Monday, August 30, 2010

Did they find bones of John the Baptist?

Are these the bones of John the Baptist?

By Simon Hooper, CNN

(CNN) -- In a region already rich with archaeological artifacts, the excavation of a small alabaster box containing a few pieces of bone amid the ruins of a medieval monastery might easily have passed unnoticed.

But when Bulgarian archaeologists declared they had found relics of John the Baptist, one of the most significant early Christian saints, their discovery became the subject of rather more interest -- prompting angry exchanges in the local media and even calls for a government minister's resignation.

The claim is based on a reliquary -- a container for holy relics -- found on July 28 under the altar of a fifth century basilica on Sveti Ivan, a Black Sea island off Sozopol on Bulgaria's southern coast. Inside, archaeologists found eight pieces of bone, including fragments of skull and face bone and a tooth.

A later monastery on the island was dedicated to John the Baptist; indirect evidence, according to excavation leader Kazimir Popkonstantinov, that the relics under the altar were those of the church's saint.

But Popkonstantinov said the "key" clue to the relics' origins was a tiny sandstone box found alongside the reliquary with a Greek inscription: "God, save your servant Thomas. To St John. June 24."

Popkonstantinov said the date, celebrated by Christians as John's nativity, indicated a direct link between the saint and the site. The rest of the inscription suggested the bearer of the box used it as an amulet for protection, perhaps carrying the relics in a simple container to avoid attracting attention, he speculated.

"We knew we could find a reliquary there and our expectations came true," Popkonstantinov said in e-mailed comments. "It seems rather logical to suggest the founders of the monastery did their best to bring relics of its patron saint."

Several sites already house relics purported to be John, such as the Grand Mosque in Damascus, Syria, and Amiens Cathedral in France, which both claim to have his head, and the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, which has a right arm on display.

Paul Middleton, a senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Chester, said there was good evidence to suggest John was a historical figure, with all four Gospels and the Jewish historian Josephus agreeing he was put to death by beheading on the orders of the local ruler, Herod Antipas.

Christians believe John, an ascetic preacher, heralded the coming of Christ and baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. "He is seen as the forerunner of Jesus; he prepares the way," said Middleton.

But the discovery on Sveti Ivan has been greeted with scepticism by some within Bulgaria's archaeological community.

Much of the criticism has been directed at government minister Bozhidar Dimitrov, also a notable historian and director of Bulgaria's National Museum of History, whose confident claims about the relics and the economic potential of Sozopol as a center of religious tourism provoked criticism from leading archaeologists.

In response, Dimitrov appeared to direct an expletive at his critics in an interview with the Dnevnik newspaper, prompting calls for his resignation from opposition politicians. In a subsequent interview with Bulgarian television, Dimitrov denied the expletive had been intended as an insult.

But doubts have not been confined to Fabrizio Bisconti of the Vatican Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology said there were "thousands" of alleged relics of John the Baptist. He said the commission would "wait until a more thorough study has been conducted" before expressing an opinion.

Dimitrov said that the relics had been handed to the Orthodox Church and that it was for church leaders to decide if further tests should be carried out.

But he added: "Even if it were established that the bones are indeed from the first century, some other Doubting Thomas would say: 'And what is the guarantee that these are the bones of St. John the Baptist and not of some other person who lived in the first century?' "

Popkonstantinov, meanwhile, said further tests would be done on the reliquary and its contents to establish their age, whether the fragments belong to one or more bodies and whether they are male or female.

But he conceded his case for the relics mixed fact with hypothesis: "As far as I know there is no database with DNA profiles of the saints. Here, I believe, the science stops. Since we cannot prove the attribution of any of the relics with scientific methods, we have to be tolerant of those who want to believe that they are."

Andreas Andreopoulos, director of the Centre for Orthodox Studies at the University of Wales Lampeter, said the question of any relic's origins was more a matter of faith than historical methodology.

"The Orthodox Church has been a little cavalier about the historicity of certain relics in the sense that there was never a strong sense of saying, 'Let's make sure this relic is absolutely 150 percent what it's claimed to be,' " he said.

But he said it was plausible that relics would have been placed under the altar on Sveti Ivan, since that was common practice in the eastern Christian tradition, in which holy remains are particularly revered.

Antony Eastmond, a Byzantine expert at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, said there was evidence of a Christian "cult of relics" in the region from as early as the second century.

By the middle of the fourth century, relics were being collected by the imperial court in Constantinople, now Istanbul, and by the 8th century there was an "endless exchange of relics" across Europe, he said.

They're spiritually important, but also politically important because if you have access to them and control of them it gives you power and authority," Eastmond said.

The sheer volume of relics made it impossible to make claims with any certainty about their origins; historians have collected references to 3,600 relics relating to 476 saints in Constantinople alone, he said.

But Eastmond said it was likely the Sveti Ivan bones had been acquired by the island's early monastic settlers in the genuine belief they were holy relics and that they may even have originated from an early grave in the Holy Land.

"Everything suggests they believed they had the relic of John the Baptist. Ultimately, in theological terms, that's what matters," he said. "It's where spirituality always rubs up against archaeology."

CNN's Hada Messia, Susannah Palk and Sam Krumov contributed to this report.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the recital of the Carpio sisters, all of whom I have had (or soon will have) the pleasure of playing with in our church orchestra.  Here is the video of their instrumental performances...enjoy!

The Carpio Quartet - Flute/Cello/Clarinet/Oboe
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring by Bach

Analicia's Solo - Flute
Sonata in A Major by Franck

Rebekah's Solo - Clarinet
Concerto for Clarinet by Copland

Isabel's Solo - Cello
Allegro Appassionato by Saint-Saens

Caitlyn's Solo - Oboe
Sonata in A Minor by Telemann

Analicia and Rebekah's Duet - Flute and Clarinet
The Prayer by Sager, Foster, Testa, & Renis


Sunday, August 01, 2010

GW Lisner Auditorium hosts "Cinematic Titanic"

If you are a fan of MST3K (Mystery Science Theater 3000), then you should come to this. Held just a few months from now on October 15th at the theater on the campus of my alma mater, George Washington University, the originators of MST3K that have not gone on to create the likewise "Film Crew" and "Riff Trax" (MST Alums Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) will be riffing the movie "War of the Insects" live, and will be available to autograph following the show. Cinematic Titanic consist of the other MST Alumni of Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis Weinstein. It is refreshing to see the same concept of MST3K carrying on in its various incarnations. My tickets are bought!

GW Lisner Auditorium

Fri. Oct 15, 8:00PM

GW Lisner Auditorium presents
Cinematic Titanic
From the creator and cast of Mystery Science Theatre 3000

"The original MST3K gang doing what they do best - verbally ripping apart films that never should have been made in the first place" - Time Out Chicago

"Consistently and unfailingly funny" - The Washington Post

Continuing the tradition of riffing on the unfathomable, the horribly great, and the just plain cheesy movies from the past, Cinematic Titanic Live brings the original creator and cast of the Peabody award winning cult-classic television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) to a live theatrical setting.

The cast will riff on the 1968 Japanese sci-fi thriller War of the Insects (aka Genocide, aka Konchu Daisenso). In this rarely seen and poorly dubbed film, a plane carrying an atomic bomb is attacked by a new strain of killer bees - the project of a crazed scientist seeking world domination.

Now on sale!
Cinematic Titanic

From the creator and original cast of
Mystery Science Theater 3000

Upcoming Events
Cinematic Titanic: 10/15
David Sedaris: 10/4
Sarah Vowell: 11/13

Dear LACY,

Tickets to Cinematic Titanic on Oct. 15 are now on sale!

There is a special kind of entertainment that comes from heckling a terrible movie with friends. The cast of Cinematic Titanic have taken that impulse and created the comedy form of "movie riffing," in which they provide expertly hilarious commentary live on stage for delightfully terrible B-movies.

Their original incarnation as the television show Mystery Science Theatre 3000 garnered two Emmy Nominations, a Peabody award and a place on Time Magazine's "100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" list.

Joel Hodgson and the rest of the cast will meet with fans after the show.
They'll sign "pretty much anything with a smooth surface."

Keep reading or visit our website for more details on Cinematic Titanic and our other fall shows currently on sale.

Want more exclusive and "behind the scenes" info? Find us on Facebook

Danielle Mouledoux
Marketing Manager
GW Lisner Auditorium
Cinematic Titanic Logo and Movie Poster

Cinematic Titanic
Fri. October 15, 8pm

"The original MST3K gang doing what they do best - verbally ripping apart films that never should have been made in the first place" - Time Out Chicago

"Consistently and unfailingly funny" - The Washington Post

Continuing the tradition of riffing on the unfathomable, the horribly great, and the just plain cheesy movies from the past, Cinematic Titanic Live brings the original creator and cast of the Peabody award winning cult-classic television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) to a live theatrical setting.

Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl will riff on the 1968 Japanese sci-fi thriller War of the Insects (aka Genocide, aka Konchu Daisenso). In this obscure and poorly dubbed film, a plane carrying an atomic bomb is attacked by a new strain of killer bees - the project of a crazed scientist seeking world domination.

Note: Content is comparable to the PG-13 category of MPAA ratings
Cinematic Titanic on YouTube

Tickets: $25, $35 available from the Lisner Box Office, 202-397-SEAT, and Ticketmaster.

GW Students and Alumni: $10, $20 from the Lisner Box Office.

'Mystery Science' Sails Again With Great Craft

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Noël Coward once noted "how potent cheap music is." The old boy never saw "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" or he might also have observed how enjoyable, how amusing and even how comforting a lousy movie can be.

It's no sacrilege to quote Coward in a story about a television series that celebrates bad movies: "Mystery Science Theater 3000," which, like Sir Noël, had its wit about it. To the dismay of its truly devoted fans, the show is gone now but then again, not entirely gone. Old episodes, including the one featuring "The Brain That Wouldn't Die," are available on DVD; a special 20th-anniversary collection is just out. Even better, the show was reincarnated in late 2007 as "Cinematic Titanic," a series of videos available on the Web and reuniting most of the original cast.
Joel Hodgson with Crow T. Robot on the recently released 20th-anniversary DVD.
Joel Hodgson with Crow T. Robot on the recently released 20th-anniversary DVD. (By Michael Kienitz -- Best Brains)

That includes, most critically, Joel Hodgson, 48, the brilliant boomer who created the series 20 years ago and hosted it on Comedy Central in the channel's pre-dirty era. His high concept: An astronaut, stranded in space with a bevy of wacky robot pals (puppets assembled from odds and ends found on the spacecraft), is forced to watch terrible old movies by a mad scientist who controls their environment from Earth. To keep themselves sane, Hodgson and his puppet crew make the movies entertaining by pelting them with wisecracks.

There was nothing on TV like it, and it was wonderful. Al Gore was one of the show's fans -- and admitted it. In its day, it received the prestigious Peabody Award, and much more recently, it popped up on Time magazine's list of the 100 best television shows ever.

In "Cinematic Titanic," the robots, sadly, are gone, but the basic format and the show's essence remain -- an indoor sport that Hodgson calls "riffing on movies" and thus turning such sow's ears as "The Wasp Woman" or "Earth vs. the Spider" into hilarious silk purses. He is joined by four colleagues from the original cast and writing crew. In stark silhouette against the movie screen, they watch the nearly unwatchable and poke fun aplenty.

Fourth and most recent of the releases is, in a break from usual practice, a title previously lampooned on "MST3K" but with all-new smart-alecky remarks: Joseph E. Levine's presentation of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," a 1964 monstrosity that features little Pia Zadora as Girmar, a green Martian child who watches too many lousy TV shows from Earth, thus bringing the concept full circle, sort of. "Santa Claus" stands, or rather wobbles, as one of the all-time classic howlers of the screen.

Reached in Chicago, where he and his cohorts had just finished a live stage version of "Martians" -- to the laughs and cheers of "MST3K" fans and their kids -- Hodgson says that as a rule, he doesn't want to revisit films in the new episodes but "Santa Claus" posed too many tantalizing possibilities, had holiday allure and offered the challenge of coming up with fresh material.

"It's kind of been our top-selling new title so far," Hodgson says. "And we didn't repeat a single joke."

Yes, he misses the robots, but "this is a little more direct, kind of like a play. We can kind of be ourselves. We all met in stand-up originally, so everybody's got that performer instinct."

Hodgson apparently could not have simply put "MST3K" back into production, because the copyright belongs not to him (even though he created the show) but to a former partner. They split partly over the partner's insistence on directing a feature-film version of the show that flopped in 1996. The movie, which Hodgson sat out, made the mistake of ridiculing "This Island Earth," a 1955 sci-fi film that was just a little bit too good to lampoon. But the cast and crew had organized a fan write-in campaign that all but forced Universal to make the picture. Three years later, the show ran out of steam and was canceled.

Hodgson left the series several years before it ended because he became disenchanted with what interlopers were doing to his baby. The final collapse of the original partnership essentially divided the gang into two camps. Those who were faithful to Hodgson joined him on the new project.

"I'm super-proud of 'MST3K,' " Hodgson says, "and of all the really talented people I work with. I say that because they're nearby and can hear me talking."

As before, the topical quips and pop-cultural references are cheerily flung about throughout the five-person commentary that accompanies the film du jour. Many are references that would have been meaningless back in the "MST3K" days -- everything from Lipitor to digital converter boxes, from John McCain to Jar Jar Binks. When, in "Santa Claus," an elf is frozen silent by a Martian ray gun, Hodgson asks rhetorically, "Now why couldn't they do that to Ann Coulter?"

There are also intentionally obscure references designed to test a viewer's memory for "trivia," as it's long been (erroneously) called. Those include "This is Carlton, your doorman." Remember? It was heard regularly from an off-screen voice on the vintage sitcom "Rhoda," a spinoff from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

For Hodgson, riffing on movies again is somewhat bittersweet. "I feel like I was cheated out of five years of 'MST3K,' " he says, "so I'm thrilled about this. When I left the old show, I made it sound like I had something else I wanted to do, but I didn't. I just felt like I needed to go. I really thought about it, and I went through a lot of therapy later because it was kind of a personal tragedy for me." From the new venture he hopes to get "five good years, that's all," and then he'll be happy.

While away from "MST3K," he worked for a year on the then-new "Jimmy Kimmel Show." He was in charge of comic special effects, such as a dog that appeared to fly off the stage and zoom over the studio audience with blue sparks coming out of its, well, butt. Otherwise, he has been kicking around Hollywood.

Hodgson says the plan for "Cinematic Titanic" is to release eight more titles in 2009 to supplement the first seven, released this year. It takes a day to shoot an episode in Los Angeles, he says; otherwise, the five writer-actors communicate by e-mail from their homes in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, wherever. "What's the next movie we're doing?" Hodgson asks his colleagues as they head for their Chicago hotel. "Is it 'Blood of the Vampires' or 'Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks'?" (It's "Vampires.")

Most of the films reviewed, on the new show and on the old, don't qualify even as B pictures; they're sub-B, maybe X, Y or Z pictures, although the roster has included such seemingly reputable big-budget Hollywood features as "Marooned" (1969) starring Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, Richard Crenna and Lee Grant, and directed by John ("The Great Escape") Sturges. For all that, it was a suffocatingly insufferable stinker.

Hodgson and the puppets chopped it gently into mincemeat and served it up to appreciative viewers. Most of the derision, then and now, really is temperate, even affectionate. Bad movies are a kind of unifying phenomenon anyway; they bring us together in common apoplexy and serve as reminders of human fallibility. Most of society's other reminders of human fallibility are far more threatening.

Old "MST3K" titles were previously released by Rhino home video, but Hodgson says "Cinematic Titanic" episodes and additional "MST3K" shows are available via Shout home video, a company he thinks will pay more attention.

Asked to name his favorite episode of the old show, Hodgson cites "Hercules Unchained," yet another Joseph E. Levine production but this one fairly respectable. Hodgson admires the way an entire fake temple was built for the film and then torn down by Hercules (Steve Reeves) as part of the finale.

He also has fond memories of your critic's personal favorite episode, "Manos: The Hands of Fate," a riotously uneventful 1966 horror movie about a family captured by a maniac who has a harem of lady wrestlers in party dresses. The director, Harold P. Warren, made his debut and swan song with this picture; though he was often referred to as a fertilizer salesman, he was really an insurance salesman.

Almost nothing happens in the movie, which is poorly shot, edited, written, scored, acted and directed. Voilà, a bizarro-world masterpiece. " 'Manos' is kind of considered the worst movie ever made now," Hodgson says, "and we kind of discovered it. People get off on how awful these movies are."

Awful, yes, but in the transforming hands of Hodgson and his friends, also kind of wonderful.

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Speaking of Mystery Science Theater....

As you read above that the MST3K alumni who are "Cinematic Titanic" are coming to town here at GW's Lisner Auditorium, the other MST alumni who make up RiffTrax (Mike, Kevin, and Bill), will be riffing "Reefer Madness" live in a nationwide broadcast in theaters nationwide.  We saw them do this last year with "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and it was great, sitting together with fellow MSTies and laughing at the jokes.  They are airing this live on August 19th, and have an encore on August 24th.  Click here to find a theater hosting this near you!!

RiffTrax LIVE: Reefer Madness

The stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 take on the legendary cult classic Reefer Madness for an evening of hilarious riffing! Let RiffTrax own Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett bring you to a higher state of consciousness with their signature brand of rapid fire comedy. This event will be broadcast live to movie theaters nationwide on Thursday, August 19 at 8:00pmET / 7:00pmCT / 6:00pmMT and 8:00pmPT (tape delay). Audiences will also be treated to the world premier of three new shorts from the guys, as well as two original video shorts from Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka of Something Awful.

Movie theater audiences will receive FREE digital goodies after the event including a downloadable short, avatars and a digital photo of the guys. A URL will be revealed on-screen at which you can receive your free digital goodies after the live event.

Encore! There will be a prerecorded rebroadcast of the August 19th show on Tuesday, August 24th.


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Stryper to come out with new album "The Covering" 10-13-10

I've been a big fan of Stryper since the 80's (yes, I'm dating myself), and FINALLY got to see them live for the first time at their 25th anniversary concert here last October.  It's exciting to hear they are releasing a new album with the original 4 members (Michael, Robert, Oz, Tim) called "The Covering" this October.

Big3 Records Offer Stryper Preview

Following the success of their 25th Anniversary World Tour earlier this year, legendary rock band Stryper headed into the studio to work on their upcoming album, The Covering, tentatively scheduled for release October 13th from Big3 Records/SONY. For a limited time, fans can preview the new album by following Stryper frontman Michael Sweet on Twitter, where he will be revealing a hidden website where fans can hear exclusive song clips not available anywhere else. The Covering, produced by Michael Sweet, will be unlike any previous Stryper recording, in that it’s a collection of cover songs from bands that inspired them and helped to shape their sound and musical identity, including past hits from Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Kansas and many others. A cover of Black Sabbath’s hit “Heaven and Hell” will be the first single, with an expected iTunes release in advance of the album. The Covering will also include “God,” a new original recording from Stryper. “Stryper recorded The Yellow and Black Attack (Enigma Records) back in 1983, and it was released the following year,” says Michael. “Twenty six years have passed and after seven studio releases and multiple compilation and live projects, we decided to show our fans where our roots lie musically. The Covering consists of particular songs and groups that molded and shaped us and made us who we are today.” One of the highlights for Stryper fans is that The Covering is the first studio album in nearly two decades on which all four original members, plus longtime keyboardist Charles Foley, have recorded together. “This record includes the original lineup,” explains Michael. “Tim, Robert, Oz and I haven’t recorded a full-length project together since 1990’s Against the Law (Enigma Records), so this is truly history in the making. We also had what was probably the best time we’ve ever had recording a record together and I believe that this comes through in the energy and the spirit of each track. We’re all extremely excited about this record and more importantly, we’re all extremely confident about the future of Stryper and the four of us making music together for years to come.”