Archive for September, 2016

Oldest Known Copy of Leviticus Discovered

September 22, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Ancient by

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/60785bb2031a478cb71ce9278782c320/scanning-software-deciphers-ancient-biblical-scroll

One Soldier’s Experience of the Battle of Camden

September 22, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in War for Independence by

The Battle of Camden

The Battle of Camden

On April day in 1851, an old man walked into the office of the justice of the peace in Talladega County, Alabama. He was there to tell the tale of his service many years before in the War for Independence, so that he could file for a pension. His story began as a sickly young man of 17, going off with his uncle to fight with the Patriot militia:

[I] was first taken to the wars by my uncle John Brewer. I went with him to gratify curiosity, and went with him wherever he went. I went with him to a place called the Pine Tree, on Catawba River in South Carolina, but soon after and ever since called Camden. I arrived there about 3 weeks before Gates defeat, and was ignorant of the way people done in the wars, but they gave me a gun and I mustered with them, answered to my name and obeyed orders. Soon there was preparations making among them for a battle, and in about 3 weeks from the time I arrived there the Battle came on….

The Battle of Camden transpired after the Patriots under Horatio Gates ran into the British under Lord Cornwallis during a night while each was marching to surprise the other. The militia behaved badly in the battle. Gates made no accommodation for their known unreliability. When the British changed bayonets, they were struck with a panic. They turned and fled the field, many without firing a shot.

[T]he clash of arms and the struggle of death took place, in which our people were defeated many of them slain, but many more ran, and I am sorry to have to say of my uncle John (peace to his ashes) that he ran, and I was induced to run to because Uncle John ran. Uncle John Howell and I were both taken prisoners & after serving in the sepulcher of the dead, we were turned at liberty.

By “the sepulcher of the dead” he most likely means a prison ship. On the British prison ships, the American POWs were kept in very cruel conditions. Thousands died.

This trying experience did not end Brewer’s military career. He fought at the Battle of Guilford Court House, and was badly wounded in the back the Battle of Lindley’s Mill in North Carolina. After the war he volunteered to fight the Creek and Seminole Indians, serving as a spy. When the War of 1812 came along, he joined a company called the Silver Grays, “old gray headed men who still felt Patriotic, and determined to show that if the Country needed them they were ready, also to excite younger persons.” But they didn’t see enough action for his tastes, so he found a job as a wagoner for the army, driving all over Indian country between the armies forts. By 1851 he had raised nine children, the youngest being 37. After a long and full life he declared, “[I] still live, for which I thank my Maker with an overflowing heart.”

Drawn from Isaac Brewer’s Pension Record. We have changed his pronouns and wording better readability. 

 

How the South Tried to Get Delaware to Seceede

September 21, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

http://www.thiscruelwar.com/the-failure-of-the-south-to-convince-delaware-to-secede/

Methods and Science of Civil War Photography

September 21, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War, Weekly Video by

We talk with photographer Rob Gibson about the different types of Civil War photography, and the art and science behind them. Tintypes, daguerreotypes, albumen prints, and more!

Biblical History in the British Museum

September 19, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Ancient by

The British Museum in London contains many of the most amazing artifacts ever discovered. It was here that Britons, and their armies, sent the prizes that they discovered in their travels around the world. In this article, we’ll examine some of the fascinating ancient artifacts that relate to the history contained in the Bible.

 

The Flood

 

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The Epic of Gilgamesh

This tablet was discovered in 1872 by George Smith, and while it is dated around 650 B.C. it is only a copy of a much older original. It is considered by many to be the most famous of all cuneiform tablets deciphered to this date. It tells the story of Gilgamesh, who is seeking immortality. In this story, Gilgamesh meets the hero – Utnapishtim – who gained immortality by surviving a great flood. The similarities between this legend and the Biblical account of the flood are striking. Utnapishtim tells how the god Ea commanded him to build a great boat on which he was to bring his family and representatives of all other living creatures to save them from the flood. They alone survived – everything else perished in the terrible deluge. At the end of the flood, Utnapishtim sent out a dove, swallow, and raven, and the raven does not return. He, his family, and all the animals leave the boat on Mount Nisir and he offered sacrifices to the gods.

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The Epic of Atrahasis

The Epic of Atrahasis is another example of the many flood legends that can be found among the ancient documents of the world. This tablet dates to around 1635 B. C. – after the time of Abraham. In this story, the reason for the flood was that mankind was giving the god Enil a headache… The hero Atrahasis is warned of the flood in advance and escapes with his family and the animals on a boat. Like Utnapishtim, he too offers sacrifices after leaving the boat.

There are over two hundred different cultures which recount a story of the flood – showing the universality of this account. But when we look at these legends which have been handed down over generations, we see a great difference between them and the account in Genesis. They were written down in story telling form, with added embellishments, and in a fantastical style. There is no significance, no compelling message in these stories, but in the Word of God, the account of the flood is actually foundational to the rest of history. It teaches of man’s sin, of God’s hatred and judgement of it, and also of His mercy and faithfulness. It is of great theological import, and significantly affects the way we live today. It is the true historical record, inspired by God himself – and we can wholly rely on its veracity.

 

Sodom and Gomorrah

 

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Pottery from Sodom

This collection of pottery was excavated from a tomb in the archaeological site of Bab edh-Dra, which is believed by some to be none other than the city of Sodom (referred to multiple times in Genesis, the destruction being documented in chapter 19.) Bab edh-Dra and Numeira are the only known inhabited towns in the region of the Dead Sea between ca. 3300 and 900 B. C. Both show evidence of destruction by fire, and the similarity in the pottery found there indicates that they met their end at around the same time. Numeira was never again reoccupied, and while there was a short occupation at Bab edu-dra not long after its fall, it was almost exclusively outside the fortifications of the destroyed town. After this, both cities were permanently abandoned. When they were studied at first, it seemed that the destruction had been caused by a volcanic eruption. But when geologist Frederick G. Clapp came to investigate, he found no evidence of lava or ash eruptions occurring within the last 4000 years. he concluded that combustible materials from the earth were the cause of the destruction. He found bitumen, petroleum, natural gas, and sulfur (Genesis 19:23).

Bad edh-Dra is the larger of the two sites – the fortified area is estimated at having been 9 – 10 acres large. Most likely this was the more famous and prosperous city of Sodom. The site is badly eroded, but enough evidence remains in several areas to show the terrible disaster. The northeast gate of Bab edh-Dra was clearly destroyed by fire – indicated by charcoal, broken and fallen bricks, and areas of ash. The city walls were fallen, apparently after being burned by a large conflagration. The evidence of a fiery end is even more clearly seen at Numeira, as the site is better preserved. A thick layer of burnt debris was found in almost every area that was excavated. There was a great collapse of walls and structures throughout the city and a large amount of carbonized materials. Both of the cities are located on a fault line, and both show evidence of an earthquake being part of the destruction. A possible explanation for the destruction of the cities is that the pressure from the earthquake caused the underground flammable products of the land to be forced up through the fault lines, ignited and then rained down upon the cities. It is exciting to see both archaeological and geological evidence that corresponds with the Biblical account in Genesis, but truly the Bible needs no evidence to prove it. It stands on its own as the infallible Word of God – and He is the ultimate authority.

 

Conquest of Canaan

 

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El- Amarna Letters

These are some of the Amarna letters, a large group of letters sent to Amenhotep III and IV in the declining years of Egypt, from various subject-rulers in Canaan. A significant number of these letters are the rulers asking for protection and complaining about the growing strength of nomadic groups, including the Hapiru people. There are letters of from Urusalim – Jerusalem – pleading for help, telling how the Hapiru are invading, and the king’s land is being lost. For those who follow the stricter interpretation of the Biblical timeline, these letters date from around the time of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. Could the Hapiru be the Hebrews? It seems quite possible that is the case.

 

Shalmaneser III

 

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Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

This black limestone obelisk recounts the victories of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. Part of it describes the defeat of Ben-Hadad and Hazel (2 Kings 8:7-15) and shows rulers of the subdued nations bringing tribute before their conqueror. In the second row of the obelisk (shown below) there is a kneeling figure in Israelite clothing, with the inscription of “Tribute of Yaua, son of Humri: I received silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with a pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king, spears.”

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Tribute of Yaua, son of Humri

Yama, son of Humri is most likely Jehu, king of Israel. While Jehu (2 Kings 9) is not the son, nor technically a descendant, of Omri, he was fourth in line from King Omri. Also, Assyrians often referred to Israel as either mat-Humri (land of Omri) or bit-humeri (house of Omri). It is very likely that the kneeling figure in the carving is Jehu himself. It seems that Jehu attempted to buy the protection of Shalmaneser by paying him homage. This is considered to be the first known depiction of an Israelite King.

 

Tiglath Pileser III

 

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Conquest of Tiglath Pileser III

This wall relief depicts Israelite captives being led into exile after the defeat of the Northern Kingdom in 732 B.C. by Tiglath Pileser III. He is also known as Pul (2 Kings 15:19) and is depicted here in his chariot. He claimed to have dethroned the Pekah king of Israel, and replaced him with Hosea (2 Kings 15:29-30). Probably to avoid anything like that happening to him, Ahaz, King of Judah sent tribute to him and became his vassal (2 Kings 16:7-10).

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The Israelite Prisoners

 

Sennacherib & Hezekiah

 

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Siege of Lacish Wall Relief

This room houses the wall relief of the siege of Lacish. It was the first archaeological confirmation of an event in the Bible. It is significant that these reliefs adorned the walls of Sennacherib’s victory room in his palace, and not the siege of Jerusalem, which would have been a more significant conquest, had he been victorious. You can take a 3D walkthrough of this room on Google Street View to examine the reliefs in greater detail.

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Scaling the Walls

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Captives Being Led Away

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Sennacherib Receiving Tribute

The huge, detailed wall relief is fascinating to study, it has been deemed the finest portrayal of ancient siege warfare. It is amazing how intricate and precise the mural is – from the grapes and figs on the trees, indicating the conquest was during summer, to the firemen with water ladles accompanying the siege engines.

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Tribute of Hezekiah

This is part of an inscription under the pair of large statues which flanked the entrance to the throne room in Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh. It is the most detailed surviving account of the tribute Hezekiah sent to Assyria after Sennacherib’s campaign in Palestine. One other interesting thing about this mural, is that it is blackened. In the book of Nahum (1:10, 2:13, 3:13-15) there is a prophesy against Nineveh, that it would be destroyed by fire and water, because of its apostasy. In another artifact (not on display) called the Babylonian Chronicle, we hear of the Babylonian conquest of Nineveh in 612 B.C.  They first set fire to the palace, and then opened up the Khoser river and flooded it.

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The Taylor Prism

This inscription describes Sennacherib’s conquest of Babylon and of Judah. In it, he boasts about how his army surrounded Jerusalem all around, and yet fails to explicitly speak of its fall. The capture of the capital city of a kingdom would surely receive a detailed description… However we know from the accounts in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah, that Sennecharib’s army actually suffered a humiliating defeat at Jerusalem, not at the hands of the Israelites, but by the supernatural working of God Himself. The Taylor Prism also references King Hezekiah.

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Tomb of Shebna

This lintel is from a rock cut tomb near the city of Jerusalem. It was carved from limestone, and is much damaged, but the inscription is still readable – “This is … [the tomb of Shebna] …iah, the royal steward. There is no silver or gold here, only … [his bones] … and the bones of his maidservant with him. Cursed be the man who opens this.” Shebna was the steward of Hezekiah and is directly spoken to, in Isaiah 22:15-25. He is condemned for carving out a resting place for himself in the rock – and told that he will be replaced by one who cares for the people and not himself. It seems that his desire to be left undisturbed was not fulfilled.

 

Nebo-Sarsekim

 

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The Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet

This administrative Babylonian tablet lists the name of officer Nebo-Sarsekim who is mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3. According to Jeremiah, this Babylonian official was at the siege of Jerusalem in 587 B. C. with Nebuchadnezzar II.

 

Belshazzar

 

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Nabonidus Tablet

This is yet another administrative Babylonian tablet – from the reign of King Nabonidus. It also mentions his son Bel-sharra-utsur – who is none other than Belshazzar, the last of the Kings of Babylon. It is dated to the 24th day of Kislimu in the 11th year of the reign of Nabonidus.

 

Cyrus the Great

 

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The Cyrus Cylinder

Before the discovery of the Cyrus Cylinder, the accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah speaking of Cyrus allowing the Hebrew exiles to return to Jerusalem, were doubted. It seemed highly unlikely that an allowance for a captive people to leave his kingdom, return to their own, and rebuild their temple would be made by the great king of Persia. However, the Cyrus Cylinder silenced the doubters by proclaiming precisely that.

 

Darius I

 

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The Seal of Darius

This ornate panel came from the palace at Susa of Darius I, it depicts a guard on duty. Darius is referred to multiple times in the Prophetic books of the Old Testament. Some references are Ezra 4:5, 5:6-7, 6:1 Nehemiah 1:22, Haggai 1:1, Zechariah 1:1, Daniel  5:31, 9:1, 11:1. He was used by the Lord to rebuild he city of Jerusalem – allowing Ezra to return and repair the ruins with a large number of Israelites. His son was Ahasuerus – the king who married Esther. This panel would most likely have been seen by Esther and Nehemiah – as they both lived in the palace at Susa. It gives us an idea of how the royal guards in Esther 2:2 could have been dressed.

 

Xerxes I

 

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Inscription at Persepolis

This is a fragment of a limestone relief from the audience hall in the palace of Persepolis. It is an inscription in honor of Xerxes – claiming he is the one king over many kings, established by the creator god Ahuramazda. Xerxes is identified as Ahasuerus – the king who made Esther his queen, thus enabling her to save the Jews from destruction.

 

Artaxerxes I

 

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Silver Drinking Bowl

The inscription on the edge of this bowl, states that it was made for Artaxerxes. It had a special design – when filled up to the shoulder, it could be balanced on one hand. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to Artaxerxes I, and it is possible he handled this very bowl while in service to the king.

 

New Testament

 

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Vardar Gate Inscription

Before the discovery of this large stone inscription, the Greek word πολιτάρχης was only found in Acts 17:6-9. The fact that this word for official had not been seen in other writings, was used to discredit the authenticity of the Bible. But in 1876, this slab from Thessalonica was discovered to have the same word written on it, and the critics were silenced.

 

Conquest of Jerusalem

 

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Vespasian and Titus

These two statues are of Vespasian and Titus, the father son pair who also became Roman emperors. Some perspectives on the book of Revelation hold that many of its prophecies refer to the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 AD. Vespasian and Titus were the Roman generals who captured the city.

 

Further Reading

The Discovery of the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah
British Museum Tour PDF
Through the British Museum with the Bible by Brian H. Edwards and Clive Anderson

Rediscovering the Stories of Runaway Slaves in the Great Dismal Swamp

September 16, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in American Other by

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/deep-swamps-archaeologists-fugitive-slaves-kept-freedom-180960122/?no-ist

Telemachus: One Man Empties the Roman Coliseum 

September 15, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Ancient by

The Coliseum

Today, the visitor to the city of Rome can visit the ancient Coliseum.  The mere sight of the gigantic structure is enough to cast a chill upon the stoutest heart.  Its massive structure fills the sky, but the skeleton that exists today is only a shadow of what the ancient Coliseum was in its days of glory, or perhaps we should call it the days of shame.  Every visitor to the spot should pause and ponder that open area of ground in the center of the arena, for the blood of many martyrs hallows that small bit of ground.  The soil of that sacred spot must be very rich indeed, for much blood has drained into that sand over several centuries.

The Coliseum was known all over the world as the center and climax of Roman entertainment.  The Roman masses had an insatiable appetite for observing bloodshed.  Gladiatorial games were held there in the arena.  Gladiators would be trained for years to the height of physical strength.  Then, on the climactic day, they would march out into the arena, stripped naked to the waist.  They would be armed with their favorite weapons and would march to the box where the Caesar sat.  Lifting their swords or battle axes or spears to the skies, they would chant, “Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant!”  “Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!”

Then the ferocious combats would begin.  When one of the gladiators had wounded his adversary severely and the wounded man was lying helplessly on the ground, the triumphant gladiator would look up at the faces in the crowd, and he would shout, “Hoc habet!” “He has it.”

The crowd would then express their will.  If they gave the sign of thumbs up, the wounded gladiator would be dragged bleeding from the arena, to recover if possible.  If the sign of thumbs down was given, however, the victorious gladiator would lift his weapon to give the final stroke.  The crowd would shout in delight, “Recipe ferrum!” “Receive the steel!”  The lifeless form would soon lie on the sand, another victim to Roman butchery.  Thus the games continued, century after century.  Victorious gladiators became folk heroes, the Roman version of superstars or sports heroes.

But these gladiatorial games were not the worst aspect of the Coliseum, for here, pious Christians were slain by the droves.  Wild beasts such as lions, tigers, leopards, and bears were kept in pits till they were crazed with hunger.  Then they were released upon Christians—boys and girls, old men and matrons, it mattered not.  All were made to feel the pain.  Sometimes Christians were soaked in oil then lit on fire as if they were living torches.  Men and women were torn with iron hooks, grilled on irons, sawed asunder, and placed in boiling pots of oil.  Other things too horrible to even speak of were practiced upon pious young ladies.  Yet even small children met these tortures with fixed resolution, and many times, the song of hymns would waft up from the blood-soaked floor of the Coliseum, the joyful song of human voices rising above even the roar of lions as the souls of the slain, one by one, rose from the arena to ascend to their Saviour and King Who, as He had done to receive Stephen, advanced to the portals of heaven to meet His martyrs.  Roman ingenuity knew no bounds, and every imaginable form of torture, mayhem, and brutal lust was practiced upon the pious Christians of the first through the fourth centuries.

Martyrs at the Coliseum

One day, however, at the height of the gladiatorial games, during a celebration of the Roman victory over the Goths about A. D. 370, a lone figure interrupted the proceedings.  Without warning, a rough and weather-beaten man jumped over the wall and into the arena.  Shouts of excitement over the combat gave way to a profound silence, as all eyes turned from the gladiators to look at the lone figure.

He was covered with a mantle.  He had come all the way from Asia to Rome.  He was a Christian.  He had heard about these barbaric entertainments, and, by the grace of God, he intended to stop them.  He had shoved his way to the edge of the arena and jumped into the midst where every eye could see him. He advanced to the two gladiators who were engaged in mortal combat.  Interposing himself between the combatants, he faced the crowd.  Fearlessly, this hero raised his voice.  “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I command these wicked games to cease.  Do not requite God’s mercy by shedding innocent blood.”

A shout of defiance met the voice of our hero.  Pieces of fruit, stones, daggers, and other missiles were hurled down from the stands.  One of the gladiators, expecting the applause of the crowd, stepped forward and rammed his battle axe into the skull of the man who had dared interfere with Rome’s favorite entertainment. As the hero sunk lifeless to the ground, the angry cries of the crowd died away into a profound silence in the arena.  As the life’s blood of this new martyr joined the blood of the thousands who had bled there before him, the crowd suddenly faced a courage that was greater than the strongest gladiator. The work of this Christian was accomplished.  His name was Telemachus.  From the hour of his martyrdom, the gladiatorial games ceased.  According to John Foxe, in his famous book of martyrs, “From the day Telemachus fell dead in the Coliseum, no other fight of gladiators was ever held there.” Such was the legacy of a man who dared to jump over a wall and declare that an aspect of popular cultural entertainment was ungodly and unlawful.

Telemachus

Telemachus Confronts the Gladiators

How many pagan entertainments and even supposed “Christian” substitutes of our day await such a display of boldness?  It is interesting that Telemachus did not suggest a “Christian” gladiatorial contest to be staged in the Coliseum.  It is remarkable that he did not advertise a “Christian play” to be performed down the street as an alternative to the impure productions in the Roman theatre.  He did not try to innovate some new strategy to appease the circus-loving crowds of Rome.  He did not try to invent a “Christian version” of the circus.  God had ordained to save the unbeliever by the foolishness of preaching, not by the clever drama of the stage or the entertainment of the circus.

Telemachus believed, in his generation, that the Bible was sufficient for all faith and practice, that God had ordained preaching as His sole mandated method, and that the way to take dominion over some things was to destroy them and not to attempt to make a “Christian” substitute. The dominion of Christ must be in terms of His law, and He will not have in that dominion anything foreign to that law.  Thus, the dominion mandate is lawfully extended over only those institutions that are themselves lawful.  Telemachus called for the end of the games, not for the re-Christianizing of them.  There could not be a “Christian” circus or a “Christian” theatre or a “Christian” gymnasium. This was affirmed by such men as William Farel, John Calvin, and Robert Lewis Dabney who, following the example of Telemachus, wrote in their own generations against the fallacious notions of “Christian theater,” “Christian dancing,” and “Christian novels.”  Sadly today, many Christians are trying to Christianize their own interests and pleasures in the name of “dominion” when, at the core, the institutions they seek to take dominion over are not authorized in the Word of God as legitimate means by which to advance Christ’s Kingdom.

For this truth, Telemachus was willing to jump over the wall and shed his very life’s blood.  He had the boldness to command, in the name of Jesus Christ, that the gladiatorial games cease, and by the grace of God, they did cease.  Today, the Coliseum stands in ruins while the Church of Jesus Christ continues to advance.  But we must not rest upon the laurels of “mighty men” of the past such as Telemachus or Farel or Dabney.  Today, in our generation, there are things in our culture, things that are considered culturally acceptable by many sincere Christians, that await the steadfast courage of a Telemachus.

Bibliography:

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe
Discussions by R. L. Dabney, vol. 2

Franklin’s Lost Ship, the HMS Terror Found

September 14, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Exploration by

The wreck of the terror from the Arctic Research Foundation.

The wreck of the terror from the Arctic Research Foundation.

The loss of Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage was one of the worst disasters in polar exploration. Many expeditions were sent to look for it, but they were all unsuccessful. Two years ago Canadians found the wreck of the HMS Erebus, and now Franklin’s second ship, the HMS Terror, has been found. Six years ago a group of snowmobiliers found the mast sticking out of the ice, but they lost the camera with photo evidence and only recently reported the find. Read more about the discovery here.

What a Revolutionary War Battle was Like

September 14, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in War for Independence by

It can be difficult for anyone, especially for a civilian who has never heard a shot fired in anger, to imagine what a battle of the American Revolution would have been like. Billowing clouds of smoke, a thundering cacophony of sound, adrenaline coursing through your body, and many other factors combined to produce events that may never be seen or felt again, In his book on the Battle of Cowpens, historian Lawrence Babits gives an admirable description of some of the things that soldiers would have been experiencing.

In combat, distances seem foreshortened. When a person is in desperate straits, time seems to slow down; action seems to occur in slow motion. … [T]he musketeer, under the eyes of watchful sergeants, mechanically follows the manual of exercise that will guarantee his survival. During loading and firing, soldiers noticed little increments of their task. The dry taste of black powder and waxed paper cartridges was one step. Then, a rattle of ramrods in the barrels as new charges of buck and ball were forced home against the breech plug with a distinctive ping. Platoon and division volleys crashed with bright yellow flashes from pan and barrel…. The blast of noise and light was so dramatic a soldier could not tell if his own musket fired. … The acrid smell of burnt powder, greasy black smears on the hand and face from ramrods grown slick with sweat and powder residue, and cut thumbs from mishandling the musket’s cock added to individual perceptions of the fight. There was a disconcerting whiz of balls going overhead, thwacking against trees, thudding into the ground, or the awful thunk of lead striking flesh and bone. A growing undertone of groans was punctuated by shrill screams of the wounded. Cutting across these distractions came the commands as officers called out, “Prime and load!; Shoulder; Make Ready; Take Aim!; Fire!” and then repeated the cycle.1

1. A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens by Lawrence Babits (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998) p. 103-104

James Thornwell: Our Danger and Our Duty

September 12, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in American Other by

A sickly boy made his way slowly through the streets of Columbia, South Carolina. Few would have predicted any kind of future for him. He was short and thin. His eyes were half-obscured by heavy lids that drooped noticeably. His skin was a sickly yellowish color. Everyone believed that he would die young. Some people jokingly said that he looked to be “twenty years old” when he was born. Young James had what was called “consumption” in the early 1800s, a wasting disease we now call tuberculosis. Sometimes he would cough up blood as he sat up late at night poring over his books.

Few would predict that this sickly boy would one day become a mighty champion of truth. His pen would deal blows against rationalism, Unitarianism, abolitionism, communism, statism, and every other error that dared threaten the truth he loved so dearly. But all of this was not yet. A small twenty-five-cent book he would buy in a small bookshop would change the course of this boy’s destiny.

James had become an orphan at the tender age of eight. A kind planter, out of respect to the boy’s parents, had decided to fund his education. James had come from his small rural village on the Pedee River to be educated at Columbia College. One thing soon became clear. Behind those droopy eyelids were eyes that glowed with an earnest search for truth. All that James read, he remembered. And he had read much.

South Carolina College in Columbia

James was considered to be the most brilliant student at Columbia College, and could quote the ancient Greek poets in the original with ease. He was also skilled in debate, in philosophy, and in English literature. However, in spite of all his learning, the boy was empty. His pious mother had committed him long ago to God, but he had been raised by an intellectual patron, and reason had gradually pushed out faith.

But one evening in Columbia, the hand of God drew young James to a bookstore. A twenty-five cent book caught his eye. It was simply titled “Confession of Faith.” The boy carried it back to his small room. It is needless to say that the book was the “Westminster Confession.” James was riveted by its contents. The hours of the night slipped by. James opened his Bible, eagerly looking up every Scripture that the Confession referenced. After long hours of study, the light of dawn began to dispel the darkness of night. Just as surely, the Light of Divine Revelation had dispelled the darkness of human reason.

James Henley Thornwell was a changed man from that moment forward. Brilliant prospects were offered to the promising student. Positions as a professor in philosophy, opportunities in law, business, and politics were all offered and rejected. Thornwell set his course for the Gospel ministry. Turning from Aristotle and Plato as philosophers, he fixed his eyes upon Christ, the fountain of true wisdom. Abandoning Locke as a teacher of natural law, he took up Moses as the source of revealed law. Thornwell would later write:

The speculations of Aristotle break down just where a higher light was needed to guide him. He tracked truth through the court and sanctuary to the mystic veil which he was not permitted to lift. . . A single line of Moses would have saved a world of perplexity.”

Thornwell laid aside prospects of brilliant advancement to take a humble pastorate in an obscure town in rural South Carolina. There he met and married the daughter of one of his church members, and Nancy Witherspoon truly proved the truth of the verse, “a prudent wife is from the Lord.” The Thornwells raised seven children to love and serve Christ.

Thornwell

Thornwell’s faithful preaching and fidelity to the truth soon led to other assignments. He became pastor of the Presbyterian church in Columbia, where he wielded a powerful influence over both church and state. He eventually became the president of the very college where he had once stumbled blindly after truth. At the helm of Columbia College and later the Seminary, he endeavored to point every young man under his influence to the rock of eternal truth.

As his friends predicted, Thornwell did not live a long life. He never reached the age of fifty. But in thirty years of ministry, he became a valiant and uncompromising champion of truth. He became a champion for many causes that were then and still now are unpopular. We will briefly discuss some of the positions that Thornwell took. He was a gracious but polemic writer and was not afraid to attack some cherished opinions.

Thornwell argued that seminary boards were not authorized in the Word of God. In a sharp but gentlemanly debate, he argued with Dr. Charles Hodge of Princeton that the education of ministers should be directly under church authority. He said, “I believe that the Boards will eventually prove our masters unless they are crushed in their infancy.”

Thornwell openly asserted that dancing was a shameful and licentious practice and that Christians should never be seen on a dancing floor. He said,

Just think of dancing soberly, and at the least, it cannot but appear ridiculous. And yet, like most follies, it is fatally contagious; and men freely engage in it without being aware of its enormity. It is an insult to God.

Thornwell saw the danger of German rationalism. Even while Princeton was accepting some of the tenants of higher criticism, Thornwell warned:

I am sorry to see that rationalism is making such progress in this country. If God spares my life, I intend to deal some harder blows than I have yet done . . . Upon the subject of the inspiration of the Scriptures and the authority of the Bible, we shall have some desperate battles to fight with false brethren before the enemy is subdued.

Thornwell argued that the War Between the States would radically change this country, and that the struggle was a desperate battle for orthodoxy in the church and order in the state.

The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders—they are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins on the one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground—Christianity and atheism the combatants, and the progress of humanity at stake.

Thornwell died in 1862 and, like the prophet Isaiah, never lived to see the grim realities of his warning. He wrote a pamphlet which he called “Our Danger and Our Duty.” The danger he feared was much more pernicious than the external invasion of enemy troops, and the duty he advocated was much more sweeping than even the bravest and most heroic armed resistance. Thornwell warned that only a return to the law of God would bring success to any people.

Thornwell suggested that the following amendment be presented to the Confederate Congress. It never was. Oh to God that some nation on this earth would take up these words and make them a glorious reality:

We the people of the Confederate States, distinctly acknowledge our responsibility to God and the supremacy of His Son, Jesus Christ, as King of kings and Lord of lords; and hereby ordain that no law shall be passed by the Congress of these Confederate States inconsistent with the will of God, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.

Bibliography

The Life and Letters of J. H. Thornwell by B. M. Palmer
Preachers With Power by Douglas Kelly
Lectures on the South by Joe Morecraft
Our Danger and Our Duty by J. H. Thornwell

How Charles Pinckney Honored His Father

September 10, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in News, War for Independence by

If you visit the home of Charles Pinckney, you will find no monument commemorating his achievements as signer of the Constitution and governor of South Carolina. But in he peaceful grounds of his country estate you may find a stone he raised in tribute to his own father – also Charles Pinckney – three years after his death. On it, he inscribed the words of Thomas Gray, including the following:
What is grandeur, what is power?
Heavier toil, superior pain!
What the bright reward we gain?
The grateful mem’ry of the good.

Governor Aiken’s Bookcases 

September 10, 2016 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War, News by

Bookcases in the the library of Aiken, the 19th century governor of South Carolina.