliefs in some detail, so he could properly refute them.  In doing so he documented the very beliefs which he spent the rest of his life trying to erase.  Not only did he document the beliefs, but he named names, people and texts.   Without Irenaeus and his ‘Refutation’ we would probably have known nothing of the Gnostics until the Nag Hammadi scrolls were uncovered.  Instead, he recorded the existence of the Gospels of Bartholomew, of Thaddeus, Mary Magdalene, Judas Iscariot and some 34 other ‘heretical’ gospels.  We also learned of the Gnostic leaders and teachers, the originators of some of the main heresies, Valentinian and Marcion.
Irenaeus went on to develop a list of bishops acceptable to the Christian Church, carefully noting that none were Gnostics.  He decided, seemingly all on his own, that the church should be founded on the four books of doctrine, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.   He also decided that the other writings and doctrines were heresy and should be destroyed.  His justification for having four was based on the Old Testament references to the four corners of the universe, the four principle winds and the four living creatures that Ezekiel saw in a vision, supporting the throne of God.  If four was good enough for God, then it was good enough for Irenaeus.”
“Yes, but those four books do tell the true story of Christ!” Sebastian exclaimed.  “They tell us of his life, his mission among us, his words and teachings.  Surely even a doubter like you must accept that.”
“Well,” I replied, smiling at bit a being dubbed a doubter.  “It would be nice if I could but I’m afraid not.  You see, the biggest problem with that, for both me and the Church, is that no writings by Jesus himself exist.  Nothing in the Bible actually came from anything Jesus himself wrote.  Almost half the books that made it into the accepted Bible and claim to be the words of Jesus, were written by Paul, probably decades after Jesus was crucified.  The problem I and many others have with that is that Paul was the thirteenth Apostle, self-appointed some years after the death of Jesus.  Paul never met Jesus, never spoke to him and never heard him speak.   The four gospels espoused by Irenaeus reflect the views of Paul more than Jesus and they and many of the other books in the New Testament are written by either Paul or his adherents.  All the research to date suggest very strongly that Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were all written some time after 150 AD.  That’s over one hundred years after Jesus died, ninety years after Paul died and definitely long after all the original disciples were dead.  It’s extremely unlikely that any of the authors of the New testament where Jesus’ disciples.
Think about that for a moment.” 
I could hear the exasperation leaking into my voice and strove for a calmer tone.
“That’s at least three generations after the events actually happened.  Tell me, how much do you know about your great-grandfathers life and times.  Who was the lead politician of your country?  Who was the Pope.  What do you know of their actions and beliefs, their philosophies?  Why were the wars being fought?  And yet you willingly accept that someone writing two or three or possibly even four generations after Jesus would have been able to clearly relate his real words and actions.  Really?
Surely you can see that the deeper you go, the more closely you look at biblical history and think it through, the more tenuous the connection between the Christian faith and Bible as we know it today and the actual teachings and words of Jesus.  That’s why finds like this one are so important.  They give us more information and different viewpoints, from sources closer to the actual events.”
I paused, took a sip of my cold coffee and shuddered at the taste.  I don’t think my words were having any effect on Sebastian.  Taking a deep breath to calm myself again, I continued in a quieter tone.
“So, as the Catholic Christian Church sect grew in power from 150 AD onwards, it declared all the competing sects heretics.  In his Letters, Paul warns his flocks to beware of other ‘so-called apostles’, to only pay attention to his voice and his apostles.  Thus the Gnostics were suppressed and by 300 AD had essentially been removed from the picture.  By 500 AD they might never have existed.
That should have changed when the first copy of the Gospel of Mary was found in 1896, but it was deliberately ignored and buried by church scholars.  It didn’t actually reach public print until the late 1990’s, nearly a hundred years later and by then had been damaged beyond use.  Even now, discoveries like the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls have faced continued opposition from a Church more interested in preserving its position than discovering the truth about Christ.
Don’t you see Sebastian, this cave has given us an entire library full of first century writings!  So far they’re all Gnostic, but there may be other writings as well.  We may find texts here that pre-date Irenaeus.  Who knows, we may even find texts written by one of the apostles or even Jesus himself.  Even though the Gnostics were branded heretics, they too believed Jesus came with a message from God.  They may have recorded something here that will give us more insight into Jesus the man and his teachings.  Something to help us strip away the patina of two thousand years of political and theological adjustments and re-interpretations!”
Sebastian looked at me, puzzled and apprehensive, saying nothing.  He quietly rose and turned to the sink, rinsed his cup and poured another cup of coffee.  Looking at his silent back I wondered.  Had I opened his mind just a little, or was he too immured in his religious dogma to even try and question the simplistic views he’d been taught.  Would he approach the scrolls with the joy and wonder of new discoveries that I felt, or had he already condemned them as heresy and was now simply looking for a reason to discard them.  I couldn’t tell.  Maybe he didn’t even know himself.  I left the room and headed back to my computer to tackle my next scroll of Miri.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Greek Heresy - translation of the first journal scroll - lessons in Alexandria

My husband was sent to Alexandria by our fathers to learn and become wise in the ways of the world, to become a leader of men and a great general of war.  No-one expected me to learn anything, I was simply there as his wife, sent to feed and serve him and my brother, who also accompanied us.  But during our first weeks, their fear of leaving me alone in a strange city caused them to keep me by their side and so they took me with them to the talks and lectures.  Only later did they realize that I too was learning, though it seems I tended to learn those lessons that they might have preferred me not to learn.  This was the first lesson I remember clearly, as the first step on my own road to knowledge and independence.
I don’t remember what the question was, but the teacher directed it at me.  He’d been answering a question from Yoshai and I hadn’t really been paying attention.  The newness of the city and the strangeness of being in a room full of people discussing great topics still left me overwhelmed.  That he directed his question to me surprised me so much I simply sat there with my mouth hanging open.
“Come child,” he said, “what do you think?” 
“It is as my husband says,” I stammered, madly trying to recall Yoshai’s last few words.  “It is written in the Torah and thus it is so.”
The man smiled, amused at my obvious nervousness but behaving as if I had given him the correct answer to a puzzle.  He was old, his face grizzled and wrinkled, burned dark by the desert sun, long hair grey and thin, but his voice was full of power.  When he spoke the entire room listened.
“If you will,” he said, addressing himself to me but including everyone else in the room as well, “I will tell you of one of the great Greek heresies.  Perhaps you could even call it ‘The’ Greek Heresy.”  He chuckled.  “Actually, though most priests label it so, it cannot be a heresy, for it has absolutely nothing to do with religion or the Gods.  No, it simply has to do with using the mind that your God, whatever you may see that to be, has given to you.”
“Allow me to introduce to you the fine art of ‘disputation’.  By its use you may even discover the purpose that God has for us.  First you ask a question.  There may be only a single answer to that question or there may be many.  It matters not.  The discussion of the possibilities is all that matters!  Let me see now.”  He paused for a moment, studying first me and then Yoshai.  “Here’s one for you!  Why does a tree grow?”
He looked at Yoshai.  “Well?  Why does a tree grow?”
Yoshai smiled self-confidently, brashly displaying the arrogance of youth and inexperience.  “Because God wills it so!”
“So!” Mercales, as I later learned was his name, smiled at Yoshai’s facile answer.  “Thus you will become disputant number one!” he said, pointing his finger at Yoshai.  “And you, young lady,” He pointed his finger at me with such suddenness I flinched back in my chair.  “you will be disputant number two!  You will each take opposing positions on the question.”
His attention on us had resulted in the rest of the people in the room shoving the chairs around and they now formed a loose circle about us.  Obviously they had seen this man’s lectures before.  Some smiled at me in sympathetic remembrance, some grinned in anticipation of a good show.  I cringed!  Never before had I had so much attention focused on me!  My skin prickled and I could feel the sweat beginning to trickle down the back of my neck. 
“Now, for the sake of the discussion let us set aside the concepts of right or wrong.  Let us review the question using our minds, what we can observe to happen in the real world and those things and ideas that we can test.”
“Your name, my dear, what is it?”
I glanced at Yoshai.  After a slight hesitation he nodded. 
“Miri.” I responded. 
Mercales cocked an eyebrow at me and smiled again.  He’d noticed my glance for permission and for some reason that made me blush.  I realized then that he was deliberately placing me in a position he knew I’d never been in before.
“Very well Miri. You will take the position that it is the sun and the rain that causes the tree to grow.  You, young man…?” 
“You, Yoshai, will defend your statement that God causes the tree to grow and that is sufficient in and of itself.  Each of you will attempt to convince the other of the strength of your position, with the goal, hopefully, that you will end up with an agreement of some sort.”
I sat, dumbfounded and mute.  All my life I had been taught to be obedient to the men of my family.  First my father and the priests, then my brothers and later my husband.  Yes, I’d followed my mother’s instruction too, but I’d known that she followed her husband’s.  My life so far had been based on doing what I was told, to speak only when spoken to and otherwise remain silent.  Never to speak out in public and never, ever talk back to a man!  Now this heretical Greek was suggesting I should argue with my husband.  I couldn’t!
“It’s alright, Miri.” said Yoshai quietly.  “We came here to learn new things, so let us play this game and see where it leads us.  Go ahead.”  He took my hand and squeezed gently, his other hand sweeping across the table towards Mercales, encouraging me to proceed.
“Well,” I said hesitantly, “the tree needs the sun to grow.”  I stopped and the silence of the crowd hung there, waiting for more.
Yoshai cut in smoothly to cover the quiet.  “In the Torah it states that all things come from God; the land, the plants, the animals, everything.  Everything follows his plan regardless of whether we understand it or not.  The rabbis’ teach us that everything we need to know about the world is written in the Torah.”
“But it needs the rain too,” I burst out,  “for without rain it will wither and die.”  I almost choked on the words.  I was arguing with him!
The discussion, such as it was, stalled again.  I could see Yoshai searching for a quote from the Torah.  I was thinking too, looking within myself for more.  It felt very strange.  Strange, but somehow pleasurable, exciting!  I could learn to like this feeling!
“Now,” commanded Mercales, “provide some tangible proof to support your statements!”
“Well…” said Yoshai, “The Torah contains the words of God, as given to his prophets.  It is God’s word and therefore it is truth.”
“But….”  I hesitated again.  Oh, this was hard, to actually speak out against my husband and in public too.  “But, if you plant a seed in dry soil it will not germinate.  If you don’t water it, it will not sprout and grow.”
Yoshai stared at me.  I’m not sure if he was more surprised that I had dared to speak out or that I could actually think it through.
“Excellent!” crowed Mercales, rocking backwards and forwards in his chair in glee, “Excellent!  You have defined two ways to test the truth of your statement.  Without sun or rain your tree will do nothing.  Provide sun and rain and the tree will spring to life and blossom!”
“On the other hand Yoshai, your side has a bit of a problem providing proof.  You cannot prove God’s will, for you can neither provide it nor withhold it.  Thus you cannot clearly demonstrate that the tree lives or dies because of God’s will or otherwise.  In truth, you can neither prove nor disprove the very basis of your argument, that there is a God, either one or many.  You stand entirely on a blind and unquestioning faith.  In the absence of such proof, your argument stands on a foundation of unknown quality.  Like a foundation set in loose sand it cannot safely be built upon.  On the other hand, Miri’s logic provides a clear demonstration of observable fact, that any person can in turn test and substantiate for themselves and thus it can be built upon.  Knowing a tree requires sun and rain to grow allows other statements to be made and tested.  A tree needs the sun and rain.  A tree is a plant.  Wheat in the field is also a plant, therefore we can suppose that the wheat also needs sun and rain to grow.  We can then test that supposition and build further.”  
“Thus, disputation gives rise to possible answers that can be tested against reality.  Those tested answers can then be used to ask other, bigger questions.   Is the sun and rain needed for a flower to grow?  What of a rock, a man, a nation?”
“Interestingly enough though, Miri’s logic is also entirely consistent with her God’s will and thus is not in the least bit heretical.  At no time does her testing of the suppositions ever violate her faith or adherence to her religious beliefs, whatever they may be.  Thus disputation and logic can live side by side with Yoshai’s faith in his God. Not heretical at all!”
The room was silent as he drained his mug with obvious satisfaction.
“And there,” Mercales licked his lips, “the lesson ends.  Thank you children and have a good evening.”  He gave us a courtly bow, nodded briefly to the rest of the class and walked away from our table.  Around us the others began to discuss the lesson.
I picked up my mug and raised it to my lips.  My hands were shaking so much the mug rattled against my teeth.  I peeked at Yoshai over the rim of the mug.  He looked back at me, his face unreadable.  I could almost hear his thoughts though, churning over and around, pondering that odd conversation.  I lowered my eyes.  We finished the rest of our wine in mutual hesitation and discomfort, talking haphazardly about nothings – how warm it was here, what lectures Yoshai would go to tomorrow, how Laz would have to accompany me to market tomorrow so I could buy food for our meals.
Inside I was shivering.  Never before had I spoken so!  Never before had I even thought such thoughts.  If I had done so at home I would have been sharply rebuked by every man around me and probably every woman as well.  Instead, here, Mercales had congratulated me on my reasoning, as if he was suggesting that I was right and my husband wrong.  I held tight to that feeling.  Perhaps our stay in Alexandria would give me more than I had ever dreamt possible.
I said nothing more that night, but I could see the evening had troubled Yoshai.  At first I thought he was angry with me, but he was so wrapped up in his own thoughts I doubt he even knew I walked by his side.  As we entered the house I heard him muttering to himself…. “So how can you clearly demonstrate God’s will?”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

found a womans journal from 60 AD - translating now

Well, things are going well.  My skimming system seems to be working.  I’ve built a reasonable index and I’m making good progress.  Sebastian has joined the team.  He’s very quiet, very much a cloistered scholar, but his Greek translations are excellent.  He’s also doing a bit of skimming, but mostly focuses on one text at a time.  Regrettably his other languages aren’t that strong.
I have found one set of books which seem to be unique.  They’re all from a single amphorae.  They’re on vellum, like the others, but it seems to be of a much better quality, making them very expensive indeed for the period.  Their carbon dates are 60 AD plus or minus 15 years and they’re also the only other documents I’ve found so far that are written in Aramaic.  This is kind of neat for me, because Sebastian doesn’t have any Aramaic at all. 
I’ve scanned through the pages and these texts appear to be the personal journal or diary of a woman named Miri.  I’ve decided to spend my mornings skimming the main library and my afternoons translating this set of documents in full. 
The books don’t seem to be ordered or numbered in any way, so I’m reading and translating them in a fairly random way, simply picking a scroll and working through it.  Hopefully when I’ve done all of them I’ll be able to arrange them in a reasonable chronological order.  The first few scrolls I’ve translated are about her earlier life, which seems to have been spent in Alexandria, though she doesn’t appear to be Egyptian.  I wonder?  This diary may be that gigantic new discovery I’ve always dreamt of.