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?






Surendranath Banerjee (1848–1925)

Bon_anniversaire_346Hindus calculate their ages from the date of conception rather than the date of birth.

That is why Banerjee, an early leader in India’s fight for independence from the British, was rejected from the Indian Civil Service.  The British thought he had misrepresented his age.

What an interesting custom!  I wonder if the focus on conception means that Hindus have a different set of beliefs and attitudes toward sex than Christian-dominated cultures.

Photo credit: Photo by Patrick Subotkiewiez from BAZIEGE, FRANCE

Badarian culture


Is imperialism really that bad?

Badarian culture is an “Egyptian predynastic cultural phase, first discovered at al-Badari…on the east bank of the Nile (EB).”

The article has a picture of various tools and utensils discovered by archaeologists, with the caption that they are in the British Museum.

As the British explored various parts of their vast empire they brought back thousands of artifacts and kept them in the British Museum.  It is easy now to dismiss the British as nothing more than thieves, but I wonder if they served a valuable role after all.

We see now  the resurgence of iconoclasts in the Middle East who systematically destroy cultural artifacts in the name of Islamic fanaticism.  Is there not a moral good served by taking artifacts out of this region and keeping them in a place without turmoil?

I am reminded also of another thing the British imperialists did.  They imposed a Christian view on India that forbade the burning of widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres.  Was it really so bad to “impose” Western values on those who wished to burn women alive?

Ashur (Assyrian god)


Is it possible that in 50 years Christianity will have adopted elements of Islam?  Historically, it’s a possibility:

Ashur was the “city god of Ashur and national god of Assyria.”  “Under Sargon’s successor Sennacherib, deliberate and thorough attempts were made to transfer to Ashur the primeval achievements of Marduk [a Babylonian god], as well as the whole ritual of the New Year festival of Babylon—attempts that clearly have their background in the political struggle going on at that time between Babylonia and Assyria. As a consequence, the image of Ashur seems to lack all real distinctiveness and contains little that is not implied in his position as the city god of a vigorous and warlike city that became the capital of an empire (EB).”

What caught my eye was the fact that a political struggle between two rival powers led to changes in religious beliefs.

It’s easy to extrapolate the current struggle between the West and Islam into a syncretism whereby Christianity adopts forms, rituals or beliefs of Islam.

Why Islam?  Because it’s the only world religion with enough adherents and energy to force the change.

Why would Christianity adapt to Islam and not the other way around?  Because Christianity, far more than Islam, has already shown a willingness to abandon fundamental doctrines on the Trinity, sin and salvation, to cite a few examples.  Christianity regularly concedes to every scientific and sociological fad du jour.   Broadly, the obvious trend is for Western culture to yield rather than to fight.  (See Mark Steyn’s essays on the irony of “Je Suis Charlie!”  free speech marches followed immediately by arrests–of writers who criticize Islam.) (e.g.,

Perhaps I’m guilty of my own faddism: extrapolating too much from today’s newspaper headlines.  Perhaps I’m reading far too much into a brief note about an ancient culture.  I hope I’m wrong. Even atheists and agnostics should be sorry to see the source of Western civilization weakened.

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