Religion

Finding the Holy Grail

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There’s no chalice on the table in Leonardo’s Last Supper

… but there is one on Bartholemew’s head (far left).

“Earthquake Panic”

A panic terror of the end of the world seized the good people of Leeds and its neighborhood in the year 1806. It arose from the following circumstances. A hen, in a village close by, laid eggs, on which were inscribed the words, “Christ is coming.” Great numbers visited the spot, and examined these wondrous eggs, convinced that the day of judgment was near at hand. Like sailors in a storm, expecting every instant to go to the bottom, the believers suddenly became religious, prayed violently, and flattered themselves that they repented them of their evil courses. But a plain tale soon put them down, and quenched their religion entirely. Some gentlemen, hearing of the matter, went one fine morning and caught the poor hen in the act of laying one of her miraculous eggs. They soon ascertained beyond doubt that the egg had been inscribed with some corrosive ink, and cruelly forced up again into the bird’s body. At this explanation, those who had prayed, now laughed, and the world wagged as merrily as of yore.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860

Omnipotence Paradox

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If God can do anything, can he make a rock so big that he can’t move it?

Wait a Minute …

Every May and December, thousands of Catholics gather in Naples to witness a miracle: The dried blood of Saint Januarius, which is kept in small capsules, liquefies when it’s brought near his body.

Januarius was martyred in 305, and the “miracle of the blood” has been happening since at least 1389, which is pretty impressive.

But investigator Joe Nickell notes that a thixotropic gel such as hydrated iron oxide remains highly viscous until it’s stirred or moved. And the same miracle is claimed for several other saints … all in the Naples area. Hmm.

Baaackstabber

Canny sheep sometimes resist going down the slaughterhouse ramp to their deaths. So workers sometimes train a goat to go down first, triggering the herding instinct and solving the problem. The goat isn’t harmed and can be used over and over for this purpose.

It’s called a judas goat.

Group Portrait

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This is the largest gathering of human beings in the history of the world — in January 2001, 70 million Hindu pilgrims met in Prayaga, India, for a religious festival called the Kumbh Mela.

Three years later, 30 million met in Ujjain.

Equidistant Letter Sequences

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If you take the text of Genesis 26:5-10 and break it into lines of 33 characters each, the words Bible and code appear, word-search-style, in the resulting grid.

That looks pretty nifty, but in fact you can find almost anything in a long text if you look hard enough. Using the same technique in 1997, Australian mathematician Brendan McKay found that Moby Dick had predicted the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, including the assassin’s first and last names, the university he attended, and even the motive (“Oslo,” referring to the Oslo accords). That Melville — what a genius.

The “Temple of Justice”

The U.S. Supreme Court building is pretty spiffy. It has its own cafeteria, a 450,000-book library and a basketball court on the fifth floor (which staffers call “the highest court in the land”).

It’s so spiffy that when it opened in 1935, some justices were embarrassed. Harlan Fiske Stone called it “almost bombastically pretentious … wholly inappropriate for a quiet group of old boys such as the Supreme Court.” Others called it “the Temple of Karnak” and suggested that justices ought to enter the courtroom riding on elephants.

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One worrying note: The building’s frieze depicts Moses delivering the Ten Commandments, but his beard obscures some of the Hebrew, so the visible text reads:

Steal
Kill
Commit Adultery

But let that pass.

DIY

Justo Gallego Martínez of Spain joined a Trappist monastery as a young man, but he had to leave in 1961 when he contracted tuberculosis. So he decided to build his own cathedral, on a plot of land he had inherited in the Spanish village of Mejorada del Campo.

He has no plans, permissions, permits or even the blessing of the Catholic Church — he’s basically been improvising for 40 years, with the help of six nephews and the occasional volunteer, using recycled construction materials, old gas drums and bricks from a nearby factory. But he’s doing pretty well — that dome is 40 meters high.

“If you think you can win, you can win,” wrote William Hazlitt. “Faith is necessary to victory.”

We’ve Seen This

There are two similar chapters in the King James Bible.

They are 2 Kings chapter 19 and Isaiah chapter 37.

The first 14 verses of each chapter are identical, word for word.