11 April 2014

Side Effects

"But wait," you may ask me, "Classical Education seems too good to be true. Surely there must be some side effects."

The answer is, "Yes." Here is one example of a side effect of classical education. You send your 8-year-old son to do the dishes, and afterwards you find this:

21 March 2014


It is the deeds, the miracles, of God which constitute the confession of the Christian. What the Christian confesses in his creed is a long, a broad, and a high history. It is a history which comprises the whole world in its length and breadth, in its beginning, process, and end, in its origin, development, and destination, from the point of creation to the fulfillment of the ages. The confession of the church is a declaration of the mighty deeds of God.
-from Our Reasonable Faith by Herman Bavinck

20 March 2014

Former Men

...whatever falls away from goodness ceases to be; whence it comes to pass that the bad cease to be what they were, while only the outward aspect is left to show they have been men."
-from The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

17 March 2014

St. Patrick's Breastplate

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!

11 March 2014

Top 5 James Bond Films

I have the privilege of being blessed with a wife who loves action movies. It was by her impetus that we watched all the Bourne movies together. We saw all the Mission Impossible movies a couple years ago. And last summer, I decided it was seriously time for her to watch some James Bond.

I originally got into James Bond as a teenager when my uncle bought me Doctor No for my birthday. In my sophomore year of college (13 years ago much to my dismay), my friends and I watched every one of the movies (including the terrible Casino Royale parody from 1967). But one forgets a lot in 13 years and most of my memories were just impressions of specific scenes. There are a lot of good movies in the Bond franchise and a lot of bad, cheesy movies too. So I thought I’d do a top 5 list of the best and most essential Bond movies for those who can’t be bothered to sit down and watch all 23 films in the series canon. Here they are:

1. From Russia with Love (1963)

This is the best Bond film ever made. The characters are interesting, the pacing is good, the adventure is big, and there are lots of exotic locations. Also, this one introduces Bond's longtime villain, Blofeld. And (this always ranks really high in my book) there were no ridiculous gadgets that are so often the bane of Bond movies.

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Out of every Bond movie ever made, this is the most faithful to the book on which it is based. Contrary to popular prejudice, George Lazenby made a great James Bond. The story is great, Bond gets to be a real person for once, and there are, once again, no goofy gadgets.

3. Doctor No (1962)

This is the film that introduced Bond to moviegoers. Sean Connery is incredibly cool in his first iconic appearance at a card table with a cigarette in his mouth. As this is the first film, it had a lower budget, but was far better than some of the cheesier high budget movies that would come later. This one also improves upon the book. In the book, Bond battles a giant squid, which to me feels a bit too much like jumping the shark.

4. Skyfall (2012)
I'm a huge fan of what Daniel Craig has done with James Bond, bringing the series back to its roots. No exploding toothpaste. No car with a million buttons and guns attached. Just good honest spywork and fisticuffs. This one works as a tribute to the series as a whole, and is the best of the Daniel Craig movies so far.

5. The Living Daylights (1987)
This was Timothy Dalton's first outing as Bond, and while some parts of the movie feel pretty dated, Dalton was a great Bond. He was, in fact, the only one of the Bond actors who was a fan of the books before playing the part in a film, so he was consciously trying to steer the character away from the travesty that was Roger Moore's portrayal. Audiences at the time didn't like it, but Dalton was essentially trying to do with Bond in the 90s what Daniel Craig is doing now. Also this movie felt like the biggest sprawlingadventure since From Russia With Love.

08 March 2014

Joseph and Egyptology

Many scholars today believe that the bulk of Genesis was first written either during the reign of Solomon (970-930 B.C.) or near the beginning of the Babylonian exile around 586 B.C. On the whole, secular scholars reject the traditional Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible. However, arguments from tradition aside, Moses seems to be a good candidate as author because of his unique position as a man raised in the court of Pharaoh and educated in Egyptian learning. In one of my history courses in college, we talked about the unusual wording in the Tower of Babel story in Genesis. The author writes that they used bitumen instead of mortar and bricks instead of stone. This comment only makes sense if it is being written to people who have lived in Egypt and are used to the Egyptian methods of architecture. Most of the Ancient Near East did build with bricks and bitumen, unlike Egypt where at least monumental architecture was usually built with stone.

Anyway, I recently finished listening to a fascinating lecture series on the history of Ancient Egypt by Egyptologist Bob Brier. One of his more interesting rabbit trail lectures involved the Book of Genesis as it relates to Egypt. From the lecture it was apparent that there are many details of the story of Joseph in Egypt that could only have been known and written by someone who was intimately familiar with Egyptian culture: details that wouldn’t be known by Jewish scholars in Babylon or by members of Solomon’s court. Let’s look at a few of these.
It's Egyptology Time!
First of all, when Joseph is taken to Egypt, he is sold to Potiphar. “Potiphar” is in fact a genuine Egyptian name, “Padi-Ra”, which means “that given by Ra”. This name actually pops up twice, as the captain of Pharaoh’s guard to whom Joseph is sold as well as to the Priest of On whose daughter Joseph marries. Bible scholars disagree about whether these two are the same man or simply different men with the same name.

When Pharaoh has a dream later in the story, his magicians are unable to interpret it for him, and so Joseph is remembered and brought out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. This too shows knowledge of Egyptian religious customs. In the Coptic translation of the Old Testament, the word for magician is “sesperonch” and means “Scribe in the House of Life” The House of Life was a religious school/seminary in ancient Egypt. The scribes had dream books which contained all the images one might have in a dream and how to interpret them. If an image did not appear in the dream book, then the scribes would be incapable of interpreting the dream. This is why Pharaoh’s magicians could not interpret the dream. Apparently the scribes didn't know what to do with skinny cows.

 Egyptian Dream Book from the 13th century B.C.
 The idea that a famine could hit Egypt, a place which requires no rain because the Nile River floods every year, may seem to be farfetched. However, a stela on Sehel Island tells of a seven-year famine brought about by the Nile’s failure to rise. This is almost certainly not the famine from Joseph’s time, but it does show that such famines were possible.

The famine stela from Sehel Island
Signet Ring from the 18th Dynasty
Other things that connect the Joseph story genuinely to Egypt include Joseph’s signet ring. The giving of a signet ring to the vizier so that he could act in Pharaoh’s name was a common practice in Egypt. Genesis says that people followed Joseph around crying out “Abrek”. Now scholars are not agreed even to this day what Abrek means. Many believe that the word has an Assyrian root, which would support a later date for Genesis. However, “abrek” may very well be a corrupted from of the Egyptian expression “ab–r–k”, literally “heart to you”, and understood to mean something along the lines of “god go with you”. Likewise the fact that priests in Egypt accumulated most of the land fits with the very same event occurring in the story of Joseph.

An Egyptian Vizier

Mummy of Seti I
c. 1290 - 1279 B.C.
Finally, there is the issue of mummification. The exact process of mummy-making was a closely guarded secret of the guild of mummifiers in Ancient Egypt. Trade secrets and whatnot. So the fact that the book of Genesis states that Jacob’s embalming took 40 days and that he was mourned for 70 days total is intriguing. This matches up with what we now know today to be the Egyptian process of mummification during which the body spent 40 days in natron being dried and preserved. The other 30 days were broken into two 15 day periods: one period for cleansing and purification and one for wrapping and final rituals. Once again, this is not the sort of thing likely to be known in Solomon’s court or in Babylon at the time.

06 March 2014

Jesus' Prayer Book

"The Psalter is the prayer book Jesus made his own. We can see in the Gospels and in the early church that Jesus and his first followers were soaked in the Psalms, using them to express how they understood what God was doing. For us to distance ourselves from the Psalms inevitably means distancing ourselves from Jesus." - N.T. Wright (source)

05 March 2014

Ash Wednesday

Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself. 
-Book of Common Prayer, 1662

The Day is Past and Gone
Words by: John Leland, 1792
Tune by: Elisha West, 1802

The day is past and gone;
The evening shades appear:
Oh may we all remember well
The night of death draws near.

We lay our garments by
Upon our beds to rest;
So death will soon disrobe us all
of what we here possess.

Lord keep us safe this night,
Secure from all our fears;
May angels guard us while we sleep,
'Till morning light appears.

And when we early rise
And view th'unwearied sun,
May we set out to win the prize
And after glory run.

And when our days are past
And we from time remove,
O may we in Thy bosom rest,
The bosom of Thy love.

28 February 2014

How to Conquer Jerusalem (Frederick II Style)

Frederick II looking
rather pleased with
In A.D. 1099, the First Crusade succeeded in taking the City of Jerusalem after much bloodshed and struggle. One hundred and thirty years later, Frederick II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, conquered Jerusalem once again. At this time, Jerusalem was under the control of al-Kamil, sultan of Egypt and nephew of the late Saladin. He was worried that al-Mu'azzam, his cousin and the ruler of Damascus, was angling for his position. Terry Jones in Crusades narrates the ensuing "conquest" of Jerusalem.

"In the meantime an emissary had come from al-Kamil asking for Frederick's help against his brother al-Mu’azzam, who he believed was trying to seize the Sultanate from him. Al-Kamil offered Frederick the Holy City in exchange for his support. Frederick could see the opportunity for a diplomatic coup and set out for his Kingdom in the East…
 When Frederick arrived at Acre he found the situation had changed.
 Al-Mu’azzam had died, and al-Kamil no longer needed his help. Frederick had to plead with al-Kamil: ‘I am your friend. It was you who urged me to make this trip. The Pope and all the kings of the West now know of my mission. If I return empty-handed I will lose much prestige. For pity’s sake give me Jerusalem, that I may hold my head high!’ Al-Kamil had as little interest in the Holy War as Frederick, but he was in an embarrassing position: ‘I too must take account of opinion. If I deliver Jerusalem to you it could lead not only to a condemnation of my actions by the Caliph, but also to a religious insurrection that would threaten my throne.’ It was intimated to Frederick that the only way out of the situation was a show of force. If al-Kamil were forced to give up Jerusalem in order to avoid bloodshed, he might save face. And so, in November 1228, Frederick marched at the head of his army of three thousand men and al-Kamil then went through a charade of negotiation.
 So, on 18 February 1229, Jerusalem was restored to the Franks, without a drop of blood being spilt. The deal was for ten years and included Bethlehem and some places between the Holy City and the coast…The Holy Sepulchre was in Christian hands once more."

-from Crusades by Terry Jones, pages 222-223

27 February 2014


When I saw Crusades at the library, I knew that I had to read it. I mean, seriously, a book about the Crusades from Terry Jones of Monty Python fame? I had already watched the Medieval Lives BBC documentary series from Terry Jones and loved the way it debunked common myths about the Middle Ages.

Now, given the author and the purpose of this book, originally written as a companion to an A&E series, I wasn't expecting a lot from this book other than a rollicking fun read. I was surprised then to find that it closely followed the primary sources for the Crusades and took account of some really good scholarship to boot. It was a fun read, but it was also a good, solid introduction to the Crusades, written with an eye to telling a good story. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a broad overview of this complicated period in history. The only negative thing about the books was Jones's persistent cynicism, but of course that's only to be expected.

 4/5 stars