Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Wondering about the ‘Star of Wonder’
Was it a comet? A supernova? Science suggests something else
updated 3:38 p.m. ET, Tues., Dec . 9, 2008

The Star of Bethlehem has left its mark on the gospels as well as a constellation of holiday songs. Was it purely a divine sign, created miraculously to mark Jesus’ birth? Or was it an astronomical event in its own right? John Mosley, program supervisor for the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, says there are several scientific scenarios for the “Star of Wonder”:

Through the years, astronomers and others have proposed a variety of objects for the Christmas star — comets, an exploding star or a grouping of planets.

Some suggest that the star was a miracle created especially by God. Such a suggestion cannot be proved or disproved, and it is entirely outside the realm of science. But there’s no need to resort to miracles, given the actual astronomical events of the time.

Step 1: The time frame for Jesus' birth
The first thing is to determine the approximate date of Jesus’ birth. Then astronomers can look at the sky phenomena of that period and try to identify the star. It doesn’t work the other way around: Since virtually any year can boast at least one reasonably interesting sky event, the astronomy must follow the history.

Let’s assume, as many historians have, that the most likely time frame for the birth of Jesus was in the years before A.D. 1. Let’s also assume that the Star of Bethlehem could be observed by skywatchers elsewhere in the world, and not just by the Magi who followed the star to Jesus' birthplace. The Magi, who are known as “wise men” or “kings” in the Christmas story, were actually priests who relied on astrology.

These assumptions would rule out some of the prime suspects in the mystery: comets, brightening stars known as novae, and exploding stars known as supernovae. The Chinese, who did a particularly good job of cataloging astronomical phenomena, recorded no such phenomena during the years in question.

Step 2: Was it really a star?
Beyond the timing issue, there’s another consideration: A comet or supernova big enough to attract the wise men’s attention would have been widely noticed by royalty and commoners as well. But King Herod and his advisers seemed not to know or care about the star until the astrologers from the east came to visit.

However, if we suppose that the “star” actually referred to the planets, the situation is less problematic. The movements and groupings of planets in the night sky were of exceeding interest to astrologers and were closely tracked around the world.

Historical records and modern-day computer simulations indicate that there was a rare series of planetary groupings, also known as conjunctions, during the years 3 B.C. and 2 B.C.

Step 3: Retracing the conjunctions
The show started on the morning of June 12 in 3 B.C., when Venus could be sighted very close to Saturn in the eastern sky. Then there was a spectacular pairing of Venus and Jupiter on Aug. 12 in the constellation Leo, which ancient astrologers associated with the destiny of the Jews.

Between September of 3 B.C. and June of 2 B.C., Jupiter passed by the star Regulus in Leo, reversed itself and passed it again, then turned back and passed the star a third time. This was another remarkable event, since astrologers considered Jupiter the kingly planet and regarded Regulus as the “king star.”

The crowning touch came on June 17, when Jupiter seemed to approach so close to Venus that, without binoculars, they would have looked like a single star.

The whole sequence of events could have been enough for at least three astrologers to go to Jerusalem and ask Herod: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews, for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him.”

Step 4: Does it make sense?
Now, this doesn’t mean that astrology works. We haven’t ruled out other possibilities for the Star of Bethlehem. And the mere existence of interesting celestial events does nothing to prove that the birth of Jesus was accompanied by a star, that the Magi existed, or even that the Nativity took place as described in the Bible.

Matching up the June 17 date with biblical accounts produces a mixed verdict. Biblical scholars can't rule out the possibility that the Nativity occurred during the middle of the year. In fact, there's no reference to December, let alone Dec. 25, in the gospels' stories of the Nativity.

Luke's scriptural account about shepherds being out in their fields would make more sense if the birth occurred during the Middle East's milder months — say, the April-through-October time frame.

However, the 2 B.C. date is problematic for scholars who argue that Jesus' birth had to take place before 4 B.C. That date marks the death of Herod the Great, the ruler who sent the Magi on their way to Bethlehem, according to Matthew's gospel. The timing for Herod's death is known with some certainty because it meshes with Josephus' historical account as well as the dates for the reigns of contemporaneous Roman leaders.

Such debates are the province of historians and scriptural scholars rather than astronomers. In any case, knowing that a truly interesting astronomical event occurred around the time of the Nativity can add to our sense of wonder during the traditional Christmas season.

This article draws upon on John Mosley’s 1987 book, “The Christmas Star,” which is available from the Griffith Observatory. “The Christmas Star” addresses many other questions about the season, such as: When was Christ born? Who were the Magi? Why is Christmas observed on Dec. 25?

In Bethlehem, holiday cheer edges out gloom

Christian communities across the globe celebrate Christmas

Image: Christian girls in Santa hats
Christian girls wearing Santa hats attend Christmas celebrations in Manger Square, outside the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Thursday.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

THE GIFTED 'ONE': What would you like to give Obama for Christmas?

Found this poll in the internet today, and found the results interesting:

Click here to see the results (PDF File)

Jesus' Geneaologies

Good Question
Who Was Jesus' Grandfather?
What the two genealogies of Christ, found in Matthew and Luke, are really trying to say.

Few aspects of the Bible seem less relevant to daily life than genealogies. Yet for Gospel writers Matthew and Luke, they were absolutely essential for understanding Jesus.

Genealogies fulfilled multiple purposes in the ancient world. Society was organized around kinship patterns, so every family needed lists that described their ancestral pedigree. Such family trees determined a person's social relationships. For instance, two families planning the marriage of their children would compare family lines to check kinship ties to ensure the two were "compatible." And rulers used genealogies to justify their power, rank, and status.

So why are the genealogical trees in Matthew and Luke so different? Matthew begins his Gospel with Jesus' genealogy, while Luke places it, strangely, between Jesus' baptism and temptation. Matthew has an ascending list, moving from Abraham up to Jesus, while Luke has a descending list, moving from Jesus down to Adam. Matthew's list is partial; Luke's is complete. And most significantly, while the two lists are virtually identical from Abraham to David, they diverge greatly from David to Jesus.

Several solutions have been proposed to explain the differences. Martin Luther said that Matthew gives Joseph's line and Luke Mary's line. Others, such as Tertullian, reversed this. Yet the explanation fails in both directions, because the Gospels clearly state that they are listing Joseph's line (Matt. 1:16; Luke 3:23). Julius Africanus proposed that Matthew follows Jesus' natural descent and Luke his legal descent. Neither Gospel indicates such an approach, though, and it is best to allow the authors to speak for themselves.

A Closer Look

Examining each genealogy closely reveals the authors' different purposes. Matthew's list resembles those used by rulers to justify their rank and status, and by families to determine connections to a common ancestor. Matthew arranges his genealogy into three groups of 14 names each. In Jewish gematria—a kind of numerology stemming from the fact that letters of the Hebrew alphabet were also numbers—names have numerical value. The three consonants for David add up to 14. So Matthew underscores Jesus' kingly ancestry by working in groups of David, or 14.

Matthew portrays Jesus as the long-awaited Savior whose pedigree demonstrates his claim to be the Son of David and royal Messiah. Another unique feature of his genealogy is the presence of four women—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Each had a scandalous aspect of her life, thus paving the way for Mary as an unwed mother. And all were (or were married to) Gentiles, foreshadowing the Gentile mission so important in Matthew's gospel.

Luke, on the other hand, begins his genealogy with "the son, so it was thought, of Joseph" (3:23), and concludes with "the son of God" (3:38). At Jesus' baptism, God declares Jesus "my Son" (3:22), and Jesus' temptation begins with Satan recognizing him as "the Son of God" (4:3). Placed between Jesus' baptism and temptation, Luke's genealogy is meant to proclaim that Jesus is, indeed, God's only Son.

Luke does not group the names like Matthew does but provides a simple succession of ancestors. The list contains many more common names (some of which we know nothing about) and seems to underscore Jesus' humanity as well as his divine sonship. Moreover, by going all the way back to Adam (the ancestor of all humanity), Luke maintains a universal thrust, emphasizing that Jesus came for all mankind. The list ends with Adam, and then Luke moves into the story of Jesus' encounter with Satan in the wilderness, in which Jesus rises above temptation as Adam did not. The message is clear: In Jesus, all human beings find their sins overcome.

Are there difficulties in reconciling the genealogies? Can they be harmonized? The answer in both cases is yes. Matthew's and Luke's lists stem largely from Old Testament genealogies (see Gen. 10-11 and 1 Chron. 1-3) and Jewish sources, and the differences between the names occur largely because each evangelist was selective in whom he included.

After Nathan in Luke's account and after Zerubbabel in Matthew's, no names adhere to other biblical passages, but few doubt that both lists are following traditional sources. We may never know whether Jesus' paternal grandfather through Joseph was Jacob (Matt. 1:15) or Heli (Luke 3:23b), and it could well be that they were brothers, with Heli the uncle and legal line of Jesus and Jacob the physical line. Either way, each genealogy reveals something about Jesus.

Grant Osborne is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

First Jesus-era house discovered in Nazareth

First Jesus-era house discovered in Nazareth

First Jesus-era house discovered in Nazareth Photo By AP

Just in time for Christmas, archaeologists on Monday unveiled what may have been the home of one of Jesus' childhood neighbors. The humble dwelling is the first dating to the era of Jesus to be discovered in Nazareth, then a hamlet of around 50 impoverished Jewish families where Jesus spent his boyhood.

Archaeologists and present-day residents of Nazareth imagined Jesus as a youngster, playing with other children in the isolated village, not far from the spot where the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would give birth to the boy.

Today the ornate Basilica of the Annunciation marks that spot, and Nazareth is the largest Arab city in northern Israel, with about 65,000 residents. Muslims now outnumber Christians two to one in the noisy, crowded city.

The archaeological find shows how different it was 2000 years ago: There were no Christians or Muslims, the Jewish Temple stood in Jerusalem and tiny Nazareth stood near a battleground between Roman rulers and Jewish guerrillas.

The Jews of Nazareth dug camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority. But the hamlet was so far off the beaten path that the caves were apparently not needed, she said.
Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a "simple Jewish family," Alexandre added, as workers carefully chipped away at mud with small pickaxes to reveal stone walls.

"This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with," Alexandre said. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends. "It's a logical suggestion."

The discovery so close to Christmas pleased local Christians.

"They say if the people do not speak, the stones will speak," said the Rev. Jack Karam of the nearby basilica.

Archaeologist Stephen Pfann, president of the University of The Holy Land, noted: "It's the only witness that we have from that area that shows us what the walls and floors were like inside Nazareth in the first century." Pfann was not involved in the dig.

Alexandre said workers uncovered the first signs of the dwelling last summer, but it became clear only this month that it was a structure from the days of Jesus.

Alexandre's team found remains of a wall, a hideout, a courtyard and a water system that appeared to collect water from the roof and supply it to the home. The discovery was made when builders dug up the courtyard of a former convent to make room for a new Christian center, just yards from the Basilica.

It is not clear how big the dwelling is. Alexandre's team has uncovered about 900 square feet of the house, but it may have been for an extended family and could be much larger, she said.

Archaeologists also found a camouflaged entry way into a grotto, which Alexandre believes was used by Jews to hide from Roman soldiers who were battling Jewish rebels for control of the area.

The grotto could have hidden around six people for a few hours, she said.

However, Roman soldiers did not end up battling Nazareth's Jews because the hamlet had little strategic value. The Roman army was more interested in larger towns and strategic hilltop communities, she said.

Alexandre said similar camouflaged grottos were found in other ancient Jewish communities of the lower Galilee, such as the nearby biblical village of Cana, which did witness battles between Jews and Romans.

Archaeologists also found clay and chalk vessels likely used by Galilean Jews of the time. The scientists concluded a Jewish family lived there because of the chalk, which Jews used to ensure the ritual purity of the food and water kept inside the vessels.

The shards also date back to the time of Jesus, which includes the late Hellenic, early Roman period that ranges from around 100 B.C. to the first century, Alexandre said. The determination was made by comparing the findings to shards and remains typical of that period found in other parts of the Galilee, she said.

The absence of any remains of glass vessels or imported products suggested the people who lived in the dwelling were simple, but Alexandre said the remains did not indicate whether they were traders or farmers.

The only other artifacts from the time of Jesus found in the Nazareth area are ancient burial caves that provided a rough idea of the village's population at the time, Alexandre said.

Work is now taking place to clear newer ruins built above the dwelling, which will be preserved. The dwelling will become part of a new international Christian center being built close to the site and funded by a French Roman Catholic group, said Marc Hodara of the Chemin Neuf Community overseeing construction.

Alexandre said limited space and population density makes it unlikely that archaeologists can carry out further excavations in the area, leaving this dwelling to tell the story of what Jesus' boyhood home may have looked like.

The discovery at "this time, this period, is very interesting, especially as a Christian," Karam said. "For me it is a great gift."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Blizzard!

Starting Friday night, snow came into the DC area and has been snowing all day long.  We have probably accumulated 24-30" of snow here in one day!  I believe it set a record for the area, the 6th largest snowstorm in DC history.  Some historic closings happened due to the storm, including the following:

International Spy Museum Closed
Metro . Above Ground Stations Closed
Metro Bus Service Suspended
Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens Closed
National Gallery of Art Closed Sunday
National Zoo Closed Saturday and Sunday
Smithsonian Institution Closed Saturday and Sunday
Springfield Mall Closed
Pentagon City Mall . Closed at 4pm
Potomac Mills Mall . Closed at 1pm
US Holocaust Museum Closed Saturday and Sunday
Verizon Center Closed Sunday
Our flute choir Christmas concert was canceled again due to snow, and church services were closed.   Also on the down side, we had to cancel the cruise we were going on for Christmas with hubby's family, but hopefully can reschedule for a later date.  Anyhow, I took some pictures of the huge snowfall, so enjoy!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Today is International Talk with a Fake British Accent Day

Yeah, baby, yeah. It's international talk with a fake British accent day

Dick van Dyke and Austin Powers have a lot to answer for. Two New York expats have designated December 17 International talk with a fake British accent day.

By Derek Nisbet
Published: 9:34AM GMT 07 Dec 2009

Watch out for the spinach in the teeth...
Watch out for the spinach in the teeth... Photo: Reuters

Louise Gale and myself founded Big Apple Brits, an expat community in New York City (NYC). We're both British born - Gale is English and I'm Scottish.

“When I moved from Surrey in October 2004, I hardly knew a soul and it took me over six months to find the NYC British expat group and make friends locally. I eventually took over the small but active meet-up group in 2006, four years after it had first been created” says Gale. “It seemed natural after it had done so much for me to socialise into the city and I wanted to ensure that others continued to get the same support.”

I had started the Scottish meet-up in 2007 and a chance meeting led to an entrepreneurial conversation between the two of us.

We realised that there was a powerful need for an online presence for our expat initiative.

And so in April 2009 Big Apple Brits (BAB) was born. The site has attracted 700 new members in its first six months and has big plans.

Not everyone can make it to events, so providing support and other expat-related news on the site really helps Brits feel connected.

“I love hearing stories about friendships that were formed by the group” says Gale.“There has been a wedding and even a baby born as a result of a couple meeting through our group, and this really makes me smile.”

The Big Apple Brits website also provides forums, blogs, photos, videos, newsfeeds and a business directory for expats who want to find British food and services in the city. There’s even an internet radio and podcast area and plans for BABTV.

BAB targets anglophiles and is holding its first International talk with a fake British accent day on December 17th in NYC. Begun as a virtual global event on Facebook, BAB have organised a face-to-face NYC event at Slatterys midtown pub, 8 East 36th Street, to celebrate the British accent and bring anglophiles together.

Everyone (even the Brits) is invited to adopt a fake accent for the event and may find themselves tested on the day by fiendish tongue twisters. You could mimic other famous "fakers", such as Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins or Austin Powers. “Fakers” will be recorded for posterity and members will get a chance to listen, vote, comment and discuss their efforts online.

We are excited about 2010 and building our expat network. For more information, check out Big Apple Brits.

* Do you have an anglophile event to tell Expat about? Write to us at


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Snow already?!

We got a cold front come through today and got around 3-4 inches of snow! It was very pretty, though it ended up canceling our flute choir Christmas concert. :( Hopefully we will get it rescheduled soon. Anyhow, I got some pictures of it falling and thought I'd share!