The earliest records of a New Year celebration are from Mesopotamia around 2000 BC. Then about the time of Father Abraham, the new year was heralded not in mid winter, but at the Spring equinox in mid-March. Following these already ancient customs, the first Roman calendar had ten months and also recognized March as the beginning of the year. This is why September, October, November and December have their names: from March they were the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months.
The second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius added January and February to the calender1 and in 153 BC we have the first record of January first being celebrated as New Years’ Day. The change was decreed for civil reasons (the consuls began their term at that time) but many people still recognized March as the start of the year.2
When Julius Caesar replaced the old lunar based calendar3 in 46 BC with a solar calendar,4 he also formally established the beginning of January as New Year’s Day. As the Empire fell and Europe transitioned to the new religion and rule of Christianity, the vestiges of pagan culture were purged. New Years’ Day at the beginning of January was officially eliminated at the Council of Tours5 in 597, and across Europe the start of a new year was celebrated variously at Christmas, Easter or most significantly March 25.
The date of March 25 not only connected with the most ancient celebrations of the new year at the Spring equinox, but in the Christian calendar March 25 is the celebration of the Annunciation–the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would bear a son. The date of March 25 was determined by the Jewish belief that great men were conceived on the same day of the year as their death. Jesus Christ died on March 25, (so the theory goes) which means he was conceived on March 25. Incidentally this is also the origin for the traditional date of Christmas–nine months from March 25.
Medieval Christians understood that the beginning of the life of the Son of God in the Virgin Mary’s womb was the beginning of God’s work among mankind, the restoration and redemption of the world and the beginning of a new creation. It was therefore theologically fitting that March 25 or Ladyday (in honor of the Virgin Mary) should be celebrated as New Years’ Day. And so it was for a thousand years.
Then in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII tinkered with Julius Caesar’s ancient calendar. Because of imprecise calculations, the date of Easter had been drifting and the pope decided it needed fixing. Part of the reform was to re-establish January first as New Years’ Day. Seeing this as papal presumption, the Eastern Orthodox rejected the reform.6 Seeing this as not only papal presumption, but paganism restored, the Protestants also rejected the new Gregorian calendar. The British did not adopt the new calendar until 1752. The Greeks held out until 1923. The monks of Mt Athos still hold on to the Julian calendar.7
What about the fall of Sauron—the nemesis in The Lord of the Rings? J.R.R.Tolkien was very sly in the way he wove Christian symbolism into his epic myth. He records the dates of the great events in the cycle of the ring, and we discover that it is on March 25 that the ring of power is cast into the fires of Mount Doom, and so the destruction of Sauron heralds a new beginning for Middle Earth. Thus Tolkien gives a nod to the medieval Christian tradition that March 25 is the true New Years’ Day.
As you celebrate New Years’ Day remember that for one thousand years the welcoming of a new year was not just a calendar event, but a culturally religious event which linked the renewal of nature with the redemption of the world.
By tradition, Numa promulgated a calendar reform that adjusted the solar and lunar years, introducing the months of January and February (Livy’s History of Rome, 1:19).
The January Kalends came to be celebrated as the new year at some point after it became the day for the inaugurating new consuls in 153 BC. Romans had long dated their years by these consulships, rather than sequentially, and making the kalends of January start the new year aligned this dating.
In AD 567, the Council of Tours formally abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on December 25 in honor of the birth of Jesus; March 1 in the old Roman style; March 25 in honor of Lady Day and the Feast of the Annunciation; and on the movable feast of Easter. These days were also astronomically and astrologically significant since, at the time of the Julian reform, March 25 had been understood as the spring equinox and December 25 as the winter solstice. Medieval calendars nonetheless often continued to display the months running from January to December, despite their readers reckoning the transition from one year to the next on a different day.
Though all the monks on Mt. Athos follow the Old Calendar, there is a divide between those under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (new calendar) and those who adhere to other ecclesiastical jurisdictions not in communion with the churches that follow the new calendar.
NOTE: Archaeology is a science that is viewed cautiously and, in some cases, apprehensively, by more traditional Orthodox Christians. Because Scriptures are viewed as God-inspired and true, anything that contradicts them is usually dismissed as false or demonic. There are varying views in the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. A common view is, “We don’t need western scholars to interpret our Scriptures, we have the God-bearing Fathers.” More generally, there is a circular reasoning argument that exists: When science backs or supports something mentioned in Scriptures or the Fathers, this is used as a proof or validation of orthodoxy. When something contradicts, it is wrong. When it comes to archaeology, if it is a matter of objects dated to the right time period, it is used as validation. If the dating disagrees, then carbon dating methods are criticized as an inaccurate science, or, “The Bible isn’t meant to be read as a scientifically or historically accurate book.” There are also many other “arguments” used–which lack any basis or evidence–to “validate” the inaccuracies contained within Scriptures and the writings of the Orthodox Church Fathers. This article is taken from Live Science, April 09, 2015:
A new piece of evidence is reigniting controversy over the potential bones of Jesus of Nazareth.
A bone box inscribed with the phrase “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” is potentially linked to a tomb in Talpiot, Israel, where the bones of people with the names of Jesus’ family members are buried, according to a new chemical analysis. Aryeh Shimron, the geologist who conducted the study, claims that because it is so unlikely that this group of biblical names would be found together by chance, the new results suggest the tomb once held the bones of Jesus. Historians place Jesus’ birth at some time before 4 B.C. in Nazareth, a small village in Galilee.
“If this is correct, that strengthens the case for the Talpiot or Jesus Family Tomb being indeed the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth,” said Shimron, a retired geologist who has studied several archaeological sites in Israel.
If true, the idea that Jesus was buried on Earth would undermine one of the central tenets of Christianity — that Jesus was physically resurrected and rose bodily to heaven after his crucifixion.
But many historians are skeptical. They say the names on the bone boxes (inside the Talpiot tomb) don’t all match with those of Jesus’ family. In addition, the current research has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the experts say. [See Photos of the Controversial Bone Boxes]
Family of Jesus
In the time of Jesus, people buried the dead initially in a shroud, but once the flesh had rotted away, they often took the remaining bones and collected them in a small limestone box, called an ossuary, said Mark Goodacre, a New Testament and Christian origins scholar at Duke University in North Carolina who was not involved in the current study. [See Images of the Jonah Ossuary]
One of these bone boxes, the James Ossuary, made headlines in 2002, when it was first revealed. The first-century box is inscribed with Aramaic text that translates to “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” If it’s authentic, the ancient artifact could potentially be the only known relic from the family of Jesus of Nazareth.
But in 2003, the Israel Antiquities Authority argued that the “brother of Jesus” text was forged, and the collector, Oded Golan, was later tried for fraud. After seven years, an Israeli judge concluded that Golan was not guilty of forgery, in part because Golan produced a photograph of the box sitting on his shelf in 1976, and would therefore have not had an incentive to forge the inscription many years before he went public with the discovery.
In 1980, another group of researchers unearthed a first-century tomb in Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem. The tomb was flooded with a reddish soil called rendzina, and buried in this soil were 10 boxes, six of which were inscribed with names such as Jesus, Mary, Judah, Joseph and Yose. [Photos: 1st-Century House from Jesus’ Hometown]
The tomb came into the public spotlight with the 2007 documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” written by Israeli journalist and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, and produced by “Titanic” producer James Cameron. In recent years, Jacobovici has put forward the theory that the James Ossuary came from the Talpiot tomb — and that the tomb was the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. But most archaeologists were skeptical of that claim, Goodacre said.
In the new study, Shimron took scrapings from several places on the James Ossuary and the Talpiot tomb ossuaries. He then compared the traces of chemicals — such as aluminum, magnesium, iron and potassium — from those boxes with about 30 to 40 randomly chosen ossuaries collected by the Israel Antiquities Authority. (Some bones were analyzed for DNA but could not be studied thoroughly because they were quickly reburied after excavation, as Jewish law forbids disturbing Jewish burials, Shimron said.)
Shimron found that the chemical signatures from the James Ossuary matched those from the Talpiot bone boxes.
“The flooding of [the] tomb was caused by this earthquake which hit Jerusalem in [A.D.] 363,” Shimron told Live Science. “That soil and mud that flooded the tomb also buried the ossuaries.”
Because both of the boxes contain chemical signatures associated with this soil, the findings suggest the James Ossuary originally came from the Talpiot tomb, Shimron said.
What’s in a name?
If true, the new findings could strengthen the case for the Talpiot tomb containing the bones of Jesus of Nazareth. In this interpretation, after Joseph of Arimathea initially buried Jesus in an empty tomb, his body may have later been laid to rest in this family plot, said James Tabor, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who has worked in the past with Jacobovici, who financed the current research. [8 Alleged Relics of Jesus]
The trouble is proving that the tomb belongs to Jesus of Nazareth and his family, rather than a completely different Jesus. The argument for the former theory rests on statistics — namely, that it would be incredibly unlikely that names associated with Jesus of Nazareth’s family would occur by chance for another unrelated Jesus, according to Jacobovici. Adding in another ossuary with names associated with Jesus — namely, the James Ossuary — would potentially buttress that statistical case.
But many experts say that statistical case doesn’t hold up. For one, almost all the names in the tomb were common at the time. In addition, some of the inscriptions, such as the name for Jesus, are hard to read, said Robert Cargill, a classics and religious studies professor at the University of Iowa in Ames, who was not involved in the study.
What’s more, some of the names found on ossuaries from the tomb have no historical precedent — such as “Judah, son of Jesus.”
“There’s no evidence at all that Jesus had a son at all, let alone a son called Judah,” Goodacre said.
One of the boxes is inscribed with what may be “Mariamne” or, alternatively, “Mary and Mara,” Goodacre added. While Jacobovici argues that the name corresponds to one of Jesus’ followers, Mary Magdalene, early Christians didn’t call Mary Magdalene “Mariamne” — rather, she was just called Mariam or Marya, Goodacre said.
When those inconsistencies are also considered, the statistical case for the names matching those of Jesus’ family falls apart, Cargill said.
Jacobovici disagrees with their interpretation of the statistics.
“The fact is that this tomb has more evidence going for it now than probably any other archaeological artifact on the planet. The names are not common and some of the versions of the names are unique e.g., ‘Yose’ (which corresponds to one of the brothers of Jesus),” Jacobovici said in an email to Live Science.
Debate heats up
Another inconsistency comes in the timing of the discoveries. The James Ossuary was in a collector’s hands by 1976, but the tomb wasn’t discovered until 1980, Cargill said.
The A.D. 363 earthquake opened up the tomb centuries ago, so it’s possible that the box was closer to the entrance of the tomb and was partly visible from the surface, whereas the other boxes were still submerged and hidden. Someone could have seen it and quickly absconded with it, without having discovered the other tombs, Tabor said.
In addition, Tabor argues that, as a Jewish man of his day, Jesus of Nazareth was more likely to be married with kids, rather than celibate. So the mention of Jesus’ son Judah is not problematic for their theory, even if Judah were never mentioned in historical documents, Tabor added.
The new findings are incredibly controversial because they deal with one of the most polarizing figures in history — Jesus of Nazareth. Traditional Christians believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and ascended to heaven after he was crucified and returned to walk on Earth, Tabor said.
“If you find the bones of Jesus, the resurrection is off,” Tabor told Live Science. Conservative Christians “see it as an attack on Christianity and also a refutation of the faith of Christianity.”
But Goodacre and Cargill said theological questions don’t factor into their skepticism. Rather, the real issue is that the scientific standards have not been met, Cargill said.
The story of flagellation is inextricably mixed up with the story of religion. The heads of every religious order existent in ancient days punished severely any breaking of the rules prescribed by their order, whether by the priests, the monks or the nuns associated with it; and the favorite form which this punishment took was that of whipping. The only difference between the judiciary whipping of the vagrants and criminals of the world, and that administered to religious disciples by their superiors, was that while in the one instance it was something to be eluded if at all possible, in the other it was a punishment to be welcomed as a just discipline. So true was this that, as we shall see later, many officials connected with the religious orders inflicted this punishment upon themselves in the form of self-flagellation, as a penance for real or imaginary sins. Especially was this true of the saints and martyrs, with the doings of which the annals of religion are so plentifully besprinkled.
The early historians are in agreement respecting the custom in many lands of whipping worshippers on certain feast days, and all bear out the fact that these worshippers accepted the punishment resignedly, and that in some cases they even appeared to welcome it—a statement well in accord with the fanaticism on the one hand and the submission on the other hand, which were such marked features of the religious zeal with which followers of all early religious cults were plentifully endowed. Plutarch, referring to the customs of the Lacedaemonians, mentions that as the Feast of Flagellations, held once a year, before the altar of Diana, boys were whipped for hours at a stretch. He says “they suffer it with cheerfulness, and even with joy: nay, they strive with each other for victory; and he who bears up the longest time, and has been able to endure the greatest number of stripes, carries the day.” Other writers, notably Mozonius and Cicero, bear out all this, the latter asserting that “I several times heard it said that boys had been whipped to death.”
According to Herodotus, at the festival Isis, held each year at Busiris, thousands of people of both sexes “beat one another,” apparently with an industry which well matched their enthusiasm.
There can be little doubt that in all monasteries and nunneries, from the days of their foundation, flagellation was common, so common indeed as to call for little comment in the writings of the earliest of the chroniclers; but, as early as the year 508 there appears to have been a ruling by Saint Cesarius d’Arles definitely prescribing whipping as the form of punishment for nuns failing to observe the regulations of their order. By the eighth century, however, most of the religious orders issued specific rules respecting offences and their punishment.
There was the rule which the Bishop of Usez, Saint Ferreol, made for the prevention and punishment of theft: “let him be chastised with the whip, and with great rigour too. The same punishment ought to be inflicted upon him as upon a fornicator, since it may be justly suspected that his lewdness has induced him to commit theft.” Somewhat similar was the rule of the Bishop of Braga, Saint Fructuosus, for dealing with a liar or a thief: “That if, after being warned by the elder monks he neglects to mend his manners, he shall, on the third time, be exhorted in the presence of all the brethren, to leave off his bad practices. If he still neglects to reform, let him be flagellated with the utmost severity.” Anything in the way of sexual indulgence was looked upon as an even greater crime than theft and the like, as this same Bishop of Braga’s ruling shows: “If a monk is used to tease boys and young men, or is caught in attempting to give them kisses, or in any other indecent action, and the fact be proved by competent witnesses, let him be publicly whipped.” Even to so much as look at a woman was a dangerous practice for a monk in those early days; to speak to one was enough to earn him a mild whipping at any rate; to be alone with one was punished by two hundred lashes or living “on bread and water for two days.”
Saint Colombanus, Saint Macarius, Saint Benedict, Saint Benoit, Saint Pacome, Saint Aurelian and others, all drew up rules and regulations respecting the punishments to be inflicted for various offences, in some cases stipulating a prescribed number of lashes for the offence in question, in others leaving the severity of the whipping to the discretion of the abbot or superior in charge of the monastery. In addition to the offences already noted, attempts to escape from the monastery, swearing gambling, any indecorous behavior, exhibitions of anger, failure to observe the rules of silence, lewd conversations, immoderate drinking, indulging in noisy conversation or laughter, revealing to outsiders any secrets of the order, and many other piccadilloes, were sufficient to ensure a sound whipping; and any attempts to escape such punishment by the parading of extenuating circumstances or excuses, often merely served to ensure a double dose. In fact here the vindictiveness of the religious leaders showed itself plainly—thus: “If the brothers who have been excommunicated for their faults, persevere so far in their pride as to continue, on the ninth hour of the next day, to refuse to make proper satisfaction to the abbot, let them be confined, even till their death, and lashed with rods.” So literally, indeed, were these orders taken, and so rigorously were they carried out, that it was no uncommon thing for a monk to be whipped to death where he stood, or to die later from the injuries sustained during the chastisement.
In fact, the abuses connected with the administration of the ‘discipline’ caused Cesarius, Bishop of Arles, to remind the abbots and priors that “if the flagellations they inflicted were continued too long upon offenders, so that they died in consequence thereof, they were guilty of homicide.”
Although the Bishop of Arles himself, and certain of his brethren, restricted the number of lashes to that prescribed in the laws of Moses, such restriction was by no means general. According to the author of The History of the Flagellants, not only was “the punishment of flagellation extended to almost every possible offence Monks could commit,” but “the duration of the flagellations was left pretty much to the discretion of the Abbot, either in consequence of the generality of the terms used in the Statutes, or in consequence of some express provision made for that purpose. In the ancient constitutions of the Monastery of Cluny, for instance, which Saint Udalric has collected in one volume, different kinds of offence are mentioned, for the punishment of which it is expressly said, “that the offender shall be lashed as long as the Abbot shall think meet.”
There were two forms of flagellation in use in the monasteries and nunneries, known respectively as the ‘superior discipline’ and the ‘inferior discipline.’ The first named was restricted in its area of application to the upper half of the back and shoulders; the ‘inferior discipline’ was confined to the buttocks and belly. It is worthy of note that the ‘inferior’ form was by far the less dangerous, especially if it was restricted to the fleshy parts of the posterior, well removed from the interior and more vulnerable organs.
The flogging itself was often carried out by the abbot or superior personally, though he had the power of entrusting the work to other hands. The universality of the practice and the anticipation that every monk would be whipped for some offence or other, real or imaginary, are indicated by the custom, in many monasteries, of wearing a special shirt which opened at the back to as to facilitate the uncovering of the lower part of the body in preparation for flagellation. In certain cases the monk to be whipped was compelled to divest himself of all his clothing in preparation for flagellation, which was performed in full view of all the inmates of the monastery. Thus, by order of Pope John XII, a monk named Godescal was publicly whipped, among those present being Bishop Otger and Charles the Bald.
In those days women received little respect, and were looked upon as the property of the men to whom they were given in marriage. It is not to be wondered at therefore that in the convents they were considered to be deserving of no more consideration or respect than were the monks in the monasteries. Flagellation was common in the nunneries, and for the most trivial of offences, such as the conversing about worldy matters, carelessness on the carrying out of their duties, entering the speaking-room without obtaining permission, and the like.
One of the oldest ecclesiastical writers to prescribe the whipping of nuns was Cesarius: “It is just that such as have violated the institutions contained in the rule should receive an adequate discipline; it is fit that in them should be accomplished what the Holy Ghost has in former times prescribed through Solomon.” Saint Benedict similarly says: “If a sister that has been several times admonished, will not mend her conduct, let her be excommunicated for awhile in proportion; if this kind of correction proves useless, let her be chastened by stripes.”
It was the custom in many nunneries for the abbess or superior to undertake the necessary castigation herself, often in a private room, but sometimes in public. In some convents, however, specially selected members of the order were trained in the art of whipping, and in all such cases the punishment was of a more severe character than where an untrained hand administered the discipline. In some cases the sadistic nature of the flogger led to the devising of special whips for adding to the severity of the punishment, in addition to increased skill in the wielding of the scourge. It is said that one such, Jeanne de France, daughter of Louis XI, with fiendish ingenuity, devised a five-spiked silver cross for attaching to the whip, resulting in each stroke inflicting five terrible wounds.
Sometimes the flagellation, as in the case of the monks, was not looked upon as a punishment at all, but as a pleasure, giving rise to hallucinations, sexual ecstasy and masochistic love of God. Thus the Carmelite nun, Maria Magdalena of Pazzi, who lived in Florence towards the close of the 16th century, found pleasure in being publicly whipped on her naked buttocks. On one occasion she cried: “Enough! Fan no longer the flame that consumes me: this is not the death I long for; it comes with all too much pleasure and delight.” Another similar case was that of Elizabeth of Genton, who, during the flagellation for which she craved, would cry: “O Love, O eternal Love, O Love, O you creatures! Cry out with me: Love, Love!” [See Kraft-Ebing, Psychopathia, Sexualis, English adaptation of the 12th German edition, p. 36 ]. In these, and similar instances, much of the pleasure experienced was undoubtedly due to stimulation of the gluteal glands in individuals whose sexual repressions were of such a nature as to induce pathological conditions. The part which flagellation plays in sex will, however, be made clear in a subsequent chapter.
Not always was the whipping of the nuns carried out by their own sex. It was no unusual thing for the priests of the order to handle the thong themselves, and it was in such instances that so very often there entered into it the sexual element to which I have referred.
Nuns used the whip on the buttocks of the monks; and in turn the monks flagellated the nuns. It was indeed a merry and a libidinous game.
The Jesuits in particular were addicted to whipping. Ignatius Loyola, who founded the order, used the whip himself, and, if historical records are anything to go by, he used it to some tune too. Peter Gerson, not content with flagellating those who came to receive the discipline in the ordinary way, according to Cooper, “fell upon the country girls at work in the fields and flagellated them” [See William M. Cooper, A History of the Rod, 1868, p. 97].
A peculiar form of flagellation, known as grave-whipping, is referred to by a correspondent in Notes and Queries (March 13, 1852):
“Excommunicated persons were formerly restored to the Church, according to the old Rituale Romanum, by the ceremony of whipping their graves. When it was resolved the dead party should be restored to the communion of saints, it was ordered that the body should not be disentombed, but that the ‘graves shall be whipped, and while the priest whip the grave, he shall say, “By the authority which I have received I free thee from the bond of excommunication, and restore thee to the communion of the faithful.”’”