Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Council of Nicaea

This last week has been very busy for me. I moved back to school, and will actually start my senior year tomorrow. I can’t believe how fast four years of college have gone, and am even more surprised that in a few short months I’m going to have to start looking for a real job.

But besides all of this, I’ve looked into this week in history, this week that will be the last first weeks of my college undergraduate career. I did find some very interesting things, but the Council of Nicaea caught my eye over other things.

In 324 Emperor Constantine became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. After having four Emperors ruling the Roman Empire for several years, this was a break from the recent tradition. Also making him that much different, Constantine was the first Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity.

During the early years of Christianity there was a major debate between church leaders about the divinity of Jesus because he was born and had a beginning. This thought eventually spread to all Christians, and the religion faced a possible schism with religious leaders debating both sides.

Because of his interest in the religion, Constantine called a meeting between the religious leaders to discuss this ideology. This council of the religious leaders became known as the Council of Nicaea, named after its meeting place in Nicaea, Turkey, and it concluded on August 25, 325.

At this council, the members worked to define Christ and ultimately established the Holy Trinity, and determined only the Son became incarnate as Jesus Christ.

Another key part of the council I remember from class is the importance the decision held for Constantine. As a single ruler taking control after several years of the heptarchy where four emperors ruled together, this would place him as the most influential and important person in the Empire. On Earth, the Roman Emperor was the most important person, even more important than a key religious figure.

The decision was very controversial, and did cause a split in the Church, forming the modern day Easter Orthodox religion. Ultimately, this council helped form some of the founding stones of the Christian Religion, surviving to the present day. Without the decisions of this council, the Christian religion may not have even survived.

I hope everyone enjoys their week, and as always, Happy History!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Unconditional Surrender

On August 6, 2010, I opened my e-mail just like any other normal morning. Since I’m on summer break, I don’t have as many e-mails coming into my inbox, so I usually only have to check it once instead of the thousand times like normal during school.

And like usual, I had my daily e-mail from telling me what happened that day in history, and like usual I opened it and glanced at the first thing that poped up. But unlike mornings before when I had deleted it without scrolling down (because does not always give me the history I seek; more American 20th century which I’m trying to stay away from on most occasions) this day was different.

The top story was that on this day August 6, 1945, the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I couldn’t believe it; for some reason, even though I know the day I just never associated it with summer, or even thought about it in August. I looked outside at my beautiful sunny morning and still sat there in shock. Something about the realization that this beautiful day held such death and horror really resonated with me; enough to break up my retelling of my trip to Israel and want to divulge into the significance of this day, and August 9th when the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, in ending WWII with the Japanese.

Beyond everything else I just have a desire to honor those who did die in these bombings, and look a little into what was, and what could have been.

Fact: At 8:16 a.m. August 6, 1945 the Atomic Bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. About 80,000 people are killed in result of the bomb with 35,000 inured. 60,000 would be dead due to effects of the fallout. There were 90,000 buildings in Hiroshima before the bomb was dropped and only 28,000 remained after the bombing. The bomb used gained the nickname “Little Boy”

Fact: At 11:02 a.m. August 9, 1945 the second Atomic Bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. This bomb was nicknamed “Fat Man” and although the hills in the area did a better job containing the blast, it is estimated between 60,000 and 80,000 people will killed from the initial blast.

Fact: August 15, 1945 it is announced to the Japanese people that Japan had surrendered unconditionally to the Americans.

There is something about the mood associated with the Atomic Bombs that has kept me from really desiring to spell out minute-by-minute details for this week. I think enough is known about the topic for everyone to get the gist. I also think there is enough controversy about it that going into the decision would pollute the strong facts associated with the event.

Photo Credit: my cousin Chelsea Lauwereins visited Japan four years ago. Thanks for your picture of Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park. This is the only surviving building from the Atomic Blast, and the bomb exploded directly above this building.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Masada is a place that has serious significance to the Jewish people for one small event that happened there. Located on the top of a hill south of the Dead Sea, the location of Masada is prime to be able to see miles around.

Visiting Masada is a fantastic experience you can only feel if you visit it. There are two options to get up to Masada: hike to the top, or take a cable car. And my group hiked to the top, which for me made the experience the more special.

Masada was built by King Herod, and included two palaces, a bath house and giant storerooms. I’m sure the location was chosen because of its view of the surrounding area. But the building and location of Masada is not what makes the site so special, but rather what happened there in history.

In 70 C.E. the Jews revolted against the Romans; at the time Israel was part of the Roman Empire, which spanned around most of the Mediterranean. The Romans eventually put down the revolt, destroying Jerusalem and the Temple there. After the revolt, 960 revolt leaders fled south, and lived at Masada for three years under siege.

The Romans could have easily left the Jews alone, but it wasn’t their style. Instead, they spent months (possibly years, I didn’t find a definite time amount) building a siege ramp to reach the top of Masada and the Jews living there. When they finally made it to the top, the Jews had a choice to make: would they allow themselves to be taking prisoner, where their wives would probably be raped and their children would be sold into slavery, or would they take their lives to spare themselves and their families that fate? The leader of the zealots, Elazar ben Yair decided on a mass suicide.

It is from the Roman Flavius Josephys that we have the account of the mass suicide today. Josephys claims to have found two women and five children who escaped the suicide and it was them who told him the story of the suicide, and restated Yair’s final speech. Here is a taste of it:

"Since we long ago resolved, never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice.... We were the very first that revolted [against Rome], and we are the last that fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom. Let our wives die before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted of slavery, and after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually." It is then said Yair ordered all possessions to be destroyed except the food, because "[the food] will be a testimonial when we are dead that we were not subdued for want of necessities; but that, according to our original resolution, we have preferred death before slavery."

I think one of my favorite parts about visiting Masada was hiking up to the top. Granted, our hike lasted only 10 minutes (which was ok since it was insanely hot there, even at 8 a.m.). We hiked up the Roman siege ramp, which definitely appealed to my nerdy history interests. I was literally walking on history, which made it a very special experience. Being on top of Masada provided the most amazing view of the surrounding area, and visiting the ruins was fantastic.

This picture is looking down onto the palace built on the bottom two levels of Masada. I wish we could have visited that area, but I have somewhere to explore next time I go.

Around Masada you can see these squares on the ground in various shapes and sizes. These are the remnants left over from where the Romans camped while they were sieging Masada. You can still see these areas today, it is amazing.

This is the bath house. This was one of the places we explored in depth.

This room is the medium temperature room. I believe the painting on the side of the wall is original, but I am again uncertain if that is the case, or it was added to give the viewer persepective.

This is probably the best picture I have of the hot room. The floor was raised here, and the steam would travel out pipes on the walls.

This is the spot where Masada was finally breeched by the Romans. I was amazed because how steep it was at that spot (like almost everywhere else around Masada).

And finally, one of my favorite pictures from there.

Masada was a magical experience, although it was very, very hot while I was there. Enjoy pictures I took, and happy history!