30 March 2011

Seorak Mountain ( 설악산 )

So I headed up north for my birthday weekend.  Not all the way to North Korea, but I wasn't too far away from it.  In fact, the town I stayed in, which is called Sokcho ( 속초 ), is north of the 38th parallel and was part of North Korea throughout the Korean War.  Living in Waegwan, I've never really thought twice about the fact that South Korea is still technically at war with North Korea.  But heading up north provides some more reminders of the ongoing conflict.  The beaches are almost completely lined with barbed wire, there are soldiers marching along the beach, and there are guard posts and spotlights running along the shore.  I think the last incident in this area occurred in 1996, so it's not exactly a hostile environment, but it's still a little intimidating to head into that sort of area.  But anyway, let's get to the good stuff: Seorak Mountain.

The shoreline was almost completely lined with barbed wire
Mount Seorak is part of the Taebaek mountain range and is probably the most well-known mountain in South Korea.  Seoraksan is the highest mountain in the Taebaek mountain range at 5,600 feet and is also the third highest in all of South Korea.  However, Seorak's rock formations are the reason it is famous.  In particular, Ulsan Rock ( 울산바위 ) is absolutely gigantic and serves as an iconic image for the Korean peninsula.  There are three separate areas of the mountain to climb and I decided to climb at Outer Seorak this time.  This is the most popular area of the mountain and there are four routes that can be traveled from the base.  I of course traveled all four and I've provided a recap of the events below. 

At the bottom of the mountain
So the journey began at 11:05 Thursday night when I caught an overnight bus from Daegu to Gangneung.  I arrived in Gangneung around 4:30 (to be honest I'm not really sure what time it was cause I was a little out of it) and proceeded to grab some food and chill out until I caught the first bus to Sokcho at 5:50.  I got into Sokcho around 7:00 and finally made it to the mountain by 7:45.

Entrance to Seoraksan
The first stop on my tour of Mt. Seorak was Biryong Pokpo ( 비룡폭포 ), which means Flying Dragon Waterfall and is the most accessible trail from the Outer Seorak base.  It only takes about 45 minutes to reach the waterfall and you pass Yukdam Pokpo ( 육담폭포 ), which is a serious of six small waterfalls, on the way.  Most of the trail is very easy and it was a good way to start the day after a long night of traveling.

Bridge leading to Biryong Pokpo
Rock formation on the way to the waterfall
Biryong Pokpo
After getting back to the base I made a quick stop at The Great Unification Buddha ( 통일대불 ) and Sinheung Temple ( 신흥사 ).  This temple area is right at the base of the mountain, so I ended up stopping here multiple times and got some great photos each time.

Jeungjang Cheonwang (King Jeungjang)
Sinheungsa and Seoraksan
Inside the Main Hall
Great Unification Buddha
After this quick detour, I started my trip to Geumgang Cave ( 금강굴 ).  A river and a rock formation called Biseondae were both along the route and provided some nice pictures.  Overall, this was definitely a more strenuous hike than the previous walk to Biryong Pokpo.  Nothing too terrible, but it's a lot higher up the mountain than the waterfall.

Panorama view
Inside Geumganggul
It started snowing on my way back down from Geumganggul, but at first it seemed like nothing more than a light snowfall.  I had planned to make the trip to Ulsanbawi in the afternoon and I decided that I wasn't gonna let a little snowfall get in my way.  This proved to be the wrong decision as the snow continued to come down harder and harder.  After hiking for about a half hour to Ulsanbawi I decided that it was probably best to turn back and try again on Saturday.  So I made my way to the bus stop and caught a bus to Sokcho.  The snow had subsided for the most part by the time I got into Sokcho, so I caught another bus to Naksan Provincial Park ( 낙산 도립공원 ).  This park is home to a temple complex that is located right on the Sea of Japan and which therefore provides some amazing views.  This temple was originally built in 671 and is home to numerous buildings and statues.

Bodhisattva of Mercy
Bell Tower
Naksansa was my last adventure for the day and I later found my way back to Sokcho and got a hostel room for the night.

I slept in a little later than I wanted on Saturday and ended up making it to the mountain around 10:00.  Saturday was an absolutely beautiful day and the first thing on my agenda was hiking up to Ulsanbawi.  Now this is hiking.  The trip to the top is much more taxing than the other two routes.  It takes about an hour to reach the bottom of the rock from base of the mountain.  And that's when the fun begins.  888 steps of fun from the bottom to the top.  It's a pretty tough journey and it wasn't made any easier by the fact that the ground was covered in snow.  But I got to the top about an hour after I began and it was definitely worth every ounce of energy I expended making the trip.

On the way up
I couldn't have asked for a nicer day
I arrived back at the base around 2:00 and I had one more adventure to go.  I took a ride on a cable car to Gwongeum Fortress ( 권금성 ).  This is obviously the easiest trek considering that most of the journey is made in a cable car.  However, actually getting to the top of Gwongeumseong proved to be somewhat difficult.  Unlike the hike to Ulsanbawi, there are no stairs provided for the trip.  Nonetheless, I made it to the top and got some spectacular pictures as a result.  This trek concluded my two-day jaunt at Seoraksan and I headed back to my hostel around 5:00.

Cable car
At the top of Gwongeumseong
I woke up at 5:30 on Sunday and took a ten minute stroll to the shore to see the sunrise on the Sea of Japan.  It was a little tough to get up this early, but it was clear morning and I got to see a beautiful sunrise.

I then caught the 7:00 bus out of Sokcho and arrived in Gangneung about an hour later.  From Gangneung I caught a bus to a place called Jeongdongjin ( 정동진 ), which is home to Gangneung Unification Park.  This park houses a North Korean submarine, which ran aground in 1996 while spying on South Korea.  There were 26 soldiers in the submarine and all but one of these soldiers were found after a 49 day manhunt.  There is also a South Korean warship and a tiny boat used by North Koreans to escape from their country on display.
On board a South Korean warship
North Korean submarine
And thus comes to an end my weekend in the northeast.  All I had left to do was sit on a bus for six hours as I traveled back to Daegu.  This weekend provided the most amazing views that I have seen in Korea and I plan on going back to Seoraksan in May or June and then again in October.  I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone looking to explore Korea beyond the confines of the Seoul Metropolitan Area.

The Solar System ( 태양계 )

I'm currently teaching books on the Solar System in my school and as a result I've learned the names of all the planets in Korean.  Not particularly useful knowledge, but considering my major it's probably not too surprising.  I figured I would share this knowledge with you and I thought it might be fun to learn the names of the planets in some of the different countries that I visit.

Let's start by defining the word "planet".  "Planet" is known as haengseong ( 행송 ) in Korean.  "Haeng" comes from a Chinese character that means walking and "seong" is the Sino-Korean word for star, so haengseong literally means "walking (or traveling) star".  As for the other elements of our Solar System (which by the way is known as tae-yang-ge), let's begin with the guy at the center of it all.

1. Sun : 태양 : Tae-yang
  • Korean Meaning : The brightest
  • English Meaning : No hidden meaning.  The word is thought to be about 3,000 years old.
2. Mercury : 수성 : Su-seong
  • Korean Meaning : Star of Water
  • English Meaning : Roman god of travel - Named after Mercury because the planet moves so quickly.
  • Different meanings
3. Venus : 금성 : Geum-seong
  • Korean Meaning : Star of Gold
  • English Meaning : Roman goddess of love - Named after Venus because it was considered the brightest and most beautiful celestial object.
  • Same meaning
4. Earth : 지구 : Ji-gu
  • Korean Meaning : Ground Sphere
  • English Meaning : On the ground - Originates from the Greek word "eraze" and is the only planet not named after a god (Uranus is named after a Greek god rather than a Roman god).  This is because Earth was not thought to be a planet when it was originally named.
  • Same meaning
5. Moon : 달 : Dal
  • Korean Meaning : The only natively named celestial object.  All others come from Chinese.
  • English Meaning : Comes from a Germanic word (which is related to the word "month") and was originally thought to be a planet.
6. Mars : 화성 : Hwa-seong
  • Korean Meaning : Star of Fire
  • English Meaning : Roman god of war - Named after Mars because of its blood-like color.
  • Same meaning
7. Jupiter : 목성 : Mok-seong
  • Korean Meaning : Wood Star
  • English Meaning : Roman king of the gods - Named after Jupiter because of its massive size.
  • Different meanings
8. Saturn : 토성 : To-seong
  • Korean Meaning : Earth Star
  • English Meaning : Roman god of farming - This was the most distant planet visible during Roman times and therefore was named after Jupiter's father.
  • Kind of the same meaning
9. Uranus : 천왕성 : Cheon-wang-seong
  • Korean Meaning : King of Heaven Star
  • English Meaning : Greek god of the sky - This planet was not discovered until 1781, which explains why the Romans did not have a name for it.  The planet was originally named after King George III, but Uranus was finally agreed upon in the 1850s because Uranus was the father of Kronos in Greek mythology (or Saturn in Roman mythology).
  • Same meaning
10. Neptune : 해왕성 : Hae-wang-seong
  • Korean Meaning : King of the Sea Star
  • English Meaning : Roman god of the sea - Named after Neptune because of its blue color.
  • Same meaning
11. Pluto : 명왕성 :Myeong-wang-seong
  • Korean Meaning : King of Darkness Star
  • English Meaning : Roman god of the underworld - The name was suggested by an 11-year old schoolgirl in England and was probably chosen due to Pluto's ability to disappear.
  • Kind of the same meaning
12. Asteroid : 소행성 : So-haeng-seong
      Asteroid belt : 소행성대 : So-haeng-seong-dae
  • Korean Meaning : Minor planet
  • English Meaning : The word has Greek origins and means "star-like".  This of course is inaccurate and some astronomers have begun to call them minor planets or planetoids, which means "planet-like".
13. Comet : 혜성 : He-seong
  • Korean Meaning : ?
  • English Meaning : Comes from the Latin word "cometes", which means "long-haired".  The Latin word was derived from a Greek word that was originally used by Aristotle to describe "stars with hair".

22 March 2011


So I think I've finally gotten my fill of Baekje culture.  I headed up to Gongju (known as Ungjin during the time of the Baekje Kingdom) last month to get a glimpse of the city that served as Baekje's capital from 475 to 538.  As a follow up, I traveled to Buyeo (known as Sabi during the Baekje Kingdom) this weekend.  The capital was moved from Ungjin to Sabi in 538 and remained there until the fall of the Baekje Kingdom in 660.  Both places are pretty small (Gongju has a little over 100,000 people and Buyeo only has about 25,000), but they have nice historical sites and both provide enjoyable day trips for anyone interested in Korean history.  If you have to pick between the two, I would say Gongju is probably the better choice, but I had a good time exploring both of them.

I got into Buyeo by catching the 7:45 train out of Waegwan and getting into Daejeon around 9:15.  I then headed over to Seobu Bus Terminal and got a bus to Buyeo.  I ended up arriving in Buyeo around 11:15 and finally got to my first site, Jeongnimsaji, around noon.  Jeongnimsaji is a temple complex from the Baekje Kingdom and is particularly famous for a five-story stone pagoda, which survived the invasion of Sabi and actually details the exploits of the Silla and Tang forces as they conquered the Baekje Kingdom.  The site is also home to Jeongnim temple, which houses a stone Buddha statue from the Goryeo period.  A museum is also located on the site, but there really isn't too much to see.

Five-story pagoda and Jeongnimsa
Buddha statue located inside Jeongnimsa
Moving on from Jeongnimsaji, I headed over to the Buyeo National Museum.  The museums in Gongju and Buyeo are about the same size, but Gongju had a much more interesting outdoor display.  As for the inside, there were three things in Buyeo's museum that really caught my eye.  The first is a Baekje incense burner, which is prominently displayed and is obviously the highlight of the museum's collection.  I also really enjoyed the rock-carved Buddhist statues and the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva statue.  Overall, the museum is definitely worth the price of admission (it's free) and they were doing lots of construction so it looks like they might be trying to expand the collection.

Baekje incense burner
Buddha statues
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
Moving on, I took a stroll to the outskirts of Buyeo to check out the Baekje Royal Tombs.  Again, I'm gonna have to compare these with the tombs at Gongju and say that Gongju's tombs were a little better.  There really wasn't much to the museum at this site.  However, the one advantage over Gongju is that they actually allow you to look inside some of the tombs and one of these tombs has restored paintings on the walls.

Inside one of the tombs
I traveled back into town after the viewing the tombs and arrived at Busosanseong, which was my final destination for the day.  This is the one place where I would definitely give the advantage to Buyeo.  There are numerous pavilions and shrines scattered throughout the fortress and the most famous site is Nakhwaam Rock.  Legend says that 3,000 women through themselves off of this rock after the fall of Baekje to avoid being captured by the Silla and Tang forces.

Artist depiction of the women who jumped off of the rock
Nakhwaam Rock
So that about sums up my day in Buyeo.  I'm planning to take off work this coming Friday and travel to Mt. Seorak for the weekend, which should provide some spectacular views.  I'm really looking forward to it, so wish me luck on that!

13 March 2011

The Gospel According To Matthew

The Gospel According to Matthew ( τὸ εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Ματθαῖον, or to euangelion kata Matthaion ) is the first book of the New Testament of the Bible and is one of the four gospels.  This book, along with the other three gospels, details the life of Jesus Christ.  It begins with his genealogy and continues through his resurrection, but focuses most of its attention on his ministry and his miracles.  This book is seen as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments because Matthew emphasizes the ways in which Jesus fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament.  The traditional Christian viewpoint is that Matthew, one of the twelve disciples, wrote this book around the end of the first century.  However, some scholars believe that the book was originally written in Greek by a non-eyewitness. 

Ancestry and Birth (Chapters 1 and 2)
Matthew begins by asserting that the lineage of Joseph can be traced back to David and Abraham.  However, Matthew goes on to state that Jesus was immaculately conceived, so I have to wonder why it really matters that Joseph's genealogy leads back to Abraham.  After hearing that his wife was pregnant, Joseph obviously thought that Mary had cheated him, so he intended to get a divorce until he had a dream in which an angel told him that Mary was carrying God's son and that he should be named Jesus.  It is at this juncture that Matthew makes his first reference to the Old Testament when he quotes Isiah 7:14, which foretold the virgin birth.  Jesus is then born in Bethlehem and King Herod sends the Magi to find the child who is destined to become king of the Jews.  The Magi followed a star to Jesus and presented him with gold, incense and myrrh before using an alternate route to return home in order to avoid King Herod. King Herod later tried to find and kill Jesus, but an angel warned Joseph to take his family to Egypt in order to save Jesus' life.  The second chapter ends with Joseph taking his family to live in Nazareth after the death of King Herod.

Why should we care about Joseph's genealogy if he wasn't Jesus' real father? (1:1-18)
Well it was obviously essential for Matthew to assert that Jesus was a descendant of David in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecy.  However, why would Joseph's lineage matter?  Apparently, in Jewish tradition even an adoptive father's lineage is more important than the mother's.  Since the Book of Matthew is written primarily from a Jewish perspective, it is not surprising to find Joseph's ancestors as the first part of the book.  Mary's lineage, which from a modern-day perspective seems much more important, will later be revealed in Luke.

I think it's fair to say I know a bit about space, and I've never heard of a star stopping in the sky. (2:9)
How exactly do Christians explain this story?  There are only so many things the Magi could have been following: a star, a planet, a comet or a meteor.  The only one of these that "stops" is a meteor, which only happens when it hits the ground or burns up in the atmosphere, but a meteor is only lit up for a very short period of time (when it is going through earth's atmosphere) and as such it would have been impossible to base an entire journey off of a meteor.  A star or planet would have obviously been the easiest to follow, but I'm pretty sure these don't "stop".  You could make the argument that God caused the light to stop in the sky, but surely this would have been noticed by other astrologers and no ancient star charts found to date suggest any kind of abnormality around this time period.

Massacre of the Innocents (2:16)
There is a lot of debate over whether this infanticide actually occurred and if it did, how many children were actually killed.  For starters, I don't know about anyone else, but I always got the idea that King Herod killed thousands of babies in his search for Jesus.  This was definitely not the case.  If the story in Matthew is assumed to be true, it is doubtful that more than 25 or 30 infants were killed because the population of Bethlehem at that time is thought to have only been around 2,000 people.  My second point is that the story of this massacre does not appear in any historical text other than Matthew until around the year 150.  The Romans kept pretty good records, so the idea that the massacre of innocent children would have gone unnoticed seems a little far-fetched.  

References to Old Testament
1:23 - Isiah 7:14
2:6 - Micah 5:2
2:15 - Hosea 11:1
2:18 - Jeremiah 31:15
2:23 - Unspecified

Early Ministry (Chapters 3 and 4)
Chapter 3 begins with John the Baptist preaching in Judea and baptizing people in the Jordan River.  John condemns the Pharisees and Sadducees and predicts the coming of Christ.  John then baptizes Jesus and it is said that "heaven was opened" (3:16) and that God spoke and said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (3:17)  Jesus then goes to the desert to be tempted three times by the devil.  Jesus replies with scripture each time (each response is actually from Deuteronomy) before finally telling Satan to leave.  After the temptation, Jesus leaves Nazareth and travels to Capernaum to begin his ministry.  It is here that Jesus recruits the first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James and John) and begins to preach his message to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (4:17)  It is at this time that Jesus also begins to heal the sick and gather a large following.

Does John already know that Jesus is God's Son? (3:14) and (11:3)
I haven't read the Book of John yet, but in John 1:32-33 John the Baptist states that he did not know that Jesus was God's Son before baptizing him, but that God had told him that he would know who the man was because the Holy Spirit would descend upon him.  So if John didn't know that Jesus was God, why did he initially refuse to baptize him and claim that he was unworthy of doing the deed?  Also, in Matthew 11:3 John the Baptist is still unsure about Christ's divinity.  However, the Book of John claims that God specifically told him how to recognize His Son.  This seems to contradict the account in John.

Temptation of Christ (4:1-11)
I've read some interpretations that say the three temptations foreshadowed areas of Jesus' ministry or specific events in his life.  But I think the most reasonable idea is just that the devil tempted him with typical human desires.  Food was a pretty obvious place to start with a guy who had been fasting for 40 days.  The temptation to jump off of the temple would have been an ostentatious display of pride and a chance to "show off" how important he was because God chose to save him from his fall.  The devil's final try is of course power, which Jesus also rejects. 

Do people actually become possessed by demons? (4:24, and many other references throughout the book)
  1. People have never been possessed by demons - Personally, I have a pretty tough time believing in demonic possession.  It seems like a completely ridiculous concept to me and to the best of my knowledge all symptoms of "demonic possessions" that can be validated can be linked back to some kind of psychological disorder.  There have obviously been stories of people doing superhuman things and I'll admit that if I actually saw someone levitate or spin their head around I might be a little more inclined to believe in this sort of thing, but until then I'm gonna have to go with ridiculous.
  2. People used to be possessed by demons - There is a viewpoint that demonic possession did in fact used to exist around the time of Jesus, but that it has since faded away.  While this seems like the most obvious way to reconcile the Bible with our knowledge of psychology, I have to ask why would demons suddenly decide to stop possessing humans?
  3. People were and still are possessed by demons - This is the typical conservative Christian viewpoint and to be honest I'm not sure how you can read verses like Matthew 8:28-32 and say that the Bible doesn't believe in demonic possession.  Then again, I also don't know how you can look at modern medicine and say that a priest would be more helpful for a schizophrenic than a psychiatrist. 
3:16 - "... he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him."

4:19,20 - "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.

References to Old Testament
3:3 - Isiah 40:3
4:4 - Deuteronomy 8:3
4:6 - Psalm 91:11,12
4:7 - Deuteronomy 6:16
4:10 - Deuteronomy 6:13
4:15,16 - Isiah 9:1,2

Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5 - 7)
Jesus begins by teaching his disciples about the kingdom of heaven and then proceeds to talk to the masses.  Here is a summary of his teachings and claims.
  • Jesus claims that he has come to fulfill the prophecies made in the Old Testament.  
  • He advises that people resolve problems with their fellow man in order to avoid God's judgment.  
  • He also claims that "anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery" (5:28) and that "anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery" (5:32).  
  • A man should also not swear (5:34), should turn the other cheek (5:39), and should love his enemies (5:44).  
  • Chapter 6 begins with Jesus telling people to do their good works in secret, because they should not be seeking the approval of man, but rather the approval of God.  
  • He goes on to recite the Lord's Prayer, tell people they should forgive men if they want to be forgiven by God, and speak out against accumulating wealth on earth.  
  • Men should not worry about their life on earth because God will provide for them.  
  • Men should also not judge other human beings, because "in the same way you judge others, you will be judged" (7:2).  
  • Jesus also preaches that entrance to the kingdom of heaven requires more than simply proclaiming Jesus as Lord.  A man must also put Jesus' teachings into practice in order to gain favor with God.  
It is said that the crowds were amazed by Jesus' teachings, "because he taught as one who had authority" (7:29).

So who exactly gets into heaven?  (5:3-10,20; 7:21-27)
Christianity obviously seems to appeal to the weak, the poor, and the outcasts of society.  Basically it brings hope to those who have little hope on earth.  There are some interesting contradictions I see between the ideal form of Christianity presented in the Bible and the ideology perpetuated among many Christians today.  First and foremost, the Bible seems pretty explicit in stating that it takes more to get into heaven than simply going to church every Sunday and proclaiming that Jesus is God.  For this reason, I can't really understand Christians who use Christianity as a sort of "backup plan" in case the Bible is correct.  These are the people that are "Christians" for one hour a week.  To me it seems that the Bible says these people won't get into heaven anyway, so why waste an hour of your week?  Some other interesting examples are the Christians who support wars.  How do you reconcile that with Jesus' teachings?  And how about the rich?  While it does seem possible for wealthy men to go to heaven, it certainly appears to be a much more difficult process (have you ever tried to fit a camel through the eye of a needle?).  I guess I'm using this question as an excuse for a little bit of a rant, but I get tired of hearing Christians talk about how everyone is always attacking the Church.  In my opinion, a lot of these "attacks" could be avoided if the Church looked in the mirror and tried to fix a few of the hypocrisies in its teachings.    

Stricter Standards (5:21-48)
Jesus basically expounds on the Ten Commandments and other teachings in the Old Testament.  While many of the laws in the Old Testament focus specifically on actions, Jesus teaches that men are judged based upon their thoughts and intents.  So while you may have not actually cheated on your wife, if you wanted to, then that's bad enough.  It is certainly a stricter approach, but also a more sensible one.

5:3 - "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

5:14 - "You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden."

5:39 - "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

5:44 - "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"

6:7 - "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans"

6:24 - "You cannot serve both God and Money."

6:34 - "...do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself."

7:3 - "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

7:12 - "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you"

References to Old Testament
5:21 - Exodus 20:13
5:27 - Exodus 20:14
5:31 - Deuteronomy 24:1
5:38 - Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21
5:43 - Leviticus 19:18

Miracles (Chapters 8 and 9)
A summary of the miracles performed in Chapters 8 and 9:
  • Heals a leper (8:2-4)
  • Heals the centurion's paralyzed servant without even touching him (8:5-13)
  • Heals Peter's bedridden mother-in-law (8:14,15)
  • Drives out numerous demons (8:16)
  • Stops a storm at sea (8:23-27)
  • Sends demons from men to a herd of pigs, who proceed to run down a bank and drown in a lake (8:28-32)
  • Heals a paralytic despite the protests of the teachers of the law (9:2-7)
  • Heals a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years when she touches his cloak (9:20-22)
  • Brings a ruler's daughter back from the dead (9:18,19,23-25)
  • Gives sight to two blind men (9:27-30)
  • Drives a demon from a mute, who then speaks (9:32,33)
Jesus also recruits Matthew, the hated tax collector, as one of his disciples in Chapter 9.  He responds to the Pharisees' criticisms of his associates with a quote from Hosea 6:6, which states "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."  The Pharisees later claim that Jesus is able to do his miracles because he is "the prince of demons".
What do the miracles mean?
Jesus' miracles can basically be broken down into 4 main groups: healing, exorcism, resurrection of the dead and control over nature.  But I found myself thinking "why these miracles?"  Jesus had the ability to do absolutely anything on earth, so there must be a reason he focused on these areas.  If the miracles are looked at symbolically (that's not to say they aren't necessarily real), there are many similarities between Jesus' teachings and the miracles he performed.  Healing obviously reflects Jesus' love for mankind, but the real reason he came to earth was cure people's minds, not their bodies.  Exorcism exemplifies the ongoing battle between God and Satan.  Resurrection represents the promise of eternal life and his control of nature is indicative of his control over the earth and serves as a reminder that God could bring an end to earth at anytime.   

An interesting side note on miracles: The story of Jesus feeding 5,000 with only five loaves and two fishes is the only miracle that appears in all four gospels.

Why does Jesus tell the people he heals to not tell anyone? (8:4 and 9:30)
This must have been a result of the ever-increasing pressure put on Jesus by the Jewish teachers.  He obviously recognized that widespread publicity would make him even more of a target.  This is still relatively early in his ministry, so I'm sure he is aware that he has many more things to accomplish before his time is over on earth.

"Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." (8:22)
This sentence initially struck me as very strange, but upon further review is actually very clever.  This quote is Jesus' response to an unnamed disciple who asks to bury his dead father before leaving to follow Jesus.  The first word usage of "dead" refers to those who are dead to Christ, or who refused to follow his teachings, while the second usage of "dead" literally refers to dead people.  Jesus basically requires this man's full devotion, even in a time of great personal grief, if he wants to truly be a follower of Christ.

Why do the people of Gadarenes ask him to leave? (8:34)
This is more of logical question than anything.  If you actually just saw a man cast out two demons, why would you ask him to leave?

9:6 - "Then he said to the paralytic, 'Get up, take your mat and go home.'"

9:12 - "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

References to Old Testament
8:17 - Isiah 53:4
9:13 - Hosea 6:6

The Twelve Disciples (Chapter 10)
The Twelve Disciples (in order of appearance)
  1. Simon (Peter)
  2. Andrew (Simon's brother)
  3. James (Son of Zebedee)
  4. John (James' brother)
  5. Philip
  6. Bartholomew
  7. Thomas
  8. Matthew (Tax collector)
  9. James (Son of Alphaeus)
  10. Thaddaeus
  11. Simon the Zealot
  12. Judas Iscariot
Jesus instructs these twelve men to preach his message to the "lost sheep of Israel" (10:6) and heal the sick and raise the dead.  He also tells them to not take any money for their work.  Jesus warns them to be on the lookout for men who will persecute them, but not to be afraid of "those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (10:28).  Jesus then states that people should love him more than anyone else, even their parents or children.

Are the disciples symbolic? (10:2-4)
The number 12 has always been an important number in mathematics and a highly revered number among many religions.  The case was no different in Judaism, as seen by Jacob's 12 sons who subsequently went on to form the 12 tribes of Israel.  This number again manifests itself in Christianity with Jesus' 12 disciples.  For this reason, many early Gnostic Christians believed that the 12 disciples were symbolic, while the Pauline Christians believed in the literal account. 

What's the meaning of 10:23?
Verse 10:23 states, "I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes."  Sounds like an incorrect prediction does it not?  Well, as with many things in the Bible, there are numerous interpretations.  Here are a few of the more interesting ones:
  • Jesus was wrong - This view is obviously rejected by Christians.
  • The Preterist Theory - This is the idea that the apocalyptic theories in the Bible have already happened and that they referred to the destruction of Jerusalem rather than the entire world.  Jerusalem was sacked by the Roman Empire in 70 AD, which was within the lifetimes of Jesus' disciples and therefore fits in with the literal chronological description of events.
  • The Resurrection - The idea that Christ's second coming actually referred to his resurrection, rather than the end of the world.  
  • The Church - The coming of the Son of Man refers to the establishment of the church and his teachings rather than his actual second coming.
  • Destruction of Jerusalem - The Son of Man refers to divine punishment rather than the end of the world.  As with the Preterist Theory, it is believed that this scripture was fulfilled in 70 AD, but unlike the Preterist Theory it is believed that the end of the world and the second coming are still ahead.
10:9 - "Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts"

10:16 - "...be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

10:34 - "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

References to Old Testament
10:35,36 - Micah 7:6

A Little Negativity (Chapters 11 and 12)
Chapter 11 opens with Jesus asserting (although not directly) to John the Baptist's disciples (I think?) that he is in fact the Son of God.  He also calls John the Baptist "God's messenger" and proclaims that there has never been anyone born from a woman who is greater than John the Baptist (wasn't Jesus born from a woman?).  Jesus goes on to denounce the cities that rejected his teachings and says that judgment day will be more bearable for Sodom than for these cities.  Chapter 12 finds Jesus in the midst of a theological debate with the Pharisees.  They claimed that it was unlawful for his disciples to pick grains to eat on the Sabbath, but Jesus counters by telling them that David had once eaten consecrated bread when he and his companions were hungry.  They also ask Jesus if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, to which Jesus responds by asking if a sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, would you lift it out?  Jesus then proceeds to heal a man with a shriveled hand.  When the Pharisees claim that Jesus uses Beelzebub to drive out demons, he says, "If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself.  How then can his kingdom stand?" (12:26) Jesus then proceeds to make some scary and interesting statements:
  • 12:32 - "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
  • 12:36,37 - "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
  • 12:39 - "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!"
  • 12:40 - Jesus makes his first prediction about being raised from the dead.
Was John the Baptist really the best "among those born of women"? (11:11)
Wasn't Jesus born of a woman?  I guess I just find the language interesting.  Why not just say "among men".

Are there sins that cannot be forgiven? (12:32)
I'm gonna put this down in the questions section, but the wording of 12:32 certainly seems a little scary.  Most Christians believe that this verse refers to a lifelong rejection of Christ and not simply a few misplaced words or thoughts.

Meaning of 12:43-45?
Any thoughts?  Other than the obvious literal interpretation.

12:25 - "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined"

12:32 - "...anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."

12:39 - "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!"

References to Old Testament
11:10 - Malachi 3:1
12:7 - Hosea 6:6
12:18-21 - Isiah 42:1-4

Parables (Chapter 13)
Jesus went to a lake to preach and it became so crowded that he climbed into a boat to speak to the people.  Matthew claims in 13:34 that "he did not say anything to them (the crowd of people) without using a parable." Here are the parables he taught (he also explains them to his disciples):
  • 13:3-8 - A farmer spread his seed along a path, on rocky places, among thorns, and on good soil.  The seed on the path was eaten by birds.  The seed on the rocky places sprang up quickly, but was scorched by the sun because it did not have roots.  The seed among thorns was choked by the plants.  However, the seed on good soil produced a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
  • 13:24-30 - A man sowed good seed in his field, but his enemy came at night and sowed weeds in the field.  The man decides to not pull the weeds because the wheat may be rooted up with the weeds.  So he instead decides to wait until harvest, at which time he will tell the harvesters to first collect the weeds and burn them, and then to gather the wheat and bring it in the barn.
  • 13:31,32 - The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed because it is the smallest of all seeds, but later becomes a tree.  
  • 13:33 - "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."
  • 13:44 - "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."
  • 13:45,46 - "...the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." 
  • 13:47,48 - The kingdom of heaven is like a fisherman's net that caught all kings of fish.  When it was full, the fisherman put the good fish in baskets and threw the bad fish away.
Why parables? (13:10)
It is said in the Bible that he spoke in parables to fulfill the prophecy of Isiah that the people will be able to hear his message but not understand its meaning.  But I have a bit of a problem with this.  Either the people in Jesus' age were morons (it really isn't too difficult to figure out how Jesus will explain the parables to his disciples before he does) or the hidden meaning in all of these is so complex that we also can't figure them out.  I have to assume that anyone with a basic level of intelligence can get the gist of these parables, so how were they confused by his teachings?  And if they are in fact so complex that we can't figure them out, then why are Biblical scholars always explaining them?  It's as if we inherently think that we are much more intelligent than the people in Jesus' day.

13:45,46 - "...the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."

13:54,55 - "'Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?' they asked.  'Isn't this the carpenter's son?'"

References to Old Testament
13:14,15 - Isiah 6:9,10
13:35 - Psalm 78:2

Feeding the Masses, Walking on Water and Transfiguration
(Chapters 14 - 17)
Chapter 14 begins by telling of the beheading of John the Baptist and his head subsequently being brought to the daughter of Herodias, who had asked for the head as a favor from Herod the tetrarch (Herod the Great's son).  Jesus attempted to withdraw to a solitary place to mourn the death of John the Baptist, but it is said that he had compassion on the large crowd of people who followed him.  Instead of sending the people away, he fed the crowd, which consisted of 5,000 men in addition to women and children, with only 5 loaves of bread and two fishes.  Jesus then sent his disciples out to sea while he prayed on a mountainside.  Jesus then walks out to his disciples on the water and Peter also walks on the water for a short time.  Jesus and his disciples then land the boat and Jesus proceeds to debate with the Pharisees, provide another parable, and drive out a demon.  Chapter 15 ends after Jesus spoke along the Sea of Galilee and fed 4,000 men with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.  In Chapter 16, Jesus declares that he will use Peter to build his church and makes his second prediction that he will be killed and rise from the dead on the third day (16:21). Chapter 17 begins with Jesus' transfiguration in front of Peter, James and John.  It is said that he shone like the sun and that he spoke with Moses and Elijah.  Jesus later tells his disciples that Elijah has already come to earth in the form of John the Baptist and predicts that he will be raised from the dead for the third time.

Symbolism of a head on a platter? (14:11)
Herod and his family were feeding off of the innocent?  A simple display of a disgusting and perverted lifestyle? 

Love? (15:16, 16:11, 17:17)
"Are you still so dull?"  "How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread?"  "How long shall I put up with you?"  These don't necessarily seem like comments filled with love.  I actually got the sense in these chapters that Jesus became very annoyed with his disciples.  Shouldn't God be able to understand that these men aren't going to be able to live up to his standards? 

I originally thought this passage was similar in context to 10:23, but upon further review it is simply predicting Jesus' transfiguration in the following chapter.

Why the magic trick? (17:27)
So in this passage Jesus tells Peter to go fishing and that the first fish he catches will have a four-drachma coin in it to pay taxes.  I understand the symbolism that God will provide, but doesn't this seem like a magic trick compared to Jesus' other miracles.  I mean, he's raising people from the dead and casting out demons, so what is really the point of having a coin appear in a fish's mouth?

15:9 - "They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men."

15:10 - "What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean."

15:14 - "If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

References to Old Testament
15:4 - Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16
15:4 - Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9
15:9 - Isiah 29:13

Words of Wisdom (Chapter 18)
Chapter 18 provides some heavenly insight on earthly problems:
  • Jesus begins by teaching that men should become like children
  • 18:8 - "If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away."
  • If someone sins against you, first confront the man one-on-one.  If he doesn't listen, bring one or two others along.
  • The Debt Parable - A master has pity on his servant and cancels the servant's debt, but that servant then leaves and demands that another servant repay him money (a much smaller amount than he had owed).  When the servant refuses the man has him thrown into prison.  The master then hears about this and is so angered that he puts the servant, who he had originally pardoned, into prison to repay his debt.
Importance of Children (18:1-6,10,11; 19:13-15)
Jesus continually praises the faith and innocence of children.  He even goes so far as to claim that the only way to get into heaven is to become like children.  Jesus wants followers with humility and an open mind.

18:4 - "...whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

18:12,13 - "If a man owns a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off."

References to Old Testament
18:16 - Deuteronomy 19:15

Travel to Jerusalem (Chapters 19 and 20)
Jesus leaves Galilee at the beginning of Chapter 19 and is subsequently questioned by the Pharisees on the topic of divorce.  Jesus responds in 19:6 by saying, "what God has joined together, let man not separate."  A man then tells Jesus that he has kept all of the commandments and asks him what else he must do to get to heaven.  Jesus tells him to give up his earthly wealth, but the man is unable to do this.  Jesus goes on to compare the kingdom of heaven to a vineyard before once again predicting his resurrection and finally restoring the sight of two blind men.

Marriage and Divorce (19:3-12)
Jesus' feelings on marriage seem to be somewhat ambivalent.  He advises that those who are willing to forgo marriage and sex should in fact do this.  However, he also recognizes marriage is an essential aspect of human life and does not speak against it.  He has much more clearcut views on divorce.  He explicitly states in 19:9 that anyone who divorces and remarries has committed adultery.  So it would seem that at least half of the United States has committed adultery.

Wealth (19:16-27)
These verses have always intrigued me because it seems as though the church generally likes to ignore them as long as you give the church ten percent of your millions of dollars.  Granted, verse 27:57 does specifically state that a rich man became a disciple of Jesus.  But judging from these verses, that definitely seems to be a rare case.  I just find it interesting that issues that aren't specifically addressed by Jesus, such as abortion and homosexuality, have completely taken over the religious dogma, while issues that he does specifically condemn, such as divorce and extravagant wealth, are for the most part ignored. 

A religion for the masses (19:30)
"But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."  This truly is a religion for the masses.  No matter how miserable life is on earth, there is always the hope of eternal paradise.  And while Christianity has come to be accepted by people in all levels of society, it definitely seems as though it was initially aimed at those with the most miserable lives on earth.

Sign of the Prophet Jonah (12:40, 16:4,21, 17:23, 20:19)
Jesus predicts his death and resurrection quite a few times in the Book of Matthew.  My question is in particular regard to sign of the prophet Jonah, who obviously spent three days and three nights in the belly of whale.  The sign of the prophet Jonah is generally seen as Christ's prediction that he will spend three days in the ground much like Jonah spent three days in the whale.  My question arises specifically in reference to Matthew 12:40, which states explicitly that Jesus will be in his tomb for three days and three nights.  Even if you count Friday night and Sunday morning as days, you are still only left with two nights.

19:21 - "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven."

19:24 - "...it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

19:30 - "But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."

References to Old Testament
19:4 - Genesis 1:27
19:5 - Genesis 2:24
19:19 - Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16-20
19:19 - Leviticus 19:18

Jerusalem (Chapters 21 - 23)
Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey and it is said that the crowds spread their cloaks on the road, placed branches on the road (it didn't specify that they were palm branches) and shouted "Hosanna (although this word is generally used to praise, it is actually a Hebrew word meaning "save") in the highest!"  Jesus then goes into the temple and forces the traders to leave the temple area.  This is followed by stories of Jesus healing people and a strange story about him killing a fig tree because it didn't have any fruit.  When Jesus is asked what authority is allowing him to perform his miracles he does not answer, but rather provides a parable about a man with two sons and a parable about a vineyard.  Chapter 22 opens with Jesus speaking to the masses about the wedding banquet parable.  He then discusses scripture with the Pharisees, who were apparently trying to trick him into saying something so that they could arrest him.  Jesus is still speaking to the crowds in Chapter 23 and he spends a good portion of this sermon criticizing the Pharisees and other teachers who put a lot of emphasis on the law.


Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, and teachers
There are generally four groups of people who butt heads with Jesus, so I thought I would provide a brief overview of these groups of people.  Priests and teachers seem pretty self-explanatory, so I'll leave those two out.  The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism that was obsessed with Jewish law.  Jesus obviously placed much more emphasis on God's love, so it was only natural that they disagreed on quite a few issues (not to mention that whole Messiah thing).  The Sadducees were also a sect of Judaism and were generally wealthier than the Pharisees (the Pharisees and the Sadducees didn't get along either).

Woe to you (23:13-39)
Jesus really sticks it to the Pharisees in these verses.  This obviously created even more contempt for Jesus amongst the Pharisees and contributed to the plot against him. 

21:22 - "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."

22:21 - "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

22:32 - "He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

23:12 - "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

23:23 - "You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness."

References to Old Testament
21:5 - Zechariah 9:9
21:9 - Psalm 118:26
21:13 - Isiah 56:7
21:13 - Jeremiah 7:11
21:16 - Psalm 8:2
21:42 - Psalm 118:22,23
22:32 - Exodus 3:6
22:37 - Deuteronomy 6:5
22:39 - Leviticus 19:18
22:44 - Psalm 110:1
23:39 - Psalm 118:26

The Apocalypse and Judgment Day (Chapters 24 and 25)
Jesus claims that at the end of times many people will claim to be the second coming of Christ and that there will be wars, famines and earthquakes.  He also states that those days will be cut short because if they were not, no one would survive.  The sun will then darken, the moon will stop giving light (I had no idea the moon was a light source), and the stars will fall from the sky (how exactly is that going to happen?).  Jesus also says that even he does not know that exact time of the end of the world, but that "the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (24:44).  The kingdom of heaven is compared to ten virgins and to three servants who had been entrusted with their master's wealth.  Jesus also speaks about separating the wicked and the righteous.

So when is the end?
May 21, 2011?  December 21, 2012?  Probably not.  When you hear a new prophecy about the end of the world every other year it kind of diminishes the effect.  But for anyone who thinks they actually know when the end of the world will come, please read 24:36.  "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."  So unless you think you're more important than Jesus, please stop with the insanity.

Jesus claims that "this generation" will not pass away before the end of the world.  Taken in a literal sense, this has obviously turned out to be false.  This passage is generally thought to refer to the Jewish people as a generation and is taken to mean that the Jews will be around until the end of the world.

"Weeping and gnashing of teeth" (8:11,12; 13:41,42; 13:49,50; 22:12,13; 24:50,51; 25:29,30)
This phrase is used six times in Matthew, so I figured it deserved some recognition.  These words are generally used when a person is separated from God.  However, it should be noted that these people are not actually being tortured (as would be the case in hell).  It seems to be me that simply the separation from God creates an intense feeling of despair and remorse. 

24:30 - "They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory."

References to Old Testament
24:15 - Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11
24:29 - Isiah 13:10; 34:4

The Last Supper and Arrest (Chapter 26)
Chapter 26 begins with a woman pouring perfume on Jesus' head.  We are told that Judas goes to the priests and agrees to hand over Jesus and that Jesus predicts that one of the disciples will betray him and even confronts Judas.  Jesus then initiates the communion practice and tells Peter that he will disown Jesus three times.  Jesus later appears to be very troubled by his upcoming task and even asks God to not put him through the torture.  When Judas finally arrives he kisses Jesus to signal that the man was in fact Jesus (they didn't know?) and a small altercation ensues between the guards and Jesus' disciples, but the disciples later flee.  The guards then took Jesus (Peter followed) to the Sanhedrin (23 judges), who found him guilty of blasphemy and proceeded to spit on him and hit him.  The chapter ends with Peter disowning Jesus three times as Jesus had predicted that he would.

Jesus confronts Judas and he still turns him over? (26:21-25)
This is just another one of those things that logically I can't really wrap my head around.  Let me get this straight.  You've seen this man bring people back from the dead, walk on water, and now he already knows that you plan to disown him and you still go through with it?  Could it really just have been for greed?  I mean he surely could have held out for more money if that was his real goal.  I hope the other gospels investigate Judas in more depth because I would really like to know his motivation.

Why does Jesus ask to be relieved of his burden? (26:37-45)
Although Christians love to celebrate Christmas and Easter (and many generally consider Easter to be the most important date in the Christian religion), I would have to point to this event as quite possibly the most important event in the history of the Christian religion.  This is the only time we witness a conflict of will between the Son and the Father.  Even while Jesus was fasting for forty days and being tempted by the devil, he never lost heart.  But I really got the sense in this story that he was pretty close to a breakdown.  Of course, he eventually uses prayer as a "pep talk" and gets back to business.  I just get the impression that this is a very underrated story in Christianity. 

Were the Jews responsible for Jesus' death?
Well Mel Gibson certainly thinks so.  And I know that many church leaders have backed away from this claim in recent years, but I gotta say that after reading this it seems pretty clear the Jews were actually at fault.  The only way the case can really be made against that claim is to say that the Bible was altered in order to promote antisemitism.

References to Old Testament
26:31 - Zechariah 13:7

Trial and Crucifixion (Chapter 27)
The priests all found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, but they still needed the consent of Pilate to sentence him to death.  Prior to the trial, Judas was overcome with remorse and returned the 30 silver coins and hanged himself.  Pilate then asked Jesus if he was "king of the Jews", to which Jesus agreed, but said nothing else.  Pilate did not want to kill Jesus and he gave the crowd the option of freeing either Barabbas or Jesus.  The crowd of course chose Barabbas and Pilate then washed his hands in front of the crowd and proclaimed that he was innocent of Jesus' blood.  The torture of Jesus then ensued.  He was beaten and insulted and according to Matthew, both of the men who were crucified beside him also mocked him.  Jesus cried out to God in the ninth hour before finally giving "up his spirit" (27:50).  There was then a major earthquake and apparently many dead holy people came to life.  A rich man named Joseph then took Jesus' body and a stone tomb before rolling a rock in front of the entrance. 

How much is Pilate to blame?
Pilate certainly seems pretty reluctant to crucify Jesus, does he not?  But let's take a look at some historical records of Pilate.  The two most well known accounts come from Jewish historians Philo and Josephus.  Granted, it must be taken into account that these two men were Jews, but both of them detail numerous instances in which Pilate specifically aggravates the Jews.  He was also known to beat them and was eventually removed from his post because of his harsh treatment of Jews.  So would this man, who had an army of 3,000 men at his disposal, really have been intimidated by the Jewish mob calling for Jesus' crucifixion?  

Roman crucifixion records
I've always been under the impression that the Roman's kept detailed records of their executions.  Turns out I was wrong.  I was not able to find any evidence to support the idea.  While it is true that historians have noted many crucifixions in their records, the idea that the Roman Empire actually kept these records seems false.  So I guess it isn't too surprising then to not find a record of Christ's crucifixion. 

Any truth in the record of events after Jesus' death? (27:51-53)
I have to admit that when I come across stories of earthquakes and other natural events in ancient literature I become a little skeptical to say the least.  For instance, I've been reading about the Silla Kingdom (an ancient Korean kingdom) and it is said that Buddhism was accepted after the martyrdom of a man named Ichadon because when he was killed the earth shook, the sun turned dark and his blood turned to milk.  That's a ridiculous story, right?  But does that really sound any different from the story that the earth shook and people were raised from the dead after Jesus died?  Obviously the fact that an event as miraculous as this was not recorded in any other historical document (even the other gospels) casts some doubt on its credibility. 

Is wealth okay now? 19:21 vs. 27:57
I'm a little confused by the discrepancy between these two verses.  It seems obvious that Jesus turns a man away in 19:21 because of his vast amount of wealth, but 27:57 specifically states that Jesus had a wealthy disciple (not one of the twelve though).  Any thoughts?

References to Old Testament
27:9,10 - Zechariah 11:12,13; Jeremiah 19:1-13; 32:6-9
27:46 - Psalm 22:1

Resurrection (Chapter 28)
Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" went to visit Jesus' tomb on Sunday and found an angel at the tomb who told them that he had risen and that they should tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.  The women then meet Jesus and he tells them the same thing.  The guards who were at the tomb when the angel arrived went to tell the priests about the events and they decided to circulate the idea that Jesus' disciples had stolen his body during the night.  When Jesus finally met his disciples in Galilee they worshiped him and he instructed them to spread his word to all nations.

What's the point of the encounter with the angel? (28:5-10)
Isn't it a little redundant?  The women first talk to an angel who tells them that Jesus has risen and that they should tell the disciples.  Then they meet Jesus who tells them that they should tell the disciples.  So did they really have to speak with angel first?

Some of his disciples doubted him? (28:17)
How could you still have doubts at this point?  I mean he told them he would rise from the dead and now he has done it.  What is there still to doubt?

Favorite Quotes
5:39 - "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

5:44 - "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you"

6:34 - "...do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself."

7:3 - "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

7:12 - "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you"

9:6 - "Then he said to the paralytic, 'Get up, take your mat and go home.'"

9:12 - "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

15:14 - "If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

19:24 - "...it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

19:30 - "But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."

Does Satan know about the Trinity?  If he does, why would he bother tempting Jesus?  I've never heard of (I could be wrong) Satan tempting God the Father, so why would he tempt the Son?  Does this in any way indicate that Jesus could be more prone to human temptation?

How does a Christian reconcile the Bible's belief in demonic possession with the findings of modern psychology?

Why do people die of hunger? Verses 6:25-34 state explicitly that God will provide basic necessities.

What's your interpretation of Matthew 10:23?

Are there sins that cannot be forgiven? (12:32)

How do you explain 12:40?

Must the Bible be taught to everyone before the end of days? (24:14)

06 March 2011

Later Three Kingdoms Period (892 - 936)

The decentralization of Unified Silla, combined with the rise of powerful castle lords and numerous peasant uprisings, eventually led to Silla's inability to control such a vast kingdom.  Two kingdoms arose out of these peasant rebellions as successor states to Baekje and Goguryeo and in turn challenged Silla's authority on the peninsula.

Silla ( 신라 )

Queen Jinseong ( 진성여왕 ) ruled during the time of forced tax collections and peasant rebellions in Silla.  She was also the first ruler of Silla during the time period known to historians as the Later Three Kingdoms Period.  She abdicated the throne in 897 and died shortly thereafter.  King Hyogang ( 효강왕 ) succeeded her to the throne, but was unable to do anything to quell the ongoing turmoil on the Korean peninsula.  It is said that he became an alcoholic and completely neglected his duties at the end of his reign.  King Gyeongmyeong ( 경명왕 ) then unsuccessfully sought help from Tang and the Silla capital of Gyeongju was eventually sacked by Hubaekje in 927.  King Gyeongsun ( 경순왕 ) was placed on the throne after the fall of Gyeongju, but he held no real power and the only notable aspect of his reign is his surrender to Goryeo in 935.  Thus, the mighty kingdom of Silla finally came to an end after 993 years of existence. 

I really got the sense that this had become a pitiful state by the time of the Later Three Kingdoms Period.  There are stories of Queen Jinseong bringing young boys into the palace for her own pleasure, King Hyogang succumbing to alcoholism and it is said that Hubaekje found King Gyeongae ( 경애왕 ) partying when they overtook the capital.  It just seems as though Silla had become completely corrupt and helpless during this time period and that the ruling class was either ignorant of or unconcerned with their impending doom.

Despite the sad state of affairs in Late Silla, the Silla Kingdom is generally viewed as the progenitor of Korean culture.  Balhae certainly had some contributions, but the ruling class of Balhae had no significant impact in Goryeo's history.  In contrast, Goryeo saw itself as the successor to Silla and therefore adopted many cultural aspects of the Silla Kingdom.  I think it's hard to overstate the influence of a kingdom that existed on the Korean peninsula for almost 1,000 years.

Hubaekje ( 후백제 )

One of the leaders who arose during the peasant rebellions was named Gyeon Hwon ( 견훤 ).  Gyeon Hwon was actually born as a peasant and had successfully risen through the ranks of the Silla military due to his meritorious service.  In 892, during the time of widespread turmoil within the Silla Kingdom, Gyeon Hwon established a revival of the Baekje Kingdom at modern-day Gwangju with the objective of avenging the last king of Baekje, King Uija.  Gyeon Hwon officially adopted the name Hubaekje, or Later Baekje, in 900 and sought to expand his kingdom.  He accomplished this by establishing trade with China and battling with Silla and the other upstart kingdom of Hugoguryeo. He attacked multiple areas controlled by Silla, including the Silla capital in 927 and placed King Gyeongsun on the throne after King Gyeongae committed suicide. 

Despite initial success, Gyeon Hwon ultimately brought about his own downfall due to his tyrannical rule.  He also attempted to pass power to his fourth son, Geumgang, rather than his eldest son, Singeom.  Singeom plotted with two of his brothers to overthrow Gyeon Hwon and was successful in accomplishing this scheme in 935.  Gyeon Hwon responded by joining the Goryeo military and leading an attack against his former kingdom, which resulted in the end of Hubaekje in 936.  Gyeon Hwon also died that same year. 

Hugoguryeo ( 후고구려 ) / Majin ( 마진 ) / Taebong ( 태봉 )

Gung Ye ( 궁예 ) was born into the Silla royal family (it is believed he was the son of either King Heonan or King Gyeongmun), but a prophecy was made that predicted that he would bring an end to the Silla Kingdom.  Therefore, the king ordered to have him killed, but his mother conspired with her maid to save the child.  When the king's servants came to kill the child, she threw him from a second story window and the servants believed that he had fallen to his death.  However, the maid caught the child and raised him in secret.

Gung Ye joined the rebellions that were taking place around the country in 892 and eventually became one of the most powerful rebels.  He initiated a rebellion at Songak (modern-day Gaeseong) in 898 and eventually started the Hugoguryeo Kingdom in 901.  He changed the name of the kingdom to Majin in 904 and moved the capital.  It was from this capital that his kingdom began to rapidly expand and he eventually took over almost all of the land that had once been possessed by Silla.

However, like his counterpart in Hubaekje, Gung Ye was also a despotic ruler and he even went so far as to claim himself to be Maitreya Buddha to rationalize his rule.  He again changed the name of his kingdom, this time to Taebong, in 911.  Like many despotic rulers, Gung Ye was paranoid that the men around him were plotting against him and as a result he had many of his top officials, including his own family members, executed.  This sort of tyrannical rule simply could not last, and he was finally overthrown by his generals in 918 and killed by his own people as he was attempting to flee the kingdom. 

Goryeo ( 고려 )

Wang Geon ( 왕건 ) was born into a wealthy merchant family at Songak.  Wang Geon joined the rebellions against Silla and eventually joined forces with Gung Ye in his attempt to consolidate control of the rebel forces.  Wang Geon proved to be an extremely talented military commander and he was promoted to general in Gung Ye's army.  He led many successful military campaigns and it is said that the public liked him for his leadership and generosity.

A quick side note:  The source for much of this material is the Samguk Sagi, which was written during Goryeo rule.  Although the exact personalities of these individuals is unknown, this might explain why Gung Ye is presented as a merciless tyrant, while Wang Geon seems like a benevolent and strong leader. 

The four generals who overthrew Gung Ye decided to place Wang Geon, later to known as Taejo ( 태조 ), on the throne in 918.  Taejo changed the name of the state to Goryeo and moved the capital to his hometown of Songak, which provided him with a strong local power base.  Taejo decided to form a friendly relationship with Silla and instead focus his aggression against Hubaekje.  Taejo even personally led his troops into battle when Hubaekje invaded Silla and it is said that he won the admiration of the Silla people.


With Silla rendered helpless, the battle for the Korean peninsula was now a two man fight between Goryeo and Hubaekje.  These two originally appeared to be very evenly matched, but the turning point came at the battle of Gochang in 930 when the fight turned in favor of Goryeo.  Goryeo later defeated Hubaekje forces at Unju in 934 and this battle, combined with Hubaekje's internal turmoil, put victory within reach for Goryeo.  Silla's King Gyeongsun capitulated to Goryeo in 935 without resistance and as a result married one of Taejo's daughters and was appointed to the position of Inspector General of Gyeongju.  Gyeon Hwon then fled Hubaekje in 936 after his sons plotted against him and provided help to Taejo in defeating Hubaekje.  The decisive blow was brought against Hubaekje later that year and Singeom, the new leader of Hubaekje, surrendered to Goryeo control.  

Balhae had also been conquered in 926 and many members of the aristocracy fled to Goryeo.  Thus, the Korean peninsula had finally become truly unified for the first time in history and it would remain unified for over 1,000 years until the division of North and South Korea in 1948.  As for Goryeo's part in Korean history, the dynasty would rule until 1392 when the Joseon Dynasty took control of the peninsula.  I am planning on dedicating three posts to Goryeo's four and a half centuries of power. 

North South States Period: Balhae (698 - 926)

Balhae ( 발해 ) was a kingdom that ruled over the northern portion of Korea, the southern part of Manchuria and areas of eastern Russia.  Balhae grew to be an extremely large kingdom (it was actually the largest kingdom in Korean history) and historians have had some trouble classifying the kingdom because of the vast area over which it ruled.  The state has generally been viewed as a Korean state because it evolved out of Goguryeo, but Chinese scholars have recently attempted to make the argument that Balhae was a Chinese state because it was predominantly situated in modern-day China (they said the same thing about Goguryeo too) and contained a significant portion of Mohe (or Malgal) people from Manchuria.  However, the culture of Balhae shows clear ties to Goguryeo and Balhae's founder is generally considered to be of Goguryeo descent.  The common consensus among historians (outside of China) is that the people living in Balhae were culturally (although they were not all ethnically) Korean and that Balhae is therefore a Korean state.

Military History

Founding of Jin
Dae Joyeong ( 대조영 ), who later came to be known as King Go ( 고왕 ), was born in Goguryeo (although this is disputed by Chinese scholars who claim that he was born in Sumo Mohe) and served as a general before the fall of Goguryeo in 668.  He was forced to relocate with his father, named Dae Jung-sang ( 대중상 ), to a Tang province after the fall of Goguryeo.  However, his father took advantage of the chaos following a Khitan invasion in 696 to gather a group of followers, which consisted primarily of people from Goguryeo and Sumo Mohe (also known as the Malgal), and lead them to Dongmo Mountain ( 동모산 ).  Tang took notice of this movement and sent an army to fight these men in the Battle of Cheonmunryeong ( 촌문령 전두 ).  Dae Jung-sang and the leader of the Mohe people were both killed in the battle, but Dae Joyeong was able to successfully repel the attacks and later founded the state of Jin in 698 and named himself King.

King Go changed the name of his state to Balhae in 712 and attempted to expand the influence of his fledgling kingdom.  King Go's son, King Mu, was responsible for the first significant expansion of the kingdom and as a result gained the contempt of both Tang and Silla.  The ire of these two kingdoms was countered by forming diplomatic ties with Japan and tribes in northern China in order to deter any aggression by either of these powers.  Balhae's third ruler, Emperor Mun ( 문왕 ), had the longest reign in Balhae's history and is credited with stabilizing and centralizing the rule of what he labeled as an empire.  He is credited with establishing friendly contact with neighboring states (specifically Tang) and encouraging cultural exchange between kingdoms.  He also moved the capital several times before his grandson, King Seong ( 성왕 ), permanently established its location at Sanggyeong in 793. 

Height of Power
The kingship went through a period of instability after the death of Emperor Mun as 6 rulers took the throne over the next 25 years.  However, Balhae would reach the apex of its territorial expansion when King Seon (  ) took the throne in 818.  He successfully subjugated tribes in all directions, with end result being a kingdom that stretched from the Liaodong Peninsula between China and Manchuria all the way up through modern-day Russia.  The authority of the throne was also increased during this time to successfully meet the demands of ruling over such a vast kingdom.

Decline and Fall
Unfortunately, I was unable to find any real information on the kings who ruled after King Seon.  The only ruler with any significant amount information is Dae Inseon ( 대인선 ), who was the last king of Balhae.  As a side note, all of the Balhae kings after King Seon do not use the term "wang", which means king, in their names.  They instead simply use the family name Dae, which was the name of the royal family.  But anyway, Dae Inseon ruled during a very turbulent time period in East Asia.  The Korean peninsula was undergoing a transformation from Silla's dominance to the rise of Goryeo, while Tang was dealing with multiple peasant revolts.  It is unknown what exactly caused the internal crumbling of Balhae, but two predominant theories exist.  The first has traditionally been accepted by historians and suggests that a rift occurred between the Goguryeo and Mohe populations.  A new theory has recently arisen to challenge this idea and suggests that instead a volcanic eruption was actually responsible for weakening the kingdom.  The exact details of Balhae's deterioration are unknown, but is known that the Khitan (then known as the Liao Dynasty, which was located in northern China) invaded in 925 and succeeded in conquering Balhae the following year.

The Khitan established the Dongdan Kingdom in Balhae territory, but the Balhae people were unwilling to accept their new rulers.  The Balhae citizens began rebelling against the Khitan almost immediately and a successor state named Later Balhae was established by the Dae royal house in 927.  This revival movement eventually transformed in the Jeongan Kingdom ( 정안국 ) when Yeol Manhwa ( 열만화 ) took control in 935.  The kingdom attempted to undermine the rule of the Khitan, but it was eventually defeated in 986.


Balhae developed a sophisticated system of government that was largely based upon the Tang Dynasty and contained three chancelleries and six ministries.  The government positions were predominantly made up of people with Goguryeo ethnicity, which ultimately led to the rift that occurred between the Goguryeo and Mohe populations.  Confucianism also played an important rule in the government structure, which is a marked difference from their Korean neighbors to the south.  An interesting aspect of the structure outside the capital was the existence of four secondary capitals (which is believed to have been influenced by Goguryeo).

Social Status
There were five classes in Balhae: the royal house, the aristocracy, the commoners, the lowborn, and the slaves.  As stated previously, the royal house and the aristocracy consisted of people from Goguryeo, while the Mohe made up much of the remaining three social classes. 

Balhae's economy consisted of many different facets, which is to be expected from such a large country.  Agriculture (specifically dry crops), livestock, fishing, hunting and crafts all contributed to Balhae's economy.  There is also some dispute over the use of a currency system in Balhae, but it seems likely that currency and barter were used interchangeably.

As was the case with Goguryeo, Balhae lived on land that was not well suited for agriculture and as a result the kingdom sought frequent trade with its neighbors.  It is said that Balhae brought trade in East Asia to unprecedented levels.



Buddhism was actually not a dominant mode of thought in the early years of Balhae.  It wasn't until the rule of Emperor Mun that Buddhism really started to become popular.  It seems as though Buddhism became popular with all social classes and influenced much of the art in Balhae.  Taoism also seems to have played an important role in Balhae, which was likely the result of influence from Goguryeo and Tang.

As was the case with the three kingdoms, the only extant paintings are found on the walls of tombs.  The tomb of Princess Jeonghyo and the tombs at Sanlingtun provide the best examples of Balhae painting techniques.

Music in Balhae was more than likely a mix of the music from Goguryeo and Mohe.  Japan has numerous records of Balhae music, the earliest of which dates to 740. 

Glazing came into use during the time of the Balhae Kingdom.


The culture in Balhae was apparently so advanced that China referred to the kingdom as the "flourishing land in the East."  However, the ultimate legacy of Balhae is as the last Korean state in Machuria.  Goryeo took over the Korean peninsula shortly after the fall of Balhae and controlled almost all of modern-day Korea, but nothing more.  From this point onward, Korean society would be constricted to the Korean peninsula.