A disturbing part of the text, which should not be taken literally, tells us if our right eye causes us to sin, we should gouge it out. If a body part causes us to stumble, we should cut it off and throw it away. Maybe Jesus is being humorous but he is definitely using hyperbole to express the point that we should not be doing certain things. In Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 9:6, God expressly tells us not to hurt ourselves. In Leviticus 19:28, God even forbids tattoos. I press this point because there is no way Jesus was telling us to hurt our bodies, which we should keep as a temple to God.
This text encourages us to examine our lives, recognising our struggles and conflicts. I recent advert for BUPA UK Mental Health Hub says, "There are 7 billion versions of normal. With 7 billion unique people on the planet, there’s no such thing as ‘normal’." We all have different personalities, we are all at different stages of our life, and we are all developing both physically and spiritually in different ways, therefore, it is not unusual for there to be tension and conflict in the world. God, I think, allows that, especially as he gave us free will, but the love that we offer through the grace of Jesus is accepting one another's differences, listening to other people's opinions and in so doing enrich our thoughts and quality of life.
No one forces people to become Christians. The Holy Spirit is at work, always. It is up to us as Christians to show the distinctiveness of life by putting God first, others second and ourselves third. This reading in Matthew comes after Jesus telling the disciples they had to be like salt and light. This passage helps us see more clearly how difficult it is to follow the commandments, especially in a society where moral values are turned upside-down but if we do want to make a difference, Matthew 5:21-27 inspires us to transform our lives and to be the disciples Jesus wishes.
James the Great became the third (or fourth) disciple along with his brother John. He is known as James the Great to distinguish himself from James the Less, however, it is believed “great” meant older or taller rather than more important. James was born in around 3 AD to Zebedee and Salome in Bethsaida, Galilee and died in 44 AD.
“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.” (Matthew 4:21) After calling Simon Peter and Andrew to discipleship, Jesus came across James and John fishing with their father. All three Synoptic Gospels mention Zebedee was their father, however, only Luke indicates that they were also Simon’s fishing partners. Jesus called to them, saying, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (Luke 5:10) So, they returned to shore and went with Jesus.
The Gospels record the names of all twelve of the disciples, however, Mark goes a step further, revealing that Jesus gave James and John a nickname. “James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’)” (Mark 3:17) This is indicative of their hot-headed temper as evidenced in Luke 9:54 “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’” Jesus had sent his disciples to a Samaritan village to prepare them for his arrival; however, the villagers did not want to welcome him. James and John’s immediate response was total destruction but Jesus rebuked them and went to a different village instead.
James and John are always mentioned as a pair in the Bible, therefore, they must have been very close as brothers. They also experienced things that some of the other disciples did not, for example, the Transfiguration. “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:1-2) Afterwards, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
“He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.” (Mark 5:37) The same three disciples were the only ones who were allowed to come with Jesus to the home of Jairus, the Synagogue leader whose child had just died. In front of Peter, James and John, Jesus raised the girl to life but told them to not let anyone know what he had done.
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’” (Mark 13:3-4) Once again, it was the same trio, James, John and Peter, who approached Jesus on the Mount of Olives. They wished to know when the destruction of the Temple would occur and how to read the signs for the End Times.
“He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” (Mark 14:33) Finally, Jesus called the same three disciples to follow him after the Last Supper, asking them to keep guard whilst he prayed. Peter, James and John all fell asleep and were awoken by Jesus on his return. He asked them twice more to keep guard and they fell asleep both times.
On one occasion, James and John approached Jesus without Peter, saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35) What they wanted Jesus to do was “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (10:37). Jesus informed them that it was not for him to grant who sat in those places. When the other ten disciples heard about their request, “they became indignant with James and John.” (Mark 10:41) To them, it may have appeared James and John thought they were better than them and more worthy of a place by Jesus’ side. Jesus kept the peace by saying that anyone who wishes to be great must first be a servant. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45)
James’ impertinence and fiery temper may have led to his downfall. According to the Acts of the Apostles, “King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” (Acts 12:1-2) It does not mention for what reason James was killed but we do know Peter had a different fate, imprisonment, suggesting Herod had not intended to kill them all. King Herod has been identified as Herod Agrippa who was King of Judea from 41 to 44 AD. James’ date of death is estimated as 44 AD since the Bible reports Herod died soon after.
According to legend, James’ remains are held in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia in northwestern Spain. Santiago means Saint James in Spanish and James is the patron saint of Spain. Yet, as the Bible tells us, James was martyred “with the sword” in Jerusalem. Due to the belief this meant he had been beheaded, another legend states his head is buried under the altar of the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. So, if James was killed in Jerusalem, how and why did he end up in Spain?
The 12th-century bishop Diego Gelmírez claimed James once preached in Spain and, after his death, the disciples carried his body by sea to the coast of Galicia where they buried him. An ancient Galician tradition says the Virgin Mary appeared to James where he was preaching the Gospel on the banks of the Ebro River in Spain. Mary was still alive and living in Jerusalem and the reason for the supernatural visitation is either lost or unknown. Following this, James returned to Jerusalem and his death.
Other traditions, however, claim James’ link to Spain to be false. According to the history of the early Church, James had never left Jerusalem. In the book of Romans, which was written after 44 AD, Paul visited Spain or “Illyricum” where he claimed Christ was not known, therefore, suggesting James had never been there.
Another legend states James appeared to fight during the legendary battle of Clavijo, which took place 800 years after his death. He was subsequently named Saint James the Moor-slayer and made Spain’s patron and protector. In the 12th century, the military Order of Santiago was founded in his name and can be recognised by its insignia, which represents a sword. The sword symbolises James’ death but his emblem is also a scallop shell, which is represented by the shape of a fleur-de-lis on the insignia. Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela often wore scallop shell symbols on their clothing. In French, a scallop shell is known as coquille St. Jacques (cockle of St. James) and in German, Jakobsmuschel (mussel of St. James).
As well as Spain, James the Great is the patron saint of Guatemala, Nicaragua and Guayaquil, the second-largest city in Ecuador. His feast day changes depending on whether you are part of the Western Church (25th July), Eastern Church (30th April) or Hispanic Church (30th December). Just for fun, here is a list of the professions that have James the Great as their patron:
· Furriers (people who make fur clothing)
· Tanners (leather producers)
· Oyster fishers
My most recent sermon was based on Matthew 5:13-20 but to enjoy this reading more, you should also look at Isaiah 58:1-12 and the acrostic Psalms 111 and 112.
Salt and Light
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
The Fulfillment of the Law
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Deuteronomy 28 leads us to believe that those who are blessed are those with wealth, power and status. According to Matthew, Jesus started his ministry by challenging this. In the Beatitudes, which is Matthew 5:1-12, we read that those favoured are the humble, i.e. those poor in spirit; those who are hurting, i.e. mourning; the meek, those who hunger after righteousness; the merciful; those who are pure in heart, i.e. their motives and agenda for doing things is focused on God's love; the peacemakers, those who try to unite and bring people together; and those who are persecuted for the sake of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, echoed in Luke, continues for three chapters: 5, 6 and 7, and might indeed be a collection of his sayings rather than one discourse. In the Beatitudes, Jesus sets out his stall and reveals that being a disciple is going to be costly.
The standard of following Jesus is high. Matthew 22:37-39 sums up beautifully all that is required: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself." In Matthew 7:12, what has become known as the Golden Rule reminds us to do to others what you would have them do to you. In John 13:34, Jesus adds a new commandment on to of the 613 found in the books of the Torah: "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
The scene is set, Jesus has a huge crowd of interested people and he has already invited them in by opening the gates for those who will be blessed by God. Then he goes on to talk about his disciples being salt and light.
Just for fun, I thought I would look on the internet for all the interesting uses of salt:
I believe there are 35 references to salt in the Old Testament and 6 in the New, so clearly salt is important. Indeed, Leviticus 2:13 reminds us that every offering of your grain offering should be seasoned with salt. The Hebrews harvested salt, especially around the Dead Sea. The Hebrews poured saltwater into a pit and let the water evaporate until there was only salt left.
We are called to be the salt. For salt to work, it has to be involved. If you just keep salt in its container, nothing will happen, but once you spread a little bit, then the flavour is enhanced and the chemical Sodium Chloride (NaCl) can start to interact with its surroundings. Jesus was saying to us that we have to be involved, we have to act with our surroundings and we have to improve things. Our way of life should be distinct from society so that we can show people how things should be done with God at the centre. There is an adage that says people do not care how much you know, they only want to know how much you care. So Christianity has to show love in action. As James says in his letter Chapter 2:14-26, faith without deeds is useless. So, if we are to be the salt we have to interact and improve the circumstances wherever we go.
Salt cannot lose its taste, however, it can be contaminated to such an extent that the salt is no longer distinctive. It can be added to things, which makes the salt bland. Jesus warns against this by talking about salt losing its taste, so we must be careful about being contaminated, for example, being contaminated by society and enjoying the comforts of technology, which remove us from worship and take us away from God's presence.
Jesus then goes on to say we must be the light of the world. The usefulness of light is that it removes darkness. When young, many a scary monster disappeared when the light was turned on. Light enables us to see the world as it really is. Light causes growth. Light transmits messages either by code or from a lighthouse as a warning sign. Light can guide and light shows us the path.
I light a candle. How far away do you have to be before you can no longer see this candle, or what do we have to do to stop you from seeing this candle? Jesus has the words of eternal life, as Simon Peter says in John 5:68, and now his disciples have been told to spread the word to repent because the kingdom of heaven is near and that people can have a new relationship with God, creator of the universe. By loving God, loving your neighbour and loving one another with a sacrificial love, that the Greek word agape sums up, and acknowledging Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, will lead to eternal life.
So we are beacons of light: either a candle or a lighthouse; but we have to shine as a light to the world (Philippians 2:15). I read that you can see a naked flame 1.7 miles away but, of course, we can put things in front of the flame that would stop you from seeing it or extinguish the flame. Jesus warns us not to hide our light under a bushel, which in essence is an 8-gallon wooden bucket. The image is there: shine, don't allow a bucket to be put over you so that your light cannot show guidance or even warmth to others.
How can we ensure we worship correctly? Micah 6:8 reminds us to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God. Isaiah 58:6-9 confirms what true worship is. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
What stops us from being salt and be foolish instead? Not being active in the community and allowing ourselves to be contaminated by the standards of today rather than the standards of God. What stops us from being light? Allowing our light to be hidden or diverted or extinguished. If we can remain salt and light then we will be bearers of hope that through Christ our sins are forgiven, a new life created, our relationship with God restored, and eternal life, in whatever form that will take, is assured.
Andrew the Apostle or Saint Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter. It is estimated Andrew was born in Bethsaida, Galilee between 5 and 10 AD and died around 62 AD in Greece. His name, however, is neither Hebrew nor Aramaic but Greek, meaning “brave”.
In some traditions, Andrew is known as “the First Called” (Prōtoklētos) due to the Gospel of John’s version of Jesus calling his first disciples. Matthew and Mark tell us “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.” (Matthew 4:18) John, however, provides more detail.
“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:40-42)
The Gospel of John explains that Simon and Andrew were originally disciples of John the Baptist. Although the other Gospels suggest Jesus spoke to Simon first, it was Andrew that led his brother to the Messiah, therefore, the Orthodox churches argue Andrew was the first to be called.
The Gospels suggest Andrew and his brother were very close since they lived together. “As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.” (Mark 1:29) Not only that, they lived with Simon’s mother-in-law, and presumably his wife. When Jesus and the disciples arrived at their house, they found Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever, which Jesus immediately healed.
Unlike his brother, Andrew is mentioned less frequently in the Bible, however, he is recorded as being present for some of the important occasions, including the Last Supper. Andrew played a role in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. A great crowd had come to visit Jesus but the disciples did not have any food to feed them. One of the disciples exclaimed that it would take half a year’s wages to provide enough food, however, Andrew spoke up saying, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9) As you know, it was more than enough for everyone.
Andrew was one of the disciples present when Jesus predicted his death. The other was Philip who had been approached by some Greeks asking to see Jesus. Rather than going straight to Jesus, “Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.” (John 12:22) What this signified is uncertain. Perhaps Philip and Andrew were close friends or Philip did not want to go alone.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple and the signs of the End Times. “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’” (Mark 13:3-4)
The final time Andrew is mentioned in the Bible is in the Acts of the Apostles. “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” (Acts 1:13) By this time, Jesus had died, risen and been taken up into heaven, and the disciples had returned to Jerusalem. They were about to make an important decision: who to elect as the twelfth Apostle, replacing Judas Iscariot. After casting lots, a man named Matthias was chosen.
Unlike Peter, whose movements are recorded, it is not certain what Andrew did next. Origen of Alexandria (184-253 AD) claims Andrew preached in the Central Eurasian region of Scythia. The Chronicle of Nestor written in 1113, however, suggests Andrew also preached along the Black Sea and parts of Eastern Europe, resulting in him becoming the patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia. Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 AD) mentioned Andrew preaching in Thrace and Byzantium, where he set up the See of Byzantium, which later became the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The Acts of Andrew is an uncompleted testimony of the acts and miracles supposedly conducted by Andrew. Located in the New Testament Apocrypha with other books of the Acts of various disciples, the manuscript claims Andrew raised the dead, healed the blind, calmed storms and defeated armies simply by making the sign of the cross. It is said he caused the death of an embryo that would have resulted in an illegitimate child and he rescued a boy from an incestuous mother. The latter act landed Andrew in trouble when the mother began accusing him of false claims, however, God caused an earthquake to free Andrew and the boy.
Everything written in the Acts of Andrew is open to speculation and many believe it is heretical and absurd. One person went as far as to claim it was a Christian retelling of Homer’s Odyssey. Regardless as to whether the manuscript is reliable, it has led to the general belief that Andrew was crucified in the city of Patras in modern-day Greece. Rather than being crucified on a cross with similar proportions to the cross of Jesus, Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross. Today, the X is a symbol of Saint Andrew and can be found on the Scottish flag of whom he is the patron saint. Less accepted is the claim that Andrew was able to preach for three days whilst on the cross before he eventually died.
Due to the lack of verifiable knowledge about Andrew’s life, many cultures have developed myths and traditions. In Georgia, for example, Andrew is considered the first preacher of Christianity and the founder of the Georgian church. The people of Cyprus claim Andrew’s boat ran aground on their shores where he caused springs of healing water to gush out of a rock, which restored the sight of the ship’s half-blind captain.
Legends state Andrew’s relics were brought by divine guidance from Constantinople to a town in Scotland, now known as St Andrews. Reports of X shapes in the sky during battles in the 9th century AD led people to believe Andrew was on their side. King Óengus II of the Picts said he would appoint Saint Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland if they won a battle, which they did. Later, the X symbol was used as a hex sign in fireplaces to prevent witches from flying down the chimney. The National Day of Scotland, 30thNovember, is celebrated as the feast of Andrew within the church.
As mentioned, the Scottish flag contains the cross of Saint Andrew and, therefore, so does the Union Flag. Just for fun, here are a few more flags that contain the symbol:
Saint Peter, or should I say Simon Peter, Simeon, Simon, Sham'un al-Safa, Cephas, or Peter the Apostle, was one of the first of the disciples Jesus called during his ministry. Born in around 1 AD to a man called either John or Jonah, Simon, as he was originally named, was a fisherman from the town of Bethsaida. Most of what we know about Simon/Peter is inferred from the Bible. We know, for example, that he was married because the Synoptic Gospels record Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law:
“When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.” (Matthew 8:14-15)
Peter/Simon is first mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew when he is called to be Jesus’ disciple. “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’” (Matthew 4:18-19) According to Matthew, the brothers left their nets and followed Jesus, no questions asked, however, the Gospel of Luke has a more detailed story.
“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” (Luke 5:1-3)
After speaking to the crowd, Jesus told Simon to cast his fishing nets. Simon revealed they had been fishing all night yet did not even catch a single fish, however, he obeyed Jesus’ instruction. The nets were soon full and Simon was astonished and afraid but Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (Luke 5:10)
The Gospel of John adds a few more details to the story. Simon and Andrew were both disciples of John the Baptist before they met Jesus. They had heard about the Messiah from John, which is why they followed Jesus when they first met him. It is then that Jesus renamed Simon. “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter).” (John 1:42)
Despite becoming a disciple, Peter continued to use fishing boats, such as the one he and the other disciples were in when they saw Jesus walking on water. Naturally, the sight terrified the disciples who believed Jesus to be a ghost. Once realising it was Jesus, Peter decided he too would walk on water. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:29-30)
During the Last Supper, Peter is mentioned by name more times than any of the other disciples. According to the Gospel of John, Peter initially refused to let Jesus wash his feet. “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’” (John 13:6-8)
When Jesus predicted his betrayal, it was Peter who asked who Jesus thought was going to betray him – or, at least he told another disciple to ask. “Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” (John 13:24) Shortly after this, Peter claimed he would lay down his life for Jesus, to whom Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:38)
Just as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times after his arrest. Before this, Peter had made one final attempt to prevent Jesus’ arrest and inevitable death. When the soldiers and chief priests arrived, “Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)” (John 18:10)
Peter frequently features in the Acts of the Apostles. After Jesus had risen from the dead, the Disciples began to spread the Christian message throughout the Roman Empire. The Book of Acts records:
Peter is largely regarded as the most prominent Disciple and the first leader of the early Church. He is often referred to as “the rock” upon which the Church was built. Peter is always listed first among the Disciples and was present and appeared to be the spokesman on most occasions. Peter’s importance is also suggested by Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians in which he lists Peter as the first person (or man) to see the risen Christ. Before this, Peter had been the first disciple to enter the empty tomb. “So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in.Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.” (John 20:3-8)
In the final chapter of the Gospel of John, it is to Peter that Jesus asks “do you love me?” three times. This balances out the three times Peter had previously denied Jesus. Jesus instructed Peter to “Feed my lambs”, “Take care of my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep”. He also foretold Peter’s death by saying, “when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)
Some scholars interpret John 21:18 as a sign that Peter was crucified (“stretch out your hands”). His death was not recorded in the Bible, although some believe the angel releasing Peter from prison in Acts 12 was a metaphor for his crucifixion. Traditionally, some Christians believe Peter was sentenced to death at the age of 64 during the reign of Emperor Nero. It is said he was crucified upside-down. The Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican is said to have been built on the location of Peter’s burial site.
In 1950, human bones were discovered under St Peter’s Basilica. After forensic examination, they have been identified as belonging to a man of roughly 61 years of age from the 1stcentury AD. In 1968, Pope Paul VI announced they are most likely the remains of the Apostle Peter.
Since no one knows the date of Peter’s death, the Roman Catholic Church has assigned the 29th June as the Feast of Saint Peter. The day is celebrated as a public holiday in Rome, where Peter is one of the patron saints as well as in parts of Switzerland, Peru, Malta and the Philippines.
Just for fun: as well as being the patron saint of Rome, Saint Peter is the saint of:
The month of February is named after the Roman festival of purification called Februa, during which people were ritually washed.
In January, we got rid of our bad habits, February reminds us that we should be cleansed; cleansed of all things that take life away from us and in their place, fill us with the love of God.
February and cleansing remind us of baptisms and the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by his cousin John, whose raisin d’être was to highlight Jesus’ coming, knowing that his role was to become less as Jesus’ became more. Jesus did not need to be baptised and yet he chose to be at one with humanity.
So let us remember our baptismal promises:
Do you believe and trust in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, maker of heaven and earth, giver of life, redeemer of the world?
Do you repent of your sins, turn away from evil, and turn to Christ?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord?
Fun fact: By the number of words, the shortest book in the Bible is the third letter of John. But by the number of verses, the shortest book is the second letter of John. The longest book is the book of Psalms.
When I first started this series, I aimed to discover more about the lesser-known towns and cities in the Bible. As time went on, however, I moved on to the more familiar names leaving me with one key city to investigate: Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned approximately 1000 times in the Bible and is considered holy by three major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and is currently the capital city of Israel, although it has changed hands so many times throughout history. According to records, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, captured 44 times and attacked 52 times. Ironically, its name can be translated into “The City of Peace”, deriving from Yireh (the abiding place) and Shalem (place of peace).
Jerusalem is first mentioned in the Book of Joshua: “Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies.” (Joshua 10:1) From here until the very end of the New Testament, Jerusalem crops up in the majority of the books of the Bible, eventually reaching the Book of Revelation and the city’s final mention: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Revelation 21:10)
Some scholars have pointed out that Jerusalem may have been mentioned in the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 14, after Abram has rescued Lot from four powerful kings, “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.” Salem may have been the previous name of the city of Jerusalem.
The oldest non-Biblical written reference to Jerusalem is found on an inscription in the Judean lowlands of Israel. Dating from the 6th or 7th century BC, it translates as “Yahweh is the God of the whole earth. The mountains of Judah belong to him, to the God of Jerusalem.” There may, however, be earlier mentions to the city under a different name, such as Urušalim in the Amarna letters of 1330s BC and Rušalim from 19th century BC Egyptian texts.
Before Jerusalem formed as a city, shepherds regularly used the land, camping there around 7000 years ago. They were attracted to the area by the Gihon Spring, which was once the main water source for Jerusalem. Permanent dwelling places began to appear around 3000 BC and the first settlement was inhabited by Canaanites. In the Late Bronze Age, it became a small Egyptian garrison and began to prosper during the reigns of Seti I (r. 1290-79 BC) and Rameses II (r. 1279-13 BC). This period corresponds with the time of Joshua’s invasion, however, most scholars agree the Book of Joshua is not historically accurate.
The Bible tells us that when the Israelites conquered the land of Israel, Jerusalem belonged to the territories allocated to the Tribe of Benjamin. “Gibeon, Ramah, Beeroth, Mizpah, Kephirah, Mozah, Rekem, Irpeel, Taralah, Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah and Kiriath—fourteen towns and their villages. This was the inheritance of Benjamin for its clans.” (Joshua 18:25-28) But, they “could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem.” (Joshua 15:63) King David, however, succeeded during the Siege of Jebus, which is written about in 2 Samuel. “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, ‘You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.’ They thought, ‘David cannot get in here.’ Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.” (2 Samuel 5:6-7)
During the 40-year reign of David, Jerusalem became the capital of Israel. King Solomon, who succeeded his father as king, built the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah in what is now considered the Old City of Jerusalem. This was the First Temple, which was stripped around the time the Assyrians conquered the kingdom in 722 BC and fully destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Second Temple was started under the reign of the Persian King Cyrus the Great in 538 BC and completed in 516 BC when Darius the Great was on the throne.
Jerusalem remained under Persian control, albeit with a few besieges, until Alexander the Great conquered the Empire, bringing the city under Macedonian control. Ptolemy I gained control of Jerusalem in 305 BC, however, Ptolemy V Epiphanes lost it to the Seleucids in 198 BC. The Seleucids then lost it during the Maccabean revolt in 168 BC and it was established as the capital of the Hasmonean Kingdom in 152 BC. Pompey the Great captured Jerusalem in 63 BC, bringing it under the influence of the Roman Republic, as it was when Jesus was born. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” (Matthew 2:1) Herod the Great was responsible for extending and beautifying the city. He erected walls, towers and palaces, plus expanded the Second Temple, doubling it in size.
The Gospel of Luke recounts Jesus’ first visit to the Temple in Jerusalem for the purification rights required by the Law of Moses. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (Luke 2:25-26) Simeon blessed the young Jesus in the temple and Anna, an elderly prophet gave thanks to God about the child.
The next recording of Jesus in the temple is also in the second chapter of Luke. “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.” (Luke 2:41-42) When it was time to return home, Jesus was no longer with his parents. After three days of searching, he was found in the temple asking the teachers questions. Jesus returned to the temple during his adult life and cleared out the courts, which were being ill-used. “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers.”’” (Mark 11:15-17)
The Last Supper is believed to have taken place on Mount Zion, which is a hill in Jerusalem. The “upper room” or Cenacle is supposedly the same place as King David’s burial. Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, is also in Jerusalem, however, it may have been outside of the city walls at the time.
The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War, which ended in 73 AD with the destruction of the city. Fortunately, Jerusalem was rebuilt and remained under Roman rule until the beginning of the 7th century. Those who have read previous articles about cities in the Bible will know many people conquered them over the following centuries. Jerusalem’s fate was no different. From the Roman period onwards, Jerusalem has been part of the following empires: Byzantine, Persian, Byzantine (again), Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Tulunid, Abbasid (again), Ikhshidid, Fatimid, Seljuq, Fatimid (again), Kingdom of Jerusalem, Ayyubid, Kingdom of Jerusalem (again), Ayyubid (again), Mamluk Sultanate, and the Ottoman Empire. Apart from the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Byzantine and Persian Empires, all have been Muslim empires.
The Battle of Jerusalem, which took place during World War One, left Jerusalem entrusted to the United Kingdom until 1948. During this time, the population rose from 52,000 to 165,000 and relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians began to deteriorate, resulting in recurring riots throughout the 1920s. Between 1948 and 1967, Jerusalem fluctuated between Jordanian and Israeli rule until the Six-Day War. Since then, Jerusalem has belonged to Israel.
Today, Jerusalem is known for its religious significance, however, there are plenty of other culturally important venues. Just for fun, here are a few:
· The Israel Museum
· The Bible Lands Museum
· The Rockefeller Museum
· The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
· The Jerusalem Trail
“O, little town of Bethlehem…” We are all familiar with the name of the little town where Jesus was born. Today, Bethlehem is a city in Palestine, approximately 6.2 miles south of Jerusalem with a population of around 25,000 people. Its economy is primarily tourist-driven, welcoming thousands of Christian pilgrims at Christmas time. It is also an important city for Jews and the location of Rachel’s Tomb, the wife of Jacob.
The earliest mention of Bethlehem can be found in the Amarna correspondence of 1350-1330 BC. Written on clay tablets, the letters contain diplomatic communication between Egypt and its representatives in Canaan. At this time, the Egyptians referred to the village, as it was then, as Bit-Lahmi. Incidentally, Bethlehem had a different name at the beginning of the Bible:
Bethlehem continues to be mentioned throughout the Old Testament, however, not necessarily for anything connected to the prophecy of Jesus’ birth. In the book of Judges, we are told, “Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel” for seven years. (Judges 12:8) In the same book, “A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, left that town in search of some other place to stay.” He found work as a priest at Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim.
In the Book of Ruth, we learn Naomi came from Bethlehem with her husband Elimelek and sons, Mahlon and Kilion. “They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah.” (Ruth 1:2) They moved to the country of Moab where Elimelek died. Following his death, the two sons married Moabite women, however, the sons died too, leaving Naomi alone with her daughter-in-laws Orpah and Ruth. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem and told the young women to return to their families, however, Ruth insisted she stay with her mother-in-law, “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.” (Ruth 1:22)
In the First Book of Samuel, God tells the prophet, “I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (1 Samuel 16:1) Jesse was the father of the future King David, which is why Bethlehem is occasionally referred to as the City of David in the New Testament. “Once in Royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed …” During David’s lifetime, a Philistine garrison was established in Bethlehem, for which there is archaeological evidence. “At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem.” (2 Samuel 23:14)
Despite being the birthplace of Jesus, there is relatively little mention of Bethlehem in the New Testaments. Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ birth, however, Mark only mentions Jesus came from Nazareth.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2) As a result of the Magi asking King Herod where they could find the king of the Jews, the disturbed king “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” Some scholars argue Bethlehem may not have been the birthplace of Jesus, however, the Massacre of the Innocents in the town and its vicinity is evidence that Jesus was born in the area.
To those disputing the whereabouts of Jesus’ birth were invited by Justin Martyr in around 155 to visit the cave in which Jesus was born. The Gospel of Luke documents the birth of Jesus, however, does not mention the precise location in Bethlehem. Modern nativity plays present the scene as a stable or cattle shed rather than a cave on account that Mary wrapped Jesus “in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:7)
The supposed cave was converted into a shrine dedicated to the Greek god Adonis by Emperor Hadrian. Others associate the cave with the Mesopotamian god Tammuz, claiming the Massacre of the Innocents was misinterpreted and the locals were partaking in a pagan mourning ritual over the god’s death.
Sometime between 326 and 328 AD, Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, visited Bethlehem during a pilgrimage to Syra-Palaestina. Not long after her visit, Constantine built a basilica over the cave where Jesus was purportedly born. This is now known as the Church of the Nativity. The building was destroyed during the Samaritan Revolt of 529, however, the emperor at the time, Justinian I, ordered it to be rebuilt. In 614, the Persian Sassanid Empire captured Bethlehem, however, the Church of the Nativity survived the assault. Legend says they refrained from destroying the church when the saw a mosaic showing the magi dressed in Persian clothing.
Although Muslims captured Bethlehem in 637, Christians were promised they could continue to use the Church of the Nativity, however, they did build a mosque next door. This agreement continued until 1009 when those in charge ordered the church to be demolished. Local Muslims, however, persuaded the authorities to spare it. In 1099, the Crusaders fortified the Church of the Nativity, however, the Greek Orthodox clergy were forced to leave and were replaced by Latin priests. When Saladin captured Bethlehem in 1187, the Greek Orthodox clergy was allowed to return.
During the Ottoman era, the Greek Orthodox clergy was often in dispute with the Catholic Church about the custody of the Church of the Nativity. Nonetheless, the Christian population began to rapidly grow and by the end of the 16th century, Bethlehem was split into separate communities: the Muslims and the Christians. During this time, the Christian community was more prosperous, which was partly because the Muslim quarters were attacked by Egyptian troops in 1834. Bethlehem was under Egyptian rule for a brief period before returning to the Ottoman Empire where it remained until the end of World War One.
From 1920 to 1948, the British Mandate administered Bethlehem. Following this, Bethlehem returned to Palestine; however, the city was captured by Jordan during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel took control of Bethlehem until they withdrew in 1995. Since then, the Palestinian National Authority has ruled the city.
Despite being a popular place for Christian pilgrims, the Christian population in Bethlehem has been declining since the mid-twentieth century. In 1948, Christians made up 85% of Bethlehem’s population but by 2016 it had declined to 16%. This is partially because Christians have been forced to leave the city so that land can be used to construct thousands of Israeli homes. A study also points out there has been a lower birth rate amongst Christians in the area, plus Christians are more likely to emigrate to the western world than any other religious group.
Tourism is Bethlehem’s main industry and provides more than 20% of the population’s employment. The Church of the Nativity is a major attraction, particularly around Christmas-time. Festivities begin long before the traditional date (25th December) and continue through the Greek, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox church celebrations (6th January) until 19th January when Armenian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas.
Due to the mix of religions in Bethlehem, other festivals continue to attract tourists throughout the year. This includes the annual Feast of Saint George, who is known as al-Khadr in the Quran, on the 5th and 6th May and the Feast of Saint Elijah on 20th July.
Just for fun, here is a list of the current cities throughout the world twinned with Bethlehem:
Damascus, as you may know, is the capital of Syria and is a major cultural centre of the Levant and the Arab world. Know locally as the “City of Jasmine”, Damascus is home to almost three million people. Carbon dating suggests the site of the city has been occupied since around 6300 BC and the city itself from the second millennium BC. Egyptian records tell us King Biryawaza ruled Damascus in the 14th century BC and, after a war, it fell into the hands of Ramesses II in 1259 BC.
Damascus is first mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Genesis.” During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus.” (Genesis 14:15) Abram, later Abraham, is in the process of rescuing his nephew Lot who has been carried off by Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar who attacked and looted the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah in what is known as the War of the Kings. King Kedorlaomer wanted to show the neighbouring territories his strength; fortunately, Abram was around to defeat him and recover the goods and his family.
The following chapter of Genesis tells us Abram’s servant came from Damascus. “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:2-3) There is, however, no mention in the Bible about how Damascus came to exist.
According to the 1st-century AD historian Flavius Josephus, Uz, the great-grandson of Noah, founded Damascus. Of Abraham, Josephus states: "Abraham reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans … Now the name of Abraham is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, The Habitation of Abraham.”
The next Biblical reference to Damascus is during the reign of King David. “When the Arameans of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down twenty-two thousand of them. He put garrisons in the Aramean kingdom of Damascus, and the Arameans became subject to him and brought tribute. The Lord gave David victory wherever he went.” (2 Samuel 8:5-6) The Arameans had arrived during the 11th century BC and established one of their kingdoms in Damascus. Their presence prevented the Kingdom of Israel from spreading northwards, which led to a clash and inevitably war.
“When David destroyed Zobah’s army, Rezon gathered a band of men around him and became their leader; they went to Damascus, where they settled and took control.” (1 Kings 11:24) Although David had defeated the Arameans, one man Rezon deserted from King Hadadezer and rose his own army. Throughout the reign of King Solomon, Rezon was an adversary and was constantly hostile towards Israel.
The Book of Kings records the rulers of Judah and Israel but also gives the names of the kings of neighbouring territories. Chapter 15 tells us that Hezion was the king of Aram-Damascus during the reign of King Asa of Judah. In chapter 19, the Lord instructed the prophet Elijah to “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.” Unfortunately, this did not stop the hostilities against Israel.
Conflicts continued until the 8thcentury BC when Ben-Hadad II was captured by Israel under King Ahab and granted them trading rights in Damascus. “I will return the cities my father took from your father,” Ben-Hadad offered. “You may set up your own market areas in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” (1 Kings 20:34)
Following this, Damascus entered a mini Dark Age and very little is known about the period, however, it was soon taken over by the Assyrians. This was encouraged by King Ahaz of Judah. “The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it.” (2 Kings 16:9) This fits with prophecies written by three people:
· Isaiah 17:1 - “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.”
· Amos 1:4-5 – “I will send fire on the house of Hazael that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad. I will break down the gate of Damascus”
· Jeremiah 49:24 – “Damascus has become feeble, she has turned to flee and panic has gripped her; anguish and pain have seized her, pain like that of a woman in labour.”
Damascus was conquered by Alexander the Great and was under his rule until his death in 323 BC. Following that, the city was fought over by the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires, until the Romans came along in 64 BC. Damascus became one of the cities that made up the Decapolis along with Gerasa (Jordan), Scythopolis (Israel), Hippos (Golan Heights), Gadara (Jordan), Pella (Jordan), Philadelphia (Amman, Jordan), Capitolias (Jordan), Canatha (Syria) and Raphana (Jordan).
Much of the historic parts of Damascus resemble the Roman period since much of it had to be rebuilt after the previous wars. When Caesar Augustus gave Herod the Great land in 23 BC, Damascus may have been included. Following his death, the city was given back to Syria. When Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians, he recorded, “In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me.” (2 Corinthians 11:32) It is not certain when Aretas IV Philopatris of Nabatea gained Damascus, however, he was King of the Nabataeans from 9 BC to 40 AD. Some speculate Emperor Caligula may have gifted it to the king around 37 AD.
The Apostle Paul, or Saul as he was originallynamed, was near Damascus when he underwent his conversion. “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 9:3-4) Paul was left blind by this initial contact and the Lord called on a disciple called Ananias to come and find him. “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” (Acts 9:11-12)
Judas of Damascus was a Messianic Jew who gave Saul/Paul lodgings when he was suffering from blindness. It is at his house on Straight Street, now known as Sultany or Queen’s Street that Ananias found Saul. This is the main street of the city. Following his return to full sight, Saul/Paul spent several days with the disciples and began to preach about Jesus. In Acts 22, Paul recounts his story of conversion to the people of Jerusalem and in Acts 26, he told King Agrippa the same in an attempt to persuade him to be a Christian.
In his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul reveals he once returned to Damascus. “I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:17) He remained there for three years before finally moving on to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and James, the brother of Jesus. Although he did not meet the other apostles in Jerusalem, it is believed Thomas may have lived in or near Damascus.
The next big change Damascus saw occurred in 634 AD when it was invaded by Muslim forces. For hundreds of years, various Islamic countries fought each other for land and Damascus was passed from army to army until 1516 when the Ottoman Turks captured the city. For 400 years, the Ottoman’s controlled Damascus, however, they allowed Muslims, Christians and Jews to live amongst each other peacefully. By 1867, approximately 140,000 people lived in the city, 30,000 of which were Christian (mostly Catholic), 10,000 Jews and 100,000 “Mohammedans”.
From the beginning of the 20th century, life in Damascus became more political. During the World Wars, France, who made the city the capital of their League of Nations Mandate for Syria, owned Damascus. Eventually, Damascus was freed from French control in 1946 and Syria became an independent nation.
Today, Sunni Islam is the main religion in Damascus, however, around 20% of the population identify themselves as Christian. There are three Christian districts in the city, each full of churches, including the Chapel of Saint Paul, House of Saint Ananias, Mariamite Cathedral of Damascus and Saint George’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral.
The main road of the old Roman city, Straight Street, where the conversion of Paul occurred is a key historical tourist attraction. Interestingly, the Grand Mosque of Damascus claims to contain the body of St John the Baptist.
In 2008, Damascus was chosen as the Arab Capital of Culture. It has also been twinned with five cities around the world: Toledo, Spain; Córdoba, Spain; Yerevan, Armenia; São Paulo, Brazil; and Istanbul, Turkey.
Jericho is a city that features in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible. Today, it is a Palestinian city on the Jordan Bank with a population of over 18,000. Believed to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, it is also the first known city to have had a protective wall built around it. So far, archaeologists have found evidence of settlements dating back to 9000 BC.
The last Ice Age ended in around 9600 BC and it was shortly after that when humans began to settle in the areas around the Jordan River. Remains of constructions built by these Epipaleolithic people have been unearthed, suggesting there were at least seventy houses. These buildings were built from clay and straw, therefore, little else can be determined other than they were quite small, probably containing only one room.
The Wall of Jericho was constructed around 8000 BC. It was roughly 12 feet high and 2 feet wide with a tower that was 22 steps high. Whilst the tower may have been used for ceremonial purposes, the function of the wall was likely to keep out the floodwaters from the Jordan. By 7000 BC, new houses were being constructed from mud bricks, each consisting of several rooms and a courtyard.
Not much is known about the comings and goings of people during the Bronze Age, however, from the 4th millennium, there is evidence the walls were rebuilt several times. By 2600 BC, Jericho was inhabited by the Amorites, although they seem to disappear around 300 years later. Jericho was taken over in 1900 BC by the Canaanites until an earthquake destroyed the city in 1573 BC. It remained uninhabited until the 9th century BC when it was rebuilt.
In the Book of Numbers, Jericho is used as a reference for the location of the Israelites. For example, “They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho.” (Numbers 33:48) It is estimated Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt in 1447 BC, therefore Jericho was uninhabited at this time but may have still been known by the people in the vicinity. Alternatively, since the final form of the Book of Numbers was written in the 5th century, the name may have been added then.
The most famous account of Jericho in the Bible is, of course, in the Book of Joshua, which tells us of the Battle of Jericho. Unfortunately, scholars believe the book holds little historical value since there are issues with the dates. The Bible dates the battle as taking place around 1400 BC, however, archaeological evidence suggests the city was uninhabited at the time. The Book of Joshua was first written during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BC) and revised in around 538 BC, therefore, the dating could be an estimate, an incorrect one at that.
Nevertheless, the Book of Joshua provides a great example of Israel’s obedience to the teachings and the laws set down in the book of Deuteronomy. It also tells us that the Israelites conquered Jericho, a city that had fallen into sin.
“Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.” (Joshua 2:1) Jericho was the first city of Canaan that the Israelites had decided to conquer. By sending in two spies, Joshua discovered the inhabitants were afraid of the Israelites and God. The prostitute Rahab told them:
“I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:9-11)
Following this, she asked the spies to promise that the Lord would show kindness to her for helping the spies. “Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.” (Joshua 2:12-13) With an instruction to tie a scarlet cord in her window so that she and her family could be identified by the Israelites, the spies returned to Joshua.
Acting on the will of the Lord, Joshua prepared the Israelites to attack the city. When the time came to attack the city, they found the gates closed and the citizens hiding in fear of the approaching attackers. “Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.’” (Joshua 6:2)
Rather than attempting to force an entry, the Israelites marched around the city walls once a day for six days with the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant. On the seventh day, they were instructed to march around the city seven times after which the priests blew their horns and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. Following God’s instruction, the Israelites entered the city and slaughtered every man, woman, child and animal apart from those belonging to the family of Rahab. Joshua then cursed anybody who rebuilt the foundations of the city with the death of the eldest and youngest children. According to the Bible, the city was rebuilt during the reign of King Ahab (871-852 BC), although not by him but by Hiel theBethelite. “In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun.” (1 Kings 16:34)
Jericho was destroyed once again during the 6th century BC by the Babylonians during their conquest of Judah. The Book of Ezra records the number of people “whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon.” (Ezra 2:1) From Jericho alone, there were 345. The Bible, however, provides evidence the city of Jericho was once again flourishing during the 5thcentury BC. It had been rebuilt during the Persian period and during the construction of the walls of Jerusalem, “the men of Jericho built the adjoining section” after the Tower of Hananel.
Alexander the Great captured the region between 336 and 323 BC, making Jericho his private estate. Following this, the city became part of the Hasmonean and Early Roman empires during which time Mark Antony gifted the royal estate to Cleopatra. Following their joint suicide in 30 BC, the city of Jericho was given to Herod the Great (74-4 BC), who was king of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. His son Herod Archelaus who ruled for two years succeeded him.
The city of Jericho is mentioned in three of the Gospels as places Jesus passed through. Matthew 20 tells us “as Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho” (20:29) two blind men called out to Jesus and asked him to restore their sight, which he did. Mark 10 records Jesus “came to Jericho” where he met “a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’)” who he also healed. (10:46) The same story is told in Luke chapter 18.
In Luke 19, Jesus was passing through Jericho once again when he came across a chief tax collector named Zaccheus who had climbed a sycamore-fig tree to get a look at Jesus. Inviting himself to the tax collector’s house, Jesus inspired Zaccheus to repent of his dishonest practices.
Jericho was also mentioned in the parable of the Good Samaritan. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.” (10:30)
The city of Jericho began to decline from 70 AD following the fall of Jerusalem to Emperor Vespasian. By 100 AD, it was a small Roman town and by 333 AD it was abandoned altogether. The current city of Jericho lies slightly to the east of the old town and was built during the Byzantine Period (6th– 7th century AD). It was then under Muslim rule until the Crusades when a couple of monasteries were erected, one of which was dedicated to John the Baptist. In 1187, however, the Muslim forces of Saladin evicted the Crusaders. Since then until the 1900s, the growing city was mostly Muslim.
According to a census in 1922, the population of Jericho was over 3000, the majority of which were Muslim, however, there were also 92 Christians and 6 Jews. During the Second World War, Britain built fortresses in Jericho and by 1945 the population of Christians and Jews had risen to 260 and 170 respectively.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jericho was under the control of Jordan, however, the city continued to grow. By 1961, the population had reached 10,000. Since the Six-Day War of 1967, Jericho has belonged to Israel.
Jericho is situated 846 feet below sea level, making it the lowest city in the world. In 2010, Palestinian tourists ranked Jericho the most popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the Dead Sea. It also receives a lot of tourism from Christian pilgrims. Just for fun, here is a list of notable places in and around Jericho you could visit:
· Mount of Temptation on which a Greek Orthodox monastery sits
· The Spring of Elisha (Ein es-Sultan)
· The Sycamore tree of Zaccheus (for some reason there are two)
· The traditional site of the baptism of Jesus on the River Jordan
· The Monastery of Saint Gerasimos
· The Saint George Monastery
· The Stone, belonging to the Bronze and Iron Age
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon