A Contest-Send Your Best Suggested Blog Topic

I announce that I am offering a free electronic copy of my book, Casting Lots, to the individual who emails me the best idea for a blog topic.  Email your suggestions to wdmceachern@gmail.com.  Please include your name and address (so I can mail you the copy of the book), as well as whether or not I may use your first name and first letter of your last name and town and state of residence in announcing the winner and the suggested topic.  This contest is open to residents of United States only and you must be 18 or older to win.  This contest is void where prohibited by law.  All entries become my property and can be used by me in my discretion.  The winner will be determined solely by me.  This contest will end on April 12, 2015 at 11:59 pm Eastern Daylight Time.  In my discretion, I can award two or more prizes, but each winner will receive a free electronic copy of my book, Casting Lots.  Suggestions should include a suggested topic and no more than 50 words explaining the suggested topic.  Suggestions of more than 50 words will not be accepted.

Much good luck to you!  I look forward to reading your entries!


Suggested Reading-The Petrified Muse

I must simply recommend the blog entitled, The Petrified Muse.  The most recent, entitled, Here lies (insert name here), or: Why reading beyond a quotation is a really good idea, is most certainly worth reading.  It demonstrates how academics can continue to perpetuate an error in analysis but not fully reading the original text.  It is simply a brilliant analysis.

The Roman Legionary: Part I

Augustus Caesar once wrote: “Five hundred thousand Romans citizens swore the military oath to me.”

This lead me to wonder about the men who enlisted and how they differed or were alike to those who are serving in the United States Army.

Let me put that in context.  The United States army in 2015 will be approximately 450,000 in size.  From 2000 on the size of the army has been fluctuating from around 500,000 to a maximum of 600,000 or so and is now slowly winding down.  Now, it is true that the United States military forces include other branches with many more people under arms, but it is still surprising to see that the Romans field an army roughly comparable to that of a modern nation.  (It should be noted that the US Army is roughly 40% of the number of the people under arms in active service to the United States.  Hence, the total under arms in active service is about 1,250,000 to about 1,400,000.)

Having said that,  I wonder in what other ways the Roman army would compare to a modern army. The ideal height to join the first cohort of the legions was 5 Roman feet and 10 Roman inches, which would translate to 5’7″; whereas, the ideal height of a legionary was 6 Roman feet, which would be 5’9″.  To join the US Army, the height range is 5’0″ to 6’8″, for males.  Hence, the Roman legionary would feel right at home, at least from a height perspective in the modern US Army.

The age of a recruit to the legions was usually between 17 and 23, with age 20 being the most usual age of enlistment.  In Rome, however, a boy of 13 or 14 could join the legions.  In addition, men as old as 46 were liable for military service.

To join the US Army, a recruit must be 17 years old.  While there is not a draft, per se, today  in the United States men who are 18 must register within 30 days of their birthday with the Selective Service System.  There is a requirement for all men between age 18 and 26 to be registered also.

For a person enlisting in the United States Army, there pay would be $18,378.00, although for the first four months, this figure is lowered somewhat.  For a Roman legionary, the initial pay was 900 sesterces which is 300 denarii.  Legionaries received a  grain allotment, as well as food, and housing making them relatively well paid.  This is so, because the average worker received a denarii a day, or about 312 denarii a year, but had to pay for housing, and food, including grain, for that wage.  So, although I can not prove it, I think the modern soldier and the legionary were about comparable.

One thing the Roman legionary received that is not comparable is the discharge bonus, which amounted to 3,000 denarii.  This bonus, however, was paid after completing service which under Augustus was increased to 20 years, as well as four more years as a veteran, the so-called vexillum veteranorum.

What distinguished a  legionary in dress from the common man was not a uniform, as is the case with the modern soldier, for the tunic and cloak were little different from the common man.  The legionary did, however, wear a belt and boots that were distinctive.  The military belt, called the balteus, was either in the form of a single belt or two crossed belts with silvered or embossed bronze plates.  During the reign of Tiberius, the niello, an alloy of silver, lead, and sulphur, which was black, began to be used to make inlaid plates on the balteus.  The balteus was confiscated, if a man were dishonorably discharged from the army.  In one instance, pranksters in a crowd in Rome in 69 AD, used razor sharp knives to slice legionaries’ belts off.  The legionaries responded by going upon a rampage in retaliation.

The second feature distinguishing a legionary from a civilian was the military boots, called caliage.  This was a heavy duty sandal which had an iron-nail sole.  The pattern of the nails indicates that it gave support to the ball, heel, and arch.  Both the shape of the caligae and the nailing pattern were very much standardized.

In subsequent posts, I will continue to write about the legionary.

Some Further Thoughts On the Centurion’s Outcry at the Crucifixion

Casting Lots is the story of the Centurion at the crucifixion.  My novel explores the life of the Centurion both before the crucifixion and after to try to understand why this Roman Army Officer would speak out at the crucifixion proclaiming Jesus, whom he could not have viewed before the crucifixion except as anything other than another enemy of Roman getting what he justly deserved.

In this blog, I will start to examine the language of the outcry as recorded in the three Gospels which document the event.  [As an aside, the Gospel of John does not directly record this event, but has a most interesting passage which reads: “The man who saw it has given testimony and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.”  John 19:35.  Is this the same statement as in Luke 278:48?]

First what is said in each of the Gospels? In the Gospel of Matthew, the Centurion says, “Truly, this was a son of God.”  This is also often translated as: “Truly, this was the son of God.”   In the Gospel of Mark, which scholars believe was written before the other four Gospels, Mark records the Centurion as saying, “Truly, this Man was a son of God” or as “Truly, this Man was the son of God”.  The issue of whether the article is “a” or “the” might be a misleading issue.  In Latin, the language in which presumably the Centurion spoke, there are no articles.  In Homeric Greek and in Koine Greek, there is only one article, which is usually translated as “the”.   In Luke, on the other hand, it is recorded that the Centurion said, “Certainly this was a righteous Man.” or as it is often translated: ““Certainly this was an innocent Man.”

There are things upon which two of these three Gospels agree, but there is only one thing upon which all three agree:  The Centurion made an outcry after the death of Jesus and what he said was so startlingly, so out of character and so amazing that it had to be recorded.   First, two of the Gospels have the Centurion saying that Jesus was a special or extraordinary man (Luke and Mark): whether he was an innocent man or a righteous man or man who is the son of God, he is nonetheless a very special man.  A man so special in his characteristics that the centurion after but a brief while with him recognized him to be such and so proclaimed him to the world.  Remember that at the crucifixion, there were the Disciples of Jesus, his mother and at least three other women, the Roman Army detachment that crucified him, the two thieves, Scribes, Pharisees, as well as a number of other on-lookers.  The Centurion is remarking that Jesus is no ordinary man.  He has been marked by God.  This determination by one who should not care about making that determination rivets our attention.

In two other Gospels, Jesus is either “a” son of God or “the son of God”, but nevertheless the words “son of God” are used (Matthew and Mark).  Any framing by the Centurion of Jesus as being either a son of God or the son of God is utterly shocking.  If Jesus is divine in any sense, then are the charges against him by the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees valid?  How does it come to pass that a Centurion sees Jesus as being innocent, as does Pontius Pilate, and his wife?

Does the fact that the Gospels differ in the recording of what the Centurion said mean that there is a contradiction amongst them?  Not  necessarily.  It is human nature not to remember exactly the words spoken at an event.  If we add in the fact that the Gospels were written certainly years, if not decades, after the crucifixion, then it is more likely that the exact words may have been forgotten.  Nonetheless, the first two Gospels are amazingly the same.

What about the very different utterance recorded by Luke? Is it possible that the Centurion said both things, which is that Jesus was an innocent man and was a son of God?  Certainly, this is quite possible.  This would merely require that the Evangelists emphasized different things because the different utterances struck them as being more meaningful.


Some Thoughts on the Centurion’s Outcry at the Crucifixion

In each of  three of the four Gospels, the Centurion at the crucifixion makes an outcry proclaiming Jesus.  In Luke, the Centurion says, “Surely, this was a righteous man.” In both Matthew and Mark, the Centurion says, “Certainly, this man was the Son of God.”

These statements are extremely compelling to me and are the reason why “Casting Lots” was written.  I was listening to a sermon on a completely unrelated topic, when I started to think about these outcries, the circumstances in which they were made,  and their the meaning.

First, I am an attorney.  As an attorney, I did a fair amount of litigation.  I thus had to become familiar with the rules of how you present evidence to a court.

Sometimes,  you might want to use the words spoken by some one who was now not available to come to court for whatever reason.  Of course, the attorney for your opposition would object by saying, “Your honor, that is hearsay.” Hearsay is the legal term for testimony in  court where the witness does not have direct knowledge of the fact asserted, but knows it only from being told by someone.  For example, if a person testifies in court that “Fred told me that John robbed the store,” it is clear that the person testifying does not know from his or her direct knowledge that John robbed the store.  All that person knows from direct knowledge is that Fred said that John robbed the store.

Testimony that the court finds is hearsay may not be admitted into evidence and the jury is not allowed to hear it.

There are exceptions to the hearsay rule, that is there are times when for a good reason such testimony may be admitted into evidence, which means the jury can hear it.

One such exception is something known as “admission against interest.”

In California, for example, the relevant statute regarding this matter is as follows:

California’s Evidence Code Section 1230 defines “Declarations against interest” as:

Evidence of a statement by a declarant having sufficient knowledge of the subject is not made inadmissible by the hearsay rule if the declarant is unavailable as a witness and the statement, when made, was so far contrary to the declarant’s pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far subjected him to the risk of civil or criminal liability, or so far tended to render invalid a claim by him against another, or created such a risk of making him an object of hatred, ridicule, or social disgrace in the community, that a reasonable man in his position would not have made the statement unless he believed it to be true.


Here, the Centurion is the declarant.   His statements are the testimony that I would want you, the jury to hear. The Centurion is not now available to testify in court due to his death some two thousand years ago.  Nonetheless, the court would allow this evidence to be not only heard, but also be considered by you, the jury, because these statements were against the Centurion’s pecuniary interest.  What the Centurion is saying is contrary to what his employer, Rome, and his direct supervisor, Pontius Pilate, would want him to say.  The Centurion is in essence speaking against his employer, which is rarely a wise thing to do.

The rationale for admitting these statements into evidence  is that no one would say anything against their pecuniary interest, unless they genuinely believed it to be true.


The Roman Calendar: Part III

As noted before, the Romans did not have days of the week. Yet every day of the month was denoted by a complex system, which revealed a multiplicity of aspects of each day.

As also mentioned before, each day of the Roman calendar was marked with a letter that designated both its religious and legal character. These were:

  1. F (fastus), days when it was legal to initiate action in the courts of civil law (dies fasti);
  2. C (comitialis), a day on which the Roman people could hold assemblies (dies comitalis);
  3. N (nefastus), when these political activities and the administration of justice were prohibited (dies nefasti);
  4. But in addition to these denotations, there were several others:
  5. NP of elusive meaning, but marking feriae, public holidays (sometimes thought to mean nefastus priore, “unlawful before noon”, along with FP, fastus priore, “lawful before noon”);
  6. QRCF (perhaps for quando rex comitiavit fas[, a day when it was religiously permissible for the rex (probably the priest known as the rex sacrorum) to call for an assembly;
  7. EN (endotercissus, an archaic form of intercissus, “cut in half”), for days that were nefasti in the morning, when sacrifices were being prepared, as well as in the evening, while sacrifices were being offered, but were fasti in the middle of the day.

This again demonstrates how extremely complex the Roman calendar would have been for a modern person to read and comprehend.

Additional thoughts on the calendar, the months, the order of the months, and the number of days in a year are as follows:

The Roman king Numa Pompilius (c. 715-673 BC, although his historicity is disputed) allegedly introduced February and January (in that order) between December and March, increasing the length of the year to 354 or 355 days. In 450 BC, February was moved to its current position between January and March.

Plutarch, writing in The Life of Numa Pompilius, explains how the calendar had fallen into complete disarray, to be reformed by Pompilius. Plutarch wrote at length about the calendar:

“(Pompilius) attempted, also, the formation of a calendar, not with absolute exactness, yet not without some scientific knowledge. During the reign of Romulus, they had let their months run on without any certain or equal term; some of them contained twenty days, others thirty-five, others more; they had no sort of knowledge of the inequality in the motions of the sun and moon; they only kept to the one rule that the whole course of the year contained three hundred and sixty days. Numa, calculating the difference between the lunar and the solar year at eleven days, for that the moon completed her anniversary course in three hundred and fifty-four days, and the sun in three hundred and sixty-five, to remedy this incongruity doubled the eleven days, and every other year added an intercalary month, to follow February, consisting of twenty-two days, and called by the Romans the month Mercedinus. This amendment, however, itself, in course of time, came to need other amendments. He also altered the order of the months; for March, which was reckoned the first he put into the third place; and January, which was the eleventh, he made the first; and February, which was the twelfth and last, the second. Many will have it, that it was Numa, also, who added the two months of January and February…”

As to the naming of the months, Plutarch continued:

“That the Romans, at first, comprehended the whole year within ten, and not twelve months, plainly appears by the name of the last, December, meaning the tenth month; and that March was the first is likewise evident, for the fifth month after it was called Quintilis, and the sixth Sextilis, and so the rest; whereas, if January and February had, in this account, preceded March, Quintilis would have been fifth in name and seventh in reckoning. It was also natural that March, dedicated to Mars, should be Romulus’s first and April, named from Venus, or Aphrodite, his second month; in it they sacrifice to Venus, and the women bathe on the calends, or first day of it, with myrtle garlands on their heads. But others, because of its being p and not ph, will not allow of the derivation of this word from Aphrodite, but say it is called April from aperio, Latin for to open, because that this month is high spring, and opens and discloses the buds and flowers. The next is called May, from Maia, the mother of Mercury, to whom it is sacred; then June follows, so called from Juno; some, however, derive them from the two ages, old and young, majores, being their name for older, and juniores for younger men. To the other months they gave denominations according to their order; so the fifth was called Quintilis, Sextilis the sixth, and the rest, September, October, November, and December. Afterwards Quintilis received the name of Julius, from Caesar, who defeated Pompey; as also Sextilis that of Augustus, from the second Caesar, who had that title. Domitian, also, in imitation, gave the two other following months his own names, of Germanicus and Domitianus; but, on his being slain, they recovered their ancient denominations of September and October. The two last are the only ones that have kept their names throughout without any alteration. Of the months which were added or transposed in their order by Numa, February comes from februa; and is as much a Purification month; in it they make offerings to the dead, and celebrate the Lupercalia, which, in most points, resembles a purification. January was also called from janus, and precedence given to it by Numa before March, which was dedicated to the god Mars; because, as I conceive, he wished to take every opportunity of intimating that the arts and studies of peace are to be preferred before those of war.”

The Romans tried a system of eight years with each year being of a different length in order to try to reconcile the length of a year to the revolution of the earth around the sun.

 The first year had 255 days; the second 377; the third like the first 355; the fourth 378 (containing 13 months!); the fifth 355; the sixth 377 (again containing 13 months!); the seventh 355 days; and the 8th 378 (yet once again containing 13 months!).

This system thus had 2930 days in 8 years or an average of 366.25 days per year.  This was still too many days.  The remedy was to drop 7 days from the 8th year, which then yield an average of 365.375 days per year.

Unfortunately, this system was under the supervision of the priests who tinkered with it for religious reasons.  For example, leap years were considered unlucky and so were often skipped, particularly during the Punic Wars.

All of this laid the basis for Gaius Julius Caesar to reform the calendar in 45 BC.  In order to reform the calendar, it was necessary to bring it in line with the seasons.  This was done in 46 BC by using a year of 15 months consisting of 445 days.  For this reason, the year 46 BC was known as “the year of confusion”.