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University of Arizona experts determine age of book 'nobody can read' (Voynich manuscript)
University of Arizona ^ | February 10, 2011 | Unknown

Posted on 02/10/2011 5:02:38 PM PST by decimon

While enthusiasts across the world pored over the Voynich manuscript, penned by an unknown author in a language no one understands, a research team at the University of Arizona solved one of its biggest mysteries: When was the book made?

University of Arizona researchers have cracked one of the puzzles surrounding what has been called "the world's most mysterious manuscript" – the Voynich manuscript, a book filled with drawings and writings nobody has been able to make sense of to this day.

Using radiocarbon dating, a team led by Greg Hodgins in the UA's department of physics has found the manuscript's parchment pages date back to the early 15th century, making the book a century older than scholars had previously thought.

This tome makes the "DaVinci Code" look downright lackluster: Rows of text scrawled on visibly aged parchment, flowing around intricately drawn illustrations depicting plants, astronomical charts and human figures bathing in – perhaps – the fountain of youth. At first glance, the "Voynich manuscript" appears to be not unlike any other antique work of writing and drawing.

An alien language

But a second, closer look reveals that nothing here is what it seems. Alien characters, some resembling Latin letters, others unlike anything used in any known language, are arranged into what appear to be words and sentences, except they don't resemble anything written – or read – by human beings.

Hodgins, an assistant research scientist and assistant professor in the UA's department of physics with a joint appointment at the UA's School of Anthropology, is fascinated with the manuscript.

"Is it a code, a cipher of some kind? People are doing statistical analysis of letter use and word use – the tools that have been used for code breaking. But they still haven't figured it out."

A chemist and archaeological scientist by training, Hodgins works for the NSF Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, or AMS, Laboratory, which is shared between physics and geosciences. His team was able to nail down the time when the Voynich manuscript was made.

Currently owned by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, the manuscript was discovered in the Villa Mondragone near Rome in 1912 by antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich while sifting through a chest of books offered for sale by the Society of Jesus. Voynich dedicated the remainder of his life to unveiling the mystery of the book's origin and deciphering its meanings. He died 18 years later, without having wrestled any its secrets from the book.

Fast-forward to 2009: In the basement underneath the UA's Physics and Atmospheric Sciences building, Hodgins and a crew of scientists, engineers and technicians stare at a computer monitor displaying graphs and lines. The humming sound of machinery fills the room and provides a backdrop drone for the rhythmic hissing of vacuum pumps.

Stainless steel pipes, alternating with heavy-bodied vacuum chambers, run along the walls.

This is the heart of the NSF-Arizona AMS Laboratory: an accelerator mass spectrometer capable of sniffing out traces of carbon-14 atoms that are present in samples, giving scientists clues about the age of those samples.

Radiocarbon dating: looking back in time

Carbon-14 is a rare form of carbon, a so-called radioisotope, that occurs naturally in the Earth's environment. In the natural environment, there is only one carbon-14 atom per trillion non-radioactive or "stable" carbon isotopes, mostly carbon-12, but with small amounts of carbon-13. Carbon-14 is found in the atmosphere within carbon dioxide gas.

Plants produce their tissues by taking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and so accumulate carbon-14 during life. Animals in turn accumulate carbon-14 in their tissues by eating plants, or eating other organisms that consume plants.

When a plant or animal dies, the level of carbon-14 in it remains drops at a predictable rate, and so can be used to calculate the amount of time that has passed since death.

What is true of plants and animals is also true of products made from them. Because the parchment pages of the Voynich Manuscript were made from animal skin, they can be radiocarbon-dated.

Pointing to the front end of the mass spectrometer, Hodgins explains the principle behind it. A tiny sample of carbon extracted from the manuscript is introduced into the "ion source" of the mass spectrometer.

"This causes the atoms in the sample to be ionized," he explained, "meaning they now have an electric charge and can be propelled by electric and magnetic fields."

Ejected from the ion source, the carbon ions are formed into a beam that races through the instrument at a fraction of the speed of light. Focusing the beam with magnetic lenses and filters, the mass spectrometer then splits it up into several beams, each containing only one isotope species of a certain mass.

"Carbon-14 is heavier than the other carbon isotopes," Hodgins said. "This way, we can single out this isotope and determine how much of it is present in the sample. From that, we calculate its age."

Dissecting a century-old book

To obtain the sample from the manuscript, Hodgins traveled to Yale University, where conservators had previously identified pages that had not been rebound or repaired and were the best to sample.

"I sat down with the Voynich manuscript on a desk in front of me, and delicately dissected a piece of parchment from the edge of a page with a scalpel," Hodgins says.

He cut four samples from four pages, each measuring about 1 by 6 millimeters (ca. 1/16 by 1 inch) and brought them back to the laboratory in Tucson, where they were thoroughly cleaned.

"Because we were sampling from the page margins, we expected there are a lot of finger oils adsorbed over time," Hodgins explains. "Plus, if the book was re-bound at any point, the sampling spots on these pages may actually not have been on the edge but on the spine, meaning they may have had adhesives on them."

"The modern methods we use to date the material are so sensitive that traces of modern contamination would be enough to throw things off."

Next, the sample was combusted, stripping the material of any unwanted compounds and leaving behind only its carbon content as a small dusting of graphite at the bottom of the vial.

"In radiocarbon dating, there is this whole system of many people working at it," he said. "It takes many skills to produce a date. From start to finish, there is archaeological expertise; there is biochemical and chemical expertise; we need physicists, engineers and statisticians. It's one of the joys of working in this place that we all work together toward this common goal."

The UA's team was able to push back the presumed age of the Voynich manuscript by 100 years, a discovery that killed some of the previously held hypotheses about its origins and history.

Elsewhere, experts analyzed the inks and paints that makes up the manuscript's strange writings and images.

"It would be great if we could directly radiocarbon date the inks, but it is actually really difficult to do. First, they are on a surface only in trace amounts" Hodgins said. "The carbon content is usually extremely low. Moreover, sampling ink free of carbon from the parchment on which it sits is currently beyond our abilities. Finally, some inks are not carbon based, but are derived from ground minerals. They're inorganic, so they don't contain any carbon."

"It was found that the colors are consistent with the Renaissance palette – the colors that were available at the time. But it doesn't really tell us one way or the other, there is nothing suspicious there."

While Hodgins is quick to point out that anything beyond the dating aspect is outside his expertise, he admits he is just as fascinated with the book as everybody else who has tried to unveil its history and meaning.

"The text shows strange characteristics like repetitive word use or the exchange of one letter in a sequence," he says. "Oddities like that make it really hard to understand the meaning."

"There are types of ciphers that embed meaning within gibberish. So it is possible that most of it does mean nothing. There is an old cipher method where you have a sheet of paper with strategically placed holes in it. And when those holes are laid on top of the writing, you read the letters in those holes."

"Who knows what's being written about in this manuscript, but it appears to be dealing with a range of topics that might relate to alchemy. Secrecy is sometimes associated with alchemy, and so it would be consistent with that tradition if the knowledge contained in the book was encoded. What we have are the drawings. Just look at those drawings: Are they botanical? Are they marine organisms? Are they astrological? Nobody knows."

"I find this manuscript is absolutely fascinating as a window into a very interesting mind. Piecing these things together was fantastic. It's a great puzzle that no one has cracked, and who doesn't love a puzzle?"

###

High-resolution images of the manuscript's 240 pages, including a special section on highlights and special features, are online at http://voynichcentral.com/gallery


TOPICS: Books/Literature; History; Science
KEYWORDS: alchemy; code; epigraphyandlanguage; godsgravesglyphs; history; secretwriting; voynich; voynichmanuscript
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Caption: The Voynich manuscript's unintelligible writings and strange illustrations have defied every attempt at understanding their meaning.

Credit: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Usage Restrictions: Usage only granted in conjunction with posting/reporting of this news release. Photo must be credited as shown.

1 posted on 02/10/2011 5:02:39 PM PST by decimon
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To: SunkenCiv

Doodle do ping.


2 posted on 02/10/2011 5:03:45 PM PST by decimon
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To: decimon

TO SERVE MAN——IT’S A COOKBOOK!


3 posted on 02/10/2011 5:03:45 PM PST by Tea Party Reveler
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To: decimon

Well those drawings are clearly crop circles, so the book must have been written by aliens. [Just kidding.]


4 posted on 02/10/2011 5:05:30 PM PST by Fantasywriter
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To: decimon

5 posted on 02/10/2011 5:06:00 PM PST by 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
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To: Tea Party Reveler

Everyone in my family knew exactly what your post meant. I’m not sure what that says about us though. lol


6 posted on 02/10/2011 5:06:05 PM PST by RoseyT
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To: Tribune7

ping


7 posted on 02/10/2011 5:06:47 PM PST by Temple Owl (Excelsior! Onward and upward.)
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To: decimon
Interesting scribbles of a schizotypal medieval monk not unlike Ted Kaczynski. Don't mean nothin'.
8 posted on 02/10/2011 5:07:12 PM PST by hinckley buzzard
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To: decimon

It’s the map from Zork I.


9 posted on 02/10/2011 5:10:17 PM PST by lunarville (Common sense ain't so common anymore...)
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To: decimon

BREAKING: Coded words read “Together We Thrive.”


10 posted on 02/10/2011 5:10:55 PM PST by CedarDave (What is DADT? Obama's response when inquiries are made about his birth certificate.)
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To: decimon

I’m not kidding - you can’t trust C14 dating. I don’t care if it’s creation related or not. They will have looked at other factors - the kind of paper, the kind of ink, where it was found, done their C14 hocus pocus, then give you an answer based on those other assumptions. C14 could have given them a 500 year window.

If you can trick a C14 dater into dating a dinosaur bone, it will show up as ~10000 years old. But he won’t do it if you tell him what it is.


11 posted on 02/10/2011 5:11:16 PM PST by Christian Engineer Mass (25ish Cambridge, MA grad student. Any potential conservative Christian FReepmail-FRiends out there?)
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To: decimon

Clearly a map that shows where the Stargate is burried.


12 posted on 02/10/2011 5:11:32 PM PST by OldDeckHand
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To: lunarville

You are at the aqueduct. I wasted a lot of time playing Zork.


13 posted on 02/10/2011 5:12:13 PM PST by Richard Kimball
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To: decimon
It looks like an embroidery sample book...;-)
14 posted on 02/10/2011 5:12:29 PM PST by Average Al
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To: decimon

Hand in to Nancy Pelosi.

In order to understand the book, you have to pass it.


15 posted on 02/10/2011 5:12:45 PM PST by max americana
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To: decimon
He cut four samples from four pages, each measuring about 1 by 6 millimeters (ca. 1/16 by 1 inch)

I can't trust a source that can't do metric conversions.

16 posted on 02/10/2011 5:17:17 PM PST by Tread EZ (God bless you and yours)
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To: decimon
For Pete's sake it is Goa’uld.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goa’uld_characters_in_Stargate

17 posted on 02/10/2011 5:19:45 PM PST by mad_as_he$$ ( "Hokahey, today is a good day to die!" Crazy Horse, Lakota Sioux)
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It's....Barry's birth certificate!!!
18 posted on 02/10/2011 5:20:34 PM PST by razbinn (I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,and to the republic for which it ...)
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To: Tea Party Reveler

Eat, Mr. Chambers, eat.


19 posted on 02/10/2011 5:23:06 PM PST by JPG (Work for conservative change like your country depended on it.)
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To: Fantasywriter; Quix
Well those drawings are clearly crop circles, so the book must have been written by aliens. [Just kidding.]

You may be kidding but Quix will buy it. ;-)

20 posted on 02/10/2011 5:23:50 PM PST by decimon
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To: decimon; hinckley buzzard

Lol. Maybe he will.

I think HB may have nailed it, though. I knew is schizophrenic woman who drew patterns very similar to the ones pictured. She only wrote in English, but maybe her IQ and creativity levels were not on par with those of the book’s creator.


21 posted on 02/10/2011 5:30:12 PM PST by Fantasywriter
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To: hinckley buzzard

That was my first reaction.

A person suffering from Schizophrenia.


22 posted on 02/10/2011 5:30:38 PM PST by Marty62 (Marty 60)
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To: Average Al

I thought it looked like lace patterns.


23 posted on 02/10/2011 5:30:49 PM PST by madamemayhem (defeat is not getting knocked down, it is not getting back up.)
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To: decimon
Voynich Manuscript-Elegant Enigma from NSA
24 posted on 02/10/2011 5:35:47 PM PST by Larry381
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To: decimon

Well, we know how to drive them absolutely crazy in the future. Write a book filled with gibberish and bury it for 600 years.

Actually, the pictures look like microorganisms or botanical magnifications to me. Maybe some past scientist, making copies of crude magnifications, and trying to keep his notes secret, like Leonardo?


25 posted on 02/10/2011 5:37:10 PM PST by I still care (I miss my friends, bagels, and the NYC skyline - but not the taxes. I love the South.)
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To: Richard Kimball
I never throw anything away. Checked the attic and still have Zork and accessories. (Even have the Tandy 4P that I played it on).


26 posted on 02/10/2011 5:37:36 PM PST by lunarville (Common sense ain't so common anymore...)
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To: decimon

I’d never heard of this book before now.

Deciphering the text would be a perfect job for a supercomputer, or maybe one of those projects that link all the PCs in a network to decode small pieces. I think they did something like that for the Genome Project.


27 posted on 02/10/2011 5:37:36 PM PST by PhiloBedo (You gotta roll with the punches and get with what's real.)
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To: decimon

any tome dealing with alchemy/magic written in the 15 century would have meant a gruesome death for anyone found guilty of having penned it or even possessing it. As such, it seems entirely possible that the text is actually encrypted.


28 posted on 02/10/2011 5:38:56 PM PST by RC one
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To: decimon

Demonstrating poor psychologist skills again?


29 posted on 02/10/2011 5:43:27 PM PST by Quix (Times are a changin' INSURE you have believed in your heart & confessed Jesus as Lord Come NtheFlesh)
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To: Tea Party Reveler

30 posted on 02/10/2011 5:43:47 PM PST by lunarville (Common sense ain't so common anymore...)
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To: Christian Engineer Mass

It’s parchment (vellum), not paper. If it were on paper, yes, paper of that era often had watermarks and they can to some degree help with dating the paper. But parchment is made from animal hides and, sorry to say, has no watermarks ever.

Ink won’t help. Even if they determined the kind of ink, it wouldn’t tell you much—there were only a handful of ways to make ink and all had been in use for centuries so establishing a particular kind of ink rarely tells anything about date. If it were some uniqe, modern kind of ink, yeah, that would tell you something—that its not old. But ten-to-one they’ve already done that testing. They can’t carbon-14 the ink but there are other ways (including eyeballing it) to figure out what it was made from.

If it were written in a regular language and script, it could be dated from the style of writing.

But it’s not.


31 posted on 02/10/2011 5:45:06 PM PST by Houghton M.
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To: Quix
Demonstrating poor psychologist skills again?

Again? Just kidding. That's what the wink emoticon was for.

32 posted on 02/10/2011 5:47:29 PM PST by decimon
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To: 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten

LOL - First thing I thought when I saw the drawings.


33 posted on 02/10/2011 5:48:05 PM PST by ExpatCanuck
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To: PhiloBedo

Youze found my dairy? Is mah kookebook.

34 posted on 02/10/2011 5:49:35 PM PST by Leo Carpathian (fffffFRrrreeeeepppeeee-ssed!)
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To: decimon

I think I’ll get a journal and create some undecipherable “script”...adding some odd doodling, alongside. Then I’ll find out how best to preserve it and safely secret it away. Maybe I can throw some future society for a loop. (:-D


35 posted on 02/10/2011 5:51:57 PM PST by bannie (( ))
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To: decimon

Dude obviously had the Spirograph Professional Edition Deluxe set.


36 posted on 02/10/2011 5:57:03 PM PST by Free Vulcan (Vote Republican! You can vote Democrat when you're dead.)
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To: Houghton M.
The things discovered about the Voynich Manuscript. The languages are internally consistent. I was written by two people. It was not a code known in the 12th thru 16th century. Other than that any thing goes.
37 posted on 02/10/2011 6:00:22 PM PST by Little Bill (Harry Browne is a Poofter.)
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To: decimon; nickcarraway; StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; ...

· GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother, and Ernest_at_the_Beach ·
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Thanks decimon. Nice description and explanation of RC dating, and a great find.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
 

· History topic · history keyword · archaeology keyword · paleontology keyword ·
· Science topic · science keyword · Books/Literature topic · pages keyword ·


38 posted on 02/10/2011 6:02:45 PM PST by SunkenCiv (The 2nd Amendment follows right behind the 1st because some people are hard of hearing.)
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To: razbinn
High-resolution images of the manuscript's 240 pages, including a special section on highlights and special features, are online at
http://voynichcentral.com/gallery

To me, this is the most valuable bit in the entire article.
There is nothing so full of promise than the ability of millions of eyeballs to see the manuscript; normal people, exceptionally smart people, even idiots savants. If there is an "outside the box" thinking brain out there, there is a better chance of finding an answer.

39 posted on 02/10/2011 6:03:10 PM PST by Publius6961 ("In 1964 the War on Poverty Began --- Poverty won.")
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To: PhiloBedo
"Deciphering the text would be a perfect job for a supercomputer, or maybe one of those projects that link all the PCs in a network to decode small pieces. I think they did something like that for the Genome Project."

I believe the NSA already took a crack at it and came up short.

40 posted on 02/10/2011 6:04:58 PM PST by Joe 6-pack (Que me amat, amet et canem meum)
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To: Little Bill
I was written by two people.

Me too. ;-)

41 posted on 02/10/2011 6:08:43 PM PST by decimon
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To: decimon

42 posted on 02/10/2011 6:12:23 PM PST by ROTB (Sans Christian revival, we are government slaves, or nuked by China/Russia when we finally revolt.)
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To: decimon

Sorry, I didn’t even notice that there was ANY emoticon at all.

Of course, I’m also fresh from an incredible knock-down, drage-out on the Rel Forum with the kind of hypocritical obtuseness and blaming—the likes of which I’ve never seen before—even in that forum. Shocking. I’m still kind of stunned and not as perceptive as I should be.

Sorry.


43 posted on 02/10/2011 6:12:29 PM PST by Quix (Times are a changin' INSURE you have believed in your heart & confessed Jesus as Lord Come NtheFlesh)
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To: Houghton M.

You can still tell styles in many ways. That looks 15th century to me. It’s a good guess.


44 posted on 02/10/2011 6:12:45 PM PST by Christian Engineer Mass (25ish Cambridge, MA grad student. Any potential conservative Christian FReepmail-FRiends out there?)
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To: Elsie
But a second, closer look reveals that nothing here is what it seems. Alien characters, some resembling Latin letters, others unlike anything used in any known language, are arranged into what appear to be words and sentences, except they don't resemble anything written – or read – by human beings.

I was going to say Joseph Smith's trial run, but the drawings are too nice.
45 posted on 02/10/2011 6:15:01 PM PST by aruanan
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To: Average Al

It looks like pollen to me.


46 posted on 02/10/2011 6:15:29 PM PST by healy61
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To: decimon

There are fools, there are damned fools, and then there is me.


47 posted on 02/10/2011 6:16:09 PM PST by Little Bill (Harry Browne is a Poofter.)
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To: decimon

Gimme a hit of that orange sunshine purple doubledome LSD25 and I could figure it out.


48 posted on 02/10/2011 6:16:33 PM PST by wxgesr (I want to be the first person to surf on another planet.)
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To: Quix

I’m sorry if I was insulting. Didn’t mean to be.

As for the Rel Forum: When I was young I was told you never argue religion or politics in a bar. Seems to me that it’s futile to argue religion anywhere.


49 posted on 02/10/2011 6:29:03 PM PST by decimon
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To: Quix
What is it with the religion threads lately? I've been avoiding them like a plague lately.

The last one I was on had comments like...

"God is love? He may be but I hate your effing guts and would choke you to death with my bare hands for telling me I am not filled with the Holy Spirit. I am so filled with the HS that I could lacerate your genitals with a butcher knife and leave only your foreskin in place...so don't tell me about love. I will pray for you, you stupid Mo Fo."

50 posted on 02/10/2011 6:32:46 PM PST by SonOfDarkSkies
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