Archive for category 02. Christmas

A mid-winter night’s tale

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Christmas morning is the most anticipated and most celebrated day in the history of the western world.

The Christian religion is based on the gospels of the New Testament of the Bible. But Christianity was alive and flourishing for 300 years before the Christian Bishops of the Catholic Church of Rome selected these four gospels and wrote the narrative upon which the modern Christians rely for their beliefs.

The star of Bethlehem is the defining cosmic symbol of the birth of Christianity. The star that prompted the three Magi to travel for several months to bear witness to the birth of the Messiah, the one who would be king of the Jews. This, of course, made the three Magi themselves also an essential part of the birth of Christianity and yet we never hear of them again in the books of the New Testament. We read in the bible that they visited the Court of King Herod on their journey and were instructed to report back to him when they had found this royal baby. We read that after the Magi witnessed the birth, they returned to Persia by a different route to avoid Herod; and we read that Herod then issued orders for all Jewish males under the age of two to be slaughtered to ensure the death of this potential threat to his line.

We also read that Mary and Joseph were warned of the threat by an angelic non-earthly being and they departed urgently with their new born for Egypt. When Herod died two years later, the family returned to Judea. But after that we read very little about Yeshua (Adapted in Greek to Ioasus and then Romanised/ Anglicised to Jesus) with the only reference during the first thirty years of his life being at age twelve when he was taken with his family to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem, as they did each year. On this occasion he astounded the Hebrew scholars with his knowledge of scripture but we have no idea how Yeshua gained the knowledge that he impressed the scholars with, or where and how he spent the subsequent eighteen years before he publicly began his ministry with his baptism at age thirty. That was quite a mature, middle aged man by the standard of the day.

At age 30, Yeshua was baptised by Yohanon (John), said to be the son of his mother’s cousin. Yohanon was a Nazirite which is a strict sect of Judaism. Nazirites were desert dwellers who believed in purification by immersion in water, who adhered to extremely strict ascetic vows and who have special powers to cast out demons. Notably, following his baptism Yeshua himself went into the desert where he was tempted by Satan with worldly goods before making his final resolve to embark on his God-inspired mission to gather “the lost sheep of Israel” and challenge the religious hierarchy of Judea who had ‘turned God’s house into a den of thieves’.

Minor errors in creating the modern Gregorian calendar have demonstrated that the birth of Jesus would not have been at the beginning of 1ad as we assume. King Herod the great, who is also central to the nativity story, is recorded to have died in 4bc. The belief is that under the Gregorian calendar Yeshua would have been born around 6bc. So what, then, was the wandering star that caused the Magi to set off on their search? Computers today enable us to back-trace the location of planets and even comets two thousand years ago. An obvious first point to check is whether the star of Bethlehem was Halley’s comet on its regular circuit. But that passed through earth’s sky in 12bc, at least 5-6 years before the birth. Apart from which, in ancient times, comets were considered forerunners of catastrophe, not the joyful birth of a king.

Of interest, the original Aramaic text of the Magi’s explanation is that they had seen Yeshua’ star “in heliacal rising.” This means a star that appears immediately prior to sunrise. The most significant planetary observation is the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn which make an exceptionally bright light, although from two planets aligned rather than being one star. This alignment randomly appears in different constellations each time but when it occurs in the constellation of Pisces it is recognised as the Star of David, symbol of Judaism.

It was Johannes Kepler, the father of modern astronomy, who had studied the writings of a medieval Jewish scholar, Rabbi Abarbonel, and discovered the significance to the Jewish people of the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, which together shine like a superstar, in the constellation of Pisces. This alignment was regarded as the ‘Star of David’. Kepler also calculated that during 6bc this alignment of Jupiter and Saturn made the rare appearance in Pisces and was in fact a triple conjunction, occurring three times in the period. This has been confirmed by modern computer-generated calculations as occurring in 6bc on May 22, October 8 and December 2, with the heliacal rising in the dawn sky. This is a very plausible source of the legend that the birth of a king who would restore the line of David would be signaled by this ‘Star of David’ appearing. In Greek lore Saturn (Cronus) is the heavenly father of Jupiter (Zeus).

So the Magi were literally looking for the Jewish baby boy born under the Star of David, who was born to be king. This would certainly spark the interest of Magi who were astronomers, given such a rare conjunction and even more so spark the alarm of the current King of Judea, Herod. Triple conjunctions are rare and a triple conjunction in Pisces, the Star of David, is even more rare. It should also be noted that this time was also when the vernal equinox was moving from the age of Aries into the age of Pisces, the fish. This is notable with the significance of the symbol of the fish in Christianity. The last 2,000 years which began with the Magi observing a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces has certainly been the age of Christianity. The next triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was in 967 ce when it had just moved out of the Pisces constellation.

So what then became of the three Magi? The Magi were the astronomer-priests presumed to have travelled from Persia and, if so would have been adherents of the religion founded by a Persian astrologer/ philosopher named Zarathustra.  It would seem most unlikely that three foreigners who followed the religion of Zarathustra, an opposing religion to Judaism, would be summoned by the Jewish God, Yahweh to witness the birth of Yeshua for no other reason than to bring gifts and then depart. Yet the authorised New Testament of the Bible speaks no more of them, in fact there is only one reference to them which is in the Book of Mathew. There is a reference in an extract from a medieval saints calendar printed in Cologne which read, “Having undergone many trials and fatigues for the Gospel, the three Magi met at Sewa (Sebaste in Armenia) in A.D. 54 to celebrate the feast of Christmas. Thereupon, after the celebration of Mass, they died: St. Melchior on Jan. 1, aged 116; St. Balthasar on Jan. 6, aged 112; and St. Caspar on Jan. 11, aged 109.” The Roman Martyrology also lists these dates as the Magi’s respective feast days. These are extraordinarily long lives for people of that age, giving rise to the question of what the title of Magi really means. In further research it would seem that the Magi had knowledge beyond that of ordinary folk. Knowledge of mathematics and sciences; of medicines and healing; astronomy and astrology; of metallurgy and alchemy; of feats that defy human understanding. To ordinary humans they had the mystical powers of what we call magic.

Did the Magi play a role in Yeshua’s education after his birth and the family’s return from Egypt? Did he live with them in Persia to prepare for his mission? And did they see his mission as purely spiritual to ‘fulfill the law of the prophets” or as the cosmically anointed inheritor of the kingship of David to restore the sovereignty of Israel as a defence against Rome? Rome was the primary enemy of the Persian Empire and Judea was located on their western border, separating the two empires. It was in fact earlier ruled by Persia before Alexander the Great conquered them. So it was certainly in the Persians’ political and military interest to have an allied, independent Judea between them and Rome. Whatever you think of this theory, clearly King Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the time, and the Jewish puppet priests, would take such a possibility very seriously.

It raises the question about just how much influence the Persian Magi had on the politics of Judea and whether they were continually working towards the eventual 66AD great uprising of religious zealots in Galilee and Judea when the Romans were finally driven out of the region. If so, it was a short-lived victory as Rome returned with a vengeance in 70AD and the Jews were driven from the land which was then given to the Philistines (Palestinians).

The history of the celebration of the actual Christmas Day traces back to the ending of the Roman persecution of the Christians. As a Messiah/ liberator Yeshua was recognised by the Romans and the Jewish High Priests as being intent on liberating the Jews from the rule of Rome and from the High Priests themselves, who were the puppets of Rome. This was a crime of sedition for which punishment was death by crucifixion. After his crucifixion, recovery and ascension into the heavens, his reputation lived on through his apostles and disciples, and in fact Christianity grew beyond Galilee and Judea and right throughout the Roman Empire which was causing the state of Rome some irritation. Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70CE scattering the surviving Jews and forbidding their Judaic religion. But this Christian sect of Judaism just kept growing, no small feat given the persistent efforts of the Roman Empire to crush it. However at around 313AD the Roman Emperor Constantine decided that he would make peace with the Christians. The official Roman Catholic version is that in 312 CE Constantine saw a cross in the sky the night before the battle of the Milvian Bridge against rival Emperor Maxentius (aka his brother) over supremacy in the combined East/West Roman Empire. Constantine decided that the vision of the cross in the sky was a sign of favour from Jesus (his wife was a devout Christian) and so he decided that if he won the battle then he would stop persecuting Christians as his part of the pact. No one recorded whether Maxentius on the other side of the bridge had seen the same cross, but in the end, he finished up drowned in the Tiber and Constantine ruled the world. The Cross in the sky was presumably the constellation Crux.

In effect, Constantine made the Christian bishops an offer they could not refuse. His patronage. That meant legitimacy and an end to persecution as well as an authority over the peasants in their parish that was backed up by the soldiers of Rome. This also meant an income from those peasants that could only increase as the emperor’s endorsement expanded their customer base. The bishops would become franchise holders of this empire-wide religious organisation. The head office would be established in Rome and the Bishop of Rome would be the capo di tutti. And so, it was agreed. The Christian church expanded with the support of Rome and the bishops made sure all those under their pastoral care were loyal to Rome.

The common people obviously bought into this concept, literally bought in, believing that it was a choice of paying a tithe to the parish priest or facing eternity in the fires of hell (and/or feeling the swords of the soldiers of Rome). These were a simple people facing simple choices and so the Church flourished. The Sicilian Mafia used a similar system to extract donations from the local business men with the slight adaptation of insuring their business premises against the fires of earth. Then in 325AD Constantine convened the first formal convention of all the bishops of this Christian Church of Rome at a place called Nicaea, which was in modern Turkey, just 70 kilometres from where he would build his great city of Constantinople just a few years later. Everyone loves a convention, especially in Turkey. Nicaea was no humble collection of cave dwellings in the wilderness from which the original Christianity had emerged; this was an historic and prosperous city right on the shores of the beautiful Lake Ascania. This convention was called to establish the doctrine of Christianity to which all Christians would be bound under pain of consignment to hellfire for all eternity. It was like a forerunner of our modern day COP climate change conferences with eternal hellfires on earth rather than in the underworld . One of the items on the agenda was to give Jesus the Nazarene a birthday to celebrate. His followers over the past three centuries clearly had not settled on a birthday celebration, so Constantine thought that needed sorting out. Jesus the Son of God had to have a birthday celebration which would be a nice little earner for the bishops.

But whether by coincidence or by edict, the day chosen for Jesus’ birthday was an existing Roman festival of Natalis Solis Invicti. This celebration recognised that the dates of 21st/22nd December are the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, the longest night of the winter. On this winter solstice the sun drops to its lowest point in the sky, descending onto the Crux constellation now known as the Southern Cross which, due to the precession of the equinoxes, was visible low in northern skies BCE. There it appeared to ‘hang in suspended animation’ for three days before starting to rise again. So the 25th of December was the existing Roman festival of the rebirth of Mithra the Sun God.

Mithraism was the dominant pagan religious cult in the Roman military at that time. According to the Roman historian Plutarch, Mithraism became part of Roman religious belief during the military campaign of Pompey around 70BC. Worship of the deity Mithra goes back 3500 years in the Indian Verdic religion and spread up through Persia following the conquests of Alexander the Great, eventually becoming the primary god in Asia Minor. Mithra was referred to as the Sun-God. His legend also reportedly includes having been born in a cave to a virgin goddess named Anahita. As the Sun-God, Mithra was said to have had twelve satellites (read: apostles) and was believed by the Indians to be the mediator between God and Man. From this some scholars conclude that Constantine simply overlaid his Mithraic beliefs onto the Christian religion that he had usurped.

So, Jesus’ birthday was then agreed at the Council of Nicaea to be December 25th even though it would seem unlikely that shepherds would be tending their flock at night in the hills of Galilee during the snowy depths of mid-winter. It was a political decision by the ruling military power of most of the world at the time and the effective ruler of Christianity, but it has been retained by Christianity long after the fall of the Roman Empire. It could be said that the Roman Empire lives on under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Church and the leadership of the Pope. Was this the greatest corporate takeover of all time? Bethlehem’s Family Bakery baking bagels for 300 years was taken over by Romano’s Pizzeria Global franchise enquiries welcome.

In summary, a relatively small, impoverished, and persecuted cult of thousands was taken over by Rome Inc. and today has a global client base of around two billion people paying off an advance mortgage on an after-life plot in heaven. It is now a modern, complex corporation worth untold billions of tax-exempt dollars and, in the afterlife, is beyond the reach of any Consumer Protection legislation.

The celebration of Christmas is the official recognition of the legend that just over 2,000 years ago, three magi (star watchers) travelled from somewhere in Persia to Galilee because they had noticed a very bright body in the night sky and, from their ancient knowledge, they concluded that this ‘star’ meant the coming of the anointed one, the Messiah. They followed this star until it shone a beam down to a stable in Bethlehem where they witnessed the birth of Yeshua. Now if anyone today told of a mysterious bright light in the sky leading three stargazers to a remote village in the desert to witness the birth of a child of a woman who had been approached by unearthly beings and artificially impregnated, they would be looked at with serious scepticism, at the very kindest. And when witnesses described that on same baby’s final day on earth he was lifted from the Mount of Olives and last seen entering a ‘cloud’ hovering above them, they would be ridiculed as alien conspiracy theorists. If those disciples added in that before this departure he had appeared to have died on a Crux, only to rise again into life three days later, then the men in white coats would definitely be getting a call. But, thanks to the endorsement of the Roman Emperor Constantine, and the ongoing endorsement of all subsequent Bishops of Rome, this story has been given the credibility to be accepted as the basis of the very conservative religion of Christianity. The basis for the conclusion that Yeshua was indeed a son of God.

Today the religious narrative of a bright light over Bethlehem, heralding angels, and an all-knowing son of God travelling in a flying cloud, have now all been corrupted into the commercial myth of a Santa Claus from the North Pole, who knows if you have been good or bad, who has elves helping him prepare rewards for the good, and who flies around the world on a warp-speed sky-craft to pass judgement on all the little girls and boys.

For the first 1600 years, Christmas was solely a religious event, a Mass involving devout worship, wholesome family gathering and alms to collect on behalf of the poor. Any money to be made was in tithes to the local parish priest for a special Christmas performance, which passed up the line until the head man in Rome eventually wet his beak. The priest might hope for a little bonus from his clients, but the despised merchant class was largely left out of the action.

Then, thanks to Coca Cola and the D’Arcy advertising agency, Saint Nicholas, a revered Christian patron saint of children and one of the original bishops at Nicaea, was rebranded as fat, jolly Santa Claus and the commercial Christmas era arrived in full force. In 1843 Charles Dickens had tried to start instilling a bit of guilt and goodwill in the hearts of the rich at Christmas time. But it was in 1931 that Coke that gave really gave Christmas the nostalgic magic of fantasy that overtook the religious festival and exposed the commercial potential of using Santa to endorse their products; and the rest of the commercial world quickly climbed aboard the sleigh.

Selling the idealism of a benevolent father figure living with his elves in the North Pole now runs parallel to the 4th century celebration of the arrival into Eastern European villages of the benevolent St Nicholas bearing gifts of sweet treats made by his helpers from Myra in faraway Turkey. St Nicholas himself paralleled the all loving Jesus living in heaven with his angels. Just as Constantine had blended an established pagan celebration with the birth of Jesus, so too Coca Cola blended the established Saint Nicholas celebration with a commercial Santa Claus celebration. It did not take long before the target market was extended to all people that we ‘love and care for’, and our extended families which are progressively becoming more complex, are socially coerced into getting together for this day.

That of course just exponentially increases the number of gifts that must be purchased. It became a gift-giving event that threatened social shame upon those miserly scrooges who did not support it. Brilliant! Was this one of the most effective marketing campaigns of all time? How many businesses today owe their existence and profits to that morphing of Santa Nicholas into Santa Claus? Including family lawyers with post-Christmas now becoming one of their busiest times of the year as the victims of this season of peace and goodwill turn up at their offices in January as predictably as whitebait in October.

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