Monday, June 30, 2014

Luther's Catechisms: Part 4, The Creed: First and Second Articles

Steadfast Throwdown Radio Show

Catechism Series, Part 4

Our Catechism Series with Pr. Joe Abrahamson continues as we get into the Apostles’ Creed. We discuss the background of the Creeds and where the statements come from in the Scriptures. We discuss the First Article (God the Father, Creation) and the Second Article (God the Son, Redemption). Hear how Richard Dawkins says he learned the “Christian faith,” and get Pr. Abrahamson’s response.

Luther's Catechisms, Part 5 The Creed and the Holy Spirit

Catechism Series, Part 5

Our Catechism Series with Pr. Joe Abrahamson continues. This time we respond to the outlandish claim by Benny Hinn that there are actually nine persons (Yes, you read that correctly!) in the Holy Trinity. We also discuss the Third Article, the Holy Spirit, and what it means that He gives us life by bringing us to faith in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 8


Church and State

Prayer: O Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, You have given us Your holy Word and have bountifully provided for all our earthly needs: We confess that we are unworthy of all these mercies, and that we have rather deserved punishment. But we beseech You, forgive us our sins, and prosper and bless us in our various callings, that by Your strength we may be sustained and defended, now and forever, and so praise and glorify You eternally; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

How are these outposts confused?
These outposts are confused when the responsibilities and authority of one outpost are mixed with or usurped by another.

Review the kinds of authority God gave to each of these outposts.

Confusion of The Three Estates in Political Philosophy and Literature
First, the term "Three Estates" has been used in both popular literature and political discussions throughout history. The terminology of the Three Estates comes to us from the background of Medieval Feudalism. In that context it referred to the Clergy, the Nobility, and the Commoners. There were authors

The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 7


State and Home

Prayer: Lord Jesus, abide with us. Make our homes the dwelling places of Your continual presence, and keep us faithful to You and Your Word. Let the joy of the Gospel dwell in our hearts. Let our daily conversations be hallowed and pleasing and acceptable to You. Preserve us from sin. Be with us in the hour of temptation. Keep us unworried and untroubled. Remove from our lives all unbelief and indifference. Strengthen our faith, deepen our love to You, and make us consecrated people who day after day bring all our cares, concerns, joys, and sins to You in prayer. Let your blessing be upon our families and our nation. Grant our nation peace, and safety. Give our president, governors, representatives, judges, and all officers of the civil state Your spirit of wisdom and fear, that we may live our lives in quiet godliness for the glory of Christ and the benefit of Your Church. In Christ's holy Name we ask this. Amen.

How are these outposts confused?
These outposts are confused when the responsibilities and authority of one outpost are mixed with or usurped by another.

Review the kinds of authority God gave to each of these outposts.

Some questions for discussion:

Does being a father and husband mean that a man has the divine responsibility to ensure that his neighbor is giving his kids enough exercise?

The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 6


Church and Home

Prayer: Almighty God, You have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our supplications to You, and have promised that wherever two or three are gathered together in Your name, you will grant their requests: Fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of Your servants, as may be most expedient for them; grant us in this world knowledge of Your truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

How are these outposts confused?
These outposts are confused when the responsibilities and authority of one outpost are mixed with or usurped by another.
Review the kinds of authority God gave to each of these outposts.

Some questions for discussion:

Can a man, simply because he is a husband and a father and therefore God's representative, decide that he can preach to the congregation at their regular worship?

The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 5



Third Outpost: The State (Civil Governance)


Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, We thank You that unto this time You have granted us peace and graciously spared us from war and foreign dominion. We pray, graciously let us continue to live in Your fear according to Your will, giving no cause for wars or other punishment; govern and direct our leaders, that they may not hinder the obedience due to You, but maintain righteousness, that we may enjoy happiness and blessing under their government; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Review the Fourth Petition of the Lord's Prayer as well as the Meaning and “What is meant by daily bread?”
A very popular American false doctrine was authored by Thomas Paine in his book Common Sense. He wrote “society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.”

But God calls civil governance “good” even though the people holding positions of authority are sinners, some believers, most unbelievers—and even if an evil tyrant is the head of government he is still to be revered as God's servant, prayed for, and obeyed (for example, Consider Daniel, or God's use of the Medes Isaiah 13:17-22, His use of Assyria to punish Israel Isaiah 9:8-10:20, and many many more examples)

The State, also called Civil Government, was the third outpost established by God in this sinful world. Though civil government is filled by corrupt sinful men,

The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 4



The Second Outpost: The Church (Ecclesiastical Governance)

Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, we most heartily thank You that You have caused us to come to the knowledge of Your Word. We pray: Graciously keep us steadfast in this knowledge unto death, that we may obtain eternal life; send us, now and ever, pious pastors who faithfully preach Your Word, without offense or false doctrine, and grant them long life. Defend us from all false teachings, and frustrate the counsels of all who pervert Your Word, who come to us in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves, that Your true Church may evermore be established among us, and be defended and preserved form such false teachers; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Read the Third Article of the Creed and its Meaning, refer to Chapter 24 in the Catechism Explanation.

The Church is the second outpost or estate that God established here on earth.

Why did God establish the Church?
Read John 1:12-14: The Church consists of all those who through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son, God the Father reckons as His own children. This faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:9-11) which trusts in His Promise of forgiveness so that we might again be reconciled to the Father and live with Him eternally (Colossians 1:19-23).

The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 3


The First Outpost: The Home (Domestic Governance)


Prayer: Lord God, heavenly Father, we thank You, that by Your grace you have instituted holy matrimony, in which You keep us from unchastity, and other offenses: We beseech You to send Your blessing upon every husband and wife, that they may not provoke each other to anger and strife, but live peaceably together in love and godliness, receive Your gracious help in all temptations, and raise their children in accordance with your will. Grant that we all might walk before You in purity and holiness, put our trust in You, and lead such lives on earth, that in the world to come we may have everlasting life, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Review The First Article of the Creed and its Meaning, refer to chapter 16 in the Catechism Explanation.

The Household Estate, or the Family is the first relationship with other people that God created.

Why did God establish the Household estate?
Genesis 1:26-31, notice the emphasis on the complete image of God in parallel with the fact that he made humans as male and female for each other. As God is the Creator and Ruler of Heaven and Earth, what abilities and responsibilities did He give to humans that reflect His image?

The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 2



The Three Outposts Through the Bible

Prayer: O almighty, eternal God: We confess that we are poor sinners and cannot answer one time out of a thousand, when You contend with us; but with all our hearts we thank You, that You have taken all our guilt from us and laid it upon Your dear Son Jesus Christ, and made Him to atone for it. We pray, graciously sustain us in faith, and so govern us by Your Holy Spirit, that we may live according to Your will, in neighborly love, service and helpfulness, and not give way to wrath or revenge, that we may not incur Your wrath, but always find in You a gracious Father; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

A History of the Three Estates in the Old Testament.

Creation and Fall
When God created Adam and Eve, Adam was the Spiritual, Civil, and Household authority. As spiritual authority he taught Eve how to regard the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As Husband and Spiritual authority he failed by not protecting his wife from temptation and by eating of the fruit of the tree himself:

Read Genesis 3, notice the order of who did what. Then notice how God addresses each in order in the curse.

The promise was given in Genesis 3:15, and so the faith in the Messiah was established. This is the Church.

When Cain slew his brother Abel he realized that he should be punished by being

The Three Outposts, Your Mission: Study 1

[This the first session of an 8 session Bible study on the Three Estates. This series was used for the Evangelical Lutheran Synod's Camp Indianhead in the summer of 2013.]



Overview of The Three Estates

Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, we thank You through Your Son, Jesus Christ, that we have been called out of the darkness of sin into the light of grace and forgiveness by the power of Your Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. We confess that we cannot do any good of our own power or will and beg that You would grant us Your grace to live this life in the places where You have placed us. You have put us here in these outposts in life. You have given us the mission to love our neighbor as Christ has loved us. Grant us Your grace and work in us and through us what we cannot. We ask this in the name of our Brother, Jesus Christ, the Lord. Amen.

Introduction:
This series of Bible studies introduces God's teachings about Vocation, the Three Estates, and Christian Service. These teachings from God's Word are all interrelated with the basic article of the Christian teaching: that we are Justified by God through faith in Jesus Christ alone, none of our works have any saving merit before God. In this world, as sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ we have been called by God to faith in Christ through Word and Sacrament, placed in our outposts, our communities, congregations, and families by the providential grace of God, all so that the Light of Christ may shine before men. This, then, is the foundation upon which we seek to understand where God has placed us in our various outposts in this world and what our mission is through His Gospel and by His strength.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Radio Presentation on The Summer Solstice and The Nativity of John the Baptist

Pr. Wilken invited me onto his radio show today to discuss my research on St. John's Nativity and claims about it being pagan in origin.

The interview is available at the Issues, Etc. website

3. The Summer Solstice and The Nativity of John the Baptist – Pr Joseph Abrahamson, 6/24/14

Pr. Joseph Abrahamson of Clearwater Lutheran Parish-Northwestern MN

Monday, June 23, 2014

Blood Moons and Joel 2

 On Friday, Pr. Todd Wilken interviewed James Patrick Holding of Tekton Education and Apologetics Ministries  concerning his review in the Christian Research Journal of televangelist John Hagee's book Four Blood Moons. Holding's review article is titled "Hagee's Magic Apologetics." Holding's book is titled Blood Moon Lunacy and was written to evaluate Hagee's claims and history of false predictions. The interview was generally very helpful in evaluating Hagee's faulty dispensationalist theology, his newspaper exegesis, and his cherry picking of data.

But there was one point in the interview where Holding's remarks seemed to catch Pr. Wilken off guard. I know that even with the small amount of experience that I have with radio interviews that things can be said that just can't be dealt with because of the limits of time in radio programming. I do not fault Pr. Wilken for not addressing this particular point in the interview. I rather appreciate that he was able to cover so much in the short time he had.

But the issue should be addressed. It regards Holding's comments about the interpretation of Joel 2:31 and the blood moon mentioned in that text. The statement by Holding that caught Pr. Wilken off guard was the following:
Holding stated: "Now, it's open to question whether or not Joel is referring to literal eclipses in that particular passage. In that period in which Joel wrote, the biblical peoples considered the sun and the moon to be symbols of political entities. And we do the same thing, of course: we have the fifty stars on the American flag--each star representing a state. And so Joel's message is very much more likely something saying governments are going to fall. That's what he means by the sun and the moon being eclipsed. Rather than that he's referring to some literal eclipse."
We should clarify first that when the Bible uses the phrase "blood moon" it does not necessarily refer to an eclipse. The phrase is found only in Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20, and Revelation 6:12.

There are several other passages that speak of a "darkening" of the moon or the moon "not giving off light." (Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10; 3:15; Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24, and Revelation 8:12)

But what we should note very clearly is that the Bible itself gives a clear teaching about the meaning of the prophecy of the blood moon made in Joel 2:28-32. Joel wrote:
28 “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. 30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. 32 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the Lord has said, Among the remnant whom the Lord calls.
 Here is how Scripture teaches us that this prophecy has already been fulfilled. Peter, preaching on Pentecost said:
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
And here Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32 up to the word "saved." What was the sound of the rushing mighty wind? Why could these Twelve Galilean men speak all these different languages fluently? "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel"!

The context makes clear that there were Jews from all nations present in Jerusalem for Pentecost, just as they were required to be present 50 days prior on Passover. Peter calls on these people to remember what took place when they were here in Jerusalem 50 days before. 
 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— (Acts 2)
What was it that they were witnesses to? Peter appeals what they had witnessed of Jesus in the last three years of festivals when they had come to Jerusalem. But he exhorts them to focus on what took place 50 days ago by saying:
23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit to which they were now witnesses was tied together by Joel with the the darkening of the sun and of the moon. There would be wonders in the heavens. And there would be wonders in the earth.

What they all saw 50 days prior when the Passover Lamb was to be prepared this took place:

45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27)
Just to be clear. This could not have been a solar eclipse. Passover is on the full moon. At that time the moon is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun. The sun was darkened by God through some other method. And as the greater light to rule the day was darkened, the lesser light which ruled the night by reflecting the sun's light would also be darkened.

It is possible the moon was in eclipse during this particular passover. But not necessary that it be a lunar eclipse. It was darkened. The point being that people on the daylight side of the earth and people on the night time side would see the visible sign God established through His prophet Joel. These were the visible signs in the heavens.

But there were also signs in the earth. At the end of that darkness another event took place:
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.
51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
54 So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”(Matthew 27)
 There was also the earth quake the morning of the first day of the week after the crucifixion. Peter directs his hearers to remember all these signs that they saw and heard. Each of these signs was in fulfillment of what God promised through His prophet Joel. All of these done to point the people back to the written Word of God about His Messiah. All focusing on the Work of Christ for our salvation and His resurrection.

During this next year and a half when we have three more lunar eclipses we can expect that there will be more false prophecy about what Joel wrote.

We want to remember first that the Apostle Peter states the prophecy in Joel chapter 2 is fulfilled by the events of the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost.

Second, we also would do to remember that when Joel says "the moon shall be turned to blood" this does not necessarily refer to what we call a lunar eclipse. Rather, it means a darkening of the moon, caused by God, as a visible sign to people on earth that He has done what He promised to do.

Those signs promised in Joel were given at the Passover festival where Jesus was crucified and risen. And they were given 50 days later at the festival of Pentecost. Both days when the people of God were required to be in Jerusalem for the festivals. And both events witnessed by them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies: St. John's Day (part 3)

This is the third article on the Nativity of St. John. This article will deal with the Neo-Pagan practice of claiming Celtic origins, “Blame it on the Celts,” or “Claim it's from the Celts.” We'll also look at documented German and wider European practices.

Keep this question in mind as we conclude this series:
Is it realistic to think that the Church Fathers of the 1st and 2nd centuries went to the extreme of sending out scouts to the British Isles, to western and northern Europe in order to find out when ancients pagans held their festivals so that the Church Fathers could schedule the liturgical year accordingly?

What We Have Covered
To bring readers up to speed, we have been evaluating the claims that this Christian holy day was instituted as a way to displace, absorb, or suppress an ancient pagan holiday.

Some of the assertions behind these claims are:
  • The assertion that Paganism is older than Christianity. This is a rejection of the Bible. Particularly the nature of God, His six day creation, the fall into sin by our first parents, and the promise of the Messiah in the curse on Satan (Genesis 3:15). Christianity is older than all the paganisms known today and through history.
  • The assertion that Christianity is unoriginal and needs to steal, suppress, displace, or act in other illegitimate ways to establish itself as a religion. While these wrongs are implied by the claims against Christianity, the irony is that pagan religions have never had a problem doing exactly these things. For the most part, pagan religions never met a different faith that they haven't tried to claim as originally their own. This can be seen even in the pagan reactions to the early Christian Apologists.
  • The assertion that most community rituals seen in modern times must have had their origin in Paganism. According to the assertion that Paganism is Older, anything that could be viewed as a relic of pagan ritual demonstrates the fact that Christianity is the new kid on the block and hasn't been as successful in its repression of paganism as it had hoped.
So far we have looked at ancient texts relating specifically to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist and the summer solstice/Midsummer which demonstrate that:
  • The celebration of Christmas was established December 25 by the late 2nd century or early 3rd century A.D. in northern Africa from Algeria to Egypt, as far north as the shore of the Black Sea, from Israel in the east, and over to Rome in the west. According to the Church Fathers of that era the date was chosen based on what they believed about the significance of the date of the Passover in Exodus.
  • St. John’s Nativity coordinated with Christmas based on Luke 1.
  • Widespread celebrations of St. John’s Nativity by the mid-4th century.
With regard to the assertions that summer solstice celebrations are very ancient, common, widespread, and pagan we looked at the records from Mesopotamian cultures, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome.
  • There are no ancient Near Eastern records from the 3rd millenium B.C. down to the fall of Babylon of any widespread ritual tied directly to the summer solstice. One ritual in the late Babylonian period, the transposing of priestesses from Esagil to Ezida and vice versa shortly after the summer solstice and after the winter solstice, is all we have.
  • While ancient Greek sources refer often to the summer solstice, these references do not show any evidence of a ritual associated with solar worship or any widespread ritual relating to the summer solstice.
  • The ancient Roman sources show that there were solar cults and temples through Rome's history, but there are no records that indicate any widespread solar ritual on the event of the summer solstice. Aurelian's attempt at establishing the worship of Sol Invictus is not related to either the winter or the summer solstice. Besides this, his attempt took place after Christians had settled on December 25th as the liturgical date for Christ's birth.

The First Problem With Asserting Celtic Origins
The liturgical days for Christmas and the Nativity of St. John the Baptist didn't originate in Celtic lands. The festivals originated before the Church had widespread contact with peoples who became popularly refered to as Celtic. While some modern St. John's traditions might come from European practices or rituals in the early parts of the first millennium A.D. evidence from actual documentation to demostrate that the practices were particularly Celtic or even pagan is thin. In fact, many of the modern traditions have already been shown to be derived from or been drastically modified during the period of the radical Reformation—particularly the English Reformation. (Ronald Hutton The Stations of the Sun 1991)
Second Problem: Ancient Celtic Monuments—which are not really “Celtic”
In the popular understanding today it seems quite apparent from tombs, henge monuments, the cursus monuments and other archaeological finds that ancient Celts were capable of calculating the actual Summer and Winter solstices without reference to what ever political calendars were in use.

There is a prehistoric tomb in County Meath, Ireland, called Newgrange [Irish: Sí an Bhrú]. The only sunlight to enter the tomb comes on the morning of the Winter solstice.

Much more famous is the Midsummer sunrise celebrated at Stonehenge. The "precision" of the alignment between the Heel Stone and the center trilithon of the central ring to mark the solstice is still hotly contested by astronomers. But today Neopagans assert that this is proof of the advanced understanding that ancient Celtic pagans possessed in predicting the solstices.

If ancient pagans from a thousand years B.C. up through 1500 A.D. were so good at knowing when the solstices would take place regardless of which political calendar was in use, why would today's Neo-Pagans and Wiccans feel they have to assert that June 24th had to be the Summer solstice?

By 200 AD the Julian Calendar was off so that June 22 was the solstice., in the mid-300s it was the 21st, by 1580 it was June 11th or 12th. The Gregorian Calendar reforms of 1582 didn't set the solstice back to the 24th as in Julius Caesar's time. Instead the summer solstice was synchronized with June 21/22. In 1752, the year England finally adopted the Gregorian Calendar, the summer solstice in England took place on June 10th. (http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/seasons.html?year=1750&n=136
 
Actually, those ancients may or may not have been very good at calculating the solstice. But the solstice might not have mattered as much to them as the moderns wish. Ronald Hutton raises an important consideration with regard to using this kind of archaeological evidence. After listing Newgrange, Knowth, Loughcrew and Maes Howe, and some of the 'cursus' monuments of southern England as well as the 'henge' monuments, Hutton wrote:
All this is impressive, and must be significant, but needs to be put in a wider perspective. These are almost all unusually sophisticated and elaborate structures of their kind, and as such highly atypical. None of the other fifty-odd cursuses known in Britain has obvious solar alignments, nor do any of the other passage graves, which number over a hundred. ... To sum up, it is clear that at particular times and places in British and Irish prehistory the cardinal points of the sun, and particularly the winter solstice, had considerable ritual importance. None the less, the vast majority of prehistoric monuments in these islands do not relate to any of them, so that no overall or enduring pattern of cult can be detected. Furthermore, a considerable gulf separates all these monuments from the pre-Roman British Iron Age, not one of the temples of which has yet been found to have possessed a significant solar alignment. (Stations of the Sun, p. 4-5)
Thus, these prehistoric “Celtic” sites do not demonstrate any consistent preoccupation with the solstices. Furthermore, these prehistoric monumental sites cannot be considered relics originally representative of Celtic religiosity. Modern people have projected a sense of Celticness on these monuments because they exist in what are considered Celtic lands. The problem is that these monumental structures predate any people group that could be called Celtic by at least 1,000 years.

So, when considered together as a body of evidence these “ancient Celtic monuments” demonstrate three things relevant to St. John's Nativity and Midsummer.
  1. There is no overall consistency in design that would demonstrate that the summer or winter solstice was of special significance to the builders of these monuments, whatever culture(s) they might represent.
  2. There is no demonstrable direct heritage from these monumental structures to the people groups that became labeled by the term Celtic in the 1700s and later.
  3. And if the ancients were so good at predicting the solstice, why would those ancients want to claim that some proximate date on a comparatively much more inaccurate calendar from a very remote region like Rome must be the day of their solstice celebration? This is a basic presupposition of the claim, and it makes no sense.

Third Problem: Real Celts
Anything known about the Celts before the middle ages is reconstructed from archaeological finds and the few Greek and Roman authors that mention them. Despite so much being published about ancient Celts in novels, movies, and even popularizing educational documentaries (BBC's “The Celts” from the late 1980s) there is very little that is actually known about their societal structures or their various religious views.

But there is a reason for all this mis-information. It comes not just from the popularizers, but even from the scholars themselves. Tristan Barako of Brown University explains:
There's a running joke in archaeology that if you don't know what the function of an artifact is, then it must be cultic (i.e., religious). It's a big problem because artifacts are essentially mute -- that is, they don't tell you what they were used for. It's up to the archaeologist to interpret them and give them meaning. Obviously this can be very subjective, which explains why there are always so many contrasting theories in archaeology -- this is especially true when it comes to religious objects.
(Tristan Barako, interview http://www.providencepictures.com/news/2009/02/qa-with-dr-tristan-barako-for-cogitoorg.html )
The truth is that up to 500 BC there are no written accounts of a people called the Celts. References to Celts and Gauls can be found in the Classical sources from that time on (see list here http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/index_classical.html ) What can be seen from these early classical sources is that the use of the terms Celt or Gaul did not signify a specifically self-identified ethnic or religious group. An issue discussed at length by many archaeologists since the 1980s. The complexities in determining any origins or rituals of what has become called the Celtic peoples are still grossly simplified for the convenience of maintaining a modern Celtic identity. “Celtic” identity was actually the creation of the 18th century.

From the 18th century and later this Celtic identity was based on a variety of assumptions that formed the basis for reading texts from what became identified the 7th century AD and later: not the least of which was a notion that there were in much more ancient times a group that was a monolithic culture in Celtic language, Celtic ritual and religious ideas, Celtic political and economic outlook, and Celtic self-identification.

No such monolithic Celtic society ever existed. Several archaeologists, linguists, and historians have demonstrated the falseness of such notions. See, for example:

  • Colin Renfrew, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins 1987.
  • Simon James, The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention?.1999.
  • Ronald Hutton The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy, 1991.
But a romantic version of the past glory and culture of the Celts remains in popular thought to this day. And with it, the fictional reconstructions of supposedly “Celtic” religious and ritual teachings. One example of the ironies is that can be shown in the way people romanticize Celtic identity is the contrast between doubt about the historical nature of King Arthur (supposedly 5th century AD) which comes to us from texts dating to the 12th century AD, and the certainty about Celtic identity and Celtic solar ritual ascribed to far more ancient times from far more vague references in manuscripts that come from the 9th century AD and later.

But we do have some texts given us by archaeology that describe, at least in part for some of those people who today we would term Celtic.

Ancient Celtic Calendars
It seems fair to ancient Celts to assume that they shared some cultural and ethnically unique features, such as a grouping of languages that share common
features. Such linguistic commonality does not at all imply identity of ritual or calendar shared by all ancient Celts. The Greeks and the ancient Semitic peoples have already been given as examples that demonstrate the weakness of such assumptions.

When we look at ancient Celtic calendars what we find is a lack of calendars until the middle ages. But there is one calendar that we have found in good enough shape to attempt to decipher it. It dates probably to the 2nd century AD. This is the Coligny Calendar, written in Gallic and found in 1897 at Coligny, France. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coligny_calendar)

The problem with the calendar is that interpreting what might seem to be a simple thing is not. Scholars well acquainted with the language and the object cannot agree on when the first month took place with respect to our modern calendar. The names of the months are no guarantee. What they can say with reasonable confidence is that the calendar was basically a lunisolar calendar: that is, a calendar based on the moon which was adjusted to make up for the solar year. As such there is not consistent solar date that can be identified to settle the disagreements about which month was first. (http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/calendar/coligni.html )

So, in the 2nd century AD in the province of Ain, France, the actual date which we could call Celtic does not indicate any universal or even widespread celebration of the summer solstice.

Midsummer Traditions That Might Be Pagan in Origin.
Those who claim widespread ancient pagan traditions are behind the date and rituals on St. John's Nativity are left with a significant problem. The major ancient cultural influences on the region where they claim origins does not have any actual historical data to back up that claim. So, perhaps there was just a general use of pagan traditions or ritual that took place just generally at what was about Midsummer Day.
Two main categories of traditions can be seen in those listed by Guiley (The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft) and others: fire traditions, and non-fire rituals. We will look at the fire traditions first.

Burning Wheels and Bonfires:
The earliest references to burning wheels comes from the Acts of St. Vincent of Saragossa. The description is of pagans in Aquataine, France. But this reference does not mention a particular date or time of year. (Hutton, p. 311) St. Vincent was killed in 304 A.D. But his Acts were compiled from tradition and assembled in the 8th or 9th century. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

So while the reference to pagans using burning wheels dates for certainty as early as the 8th or 9th century A.D. the burning wheel might date back to late 3rd or early 4th century A.D. But this document does not tie this tradition to a day of the year.

A 13th-century monk from Winchcomb, Gloucestershire edited a collection of sermons. Regarding St. John's eve' he wrote that the pagans rolled a wheel. However, it is not noted whether the wheel was set ablaze.

Historically, the listing of actual Burning Wheels on Midsummer's Eve' or Day start with Thomas Naogeorgus (1508-1563) a Protestant of the radical reformation in Germany who wrote chiefly from 1538-1555. An English translation of his 1555 Regnum papisticum from 1880 of his account of St. John's Eve':
Then doth the ioyfull feast of John the Baptist take his turne,
When bonfiers great with loftie flame, in euery towne doe burne:

And yong men round about with maides, doe daunce in euery streete,
With garlands wrought of Motherwort, or else with Veruain sweete,
And many other flowres faire, with Violets in their handes,
Whereas they all do fondly thinke, that whosoeuer standes,
And thorow the flowres beholds the flame, his eyes shall feele no paine.
When thus till night they daunced haue, they through the fire amaine
With striuing mindes doe runne, and all their hearbes they craft therein,
And then with wordes deuout and prayeres, they solemnely begin,
Desiring God that all their illes may there consumed bee,
Whereby they thinke through all that yeare, from Agues to be free.
Some others get a rotten wheele, all worne and rast aude,
Which coured round about with strawe, and tow, they closely hide:
And caryed to some mountaines top, being all with fire light,
They hurle it downe with violence, when darke appears the night:
Resembling much the Sunne, that from the heauens down should fal,
A straunge and monstrous sight it seemes, and fearful to them all:
But they suppose their mischiefes are all likewise throwne to hell,
And that from harmes and daungers now, in safetie here they dwell.

(Reprint of
The popish kingdome, by T. Naogeorgus, Engl. by B. Googe, ed. by R.C. Hope, 1880, page 55)
Notice that Naogeorgus does not claim the people were pagan, nor does he claim that the people thought the Burning Wheel represented the sun. Rather he conjectures about the Burning Wheel  as "resembling much the sun which should fall down from the heavens."

So in the 1500s in Germany we have documentation that there were Christians burning fires on St. Johns, using burning wheels, dancing, making garlands, praying for safety and health in the coming year. Engaging in what could be called non-Christian ritual traditions and holding superstitious beliefs about those rituals.

Could these come from pagansim? Yes. But such superstitions need not be assumed to be of great antiquity. Nor can we assume that there was some huge monolithic pagan culture underlying all the different rituals.

In fact, the oldest records of bonfires or dances tied to Midsummer or to the Nativity of St. John start in 12th century France. Such traditions are not documented in England until the 13th century. The earliest in Ireland is 1305. (Hutton's The Stations of the Sun, pp. 311-313, Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology II:601-630; IV:1461-1468)

Where the traditions can be documented throughout the British Isles, it is noteworthy that records in the typically "Celtic" areas give evidence that the traditions of Midsummer fires/St. John's eve fires emerged more as a Roman Catholic defiance against the legal imposition of Protestantism and Protestant hostility toward all historically catholic practices. (Hutton, pp. 315-319)

In an ironic twist it seems that the radical Reformation's anti-catholic hostility nurtured or created the ostensible pagan ritual forms it sought to stamp out by destroying 'papistic' practices.

Non-fire Rituals:
As for dancing and making floral arrangements, these are documented not only of Midsummer from the 1200s on, but of every other holiday in England and Europe in general. There is more than ample evidence that the greenery chosen and the dance styles depended mostly on local availability and social fads set by royalty. Even with abundant evidence of the variety and changeable nature of these features of holidays many claims are projected back on the past that these things necessarily reflect a uniform monolithic pagan ritual presence that predates Christianity--usually claimed to be Celtic in origin.

Claims of Celtic origins are handy because the Celts left no written records to contradict the Neopagans and Wiccans.

The first document to note that the night is good for contacting fairies appears to be Lady Francesca Speranza (Jane) Wilde's 1887 book Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland. p. 195f. Her research otherwise seems to be based on Hislop's equating of pagan England with Ba'al worship of ancient Babylon.

St. Elsewhere

At this point we need to consider St. Eligius (588-660) because he is often cited as proof of the antiquity of such rituals on St. John's Eve'. The one sentence quotation is often cited without context from St. Ouen's (609-86) biography of Eligius. The section says:
Before all else, I denounce and contest, that you shall observe no sacrilegious pagan customs. For no cause or infirmity should you consult magicians, diviners, sorcerers or incantators, or presume to question them because any man who commits such evil will immediately lose the sacrament of baptism. Do not observe auguries or violent sneezing or pay attention to any little birds singing along the road. If you are distracted on the road or at any other work, make the sign of the cross and say your Sunday prayers with faith and devotion and nothing inimical can hurt you. No Christian should be concerned about which day he leaves home or which day he returns because God has made all days. No influence attaches to the first work of the day or the [phase of the] moon; nothing is ominous or ridiculous about the Calends of January. [Do not] make [figures of?] vetulas, little deer or iotticos or set tables at night or exchange New Years' gifts or supply superfluous drinks. No Christian believes impurity or sits in incantation, because the work is diabolic. No Christian on the feast of Saint John or the solemnity of any other saint performs solestitia [solstice rites?] or dancing or leaping or diabolical chants. No Christian should presume to invoke the name of a demon, not Neptune or Orcus or Diana or Minerva or Geniscus or believe in these inept beings in any way. No one should observe Jove's day in idleness without holy festivities not in May or any other time, not days of larvae or mice or any day but Sunday. [emphasis added]

(Saint Ouen of Rouen:
The Life of Saint Eligius, Book 2, sec. 16)
The bolded sentence above is the one sentence that modern pagans and others quote. Two things are important to note:

First, St. John's day, while named, is placed among the rest of the saints' days in the year in this reference.

The second is that the word "solestitia" is fairly unique. It could be a variant of "solstitia" which translates as "solstices" or even "summer" [compare Herman Hagen's note on this term in a late manuscript of Vergil]. Or, since it is in context with dancing and leaping, it could mean "standing in isolation" derived from "sole" and "statio."

However, many websites repeat the quotation isolated from context in these words:
No Christian on the feast of Saint John or the solemnity of any other saint performs solestitia [summer solstice rites] or dancing or leaping or diabolical chants.
[wikipedia, witchesofthecraft, pagan-place, timessquare, etc...]
Notice the interpretation of solestitia as "summer solstice rites". This has become the fixed interpretation of the word only in modern times from Neopagan and Wiccan sources.

When read in context St. Eligius's words show a wide breadth of concern in many different areas. Even the sentence in question is much broader than just St. John's day.

Summary
While there were several areas documented throughout Europe that had fire burning on this night and games associated with this night, the evidence comes from long after the Christianization of these areas. Such evidence might indicate old pagan practices, or it just might represent common cross- cultural practices. Jacob Grimm (listed above) notes that fires were common on Shrove Tuesday, the first Sunday in Lent, Easter, May Eve and the days around and after May Eve, St. John's Nativity, St. Peter and Paul's, and on several other spring to late summer days as well as other church festivals, such as Christmas.

Certainly many of the rituals recorded were superstitions outside the Christian faith. But superstition does not necessarily come from long ancient uniform practice. But since all the testimony comes from the 11th century AD and later one cannot help but think that these claimed “ancient pagan” practices were not so ancient, and not so uniform and monolithic.

During the Reformation, especially in England many of fire traditions were either invented or re-invented for the purpose of making a ritual distinction between Roman Catholic and Reformed Protestant. These rituals actually would come to be more intrinsically identified with the celebration of the historic liturgical festivals, like St. John's Nativity than with any possible pagan roots.

This is not to say that some of these traditions today are not pagan. Many have been re-purposed for that very reason, to assert what is hoped to be an ancient pagan past that could give life meaning to the modern pagan.

Just because the modern pagans claim something is theirs doesn't mean it is.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies: St. John's Day (part 2)

The Claims about Pagan Origins for St. John's Nativity

This is the second of three articles on the Nativity of St. John and its relationship with the Pagan Midsummer. In the previous article we looked at the documentation about the origins of the Feast of St. John's Nativity. In this article we will look at the claim about ancient pagan origins and the information available to evaluate these claims.

The dating of St. John's day on or near the Summer solstice, a.k.a. Midsummer's Day, has made very fertile ground for conjecture and historical claims that Christianity invented this holiday with the intention of replacing or 'baptizing' pagan Midsummer practices and beliefs. It would be much more accurate to claim that the modern Neo-Pagans and Wiccans have invented a Midsummer festival with the intention of replacing or erasing the Christian commemoration of the birth of John, the forerunner to Christ.

One of the anonymous writers for Wikipedia claimed:

“As Christianity entered pagan areas, midsummer celebrations came to be often borrowed and transferred into new Christian holidays, often resulting in celebrations that mixed Christian traditions with traditions derived from pagan Midsummer festivities.”
The view represented in this quotation is generally considered factual—a fake fact which leads people today believe there is no need to look into the evidence. But there is a great deal of evidence which shows that the dates chosen to celebrate Christmas and the Nativity of St. John were chosen before or independent of exposure to these supposed ancient pagan practices. And in most cases, the so called ancient pagan practices are of much more recent origin.

An example from modern pagan sources for Wicca and Neo-Paganism comes from Rosemary Ellen Guiley's article on "The Wheel of the Year" in her The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, (2nd ed. 1999), where she wrote:

Summer Solstice (also Litha). One of the most important and widespread solar festivals of Europe, and universal around the world. The Sun God dies. In European tradition, the night before the solstice is a time of great magic, especially for love charms. Certain herbs picked at midnight will bring luck and protect against ill fortune. Contact with the fairy realm is easier. Bonfires are lit to help the Sun change its course in the sky, and rites resemble those for Beltane. Burning wheels are rolled downhill, and burning disks hurled at the Sun. The peak of power of the Sun God is manifested in the flourishing of crops and livestock. Celebrants jump over fires. The Christian Church absorbed the holiday as St. John's Day, for St. John the Baptist. (p. 357)

Guiley's claim that midsummer is "universal around the world" demonstrates both a naive view of ancient cultures and of seasonal differences between the temperate zones, the tropics (where there is neither really a summer or a winter), and indeed, the southern hemisphere (where midsummer is December 21st).

The implication she leaves is that the various European traditions currently associated with midsummer are both extremely ancient, pagan, and spread throughout the world outside of Europe. Were they really pagan? Maybe. Were they spread throughout the world? No, not even really throughout Europe. Where they ancient? Possibly, but if they were, there really is not much data on which to base such a claim.

Summer Solstice In The Roman Republic and Empire

With a Temple of the Sun.
The calendars (fasti) of the Roman Republic record that the festival of Fors Fortunae was to be held on June 24th. The descriptions of Fors Fortunae are conspicuously lacking any reference to the significance of the summer solstice. (William Fowler The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic: AnIntroduction to the Study of the Religion of the Romans, 1899, p. 161)

This significant absence of celebrating or even mentioning the solstice can be shown by example of what Ovid wrote in his Fasti

Book VI: June 24
Time slips by, and we age silently with the years,
There’s no bridle to curb the flying days.
How swiftly the festival of Fors Fortuna’s arrived!
June will be over now in seven days.
Quirites, come celebrate the goddess Fors, with joy:
She has her royal show on Tiber’s banks.
Hurry on foot, and others in swift boats:
It’s no shame to return home tipsy.
Garlanded barges, carry your bands of youths,
Let them drink deep of the wine, mid-stream.
The people worship her, because they say the founder
Of her shrine was one of them, and rose from humble rank,
To the throne, and her worship suits slaves, because Servius
Was slave-born, who built the nearby shrines of the fatal goddess.

The actual dates for festivals to Sol given in the Roman Fasti are August 28thth and December 11th. One text at a temple mentions August 9th. Aurelian(A.D. 270-275) did try to re-introduce the worship of Sol Invictus by decree in the year 274 A.D. But there is no record of this festival being held on December 25th. December 25th as Sol Invictus comes from an interpretation of N. INVICTI in the Philocalian Calendar in 354 A.D. Knowledge about Roman Brumalia (supposedly the winter solstice on December 25th) comes from John the Lydian, a Byzantine wrote his De Mensibus, some time in the 6th century A.D. And even there the dates for Brumaia are from November 24th to December 17th. Ovid's Fasti 1:161 place Brumalia under January 1st. ) (more discussion on Romansolar worship)
(see also this
 
So while solar worship did take place in Rome, there is no real evidence of an ancient widespread or universal pagan ritual celebration of the summer solstice—at least not for Rome.

The Solstice in Ancient Greece

Computer reconstruction of the
Antikythera Mechanism from 100BC Greece
thought to be a Mechanical Calendar
The History Channel (“Where the Truth is history” --South Park S13E15) has a webpage on “Summer Solstice Traditions” which says this about Greece:

Ancient Greeks
According to certain iterations of the Greek calendar—they varied widely by region and era—the summer solstice was the first day of the year. Several festivals were held around this time, including Kronia, which celebrated the agriculture god Cronus. The strict social code was temporarily turned on its head during Kronia, with slaves participating in the merriment as equals or even being served by their masters. The summer solstice also marked the one-month countdown to the opening of the Olympic games. (http://www.history.com/news/summer-solstice-traditions
This is a very plain use of partial facts to create a fictional narrative. There simply was no such thing as “The Greek Calendar.” They make it sound as if this main calendar had various minor versions by saying “According to certain iterations” and then conceding that these “varied widely by region and era.” But the ways in which these calendars varied from each other were significant.

Each polis (city-state) had its own calendar or calendars: The Attic (Athens) Calendars were not at all the same as those of the Macedonians, which also differed from those used by the Boetians, and so on. Each one differed with respect to names of months, number of days in months, which month was the first in the year, whether or not the months were somehow synchronized with the sun, the kinds and nature of rituals, and a variety of other factors. We are not even sure of the names of all the months or the succession of months in many important cities. (Bickerman, Chronology, p. 31n3)

What is clear is that there was no widespread celebration of the summer solstice. The calendar cherry picked by the History Channel is the Attic Calendar. This calendar of Athens is the most studied in Classical Scholarship because it is the one to which the Greek writers mainly referred. Bickerman noted the idea“that the beginning of the official [Athenean] year always coincided with the summer solstice moon remains unproven.” (Chronology, p. 37) Rather, it seems from the evidence that the first month of the year for Athens (Hecatombaeon) actually corresponded closer to what we would call July to August.

The Kronia, the festival of Cronus mentioned in the History Channel's explanation was actually on the 12th of Hecatombaeon, which would put it in late July or early August the way we reckon dates. This highlights a habit of those claiming pagan origins for Christian holy days. In order to create their talking points they seem very willing to grab whatever is convenient, reshape it and re-date it to fit their narrative. Ironically, Kronia is also invoked as evidence that Christmas was designed to usurpSaturnalia.

But, even with the Attic Calendar we have a conspicuous absence of explicit reference not just to any widespread ritual relating to the solstice, but to any ritual at all. There are plenty of mathematical philosophers who wrote about and could calculate the solstice in Ancient Greece. The summer solstice just does not figure in as part of any ancient widespread European pagan cultural ritual—at least not as far as the Ancient Greeks are concerned.

The Solstice in the Societies of the Ancient Near East

In order to evaluate the claim that summer solstice celebrations were “universal” in the ancient pagan world we should also look at the texts from ancient pagan societies which pre-dated the Romans and the Greeks. The Greeks showed a great willingness to adopt religious rituals and texts and syncretize them within their own (called the Interpretatio graeca). And the Romans in their own turn syncretistically adopted aspects of Greek religions and those of other cultures they conquered (Interpretatio romana). Religious texts and practices from the Ancient Near East formed a significant part of those reinterpretations and practices.
It is precicely this region that the radical Protestant writers, like Alexander Hislop , claim is the source of the Nativity of St. John and its association with the summer solstice.
Hislop wrote:
The Feast of the Nativity of St. John is set down in the Papal calendar for the 24th of June, or Midsummer-day. The very same period was equally memorable in the Babylonian calendar as that of one of its most celebrated festivals. It was at Midsummer, or the summer solstice, that the month called in Chaldea, Syria, and Phoenicia by the name of "Tammuz" began; and on the first day--that is, on or about the 24th of June--one of the grand original festivals of Tammuz was celebrated. (The Two Babylons,1858, p. 113)
So where there any widespread summer solstice rituals in Mesopotamia? The Neo-Pagans and Wiccans and the radical Protestants seem to be on the same page asserting that such was the case. It is important to remember that when Hislop wrote these words (1853-58) there was no understanding of the cuneiform texts that were recently unearthed in Mesopotamia. And it appears that lack of actual textual data did not prevent him or those after him—including the Neo-Pagans and Wiccans—from being able to construct very specific and elaborate histories for the pagan cultures of the Ancient Near East.
However, there is a significant amount of textual data left to us through archaeology. That data cannot be considered to present a complete picture. The reason for this is that the inscriptions we have may not present a full picture. But even without the full picture it is possible to say what is shown by the texts we have.
The relevant texts are those dealing with seasonal or annual religious rituals, seasonal business practices, seasonal farming practices, and legal schedules. There is a very large amount of data from a variety of periods and cultures. These can be generalized as follows (following Mark Cohen's The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East, 1995)
3rd Millenium BC Calendars
Early Semitic Calendars; Lagash and Girsu; Nippur; Ur; Umma; and Other Mesopotamian Calendars
In this set only the Umma calendar is conjectured to have a possible ritual relationship with the summer solstice.

Early 2nd Millenium BC Calendars
Southern Mesopotamian Sumeria; Assyria; Amorite; Sippar; Mari
Late 2nd Millenium BC through 1st Millenium BC
Mesopotamian; Emar to Alalakh , The Levant
A feature most of these societies had in common was that the lunar year was primary and the solar year was secondary. Cohen explains:

The Mesopotamians were aware of the difference between the lengths of the lunar and solar years, and eventually the moon (the god Nanna in Sumerian and Sin in Akkadian) achieved dominance over the sun (the god Utu in Sumerian and Shamash in Akkadian) as the determiner of the year: "[Nanna], fixing the month and the new moon, [setting] the year in its place." The importance of the moon for determining the length of the year was noted by Rim-Sin, the ruler of Larsa, who praised the moon as: "Nanna, who establishes the months, who completes the year." The Sumerians' perception of the superiority of the moon was reflected also in their mythology wherein the moon was considered the father of the sun. This supremacy of the moon was evident in the year being measured by complete lunar cycles. Even those annual festivals whose very existences were bound to the solar seasons were assigned fixed days in an irrelevant lunar schema. But as an acknowledgment of the unbreakable bond between the solar year and its religious festivals, the Mesopotamians intercalated the year to ensure that festivals observed in a particular month coincided with the seasonal phenomenon being celebrated. But even this intercalation was defined in terms of the moon by adding a complete lunar cycle to the year. Thus, the Mesopotamian year was, in effect, a solar year squeezed into a lunar strait-jacket. (Cohen, pp. 3-4)
The main calendar issues for these cultures were agricultural. As such there were festivals in strictly lunar months where planting and harvest took place. Cohen reasons that these could be understood as festivals relating to the equinox fitted into the lunar months. 
 
The 3rd Millenium B.C. and Sumeria, Thu Umma Calendar

The sun-god “Utu” is the son of “Nana” the moon-god. And except for a role in the Gilgamesh Epic, the Sumerian literature left to us today does not demonstrate any widespread sun-god worship or ritual. 
 
Cohen and others also suggest the possibility that the new year might have been the summer solstice in a 3rd Millenium B.C. calendar at Umma. But this is still an unknown. (Cohen, p. 161) The text is an Ur III (ca. 2100-2000 BC) tablet (SNSAT 409; British Musesum BM 106129)  
 
At this point the connection between the Umma Calendar and the solstice is only a scholarly conjecture. If this conjecture happens to be true, it is noteworthy that the rest of the Ancient Near Eastern calendars which survive to us were uninfluenced by it. Since the Umma calendar was first published 1990 and is currently available only in transcription, this text probably not a source for Guiley's claim.

The Umma Calendar is likely the foundational source for what has now been called the Standard Mesopotamian or Standard Babylonian Calendar (instituted sometime between 1700-1500 BC).(Sacha Stern, Calendars in Antiquity2007, pp 72-73) Though fairly unevenly referred to in surviving texts, this calendar was still lunisolar based on visual sightings of the new moon crescent. The first month began when the new moon was sighted after the grain began to emerge. This was the practice until 499 BC when a mathematical formula for a solar year was first used to synchronize the calendar. 
 
And one further caution regarding conclusions: the calendar is reconstructed from various religious and economic texts but there “is no explicit description of the calendar in the extant Mesopotamian sources.” (Stern p. 74)  
 
Temples of Shamesh, the ancient Semitic sun-god, are found after this period (from 1800 BC-500), especially at Babylon, Ur, Mari, Nippur, and Nineveh. There are plenty of examples of solar worship. What is conspicuous in the texts left to us from those cities and those periods is the lack of reference to a widespread summer solstice festival.

There are a couple of examples, however. Two different late Babylonian texts describing a ritual related to the solstices that took place in the month of Tammuz (could be June-July or July-August).

The 11th of Du'uzi is when Sillustab and KA.TUN-na, daughters of the Esagil go to the Ezida and on the 3rd of Tebetu Gazbaba and Gunisurra, daughters of the Ezida, go to the Esagil. Why do they do this? In Tammuzu the nights [are short], so to lengthen the nights the daughters of the Esagil go to the Ezida—the Ezida is the House-of-the-Night. In Tebetu the daytime is short (so) the daughters of the Ezida go to the Esagil to lengthen the daytimee—the Esagil is the House-of-the-Daytime. (Sp 1 131, in Cohen, p. 319)
Another Babylonian text for the month of Tebu (could be November/December or December/January)

[The daughters of the Esagil], Sillustab and Istaran—the daughters of the divine queen Arua—and the [daughters] of the Ezida, Gazbaba and Gunisurra—the daughters of Nana—pass by each other (as) they walk along the path. They proceed and ...; they enter [their] temples. (SBH no. viii col. Iv 44-47, in Cohen, p. 319)
What can be noticed in these documents is that even though there is a ritual associated with the solstice, the timing of ritual is conditioned upon the first new moon crescent after the grain began to sprout. Some readers might be aware of what in some of the Mesopotamian calendars this today is called the Akitu Festival. While it is common in some literature to refer to this as the New Year festival, a festival by the name Akitu was celebrated at various times of the year in different regions.

The a-ki-ti festival is one of the oldest recorded Mesopotamian festivals, the earliest reference being from the Fara period (middle of the third millennium), probably referring to an building or celebration in Nippur) In the pre-Sargonic period the a-ki-ti festival is attested at Ur, providing the name for one of its months. Economic documents indicate that in the Sargonic and Ur III periods (2350-2100 B.C.) the a-ki-ti was a semi-annual festival, being observed at Ur, Nippur, Adab, Uruk, and probably Badtibira. However, in each of these cities the timing of the festival varied. In Ur it was celebrated at the beginning of the first and seventh months, at Nippur and Adab around the full moon of the fourth and twelfth months, and at Uruk during at least the eighth month. (Cohen, Cultic Calendars, p. 401)
The Akiti festival was not universally a “new year” nor was it tied necessarily to solar stations—though this is what Cohen tries to make of the data. It is certainly not tied to the summer solstice.

There is much more that could be written here about the local types of sun-god's (Shamesh) (see for example Ido Koch's Charriots of the Sun ), but the surviving literature does not suggest a universal or even widely practiced ritual with regard to the summer solstice. (Cohen indexed with "solstice";  Review of Cohen
 
Hislop, his followers, the Neo-Pagans, and the Wiccans claim it happened, the texts that we have don't bear it out.

Summary Thus Far:

Christmas set to December 25 by the late 2nd century or early 3rd century A.D.
St. John's Nativity coordinated with Christmas based on Luke 1.
Widespread celebrations of St. John's Nativity by the mid-4th century.
Ancient Near Eastern sources for solstice celebrations? None demonstrable.
Ancient Greek sources for solstice rituals? None demonstrable.
Ancient Roman sources for solstice rituals? None demonstrable.
This takes us from the third millennium B.C. down to the first 4 centuries A.D.

Maybe It Was Not So Universal, but what about later antiquity?

We'll look at the supposed Celtic origins for Midsummer/St. John's Nativity, the traditions, and the origins of the Celts in the third instalment.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies: St. John's Day (part 1)

This is the first part of three on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist/Midsummer Day
June 24th is celebrated as St. John's Day, also called the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This festival is part of the cycle of liturgical dates tied to the date of Christmas.

The early Church had already established December 25th as the liturgical festival of the Nativity of Christ. For example, this is demonstrated by documents from:
  • before 215 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt (St. Clement's Stromata), 
  • before 235 A.D. in Rome (Hippolytus of Rome writes of the festival in his Chronicon and in his Commentary on Daniel), 
  • and by 270 A.D. on the northern coast of Turkey (Gregory Thaumaturgus preached December 25th Christmas sermons).
    (resources here and here)

There is natural relationship between the dates of John's birth and the birth of Christ shown in the text on the Annunciation, Luke 1:26-38. After describing the significance of the conception of John, Luke goes on to the next and more significant event:
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary....
35 And the angel answered and said to her, "... 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
The Biblical text does not necessarily mean that the conceptions and births of John and Jesus were exactly six months apart to the day. But this arrangement provided an easy to remember date for the celebration of St. John the Baptizer's nativity.

But Isn't 6 Months Before Christmas June 25th?
So, if John's birth is celebrated 6 months before Christ's, then why is the feast on the 24th rather than the 25th of June? This difference is likely the result of the method the Roman Julian calendar used for writing dates. In the Julian calendar there were three parts of the month that were used as anchor dates. The beginning of the month was called the Kalends, the first quarter of the month was called the Nons, and the middle of the month was called the Idus. So March 3rd would be ante diem V Non. Mart. or 3 days before the Nons of March. The count of the days was inclusive, that is, both the start day and the end day were included in the count. (Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World p. 43)

Christmas was ante diem VIII Kal. Jan. or 8 days prior to the Kalends of January, that is December 25th. In both the Julian and the Gregorian calendars December has 31 days. June, however has 30 days, and 8 days prior to the Kalends of July is June 24th.

Origins of St. John's Day.
A reliquary had been established for John's remains before the time of Julian the Apostate, who destroyed that church and tried to destroy the remains of John in 362 A.D. ( Theodoret Eccl. Hist, 3, p. 96 NPNF2-3).

Six different sermons on the festival of the Nativity of St. John by St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) survive today. (MPL 38, Sermons 287-293).  After these there is a collection seven of Augustine's sermons on the Day of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles--June 29th (MPL 38, Sermons 295-299C).
It is important to demonstrate here also this early (before 430 A.D.) celebration of the the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29th had already been established. This feast is also often brought into the argument against the Christian liturgical heritage. But even before Augustine the Chronography of 354 lists the martyrdom of Peter and Paul for June 29th along with Christmas on Dec. 25th.

Augustine's sermons are the earliest testimony I have found of a Church Father using the analogy of the solstices with reference to John and Christ (for example one of his Christmas Dec 25th sermon: DCO sermon 194:2) and a June 24th sermon DCO sermon 287:4)  The passage to which Augustine refers in both of these is John 3:30, John's confession of the Christ to those who were disputing about John's identity: "He must increase, I must decrease." Augustine draws this illustration:
Natus est Ioannes hodie:
   ab hodierno minuuntur dies.
Natus est Christus octavo calendas ianuarias: 
   ab illo die crescunt dies.
Ioannes in passione capite est diminutus,
Christus in ligno est exaltatus.  (sermo 287:4)

John is born today:
   from this day the days diminish.
Christ is born on the 8 Kalends of January (Dec. 25th):
   from that day the days continue to grow.
John was diminished through his suffering by the loss of his head,
Christ was exalted through his suffering on the tree.
By the time bishops met in France for the Council of Agde in 506 A.D. the festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist had been widely established throughout the Eastern and Western Church.

What is significant is the conspicuous absence of preaching against the observance of the summer solstice. Augustine and those before him had no problem preaching and writing voluminously against pagan festivals and practices. So when a supposedly ancient and universal festival is not even mentioned by these authors, the absence becomes an important point of evidence.

In isolation this absence might not be significant, if all the rest of the societies in Europe through time spoke about such a festival.

The Arguments Against Christian Holy Days
There are two basic fronts in the arguments made against Christian Historic Liturgical Holy days.

The first battle front comes from Protestantism's rabid anti-Roman Catholic groups. These groups equated any historical liturgical practice of the Church which came down through Roman Catholicism as non-Christian or pagan. A great deal of anti-Roman Catholic writing on these topics was produced by the English Reformation. The periods of going struggle between the legal status of Protestantism versus Roman Catholicism in the British Empire produced not only many writings but also saw the development and creation of both anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant ritual and tradition. Some of these developments were in turn presented as evidence of pagan origination.

The second battle front comes out of the ascendency of Neopaganism and Wicca from the 1920s to the present. Originating mainly in the early part of the 20th century these groups asserted that Christianity was a new invention, that paganism is the "old religion" which Christianity sought to suppress.

The Neopagans and Wiccans tend to recycle the arguments used by the radical Reformation in England. They also tend to augment these arguments with the views of anti-Christian writers like Joseph McCabe, James Frazier, and the folklorists of the 18th and early 20th century.

In the next article we will look at the specific claims against the Christian Liturgical Festival of the Nativity of St. John and evaluate the actual evidence from the ancient world. Was the summer solstice, or Midsummer actually a mainstay of most of pagan Europe?

Text Criticism News

Ancient History and Archaeology