Magic Beans-  The History of Coffee

13620170_300103160331773_3065572534168637032_nJava.  Cup of Joe.  My reason for living.  These are all euphemisms for that most delicious of things-  a cup of coffee.  But how did coffee become the popular pick me up it is today?

There is a legend that coffee was first discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi around 850.  While out with his flock, he noticed that his goats were eating red cherry-like berries off a plant and afterward they were always frolicking and full of energy.  Kaldi tried the fruit and had a similar reaction.  A local monk observed Kaldi and his goats, and took some of the fruit back to his monastery and shared it with his fellow monks.  After eating the berries, they also spent the night awake and alert.  Whether this legend is true or not, we do know that the Galla tribe of Ethiopia mixed the coffee berry with ghee, a clarified butter, making a candy.  They gave these coffee infused bars to their warriors before battle because they were believed to make them invisible.  In present times, similar bars are still eaten in Kaffa and Sidamo, Ethiopia.

In the 11th century, coffee spread to Yemen from Ethiopia.  At this time, the drink was made from the whole fruit, including the beans and the hull.  The physician and philosopher Avicenna Bukhara writes of the medicinal properties of this drink.  The word in Yemen was “qahwah”, which was a romantic term for wine or sometimes “qahwa”, that which prevents sleep.  It was not until the 13th century that coffee people began to roast the coffee beans, and make a drink we would recognize as coffee.  From there, the drink reached Istanbul, where it was called “kahveh” in Turkish.  The Ottoman Governor of Yemen, Ozdemir Pasha brought it back to the court of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.  In Istanbul, the coffee became more refined.  The beans were roasted over a fire, finely ground then slowly cooked with water.  Then spices like clove, cardamom, cinnamon and anise were added.  

Coffee  became very popular in Muslim society for its stimulant powers, making it perfect for staying awake during long prayer sessions.  It also became an important part of palace cuisine.  There was a Chief Coffee Maker, who prepared coffee for the Sultan and was renowned for his ability to keep secrets and give counsel.  Many Chief Coffee Makers rose to the position of Grand Vizier.  What became fashionable at court, soon spread to the homes of the nobility down to the common people of Istanbul.  Coffeehouses opened, first in the district of Tahtakale then all over Istanbul, and became an integral portion of city life.  They became social hotspots as people stopped in to read, play games and discuss literature and poetry.  Coffee is so important that it is legal for a wife to divorce her husband if he does not provide her with her daily quota.  However, there was a coffee backlash.  In 1511, the Governor of Mecca outlaws the beverage and coffeehouses as far away as Istanbul are shut down.  People riot and unrest spreads across the Ottoman empire until the Sultan of Cairo declare it sacred and the Governor of Mecca beheaded.  Do not come between a man and his morning coffee!

Coffee makes its way west and appears in Venice in 1570.  It is sold in lemonade stands to the very wealthy for medicinal purposes.  Then coffeehouses like in Istanbul began popping up all over Italy.  It was there Monsieur de la Roque, the French ambassador, first had a taste.  Declaring it a “magical beverage”, he imported it to Marseilles and then on to Paris.  In Paris, the ambassador from Sultan Mehmet IV, Hossohbet Nuktedan Suleyman Aga further popularizes it.  Guests flocked to his home for witty conversation over steaming cups of coffee.  Paris’s first real coffee house, Cafe de Procope, opened in 1686.  The literati of the age, such as Rousseau, Diderot and Voltaire, could all be found sipping a cup there.  Coffeehouses began opening on every street in Paris.  Vienna and London followed suit and coffeehouses were soon a familiar site in both cities.  In London, they were called “penny universities”, where patrons could get an impromptu lesson in art, law, literature, philosophy and politics for the entrance fee of a penny.  These coffee houses were considered a hotbed of controversial thought and revolution.  Tea did not become popular until the late 18th century.  Before that, coffee was what the Brits drank.

Far from being enraptured with its deliciousness, the Dutch smelled profit in the coffee bean.  Prior to 1600, all coffee beans coming from the East were parched and boiled, rendering them infertile.  Therefore, no new coffee crops could be planted anywhere else.  In 1600, Baba Budan, an Indian pilgrim, left Mecca with fertile beans fastened to a strap across his abdomen.  From these smuggled beans, the European coffee trade was born.  The Dutch began planting coffee in their colonies of Sri Lanka, Ceylon and Java.  Throughout the 17th century, the new sources of coffee beans fueled the creation of coffeehouses in almost all major European cities.

During the American Revolution, it became patriotic to switch from English supplied tea, making it much more popular.  The Civil War and other conflicts also boosted coffee consumption as the soldiers used it much like the Ethiopian warriors in the 11th century.  The caffeine kept them awake and made them feel good.  Americans quickly became enthralled to the delicious beverage.  Theodore Roosevelt was said to have drunk a gallon of coffee a day, and have coined the Maxwell House slogan “Good to the last drop”.  

So the next time you pick up your Starbucks, thank a goat herder named Kaldi


Sources available on request


The James Ossuary

12919635_248774432131313_4607136331580658409_nToday I have chosen to discuss the “James Ossuary”. The infamous bone box was obtained by an antiquities collector in the 1970’s from an unknown source in Jerusalem, and left in a cellar for nearly 30 years, until the owner asked a renowned expert to decipher the inscription on the ends. The inscription translated to say the ossuary belonged to James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. The box was then offered to a museum in Canada, for display for a period of time.

The owner claimed no knowledge of the context in which the ossuary was obtained at source, nor realisation of the historical and archaeological importance of the artefact prior to the deciphering of the inscription, except to say that he was told at the purchase that the box was sourced as a sole item. It was only when the ossuary rapidly gained publicity and excitement grew on an international level that its authenticity was called into question. This speculation culminated in one of the most well-publicised and long drawn out trials involving the suspected forgery of an artefact. The owner and a well-known dealer in antiquities, who is also a renowned scholar in the field, were both arrested and charged by the Israel Antiquities Authority with several counts of forging antiquities. The resulting trial lasted seven long years.

During the trial, evidence obtained by the IAA and Israel’s police scientists was shown to be flawed, due to a combination of lack of expert knowledge and contamination. Their tests also damaged the relic to the point where future tests would probably not be possible. The experts who supposedly tested the patina and decided it was faked, were found to have tested other later materials in error, most importantly residue from modern cleaning processes. The Prosecution witnesses, several leading experts, in turn testified that they could not dismiss the possibility of the authenticity of the artefact, in fact most of them agreed it was not a forgery. One expert for the prosecution offered results of dating tests he had conducted based on incorrect scientific methods, he had no expertise in the study of ancient stonework, nor the study of bio-organic changes in such items. During his tests he gained many results which contradicted his theory, he chose not to present those findings.12439466_248774522131304_3010829502630337698_n

Experts for the defence agreed that without a doubt that not only was the inscription in its entirety authentic, but that matching biological evidence in the patina on both the ossuary and into the engraving, including Jesus, was consistent and in such a pattern that could not be faked due to ageing processes, it was all ancient therefore all parts of the inscription were authentic.

The Judge acquitted both defendants of all charges relating to forgery of the artefacts in question, including the ossuary, and delivered scathing rebuttals to the IAA and Prosecution. Despite being found not guilty, the IAA have refused to return the items resulting in accusations of punishment for the owner despite his innocence, and rumours of some ulterior motive, perhaps an effort to obtain the artefacts for their own benefits. Several other similar allegations of forgery and other charges have been mentioned during the debate. It is confirmed the IAA owns a storage facility holding thousands of antiquities obtained by similar means.

The ironic fact is the authenticity of the ossuary was never in question. Experts agreed from the outset that this was without doubt an ossuary dating from during the first century CE, and the first part of the inscription was also genuine. This box housed the bones of James, son of Joseph. It was only alleged that the second part of the inscription, relating James to Jesus, was forged.

11218203_248774542131302_8319742979069370872_nDespite this, it appears that in the world of antiquities mud sticks. The James Ossuary is known as one of the greatest hoaxes in modern times. Debate continues to rage about the significance of the ossuary. If it were indeed authentic, it would cause a huge spanner to be thrown into the Christian works. That Jesus had siblings, which ironically is cited in the New Testament, calls into question Mary’s role as the Perpetual Virgin. Irrefutable proof that this artefact is authentic would beg the question, which other “biblical” antiquities dismissed as forgeries are in fact authentic? In the expert field, the verdict may be in, but the Jury is definitely still out.,


The Lost Tribes of Israel

Lemba tribesmen at prayer Photo Credit- Josh Bernstein
Lemba tribesmen at prayer Photo Credit- Josh Bernstein

Jacob had twelve sons, and the descendants of those sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. They settled in the promised land, then divided into to two kingdoms. Everyone was living happily, more or less, until the conquest of the northern kingdom. The Bible discusses the lost tribes of Israel in 2 Kings 17:6: “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.” The Assyrians conquered all of Israel and destroyed the First Temple. Once in exile, this left only the Tribe of Judah, the Tribe of Simeon, the Tribe of Benjamin and the Tribe of Levi. Eventually, Cyrus the Great conquered the Assyrians and allowed the Jews to go back to the Promised Land, but not all of them came back. Some historians believe that there are no “official” lost tribes, but there was definitely some migration. The truth of it was lost to the sands of time.

Fast forward to 1980s. Historian Tudor Parfitt was conducting a lecture on Ethiopian Jews, the Falashas, in Johannesburg, South Africa when he noticed some native people in the back of the lecture hall in what looked to be yarmulkes. Parfitt chatted with them after the lecture and found they were tribesmen from the Lemba tribe, who claimed to be descended from a lost tribe of Israel. He was fascinated and agreed to travel through dangerous terrain to the Lemba homeland to see for himself. He spent the weekend there, then returned to England. However, Parfitt kept coming back and ended up spending months living with the Lemba tribe studying their customs.

The Lemba are a Bantu-speaking tribe who live in the northeast corner of South Africa in the area of Venda. They shared many customs with Semitic people specifically the Jews. The first thing he noticed was their ritual slaughtering of animals was very similar to Jewish traditions. They also kept kosher dietary laws and circumcised their boys, unlike any other tribes in the area. The Lemba also kept one day of the week holy, strongly discouraged marriage outside the tribe and inscribed a Star of David on the gravestone of a deceased tribe member. Parfitt dug deeper and contacted Professor Mashya Mathiva, who is the historian of the Lemba tribe. At Professor Mathiva’s suggestion, he also got in contact with a tribesman who was writing a book on the Lemba, Wilfred Phophi. Parfit describes Phophi as a “card carrying lunatic that was full of good information when he wasn’t screaming and shouting at me.” Through a series of interesting interviews, Parfitt was able to dig out that the ancestors of the Lemba were from the priestly caste and came from a place called Sena. The Lemba referred to Sena the way we would refer to heaven. The word Sena in medieval Arabic meant “Zion” or Jerusalem.

The oral traditions of the Lemba said “We crossed Pusela and we came to Africa. We rebuilt Sena, and then we went inland and had something to do with the construction of the Great Stone City.” However, no one could exactly say what that meant. The Great Stone City was thought to be a reference to the city of Great Zimbabwe, but the rest was unknown. The story continues that “At that point, we broke the law of God and we ate mice.” Mice would not be kosher and not ritually fit for Lemba consumption. And then they were scattered, as they put it, among the nations in Africa. Parfitt felt very strongly about finding what Sena was and unraveling this mystery for the Lemba people. In fact, Professor Mathiva had given Parfitt this charge when they first met, and Parfitt took this very seriously.

Parfitt kept striking out until he was doing some unrelated study in Yemen. He was speaking with a sheik who told him a city named Sena was at the end of the Wadi Masilah. Parfitt traveled there and found tribes with the same names as the Lemba. He felt strongly it was connected. However, he lacked hard evidence.

Teaming up with group from The Center for Genetic Anthropology at University College London they turned to DNA. The took DNA samples from the men of the Lemba and compared them with the Cohen [Kohen] modal haplotype (CHM) on the Y chromosome. People with the last name of Cohen are descended from the caste of priests, who must be descended from Moses’ brother Aaron. A significant number of the Lemba shared this common Y chromosome. They also took samples from the area in Yemen around Sena and found a significant overlap. From this evidence, connections between these populations can be made. The theory is after their expulsion following the destruction of the First Temple, a select number of the priesthood escaped to Yemen and then migrated to Africa.

Parfitt kept his word and Sena was found, and the Lemba can take their place as one of the tribes of Israel.


Sources available on request

The Wandering Jew

I tend to write a lot of stuff that walks the line between fact and fiction on this site. Sure, some folks would argue that “hauntings” is pure fiction, but we get far enough into our past and those lines blur significantly. As previously noted, I am a skeptic, but I do enjoy entertaining possibilities. The magical diad of phrasing that is: “What if…”The tale of the Wandering Jew stems from a specific line from the Bible: Matthew 16:28 – “There b […]

3590156_origI tend to write a lot of stuff that walks the line between fact and fiction on this site. Sure, some folks would argue that “hauntings” is pure fiction, but we get far enough into our past and those lines blur significantly. As previously noted, I am a skeptic, but I do enjoy entertaining possibilities. The magical diad of phrasing that is: “What if…”

The tale of the Wandering Jew stems from a specific line from the Bible: Matthew 16:28 – “There be some of them that stand here, which shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the son of man coming in his kingdom.” This dovetails into the tale of Joseph of Arimathea and an old Greek legend of the poet Aristeas, both of which were said to have long, unabridged lives for no explicable reason.

The melding of these three stories has been traced back to 1228 and the monks of St. Albans. While entertaining the Bishop of Armenia, they inquired about the possibility of a connection between Joseph of Arimathea and the man they had come to know as the Wandering Jew. The Bishop was not fluent in the French of the region and thusly had an interpreter, but the Bishop assured them that one Joseph Cartaphilus was a close personal friend with home he dined often and was, most assuredly, Joseph of Arimathea AND the Jewish gatekeeper to Pontius Pilate, cursed by Jesus to walk the land until the second coming.

A more detailed story follows. As Jesus, burdened with his cross, stumbled in the street, the man named Cartaphilus, mocked him, precipitating the response Jesus intoned above, which paraphrased: “Some here shall not taste of death until the Son of Man comes again.” And the legend begins. It is said that the Wandering Jew ages normally until a great old age then either shucks his skin and re-emerges as a man in his mid-30’s or falls into a coma and “dies” only to reawaken at the same age he was when he mocked Jesus. Over and again he comes and goes, learning dispirit skills, languages, and abilities and mastering them over lifetimes.

3958624_origWhich brings us inexorably to the Count of St. Germain. By many accounts a strange man, appearing and disappearing throughout the various courts of Europe through a 200 year span, dazzling the gentry with his myriad skills and abilities. One day, a particular group of English nobility got him fairly drunk and he confessed all – how he was cursed by Jesus Christ to wander the Earth till the second coming. That his true name was Cartaphilus and that he learned all his skills and abilities over the centuries, and that he was truly waiting to simply… die. And then, like most legends, he disappeared into the night and never returned to that place at that time.
To me, the legend falls into the category of just that: Legend. Some folks misinterpreting the teachings of the Bible. It has happened before, it is happening now, and it will happen again. The original text (or as original as we can get) says nothing of Cartaphilus. Neither do any of the gnostic texts I have read. In the end, it is another parable attributed to Jesus that has nothing to DO with Jesus. Honestly, it makes Jesus seem like more of a jerk than I tend to believe he actually was. I can’t imagine Jesus condemning someone for mocking him – if you feel that if the Son of Man were as he was advertised to be, he would offer only sorrow and forgiveness. But hey, that is me.



Reconstruction of Jesus' face by forensic scientists. Photo credit-
Reconstruction of Jesus’ face by forensic scientists. Photo credit-

This article is going to be controversial, and I fully accept that, but I want to establish that this article is meant to engender conversation not provoke an Internet Holy Flame War. What I write here comes from an educated place. I have done an in depth study of several versions of the Bible (NIV, KJV, and a terrible translation of WYC), the Torah, the Koran, the Book of Mormon (Latter Day Saints), as well as many different teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism. A good portion of this is also based around the book “Zealot” by Reza Aslan, a noted and respected historian. Also note – There is SO MUCH information that I cannot possibly put it all into a reasonable article. So many hundreds of thousands of books have been written on the subject, so I’m going to do my best to condense this down into the bare facts based on historical context and cultural background. Ready? Three controversial statement in 3… 2… 1…


Jesus was NOT white.

Jesus was a Jew, who followed the laws and practices of the Jewish tradition.

Jesus was not the only messiah.


Okay, so let us back up and let me explain these before I move on.

1) Jesus’ skin pigmentation was not the pale color attributed to a Caucasian cultural background. It is acknowledged in the Bible that Mary is indeed the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:42, ESV), and as Mary herself was not the bastard daughter of Romans, we can assume she matched the cultural pigment profile of the region. Even assuming God is Caucazoid, Jesus is, at best, a healthy mix of melanin profiles.

2) Jesus was a Jew. He was called King of the Jews many times over, he practiced Jewish traditions (the last supper is generally assumed to be a Passover meal), and he was called Rabbi by his disciples and followers (Mark 9:5, NIV).

3) And finally, and this is where historical context comes into it, Jesus was not the only messiah. It’s true! In his time, many called John the Baptist the messiah, as well as a little known guy named Apollonius of Tyana. Not to mention many others throughout that period. See, times were not easy, what with the Romans basically pervading every aspect of everyday life. There were so many men claiming to be the messiah that, even though proclaiming oneself a leader or king above that of Roman leadership was illegal, mostly the Roman’s ignored it. So what sets Jesus apart from these others? Why does the Christian faith honor him above all others? In a word? Propaganda.

Now hold up. Before you get all angry with me, propaganda isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am in no way saying that Jesus wasn’t a groovy Jew with radical notions of government, leadership, and social justice – he totally was and I dig that. But Jesus must have had an edge on his messianic rivals – and that edge was charisma and a good campaign manager. (God maybe? Not saying, just saying.)

Look, taking the divine out of it for a moment, this guy managed to get noticed. Raising the dead, traipsing around with hookers and lepers, feeding the masses, walking on water, this guy and his disciples knew how to work the rumor machine. Guy is unconscious, thought to be dead? Jesus wakes him up. Feeding the masses? Good pre-planning. Walking on water? Guy swims out to the boat, a few well-placed innuendos to the uneducated masses and BOOM! Divine Bridge of God.

He got so much attention that the Roman policy of ignoring the upstart messianic Jews became more and more difficult. I mean when a carpenter’s son suddenly has enough devoted followers to threaten a governor, you’ve got to take notice, right?

So Pilate did what he had to do. He followed the letter of the law, even gave the people a chance to save their erstwhile savior. I won’t speak to the division of the Christian and Jewish faiths that came about from this moment, but I find it rather reprehensible to blame an entire culture and religion for the actions of a likely ill-informed few. And Jesus dies on the cross.

Then he is, ostensibly, resurrected. But in the earliest versions of Mark, the chapter ends at 16:8, and this itself was written some 300 years after Jesus’ death. Here is the whole passage from the New International Version:

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

The remaining versus (9-20) didn’t enter into it until much much later. Seems awfully weird that it just cuts off before they get a chance to talk to the risen Christ. Just a dude in robes telling them that Jesus had risen and went ahead to Galilee to… what? Get his affairs in order? See the sites one last time?

This article is not meant to dispute the divinity of Christ. I know what I just said, but listen: If you’re a believer, everything I cited here can be explained. But if you’re a skeptic (and I am), there are plenty of holes in your plot to be poked. Even ignoring the fact that if Jesus was the Messiah, he was a rather poor one as he did not bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth as he was prophesied to do. Indeed, he instead implied that the Kingdom of God was in fact, Earth (Luke 17:21). And frankly if THIS is the Kingdom of Heaven? God can keep it.

Consider this food for thought: If Jesus was the son of God, then what he managed to do in his short time on this globe was nothing terribly special. If indeed God is truly all powerful, He has contrived to do something that has failed, thus proving his own fallibility. But if Jesus was just a man with radical ideas… then he has done more (for good or for ill) than any single human being living or dead has ever done. And THAT to me is the REAL gospel of Jesus.