I was about twenty years old ( a collection of decades ago) when I read Eusebius’s book on the early church. Everything seemed to make progressive logical sense until his explanation of how Constantine was suppose to have become a Christian and to have had a weird vision from the “Christian” god leading him to victory. Nothing could be more contradictory to the teachings of Rabbi/Guru Jesus. I was left feeling out of synch (not for the first time) with the rest of my faith group who, as far as I could tell, bought this stuff hook-line-and-sucker. Everything seemed to go sideways after that, historically speaking.

When we look at art history, we get a more complete picture. Persecution was not able to eradicate these believers of the way. These “little Christs” met quietly and secretly in their house churches. Certain houses had baptismal tanks for the ritual of the water and word to symbolize the washing away of our tending to be outside of God’s loving will. The psychological and visceral impact coupled with pure intent is quite impactful. Many other people groups used baptism rituals, but this one was brought along from those of the Jewish faith. It is an act of humility that we cannot follow a pure path alone. It is a path and a work in progress as one allows the Divine to be a vital part of one’s life. They were a tight knit community.

Constantine, not wanting to be bested by these cell groups that quietly came and went, offered an olive branch of non persecution. Eusebius gets to become a bishop in this deal, which probably explains his easy enthusiasm for an Emperor who has a passion with associating himself as Sol Invictus “Unconquered Sun.” Various mosaics and massive sculptures would feature his having the rays of the sun radiating from Constantine’s head.

It was Constantine who initiated Sunday worship pushing the church to assume Sunday worship as their own. In the early years the followers of Jesus went to synagogue on the Sabbath. According to Wikipedia, Constantine decreed (March 7, 321) dies Solis –day of the sun, “Sunday”–as the Roman day of rest. Only farmers were exempt.

In a very deft move, Constantine routed the Christians out of hiding and gained complete control. The doctrine of the Trinity has the fingermarks of Constantine as with how he manipulated the Roman sun god imagery to his own advantage. Over interpretation and attribution of this document plagues and confuses people to this day, distracting from the core teachings of the prophet and rabbi Jesus.

King William of England adopted feudalism, a system of government which was already established in Western Europe. Rights, duties and obligations were set down. Predictably, the monarch was at the top of this system owning all the land. His lords and barons were assigned large sections or “manors” thereby buying their allegience and military service as his vassals providing administrative duties. The freemen and serfs worked the lord’s lands and their own. Shares of the produce was given to the lord and the church. This feudalism is the basis for all our modern property laws.
The lord of each manor was the sole judge in trials involving any of his vassals. Inequity resulted from this system of justice whereas one lord mercifully sentenced restitution for theft but a different lord sentenced death. The king saw that this inequity was rather problematic and responded by appointing a number of judges who travelled the country-side and held hearings or “assizes”. Regular meetings in London enabled these judges to share experiences. Bit by bit, common agreement slowly arose from these discussions. By the 12th and 13th Centuries there was more consistency of ruling –the roots of English common law, common to all people throughout England. Only when no custom existed did judges make their own decisions. We can see a sense of status quo here and the need for legislative powers to bring forward new law to better direct a changing society. [In other words, we need good and honourable politicians to be elected to facilitate this process or judges will run our countries. So get politically involved–it does matter.]
This common-law system of standing by earlier decisions (Latin: stare decisis) was introduced to North America by the colonists who first settled here. Judges from the highest courts in many Canadian provinces still travel to the provincial counties. There they hold regional assizes to deal with the most serioius criminal and civil offences.

Precedent was established as case after case ensued and was later referred to as a guide and reference point. Similar cases were treated alike, establishing a standard and common system of judging offences throughout the country. At first, these case decisions existed only in the judges memories and were known as “unwritten law”. The king as the fountainhead of justice whom people appealed to when they felt common law had failed them. As occasion demanded the king had the authority to overrule judge’s decisions when he felt it was necessary to do so.

Old precedents can be a problem when circumstances change. Common law managing horse-drawn carriages cannot adequately rule on automobiles. But precedent has its uses:

  • It introduces a degree of certainty into the law. A person or his or her lawyer going before the courts can examine previously similar cases and the arguments that were used. The objective and expectation is to reach a similar result.
  • It causes the courts to act impartially rather than favour any of the parties in an action. Lawyers present reports of earlier cases to persuade judges to reach similar decisions arrived at in those cases.
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    “In the Beginning…”

    Have you ever wondered

    • why we have the laws we have?
    • where we came up with the idea of “Common Law”?

    Believe it or not, it began before the time of the Mosaic Law!

    According to Peak’s Commentary, the pentateuch case law was based on Canaanite legal forms, from which they in turn received their common law from the previously ruling power of the Babylonians: the bulk of Sumerian city territory was possessed by the temple. Although there were temporal rulers as governors, the kings were seen to operate as the city-god’s agent. Hammurabi not only checked for administrative abuses (administrative law), he had written laws set up in the markets and temples to be consulted by traders and by those suffering wrongs.

    Although Hammurabi was the official representative of the local god and temple interests, he, like Queen Elizabeth as head of the Church of England, concerned himself with secular affairs of state. He detailed information concerning social structure with its three classes, gentry, commons and slaves. Although slaves were bought and sold (employees today are enslaved to the paycheck and to the one who authorizes it), each had protection under the law with a right to a spouse, property and the benefit from the liberality of masters (bonuses and incentives by our standards). An eye for an eye was deemed a humane ruling which limited the punishment to justice and not give reign to vengeance.

    Check out a sample of the case law of the Code of Hammurabi presented by Arnold and Beyer:

    When a free man married a priestess and that priestess gave a female slave to her husband and she has then produced children, if that free man has made up his mind to marry a lay priestess, they may not marry the lay priestess.

    When a free man married a priestess and she gave a female slave to her husband and she has then born children, if later that female slave has claimed equality with her mistress because she bore children, her mistress may not sell her; she may mark her with the slave-mark and count her among the slaves.

    This precursor common law before the Mosaic Law reveals the society of the age and exposes the cruelty and the context of Sarah and Abraham casting out Ishmael and his mother into the desert (the hand-maid of Sarah whom Sarah sent to sleep with her husband Abraham for the express purpose of bearing a son). Common law of the era and region dictated  a kinder gentler approach of putting the woman in her place by branding her body to delineate her slave status lest she forget her place in society and others allow her to do so. There is a deviation in this analogy due to a different cultural grouping (earlier Babylonian versus Israelite) and the fact that Sarah is not a “priestess”. We see that the Biblical text is intended to shock, even in the contemporary context.

    code of hammerabi

    These case law/common law compilations were set on an approximately eight foot high black diorite stele of 282 sections for all to study and consider their own behaviour by order of Hammurabi, the sixth king of the first dynasty of Babylon. He likely ruled from 1792 to 1750 or 1749 B.C. according to The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible. It was the most influential legal code of the near east.

    Compared to Exodus 20:23; 23:33; 24:7; Deuteronomy 19:21, we see some instances where both the Babylonian and Israelite bodies of legislation treat the same injury to person and property. They both regarded the vulnerable of society as possessing:

    • rights that could be recognized
    • liabilities for breaking the law varied according to their social standing

    The Babylonian law code continued to influence the Fertile Crescent after their decline. With the Code of Hammurabi, the punishment for false charges was given to the one who made the charge.  As Interpreter’s indicates, the Hammurabi Code predominates under the principle of poetic justice wherein a perjurer receives the punishment which this accuser tried to bring on his victim.

    This case law is demonstrated in the Biblical book of Esther, when Haman was caught in a deceit to hang Esther’s uncle Mordichi, Haman received the punishment of hanging and the praise he sought went to the uncle. The follow-through on Hammurabi’s case law is far reaching. The righteousness and justice of God is in the forefront. Mercy is expressed in justice being served for the victim and punishment does not exceed the actions or imaginations of the accused.

    How did Hammurabi and the first Babylonian dynasty get so clever? They had other case law to draw on. Reform and codification of law existed among Sumerian kings as Westminster records:

    1. Urukagina of Lagash (c. 2450 B.C.)
    2. 2040-2027, Ur-Nammu Code (Ur-Engur) and Shulgi (Dungi) of Dynasty III of Ur (where Abraham came from). It contains a prologue and 22 laws.
    3. 1930, Bilalama Code from Akkadian Eshnunna: a preamble identifying the law-giver, city, date and 59 laws
    4. 1864-1854, Lipit-Ishtar Code from Sumerian Isin containing a prologue with the lawgiver’s credentials, approximately 38 laws partially preserved. They had erected a diorite stele.
    5. Amorite Babylon had an adulatory prologue and 282 laws governing a wide range of economic and social relationships and transactions, concluding with an admonitory epilogue. It apparently had been built upon the Lipit-Ishtar Code while making it more inclusive and more complex.

    Works Cited

    Arnold, Bill T., Beyer, Bryan E.; Encountering the Old Testament, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, p. 95; Laws #144 and 146, ANET (adapted), 172.


    Black, Matthew and Rowley, H. H., Peake’s Commentary on the Bible,  Thomas Nelson Ltd., London, England, 1962, 68f, 79b, 394e.

    Layman, Charles M., Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary, Abingdon Press, NY, New York, 1971, 263b, 1090a, 1081b. See also Exodus 21:1-22:17; Psalm 7: 12-16. The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1944, p. 224.

    Multiple Choice Questions


    Case law started to become a guiding principle when:

    1. Queen Elizabeth II took over the governance of both religious and secular governance of the United Kingdom.
    2. Mordichi escaped hanging.
    3. when the eye for an eye law was first recorded.
    4. when Urukagina of Lagash (c. 2450 B.C.) got his administration organized and precidents set down for posterity and reference.


    The Code of Hammurabi was set to:

    1. ensure equal justice and welfare of his subjects
    2. enable Hammurabi to superintend the administration of justice
    3. codify the laws of the land
    4. All of the above.


    The Code of Hammurabi was

    1. brutal and revengeful
    2. only for the rich
    3. both righteous and just with mercy towards the victim in metting out punishment to fit the crime, and not exceeding the actions and intent of the perpetrator.
    4. 1 & 2.

    Method of Approach

    Yes, there is such a thing as “the historical method” when electing to look into past events, persons, movements, and ideas! It is a very fine thing to do since we often interpret through our own perceptual glasses and come to erroneous conclusions otherwise. We reconstruct the flow of events from our own or another’s memory and/or records that were kept. Even with the best of intentions we could be missing something in the landscape of events, ideas and motives so that we should always remain very humble indeed.

    Posturing and perception are tricky factors in gaining a wholistic grasp of what has gone before. From “he said-she said” to what is known as the Christian Reformation when both camps were mud-slinging that each other was the “anti-christ”; properly understood, any historical rendering cannot be dull! Personal “fingerprints” and personality are all over the residue we carry with us into the future.

    The 18th and 19th Centuries began to develop careful critical historical writing to try to establish the true course of events, not to polemicize or to justify. There are actual histories, chronicles, biographies, records, administrative, financial, military, religious, correspondence of major figures and archeology. It is a type of forensic historical dig!

    The 18th Century treats us to the “testimonial method” in the “Age of Enlightenment”. The historian must know when a document is telling the truth. It is equally important to know about the author and purpose in writing since a document deals with personal memory. Not everything is remembered since we remember things as we attach our particular meaning to it. We eventually forget events but remember meaning.

    Is there such a thing as a “scientific historian”? Apparently so, as various patterns in classical logic are marshalled in the compiling of the historical account. The document is treated as evidence: what did the writer mean? What new approach to a particular subject is being provided in the document? Historical imagination is employed to discover what people meant by their actions by judging alternative responses. What might I infer from the fact that this person made this statement? What light does this shed on the subject? Subsidiary probing questions are guided by the basic one related to the material the person is dealing with. If you like a good debate, then historical argument will appeal to you: data is given particularly when the conclusion is questioned–>the conclusion, assertation, is made–>qualifying attributes are assigned (possibly, presumably, probably, necessarily)–>warrents (facts) given to support the step taken between data and conclusion–>rebuttal points out how a warrent may not apply to case under discussion and therefore has no authority. The truth of the warrent may be challenged.–>backing for the warrent asserted or ammended.

    All too often the flavour and impact of an event can get lost by historical editing. Thousands of pages of financial records can be compressed into one sentence: “From 1500-1550 there was an economic depression” since documents record a steady rise in prices but no rise in wages. But the sentence leaves a clue for others to delve into the search for primary source material if the curiosity is sufficiently aroused.

    It is important how source materials are handled. “Facts” are a problem at the best of times. Each person reports a “fact” differently from another reporter as they each vary in interests, opportunities, nearness to the event, and prejudices. Every “fact” we have is always filtered. Some societies construct official histories and the principles of selection are handed down from a government agency. Background, political views and social position affect the slant in which history is recorded.

    Whether you are reading an accounting of a country, a faith group, or a political leaning it is important to know who the author is. “Fact” and “interpretation” are rarely clearly separable. We know that Jesus lived in Galilee during the reign of Caesar Augustus and that he was crucified in the reign of Tiberius, that he had disciples, taught, and healed. Beyond that the judgments on his life and works, and the meaning of it go off in a dozen different directions. We know that Ignatius Loyola was the founder of the Jesuits, but the judgments on that event and its consequences are not at all uniform. People continue to hold honest and sometimes profoundly different views on significant events.

    Have you ever caught yourself out as having a warped perceptual field? Our perceptions are built on our past. Can you think/see how your perceptual field has trapped you into a small box, making your understanding of people, ideas and movements an imprisonment of the mind? The world and its experiences are a wonderous adventure, so step outside the box! Point of view stems from a perception of the past. Understanding other people’s point of view is the beginning of wisdom, and betimes it even facilitates negotiations and cooperation.


    The Burgoyne Bridge was opened in 1914 allowing traffic from the west direct access over the Twelve Mile Creek.

    The famed Springbank Hotel built in 1864 by Dr. Theophilus Mack was on Yates Street nearby. The hotel, along with the Stephenson and Welland House Hotels gave St. Catharines it reputation as a health spa resort. The Springbank became a private school for boys, The Bishop Ridley College, in 1889 and the wooden structure burned down in 1903. Never fear–it reincarnated itself on the western side of the canal two years later (Robert Shipley, St. Catharines: Garden on the Canal, pp.116-117) and is still as grand as ever.

    Dignitaries from the United States and Canada, President Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd, Sir John A. Macdonald and Lord Dufferin were early visitors (Thomas  Owen, Niagara’s Freedom Trail: a guide to African-Canadian history on the Niagara Peninsula, Region Niagara Transit Council, 1995; John Jackson and Sheila Wilson, St. Catharines Canal City, The St. Catharines Standard Ltd., 1992, 163).

    A painting of the grand Springbank Hotel can be found in the archives at the St. Catharines Museum (Lock 3).

    Many thanks to Greta Hildebrand, Administrator of the RiverBrink Art Museum–Home of the Weir Collection, for the research on St. Catharines Spas. See www.riverbrink.org

    Starting on the 25th of Kislev, for eight successive days the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabee in 165 BCE is honoured by the Festival of Lights– Chanukah.

    I honour the Maccabean Rebellion itself, having been raised on stories of The War of 1812 in the Niagara Peninsula. The time-frame between the Maccabean events and the First Century were about the same time-distance as myself born in 1954 and the War of 1812. By extrapolation, I attempt to perceive what it might have been like 150 years later for the Jewish populace in Jerusalem as I see the emotional and historical effects on the people and the land here now after Sir Isaac Brock helped bring the War of 1812 to a successful conclusion. For those who may not know it, generally speaking, a Canadian success is a draw or compromise where no one loses. The cup is always half full. We lost no territory, therefore we won.

    The Maccabean Rebellion is an inspiration for us all.  Onias II, the high priest of Israel was murdered in 171 BCE. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria and overlord of Palestine had defiled (made unclean) the temple. In 168 (167?) BCE close to the 25th on the Gregorian calendar, the temple was dedicated to the worship of the pagan god Zeus Olympus by Antiochus, who forbade the practice of Judaism. An altar to Zeus was set up on the high altar.

    Judas Maccabee didn’t submit to this abuse and he, along with others, purged the temple three years later in 165 BCE and a new altar replaced the desecrated one. Rededicated to God with festivities, there had only been a one day supply of olive oil for the dedication, but miraculously it burned throughout the festivities until the new supply came in eight days later.


    The Chanukah menorah, the special eight-branch candelabrum with a shamash servant candle holder for the shamash candle to light the others, is key to celebrate this fabulous reconsecrating of sacred space. On the 25th of Kislev, the first candle, the shamash, is lit and a blessing is declared, thankful for God’s laws and for the Chanukah miracle. Next, God is thanked for giving life and allowing everyone to celebrate this time of year. On the second night, two new candles are lit with blessings, and so on. (Maybe this is where Martin Luther picked up the idea of the Advent Wreath for the Christmas Season with four candles marking the four Sundays before the 25th on the Gregorian Calendar.)

    No festival is a proper festival without food and song, and Chanukah/Hanukkah is no exception. Since I love to sing, I appreciate the song portion which remind the family of the events commemorated. Children receive small gifts or money–Hanukkah gelt— chocolate coins — each evening after the candles are lit. The miracle of the oil is marked with foods fried in oil such as latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts.

    The dreidel spinning top is played throughout the festival:

    1. Each player puts a certain number of coins, candies, or another object into a pot or in a pile.
    2. One player then spins the dreidel. Each of the four sides of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the side that lands up when the dreidal stops spinning indicates which part of the pot the player will receive:
    3. Nun indicates “nothing”.
    4. Gimel indicates “all”.
    5. Hei indicates “half”.
    6. Shin indicates “put in” or “match the pot”.
    7. These letters stand for Nes gadol haya sham “A great miracle has happened there.”
    8. Children also play by guessing which letter will appear when the dreidel stops, with the winner claiming the pot.
    9. In Israel, the letter pei, for the word po “here”, is substituted for shin on the dreidel, changing the resulting phrase to “A great miracle happened here.”

    Some people feel, and some scholars too, that Christmas Day, December 25th, was chosen to replace a pagan festival. Perhaps. I think that the 25th of Kislev had a lot to do with it too. Since gentiles weren’t using the Jewish calendar, it simply fell to where we have it today. Why would I think this instead of other theories? Because I think the early church was thinking of the Christ child as the oil for all the nations and it simply borrowed from all traditions to make this point. Hanukkah certainly celebrates reclaiming and redeeming holy spaces of worship and the freedom to do that as one chooses.

    Happy Chanukah everyone!

     “I seem to remember telling you both that I would have to expel you if you broke any more school rules. Which goes to show that the best of us must sometimes eat our words….” Dumbledore to Harry and Ron in the final chapter to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling, 1998.

    Two leaders in the Twentieth Century history knew the value of changing their minds. Thanks be to God that they did. They lived in different parts of the planet but had a major impact on their respective countries in the same era.

    Mahatma Gandhi was the best known of the two throughout the world. Gandhi read the Sermon on the Mount every morning in his devotions for 27 years. His conclusion was to hate the British government but to love every individual Englishman. He was known for propagating the non-cooperation movement in the 1930s and 1940s which included the glaring phenomenon of volunteering to go to jail. In the midst of this Mahatma taught not to hate the judge, but to write in love an annual letter.

    Gandhi taught not to clout police dogs –they were only doing what they had been taught to do. Not to curse the police since they are only carrying out their orders and they didn’t know what they were doing.  

     Gandhi’s disciples had been rigidly trained in non-violence, forgiveness, self-control and self-sacrifice. This was the how and why they won independence. He knew that this peaceful resistance could end up in anarchy. He wasn’t blind to the dangers. Amidst all this Gandhi declared in one of his letters that of course he contradicted himself.

    What he meant was that at any one time we only know in part. As we learn more about life and develop better communication skills, we express ourselves differently to convey our new understanding. Maturity and growth brings new realizations and adjusts one’s understanding and point of view. It is absurd to hold it against someone when they change their mind after careful consideration!

     Do you have trouble with the very idea of changing your mind? Do you fear that you will look weak? Do you fear that no one will look at you the same if you seem indecisive? Gandhi was willing to step up to the plate and go to bat when the ball was in play. He was willing to strike out on some ideas because he knew he had home runs inside him. He began with a kernal of truth and developed from there.

    The other Twentieth Century leader also knew enough to change his mind. The well known politician (at least to Canadians) Tommy Douglas decided that it wasn’t enough to spout theories. He served as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation Premier of Saskatchewan between 1941 and 1961, becoming the first leader of the New Democratic Party. Before this rise to power he visited Germany in 1936 and was frightened into repenting of his eugenics tendencies. In 1944, as Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health, Tommy rejected two papers calling for the sterilization of the “feeble-minded”.

    It is a little known fact that this Baptist minister of Saskatchewan was so desperate to do something to improve society’s lot in life during the Depression he began his career as a supporter of hereditarian theories. Along with other Canadians, he had been receptive to biological determinism where in 1933 he wrote his Master’s thesis supporting it. He had argued that “mentally and physically subnormal were…the causes of a good deal of the distress of the depression…threatened the smooth functioning of society.”

    At the time, Canadians were preoccupied with concepts of “racial inefficiency, social inadequacy, and ill health.” Tommy and other Canadians wanted to restrict marriage to those holding certificates of health, segregate the “unfit” on state farms where they couldn’t procreate, birth information to “subnormal” families and sterilization of the “defective.” Don’t even begin to think we as a society are now immune to victim-blaming. We just give it new names and new targets. 

    Americans had a racial eugenic agenda, the Brits had a “lower class” overflow concern (which WW II casualties took care of), and in Canada classist and racist agendas snuck into targeted sex instruction, intelligence testing, special education to social welfare, immigration and birth control.

    Tommy hit the high ground when Hitler hit the lowest ground. Tommy helped to promote a social net for health care which we still struggle to maintain to this day. He stepped up to bat, practiced his skill, struck out on some ideas, developed in the skill of thinking things through and helped to hit a home run for the welfare of the Canadian people–all Canadian people.

    Tension still continues. There were pretensions about being able to decide who should and should not reproduce. Are not such arrogant political agendas in play today?  We minimize services to the poor, keeping them uneducated and impoverished.  Others, with their “correct” thinking are encouraged to have many children. Governments think in terms of scarce resources. This is the invariable outcome.

    This  blog is an invitation to think responsibly and to responsibly re-evaluate your direction periodically. Then you become a good leader of your own heart and lead others by serving them well. 

    “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, final chapter.


    S.R. Bakshi, Gandhi and his Techniques of Satyagraha, Oriental University Press, 1987, 88, 89.

    Angus McLaren, Our Own Master Race; Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945, McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1990, 7-9, 14, 166.

    J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Raincoast Pub., Vancouver, 1999.

    Janet Wiebe