Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

Mount Horeb

Posted by foryourfaith on April 4, 2017

 

One of the puzzles to which biblical scholars have periodically turned their attention is the location of Mount Sinai, where god gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  In the Bible, Mount Horeb appears to be another name for Sinai.  Those scholars who accept the documentary hypothesis of the first books of the Bible, the majority of contemporary Bible scholars, have offered an explanation.  The documentary hypothesis suggests that the first five books of the Bible were composed by editing together manuscripts from four traditions (named J, E, P, and D) rather than being originally written as a single text basically as they appear today.  That being the case, Sinai is the name used for the mountain of god in the J and P documents (for example, Exodus 19:11 or Leviticus 7:38) and Horeb in the E and D documents (Exodus 17:6 and 33:6).

However, whether one accepts the documentary hypothesis or not, the problem of locating Horeb/Sinai remains.  Over the centuries, the location of the site of the giving of the law was lost, and the exact date of the Exodus has been a matter of considerable debate.  The search for Sinai appears to have been a Christian concern; by the time the kingdom of Judah emerged, memory of the location of Sinai had been lost and was apparently of little concern.  However, as early as the second century CE, Christians appear to have gone into the Sinai desert looking or it.

According to biblical accounts, the mountain was located some eleven days’ journey from Kadesh-barnea, and was located adjacent to a flat area large enough for the Hebrews to camp at its base.  There is no agreement on the location of Kadesh-barnea and other sites mentioned in the biblical narrative relative to the Exodus.  However, a variety of locations were examined, and during the fourth century, during the reign of the emperor Constantine (r. 306-337), the peak known as Jebel Musa was selected as the site.  Its selection was not altogether based on its close conformity to biblical descriptions, however, but due to the visit of Constantine’s mother Helena (c. 248-c. 329) on her famous trip to the Holy Land.  Along with Jerusalem and Bethlehem, she visited Jebel Musa and erected a tower and small church.  The fixing of the site seems to have been confirmed to Helena in a dream.  During the reign of the emperor Justinian I (438-565), it is said, a monastery was constructed at the site of the tower.  It appears that, in fact, Justinian was responsible for building a castle-like structure, Saint Catherine’s Monastery, to protect the monks who had previously come to reside in the area.

Others have identified Sinai as the place near Midian (in the Arabian desert across the gulf of Aqaba from the Sinai Peninsula) where Moses had the experience of encountering God in a burning bush as recorded in Exodus 3.  Paul identifies Arabia as the location of Sinai (Galatians 4:25).  Some support to this idea was offered by the historian Josephus (c. 37-100 CE).  Additional evidence is cited from the apparently volcanic nature of the mountain, which spewed forth fire and smoke while the Hebrews camped near it.  Those who support the Midian location of Sinai/Horeb have identified it with the peak known as Jabel el Laws, noting its similarity with the mountain and adjacent land described in the Bible.

Amateur archeologist Ron Wyatt, famous for his search for Noah’s Ark, has championed the Midian site.  He claims to have found parts from Egyptian chariots in the nearby Gulf of Aqaba, which would have been the place the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.  He has also suggested the valley largely surrounded by Jabel el Laws’s volcanic rim is the place they camped when Moses received the Ten Commandments.  Though the evidence is by no means conclusive, the Arabian desert site is certainly one possibility for the place described in the Book of Exodus.

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Holy Coat of Trier

Posted by foryourfaith on February 19, 2017

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The Holy Coat of Trier (or Treves), Germany, a plain brown piece of cloth without visible seams, is a relic housed in the Roman Catholic cathedral at Trier.  It has traditionally been identified as the coat Christ wore the last days of his life when he was arrested, beaten, and crucified.  The earliest account of the coat dates from the twelfth century.  The Gesta Trevirorum notes that the coat was presented to Bishop Agritius (314-334) by the empress Helena (c. 248 – c. 329).  Helena was the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, and she used her position to promote Christianity after her son legalized it in 312.  She traveled to the Holy Land and reputedly recovered several relics associated with Christ, most notably the cross upon which he was executed.  While more famous for her promotion of the True Cross, she also recovered the seamless coat for which the Roman soldiers gambled as Jesus suffered on the cross.

the relic stayed in Trier through the next centuries and was placed on display on several occasions during the sixteenth century, when its religious future was called into question upon the rise of Protestantism.  (Several prominent Protestant leaders denounced the coat, noting that several rivals for the Trier relic were on exhibition at other European churches, most notably at Argenteuil, France.)  During the continued unrest and wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the coat was hidden away.  Following Napoleon’s conquest of the region, in 1810 the local bishop felt confident enough to bring the relic from its then hiding place in Augsburg.  It has since remained in Trier.

In the modern world, the Holy Coat has been the subject of a variety of critiques, many due to the audacious claim made about its origin.  For many centuries, the case for authenticity was based on a document that lay in the archives of Trier, called the "Sylvester Diploma."  However, this document, once believed to have been sent by Pope Sylvester I (r. 314-335), has not survived critical scrutiny and is no longer considered genuine.  the fact of the coat’s being tied to Helena also ties it to other equally questionable Christian relics, not to mention the absence of contemporary fourth-century records concerning Helena and the Holy Land.

In the mid-1840s a piece of ivory, depicting the empress seated before the church and procession bringing a chest into the church, became the focus of a reexamination of the legendary depositing of the coat at Trier.  The ivory, lost for many years, was found in 1844.  In 1846 it was made available to the Archeological Society of Frankfort, which issued a statement fixing the ivory as originating in the fourth or fifth century.  Noted Catholic historian Guido Gorres defended the relic in his pamphlet "The Pilgrimage of Treves," published in 1845.

To date, the coat has not been subject to the kinds of tests that other relics, such as the Shroud of Turin, have undergone.  To complicate matters, in the nineteenth century, to better preserve the coat, it was immersed in a rubber solution.  It is doubtful that such tests as carbon-dating, which might have helped date the item, could now yield satisfying results.

Since 1810 the coat has been placed on display at various times, and on each occasion hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have made the trek to Trier.  The most recent showing was in 1996.

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Samaria: Ahab’s City of Ivory

Posted by foryourfaith on February 19, 2017

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The city of Samaria stood on a hill about 42 miles north of Jerusalem and 25 miles east of the Mediterranean Sea. Omri, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, bought the hill from a man named Shemer, built the city and its surrounding fortifications, and then made this newly founded city his capital. Samaria remained Israel’s capital until its capture by the Assyrians in 722 BC, at which time the northern kingdom ceased to exist as a political entity.

Archaeological excavations were conducted at Samaria from 1908 to 1910 and again from 1931 to 1935. Among numerous finds from the Old Testament period were the remains of a two-story palace of the dynasty founded by King Omri, a large adjacent pool, and the three walls of the defensive system that helped the city withstand sieges until the Assyrian conquest. The more spectacular finds included more than 500 fragments of ivory and about 70 ostraca, or inscribed potsherds.

The ivory fragments were inlays from wooden wall panels, furniture, and small boxes and toiletries. Beautiful in design, they are thought to have been made by Phoenician artisans for the Omride imperial family including Ahab, king of Israel and son of Omri, and Ahab’s notorious wife Jezebel. She was a Phoenician princess and a strong supporter of her ancestral religion and culture. Although ivory utensils and inlays are not unusual in the ancient Near East – ivory gaming pieces and spoons, and inlaid ivory beds, couches, and boxes have been found in quantity, for example – the finds at Samaria attest both to the powerful Phoenician cultural influence on the northern kingdom and to the accuracy of the biblical record. In 1 Kings 22:39, King Ahab is said to have built an “ivory house.” Moreover, the prophet Amos, whose ministry was in the northern kingdom of Israel, refers to ivory beds and couches as examples of the excesses of the Samarian elite.

The ostraca date to the eighth century BC, many specifically from the years 778 to 770 BC, during the reign of Jeroboam II (786 – 746 BC). These inscribed potsherds are invoices for the delivery of oil and wine to the royal treasury, another excess of which Amos speaks: “Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory/ . . . who drink wine in bowls/ and anoint themselves with the finest oils.” In addition to providing historical records from a period of peace and prosperity, these ostraca have provided scholars with data and information on the dialect of Hebrew then spoken in the northern kingdom, on religion (from personal names incorporating the names of Phoenician deities), and on state administrative procedures.

The fall of the city is recorded not only in the biblical material (2 Kings 17:5-6), but also in the annals of Sargon, the Assyrian king who was on the throne when the city fell. The strategic placement of the city and its strong fortifications made it important to any state wanting to control the region, and thus the city was rebuilt after the Assyrian destruction and continued to survive into the seventh century AD.

The excavations uncovered fragments of an Assyrian stele and a cylinder inscription, clay cuneiform tablets, and shards of pottery from the period of Assyrian domination. During the period of Babylonian rule, Samaria was the administrative center for the province, as was also the case during the subsequent Persian period.

The city and district of Samaria figure prominently in the New Testament, especially in the work of Luke (Gospel and Acts) and John. Memorable personalities are mentioned and described in these books – the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John for example, and the hero of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:9-37).

The importance of Samaria lies both in the fact that it was the capital of the northern kingdom, and in its religious, cultural, and civic wealth. It has given us an understanding of the architecture, art and craft, language, religion, and administration of early Israel and subsequent periods. Samaria has indeed been a gold mine.

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