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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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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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Face Cloth (of Jesus)

Posted by foryourfaith on August 2, 2016


Far less known than the Shroud of Turin, which is the cloth or "napkin" many believe was used to wrap the body of Jesus following his crucifixion, the Sudarium or face cloth that was reputedly used to cover and clean the face of Jesus after the crucifixion (cf. John 20:6-7) emerged in the last half of the twentieth century as an important element in establishing the authenticity of the shroud.  The face cloth is approximately 32 inches by 20 inches.  Unlike the shroud, there is no image on this cloth, only a few blood stains are visible to the naked eye.

According to the story that had developed about the cloth in the Middle Ages (primary sources being the Book of Testaments, a twelfth-century volume by Pelayo, the bishop of Oviedo and the thirteenth-century Chronicle of the World by Lucus, the bishop of Tuy), the Sudarium was kept in Jerusalem in an oak chest until the beginning of the seventh century.  Around 614, when the Persians sacked Jerusalem, the box containing the cloth and several other relics was secreted out of the city by one Philip the Presbyter.  He went first to Alexandria in northern Egypt, then on to Spain.  In the seventh century, the box was received by Fulgentius, the bishop of Ecija (Spain), who passed it to Seville, where it was initially kept by Saint Isidore (c. 560-636).  In 657 it was moved to Toledo, where it remained until 718, by which time the Muslim armies had entered and conquered most of Spain.

King Alfonso II (r. 791-842) was able to establish a Christian enclave in northern Spain and brought the box to his capital at Oviedo after having kept it in a cave outside the city for some years.  Alfonso built a chapel, the Camara Santa, to house the chest and its contents.  The chapel was then incorporated to the new cathedral at Oviedo.  Two centuries later, on March 14, 1075, the box was formally opened in the presence of King Alfonso VI (r. 1065-1109), his sister Dona Urraca, and Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (aka El Cid, c. 1043-1099).  The items in the chest, including the face cloth, were catalogued.  Then in 1113, King Alfonso I (r. 1104-1134) saw the chest covered with silver that had an inscription calling for veneration of the face cloth.

The face cloth has remained at Oviedo since the eighth century, and the cathedral became a favorite stopping place for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela.  (The same Alfonso II who built the Camara Santa had also established the church at Santiago de Compesela and declared Saint James the patron of his kingdom).

In the controversy over results of scientific testing of the Shroud of Turin, the face cloth at Oviedo was made available for testing.  In the late 1980s, Monsignor Giulio Ricci, president of the Roman Center for Sindonology, called for a systematic study of the cloth.  Early studies included the gathering of pollen from the cloth.  Species from Palestine and North Africa were found, both consistent with the legends concerning the travel route the cloth took to Spain.  These findings were discussed at the First International Congress on the Sudarium of Oviedo in 1994.  Subsequent studies have found a variety of consistencies between the cloth and the shroud, including the same blood type being found on each.  Ongoing testing of the Sudarium is being largely handled by Guillermo Heras, who heads the Spanish Center for Sindonology.

The testing of the face cloth has thrust it into the midst of the shroud controversy, with champions on both sides of the issue.  The cloth is relatively well documented from the eighth century, but there still a seven-century gap between its surfacing in Spain and its reputed origin in the Holy Land.  As the controversy emerged on the face cloth, in 1989 Pope John Paul II showed his favor with a visit to the Sudarium in Oviedo.

It should also be noted that the cathedral at Oviedo also is home to a thirteenth-century statue of Jesus that attracted pilgrims for the healing associated with it and at one time displayed a vial of the Virgin Mary’s blood (a relic also found in the chest housing the Sudarium) and other relics associated with her.

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