Carpe Diem – by RexT

Carpe Diem is my latest completed song. It has been a work in progress that started like many of my songs, just strumming around on my acoustic guitar looking for a melody. Once I had the melody, some lyrics came along and jumped in. (Lyrics do that you know, they hear a melody they like and they just move in.) It wasn’t until after I had the rhythm part recorded that I started getting some ideas about accompaniments. I’ve played with it for about a month now and I think it’s about ready.

On this song I started experimenting with drum loops and other computer generated sounds. I didn’t write the drum loop I used in this song. I downloaded it from a free loop site and fit it in. It’s the one part I’ll probably change when I can. All the music is written, performed and recorded by me. I play acoustic and electric guitar, use synth organ and base guitar and do all the vocal parts.

I tried to have some fun with this song, so I hope it’s entertaining.

Carpe Diem

A Brief History of the Bible (Part 1) – by Dean Anderson

Introduction

This is part 1 of a series of articles is intended to give an overview of the Bible for people who know little about it.

Many people take the Bible for granted. Obviously, this is something that many non-theists do – seeing the Bible as something totally irrelevant – but it is something that the majority of believers do as well. It is taken for granted that the Bible is “a book” and a unified whole. It is also taken for granted that the English text that most of us have encountered is somehow “the” Bible. Both of these impressions are, of course, erroneous. The Bible is a collection of works written over a large period of time and in a variety of contexts. Similarly, the modern English translations have come a long way from what was originally written.

Part 1: The Writing of the Bible – The Hebrew Bible

This first instalment aims to give an overview of when the Bible was written. Naturally, given the huge scope of the topic – entire books have been written on just the writing of individual Epistles – such an overview is going to be superficial. Hopefully it will serve as a starting point for further reading, though.

I should also point out that given the nature of textual research, nothing here should be taken as being set in stone. The dates and processes that I am giving here are all supported by modern scholarship but few if any would be considered “settled” and almost all are under active debate within academic circles. This is not to say, however, that the claims of evangelists and apologists are equally valid. There may, for example, be debate about whether the Gospel of John was written at the end of the first century CE or the first quarter of the second century CE; but no serious scholar maintains that it was written by “John, the beloved disciple” as tradition maintains. However, to go into such debate and to go into the arguments for individual dates is far beyond the scope of a simple overview like this one.

1,000 – 900 BCE: A founding document

Although the earliest parts of the Bible may be copied from sources older than this, it was in the 9th and 10th centuries BCE that the works that we now know as the Bible started to be formed.

At this stage in history, the Hebrews were in the process of developing as a national group out of the various Canaanite tribes. Contrary to the Bible stories, the archaeological evidence clearly shows that far from being conquering invaders who had been enslaved in Egypt and had crossed the desert and arrived at the “Promised Land” of Canaan; they were actually indigenous Canaanites who were developing a growing national identity.

As part of this national identity, the Hebrews shared a variety of legendary “founders” with the other Canaanite tribes. Some of these founders had stories common to most tribes, but others were specific to individual tribes. It was at this time that the first works of the Bible were written in Judah (the southern – and most prosperous and urbanised – portion of the land). This work – which does not form an individual “book” of the Bible, but is spread throughout the first five books – was a “history” of the Hebrews who lived in Judah, and is usually called “J”. It began with the “Eden” story about how their particular tribal deity created the first man, and then gave a legendary “history” of events from then onwards, culminating in the hero Moses leading their recent ancestors to their current home. This work weaves together stories about the founding heroes of both the Hebrew tribes living in Judah and the other tribes that lived in the area. Most of the stories and legends in it are “just so” stories attempting to either explain the perceived character of other tribes as being based on the character of their leaders, or being propaganda denigrating these other leaders (and by extension the other peoples). There is also much nationalistic propaganda (for example the whole “Conquest” story) which tries to persuade the Hebrew people that the whole of the land is theirs – given by their god – and that they are wholly different people from the other tribes that live around them, rather than just being one of many local tribes.

This is – from a historical point of view – a remarkable piece of work, which clearly had the desired effect and helped to forge the tribes into a nation with a clear identity; an identity that is still felt by some Jews and Christians thousands of years later.

Circa 850 BCE: Rival heroes

The J document was not the only document of its kind. Within a century or so, and possibly as a direct response to this Judahite document, a second history was written in the northern country of Israel. This response (usually called “E”) tells much the same stories as the J document, but with different emphases. The founders of the northern Hebrew tribes are shown as the heroes more often, and the document generally favours the north over the south.

There are other differences too in terms of both the theology and “history” that this work presents. For example this work contains the famous story of Abraham taking his son Isaac up to the mountain to sacrifice him. Interestingly, in this version of the story, there is no mention of Isaac being saved or of any kind of scapegoat being provided by God and Isaac is never mentioned again. The earlier southern work, however, makes many mentions of Isaac yet makes no mention of this potential sacrifice.

Again, this document does not form an individual “book” of the Bible, but is spread throughout the first five books.

750 -700 BCE: Two histories become one

The northern country of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians (under the leadership of Sargon II) and this led to a flood of refugees fleeing south into Judah bringing with them their scriptures (the E document).

The presence of the two versions of the legends, similar yet subtly different, led to them being combined into a single document (often called – naturally enough – JE) by an editor. The editor seems to have favoured the local J stories, for example no E story about anything before Abraham is included, but interleaves both texts switching from one to the other to form a single narrative. In some places (such as the above mentioned story of Isaac’s sacrifice) this editor had to insert extra text in order to harmonise the two accounts. In this particular case, the scapegoat is added to the E story so that the sacrifice of Isaac becomes an almost-sacrifice and he is therefore still alive to take part in the J stories about him. Of course, pragmatic changes to the text like this have huge implications to later theology – just think of all the text that has been written over the centuries analysing the deep theological meaning of Isaac’s almost-sacrifice…

Circa 610 BCE: The inventing of a messiah

By this point in time, the northern kingdom of Israel is a patchy mess of small tribes with no real unity, but the southern kingdom of Judah is prospering and strong. A strong king – King Josiah – has been on the throne for 18 years and things are looking good. What the country really needs now is a unifying purpose to galvanise it behind Josiah’s expansionist dreams.

And then suddenly Hilkiah, one of the chief priests “finds” an “old” document allegedly written by Moses – the great founding hero of their people – which contains his dying speech to his people no less.

Rather conveniently, this document (which comprises most of the book of Deuteronomy) puts words in Moses’s mouth and makes him critical of the sort of religious practices that had been recently going on in Judah (under Assyrian influence) and make him announce rather different religious rules, and announce that if the people live by these rules then they will prosper and succeed.

Of course, these rules greatly favour both the priesthood who “found” them and Josiah’s own (under their influence) religious reforms.

Not only that, but along with the “found” speech of Moses, the priests produced a new history of “Israel” which stretched from the time of Moses to the present. This history (called the Deuteronomic History) comprises of the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings.

This history is a masterpiece of revisionism. It takes existing legends about an ancient leader called “David” and expands them into stories of the founding of a great kingdom of “Israel” encompassing not only the land of Judah but also the land of Israel to the north. It is now clear from the archaeology that this “Greater Israel” or “Unified Israel” never existed, but for the people at the time this would have been quite believable. The “history” then goes through the reigns and actions of the various kings of Israel and Judah since then. Every time either country has been invaded or suffered setbacks, the history claims it to have been because the people (and the king) were not following the “proper” religious practices (i.e. the ones in the document they “found” and which increased their power). Every time the countries had recovered, the history claims it to have been because the people and the king had been returning to “proper” practices.

This history culminates with Josiah himself. He is portrayed as the saviour (the Messiah) of the people whose religious reforms will please God and will allow the people to become truly great and “retake” the northern country to “recreate” Greater Israel. No other king is described in such glowing terms as Josiah, and Josiah is even compared with Moses himself.

Once again, we see how text written for pragmatic reasons – to rally the people behind Josiah and strengthen the position of the priesthood – has wide later theological implications. Such political propaganda led in a large part to the whole later Messianic movement.

With this propaganda behind him and the priesthood, Josiah could hardly fail. He amassed a large army and confidently began a campaign to expand Judah northwards.

597 BCE: It all comes crashing down

Judah’s hopes for Josiah were great, but short lived. In 597 BCE, at the Battle of Megiddo, he was killed by Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt. All the propaganda in the world couldn’t save him, or the Hebrews.

His death sent them into a state of shock from which they never recovered. Their dreams of reconquering Israel shattered, the country collapsed as Egypt and Babylon both took advantage and pillaged the country – Babylon completely capturing southern Judah under Nebuchadnezzar II.

It is difficult to imagine how great an impact this had on the Hebrews, but some idea can be got from the fact that we still use the word Armageddon (which means “Mount of Megiddo”) to refer to an apocalyptic and world-ending final battle.

Within a year, they had gone through four more kings – some little more than puppets for their Babylonian conquerors – and much of the population (including the priesthood) either being sent into exile to Babylon or fleeing as refugees into Egypt. This culminated in the sacking of Jerusalem and the king being replaced by a governor.

Of course, these events made a mockery of the promises in the Deuteronomic History which said that Israel/Judah would always be ruled by someone from the line of David and that Israel would be reunited and prosper under Josiah’s rule.

So – ever the pragmatists – the priests-in-exile made further additions to their holy works to suit the current situation. Both Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic History had extra text added turning the unconditional promises of prosperity into conditional promises, with warnings that if the people were not strict enough then God would allow the country to be temporarily conquered as punishment, but eventually the people would be allowed to return and Israel would be rebuilt.

600 BCE – 400 BCE: Prophets

Although there were individual “prophets” writing before and after this time, the majority of the prophets wrote during the Babylonian exile and the aftermath, adding such works as Ezekiel, Zechariah, Malachi and others. These books lament (as indeed does the book of Lamentations, written at around the same time) the sorry state of the Hebrews-in-exile, and show a developing theology where foreign elements such as dualism (i.e. the struggle between God and Satan) slowly start to be introduced into the theology.

Circa 450? – 400? BCE: Compilation of the Torah

At around this time the combined JE document and the book of Deuteronomy are combined with a different text that covers roughly the same stories but with a spin favouring the priests specifically claiming to be descendents of Aaron rather than the normal priests of the Levi tribe. This new (although it may have been written rather earlier than when they were combined, and may even be pre-Exile) document – usually called the Priestly or “P” document) is far less literary than the earlier documents, and is much more concerned with the minutiae of ritual and law than about legends and stories. It portrays God as being much more remote and aloof (and vengeful) than the previous versions of the history.

The combined Torah which comprises of the existing JE text along with the P text and the D text interleaved together is usually written onto a series of five scrolls, since it is too long for a single scroll. These five scrolls would later be considered to be five “books” – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – each of which can be treated as an individual work, although in fact they are each compilations of the same sources and splitting them by book (and assuming each book had a single author) is misleading.

400 BCE – 100 BCE: Theological Tweaking

By now, the ancient Hebrew religion of Yahwism has become what would be recognisable as Judaism, and the beliefs have become more settled. The body of scripture continues to be added to – both in minor ways with new Psalms and so on being added and also via a few theological revisions.

A new history of Israel is written, which goes into more detail (although not necessarily more accurate detail) about the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and which is known to us as the books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles, and new books of “prophecy” (which are set in the past – and therefore able to “predict the future” by referring to events which occurred after the setting of the text but before the writing of it) are written, such as Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah. By this time, a new Temple has been built to replace the old one destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II, and these new books tend to retroject Jewish theological developments back in time to give the appearance that this was always the “correct” theology of the Hebrews.

Next Month:

Next month, I will continue with the writing of the New Testament.

Goat’s Milk Cheese – by biochemgirl

It all started with a goat…

So I tried my hand today at making goat’s milk cheese again. I tried it once years ago with not much success. This is a quick, easy recipe. Some involve a more slow curdling process which occurs over a few days but since I am rather new to this I wanted to start with a rather fool-proof method.

It started this morning by milking a goat. Well, not exactly, my mom milked a goat last night for me but it’s still fresh from the goat. 🙂 She has Nubian goats to be exact and she makes goat’s milk soap with the milk not to mention ice cream and butter. Anyway, on to the cheese making!

Assembling the ingredients. There is about 2 quarts of goat’s milk there.

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I started by heating the milk to a low simmer being careful not to burn it. I also added about a pint of buttermilk because it is supposed to add creaminess.

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Then removed the milk from the heat and let it cool slightly before adding some lemon juice to start the separation process. After some stirring I thought I hadn’t added enough lemon juice when all of the sudden…

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A close up of the curds:

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At this point I poured the curds and whey into a colander lined with cheesecloth and let it sit for about 20-30 minutes.

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Here you can see where it’s actually draining and vaguely resembling cheese. This is where I started to get excited. 🙂

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After squeezing out the remaining whey, I transferred to a bowl where I then added some fresh basil, garlic and salt.

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I then split the mixture, one half I left loose for some snacking and the other I pressed into a bowl to form a “block”.

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And now I wait 1-2 days while the cheese sits in the fridge. 😎

Book Review: Toby Green’s “Inquisition: The Reign of Fear” – by Nialler

greenIn 1484, Juan Gerces de Mercilla was cheered by the arrival of The Inquisition in his home town Of Tuerel. Married to the daughter of a wealthy local businessman, this impoverished local noble hated his in-laws. The installation of Juan de Solibera as local inquisitor was not welcomed by the townspeople, who resented his presence, but through the summoning of sufficient toops he gained control of he town and began the process of enquiring into the behaviour of the townspeople. Within 18 months, the list of the dead had grown to include Mercilla’s in-laws – all obligingly turned over to Solibera by Mercilla himself. Even from the earliest stages, The Inquisition was being used as a tool to gain power locally, and to consolidate it at a national level.

The story of de Mercilla is just one of the many which Green uses to illustrate and colour this excellent history of one of history’s darkest periods. He doesn’t seem to want to leave it entirely in the past, though, and, while he never explicitly compares those events to modern events, it is difficult to avoid drawing parallels between the Inquisition’s tools – including anonymous accusation, covert surveillance, secret trials, summary justice, and above all else, fear – with the threat posed by totalitarian States right up to the present day.

In another creepy reminder of the present, The Inquisition even euphemised its victims, by calling the process of burning them “relaxing” them.

The book has its weaknesses, though. Green seems excessively keen to absolve the Church of total blame for The Inquisition. Despite the fact that the trials were sanctioned by a Papal Bull, he emphasises that the victims were always handed to the secular authorities for punsihment. He also falls short of enumerating actual deaths, instead weakly pointing out that if the first fifty years are discounted, The Inquisition was responsible for less deaths than the witch-hunts which scarred Europe in the 16th century. True it may be, but to discard those fifty bloodied years is an arbitrary device with no justification. It’s not as if the data isn’t there; Green’s book in itself is adequate testimony to the efficiency and attention to detail of the Inquistors. As campaigns against heresy go, it was an extraordinarily well documented one. Luckily so, as Green has to cover a period of 350 years, and a campaign which ranged from Goa to South America – a feat he achieves with some style.

All in all, and despite the sole caveat about the extent of Rome’s role in it, “Inquisition” is a triumph of research and accessibility and is strongly recommended.

Book Review: Jennifer Ackerman’s “Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body” – by Don Alhambra

r302203_1313142Most of us at some point in our lives have seen one of those informative children’s books about the body, the ones with pictures showing how the various organs work, and so on. They are immensely popular, not least because children are curious little beasts who also have a distinct fascination with gory details. My introduction to this field of literature was called How Your Body Works and it took you step by step through the different bodily systems. I used to read it for hours at a time. I think that the first time I understood how sex worked, for example, was from an illustration in that book (“Oh! That’s why boys and girls are different shapes – it makes so much sense now!”). This may tell you more about me as a child than you really needed to know.

So I was intrigued when I first saw this book, and not just because the first word in the title is ‘sex’. Novelist Jennifer Ackerman promises to guide us through a day in the life of the body, and guide us she does. In captivating prose and with painstaking attention to scientific detail, Ackerman follows the average person through an average day, touching on exactly what it is the body does at each stage: whether it’s eating, drinking, exercising, under stress, or a host of other possibilities. Like the books of my childhood, it’s great to have all this information in one place and I think that setting it over the course of an average day is a very good way of making it flow naturally. It does mean that some topics are missed out however, but I’ll come to that later on.

Along the way, Ackerman interviews various scientists and attempts to use the latest research to explain bodily functions based on the best of our current knowledge. For example, in the section on digestion she investigates the recent discovery that the gut has its own nervous system (the so-called enteric nervous system), separate from that of the brain. And it’s not just that the central nervous system (CNS, consisting of the brain and spinal cord) tells the gut-brain what to do, either: about 9/10th of the communication is the enteric system talking to the CNS rather than the other way around. Think of that next time you’re nervous and get butterflies in your stomach, or you make a choice based on a ‘gut feeling’. How much of your day-to-day decision making is really your stomach thinking for you?

Much of the book is taken up with the interesting issue of arousal and alertness. Ackerman returns again and again to circadian rhythms, which she makes a recurring theme of the narrative. She presents some compelling evidence showing that our body clock is not only responsible for the highs and lows of our physical and emotional state throughout the day, but that it is also a factor in how much we are affected by various substances – like cancer drugs. Her argument is that if doctors took the circadian clock into account when delivering drugs to patients then they could more easily control the uptake of the drug and the rate at which the body metabolises it, making it more effective. This is a fascinating topic I think, and one that definitely merits more research.

My only real quibble with the book is that it could have been longer. At under 200 pages, I feel that it really only scratches the surface of the amazingly organised complexity of the human body. The section on alcohol and drugs, for example, spans only two pages; I think that more could have been made of the altered states of consciousness induced in us by imbibing various different combinations of organic molecules. Although it might not have fit in with the style of the book, such explorations are fascinating in their own right, at least to me. I can think of various questions about the body that aren’t covered, such as: how does skin work? What causes eyes to be different colours? Why do some people get infected with HIV and not others? And so on. But if all these topics and other interesting questions were to be included, the book would be at least eight times its present size. If written in Ackerman’s prose, I’d still read it though.

Oh, and there is a chapter on the biology of love, lust, sex and orgasm. So that is alright.

Don Alhambra is a Research Fellow at Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham, UK. He can be found mainly at the Heathen Hangout or the Heathen Hub.