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AJ and the Amish

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During my year of living biblically, I made several pilgrimages across America. I wanted to embed myself in various communities that live the Bible literally in their own way "“ from Hasidic Jews to evangelical Christians. I also invited religious people to my house. I think I'm the only person in American history to out-Bible talk a Jehovah's Witness. After about three hours, he looked at his watch and said, "I gotta go."

One of my first trips was to Amish country in Lancaster County. My wife and I drove down from New York (I'm proud to say that I have absolutely no urge to make a double entendre when we passed Intercourse, Pennsylvania, which I see as a great moral victory).
To be biblically honest, I was a little leery of going to Amish country - the Amish have been a go-to religious punchline for so long, sort of the Carrot Top or Jazzercise of American spirituality, and I didn't want to fall into that trap. I didn't want to seem like I was mocking them.

In the end, I'm glad I went. I learned a huge amount and got to experience the beauty of the Amish culture. Plus, I got to hear an Amish joke told by an actual Amish person, which was a pleasant surprise.

Here are five Amish facts I learned during my year:

  • If you browse websites about the Amish, you'll often see a lot of pictures of the backs of their heads. The Amish follow strictly the second commandment "“ you shall not make graven images. And they are also concerned with appearing vain. So they don't like their faces photographed. They compromise by showing the back of their heads.
  • Amish have beards in accordance with Leviticus, which forbids the shaving of the corners of your beard. But they do shave their moustaches. The moustache was thought to have military associations by the early Amish, who came over from Switzerland in the 18th century.
  • The Amish do tell Amish jokes. My wife and I stayed at an Amish man's house, and he told us one. (Note: Please lower your expectations. The Amish are working with some pretty tight constraints here). Okay, here goes:

The joke and more Amish facts after the jump...

Q: What happened when the Mennonite man married the Amish woman?
A: She drove him buggy."

  • The Amish perform a foot-washing ritual, in accordance with the New Testament's John 13:5, which says "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example"¦"

  • Amish sports are the quietest sports in the world. Here's what my wife and I saw as we were leaving Amish country.

"I spot a cluster of about 30 buggies. We pull over to see what's happening. We have stumbled onto an Amish baseball game. Many discourage competitive sports. But here are 18 Amish teenage boys, their sleeves rolled up, their shirts and suspenders dark with sweat. Julie and I watch for a long time. These kids are good, but something is off about the game. I realize after a few minutes what it is: This is the quietest baseball game I've ever seen. No trash talk. No cheering from the parents in the stands. Near silence, except for the occasional crack of the bat. It is eerie and peaceful and beautiful."

PS Thanks for all the great comments on my first post. You make me commit the sin of pride!

>>Click here to purchase AJ's new book The Year of Living Bibilically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible today.

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Art
Two Unknown Paintings by Raphael Discovered on the Vatican's Walls

The Vatican Museums are home to numerous famous art treasures, created by masters like Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Now, artnet News reports, the galleries can add two previously unattributed paintings by Italian Renaissance painter Raphael to their list.

Inside the Palace of the Vatican is a suite of four frescoed rooms called Raphael's Rooms. During the early 16th century, they served as Pope Julius II's apartments. The Pope commissioned Raphael and his pupils to paint the rooms, and they adorned each one with a different theme.

Three of the rooms contain paintings by the master himself. But experts didn't think that the fourth—and largest—chamber, called the Room of Constantine, bore Raphael's personal handiwork.

The Room of Constantine depicts four significant moments in the life of Emperor Constantine I, who's credited with converting the Roman Empire to Christianity. Experts had always believed that Raphael had sketched plans for the frescoes, and his pupils finished them after Raphael's sudden death on April 6, 1520. But new restoration efforts prompted experts to take a closer look, and they noticed that two allegorical figures in the frescoes appear to have been painted by Raphael.

One fresco depicts the Vision of the Cross, the moment Emperor Constantine claimed to have seen an image of a holy cross in the sky before a decisive battle. At the edge of the large-scale painting floats a woman who represents Friendship, Smithsonian reports. A second scene, which depicts the battle between Constantine and his pagan brother-in-law Maxentius, shows the figure of Justice. Experts now say that Raphael painted both images.

Italian newspaper La Stampa was the first to break the news, which they reportedly received from a YouTube video released by the Vatican’s press office.

"By analyzing the painting, we realized that it is certainly by the great master Raphael," said restorer Fabio Piacentini, according to a translation provided by artnet News. "He painted in oil on the wall, which is a really special technique. The cleaning and removal of centuries of previous restorations revealed the typical pictorial features of the master."

"We know from 16th-century sources that Raphael painted two figures in this room as tests in the oil technique before he died," added art historian Arnold Nesselrath, who serves as the Vatican Museums' technical and scientific research head. "According to the sources, these two oil painted figures are of a much higher quality than the ones around them."

"Raphael was a great adventurer in painting and was always trying something different," Nesselrath continued. "When he understood how something worked, he sought a fresh challenge. And so, when he arrived in the largest room of the papal apartment, he decided to paint this room in oil, but he managed to paint only two figures, and his students continued in the traditional method, leaving only these two figures as autographs of the master."

[h/t artnet News]

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