The name Pontius Pilate provides two valuable clues to his background and ancestry. The family name, Pontius, was that of a prominent clan among the Samnites, hill cousins of the Latin Romans. They had almost conquered Rome in several fierce wars. The Pontii were of noble blood, but when Rome finally absorbed the Samnites, their aristocracy was demoted to the Roman equestrian or middle-class order, rather than the higher senatorial order. It is Pilate’s personal name Pilatus that proves almost conclusively that he was of Samnite origin.
Pilatus means “armed-with-a-javelin.” The pilum or javelin was six feet long, half wooden and half pointed iron shaft, which the Samnite mountaineers hurled at their enemies with devastating results. It’s hardened iron tip could pierce shields and body armor. The Romans quickly copied it, and it was this pilum in fact, during the Late Republican period that made the Roman Empire possible.
What was the historical climate of Easter Week almost 2,000 years ago surrounding the last week of the life of Jesus of Nazareth? This was a man born to die, not just in the normal sense, but in some special sense. Jesus entered Jerusalem amidst a torrent of turbulence: religious, political, military, social, and economic.
The events in Palestine at that time are rarely linked to the larger context which controlled the province: the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the culmination of Jesus’ career was a tale of two cities – both Jerusalem and Rome. In this series on Easter we’ll discuss:
- Palm Sunday: what was the climate of the city when Jesus entered?
- The Trial: what took place during the trials, what laws were involved?
- The Crucifixion: what was involved on Good Friday?
- The Resurrection: what do we know about it?
HISTORY OF PANDEMICS
Our generation, at least in the U.S., has never seen anything like Coronavirus. But previous generations have.
Throughout most of recorded history, untreatable disease on either a local or global basis has been part of the human condition for every generation. But our generation has been spared from pandemics for the most part. So pandemics are not part of our collective cultural consciousness.
- If you’re under 65, you’ve not been faced with the curse of polio, because a vaccine became available in the 1950s.
- If you’re under 50, you would not have seen the devastation of mumps or measles. U.S. cases alone numbered in the hundreds of thousands until vaccines became available in the early 1960s. Rubella, sometimes known as German measles, was particularly dangerous to pregnant women and could cause congenital birth defects or neonatal deaths. Now, mumps, measles, and rubella are treatable with a single vaccination.
- If you’re under 40, Small Pox is a thing of the past, with vaccination campaigns eliminating it in 1979.
First, let’s start with some general definitions about the Coronavirus:
SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus.
COVID-19 the name of the disease caused by the virus. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified this new disease as a pandemic.
Epidemic: The Greek roots epi+demos refers to “upon” “people” or a disease visited upon a people or population, typically in a region or local community. Informally, it means a disease that quickly and temporarily spreads.
Pandemic: Generally, a pandemic is an epidemic that is prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the globe. Pan+demos means “all” “people” or belonging to all the people. The WHO uses the term more specifically in a public health sense to refer to a disease that has increased and sustained infectious transmission across international borders to multiple continents that may have been carried initially by a traveler from the original community, but now has a secondary wave of infection from person to person in the new communities.
Pandemics come from epidemics, but not all epidemics become pandemics. There are widespread diseases, like Cancer, but it is not considered infectious, so it is not considered either epidemic or pandemic. (more…)
HISTORY OF THE SPRING
In Colorado we have a saying, we begin the first day of Spring in the same way we began the Fall: with snow. This symmetry is relevant as both the beginning of Spring and Fall coincide with the Equinox. This word is made up of two Latin root words aequus and nox meaning “equal night” referring to the fact that daylight and night time are equal in duration.
This year, the vernal equinox (Spring) occurs on March 20 at 9:58 pm UTC. This means Temps Universel Coordonne, or Coordinated Universal Time if you don’t speak French, roughly equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time if you’re British, or Zulu Time if you’re a pilot. The Autumnal Equinox occurs 6 months later. Since each equinox occurs at the same time whether in the northern hemisphere as the southern hemisphere, though the seasons are reversed, it is becoming common to call the (northern) vernal equinox the March Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox the September Equinox.
HISTORY OF ST. PATRICK’S DAY
Although much of the life of the patron saint and Apostle of Ireland is shrouded in legend, St. Patrick was probably born around the year AD 389. Stories are told of the many contests Patrick had with Druids, pagans, and polytheists, as well as the well known but unlikely story of him driving the snakes from Ireland. More on that later. What we do know about him comes from his memoir, Confessio, which he wrote near the end of his life. It begins,
“I, Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, who was of the village of Bannavem Taberniea.”
HISTORY OF QUARANTINE
The word we use for restricting the movement of an individual or group of people to prevent the further spread of a disease is often, though mistakenly, used synonymously with the word isolation. Isolation, particularly medical isolation, is the separation of people who are sick with a contagious illness from those who are healthy. Quarantine, by contrast, separates and restricts the movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious illness but do not have symptoms, to see if they in fact become sick.
HISTORY OF FAITH IN A TIME OF PLAGUE
When the Black Death passed through Europe, coming across the Asian steppes and through trading ships in Constantinople, it visited Athens, the ports of Italy, and then north into the heart of Europe. In just one day, the infection could show signs of fever, delirium, speech disorders, and loss of consciousness. A healthy person could die within as little as three to ten days. Mortality statistics range as wide as 30-90% of populations devastated. When it struck, it touched every aspect of one’s life. Whole towns had disappeared. It profoundly impacted the culture of Europe, its art, literature, and folk customs.
In 1348, people watched helplessly as their family died. Where were they to place their faith? By 1359 the Black Death seemed to have passed. But it hadn’t gone away; it would pass in successive waves for another 400 years. Just 180 years after the initial outbreak, the epidemic came back through Germany and infected the new University town.
In August of 1527, the Plague struck Wittenberg powerfully, and many people fled the city in fear of their lives. Friends strongly urged the University professor and his pregnant wife to leave. His prince ordered him to depart immediately to save his own life. Virtually all of his students had left the city. He had suffered for the last year with dizzy spells and buzzing in his ears. That summer, he had a severe attack of cerebral anemia. And then came the bouts of great depression and despair. His wife was carrying their first daughter, and the townspeople called for them to flee. The 44-year-old professor argued that it was not wrong for a person to value their life so that they did not remain, but only so long as the sick had someone of greater faith than they themselves, who would care for them. (more…)
HISTORY OF THE IDES OF MARCH
According to the ancient Roman calendar, the ides fell on the 13th of the month with the exception of the months March, May, July, and October, when it fell on the 15th of the month. Something epochal occurred in 44 B.C.
Et tu, Brute?
It was on March 15, 44 B.C. that the Roman dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated after he had been warned by a seer that harm would befall him before the end of the Ides of March. Contrary to popular belief, including William Shakespeare, Caesar was not assassinated in the Capitol, meaning the Curia Hostilia or Senate House in the Roman Forum at the foot of the Capitoline Hill (pictured at top).
This holiday is often overlooked by those who do not speak Greek or those who do not speak Geek. But for the science major, this is a special celebration. Though it is an irregular constant number, regularly and annually on March 14, or 3/14, or 3.14 — we have the first three digits of “Pi.” If one wanted to be precise, and why not, it would be at 15:92 o’clock, or 4:32 pm… and 65.35 seconds, or slightly after 4:33 pm. You get the idea.
The origin of this geek holiday has been traced to a celebration led by Larry Shaw at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988, where he was a physicist. No less than the U.S. House of Representatives boldly stepped out and passed a non-binding resolution recognizing March 14 as Pi Day in 2009. Your tax dollars at work.