Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

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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Later Prophecies and History

Posted by foryourfaith on August 2, 2016


First the northern kingdom of Israel and then the southern kingdom of Judah had been conquered, and the Israelites were being held captive by the Babylonians, far from their homeland. But conquerors can be conquered too. In 539 BC Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated the Babylonians, and much of the near East came under Persian rule. Soon after this conquest, Cyrus allowed some of the Israelites to return to Jerusalem, and rebuild their city and temple.

The book of Isaiah contains predictions of Cyrus’s saving action. These predictions and the rest of chapters 40 to 55 of Isaiah were probably written by an anonymous prophet, using the name of the earlier prophet Isaiah, shortly before Cyrus’s victory. Later, when Jerusalem, either the same prophet – sometimes referred to as Deutero (Second) Isaiah – or an entirely different prophet wrote the passages contained in chapters 56 to 66 of the book of Isaiah. This “Third Isaiah” encouraged the Israelites to rebuild Jerusalem, telling them that God’s salvation would come not only to them but to all the world.

In addition, five other prophets made their voices heard during the period following the return from exile. Obadiah condemned the Edomites, a neighboring people, for not having helped the Israelites when the Babylonians had invaded and taken them into exile. Haggai and Zechariah urged the returning Israelites to rebuild the temple. A little later, Joel described a plague of locusts as a punishment from God and urged repentance, and Malachi told the people that God loved them and pointed to the coming of the Messiah. The prophecies of each of these men are preserved in individual books of the Bible.

Not all of the exiled Israelites returned home during Cyrus’s rule. Some never returned. Daniel, the prophet, and Esther, who married a later king of Persia, were among those who stayed. And the many who did return did so slowly, over a period of about a century. Among the most important of the later returnees were Ezra, a priest and scribe, and Nehemiah saw to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. Ezra instituted religious reforms and promoted the book of the law, which many scholars believe to have been the Pentateuch in its present form. Accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah are found in the biblical books that bear their names – a single volume called Ezra-Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible.

During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, a new history of the Jewish people appeared, known in the Bible as Chronicles. In the Hebrew Bible this is a single book, but in Christian Bibles it is divided into two parts. 1 Corinthians traces the history of the Israelites from the creation of the world to the death of King David. Most of this history is given briefly in the form of genealogies and lists of priests, military leaders and officials. The reign of David, however, is given in more detail, but David’s blemishes are ignored. For example, even though vast portions of the books of Samuel and Kings are repeated in Chronicles, often verbatim, the story found in 2 Samuel 11-12, of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba and its consequences, is missing from 1 Chronicles. In fact, David is not presented realistically at all but merely as a model against which all future kings can be measured.

Second Chronicles begins with an idealized history of Solomon’s reign. The account of the divided kingdom that follows pays scant attention to the northern kingdom of Israel, which is seen as totally false to God. The kings of the southern kingdom of Judah, on the other hand, are judged by whether or not they follow God’s law. Judah finally falls to the Babylonians because so many of its kings fail in their duty. The book ends with an account of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people but it offers some hope. Prompted by God, Cyrus decrees that the Jews may return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.

Many scholars believe that the books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah were created as a single work by a single author, who is generally referred to as the Chronicler. Certainly, the texts of Ezra-Nehemiah complete Chronicles by adding the history of Judah after the return from exile, and Ezra begins where 2 Chronicles ends – with Cyrus’s decree. No one knows who the Chronicler was, but many believe it was Ezra himself. If not, it was probably some other temple official writing around 400 BC.


Ezra, The Second Lawgiver

A direct descendant of Moses’ brother Aaron, Ezra was given a commission by King Artaxerxes of Persia to return to Jerusalem and teach the people the laws of Moses. He travelled to Jerusalem with a large group of other Israelite exiles, and when he arrived he immediately began his work of reestablishing the Jewish religion there. When he discovered that many of the Israelites had taken pagan wives, he was horrified and convinced most of them to divorce these idol worshippers. Then he read from the book of Moses (the Pentateuch) in Hebrew, while an interpreter translated into Akkadian, the language the exiles had begun speaking in Babylon. The people of Jerusalem had never heard, or had forgotten, much of what they heard in these readings, but quickly adopted it. From that time to this the law of Moses has been the focal point of Jewish worship. Moses had been the Jewish people’s first lawgiver. Ezra, by restoring the Mosaic law to them, is considered their second lawgiver.

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