Waterproof

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In The City of God, Augustine raises a curious question: How did Methuselah survive the flood? According to the Septuagint, the patriarch was 355 years old when Noah was born, and the deluge occurred 600 years later. Thus Methuselah was 955 at the flood–yet he lived to be 969. He was not aboard the ark, and the deluge destroyed the rest of humanity. How did Methuselah survive?

“This is a celebrated question,” wrote Jerome, “and one which has been publicly aired in argument by all the churches.” It’s largely obviated today: Most modern editions of Genesis are translated from the Masoretic text, which has Methuselah dying in the year of the flood.

Knee Service

In 1978, Baptist minister Hans Mullikin arrived at the White House after crawling 1,600 miles from Marshall, Texas.

An aide told him that President Carter was too busy to see him.

“I just wanted to show America that we need to get on our knees and repent,” Mullikin told reporters. “This is something I had in my heart and wanted to do for my country.”

He added, “A lot of people tell me I’m crazy.”

Cloudy

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All rational beings believe in their own existence, whether or not they actually exist. Sherlock Holmes believes that he exists, but he is wrong. God too believes in his own existence–and his omniscience makes it impossible that he is mistaken. Therefore God exists.

On the other hand: Perfection is essential to godhood, and a perfect God must be perfectly virtuous. But virtue implies overcoming pain, fear, and temptation, and a God who is subject to these ills is less perfect than one who is not. Thus perfection is impossible, and God cannot exist.

Asked what he would say to God on Judgment Day, Bertrand Russell said, “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”

The Bodhisattva Paradox

The bodhisattva cannot pass over into Nirvana. He cannot because, were he to do so, he would exhibit a selfishness that a bodhisattva cannot have. If he has the selfishness, he is not a bodhisattva, and so cannot enter Nirvana. If he lacks the selfishness, again, he cannot enter Nirvana, for that would be a selfish act. So either way, the bodhisattva is impotent to enter Nirvana. … So no one can reach Nirvana; we cannot because we are not bodhisattvas and the bodhisattva cannot because he is a bodhisattva.

– Arthur Danto, Mysticism and Morality, 1972

Takeout Food

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Here’s a theological poser: What happens to cannibals on Judgment Day? If I eat you and assimilate your flesh, how can we both be resurrected?

“It is not possible for two men to be resurrected with the same flesh at the same time, and nor is it possible for the same limb to have two different masters,” writes Athenagoras of Athens. “How can two bodies, which have successively been in possession of the same substance, appear in their entirety, without lacking a large part of themselves? In the end, either the disputed parts will be returned to their original owners, leaving a gap in the later owners, or they shall be fixed in the latter, leaving in this case an irreparable loss in the former.”

Augustine answers, “The flesh in question shall be restored to the man in whom it first became human flesh; for it is to be considered as borrowed of the other man, and, like borrowed money, to be returned to him from whom it was taken.”

I guess we’ll find out.

Lonely Words

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What is gopher wood? Noah used it to build his ark, but there’s no other reference to it in the Bible.

Similarly, no one’s quite sure what a kankedort is. It appears in one passage in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde:

Was Troilus nought in a kankedort,
That lay, and myghte whisprynge of hem here,
And thoughte, “O Lord, right now renneth my sort
Fully to deye, or han anon comfort!”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it helplessly as an awkward situation or affair and says it’s “of unascertained etymology.”

See Hapax Legomenon.

Got That?

There is no Pope John XX. In numbering its pontiffs, the church skipped directly from Pope John XIX to Pope John XXI because confusion in the records led Pope John XX to believe that Pope John XIV had been succeeded by a second Pope John XIV, but that Pope John XV to Pope John XIX had overlooked his existence. So Pope John XX ordered his designation changed to Pope John XXI so that Pope John XV to Pope John XIX could be renumbered Pope John XVI to Pope John XX. But there was no second Pope John XIV, so Pope John XV to Pope John XIX were correctly numbered and the new Pope John XXI should have remained Pope John XX.

Worse, Pope John XVI was a disputed claimant whose number should have been reused, moving all subsequent Popes John back a notch. That hasn’t happened either.

The bottom line is that there’s still time for you to be Pope John XX if you want to. You just need to be elected by the College of Cardinals.

The Sedgwick Pie

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Most graves in Massachusetts’ Stockbridge Cemetery are oriented with the feet facing east, so that on Resurrection Day the dead will rise facing Jerusalem.

Not so the Sedgwick family — patriarch Theodore Sedgwick ordered that his family’s graves form a circle with their feet toward the center. This way, on Judgment Day, Sedgwicks will see only other Sedgwicks.

It’s been called “the laughingstock of the entire Eastern seaboard.”

Felix Culpa

It can be argued that, by falling from Eden, Adam brought great good to humanity — if he’d stayed, he would not have occasioned the redemption story and the coming of the New Jerusalem.

Without man’s failure the world would not be saved.

But see Kangaroo Court.