Around the World Pic: A Beautiful Mosque in Cairo, Egypt

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As I’ve said before my week in Egypt was spectacular. One of the most marvelous components of the trip was the architecture – and not just that of the ancient Egyptians, but the Muslim architecture as well. There were so many enormous and beautiful mosques with their minarets rising to the skies that it was really just a sight to see. This is one of numerous shots we took of mosques, big and small, all over the place. I find this one particularly interesting because of where we were walking, through this alley almost beside a huge amount of more hovel like buildings, only to have this enormous mosque rise out of the earth beside us and tower into the sky.

Have you been to Egypt? What did you find most incredible?

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Fun with the Bible: Happy Hanukah Book of Daniel – When Were You Written?

Today’s Agenda

I know that last week we talked about the plagues from the Exodus story (yes, the story, not the book, since we looked at Psalms), and that I promised to continue with that theme over the next few weeks. However, it’s Hanukah, and as such, I thought a brief digression into the materials of the Bible related to the holiday would be a nice way to change things up and enjoy something topical.

With that plan in mind I could turn to I or II Maccabees, but many of you may not have those books in your Bibles. Why? Because those books are what we call – depending on our religious predispositions – deuterocanonical, apocryphal or noncanonical. These words mean either that the books are additional but not wholly incorporated or official books of the Bible: considered holy but not in the canon. Because Jews themselves consider the books noncanonical (not part of the Bible), and yet the story of Hanukah is contained within their pages, we’re going to turn to a book that everybody thinks is part of the Bible, but for reasons other than what it is: Daniel!

What Daniel Purports to Be

First question: Did Daniel, whoever that is, write the book of Daniel? The answer: no, plain and simple. The person who the book of Daniel is about and who tells us this story is not the person in the story. How do we know this? Because the story takes place in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court in the middle of the sixth century BCE after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judea, and the book tells us of things that happen up to a precise moment in time hundreds of years later. Curious, no?

Of course, many people will contend – as they do every day – that the book of Daniel is a prophetic book envisioning the future of the Jews up until that specific time: which happens to be during the reign of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, who ruled over Judea in 167 BCE and desacrated Jewish law and the Temple (the Hanukah story). But if this is a prophetic book by a prophet then why is it that the author gets the ending and what happens in the year 164 BCE totally wrong? Because obviously he stopped writing the book before the events of that year took place and didn’t know them, meaning that our book was written sometime between his last right event (167) and his historically erroneous conclusions (164).

What the ‘Prophecy’ Really Tells Us

Interesting, too, is how the detail of the prophetic vision enhances and is consistently more accurate throughout the ‘prophecy’ as the time gets closer to the writer’s own time. The vision recounts the various kings and conquerors who came into Judea from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, who is being made aware of the vision, to the time of the Maccabean revolt (i.e. the Hanukah story), and the more contemporary we get, the more accurate and descriptive.

Of course, Daniel’s audience is not the Maccabees or their followers. He is trying to comfort those people who remain faithful to the Jewish law at such a terrible time (the primary subject of the earlier written part of the book in another language!) and comfort them in their decision to continue praying to God for help rather than fight. Thus, more than a book that can tell us about the time of Nebuchadnezzar or a book that prophecies the future, Daniel is essentially a book that sheds light on an attitude of a particular group of people that suffered during the time of the Hanukah story.

There’s much more that can be said about this fascinating book, but I’ll leave it there for now. Oh yeah, and Happy Hanukah!

Summary

What do you think of the book of Daniel and what I’ve written here.

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Fun with the Bible: The Exodus from Egypt and the Seven Plagues – Wait, I Thought There Were Ten

Yes, you read that right: there were 7 plagues. Now, I’m not going to spell out how that works in just one blog post. It would be long and complicated and then I wouldn’t know what to write about for the next couple Fun with the Bible posts, but I will get you started. I think that we should do a little of the requisite leg-work together because a. it’s fun, b. it’s challenging and c. it makes you really understand what’s going on when you can see it for yourself.

Now, sometimes you’ll have to trust me because we’re going to need the Hebrew text in order to really get an accurate picture of what’s going on, but I’ll tell you what it says and you can see what you think.

But where to start when discovering that there weren’t actually 10 plagues during the Exodus in Egypt but only 7? How about we start out of Exodus entirely, hmm? Let’s turn to….Psalms! Yes, that’s right. Please take out your Bibles – or open the Bible in another tab – and flip to Psalm 78, verses 42-51. Read these verses. Curious, no? It’s a recounting of the plagues in Egypt, called in verse 43 “signs.”

How many do you see? Count them. I’ll give you a second.

….

Alright, how many? Seven! That’s right: seven.

1. Blood

2. Flies

3. Frogs

4. Pestilence

5. Locusts

6. Hail

7. Slaying of the first born

That’s right – we’re missing lice, boils and darkness. Where are they?

Let’s turn to Psalm 105, verses 26-36. Read them. We’ve got the plagues going on here, too, don’t we? And how many are there. That’s right, 7!

1. Darkness

2. Blood

3. Frogs

4. Flies/Gnats

5. Hail

6. Locusts

7. Slaying of the first born

Here they’re called signs and miracles (verse 27), and we picked up Darkness.

But before we depart for the moment, what kinds of questions should we be asking ourselves about these psalms, the Exodus and the plagues.

First, why do two separate Psalms both give us plague stories with only 7 plagues? What’s significant about 7 that 10 doesn’t have? Where are the missing plagues? Which stories are older: the Psalm traditions or the Exodus narrative? Is the Exodus narrative all it appears to be when taken at face value?

Read the Psalms again and then check out Exodus 7-12 to start thinking about next week.

What do you think about these questions so far? Thoughts about the plagues?

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Around the World Pics: Me at an Incredible Temple in Egypt

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My six days in Egypt were awesome. As you can see from the continuing chambers and enormous doorways of this Temple, it was incredible. It was awe-inspiring for me. I can’t imagine what an ancient person, accustomed to small homes and hovels, would have imagined when walking into this shrine of the gods.

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Fun with the Bible: How Jesus’ Birth in Matthew is Like Moses’ Babyhood in Egypt

I don’t know if you’ve ever read chapter 2 of Matthew and thought to yourself, hmm, this sounds like something or reminds me of something that I just can’t put my finger on. If this has happened to you, you’re not alone and you’re picking up on an important motif that the author of the gospel of Matthew wanted you to see.

What happened to Jesus as a baby is meant to make us think back to the early chapters of the book of Exodus and liken Jesus’ tale to Moses.’ Why would Matthew want to do this? Well, Moses was the ultimate leader of the Jewish people (up until this point, Matthew would like you to believe), and perhaps more importantly, it is the Mosaic law that the Jews follow. Jesus is the bringer of the new law (that of the Holy Spirit) and should be, for Matthew, the leader of the Jewish people.

By likening their babyhoods Matthew is telling us that Jesus is now the new Moses. After chapter 1 which connected Jesus to Abraham and David, the other big figures of Judaism, Jesus is pretty set to rule the roost. (If you’d like to read about the connection of Jesus to those two figures in Matthew 1, click HERE.)

So, let’s list the ways that Jesus and Moses are connected:

1. Matthew 2:13 – Clue number one is the inclusion of the word “Egypt.” Go to Egypt, Joseph is told in a dream, and just like the Jews went to Egypt the first time because of Joseph, so too are some going now.

2. 2:16-17 – King Herod as the baby killer echoes the story of Pharaoh killing all the babies in Exodus 1.

3. Like Moses, Jesus escapes the baby-killing.

4. Joseph and company make their exodus from Egypt to Israel.

Now, some of you may be like, “Dude, that was not sufficiently convincing evidence.” I understand your troubles, but I stand by the fact that the inclusion of Egypt and babies being killed around Jesus and Jesus’ parents ensuring that he escaped this terrible fate, etc. are meant to make us liken Jesus to Moses.

What do you think? Do you buy it? Do you notice any other clues to this association?

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Around the World Pic of the Day: The Pyramids at Giza in Egypt

Jay with Pyramids

Jay with Pyramids

Last October I went to Egypt with a buddy of mine, Jason. It was a great time: one week of practically no sleeping, going out every night, touring nonstop during the day and a good ol’ fashion balls to the wall adventure.

On our last day, we went to see the Pyramids at Giza. It actually took us quite a while to get there because we must have gotten the only cab driver in Egypt who didn’t know how to get to the pyramids with his eyes closed. We did get to see some fascinating parts of Cairo that I don’t think a lot of people get to see.

In any case, the pyramids were a lot more incredible than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be one of those places that wasn’t as good as you’d imagined once you’re up close (e.g. for me, Big Ben). However, I was quite wrong. The Sphinx was awesome and the pyramids were huge and really incredible. So impressive.

We decided to go up into one and opted for the Great Pyramid. It was wild. You walk straight up a meter-high shaft that runs at a 45 degree angle in 100 degree heat and feel like if the claustrophobia doesn’t get you, the dead pharaoh-god probably will. This goes on for a while and then opens up and has another hike up until you arrive at a large but single room at the top.

This is where the pharaoh was buried (and as they believed he was a god, that is why this qualifies for the religious sites around the world). No pictures. It is beautiful up top and you can’t believe the ceiling is single slabs of granite that aren’t falling all around you. There’s even a draft that’s been designed so that you don’t suffocate. Truly incredible.

To get down we ran in a crab-like position and were out very quickly. Unfortunately I destroyed my hamstrings doing that and literally couldn’t walk. We took a few minutes to allow the oxygen to return to my leg muscles and then proceeded on our merry way. The picture is after that when we thought it would be funny to make some nice illusions. You know, because no one’s ever done it before.

Have you ever been to the pyramids? What did you think? Did you go up inside? Cool? Send me your pictures at JaySolomon@thezenofsouthpark.com.

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The Valley of Bamiyan: Buddhism, Radical Islam and the Taliban Collide at one of History’s Greatest Crossroads, The Silk Road

In 2001 in Afghanistan the Taliban destroyed two absolutely enormous statues of the Buddha that overlooked the Valley of Bamiyan, a once great and powerful place along the road that connected eastern and western civilizations. Saturdays are religion in the news days, however, and what happened in 2001 can hardly be called ‘in the news’ right now.

The significance – news-wise – of this destruction at this place is not in the missing statues but rather, in the labyrinth of caves that stands behind the place that these statues once stood. Throughout the caves, paintings have been found and one in particular which dates from the 6th century CE used oil in the paints, making it an oil painting. It was once believed that the technique of painting with oils was invented during the Renaissance, but this painting, if its date is confirmed, will prove this notion false.

Honestly, though, I don’t much care about this. I mean, I love history and I especially love when our notions of what was and wasn’t the case in history are shaken and reformed. I also like that religion (these were religious paintings) has a place in this mix. However, what interests me most in this case is the Taliban’s actions: their destruction of these two enormous and beautiful statues of the Buddha.

Of course, they did this because their radical sect of Islam insists that images cannot exist, especially ones of the Buddha which admittedly border on deification. So they destroyed them. I say, what a crying shame. I absolutely hate the destruction of amazing things, especially if the reason behind that destruction is some religious nonsense.

I’ve always said that if I was granted three wishes (I’m still holding out), one of them would be the ability to see any spot exactly as it stood at any point in history (think the fourth dimensional existence of the Trafalmadorians in Slaughterhouse 5), effectively allowing me to see every city, site and place that ever existed. I know – a lofty wish. But as a stood in Ephesus, Turkey at the site of the Temple of Artemis, staring at a pillar and a half that had been overgrown with weeds, I wished to sweet heaven that I could have seen it in its original glory. And that’s what I think about at so many places: in Rome, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the site of the lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. I just want to see it as it originally stood.

That the Taliban would destroy a place of such magnificence and beauty – one that was actually still standing so recently though constructed over a thousand years ago – truly disgusts and disappoints me. Why couldn’t they have just put up a giant sign that said, “Blasphemy Ahead – Enter and We’ll Stone You” or something comparable? Why did they have to destroy it?

Have you ever been to the Valley of Bamiyan? Did you go before or after the Buddhas were destroyed? Have you heard that there may be a third Buddha buried beneath the river bed lying down?

What is the most incredible place you ever saw that you wished you could have seen in its original glory? What amazing world sites (manmade) would you like to see?