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Fun Reading

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 28
Copyright (c) 1996 Biblical Horizons
August, 1996

The name of Harry Turtledove is well known to readers of fantasy and science fiction. Turtledove is an historian, and most of what he writes is in the "alternative history" genre. A fine collection of short stories, available in paperback, is his Agent of Byzantium. These stories are set in an alternate world wherein the Byzantine empire dominates Europe and the Mediterranean in what we call the Middle Ages. There has been considerable science and invention, and in these stories we see the inventions of gunpowder, the telescope, inoculation against plague, and others as they might have happened. The main character is a devout Christian, and the Church has an active presence here and there in the stories. Some of the inventions, like gunpowder, are expressed in directly theological language. Lots of good clean fun.

Turtledove is probably best known for his Guns of the South, in which a time-traveller takes a bunch of AK-47s back to Robert E. Lee, with which the South wins the Civil War. As the novel progresses, however, and Lee becomes President, everything pretty much falls out the way it did: the slaves are freed, etc. Lots of fun and a more sympathetic treatment of the South than you usually find today.

The reason for this review, however, is The Two Georges, by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss (yes, the actor). The title comes from a famous painting (sadly not pictured on the cover of the book) by Gainsborough, a painting of George Washington kneeling before George III after reconciliation has been concluded between the Colonies and the Mother Country. Yes, in this version of 1996, the British Empire is still going strong.

It is a kinder, gentler world. The kind of rapid inventive progress we have seen in our world (which came from America) has not taken place; airships rule the sky and aeroplanes are rare and undeveloped. The Church is honored, and conservative values paramount. The slaves, of course, were freed when Britain freed all slaves, and "negroes" have an important place in society. The Honorable Sir Martin Luther King is the Viceroy of King Charles III in the North American Union. John F. Kennedy is a sleazy politician, and "Tricky Dick" is a well known  . . . used car salesman!

But now someone has stolen "The Two Georges" right under the nose of Colonel Thomas Bushell of the Royal American Mounted Police. Who has done this dastardly deed? Was it the Spanish? the Russians? Or worse, was it the fruitcake-fringe Sons of Liberty, who want America to secede from the British Empire?

As you can imagine, the search for the villains takes us on a short tour of much of this world, including islands near the Russian province of Alyeska and the Iroquis Nation (part of the North American Union).

Advice: This novel is lots of fun, but there is one short scene in the book I would not want my teenaged sons to read. Be warned.

Perfectly suitable for teenagers, however, is Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle. Here is a novel of "hard science fiction" set in an alternate universe wherein the Greek view of the universe is real. The earth is at the center, and everything revolves around it in Ptolemaic cycles and epicycles. A piece of moon has been captured and fitted out as a space-travelling platform. Its purpose: to capture a piece of sun for the Greeks to use in their ongoing war with the Middle Kingdom (China). A well-known scientist, Aias, captains the mission, accompanied by a lovely Sparta-trained Xeroki (Cherokee) bodyguard.

What makes this novel unique is its portrayal of ancient science and philosophy. Garfinkle knows his stuff, and by the time we are finished, we know a lot of it also. We also learn about ancient Chinese science and Xi (Chi) forces.

There’s nothing Christian about this novel, except that it is a novel and only in a Christian world is such a narrative possible. But it is a lot of fun, and educational as well. I particularly enjoyed it when Aias emerges from a lunar cave and hears the Sun speak to him: "Your first duty is to the Good!" Readers of Plato’s Republic will not miss this allusion!

Of course, there are lots of adventures along the way, as Chinese spies try to prevent the moon-ship from taking a piece of the sun, and as Aias comes to learn more about the nature of "reality" in this world. And we see a clean and refined romantic relationship develop between Aias and Yellow Hare, his Xeroki bodyguard. I found the narrative well-paced, and completely clean of anything objectionable in the areas of language and sexuality.

Concerning Unicorns

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 28
Copyright (c) 1996 Biblical Horizons
August, 1996

In answer to a question, the following about the unicorn, a supposed "New Age" symbol:

The unicorn, or monoceros (one-horn), was known around the ancient world. Some scholars believe it may have been the one-horned goat that is still bred today. Others think it may have originated in tales of the rhinoceros reaching Europe from Africa. Whatever the case, it came eventually to be a horse-like creature with one horn emerging from its forehead.

Like the phoenix (the legendary bird that dies and rises from its ashes every millennium), the unicorn was adopted by Christians as a symbol of Christ. The fact that he had one horn meant that he was one in power (horn = power) with the Father. St. Basil (329-379) wrote, "Christ is the power of God, therefore He is called the Unicorn on the ground that He has one horn, that is, one common power with the Father."

In the Middle Ages, the unicorn was used as a symbol of love as well as a Christ image. In one famous 15th century tapestry, The Hunt of the Unicorn, the _rst panel shows the unicorn healing the waters of a stream by touching it with his horn. Then, the unicorn is hunted down and killed. But in the last panel, the unicorn is alive again and tied to a pomegranate tree, a Biblical symbol of love (as in the Song of Songs).

Nowadays, one sees unicorns as pretty decorations, toys, and occasionally linked with new-age literature. Of course, since the unicorn is a symbol, anyone is free to use it to depict anything he wishes. But Christians should not let the world dictate to us the meaning of symbols.

A few years ago, rainbows were all the rage as decorations, and were used by some new-age types as a symbol of peace. Some Christians reacted against this, saying that there are "hidden dangers in the rainbow." This is poppycock, of course; the rainbow is a Biblical symbol from God’s covenant with Noah and all creation. There is no need for Christians to let pagans de_ne symbols for us.

Today, Noah’s Ark is a symbol found everywhere in toy stores and other places. It has also been adopted by new-age types as an environmentalist symbol. So what? It was a Christian symbol _rst, and its adoption by environmentalists only goes to show how pathetically inadequate new-age thinking is: They have to come to us to get a symbol that portrays man’s responsibility to care for the creation!

The unicorn, the phoenix, the rainbow, the Ark – there is nothing wrong with any of these. They are traditional Christian symbols, and Christians may readily adopt them.


Biblical Chronology
Vol. 8, No. 8
August, 1996
Copyright © James B. Jordan 1996

Esther: Historical & Chronological Comments (VI)

by James B. Jordan

3. A Brief Survey of Esther

(continued from the previous issue)

Haman told the king that "a certain people" were rebellious against him, and that Haman wanted to rid the king of their noxious presence. The king agreed, and the two sat down to a feast. This is the third feast, but while they feasted, the Jews heard the word and mourned. Now the Jews are excluded from the king’s great feast, and the reason is that they are rebellious an defiant against God’s decree that Darius should rule.

Mordecai tells Esther that she must now reveal her identity, and sue the king for salvation. Mordecai’s scheme for power has been defeated. Esther must bear a true witness, and undo the damage Mordecai has done. But Esther has not been called by the king for 30 days. It seems that the Jews have been excluded from the marriage as well as from the feast! Yet, she goes ahead and approaches Darius anyway, and he welcomes her.

Esther asks for a meal with the king and Haman. This is the fourth feast of Esther. At the meal, Esther asks that they do it again the next day. Meanwhile, she trusts God to act. Haman goes home happy, sure that the queen favors him. All that spoils it for him is that he sees Mordecai in the court. The order for everyone to bow to Haman has doubtless expired, but when Mordecai does not even tremble at Haman’s presence, Haman is enraged all over again.

Meanwhile, Darius finds he cannot sleep. He calls for his scribes to read him the chronicles of his reign (which would surely put anyone to sleep). There he hears about Mordecai’s turning in the conspirators several years earlier. Realizing that nothing has been done for Mordecai, Darius determines to honor him. When Haman shows up, the king orders Haman to honor Mordecai. Haman obeys, but realizes that something is terribly wrong. He does not know why the king is honoring Mordecai, because all the king tells him is that Mordecai is a Jew.

This is the pivot of the story. As with Passover, the change happens during the night.

The next day, Haman comes for his second wine-feast with Darius and Esther, the fifth feast of the book. On that occasion, Esther accuses him of treachery, of seeking to kill her. The king is furious, but as we have seen he does not let his temper get the better of him. He retires to cool off. Meanwhile, Haman grabs Esther and beseeches her to for mercy. Returning, the king thinks that Haman is assaulting Esther. As always, the king seeks counsel, and is advised to hang Haman on a tree, which he does.

Esther presents Mordecai to the king, who at this point is very well disposed toward him, particularly now that he knows he is Esther’s uncle. Mordecai is an old man of about 89 years, while Darius and Esther are still young, so Mordecai must have been impressive to the king. Since the king’s edict cannot be undone, the king issues another edict allowing the Jews to defend themselves. This went out in the third month, which allowed the Jews nine months to prepare. Now the Jews feast, which is the sixth feast in Esther.

All of these events, from Haman’s decision to attack the Jews to the declaration of their deliverance, happen in a sabbath year, Year 28 of the 70 weeks of Daniel 9.

In the 12th month, the Jews defend themselves and destroy their enemies, but they do not take take the plunder for themselves. Afterwards, they feast the first feast of Purim. This is the seventh feast in Esther. God’s people, excluded from the King’s Feast for their rebellion, are now restored.

Finally we are told that Darius laid a tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. This is a sign of his universal rule, land and sea. Meanwhile, Mordecai served him and protected the Jews.

4. The Chronology of Esther in Context: Summary


Months: begin in the spring. The first month is roughly April; the twelfth month is roughly March.

1J = year 1 by Jewish reckoning, which reckons king’s years from autumn to autumn, beginning in the 7th month.

1P = year 1 by Persian reckoning, which reckons king’s years from spring to spring, beginning in the 1st month.

597 bc

1st Quarter: Completion of Nebuchadnezzar’s first siege of Jerusalem, when Jehoiachin revolted against him. End of Jehoiachin’s 3-month reign. 10,000 taken captive, including Ezekiel and Mordecai (Jeremiah 52:29; Ezekiel 1:1-3; Esther 2:6-7).

* * *

539 bc

2nd Quarter: Nabonidus, king of Babylon, 17B

4th Quarter: Nabonidus 17J. Immediately Nabonidus flees, Belshazzar proclaims himself co-regent. The city falls. Cyrus/Darius receives the kingdom. Daniel is most favored candidate for governor. Events of Daniel 6. "Accession year" of Cyrus (Darius the Mede), age 62, begins.

538 bc

2nd Quarter: Cyrus 1P (Persian). Cambyses becomes co-regent with Cyrus of Babylon.

4th Quarter: Cyrus 1J. At the beginning of the quarter, Daniel’s calculations lead him to the prayer of Daniel 9. At end of quarter, Cambyses is removed as "king of Babylon," and Gabriel strengthens Cyrus (Dan. 11:1). This is the beginning of the 70 weeks of years, and thus also of the 7 weeks of years. Jubilee Year.

537 bc

1st Quarter: Cyrus, having removed Cambyses, who opposed the Jews, decrees that the Jews are to rebuild the Temple.

2nd Quarter: Jews, including Mordecai and Nehemiah, travel to Palestine.

3rd Quarter: Jews settle in. It is likely that Mordecai adopted Esther at this time.

4th Quarter: Cyrus 2J. Feast of Tabernacles celebrated (Ezra 3), but foundations of Temple not yet laid. This begins the "second year of their coming to Jerusalem," Ezra 3:8.

536 bc

2nd Quarter: Work begun on Temple in the second month, Ezra 3:8.

4th Quarter: Cyrus 3J. Opposition to rebuilding project arises, Ezra 4:1-3.

535 bc

1st Quarter: Opposition discourages Jews from working on the Temple. Adversaries at Cyrus’s court begin to frustrate the position of the Jews and Daniel, Ezra 3:4-5.

2nd Quarter:

against the Jews.

opposition to Temple building, Daniel 10:1-4.

4th Quarter: Cyrus 4J.

* * *

522 bc

3rd Quarter: In July, Pseudo-Smerdis seizes the throne. Cambyses, on his way back from Egypt, dies, possibly by suicide. On September 29, Darius overthrows him and takes the throne.

4th Quarter: Darius 1J. The Persian Empire is in turmoil, and Darius must reconquer almost all of it.

521 bc – Darius builds his palace in Susa, and occupies it by the end of the year.

2nd Quarter: Darius 1P.

3rd Quarter:

4th Quarter: Darius 2J. By the end of this year, Darius has reconquered most of the empire.

520 bc

2nd Quarter: Darius 2P. Haggai and Zechariah, possibly because their books deal with the rebuilding of the Temple, use the religious calendar and date Darius’s reign from spring to spring.

3rd Quarter:

rebuilding the Temple, Haggai 1:1.

4th Quarter: Darius 3J.

laid anew, Haggai 2:10, 18, 20.

519 bc

1st Quarter:

foundation relaid. Zechariah mentions that the cities of Judah have been distressed 70 years

(Zech. 1:12), and sees God cleanse the Temple & renew the covenant. Zechariah 1:6–6:8.

2nd Quarter: Darius 3P. Possibly in connection with New Year festivities, Darius/Ahasuerus begins a 6-month festival, Esther 1:3-4.

4th Quarter: Darius 4J.

Esther 1:5. Shortly thereafter, Vashti is deposed as senior queen.

518 bc – Darius campaigns in Egypt.

2nd Quarter: Darius 4P

4th Quarter: Darius 5J.

is in the 71st year after the investiture of Jerusalem.

517 bc

2nd Quarter: Darius 5P.

3rd Quarter: 70th anniversary the burning of the Temple.

4th Quarter: Darius 6J. Year 22 of 70 weeks begins.

516 bc

1st Quarter: Esther selected for trial as queen, Esther 2:12.

2nd Quarter: Darius 6P.

4th Quarter: Darius 7J.

515 bc – Darius campaigns in India.

1st Quarter:

2nd Quarter: Darius 7P.

3rd Quarter:

4th Quarter: Darius 8J.

514 bc

2nd Quarter: Darius 8P.

4th Quarter: Darius 9J.

513 bc

2nd Quarter: Darius 9P.

4th Quarter: Darius 10J.

512 bc

2nd Quarter: Darius 10P.

4th Quarter: Darius 11J.

511 bc

2nd Quarter: Darius 11P.

4th Quarter: Darius 12J. Year 28 of 70 weeks begins. Sabbath year.

510 bc

2nd Quarter: Darius 12P.

decree. Haman casts lots. Decree issued to exterminate Jews, Esther 3.

Esther 4:16, 5:1.

decree that Jews may defend themselves, Esther 8:9.

4th Quarter: Darius 13J.

509 bc

1st Quarter:

2nd Quarter: Darius 13P.

4th Quarter: Darius 14J.

Concerning Halloween

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 28
Copyright (c) 1996 Biblical Horizons
August, 1996

It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.

"Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)

In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: "The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20).

The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.

(The tradition of mocking Satan and defeating him through joy and laughter plays a large role in Ray Bradbury’s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a Halloween novel.)

The gargoyles that were placed on the churches of old had the same meaning. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army.

Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.

Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR!

I don’t have the resources to check the historical origins of all Halloween customs, and doubtless they have varied from time to time and from Christian land to Christian land. "Trick or treat" doubtless originated simply enough: something fun for kids to do. Like anything else, this custom can be perverted, and there have been times when "tricking" involved really mean actions by teenagers and was banned from some localities.

We can hardly object, however, to children collecting candy from friends and neighbors. This might not mean much to us today, because we are so prosperous that we have candy whenever we want, but in earlier generations people were not so well o_, and obtaining some candy or other treats was something special. There is no reason to pour cold water on an innocent custom like this.

Similarly, the jack-o’-lantern’s origins are unknown. Hollowing out a gourd or some other vegetable, carving a face, and putting a lamp inside of it is something that no doubt has occurred quite independently to tens of thousands of ordinary people in hundreds of cultures worldwide over the centuries. Since people lit their homes with candles, decorating the candles and the candle-holders was a routine part of life designed to make the home pretty or interesting. Potatoes, turnips, beets, and any number of other items were used.

Wynn Parks writes of an incident he observed: "An English friend had managed to remove the skin of a tangerine in two intact halves. After carving eyes and nose in one hemisphere and a mouth in the other, he poured cooking oil over the pith sticking up in the lower half and lit the readymade wick. With its upper half on, the tangerine skin formed a miniature jack-o’-lantern. But my friend seemed puzzled that I should call it by that name. `What would I call it? Why a "tangerine head," I suppose.’" (Parks, "The Head of the Dead," The World & I, November 1994, p. 270.)

In the New World, people soon learned that pumpkins were admirably suited for this purpose. The jack-o’-lantern is nothing but a decoration; and the leftover pumpkin can be scraped again, roasted, and turned into pies and muffins.

In some cultures, what we call a jack-o’-lantern represented the face of a dead person, whose soul continued to have a presence in the fruit or vegetable used. But this has no particular relevance to Halloween customs. Did your mother tell you, while she carved the pumpkin, that this represented the head of a dead person and with his soul trapped inside? Of course not. Symbols and decorations, like words, mean different things in different cultures, in different languages, and in different periods of history. The only relevant question is what does it mean now, and nowadays it is only a decoration.

And even if some earlier generations did associate the jack-o’-lantern with a soul in a head, so what? They did not take it seriously. It was just part of the joking mockery of heathendom by Christian people.

This is a good place to note that many articles in books, magazines, and encyclopedias are written by secular humanists or even the pop-pagans of the so-called "New Age" movement. (An example is the article by Wynn Parks cited above.) These people actively suppress the Christian associations of historic customs, and try to magnify the pagan associations. They do this to try and make paganism acceptable and to downplay Christianity. Thus, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, etc., are said to have pagan origins. Not true.

Oddly, some fundamentalists have been influenced by these slanted views of history. These fundamentalists do not accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of Western history, American history, and science, but sometimes they do accept the humanist and pagan rewriting of the origins of Halloween and Christmas, the Christmas tree, etc. We can hope that in time these brethren will reexamine these matters as well. We ought not to let the pagans do our thinking for us.

Nowadays, children often dress up as superheroes, and the original Christian meaning of Halloween has been absorbed into popular culture. Also, with the present fad of "designer paganism" in the so-called New Age movement, some Christians are uneasy with dressing their children as spooks. So be it. But we should not forget that originally Halloween was a Christian custom, and there is no solid reason why Christians cannot enjoy it as such even today.

"He who sits in the heavens laughs; Yahweh ridicules them" says Psalm 2. Let us join in His holy laughter, and mock the enemies of Christ on October 31.