Detail of Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” (Sistine Chapel). Saint Bartholomew holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin. The face of the skin is Michelangelo’s.

Bartholomew is one of the more mysterious of the 12 Apostles.

Apart from the mentions of him in four of the Apostle lists (Mark 3:18, Matt. 10:3, Luke 6:14, and Acts 1:13), nothing is known about him from the New Testament (EB).

The mystery is that Bartholomew is mentioned in the Apostle lists, but Nathanael is not, even though Nathanael’s call to be an apostle is described by John (“Jesus said, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!'”). One solution to this mystery is a 9th-century tradition that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person, whose full name was Nathanael bar Tolmai (“Bartholomew”)(EB).

Legend has it that Bartholomew spread the Gospel to India and Armenia, among other places (EB).

Wikipedia (“Bartholomew the Apostle”) notes the following about his death:

Christian tradition has three stories about Bartholomew’s death: ‘One speaks of his being kidnapped, beaten unconscious, and cast into the sea to drown. Another account states that he was crucified upside down, and another says that he was skinned alive and beheaded in Albac or Albanopolis’, near Başkale, Turkey.

The account of Bartholomew being skinned alive is the most represented in works of art, and consequently Bartholomew is often shown with a large knife, holding his own skin (as in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment), or both.

Thus Bartholomew joins many of the other disciples in tremendous suffering or death (Peter, crucified upside down; Paul, beheaded; Stephen, stoned; John, doused in boiling oil and exiled).

Josh McDowell uses their martyrdom to make an interesting argument in his book A Ready Defense.

If the story of Christ’s resurrection were untrue, why were the disciples so willing to suffer torture and even death?

Being contemporaries of Christ, each disciple was easily in a position to find evidence for the “legend” of Christ’s resurrection being a lie.

The Bible claims that there were over 500 eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ:

I Corinthians 15:6 “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep [i.e., died].”(NIV)

If being a Christian put my life at risk (as it did in ancient Rome), I would have certainly questioned very carefully some of those eyewitnesses, and these martyrs could have done the same.

These early Christians went to their deaths for the belief that God forgives sinners who turn away from their sins and that He will someday raise them from the dead, as He did Christ, and take them to heaven.

Were they right?






Auburn System


This is a “penal method of the 19th century in which persons worked during the day and were kept in solitary confinement at night, with enforced silence at all times (EB).”  In fact, the word “penitentiary” comes from the idea that prisoners, through silent reflection on their crimes, might become penitent.  Thus imprisonment under the Auburn System could be seen as penance.

Some of the purposes of this system were “to destroy the identity of the inmate (and thus make him easier to control) and to crush the ‘criminal subculture’ that flourished in densely populated prisons (Wikipedia, “Separate System”)” and to discourage prisoners from learning criminal habits and having them reinforced by the existing prison population (EB, “Auburn System”).  (“Destroying the identity” reminded me of military boot camps, which also seek to destroy individuality through conforming appearances and behavior.)

“In certain prisons such as Pentonville, in London, even during communal exercise, prisoners were required to wear masks in silent isolation.  Prisoners incarcerated in separate system prisons were reduced to numbers, their names, faces and past histories eliminated. The guards and warders charged with overseeing these prisoners knew neither their names nor their crimes, and were prohibited from speaking to them. Prisoners were hooded upon exiting a cell, and even wore felted shoes to muffle their footsteps (Wikipedia, “Separate System”).”

In addition to being known for silent isolation, the Auburn, New York correctional facility achieved several other firsts (Wikipedia, “Auburn System”):

1)  the first prison to gain money as a profit for the labor of the prisoners.

2)  the first to institute the “lockstep”: The prisoners marched in unison and had to lock their arms to the convict in front of them. The prisoners had to look to one side and were not allowed to look at the guards or the other inmates.

3)  the first to give prisoners a distinctive garb familiar to us today, a grayish material with horizontal stripes.

In addition, the prison permitted tours by sight-seers.

A method of punishment sounds familiar to those of us who have read about waterboarding and the ALS Challenge.  “The shower bath consisted of a barrel about 4½ feet high with a discharge tube at the bottom. The prisoner was stripped naked, bound hand and foot, with a wooden collar around his neck to prevent him moving his head. The barrel, with the inmate inside, was placed directly under an outlet pipe, where water, sometimes iced, would pour down (Wikipedia, “Auburn System”).”

The article raised several interesting questions for me:

1)  Solitude and silence can be used for spiritual purposes by monks and nuns.  When it is forced upon people, however, is there any spiritual benefit?  (On a related parenting note, is there any point in forcing children to apologize for wrongs they have committed?)  Does penal isolation in fact create mental illness, as some claimed the Auburn System did?

2)  Do human beings have an inherent psychological need to do some acts of penance to assuage their guilty consciences?  (The Catholic church may be tapping into something fundamentally human here.)  Should we give prisoners opportunities for penitential acts and even formal ceremonies to mark their significance?

3)  How is it that dehumanization is used in prison camps, boot camps, and concentration camps for such different purposes: to break group identities, to form group identities, and to make the murder of an outgroup easier?

4)  Given the use of the shower bath in prisons and the ALS Ice Bucket challenge, was waterboarding prisoners in Guantanimo really that immoral?  It certainly is not unprecedented.

5)  I’ve always found it interesting that God’s system of justice in the Old Testament made no mention of imprisonment.  Criminals either made restitution for the less serious crimes or were executed for the more serious crimes.  Would our society be better off replacing imprisonment with restitution and the death penalty?  Besides lowering costs and giving prisoners a chance to do penance, this might also provide a useful test for whether a law is needed.  If a restitution is hard to define, either because what should be given back is hard to define or the person to whom it should be given is hard to identify, then perhaps any law with such difficulties is inherently unjust.

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What is your philosophy of life?  Should you have one?

In Hinduism, artha is the pursuit of wealth or material advantage, one of the four traditional aims in life (EB).  Artha is considered the “means of life,” so it includes making a living and securing one’s health (Wikipedia, “Artha”).

The other three goals of human life are the following:

  • Dharma (virtuous, proper, moral life),
  • Kama (pleasure, sensuality, emotional fulfillment) and
  • Moksha (liberation, release, self-actualization).

Together, these four aims of life are called Puruṣārtha (Wikipedia, “Artha”).

Artha applies to both an individual and a government.  At government level, artha includes social, legal, economic and worldly affairs. Proper Arthashastra is considered an important and necessary objective of government.

I think it would be interesting to compare Hindu texts on money and careers with the Bible.

Regarding money, various Hindu texts emphasize being a good steward of money and not chasing after it or letting it hinder one’s spiritual life, which is the same message of the Bible.

I wonder what Hinduism would add to an understanding of careers. A Christian understanding of work can come from Calvin’s writings on a “vocation,” which is literally work as a “calling.”  As one example, Calvin states that “there would be no employment so mean and sordid (provided we follow our vocation) as not to appear truly respectable, and be deemed highly important in the sight of God (”  I suppose Calvin, then, was the foundation of the “Protestant work ethic.”

I also wonder if our government would be improved by a more comprehensive philosophy of government such as that in Hinduism or in Confucianism.  America has an excellent philosophy of government, but it seems to be more about what our government is not allowed to do rather than than what an effective, efficient government ought to do.   It’s a shame that our current government is so ineffective and inefficient. As our founders were aware, however, talking about all the things the government can do is a dangerous path, as it could lead to a turbulent flood of government interference in all of our lives.

Two sidenotes:

  1. The mention of “self-actualization” as a definition of Moksha made me wonder if Hinduism is a source for psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theories on personality development.
  2. Should sensuality be a goal of life, or is this just an opening for debauchery?  What would a life that set goals for sensuality look like?

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