Happy Easter/Resurrection Sunday. My alternate hypothesis.

OnTheCrossToday is Easter Sunday/Resurrection Sunday 2018.  It’s a day when Christians celebrate as almost exclusively historical the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ whom they believe to be the Son of God.

I’m going to assume most of you know the official story told by the Church.

But in the spirit of free thinking and philosophy (warning: the apostle Paul says philosophy and individual thought is dangerous and we must not allow women to speak their minds here), I would like to offer to you a more historically plausible explanation for what happened in the 1st Century CE, for the origins of what became the Church and the Christian religion.

In brief: the church came first and invented Jesus as the “Son of God.”

So let’s go back to the beginning.

Cleoptra-955

The first century CE was the height of the Roman Empire as most people think of it. After defeating Marc Antony and Cleopatra in 30 BCE, Octavian Caesar has himself proclaimed the first Emperor, “Caesar Augustus” in 27 BCE and ruled until 14 CE as a living god in the eyes of the State and of the people.  In the Roman province of Judea, the Julius Caesar put an end to the in-fighting that still raged among the Hasmoneans and appointed Antipas to rule the region on behalf of Rome. In 40 BCE the Roman Senate set up Antipas’ son Herod as “king of the Jews” in a move that proved to be satisfying to the Romans but only the Romans. Chaos ensued with a string of governors and other rulers who attempted to maintain order and keep peace in the area — if only to keep the flow goods constant regionally from Egypt through Judea, and ultimately back to Rome.

It was, in essence, one very big mess — and that was only the secular side of things. Religiously things were in even more disarray, chaos stretching back centuries. The same in-fighting that led to the rise of Judah ben Maccabee continued into the common era. It was a time and a place ripe for revolution — religious and social.

Among the religious establishment were Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes (see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/pharisees-sadducees-and-essenes).   These three groups more or less controlled religious life in Judea and, as you might expect, not everyone was happy with it. Organized religion in any form has a habit of becoming corrupt, of being easily bribed by power and money and the Pharisees and Sadducees were not exempt.

Across Judea educated women and men gathered together to express their displeasure at the world around them.  They organized and came together as communities to address abuses in the system around them. Leaders emerged decrying injustice for the poor and disadvantaged. They preached against poverty and the systems that made the rich richer and the poor poorer. They taught that we should help each other and do everything we can to alleviate suffering.  They taught tolerance and acceptance. Peace. Love.  They were not against the rule of law, but insisted that laws be just. They insisted that all people were people and that no person could own another.

forgive-optimizedThey fed the hungry. They clothed the naked. Sometimes they rioted to demand justice.  Sometimes they were rounded up by the authorities and put to death. Some were even crucified by the Romans who really did not care much to distinguish between a Jewish woman opening her home kitchen to the hungry and the zealot who believed in a conquering messiah (a pharisee teaching).  The name “Christian” was applied to all of them.

The Christians were not founded around a leader. They were not a cult to begin with.  They were a social-progressive movement founded around a mutual recognition that the world around them was a mess and they believed they could do something about it.

Then came a man named Paul. Paul (Saul) was a pharisee. He believed in a messiah. He believed in an oral Torah and the written Torah attributed to Moses. He believed in an afterlife and a fiercely patriarchal god who not only punished the wicked but considered most forms of female sexuality wicked. Paul unified Christianity and infused it with long held beliefs from the pharisees.  What was once about feeding the poor and healing the sick was now about his version of God and his belief in a messiah that had already come.

Stories were invented to support Paul’s claims.  Church oral history was put in service of Paul’s messiah who became the sole source of church teachings.  The original church leaders were turned into disciples of this one great master, this messiah, this “king of kings and lord of lords.”

To make it stick, the Gospels were written around Paul’s messianic mythology. And this figure — Jesus (a Latin name) – had to be defied.

Paul invented Jesus Christ. He took a beautiful social movement and he made a religion out of it designed around what Paul felt God was like and what he believed to be true about God.  Jesus was made in Paul’s image.

 

Now is it possible that there really was a Jesus Christ, a historical person who really was everything attributed to him and really was the center of the Christian movement of the early 1st century?  Perhaps.  But as a scholar, a historian, a philosopher I am forced to ask:  which is more likely: that every word of the New Testament is true and Jesus Christ lived, died, and taught everything attributed to him by people living decades after his alleged death and resurrection — or that Christianity began as a Jewish social movement designed to help the disadvantaged and that Jesus was invented later by Paul and others with a vested interest in hijacking the movement for their own purposes?

Time and time again we see “men of faith” using religion to service their ambition.  I see no reason to believe Paul was any different.

Though Jesus Christ is likely the imagination of the politically ambitious, the original movement centered around kindness and healing IS VIRTUOUS.  It is my hope that the church will rededicate itself to those wonderful teachings again and take a leading role once more in ending poverty, hunger, and disease. Christianity can be so much more than what it is today.

 

Happy Easter.

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Recipe: “Fish” Fingers and Custard

Reposted from http://www.sugarednerd.com/recipes-and-how-tos/2015/7/8/fish-fingers-and-custard-1.

Amelia and 11

Amelia Pond gives the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) fish fingers and custard in “The Eleventh Hour.”

Fans of Doctor Who know all about the eleventh doctor’s favourite “fish fingers and custard” which IMHO sounds absolutely horrible.  Then I found this recipe where the “fish fingers” are not actual fish sticks/fingers (as in compressed pollack or similar fish coated in bread crumbs), but cake made to look like fish fingers.

Here is Sugared Nerd’s Recipe:

fish fingers custard recipe

ENGLISH CUSTARD

1 vanilla bean pod

1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream

4 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/3 cup honey or light brown sugar

Split and scrape the vanilla beans out of the pod and put them, along with the pod, into a small saucepan with the cream.  Heat until simmering.

Whisk the egg yolks with the cornstarch and sugar until combined.  Remove vanilla bean pod from the cream.

As you continue to slowly whisk the egg mixture, add a ladle of the hot cream to the eggs.  This is called tempering.  Add 2 more ladles of the cream and incorporate, before adding the whole egg mixture back into the saucepan.  Continue to heat until the mixture thickens to about the consistency of a pudding.  Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.

Note:  My custard got a bit “ice-y” after storing in the fridge, so if that happens to yours, just set it out on the counter 15-30 minutes before you want to serve to defrost a bit for a nice, smooth custard.

“FISH FINGERS”

1 pound cake, cut into 1 inch slices to resemble fish sticks

2 egg whites

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

5 graham crackers, processed into fine crumbs

Butter cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350º F.  Mix together the egg whites, cream and cinnamon in a bowl.  Put graham cracker crumbs in another bowl.  Dip each piece of pound cake in the egg mixture, coat in the graham cracker crumbs, and put on a parchment or silicone mat lined cookie sheet.  When the sheet is full, spray with the butter spray, and put in the oven for 10 minutes, flipping once half way through.

A meal fit for a Doctor.

Recipe: 7 LAYER BURRITO – Taco Bell Restaurant Copycat Recipe

Reposted from http://tacobellathome.blogspot.com/2016/07/7-layer-burrito.html.

7 LAYER BURRITO 
Taco Bell Restaurant Copycat Recipe
7 layer
Shell:
1 package of 12 inch burrito shells

Filling:
1 can of refried beans (make the consistency thinner by adding water since it will be too thick if you just take it straight from the can after heating)
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes
guacamole
shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Mexican rice
sour cream

In the middle of the shell, put some refried beans, followed by the rice, then the cheese, sour cream, guacamole, lettuce and tomatoes and roll up.

Restaurant Style Mexican Rice:
1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup neutral cooking oil, such as canola or safflower
2 cups long grain white rice
1-2 chile peppers, such as jalapeño or serrano, seeded and minced
4-5 garlic cloves, pressed
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
juice from 2 limes, plus additional wedges for serving

Place the tomatoes and onion in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer 2 cups of the tomato mixture to a medium saucepan. Stir in the chicken stock, salt, and cumin and bring liquid to a boil over medium heat. (Reserve excess for another use.)

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. When the oil is sizzling, add the rice and saute, stirring frequently until lightly toasted and golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the jalapenos and cook until they have softened, about 2 minutes, lowering the heat if necessary. Add garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Pour the boiling tomato mixture over the rice and stir to combine. Turn heat to low and cook, covered, until liquid has evaporated and rice is done, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and gently stir the rice. Re-cover the pot and allow to rest undisturbed for an additional 10 minutes. Add cilantro and lime juice; fluff gently with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Serve with additional lime wedges. Serves 6-8.

Recipe: Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

The following recipe is reposted from https://www.pgeveryday.com/home/cooking-recipes/article/birthday-ice-cream-cone-cupcakes.

ice-cream-cone-cupcakes-1-size-3

Ingredients (serves 8 people)
1 box cake mix
¼ cup oil (follow amount listed on cake mix instructions)
1 cup water (follow amount listed on cake mix instructions)
3 eggs (follow amount listed on cake mix instructions)
1 package flat-bottomed ice cream cones
1 container frosting
Sprinkles or other toppings as desired

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Prepare cake mix according to package instructions
  3. Transfer batter into a container with a pour spout. Pour batter into ice cream cones, filling each 2/3 of the way full
  4. Place cones on a cookie sheet and bake for 18–20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool
  5. Frost and decorate with your choice of toppings

 

November New Releases

Good morning!  My apologies for not posting since August. But when you see the results, I’m sure you will forgive me.

Hypatia of Alexandria webOn 1 August I took up a challenge I honestly did not think possible:  write “Hypatia of Alexandria” and release it before the first week of December.  Why did that seem so difficult?  Consider this:  it took nearly a year and a half to research and write “Empress Matilda of England” (LWWH book 7). And while it’s true I wrote Boudicca in less than a month (still my best-seller), Boudicca had ONE appendix in its initial release.  Hypatia has THREE.

And so I put aside the blog and really focused on writing.  In the middle of that I was a guest on the “Condensed History Gems” podcast hosted by Jem Duducu (@historygems) and Greg Chapman (@CondensedHist). Those interested can listen to my guest episode.

Persistence pays off and thanks to a lot of long days and nights, I succeeded in finishing Hypatia in September, allowing me to focus on the editorial and promotional work so essential to a successful book launch.

arban saman webIn the middle of that I had a bit of an attack of life, both personally and spiritually. Rather than blog about it, I decided to express what was in my mind in the form of historical fiction.  “The Arban and the Saman” takes me back to my roots in Chinese/East Asian history. The story begins in the year 1211, just five years after Temujin becomes Chinggis Khan when the Mongols first invaded the nuzhen (Jurchen) homeland. This is roughly the time period I played when I was a re-enactor in the Society for Creative Anachronism when I was known as “Biya.”  Biya means “the moon” in nuzhen/Jurchen/Manchu and it’s one of the few characters from the original nuzhen language used in the Jin dynasty that survived decades of warfare against the Mongols.

“The Arban and the Saman” explores the subject of soul mates and soul family. It’s a deeply spiritual historical romance that takes you far more intimately into my own life experience than really any other book I’ve written to date. In the book I take you into what it was like during some of my “near” death experiences and what I experience when I meditate.  I take you into Asian medicine. And yes, I challenge you intellectually to think about the subject of soul mates, soul family, and reincarnation and our assumptions about them.

It’s a beautiful story and one I hope you will enjoy.  And yes, that model on the cover is me.  The photo was extracted from a musical performance I gave near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the winter of 2006.

To my great surprise I finished and published “The Arban and the Saman” on 1 November, 2017 and released it immediately with the promotional blog tour scheduled for February 2018 in celebration of Chinese New Year: the Year of the Dog.

Hypatia of Alexandria launched on 10 November 2017. The promotional blog tour for Hypatia begins on Sunday 19th November, 2017.

Defend the light candle 2Prizes will be given during both blog tours.  For “Hypatia,” three lucky winners will “defend the light” with special votive candles, plus one grand prize winner will receive a signed paperback copy.

rose quartz pendants

To celebrate the magic and mysticism of “The Arban and the Saman” three lucky winners will each receive a beautiful rose quartz pendant. The grand prize winner will receive a selection of Chinese teas from http://www.enjoytea.com.

Happy holidays! Thanks for reading! And don’t forget to always DEFEND THE LIGHT of knowledge and wisdom.

Repost: The 9 Qualities That Help You Thrive Under Pressure

This morning I found this wonderful article from Time about traits that make a person successful.  Here is that article, reposted in full:

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young plantIn new and challenging situations, some people fold under pressure and some manage to squeak by. And then there are the people who really thrive—blossoming in the face of uncertainty or adversity. Now, researchers say they’ve pinpointed a number of personality traits and external factors that, when combined, can predict a person’s chances of thriving.

For their recent paper, published in the journal European Psychologist, scientists from the University of Bath in the U.K. reviewed a wide variety of research on what makes people thrive in all types of circumstances—physically, professionally, athletically, artistically and academically, to name a few. From those studies, they came up with two lists of variables—nine personal traits and six outside influences—that are common among people who continuously grow, learn and succeed in life.

People don’t have to possess every component on these lists in order to thrive, say the authors, but a combination of a few from each list could certainly help. That formula could include any or all of the following:

Qualities

The person should be …

  • optimistic
  • spiritual or religious
  • motivated
  • proactive
  • someone who enjoys learning
  • flexible
  • adaptable
  • socially competent
  • someone with self-confidence and self-esteem

External factors

The person should have …

  • opportunity
  • support from employers, family, or others
  • a manageable level of challenges and difficulties
  • a calm environment
  • a high degree of autonomy
  • the trust of others

These lists may not be very surprising—but the authors say that until now, there has been no real consensus for exactly what characteristics and circumstances help people thrive, or what we can do to increase our chances of doing so.

To sum up their research, lead author Daniel Brown, now a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., says that the act of thriving seems to come down to “feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.”

While some people maybe more naturally prone to thriving than others, Brown says there are things we can do to cultivate these important traits within ourselves. For starters, he recommends relying on internal motivations (things that are truly important to you) rather than external ones (things society says should be important to you), and trying to always look at new situations as opportunities for gain and growth.

There may be ways we can encourage thriving in others, as well—like our kids, our partners, or our employees. “It’s likely to be important for individuals to feel they have a choice in what they are doing, that they hold close and supportive relationships with people around them, and that they perceive themselves having some level of competence in the tasks they are completing,” Brown told Health via email.

More studies are needed to determine which factors are most important for thriving in specific scenarios, and the differences between thriving under serious adversity versus everyday stress, the authors wrote in their paper. But they hope their research is a good stepping-stone for understanding the psychology behind what it takes to be our best selves, no matter what life throws our way.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

 

 

“Silent Crossroads” Interview with Jem Duducu

jem crossroads portraitGood morning everyone!  Can you believe it is already September?  Days are cooling down (FINALLY) and Mithril and Arwen have at last given up on nesting for the year.

Over the summer I became acquainted with Jem Duducu, one of two hosts of the Condensed History Gems podcast. At the end of August, Jem and Greg (Chapman) were kind enough to bring me onto the podcast to talk about historical fiction verses narrative history, Shakespeare, and even share some period music from China, Korea, and Scotland. Take a listen to our podcast episode which I hope will be the first of many.

Post recording the podcast I decided to check out some of his writing work.  You can find my review for “The American Presidents in 100 Facts” at  https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RDBPCR4GC47AP.

silent crossroads jemI also decided to download Jem’s new novel “Silent Crossroads” and ask him some questions about it.  Here is that Q & A for your reading pleasure.

—————–

LR: Silent Crossroads takes place during both World War I and World War II.  What interests you most about these time periods?  What do you personally find most compelling about those years?

JD: World War 1 really is the end of the “old world”. At the start of the war you have a Kaiser in Germany, the Habsburgs rule Austro-Hungary, there’s a Tsar in Russia and a Sultan in the Ottoman Empire and yet within a few years after the war, none of those century old institutions existed anymore. There were men fighting for institutions that literally were history by the end of the war.

As for World War II, it’s the war to go for so many people because it’s easy to work out the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. It’s rare to have such moral absolutes in a war. It’s also the most destructive war in human history, nothing to be proud of but scared Western Europe so much that this has been the longest peace in Western Europe since history began…

LR: You are best known for your non-fiction history books.  What made you decide to take on a historical fiction novel?

JD: On my Facebook page (@HistoryGems) as a “thank you” to regular followers, I used to make up history stories around their names. Everyone loved them, and the more grizzly the death, the better. I came up with the basic conceit for Silent Crossroads with one of them- a man changing sides in both world wars.  It’s the only one that had a few people reply that it would make a great novel. I kept piecing it together in my head, allowing the idea to evolve for a couple of years and then started writing it out when enough of the framework was there. The original was just a few paragraphs long, the final work is a little over 400 pages! I guess I got a bit carried away.

LR: Most writers draw at least some inspiration for characters and/or plot lines from their own lives.  What parts of Silent Crossroads come from your life?

JD: Harry Woods the soldier is nothing like me. Harry the husband, father and shop keeper, that’s much more me. My parents owned a shop in Portobello Market in London so the creaky stairs the serving customers, that was all in the back of my mind when describing the more mundane elements of his life.

LR: Are there any characters in Silent Crossroads who resemble people you know or parts of yourself at a specific time? Elaborate, please.

JD: A number of characters are named after friends and they get a sort of cameo although their characters may be quite different, they know who they are. Richard Barley has a small but vital part to play in the book and he’s a real guy, and just as smart as the fictional version of him but works in a very different line of business and s far less Machiavellian than the Richard in the book. Feisty clashes of will displayed by the female characters aren’t a specific woman, but as my wife, sister and mother are all very independent women, you could say they are all influences and vital in making the women believable. Also, the German Nurse Katarina is inspired by my sister in law and she loved what I did with the character.

LR: What details from real life did you integrate into this book that perhaps most people are not aware of as being historical?

JD: I put a brief synopsis of what’s real and what’s not right at the end. The battles in the wars and the rise of the Third Reich are well known. I think it may be the largely historically accurate character Wilhelm von Thoma that may surprise readers to know he did virtually everything that’s in the book. He is not widely known of and an example of a senior German officer who was genuinely uneasy about the direction Hitler was taking both his country and his army.

On the lighter side of things, I had an argument with the editor that there were ice cream parlours in Germany in the 1920s, but I proved to her I had done my research and there were.

Perhaps the most poignant bit of research is the message some American troops sent towards the end of World War I about being under friendly fire. The incident and message are both real.

LR: What lessons from WWI and WWII do you feel most people need to learn and remember about this time period?

JD: I think World War I is arguably the most misunderstood major moment of history there is. It wasn’t all sitting in trenches for 4 years, troops were rotated out of the front lines every 7-10 days. The generals did care about their troops and there are many examples of innovation to try and break the deadlock be it the tank or the first example of (major) aerial bombardment. Also, it wasn’t a stalemate, the allies (particularly Britain) very much won the war and were amply compensated.

The less militaristic point is I wanted to show how dreadful Germany was after the war. Most people outside of the country don’t know there was a brief civil war in Germany, everyone knows about the hyperinflation but don’t realise that after recovering from that they were crippled again with the stock market crash of 1929. So it wasn’t just about the Versailles treaty. I think about how in desperate situations, people sometimes make desperate choices. If everything in Germany had been “fine” in the 20s and 30s then Hitler would never have risen to power.

 LR: What do you feel is the greatest legacy of each of the two wars?

JD: With the First World War, it was the redistribution of power. This was the point where Britain’s Empire reached its maximum size. It was also the end of a number of other empires (as previously stated). New countries were carved out like Palestine, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria…and nothing bad has happened in any of those countries since!

World War Two, however, ended the last “traditional” Empire, Britain and cemented the power of two new empires. The Soviet Union had its own empire and influence spread across Eastern Europe and supported the Communists in China, something that is still impacting the news today. Of course, America was the big winner from both conflicts and again is still reaping the rewards 75 years later.

I could go on but I don’t want to turn this into a degree in 20th-century politics!

LR: If you decide to write another historical novel, what time period do you think would be the most interesting to explore and why?

JD: To try and catch the eye of the agents I actually have already written a second book. I deliberately made it very different to try and counter the reservations some had about Silent Crossroads. Set in the Middle East, in the 13th century, the protagonist is an Italian woman. Silent Crossroads looks at the horrors of mechanised warfare and the politics of the 20th century. This other work is about religion and how it may not have been used in the way you’d assume 700 years ago. This era and area are what I specialised in at university so it felt a bit like coming home.

Also being a woman in a man’s world she has all the best ideas, that none of the arrogant men give time too until it’s too late, I think you may like it. Saying that it didn’t catch the eye of the agents either, depending on how Silent Crossroads go, I may release that one too.

LR: What did you most learn about yourself in the writing of this book?

JD: Ha! Great question. That I can write battles and stoicism easily, that stuff just flows out of my keyboard. I guess I’ve watched too many war movies and documentaries. But I had to break a sweat to make the domestic elements and the female characters compelling too. And that’s important. If this was a just about a soldier fighting it wouldn’t be half as interesting as the end product. A wise person once told me “women are 50% of history” and therefore to show a mother’s worries as she see’s her daughter being seduced by fascist ideology and having to keep physically safe from all kinds of external threats, in some ways that are more what the book is about than Harry.

LR:  Thank you for taking time out of your very busy day!  You can purchase Silent Crossroads in both kindle and paperback editions on Amazon. Read my review here.