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Posted in Archaeology, Bible, Historical articles, History, Religion on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 245 published on 24 September 1966.
Compiling and editing the canon of Scripture from ancient documents and records by William Hole
Some thirty years ago there were headlines in every British newspapers about the proposal to purchase an ancient manuscript of the Bible and to place it in the British Museum. The price was £100,000; the seller was the government of Soviet Russia, and the British Government agreed to find half the cost if the other half could be raised by public subscription. The sum was quickly collected, and since 1933 the manuscript has been one of our national treasures.
Its history is a strange one. It was written in Greek, on 148 leaves of fine vellum, early in the 4th century A.D., probably by an Egyptian scribe. For centuries it lay in the library of St. Catherine, at the foot of Mount Sinai. One of the oldest Biblical manuscripts in existence, it was rediscovered in 1844 by a Russian called Tischendorf – just as it was about to be put on a bonfire! It was sent as a present to the Czar of Russia, and was eventually sold to Britain, as already mentioned.
This was the most important of the many discoveries made in the past century which have helped us to gain greater knowledge of the original Hebrew and Greek Books of the Bible, from which one English version is translated, and it is interesting to know that it is in our keeping.
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Posted in Ancient History, Bible, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Friday, 3 May 2013
This edited article about Babylon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 240 published on 20 August 1966.
At first it may seem curious that the plain of Mesopotamia should act as a birthplace of civilisation. Temperatures are extreme, ranging from freezing point in winter to as much as 120 deg. F. in summer. Trees are rare and there are no great mineral deposits, so that timber and stone, the commonest building materials, are both lacking.
The plain, however, is watered by two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, and the gradual development of a wonderful system of irrigation brought fertility to the land.
Next in importance to these rivers is the abundance of clay – a material that can be worked with the most primitive of tools. Clay became for the early inhabitant of the area what marble, wood and paper were for other, more fortunate people. Used in the form of flat cakes, it could take impressions and was used for writing: it provided domestic and workshop equipment; it was moulded into bricks which were dried in the scorching sun and used as building material.
It was out of these bricks that Babylon, one of the world’s earliest cities, rose on the banks of the Euphrates. The city was immensely old, for it was founded about 2,500 B.C., rose to a peak a thousand years later, fell, and rose again under its great king, Nebuchadnezzar. Then, in 538 B.C., the Persians destroyed it, and slowly it became nothing more than a great mound, hardly distinguishable from the clay around it.
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Posted in Ancient History, Anthropology, Archaeology, Bible, Historical articles, History, War on Tuesday, 30 April 2013
This edited article about the Hittites originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 236 published on 23 July 1966.
Hattusas, the mountain stronghold of the warlike Hittites by Ron Embleton
A mountain-top in Turkey seems a more fitting site for the castle of a robber chieftain than the capital of a great empire. But it was here that archaeologists discovered the ruins of the chief city of the Hittites, a powerful race which the Bible mentions several times as the rulers of an empire somewhere in Asia.
The discovery of the heart of this lost empire of the Hittites had no one dramatic moment. Instead the work was carried on by experts over many years.
Scholars concerned with records of ancient Egypt had found many references to a warlike people called Hatti, with whom even the mighty Pharaohs dealt carefully. These people used chariots in war, were able to put thousands of soldiers in the field, and had built up a complex series of alliances with neighbouring kings. In a great battle in 1288 B.C., they and the Egyptians fought to a standstill and thereafter treated each other with respect.
Meanwhile, other scholars in Turkey and the Middle East discovered that statues, ruins and inscriptions of an unknown race were to be found over a wide area. Certain links seemed to connect the Hatti of the Egyptian annals and the Hittites of the Bible with this mysterious race.
The information picked up in Egypt and Turkey was assembled together in Europe by other experts, until gradually a picture was built up of a people who had ruled their empire from the mountains of Turkey. Expeditions were sent out to try to locate the nerve-centre of this empire.
In 1906, systematic excavations began among strange ruins on a mountain-top near the Turkish village of Boghazkoy, and it was here that the archaeologists found what they were looking for. The ruins at Boghazkoy turned out to be the remains of Hattusas, the long-sought Hittite capital.
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Posted in Bible, Historical articles, History, Music, Religion on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about John and Charles Wesley originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 235 published on 16 July 1966.
It was fortunate that the house of the parson at Epworth in Lincolnshire was large, for he had a very big family. His two most famous sons, John and Charles, were the fifteenth and eighteenth children born to the Reverend Samuel Wesley and his wife, Susannah.
John and Charles were both sent to a famous school, John to Charterhouse and Charles to Westminster, and from there both went on to Oxford.
It was during their student days at Oxford that the two brothers showed the earnestness of their religious beliefs. They met regularly with a few friends for prayer and study of the Bible, and behaved with a seriousness by no means common among their fellow students. Of several nicknames given to them at this time, one has survived to become the title of their followers even two centuries later. That was the name ‘Methodists’, which referred to their methodical and disciplined way of life.
In 1735, when John was 32 and Charles 28, the brothers sailed to the New World colony of Georgia as missionaries. It is strange to learn that these two men, who were later such amazingly effective missionaries among their fellow-countrymen in Britain, were a dismal failure in America! Within two years they were home again.
John then underwent an experience which changed his whole life. Christianity took on a new and deeper meaning for him, and became a religion of the heart, as well as of the mind. Soon afterwards Charles Wesley underwent a similar change of heart, or ‘conversion’.
In the course of the next half-century, John Wesley travelled on horseback an average of 8,000 miles every year. He prepared his sermons at a little desk attached to the saddle of his horse, and for the most part delivered them in the open air, often to large crowds.
Many of the clergymen in the places he visited did not like either his message or his methods, and refused to allow him to preach in their churches. As a result John Wesley gradually found himself a stranger in the Church of England, in which he had been brought up, and eventually he began appointing his own ministers to look after those who had heard him so gladly. In this way there began the groups of ‘the people called Methodists’ who today form the world-wide Methodist Church numbering 12 million members, of whom about three-quarters of a million live in Britain.
Charles Wesley was outstanding as a writer of hymns, of which he wrote more than 5,000. Today many of them are still sung by Christians of all denominations, and there can scarcely be anyone who does not know a few lines of his most famous composition, ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’.
Posted in Bible, Historical articles, History, Religion on Thursday, 11 April 2013
This edited article about William Tyndale originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 222 published on 16 April 1966.
Although the first sizeable book ever to be printed in Europe was a Bible which appeared at Mainz in 1456, twenty years elapsed before Caxton introduced printing into England, and the Bible was not among the total of nearly a hundred books – some of them on religious subjects – which were eventually issued from his press at Westminster.
It was not until 1537 that an English Bible was printed in England; all the early printed Bibles in the English language were printed abroad at such places as Cologne, Antwerp and Paris.
The reason for this lay in the fact that, right up to the time of the Reformation in England (1535-40), and even beyond it, there were many who thought it most unwise to allow the English or any other nation to read the Bible for themselves in their own tongue. It was better that it should be accessible only through the Church. Even Henry VIII, who at first permitted it, went back on his word before he died. A long and sometimes bitter struggle took place in the early sixteenth century to achieve something we take for granted today – the right to own and read an English Bible.
One of the heroes and pioneers of this struggle was a Gloucestershire man, William Tindale (sometimes spelt “Tyndale”). He was born in about 1494, studied as a young man at both Oxford and Cambridge, then became tutor to a wealthy family at Little Sodbury, in his native country.
The idea of making an English translation of the Bible was already in his mind. In an argument with a priest at his patron’s dinner-table, Tindale was rash enough to say, “If God spare my life, I will, ere many years, cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!”
From that day, Tindale was a man under suspicion. Eventually he left England, and settled down in Wittenberg to press on with his English translation.
Tindale’s New Testament was printed in 1525, and early in the following year copies were being smuggled into England in bales of cloth.
Meanwhile Tindale was translating the Old Testament also, but he was arrested before his work was finished. In 1536, he was condemned to death as a heretic, and burned at the stake in Vilvorde, a town in what is now Belgium.
Tindale’s work was, however, taken up by others, and his dying prayer “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes” was strangely fulfilled when, only two years later, copies of the whole Bible in English were set up in our parish churches by Royal command.
Posted in Ancient History, Bible, Interesting Words, Language, Religion on Wednesday, 10 April 2013
This edited article about Easter originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 221 published on 9 April 1966.
Simon of Cyrene carries the Cross for Christ who walks the Via Dolorosa to His Crucifixion on Golgotha by Henry Coller
The place of a skull – a grim title, but that was the meaning of “Golgotha,” the Hebrew name by which everyone in Jerusalem knew the place where public executions were carried out. The Romans called it by a similar name, based on their word for “bald” – calva – and from their word came the English Calvary, as the name of that “green hill far away” where Jesus was put to death on a cross.
Calvary was at that time outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Its exact site is uncertain, but the traditional one is now inside the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was founded in A.D. 335. This is less than a mile from the site of the Roman fortress in which Jesus was condemned to death by the governor, Pontius Pilate. The road from there to Calvary became known to Christians as the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “the way of sadness”). This route has been followed by generations of pilgrims, and can still be traced today.
The Via Dolorosa is also known as “the way of the cross,” and its route is marked by fourteen places known as “stations of the cross.” These are points at which Jesus spoke to those whom he met, or where he stumbled, or where some other incident took place. Most of these happenings are recorded in the Gospels, like the story of Simon of Cyrene, who was ordered to help Jesus to carry his cross. Others belong to a later tradition, like the story of Saint Veronica, who is said to have offered Jesus a cloth with which to wipe the blood and sweat from his face.
The Stations of the Cross begin with the scene in which Jesus was condemned to death. They go on to show him receiving the cross, which all condemned prisoners had to carry for themselves. In addition to the incidents already mentioned, they show Jesus meeting with his mother, falling three times from exhaustion, undergoing the actual crucifixion, being taken down from the cross, and being laid in the tomb.
In Jerusalem itself representations of these scenes mark the fourteen “stations” on the Via Dolorosa, which today is a narrow cobbled lane in the oldest part of the city. Down the centuries the Stations of the Cross have been a recurring theme of Christian art. You will have no difficulty in finding a church which contains carvings or paintings of them. Some of the finest in England were carved for the Roman Catholic cathedral at Westminster, by the sculptor Eric Gill.
Posted in Bible, Education, Historical articles, History, Religion on Monday, 8 April 2013
This edited article about the Lollards originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 220 published on 2 April 1966.
John Wycliffe preaching
In the fifteenth century, a “Lollard” was a man with whom it was not wise to be seen, but whom many people liked to hear. He was like one of the friars who went preaching from village to village, except that, instead of spreading the generally-accepted teachings of the church, a Lollard attacked them – which was more exciting!
By the middle of the century, there were hundreds of Lollards on the roads of England. The origin of their curious name can only be guessed. It may have come (like the word lullaby) from an old Dutch word meaning “to chant,” but their words were by no means so soothing!
The Lollards attacked the monks, calling them “fat and red-cheeked.” They attacked the wealth of the monasteries and the power of the clergy. They questioned the authority of the Pope. They said that every man had the right to study the Bible and decide for himself what it meant. All this was very upsetting to the monks, bishops and parish clergy, but many people, especially of the poorer classes, listened eagerly.
The man who started this movement was himself a priest, John Wycliffe. Born in about 1330, he had been in turn the Master of an Oxford College, a country parson, a writer on religious subjects, and the first translator of the Bible into English.
Wycliffe may have been argumentative and even quarrelsome, but he did not lack courage and the power to influence others.
At first, his ideas were spread by travelling friars, who became known as “the poor preachers,” because they lived very simply. Only after 1382, when Wycliffe’s teachings were officially condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the name “Lollards” given to them. After that date they were looked upon as dangerous characters, and some of them were even burned at the stake.
Wycliffe himself escaped this fate, perhaps because he died soon afterwards (in 1384). But forty years later, when the agitation stirred up by his followers was at its height, his bones were dug up by his enemies. They were burned, and the ashes flung into the brook which ran beside the church at Lutterworth, the Leicestershire village of which he had been Rector for ten years before his death.
Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible, which he had made with the help of faithful supporters, was copied out many times, widely circulated, and read in secret. One hundred and seventy manuscripts of it have survived to the present day.
After 1400, the religious ideas of the Lollards began to find a ready hearing among those who were discontented not only with the religious teaching but also with the social conditions of their day. The movement continued, and undoubtedly prepared the way for the great changes which took place in the Reformation in the first half of the sixteenth century.
This is why Wycliffe is sometimes called “the morning star of the Reformation.”
Posted in Bible, Christmas, Religion on Wednesday, 20 March 2013
This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 205 published on 18 December 1965.
“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem . . . there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”
From simple words like these in the second chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we have created one of the loveliest scenes in the Christmas pageant, that of “three Kings from Persian lands afar” – to quote an old carol – whom we have come to picture with all the pomp and ceremony which art and imagination can devise.
How did this picture come into being? Is it a true one?
Let us look at the facts.
The Greek word for these men, used in the Gospel story, was magoi, often written as magi, and found in our more familiar word “magician.” It simply means “wise men” or “astrologers.”
There is no reference to “Kings” in connection with them. The earliest mention of this title is in the works of a North African Christian called Tertullian. Writing in Latin, about a century later than the author of the Gospel, he spoke of the Wise Men as “fere reges” – “almost Kings.”
By the sixth century, the belief that “Kings” came to the birthplace of Jesus was general. The value of the gifts which they brought seemed to confirm that these could only have been offered by men of royal wealth. A passage from Psalm 72 verse 10, written long before the time of Christ, also seemed to foretell this strange visit, for it said: “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Arabia and Seba shall offer gifts.”
Three gifts suggest that there were three givers, but this was not necessarily so. There might as easily have been two, one with gold, the other with the two costly and fragrant gums, or resins – frankincense and myrrh – which could be used in the preparation of medicines, or burned, as incense had been burned for centuries by those of many religions, as a symbol of mystery and prayer.
There are also legends of a fourth Wise Man who set out on the journey, but who turned back, discouraged by its hardships. There is no mention of him in the New Testament, however.
A third century Egyptian scholar called Origen first made the definite statement that the Wise Men were three in number. He lived a little later than Tertullian, in the city of Alexandria, and was the leading biblical teacher in his day.
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Posted in Ancient History, Bible, Conservation, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 12 March 2013
This edited article about the Dead Sea Scrolls originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 188 published on 21 August 1965.
Under the microscope lay a tiny piece of parchment. A scientist watched and waited to record with fraction-of-a-degree accuracy, the temperature at the instant the fibres of the parchment began to shrink.
On the temperature at which shrinkage began depended the reputations of the scholars who differed in opinion about the age of the parchment. Some said it was 2,000 years old, others that it was only half that age.
The dating was vital, because the fragment being examined was from the now famous Dead Sea Scrolls. If science could show that it was 2,000 years old, the scroll from which it came must have been written about the time of the life of Jesus and be the earliest existing record of that period – and so help to clarify a remote chapter of history.
That was why such excitement attended this shrinkage test carried out a few years ago in the laboratories of Leeds University.
The experiment was based on the knowledge that the older a piece of parchment the lower the temperature at which, under strictly controlled conditions, it will begin to shrink after being placed in distilled water. As the soaked fragment was heated electrically the scientist at the microscope watched for the first tiny movement of the fibres of the parchment. When it came the temperature was low enough to provide strong evidence in favour of the parchment skin being of the earlier date.
An electron microscope was also used in the investigation. This instrument gives a magnification of about 25,000 times, far greater than an ordinary microscope. It revealed that the skins used to make the parchment probably came from young goats and lambs – evidence that the ancient scribes made their own writing material from the most readily available sources, and a further indication of genuine antiquity.
The intriguing and difficult work of fitting together thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and translating them is still far from complete, for the discovery of the first of the Scrolls happened only eighteen years ago.
A boy goat-herd of a Bedouin tribe who live in the wild semi-desert land between Bethlehem and the Dead Sea, had lost one of his goats. He climbed some limestone cliffs, searching for the animal. The climb in the hot sun tired him and he lay down to rest. His eyes strayed to a two-foot-square hole in the cliff face and he wondered idly why such a hole should be there.
He roused himself, picked up a stone and flung it through the hole. The sound that reached his ears was not a dull thud of stone on rock, but the sharper sound of stone breaking pottery. Mystified, the boy climbed up to the hole and poked his head through. As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he saw a cave; and standing on the floor were several large, wide-necked pottery jars, some of them broken.
The boy dashed back to his tribe and told an older friend of the strange cave. Next day they went to the spot and clambered through the hole.
They found eight jars standing along either side of the cave and feverishly delved into them, hoping for treasure. What they found in several of the jars was worth far more than gold – folds of brown leathery parchment wrapped in decomposing rags – the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
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Posted in Bible, Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty on Tuesday, 5 March 2013
This edited article about John Wycliffe originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 174 published on 10 May 1965.
John Wycliffe preaching
In the courtroom at St. Paul’s, London, the Bishop of London was seated between his church dignitaries before a table covered with books, papers and scrolls.
At the other end of the room, John Wycliffe, Doctor of Divinity, rector of Lutterworth, and at one time Master of Balliol College, Oxford, was sitting uncomfortably on a hard, wooden bench. He was being rigorously examined on charges of heresy, for he had attacked, through sermons and pamphlets, some of the basic principles of the Church.
Suddenly, the door burst open, and in walked the handsome, red-bearded figure of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, fourth son of Edward the Third, the king; behind him was a troop of soldiers.
“Stop this hearing at once!” barked the Duke. “Master Wycliffe has my protection, as you well know, and I will not allow him to be bullied by you.”
The Bishop of London, angry at the interruption, pushed back his chair and stood up. He was almost regal in his magnificent clothing.
“By what right do you interfere in these proceedings?” he demanded. “Surely you know that His Holiness the Pope himself has accused this man Wycliffe of heresy?”
John clapped his hand to his sword. “By this,” he thundered, and the soldiers behind him edged forward, menacingly.
“Very well,” said the Bishop, after a moment’s consideration, “you shall have your priest. But take care, for this is not the last you will hear of this matter.”
Wycliffe turned round and walked over to the Duke, and together they left the room, followed by the soldiers.
“You know,” said Duke John, when they were outside, “I have no time for your religious views, and in different circumstances you might have found me your greatest enemy. As it is, it suits me to protect you, but you must not go too far.”
“I understand,” answered Wycliffe, “but whatever happens, my conscience will not allow me to act otherwise. The abuses of the Church must be corrected, and if I have to give my life in this cause, I will gladly do so.”
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