Today in Boston, Massachusetts is the running of the Boston Marathon. This is the oldest and longest running (no pun intended) annual marathon event, at least in the Western World. It began in 1897, the year following the reintroduction of the marathon competition into the first modern Olympics in 1896. This large event typically features over 30,000 participants, from all 50 states and over a hundred countries — and half a million spectators — and is one of more than 800 marathons held each year worldwide. It differs from other marathons in that it requires a qualifying time from another marathon, run within a limited date range on a particular type of course. The Boston Marathon is held annually on Patriots’ Day — which used to be fixed on April 19 signifying the beginning of the Revolutionary War — but is now the third Monday in April.
The race begins in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. The buses drop off the runners in front of the world headquarters of EMC Corporation, at least they did when I worked there, and the traffic nearby gets congested. The course starts on Main Street then winds east toward Boston, about a “marathon’s distance” away or 26.22 miles where it ends at Copley Square, downtown. Traditionally, the Boston Red Sox baseball team holds a game at Fenway Park to coincide with the race finishing the last mile in front of Kenmore Square.
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.
As we begin Passion Week this weekend, 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 PALM SUNDAY
The week we now call Holy Week or Passion Week, started with Palm Sunday. Why was this week so important that three of the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) devote a full third of their contents to reporting this week, and The Fourth Gospel (John) dedicates its entire last half?
Jerusalem, which had a normal population of about 50,000 at the time of Jesus, had at least tripled in size because of the influx of pilgrims celebrating the Jewish holiday Passover. Early Sunday morning Jesus made his dramatic public entry into the city. This was the end of any privacy and safety his ministry had afforded previously. It marked the beginning of what would be an inevitable collision course with the religious and political authorities: both Jewish and Roman.
The procession started at the Mount of Olives, across the land bridge of the Kidron Valley that ran along the eastern side of the city, and through the eastern gate into the city. There is some debate among scholars as to which of the two gates on the eastern wall of the city Jesus would have entered. (more…)
HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR
158 years ago, on April 12, 1861, the first formal hostilities of the American Civil War occurred when Confederate troops attacked the military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The Fort, located in Charleston harbor was a coastal fortification built after the War of 1812 as part of the U.S. coastal fortification system. Over 30 years in the building, it still was not finished when the first attack rang out in 1861. By this time South Carolina had already declared its secession from the Union over 4 months earlier. Repeated requests by the state for the federal soldiers to evacuate had been ignored. One last request on April 11 was declined, and nearby Fort Johnson opened fire on Fort Sumter. For 34 continuous hours Confederate batteries fired upon Fort Sumter starting, it is reported, at 4:30 AM.
The next day, on April 13, Fort Sumter surrendered. No soldier in the Fort died during the battle, though one Confederate soldier later died of a wound from a misfired cannon. Escalation of hostilities accelerated with President Lincoln calling for a volunteer army as four additional Southern states declared their secession.
April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, is the name given to the custom of playing practical jokes on friends on that day or sending them on fools’ errands. The origin of this custom has been much disputed; it is in some way a relic of those once universal festivities held at the vernal equinox, which, beginning on the old New Year’s Day celebrations of March 25, ended on April 1.
Another view is that it is a farcical commemoration of Jesus’ trials during Passion Week in Jerusalem when he was sent from Annas‘ House to Caiaphas‘ Palace to Pontius Pilate‘s Praetorium to Herod‘s Hasmonean Palace and back to Pilate again… which culminated in his crucifixion on Good Friday, which may have been April 1.
The observance in the UK of April 1 goes back to ancient times, though it did not appear as a common custom until the early 1700s. In Scotland the custom was known as “hunting the gowk,” i.e., the cuckoo and April fools were “April gowks.”
HISTORY OF WORLD BACKUP DAY
There isn’t much history, as the first celebration of this geek holiday was in 2011. World Backup Day is less than a decade old.
But the need is real, now more than ever before. Especially in light of this salient fact: April Fools’ Day. March 31, the day before, is an excellent time to check your backups. On the eve of the day famous for pranks, this might be your last chance.
You may have learned at the University of Hard Knocks that it’s not a question of “if” you’re going to lose your data, but “when.” Having a redundant copy of it can make all the difference, and you may be able to skip the course at U of HK on Pulling Your Hair Out.
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.”