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September 26 2013 5 26 /09 /September /2013 10:44



It is not widely known that the first fish farmers in Britain were monks. It is easy to see why. Their diet involved eating fish on fast days, which included all of Lent and several other days a year. This was fine if they dwelled near the sea, but if you lived inland you only had rivers, and other people wanted their share of the fishing. But monasteries had land, and so many of them developed their own fish farms for freshwater fish.


Monks ate carp, which can grow big and fat, so could feed many monks. Carp have the advantage of being the aquatic equivalent of pigs, as they are omnivores and therefore eat anything, including scraps, and unlike pigs are not likely to bite human; and they do not smell or make those who work with them smell as well. This made them ideal for monks who want to be clean for their regular prayer duties.


The technique was simple. The monks dug two large ponds about four feet deep and ensured that there was a ramp going down into each. One of them was filled with water and stocked with carp, which were allowed to feed happily there. The second was left empty, and cattle taken down the ramp and  allowed to graze in it. The method behind this was that the cattle would manure the ground and enrich it.  Next year the first pond was drained, Enough fish were taken from the pond to feed the monks. but a breeding stock was kept, and the second filled, with the surviving fish transferred there. Here is where the manure mattered. It fostered the growth of pond weed, on which pond life could flourish. The carp would eat the pond life, along with any feed the monks put into the pond.The cycle would be repeated every year.


Here is where the third pond comes into play. This was known as the stew pond, and it was deliberately kept as clean as possible and not manured. This is where the fish were kept prior to eating. The reason for this is that carp can take on a muddy taste if they are kept in muddy water, so to purify the flesh of the muddy taste they were kept in clean water for a week or two. During this time they would only feed on insects that came to the surface of the water.


The monstrous act of vandalism that we miscall the English Reformation drove the monks from their homes and ended much of the good that they did. Fish farms were part of the loss. You can occasionally see the sedimented up remnants of monastic ponds in some of the estates that were stolen from the monks. They are small depressions in the ground prone to weediness and flooding when it rains, always near old monastic sites.


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October 25 2012 5 25 /10 /October /2012 14:28




Every now and again we hear reference to a mysterious figure known as Pope Joan. Her dates are contested: some suggest that she reigned from 853-855, but others suggest that she reigned  in 1199 for two years. Joan was said to have been a very scholarly woman of English origin who disguised herself  as a male to avail herself of the educational opportunities available to men but not women. She was said to have been an enormously successful scholar who succeeded in becoming a great teacher at Rome and was elevated to the papacy, only to be found out when she went into labour in public, whereupon she was executed by an irate mob. Most scholars now regard this story as a myth, but what is the truth behind it? We can never have certainty in history, but what is the weight of the evidence.


Firstly, popes send out streams of letters and edicts, but there are none in the name of this pope,. She is said to have taken the name John Angelicus, and is sometimes confused with John V111. There was an a slightly later  pope of that name who was renowned as the pope who led the papal ffleet to battle against the attacking Muslims. This story forms no part of the Pope Joan tale. Some think that she might have been John  V11, but this misdates her more fully.Secondly, if she reigned from 853-855, she would have clashed with the eastern patriarch Photius, who detested the papacy and considered himself superior to the Popes. Were the pope to have proved an imposter, Photius and his supporters would have given maximum publicity to it in the writings of the Orthodox  church. But there is no mention of the story.


Anastasius the librarian, writing about the time that Pope Joan was said to have existed, is said to have mentioned her in his chonicles, but it is noteworthy that not all copies of this chronicle mention her, the only ones being later versions. Some might suggest that Anastasius' writings were edited to delete mention of Pope Joan, but there is no evidence of deletion in any of the copies.


One  mention of Pope Joan comes in the writings of Martin Polonus, a Vatican official who died in 1278, who wrote a historical chronicle which mentions Pope Joan. However, not all copies of Martin's works contain mention of Pope Joan. Furthermore, the copies that do seem to change in style when they mention her. Mention of her  reign is in a handwriting distinct from the rest of the chronicle and seems to have been clumsily inserted in a space at the bottom of a page. An earlier mention of Pope Joan comes in the writings of Marinanus Scotus, 1028-1980, but not all copies of his manuscripts contain the story. Again we are looking a problem common with mediaeval writings, insertion of later material into an earlier document


There is also the problem of dating. Leo 1V died in 847, to be succeeded three months later by Benedict III. There seems to  have been no space for the reign of Pope Joan, although devotees still argue that the dates were adjusted in the manuscripts. Hincmar of Rheims tells of how an emissary sent to Leo learned on the way to Rome that the Pope had died and then on his arrival presented his letter to Benedict III. There is no  room for Pope Joan here.


there are some legends to be dispensed with. VAtican processions do not go down a certain street in Rome, which is said to be because it was where the female pope was found out. A better explanation is the more prosaic one that it is too narrow. Similarly there is the story that the pope at his consecration sits on a chair with a  hole in it so that his maleness can be proved  by a cardinal who feels underneath. This is a myth.


A more credible account of Pope Joan comes in the writings of Rosemary and Daniel Pardoe: The Female Pope, the Mystery of Pope Joan, who argue that a more plausible date is between 1086 and 1108, when there were several anti-popes elected in the generally confused situation at the time. An anti-pope who may have been a disguised female cannot be ruled out, but there would need to be some evidence of it, which there is not. Onofio Panvinio, a sixteenth century Italian historian, suggests that the legend may have arisen in relation to the utterly corrupt court of Pope John X!!, [955-964]who had several mistresses, one of whom was a lady called Joan, who was apparently very influential. She d a very influential assistant, Sister Pascalina, who was sometimes nicknames the she-pope.


There seems to be no room for a genuine Pope Joan, but there is sometimes truth behind a legend. It may have been the case that a senior Vatican official was actually a disguised woman and was eventually found out. It is also a sad case that some people have the sex organs of both sexes to a greater or lesser degree, though true hermaphrodites are rare. Most of these people are more one than the other, though they are generally infertile, so the story of Pope Joan giving birth would not be credible if this was the case. Was there a senior figure who was one such person.


I do not think that there was a real Pope Joan. But the issue has no bearing on whether or not there should be women priests. I believe that women should be allowed to be ordained as priests and even bishops, and if this is so there could in theory one day be a woman pope. There probably will be, but I don't think that it will be in my lifetime




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November 17 2011 5 17 /11 /November /2011 09:44




In the nineteenth century a Russian traveller, Nicholas Rohrich, was talking to a Buddhist abbot in Nepal. He mentioned that Christians did not know what Jesus was doing for the first thirty years of his life. The abbot said that he was in india and Nepal and produced a document detailing the story of Jesus' travels in that land, where he is known by the Muslim name Issa. Rohrich translated the contoversial document. Initially it met with some disapproval, and Swami Abidananda set off to discredit it. However, when he translated the document he found that it said what the Buddhists said that it did.


The story goes that the young Jesus was keen to avoid an arranged marriage and set off with Jewish merchants to India. This is possible, as trade between the Roman empire and india was common. Brahmins recognised his spiritual standing and trained him in Indian healing techniques. However, he challenged idolatry, a key tenet of Hinduism, and even more dangerous, the caste system, resulting in a plot to kill him. Advised by friends he fled to Nepal and Tibet, where he settled with Buddhists, becoming an expert on Buddhist scriptures and deeply loved by the local people. There are legends of Issa in the region, but their provenance is uncertain. One group still honours Issa's memory, and they recall that he taught them to oppose the caste system. At twenty nine he returned to Israel, where the story is that he was put to death by Pontius Pilate.


The manuscript seems to have no connection with the gospels. Its theology is vague and not tlike any Christan theology known so far. It begins by saying that the great Saint Issa was the soul of the world who detached itself from the One to show men how to live. This is like the logos doctrine in John's Gospel to some degree, but not closely.


The text shows no detailed knowledge of the gospel text. There are no parables or known sayings, and the only two sayings are long and detailed. One is in defence of women, and another is against those who look down on manual workers. Both are in character for Jesus. The text presents him as the new Moses. This is a well-known Christian theme, but the Moses story, which it gives att he beginning, is long and detailed, containing information from the legends of Prince Moses, which were circulating round the East for centuries. The legends show that the writer had an oral knowledge of Moses, but not a textual knowledge of the Bible. The text also speaks of Jesus' parents, which shows that the writer knew not that Joseph was not on the scene when  Jesus was an adult. This indicates that the manuscript dd not come from any known Christian source. The text shows no blame for the chief priests but puts the blame entirely on Pilate, who is said to have spied on Jesus. Pilate's spying is likely to be true, and might explain why Pilate saw Jesus  as not being a threat.


Whether the story contains any truth is not known. Certainly it is the case that stories of great people circulate. It is also known that there were Nestorian Christians in the Nepal and Tibet region for centuries up to the Middle Ages. However, we would expect Nestorians to know the Scriptures better than the Himis writer did, and the theology in the manuscript is not Nestorian, which does not use any language remniscent of Himis. So the status of the text is open to question. That the Muslim name Issa is given is an indication that the text might be late rather than early.


It is important to say that the legend that the legend that Jesus revived in the tomb and visisted India after his death is totally different from this one, which has him visiting in his early life. The idea that someone could survive crucifixion and stabbing with a lance and walk off is ludicrous. It is a legend that developed to support the claims of the Ahmadi sect, that arose in the fourteenth century, that Jesus was their inspiration and has no credibility.  Whether Jesus ever visited India remains unknown, but this manuscript gives us an idea about what might have happened during the hidden years. Jesus wasa strong character, and like all strong characters would have lived a life that differed from the ordinary. He might have visited India, but does this manuscript tell the true story.

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October 20 2011 5 20 /10 /October /2011 10:34



To understand Catholicism it is necessary to realise that it is not a purely private matter between  the individual and God. Catholicism is a community faith that lives by shared worship and attempts to express itself in the public world by creating a society according to God's lines. Catholicism therefore has a political expression. The Catholic Church has therefore developed a body of social teachings that prescribe how society ought to be run. These teachings are found mainly in encyclicals, letters from various popes to the whole church, and the teachings of church councils, such as Vatican Two. [Councils are numbered according to whether they were first,second, etc councils in that location.]


Encyclicals are named according to their first few words. So one of the main social encyclicals in Rerum Novarum [of new things] and another is Quadraegesimo Anno [in the fortieth year, after Rerum Novarum. A more recent one is the Church in the Modern World.


The sacredness of the person


Catholic thinking emphasises the dignity of every individual whatever their social class, physical condition and so on. It regards each person as being made in God's image and likeness and as having God-given destiny unique to his./herself. Every indvidual has a right to liberty to seek that destiny, which is why the church has always rejected slavery. Furthermore, the person is not to be reduced to a mere worker or consumer, as he or she has a humanity which transcends these limited social roles. The individual is always greater then the role that they occupy. All social systems must actively  work to respect the person, and any social systems that reduce people to roles are to be rejected. It is insufficient for a social and political system to say that it does nothing to prevent people from expressing their dignity, it must actively foster dignity.


The common good


This is a key Catholic concept, though it is difficult to define precisely. It is basically the idea that society as whole should benefit form economic and social activity. So for Catholics the private pursuit of personal gain at the expense of others transgresses the common good. Ideally, all should benefit from economic and social activities performed by individuals. Implicit in the notion of the common good is the idea that we find our dignity in communion with others rather than as an isolated individual or a member of a closed and limited group. The common good extends beyond the boundaries of the nation state to the whole human community.


For Catholicism there is such a  thing as society, but it should not swallow up individuality. The state and society are not the same. For Catholics the state is one of the institutions in society, but not the only one


Option for the poor.


A key biblical theme found in prophets such as Amos and Isaiah is the care of the poor. This means that poverty in a society is an affront and therefore society should rectify it by making positive programmes to alleviate it. These may be performed by state or by charities. Catholicism values the state, but does not idolise it.


Rights and Responsibilities


Human rights are an important Catholic concept, although Catholicism opposes the present trend to invent rights as and when it is convenient to do so, There is a core of basic human rights, at the head of which is the right to life. This right is possessed by everyone, including the unborn foetus. No life may be taken without the gravest of reasons. War is allowed a last resort under strict conditions. Not only must society not disprespect life, it must actively respect it by life-friendly social programmes.


Yet along with rights comes responsibilities. Catholic social teaching rejects the situation in which individuals demand their rights but give nothing back. Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin.




This important concept has entered into European social thought. It is the principle that nothing should be enacted at a higher political level if it can be performed further down the scale. For example, the state should not take decisions out of the hands of individuals and families if they can be performed at the individual and family level. Central government should not usurp the rights of more local governments. Subsidiarity is  a means of protecting aganst the tyranny of the centre and the majority. Catholicism has always rejected tyranny, just as it rejects anarchy.


Catholicism accepts that there is activity proper to the state and activity proper to indivdiuals. Between them lies civil society, voluntary associaton in which individuals seek a goal consistent with the common good. These include trades unions, friendly societies, co-operatves and so on. All these meet the approval of Catholic social thought, though it insists that they act ethically


Economic justice


Catholic social thought relies on the principle of justice, which is the first virtue of social institutions. Without justice society is  hellish for some. The Catholic view of justice is that all social groups are entitled to rights. Thus it rejects the extreme captialist view that workers do not matter, in favour of the view that workers, employers and consumers have rights and responsibilities. Thus Catholicism believes in the principle of fair wages and rejects the idea that the market should be the sole determinant of prices and wages in all cases. However, it realizes that markets have an important role, but that they are not to be idolised.They may need political moderation.




Genesis is often translated as be fruitful, multiply and be masters of the earth, but this is a bad translation. The better term is be stewards of the earth. This means that humans do not absolutely own the world's resources. They belong to God and are given for the beenfit of all. So no individual or group may monopolise or make special claims upon natural resources. All must have equal shares. Care for future generations is a moral obligation incumbent on everyone.




A key idea is that no individual is entitled to excessive wealth if another is suffering. Every individual is entitled to a share of the world's resources sufficient to meet their needs.




As far as possible every person is entitled to the dignity of work, as work enables them to express their sacred status as beings made in the image and likeness of God. Work should be a positive experience for all persons, and workers should operate in conditions befitting their human dignity. Everyone has their own talents, and so as far as possible all should be given an opportunity to express their talents. This means that education for all is a moral necessity. Economic systems that reliy on unemployment or the threat of it to force down wages and conditions are unacceptable to Catholicism.


Furthermore, all should be able to participate in the governance of society. This means that various forms of democracy are the preferred political systems,as democracy is the social system that best reflects the dignity of all persons.


The global dimension


Catholic social thinking does not like the idea that the world is divided into competing nations. While it sees the need for national boundaries based on geographical and cultural divisions as being necessary for the administration of the world, it realises that society extends beyond national boundaries.There is one global human community under God. so nationalism, whose moral horizon is limited to its own borders, is rejected by Catholic thinking. Nations should care for each other and repsect each other's rights and property. For this reason Catholic social teaching supportstransnational institutions, though it realises that they can have their faults and should not exercise overmuch power. Similarly, Catholicism rejects class war, as all classes belong to the one human community.





Rerum Novarum

Quadrigesimo Anno

In the hundredth yeat

The Church in the Modern World


Documents of Vatical Two















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October 19 2011 4 19 /10 /October /2011 12:15



Catherine was an unusual person  with very strong spiritual and intellectual gifts, and is one of the few women to achieve the title of doctor of the church, which is bestowed after death on great Catholic thinkers. Yet she did not live as a conventional nun, but was active in the public world, ministering to the sick and taking part in public matters, again, very unusual for a woman at the time, especially one of middle class social rank.


Early Years


She was born in 1347 to a very large family in Sienna. However, from early on it is recorded that she underwent significant religious experiences and at the age of seven vowed to become a consecrated virgin. Yet unlike many woman who entered convents, she never became a nun. Instead she joined the Dominican order as a tertiary. Tertiaries are members of third orders. These are lay people whp follow the rule of the religious order but live out in the world. The Domincans are a group of friars, these being like monks, but not tied to a monastery. The Dominicans are traditionally a scholarly group of people who have produced some great Catholic thinkers.



Catherine's religious experiences continued and developed into an ongoing encounter with God, where she engaged in long converstaions with him. In her twenties she underwent what is known as a mystical espousal, a religious experience when she felt herself espoused to God. However, her life's work consisted of dedication to the poor and the needy, especially those suffering horrfic diseases that deterred other people from helping them. She was backed in this work by her family, who provided the home while she worked for the poor and sick.


Yet she herself was often sickly, and suffered intense pains, which she bore without becoming bitter or unpleasant. Strangely, for periods of time she would survive on very little food, though she did take the Holy Eucharist frequently. In 1370 she received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on her body. She experienced the pains, but oddly the wounds  only visibly appeared after her death


During her life the Pope was away from Rome at Avignon. This had been a move that was initially designed to protect him, but it put the papacy under the influence of the French kings.  The popes stayed there for a sustained period of time


Public life


In 1375, five years before her death, she underwent a series of mystical visions showing her the various states of the afterlife, heaven, hell and purgatory, the latter being the temporary state of punishment for some sinners prior to heaven. At the same time the religious experiences instructed her to take part in public life, so she began to write to the Pope, bishops and princes of her day advising and pleading with them to reform society.


During this time she pressed for the reform of the clergy, a problme that needs addressing at intervals in church history, and for the return of the Popes form Avignon. In 1377 she was successful in this plea and the Pope and sacred college of cardinals returned to Rome, against the wishes of the French king. By this time she was being consulted by the pope and various Italian princes, quite an achievement for a woman of that period.


Her political programme was to unite Christendom, Christian Europe. She favoured a crusade agiant the Muslims, who were at that time a threat on Christendom's Eastern flank. This, she though, would take away the roving bands of mercenaries who were roaming Italy with all the plunder, violence and rape that went along with their presence. It would also weaken the threat from the large and aggressive Turkish empire.


In 1378 she went as the pope's emissary to Florence, which had gone to war against the papal states, mainly because of the misbehaviour of church officials. During this time there was an attempt on her life, which failed. She regretted not having been able to acept the red rose of martyrdom.




In 1378 the Pope summoned her to Rome. during this time her ehaslth deteriorated and she began to suffer great pain, which she continued to bear patiently. She continued her ministry to the poor at the time. However, the illness finally claimed her in 1380 at the age of thirty three.




Her works are considered masterpieces of the Italian language. The main work is the dialogue, which consists of a conversation between God and the soul on how to live the spiritual life. There are four hundred letters and a series of prayers. A shorter dialogue is probably spuriousy attributed to her.


The key ideas of her  work are to take the metaphor of the monastery and apply it to the life of the ordinary Christian in the world. Thus she speaks of the cloister of the world [monasteries have cloisters, long corriders where monks walk in prayer and study. ] Her aim is to show that the religious life can be lived in the world as well as the religious institution. monks always dwell in their own "cells" small rooms. she speaks of the need to ever dwell in the cell of self-knowledge, for this is the way in which we can be honest about ourselves and our faults, and so approach God properly. She was deeply concerned that all Christans be able to share her intimate relationship with God



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October 16 2011 1 16 /10 /October /2011 13:35



We are all familiar with the cartoons of Moses and his people walking through the sea with walls of water on each side of them, and we are apt to take all of this with a large pinch of salt. However, there are two ways of looking at myths: we can simply dismiss them as fictions, or we can look for the core of truth that often lies behind them. This is not to say that they are exactly historically true, far from it, as orally transmitted tales often contain some or much elaboration. But history and science can reveal some interesting facts.


The Thera eruption


The date of the Exodus, the Hebrews' escape from Egypt, is not certain, but it was probably between 1600 and 1650 b.c. The tribes probably did not all leave at the same time, and some may not have been there at all. However, the Bible is emphatic  that certain cataclysimic events were linked with their escape.It tells the stories of the plagues of Egypt, culminating with the death of the first born. But what event could have given rise to a series of disasters?


The main culprit is Thera. this was a volcanic island now known as Santorini, a circle of islands that remain of what was once a volcano. Sometime in the between 1600 and 1650 b.c. the volcano erupted. This was one of history's largest volcanic explosions. It blew out the centre of the island, sending pillars of volcanic material across the Mediterranean. This might explain the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that guided the Hebrews on their way out. Certainly the hot cloud would have glowed in the dark.


However, we still need to explain the sea parting. Forget the image of walls of water. There is a more scientific explanation. Also forget the Red Sea, which is a copyist's error. The Hebrews escaped by the Mediterranean shore through an area known as the Reed Sea, a district of shallow coastal lagoons through which it was possible to wade.


The eruption had left a large hole in the island, protected from the sea by a thin barrier of rock. and the rock in the hole, the caldera, would still have been hot. Eventually the thin wall collapsed, sending the Mediterranean pouring into it. Sea levels therefore dropped and shores round the Mediterranean  therefore receded, just about the time that the Hebrews were passing along the shore, leaving them to cross dryshod. Followed by the Egyptian chariot force, the elite fighting force of the day, they made for higher ground, a wise decision as it turned out.




The water in the hole, known as a caldera, heated up and came back as a burst of steam. The immense bubbling outflow of water generates a tsunami that smashed its way across the Mediterranean. Large parts of Crete were overwhelmed by the power of thirty foot waves travelling at possibly over two hundred mph. Archaeology reveals evidence of major damage to Cretan cities at that time, and the evidence is consistent with a major tsunami impact, as blocks of masonry are tumbled over  and hurled inland. The wave reached the shores of the Reed Sea, just as the Egyptian chariot force was moving across the receded lagoons. Elite fighting force they might have been, but it is almost impossible to resist a thirty foot wall of water racing at high speed at you. The destruction of the Egytian military force was total.


The plagues


There are other indications that Israel escaped during a period of volcanic activity. The story that frogs came out in abundance can be linked to the fact that animals sense Earth tremors, which precede an eruption, and leave their holes in the ground. The Nile's turning to blood can be explained as red volcanic dust. The plague of boils is easily explained. Volcanic ash can be very acidic and will leave nasty burns on the skin if it touches exposed flesh. All of these stories have been legendised, but contain a core of truth.


The final plague was the death of the first born. This is not mentioned anywhere in Egyptian history, but the possibility is that desperate Egytians, fearing that their gods were angry, were driven to human sacrifice as a last resort. Embarrassment may have led them to delete this event from their history.




A number of the other events in this story have scientific  explanations. The quails that landed on the Israelite camp were driven to exhaustion in their migratory flight by a strong wind, which could have been caused by volcanic disturbance of the wind patterns. The manna is a naturally occurring substance secreted by insects, now rare but still found. The water that seeped from the rock occurs when water is damned up behind a limestone crust.


Intepretation is all. There are two ways of looking at these events. Either Israel benefited from a very fortuitous set of coincidences; or they were guided along their way to be at the right place at the right place at the right time. Science and history can illuminate the background, but the question of how to explain this remarkable set of coincidences goes beyond the pair of them.


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October 12 2011 4 12 /10 /October /2011 16:47




The Bible says that God planted a garden in Eden, Eden being a region near the borders of Iran and modern Turkey. It gives some geographical details of the rough location, but these are irrelevant. Eden as we have it in the Bible is a mythical place, an orignal homeland or humanity where the first parents enjoyed bliss until they sinned.


The aim of the story is to put the responsibility for sin squarely oh human's shoulders. God made the world good, says the story, and humans made a mess of it by disobedience. It is important to demolish one false claim. Nowhere does the Bible say that Eve should take most of the blame. She is tempted, but Adam falls for it and they are both blamed. The result of the disobedience is loss of the garden and the subsequent burdens of life that fall on humans because of the problem.


But let us look in more detail at the garden. It was said to be full of trees good to eat, and at the centre was the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Many people have imagined it as an apple tree, but nowhere is the world apple mentioned. Most likely the tree that the Bible writer had ain mind was a terebrinth. This was sacred to the pagan goddess Astarte/ ashteroth, whose fertility rites took place under sacred terebrinth trees. The Bible writer is suggesting that Adam and Eve went to worship Astarte in the hope of gaining fertility, and in doing so abandoned the true God. The result was that the fertile garden was lost and never recovered. The moral message is that the true God is the source of fertility sp do not worship false deities, whose cultus can only bring harm.


It is important to realize that the bible was addressing the problems of the time at which it was written, and so it addressed the problems of idol worship in Israel, which was rife at the time. The writer was expressing a key prophetic idea that to worship false gods is the way to ruin.


Many people ahve seen the snake as Satan, the devil, yet the story of Adam and Eve was written in about 900 b.c, before the concept of the Devil entered Judaism. The serpent is a symbol of pagan wisdom, which was opposed to the wisdom of the one true God. Thus the moral message is that if you abandon the wisdom that comes from God, you will err.


Over the centuries many have tried to find the Garden of Eden, but to no avail. In mediaeval times, when Geography was limited and under-informed, there was much speculation about Eden's whereabouts. One monk in the seventeenth century sought it in Sri Lanka, which he thought was the most beautiful place on earth. Rohm has examined the Bible text and pinned down what he thinks is a valley in Iran, which is now desert, as the site of the garden. Yet none of this matters too much. Even if there is an original site that the Bible writer had in mind, Eden as we know it is mythical. It represents a world that we have lost.


There have been attempts to recreate the life of Eden. Thor Heyerdahl wrote the book Fatu Hiva  about his attempts to go back to nature on a Pacific Island, by dispensing with clothes and living off what he could forage, but his efforts failed. He realized that we can never go back to a state of primal innocence. He could not go back because he was carrying his modern mind and language with him.


Eden is to some extent a dream that guides us not to the past but to the future. The ecological movement aspires to return to a world before pollution, for which Eden is a model. A world in which humans live in harmony with nature rather than exploiting it is a dream that has haunted and inspired them for centuries. We cannot return to a state of primal innocence and harmony, that has long gone, but many people are driven by the image of Eden as an inspiration for the creation of a better environment.




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August 11 2011 5 11 /08 /August /2011 14:39

There have been twenty three Canadian prime ministers from the establishment of the dominion of Canada to the present day. Some, however, have served two or three terms of office. They have been split between the various parties which include Liberal and Conservative in their names, reflecting the political influences from Britain at the time of the country's establishment. Read this article to learn about Canadian prime ministers.

The 1867 to 1930

The establishment of Canada

The office of the prime minister was established following the British model in1867, when Canada was established. The list of prime ministers then began with Sir John MacDonald (1867-73; 1878- 91). Alexander MacKenzie held office from 1873-78. Following him there was a succession of short terms of office, as follows: John Abbot,1891-92, John Thompson, 1892-94, MacKenzie Bowell, 1894-96,Charles Tupper 1896, until Wilfred Laurier, whose term of office concluded in 1911.

Political parties

Up to Thompson most were Liberal-conservatives, though Alexander MacKenzie was a Liberal. Bowell and Tupper were both Conservatives, but Liberal rule returned with Laurier. Sir Robert Borden had two terms in succession under different party titles. From 1911-1917 he was in office as a Conservative, but in 1917 he changed the constituency that he represented and his party title, ruling from 1917 as Unionist.

Short terms of office

Then, we have the same two people in office twice. Arthur Meighen held office from 1920-21 as a National Liberal and Conservative, but William Mackenzie King took the post as a Liberal and held it until 1926, when Meighen recovered it, only for a few months, when he was a Conservative, but in the same year Mackenzie King recovered the position and held it until 1930.

1930 onwards

The Conservative Richard Bennet held the post until 1935, when Mackenzie King recovered it for the Liberals until 1948, seeing Canada through World War 2, when he retired and handed over to the Liberal Louis St Laurent, who held it until 1957.

Since then four prime ministers have held long terms. John Diefenbaker held office for the Progressive-conservatives until 1963, when two Liberals, Lester Pearson, left office 1968, and Pierre Trudeau, 1968-79, took over. Trudeau was briefly followed by the Conservative Joe Clark,1979-80, before Trudeau returned to rule until retirement in 1984, being followed for a few months by his liberal successor John Turner.

Since then, the Progressive-conservative party had two prime ministers in succession, Brian Mulroney from 1984-93 and Kim Campbell in 1993, before badly losing an election. The Liberals returned with John Chretien, who held office to 2003, and Paul Martin, who left office in 2006. The present prime minister Stephen Harper belongs to the Conservative party.

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August 3 2011 4 03 /08 /August /2011 08:47

The Library of Alexandria was inspired by the Greek culture and established by Ptolemy, following the design of Aristotle's Lyceum. It was housed in the Serapeum, part of a larger museum and palace complex. How it was destroyed is uncertain, various candidates being Julius Caesar, Patriarch Theophilus and Caliph Omar. However, it is likely that accidental fire damage was the culprit.

Foundation and early years


The Library of Ancient Alexandria was established between 367 and 283 BC by Ptolemy Soter, the Greek pharaoh of Egypt. Its aim was to keep a copy of every book in the world, and messengers were sent around the Mediterranean, seeking books. It was housed in the Serapeum, a building designed to resemble Aristotle's Lyceum, his school at Athens, with courtyards where scholars could walk and discuss. This was part of a museum complex, the Bruchion.

Roman times

By the time of Caesar's arrival in Egypt, the royal library included 500,000 books and the public library 42,000. However, it was during the fighting that beset Egypt during this time that the first damage to the library is mentioned. Ancient writers mention that fighting caused the fire to spread to the library, Seneca quotes from Livy, saying that a great number of books were destroyed.

However, the scholarly emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) gave a donation of books, as did the Emperor Hadrian at a later date. That implies that library activity was still going on in the second century. It is likely that damage in Caesar's time occurred, but was not total.


What is certain is that by the twelfth century the library was gone, as John Tzetzes, a Christian scholar affirms in his work. However, scholars argue who was to be blamed. Caesar was accused early, but any damage in his time was accidental, the side effect of war.

Gibbon accuses Patriarch Theophilus. However, Gibbon's objectivity as a historian is seriously criticised by modern scholars, as he is recognised to have an anti-Christian bias. There is no evidence to link Theophilus to the destruction. Gibbon's argument seems to imply that as it was not Omar who destroyed it, it must be Theophilus. That's a weak argument.

Accused by some medieval writers is Caliph Omar. This claim is mere propaganda. There is no evidence that Omar burned the library. As he was quite civilised and merciful in his treatment of conquered cities, we can dismiss it as a fiction from Islam's enemies.

Most likely, the library was not intentionally destroyed, but was caught up in the fire that burned the crowded city: Either accidentally or during civil unrest. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a modern library established near the site.

1 A map of Alexandria, Virginia, showing Forts Ellsworth, Source Lib
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July 27 2011 4 27 /07 /July /2011 12:57

The Hundred years war was a conflict between the Plantagenet rulers of England and various French factions over the inheritance of the throne of France. It began with initial English successes which were reversed some years later. However, the ebb and low of successes and failures were complicated by internal factors which weakened England, thereby resulting in English failure.

Early stages

Edward the Third

In 1328, the king of France died childless, leaving factions among the nobility contending for power. Edward the Third of England had a good claim to the throne, but a French faction crowned a more distant cousin. War began. Initially, the English was successful. In 1340, French and Spanish naval forces planning a seaborne invasion of England were heavily defeated at Sluys, off the Netherlands.

War facts

The English forces, battle-hardened against Scots and Welsh and well-equipped with long bowmen, had initial success. In 1346, these English forces had a significant victory at Crecy and they eventually took Calais.

English control of the Channel was an important military advantage at that time. Matters at this time were complicated by the Black Death which ravaged Europe and slowed down conflicts.

However, in 1356, the English were still capable of inflicting a major defeat on the French at Poitiers, where the French king was captured. He later died in captivity. By 1360, a peace treaty left England in control of much of Western France.

Later years

In 1381, the peasants' revolt distracted English attention and gave the French encouragement to recover land. The 1380s saw French recovery in which French forces, having recovered access to the Channel at Rouen, attacked and ravaged the Isle of Wight.

England then suffered internal problems through the Wars of the Roses. In a delicate state, it could not resist French attempts at recovery of territory and English power was severely weakened, being reduced to a few towns, one of which was Calais.

However in 1407, internal divisions in France encouraged the English kings. Henry the Fifth invaded and in 1415, he routed the French at the battle of Agincourt. English power was established and in a treaty, Henry was acknowledged to be the heir to the French throne.

However, French resistance flared up and under Joan of Arc, who inspired French forces, the English were steadily driven back as cities under English control fell. England's internal weaknesses through the renewed wars of the Roses had much to do with this failure.

Successive English defeats followed and in 1453, the war ended with French victory. England was left wit only Calais and the Plantagenet lands in France were all lost.

Bataille de Crécy 1346 | Source Chroniques de Jean Froissard | Date X
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