The Ark: A Refuge . . .

It has been almost 40 days and 40 nights since my last post and it is Father’s Day . . . so, obviously, that calls for a post about Noah’s Ark! But, alas, I have not visited Noah’s Ark—and Ancient Dan, out of principle, does not post about things without direct contact. However, I have recently visited the “Ark Encounter” and (surprise!) have some thoughts about it.

The Noah’s Ark replica at the Ark Encounter theme park (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-05-21)

For the uninformed: The Ark Encounter is a Christian creationist theme park[1] in northern Kentucky. It is owned and operated by Answers in Genesis (AiG),[2] a young-earth creationist non-profit founded and directed by Ken Ham, a master purveyor of pseudoscience. AiG also operates the Creation Museum nearby. The Ark Encounter was developed by AiG’s for-profit partner, Ark Encounter LLC (whose corporate office is in the Creation Museum),[3] with the benefits of huge and controversial local tax incentives. AiG, like many other “non-profit” Christian institutions, has plugged into the “business model” and is not shy about commercialization. From the moment one enters either attraction ($48 for the Ark, $35 for the Creation Museum), there are endless opportunities to spend more money on overpriced food, trinkets, and propaganda. Among other things, the Ark [Encounter] certainly provides a refuge from taxes.

View of the Ark replica from the bow end, showing the entrance queue (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-05-21)

How did I end up there? I would never have done so on my own, but three other long-time friend couples planned a trip to the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter. So Mrs. Ancient Dan and I joined them, fellowship with good friends, curiosity, and the principle of direct experience before commentary overcoming my reticence to give money to AiG.

Time, space, and decorum preclude any full systematic reaction to the exhibits at the Creation “Museum” and Ark Encounter. Rather, I will offer here a couple of observations on the presentation that struck me as important.

Vertical panorama of the Ark replica mid-line showing all three decks (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-06-07)

I expected a barrage of pseudoscience-based arguments, but there was not as much of that as I anticipated. Other aspects of the presentation, however, troubled me more. After my visit, I discovered that Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) had a similar reaction.[4] The Science Guy noted, “every single science exhibit is absolutely wrong; not just misleading, but wrong.”[5] But that is not the disturbing part. The presentation made no serious attempt to document its claims apart from woefully out-of-context biblical references. Some might suggest that the curators of the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter are incapable of proper argumentation and citation; but I don’t think so (although one exhibit had undecipherable English syntax). Ken Ham is no scientist, but he is a crafty presenter and an able politician. The exhibits do not seek to educate; rather they aim to confirm the views of those already on board with the ark, so to speak. Preaching to the choir works! But it also erodes the choirs’ ability to think critically or for themselves.

The crowds at both facilities were themselves an exhibition of credulity. Their faces and T-shirts proclaimed a desire for confirmation of heartfelt views and a yearning for refuge from that threatening outside world—the world of science. The latter was characterized throughout the displays as the “Evolutionary World View” and tacitly blamed for the ills of human society. The Ark [Encounter] is thus a refuge from the deluge of the modern world; a place where one can be comforted that God is in control despite the chaos outside. Is there anything wrong with that? As a late secular songwriter declared: “It don’t really matter to me . . . you believe what you want to believe.” The insightful words are “what you want to believe.” The main point of the song, however, is in the next line: “you don’t have to live like a refugee.”[6] Still, is there anything wrong with seeking psychological refuge from a scary world?

Panorama of Deck 2 of the Ark replica, with Mrs Ancient Dan and a reconstruction of storage magazines that would be the envy of any “prepper” (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-05-21)

Unfortunately, the Ark also provides a refuge from facts. One example will suffice here. Fundamentalist Christians are (in my opinion, unreasonably) disturbed by the notion of evolution. The Flood story provides a potential avenue to explain away all those pesky and undeniable fossils (which support the “Evolutionary World View.” But if the fossils were all the result of the single Flood event, all the weird lifeforms represented in them must have coexisted with humans at the time of Noah and the Ark. The “biggest” obvious (but certainly not the only) problem, then, would be the dinosaurs. A challenge for the young-earth creationist view is the cynical question, “were there dinosaurs on the Ark?” Ken Ham’s answer to that is: “absolutely.” So the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter go to great lengths to create a narrative in which dinosaurs lounged around with Adam in the Garden of Eden (display in the Creation Museum) and had quarters on the great boat. Indeed, an inordinate percentage of the animal replicas in the Ark Encounter are dinosaur or other paleo- “kinds.”

Strange creatures on the Ark (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-06-07)

At this point I should note that the craftmanship of the Ark replica is top-notch, the grounds are beautiful, and presentations are slick and high-tech. It is, in a word, impressive. The result is a massive container for a story that provides limited details. To flesh out visitors’ Encounter experience, numerous entertaining displays answer those idle questions that come with a literal understanding of the account. For example, names of Noah’s daughters-in-law are provided along with their specialized contributions (and ethnic features to match their assumed descendants). Living quarters of unexpected luxury are recreated and set the stage for other “poetic license” additions, like the library of written records (in a bizarre imaginary script). Viewers are thus invited into a storyland world not so unlike Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, the Christian fiction genre, or other fantasy theme parks.

Shem (the putative scholar of the group) kicks back with a scroll in his quarters aboard the Ark Encounter (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-06-07)

What I find troubling is this: with the help of the theme park atmosphere, the visitor is encouraged to accept the presence of dinosaurs on the Ark as naturally as they might expect a huge clothed hi-pitched bipedal rodent interacting with visitors at Disneyworld.

I return to the question: is there anything wrong with all that fantasy? Not in principle; but the ability of the public to evaluate information has always been suspect. In this “Dis-information Age,” flashy presentation, repetition, and volume make discernment more of a chore (see “Russia and the 2016 election”). The real peril of Ken Ham’s efforts are a weakening of critical thinking and an indoctrinated distrust of “science.” This is already a huge problem in America, as the Anti-Vaxxer movement and the current resurgence of Measles highlight.

Ironically, Ken Ham does what the original writer of the Noah’s Ark account in Genesis did: the retelling of a well-known and beloved account infused with new details that support a particular theological view. Flood stories were written adapted in Mesopotamian cultures long before the composition of the Torah (even if one assumes the most conservative view of Mosaic authorship). Those accounts feature conflicting actions of multiple gods with humans as simple annoyances. The Genesis author was concerned with eliminating the other deities from the narrative, leaving the one God of Israel in control with a focus on human morality. Ken Ham’s retelling is concerned with eliminating the established fossil record, scientific method, and critical thinking.

Japheth (the musical one in this telling) and his conspicuously white-skinned wife, “Rayneh” (the artistic one) in their quarters aboard the Ark Encounter reconstruction (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2019-06-07)

What does any of this have to do with Father’s Day? The Genesis Flood story presents Noah as the father of all mankind through his three sons, Shem, Ham (not Ken!), and Japheth.[7] Unsurprisingly, the Ark Encounter takes up this approach. This is a danger zone because literal views of the Shem, Ham, and Japheth division was used to justify slavery in this country (primarily through interpretations of Gen 9:20-27). Happily, Ken Ham denounces racism in numerous displays—which I wholeheartedly applaud. So the Ark should be a refuge—from bigotry and hatred, because we are all in this boat together.  

Happy Father’s Day!



[1]  I felt a little bad about this characterization until I saw that Wikipedia uses the same phrase; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ark_Encounter (accessed 15 June 2019).

[2] “Ark Encounter Media Resources,” https://arkencounter.com/press/ (accessed 15 June 2019).

[3] “Company Overview of Ark Encounter, LLC,” Bloomberg,  https://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapid=134385996 (accessed 15 June 2019).

[4] I am gratified that Bill Nye also felt the need to see it first hand—and would like to think that our common engineering backgrounds are the reason for our similar approaches.

[5] Erik Ortiz, “’Absolutely Wrong’: Bill Nye the Science Guy Takes on Noah’s Ark Exhibit, NBC News, 16 July 2016; https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/absolutely-wrong-bill-nye-science-guy-takes-noah-s-ark-n608721.

[6] Tom Petty (and Michael W. Campbell), “Refugee,” 1979.

[7] BONUS FOR PEOPLE THAT READ FOOTNOTES: The earlier Mesopotamian flood epics mentioned above have undeniable parallels to the Genesis account in terms of building details, the releasing of birds, and a post-flood sacrifice. But the Mesopotamian stories do not emphasize the notion of the variously-named boat builders populating the world. This aspect of the tale is found, however, in the less well-known Greek flood myth of Deucalion, where the hero repopulates the world through three sons. A new study of these parallels is found in Guy Darshan, After the Flood: Stories of Origins in the Hebrew Bible and Eastern Mediterranean Literature [Hebrew], Biblical Encyclopedia Library 35 (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2018).

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Lystra: Human Nature on Display (Pic Of The Day, 12 May 2019)

A follow-up to my previous Pic of The (special) Day post is in order. Last week, I held forth on the “Genesis of the Accepting Church” using the Apostle Paul’s first visit to the city Antioch of Pisidia, as narrated by Acts 13. This was occasioned by my use of the passage for a special combined Sunday School session on the 60th anniversary of University Baptist Church’s own Genesis. As it happens, the Narrative Lectionary used by UBC covers Paul’s continued work on the same journey in the cities of Lystra and Derbe, also in the Roman province of Galatia. If you haven’t read the one about Antioch of Pisidia, it might be helpful and can be found here.

The mound, or Hüyük of Lystra, with random students distributed for scale (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Immediately after Antioch of Pisidia, the same sequence of events is reported at Iconium but with far less detail: Paul going to the synagogue, having an opportunity to preach there because of his status, resistance by unbelieving synagogue Jews, and eventual persecution and departure (Acts 14:1-7). From Iconium, they moved on to nearby Lystra. Today Lystra remains a largely un-investigated and non-descript ruin in the Lycaonian plain. The site is dominated by a large hüyük; a mound of ruins built up over centuries or millennia of human occupation (more familiar by the Arabic word tell). The active agricultural fields surrounding the mound are devoid of architectural features, but abound in those indicators of an ancient site: sherds of broken pottery and small stone objects turned up by the plow. It is a prototypical example of an unpreserved and unexcavated ancient site.  

View from the crest of the mound at Lystra with not-so-ancient-Daniel and worked fields below (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-05-21)

At Lystra the biblical narrative focuses on Paul’s healing of a cripple—very possibly at the synagogue where Paul was speaking (Acts 14:8-10)—and the aftermath of that miraculous event. Some of the locals, amazed by what Paul had done, declared him and Barnabas to be “the gods” in human form. Paul, “since he was the chief speaker,” was called Hermes (the messenger of the Olympian Greek gods) and Barnabas—apparently more quietly dignified and stately(?)—was deemed to be Zeus! The priest of Zeus brought out “oxen and garlands” to offer a sacrifice, but Paul and Barnabas declaimed that they were mere men and scarcely managed to avert the sacrifice (Acts 14:11-18). Then, with no indication of time passed after the previous scene, the reader of Acts is told that Jews from Antioch (of Pisidia) and Iconium came and “persuaded the people,” so that “they stoned Paul dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead” (v. 19). How could the same people declare Paul and Barnabas to be gods worthy of sacrifice and in the next verse stone Paul and leave him for dead? The answer, I sadly conclude, is human nature.

A modern recreation of the stoning of Paul just outside of Lystra; note the stone in flight at left center (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17) [NOTE: no Charlies were injured in the creation of this picture]

We, as most mammals do, have something of a pack mentality which causes us to readily accept a potential leader who demonstrates (or sometimes only claims) an ability to “save” us from whatever we may fear. This desire leads to irrational beliefs and actions. We see as much in this story; but also throughout history, in politics, in sports, and even entertainment. In the Roman world, the practice of worshiping the emperor as divine may strike us as “ignorant,” but it operated on the same psychology. And it worked! —as seen in the impressive temple to Augustus at Antioch of Pisidia (pictured in my previous post) complete with an entablature featuring bulls decorated with garlands, the very items brought out for sacrifice in our story.

Antiochia Pisidia: one of the many bull and garland fragments from the Temple of Augustus (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Apparently refusing the role of physical/political savior, failing to provide what the crowds demand, or not being what people first hoped, is a dangerous business. This is the human side of what physically happened to Jesus; and Paul’s experience is an echo. The Lycaonians of Lystra demonstrate, in the extremes of their actions, the foibles of human temperament.

Happily, we don’t have to leave Lystra (or this blog) completely depressed about humanity. Paul returned to the city on the so-called “Second Missionary Journey” (Acts 16:1-3) and found the good side of people and their instincts. In Lystra Paul met a disciple named “Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek.” This Timothy was the product of a mixed marriage, which may have been a social burden and certainly created the potential for theological discrimination (Acts 16:3). It might be argued that Timothy’s mother is only mentioned because of her contribution to his mixed heritage, but note that only she is cited as a believer. And, assuming we can take it as authentic (many do not), 2 Timothy 1:5 has Paul remarking to Timothy about his faith: “a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.” Timothy clearly received much more than Jewishness from his mother and his grandmother.

Lystra with a bouquet of wildflowers
Lystra in full Spring bloom; the hüyük rising in the background (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-05-21)

The love and nurture of a mother reveals and passes on the best part of human nature. We see it at Lystra in this story, and I feel it in my own life and in the lives of my children. As Tim[othy] might have said, “God bless[ed] us, every one!”

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Pisidian Antioch: Genesis of the Accepting Church

This post is the result of my being asked to teach a special combined Sunday School session for University Baptist Church’s 60th anniversary, 5 May 2019. I decided to cover the Acts 13 passage in which the Apostle Paul established the first Christian church in Antiochia Pisidia, “Antioch of Pisidia.” And, I’ll take any opportunity to put pictures of a place to a story. Hence this “Pic of the (special) Day” entry.

The mountainous backdrop of Antiocha Pisidia in the Anatolian highlands; with the platform and remains of a Temple of Augustus, cut from the living rock in an apsidal recess at the end of a long courtyard (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Antiochia Pisidia is one of several cities named “Antioch” in the Greco-Roman world, and distinct from the Antioch for which so many rural protestant churches are named in the American Bible Belt region. That earlier Antioch is often called “Antioch on the Orontes” or “Antioch of Syria,” and it is where the early Christian church made its breakout in the Hellenistic world (Acts 11:19-26). It is also the “home church” for the so-called “Missionary Journeys of Paul—the first of which brings the Apostle to the Antioch of Pisidia.

Ancient Dan’s daughter, Rachel, inside the well-preserved baths at Antiocha Pisidia; note the aqueduct visible through the back door (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Paul had assumed leadership of the First Journey, originally led by Barnabas, it seems (Acts 13:1-4), as the group left Cyprus and arrived in at Perga Asia Minor (Acts 13:13). No work is described at Perga and, for reasons unexplained by the biblical text, Paul continued inland an appreciable distance to Antioch of Pisidia. Antioch was made a Roman colony by the Emperor Augustus, to whom an impressive temple was built. Augustus also established the Via Sebaste, a major road that connected Antioch with Perga to the southwest and Iconium and Lystra to the east, all cities visited by Paul on that First Journey.

Antiocha Pisidia; Aqueduct above the city (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Antioch of Pisidia was a typical Roman-Hellenistic city, with the usual institutions and structures: the Temple of Augustus, public fountains and baths powered by an aqueduct, and a minority community of Jews with a synagogue. As in many Roman cities, some number of non-Jews (Gentiles) attended the synagogue because of their interest and belief in the one God of Judaism. Such Gentiles were called “God Fearers” and were part of the synagogue community, but not considered Proselytes (converts)—no doubt because of the difficult requirement of circumcision for full conversion.

Antiocha Pisidia: the large basilica known as the St. Paul Church; claimed by one archaeologist who worked at the site to be built over the synagogue, but this view is not widely held (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2009-03-17)

Paul and his company went to the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia on the sabbath day (Acts 13:14). This is the first city to which the missionary group arrived with Paul in the full leadership position, and the author (traditionally Luke) gives a rather complete outline of what occurred. The account provides an outline of Paul’s procedure/experience in each succeeding city with only minor variations. Because of his rabbinical training under Gamaliel, the most respected Rabbi of the period, Paul would automatically be asked to deliver a homily after the Torah and other biblical readings in the synagogue service. This is what is described (Acts 13:15-16), and Paul delivered a sermon (vss 16-41) that was well-received by some Jews and God Fearers alike (42-43). The next sabbath many more people appeared at the synagogue (44). These were no doubt other Gentiles who came because of reports from the God Fearers who had heard Paul the previous week. The unbelieving Jews were “filled with jealousy” when they saw the crowds—people different from them, from which the synagogue was something of a refuge. They contradicted Paul, which is to be expected as theological debate and argumentation over the Law is a well-established Jewish tradition. But more alarmingly they “reviled him” (45), leading me to the conclusion that this was not just about theology: they used theology as an excuse and a tool for exclusion of those who were different—in this case the Gentiles; especially those not in conformance with the Jewish Law.

Antiocha Pisidia: the distinctive Byzantine basilica apse of the St Paul Church (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2012-05-23)

Paul’s reaction at Antioch of Pisidia, as in every other city save one, was to leave the synagogue and form a new faith community—a church—with the believing Jews and God Fearers (46). It was successful and grew (48-49). Its eventual persecution by the synagogue Jews underlines the latter’s attitude and my conclusion that, here and in many similar situations (ancient and modern), theology divides while inclusion builds community.

Paul went on to repeat the same basic sequence at other cities of the First Journey, all of them (with Antioch of Pisidia) in the Roman province called Galatia. There is considerable debate but, for purely logical reasons, I maintain that Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to those churches founded on the First Journey about the time of the “Judaizing Controversy” (Acts 15), in which the “Judaizers” attempted to force Gentile Christians to keep the Jewish Law as a condition of salvation. The letter to the Galatians is clearly in the context of this controversy and lays out the case that Gentiles are not required to keep the Jewish Law (of which circumcision is the most painful prescription). In that letter occurs the “focal verse” of University Baptist Church, Galatians 2:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is worth noting that “Greeks” (Gentiles/God Fearers) were separated from full Jewish males in the synagogue, as were women of any persuasion. The verse focuses on the elimination of distinctions—distinctions which continue to arise through Christian history. It is refreshing to belong to a congregation that understands this foundational tenet of building truly Christian communion.

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“Is Paris Burning?” Pics for Notre Dame

“Is Paris Burning?” Hitler reportedly asked the question on 25 August 1944. He had given orders for the French capital to be torched as Nazi forces retreated in order to spite the Allies. The Wehrmacht commanders defied Der Fuhrer’s order and Paris was preserved.* Today, however, one of the great monuments saved from insanity in 1944 is in flames.

As Notre Dame burns, I—like anyone that has experienced the magnificent cathedral—am filled with sadness and reflection. Many others are already holding forth on the cultural loss and meaning of the church. Rather than presume to add meaningfully to that dialogue, I’ll share some of my pictures of the monument in happier times.

Boobah, the Princess, and Mrs Ancient Dan across the Seine from Notre Dame, 12 March 1999 (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

I am very thankful that Mrs. Ancient Dan and I decided to invest in giving our children the experience of travel and, hopefully, an appreciation of cultural treasures and a global outlook. One of the things they enjoyed in person was Notre Dame.

Many of my visits to the cathedral were during long layovers at Paris’ CDG airport while leading student study-travel programs to Mediterranean countries. If I had six hours, I felt it was possible to take a train into the city (about 40 minutes), see a couple of sites, and make it back and through security to catch the flight on to Turkey, Greece, Jordan, or Israel. Notre Dame was always on the itinerary. Some thought I was crazy to try it; but in retrospect the risk was rather worth the reward—especially now that the cathedral is un-visitable (at least for the near future).

The 2015 STEP Greece trip group outside the iconic facade of Notre Dame during a blitz-tour on a layover in Paris (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, )
Notre Dame from the Pont de l’Archevêché, a “Love Lock” bridge, with students on a layover blitz-tour in 2014 (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-10-31)
Students at a votive candle stand inside Notre Dame with one of the rose windows behind (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2015-05-28)
The rose window; irreplaceable, I expect (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2015-05-28)
The rose windows get all the glory, but I really like the ones around the apse at the E end (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2014-10-31)

So . . . I have not named the General who defied Hitler’s order to burn Paris. This is intentional, because he did carry out other orders from on high and liquidated the Jews of the city during his tenure as occupying commander. That certainly stains his memory. But I am thankful to him for preserving the city and thus Notre Dame to be appreciated for nearly an additional 75 years.

Notre Dame in happier times (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2015-05-28)

* The story is well told in: Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, Is Paris Burning? Penguin Books, 1966. This engaging book was later made into a motion picture.

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The Hazards of Tax Day (Pic Of The Day, 2019-03-24)

I was considering some sort of “seasonal” post relating to that hazard of early Spring in the USA: the looming April 15 tax deadline. I have not dealt with my complicated tax situation for 2018 yet and need to get on it. Anyhow, my consideration of a tax theme turned to resolve at University Baptist Church this morning; a result of the New Testament passage (Matthew 22) and related sermon on the question posed to Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar. More about the connection below, but stay with me . . .

Panorama of the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill; the subject of this post is at left center (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-02-21)

In the heart of Rome one can visit the preserved remains of the ancient Forum.  Near the center of the Roman Forum lie an often overlooked and nondescript ruin. It is the foundations of the Temple of Divus Julius; that is, the Temple to the deified Julius Caesar.

The central Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill; the Temple of Divus Julius is the ugly brown mass at lower center with idlers milling about in front, as usual (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-02-21)

Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, while exiting the Senate Chamber. At his public funeral in the Forum, Marc Anthony’s famous speech incited the crowd who then took over. Instead of the planned pyre on the Campus Martius, Caesar was cremated by the crowd across from his office as pontifex maximus (chief priest) at the Regia. A monument was hastily constructed there with an altar, but this was removed by the anti-dictator Liberator party. But two years later Caesar’s heirs (Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus) decreed that a temple would be built on the spot. Thus, Julius Caesar was officially deified and a cult established in the name Divus Julius.

The remains of the Temple to Divus Julius (foreground) in the Roman Forum; it is hard to get a pic clear of people because the railing in front of the nondescript ruins make a convenient spot for groups to wait around (as you can see here, unaware of the significance); note the later Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina (converted to a church) in the background (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-02-21)

The Temple’s size (with 40-foot columns on a high platform) is belied by the meager ruins today. Like other Forum monuments, it suffered from robbing and spoilage by the building programs of later holders of the title pontifex maximus (the popes). The entire superstructure and almost all original cut stones of the podium are now missing. A round altar (perhaps a rebuilding of the original crowd-sourced altar) in a recess of the podium is now closed in by a later wall, through which you must pass to view it. Despite its obscurity to the average tourist and somewhat hidden nature, however, I have never seen the altar without fresh floral offerings on top. Caesar was, and remains, a popular figure.

Altar associated with the Temple to Divus Julius, concealed from the crowds by the wall on the right; note the floral offerings on top, and many coins wherein folks apparently “rendered unto Caesar” (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-02-21)

What does all of this have to do with tax season? Above, I note that Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Most people don’t know that date, but many can answer the question “when was Caesar killed?” with the well-known day, “the Ides of March.” The Romans counted days of months differently than we do. The “Ides” was the middle day of the month; so, the Ides of March was March 15. The Romans also generally specified due dates for financial obligations by the Ides and, since they allowed a quarter to get previous years’ corporate debts to the government, March 15 was the day such debts were due. It was, essentially, “tax day.” Ironically, this became true under Julius Caesar as he instituted the “Julian Calendar,” which moved the traditional New Year’s celebration to January 1 from—even more ironically—March 15! While it is true that Caesar was supposed to depart Rome on the 18th and the Liberators had to act before then, what better day to choose than the one on which former happy celebrations were now replaced by debts due to the victim? The day very well may have been planned to minimize public retaliation (somewhat akin to issuing unpopular notices at work on Friday afternoons). Certainly the days after the assassination were used by both sides to curry public opinion, as in Antony’s speech and—on the other side—in a coin issued by the famous Liberator Brutus extolling the day’s act.

Silver denarius issued by Brutus (on obverse); with (reverse) “Ides of March” under Pileus (freedom cap) and two daggers (photo: British Museum)

While the Liberator conspirators’ act ultimately backfired and resulted in the deification of the one they wanted to eliminate, the whole affair highlights the political business of public perception. For more on that, and the connection to Jesus’ answer to the question posed to him on paying taxes to Caesar, stay tuned for the next post. For now, I have to go work on my taxes . . .

BTW; “tax day” in the USA used to be March 15 (from 1918 to 1954), but was extended to the “Ides of April”—April 15—two years before my birth. At this moment I am glad.

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Pics of St. Patrick’s Day: How the Irish Saved Civility*

Mrs. Ancient Dan had always wanted to visit Ireland, mainly because her dad had related accounts of his Irish ancestry. I was raised with a Protestant British distaste for the Irish, but with a suppressed knowledge of some Irish blood (revealed by the scattered red hairs visible when I allow my beard to grow). But I, too, wanted to see the place. So, we planned a trip for May of 2016.

Totally unexpected and traumatic things happened 9 days before the planned journey—events that completely disrupted our life and, perhaps worse, seemingly confirmed my cynicism about humanity. Our world was shattered. Nevertheless we decided to go to Ireland anyway, now more for escape from reality than anything else . . . and with dour hearts.

What we found there was a people of considerable politeness, kindness, and civility; just what we needed for encouragement. Mrs. A.D. and I had debated over what the “prototypical” Irish person would be (I argued for a red-headed girl). We were both right . . . and both wrong. I now think of the Irish in terms of temperament rather than outward appearance. And I thank them for challenging me to examine the way I treat others.

Oh, and Ireland itself is pretty nice too. We also “argued” over the “prototypical” Irish scene. We were both right, again. I’ll let pictures tell the story for the rest of this post.

First, the pic-out to St. Patrick: he gestures to Station Island in Lough Derg, site of St Patrick’s Purgatory. On the island, Patrick was shown a cave leading to Purgatory. The island became a center of Christian pilgrimage with penitential stations for preparation to visit that waystation of the Underworld! Those who know me well are aware that I am fascinated with ancient spots considered entrances to the Netherworld . . . but, sadly, the cave has been sealed and covered since 1632 and only genuine pilgrims are allowed out the island today on multi-day visits (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-17)
My pre-trip image of Ireland: abandoned churches with lichen-encrusted tombstones; this is the Hill of Slane (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-09)
Mrs A.D.’s pre-trip image of Ireland: super-green pastures with livestock in the distance; like this scene with the Drombeg Stone Circle in the foreground, one of the many megalithic monuments in the country (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-15)
The Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s west coast, one of the many natural beauty wonders of the country (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-14)
Ardmore: Church Cemetery and Tower; another of the many ruined churches surrounded by graves in the country (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-10)
Carrigafoyle Castle, one of the many monumental medieval ruins in the country (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-13)
More green pastures and livestock . . . and another of the many megalithic monuments: Parknabinnia Wedge Tomb (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-14)
The Devil’s Causeway, another of the many natural wonders of [Northern] Ireland; sadly, the Korean Tour group and the gaggle of OU fans would neither help me recreate the “Houses of the Holy” Led Zeppelin album cover, nor get out of the way for my pics . . . (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-18)
On of my favorite pics of Mrs A.D. and me: together on the rocks of life, but taking it one step at a time (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-18)

Ireland is a great place to see things and think about life. So, I left there glad to have visited in troubling times and resolved to be conscious of how I treat people and react to circumstances.

BTW, we did DNA tests for Christmas and it turns out . . . I am more Irish than Mrs A.D., much to her chagrin (and my surprise)!
Perhaps that is why , for the first time ever, I wore green for St. Patrick’s Day today.


*A reference to the excellent book by Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (New York: Doubleday, 1995).

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The Road Between Jerusalem and Jericho and the Road Between Discrimination and Acceptance (Pic Of The Day, 2019-03-10)

I was asked to give the “spoken reflection” at tonight’s Celtic Worship Service at University Baptist Church, and thought I would post my reflection here with a couple of pics. The focal passage is the famous “Good Samaritan” story in Luke 10, which I find very thought-provoking in light of the increased divisiveness and media focus on racism of late in our society. I have done a great deal of introspection on these topics in recent months and even thought of making an Ancient Dan blog post entitled “Confessions of a former Racist.” But my wife and daughter wisely advised against it. The “Good Samaritan” story, I think, provides a way to express my thoughts in a better way.

First, a quick look at the “Good Samaritan” account as I see it. Jesus tells the story in response to the question, “and who is my neighbor?” in the context of discussing the Jewish Law. In it, a man is assaulted by bandits and left for dead along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The geography is important here, as it is a desolate road through unoccupied desert, where there were no neighbors.

The Wadi Qelt, along the path of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho in the Judean Desert; the area was only inhabited by those seeking to get away—either from the authorities or for religious isolation (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2015-11-06)

As Jesus narrates, a priest came along the road and we expect that this religious man will help our unfortunate victim. But, alas, on this road a priest would be headed up to Jerusalem where he would serve his week-long rotation in the Temple. It was the highest religious duty in the Jewish Law and could not be compromised by uncleanness imputed by blood from the victim or—worse—contamination by his corpse should the man be found dead or die whilst receiving aid. The priest crossed to the other side and passed by. And the hearers of this story—all Jews—were not in the least surprised or judgmental. All the same logic was true for the Levite that happened along next. None of those listening expected that he would stop either. What crummy luck; our victim was having a really bad day. But then in Jesus’ telling there is another who appears and nears—a Samaritan! While we now think of “Good Samaritans” or even just “Samaritans” as helpers, this notion destroys the gist of the story. To the Jew, a Samaritan was the worst of rivals. Jesus’ listeners no doubt expected this “bad” (by their definition) Samaritan to stomp on the victim’s head and finish the job. The bad day, they thought, was now the worst of days. He of course, as we know, demonstrated the proper action of kindness.

Wadi Qelt: the monastery of St. George (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2015-11-06)

But this story is not about how to treat others; it is really about how we perceive them. I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about how I perceive others. I am a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant heterosexual man. I was raised in a “middle-class” American home which, by any world-wide standard, was a life of privilege. So I am a potential poster-boy for racist and intolerant views. Nevertheless, I’ve always denied that I was bigoted or intolerant. In my extended family, I cannot ever recall having heard the “N” word used or any other racial or discriminatory epithet. BUT, that is a poor gauge on how I have perceived others. Like most folks, I learned from my youth to categorize people with labels like, “the black guy,” “the Mexican woman,” “the gay dude” or “the Alabama Crimson Tide sidewalk fan.” So this is not so much the confession of a former racist, but the admission of an unconscious tribalist.

I am convinced that human beings have an innate tendency for group identification, like the herd or pack instincts of other mammals. Unfortunately, in “civilized” human society it is somehow easier to identify one’s group by isolating those who are not part of it—through creation of the “other.” This is easiest with obvious differences like skin color, but the principle is the same for all discriminations.

Back to the “Good Samaritan.” The key for me is realization that the lesson is not in the story itself, but in the question asked by Jesus at the end, to the one who asked him “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus asked, “which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?”

It is sometimes observed that when the “lawyer” responded to Jesus, he was unwilling to use the designation “Samaritan” because of his disdain for that group. He responded, “the one who showed mercy on him.” The Jewish-Samaritan divide was severe, to be sure, but it was not due to physical difference. The Samaritans were—as an ethnic group—half Israelite. They were the other monotheistic minority in the early Roman Empire period, worshipping the same God as Israel and practicing circumcision like the Jews. The Romans could not tell the difference between Samaritans and Jews that were naked and talking about God. Tribalism and details of theology had created the schism.

It is true that the Samaritan demonstrates that all are our potential neighbors. But I wonder if the lawyer really got it right with his generic description. The main point may be how we perceive others upon first glance or knowledge. Do I continue using categories and labels for people, or can I see them generically, all capable of good and mercy. This is the challenge, and Jesus consistently points me—and all of us—in the direction of acceptance.

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