Artifacts & Biblical History

Was Jesus Really Born at THAT Place in Bethlehem?

by Steve Ray on September 24, 2016

Church of the Agony in Gethsemane

Today we are having Mass at Gethsemane on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. How do we know this is really Gethsemane?

And tomorrow we have Mass at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Really? How do we know?

Yesterday we venerated the place Jesus was born in Bethlehem and had Mass in the Cave of the Shepherds.

It is often asked: how do we know these are the real sites where Jesus and Mary lived and walked. The earliest Christians realized the importance of these sites and immediately viewed them as sites to be remembered and venerated. Small chapels were built and pilgrims came from around the world to visit these spots and to pray.

The spot marking the place where Jesus was bornthese spots and to pray.

When Christianity became legalized, churches were built on these sites. Tradition, archaeology and the ancient witness confirms the authenticity of the sites. Below is a few examples relating to Bethlehem.

In a very enlightening side note, Bethlehem was mentioned by St. John Chrysostom in his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, written in ad 370: “. . . Since that birth [of Jesus], men come from the ends of the earth to see the manger, and the site of the shed.”

The early Christians remembered and preserved the location and pilgrims like you visited even in the first centuries. Emperor Hadrian built pagan shrines over the holy places in 135 AD. He thought the memory of the sites and associated faith would be obliterated forever. But then Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity. His mother St. Queen Helena went to Israel, asked the locals where Jesus was born, where he was crucified…

Church of Nativity 100 years ago

They pointed to the shrines and showed her what they all still remembered well. Queen Helena knocked down the pagan shrines and what did she find? The remains of early Christian veneration. She built a huge church over the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, another over the place of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and a large church over the cave on the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended into heaven.

There is a saying, “The water is cooler and clearer the nearer you get to the source.” Many of the Fathers of the Church – very close to the events mentioned in the Bible – speak with great certainty about the sites in the Holy Land.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “The cave-stable is mentioned by Justin Martyr, Origen, and Jerome. After the Romans conquered Bethlehem anew (AD 135) the site of the Nativity was desecrated, probably under Hadrian (117–138; cf. Jerome Epistle 58.3). Jerome lived for thirty-three years in Bethlehem (AD 387–420). Here he helped found and direct pilgrim hospices, convents for women, and a monastery.”

The Tyndale Bible Dictionary says, “The birth of Jesus possibly took place in a cave in the rocks outside the town. The early Christian writer Justin Martyr 9100–165) thought so, as did Origen (c. 185–254) some years later. Origen frequently resided in the Holy Land and wrote, ‘In Bethlehem you are shown the cave where he was born, and within the cave the manger where he was wrapped in swaddling clothes.’

Emperor Constantine and his mother Queen Helena

“Jerome later described the grotto over which the Emperor Constantine had built a basilica. In excavations in 1934–35, evidence indicated a second period of building in the reign of Justinian (ad 527–565), when Constantine’s basilica was extended beyond its original proportions. Steps lead down to the grotto, the rectangular shape of which suggests that Constantine’s builders reshaped the original. But there is no description of the grotto prior to the construction of Constantine’s basilica.”

These places were remembered! We’ve known their locations for two thousand years.

Another Example: The Cave of Machpelah

The Cave of Machpelah was bought by Abraham about 1850 BC as a tomb in which to bury his wife Sarah. It now contains the remains of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. It is now in Hebron, the city of Abraham. However, Abraham never owned any other land in Canaan before he died.

The Machpelah Cave over Sarah’s tomb built 2,000 years ago

Abraham’s descendants were in bondage in Egypt for four hundred years. For an additional forty years they wandered in the wilderness. It was remembered in Genesis 49 – over 400 years later – when the Israelites returned from Egypt. The city of Hebron was built around Abraham’s tomb and King Herod build a huge monument over the graves of Abraham and his family which still stands today in the heart of Hebron.

Abraham bought a plot of land called the Cave of Machpelah (Gen 35:16–20; 48:7; 1 Sam 10:2). Even today, the Cave of Machpelah is known and can be visited in Hebron. Visiting this site you see a place known for four thousand years!

Another Example: Rachel’s Tomb

Notice a case in which we can see how important holy sites were and how they were carefully remembered. The Tomb of Rachel can be visited today in Bethlehem even though she was buried there about 3,800 years ago!

Rachel’s Tomb 100 years ago in Bethlehem

Jacob buried Rachel in Bethlehem and the location of the tomb was still known 800 years later when Israel returned from Egypt and after they lived in the land for over 350 years. Wouldn’t expect them to forgot its location over the subsequent eight hundred centuries? It is still there today and we filmed there for our David DVD. Notice the biblical verses below:

“So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)” (Genesis 35:19) 

“And Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (Genesis 35:20)

Eight Hundred years later, “[Samuel said to Saul]  When you depart from me today you will meet two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah” (1 Samuel 10:2).

These are just a few examples from the Old Testament to show how these holy sites were venerated and remembered. The same can be said from the New Testament. Holy people have always remembered the holy sites.

How much more so for Jesus the Son of God who became flesh! We can be very confident that the holy sites we see today, were the holy sites of old—the very places where God and the saints walked and where we can walk today.

Join us on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and I will be your guide. Visit Footprints of God Pilgrimages.

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The Holy Family Ate those Pesky House Sparrows

by Steve Ray on September 11, 2016

The Holy Family was not wealthy. When you had a firstborn son in Israel you were required to take a lamb to the Temple for the redemption of your firstborn son but if you were poor you could take to turtledoves instead. Mary and Joseph took the two turtledoves or pigeons which demonstrates they were not a wealthy family (Lk 2:24).

Another food that was common among the people of Israel and the Middle East, and still is today, were grasshoppers, locusts and crickets.

According to the law of Moses insects and swarming things were unclean. But of all the insects these three were kosher (Lev 11:22). These were the crickets, locusts and grasshoppers. John the Baptist would not have eaten them if they were not clean according to the law of Moses. But we know that he did eat them (Mt 3:4) and so did I.

Janet and I were sitting on our back porch yesterday morning drinking our coffee and discussing the Mass readings for the day. Jesus said “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny…”

I am mediately interrupted my reading and said to my wife, “Why would anyone sell two sparrows? And why would anybody want to buy them?” This sent me on a quest.

My first bird book when I was a kid

My discovery amazed me!

My father moved us out to the country in 1961. I was only six years old when we moved to a little farm forty miles west of Detroit Michigan. My father instilled in me a love for watching birds and I have been an avid birdwatcher around the world ever since. I still have my books from 10 years old marking the dates and list of all the birds I’ve seen and when I saw them.

One of the birds that we find everywhere and I’ve always called it a “rat with wings” was the ubiquitous House Sparrow. They always destroyed the eggs of the beautiful Bluebirds in the bluebird houses we had built. In every way we have considered them pests and I cannot recall how many I have shot with my pellet gun.
That all changed yesterday morning when my wife and I were drinking our coffee and reading the daily readings of the Church.

With Jesus’s words about sparrows being sold two for a penny or three for two pennies (Mt 10:29; 12:6) my questions popped up.

My first inquiry was what the word “sparrow” meant. I discovered the word was usually used generically for any small bird, but presumably and most likely the House Sparrow (passer domesticus) which originated in the Middle East! Surprise, Surprise! They are a biblical bird! I was always under the impression they were from Europe, but nope. They immigrated to Europe and America.

My second inquiry was “Why would anyone want to buy the sparrows?” And then I found the big surprise — they were used as food by the poor people among the Jews because they were considered a clean food — kosher. Entrepreneurs would trap them and sell them. The purchaser would kill them, pluck them and cook them.

According to a popular Jewish commentary on Deuteronomy we read, “In practice, only a limited number of birds (and their eggs) are considered permissible [kosher]: chicken, capon, Cornish hen, turkey, domestic duck and goose, house sparrow, pigeon, squab, palm dove, turtledove, partridge, peacock, and, according to some authorities, guinea-fowl, quail, and what is today called pheasant.” Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 139.

Emperor Domitian had a special price limitation on food items and the sparrows were the cheapest among those food price limitations he set.

Sparrows on skewers for cooking

Sparrows were sold in the marketplace and eaten frequently enough for Jesus to mention them as something that everyone would commonly know. Sparrows were eaten as a common food.

I found lots of quotes from historical sources but way too many to add here.

But one thing is for certain, we have very little idea of the Holy Family’s day-to-day living and what they experienced  000 years ago — and what they ate. Grasshoppers, sparrows…?

Next time I have all the grandkids here at our home — I doubt they’ll eat the grasshoppers — but I’ll bet they enjoy the sparrow pie — especially if I don’t tell him what’s in it :-)

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Cut off His Head! John the Baptist

by Steve Ray on August 30, 2016

 Beheading of John the Baptist
August 29

Beheading sm.jpgWhy was John so special? He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New. He was the first to proclaim the news that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lamb of God. He was 100% from the lineage of Aaron the High Priest.

Where was he born and what do we know about him? He was born in Ein Kerem west of Jerusalem. Prior to birth he was sanctified in the womb by the Holy Spirit when the Blessed Virgin Mary arrived for the Visitation. He later left for the wilderness where he probably associated with the Essenes at Qumran. Jesus probably met him in the Wilderness. He ate locusts and wild honey so he was a manly man!

Why was John beheaded–getting mixed up in morality and politics John did not get beheaded for preaching Christ, per se, but for criticizing the King. It is similar to us today criticizing and immoral government that requests we deny our consciences to follow their laws. John lost his head for criticizing the powers that be in government. 

What sources do we have outside the Bible? The Jewish historian Josephus tells us about John, especially his death which took place in Herod’s Fortress of Machareus on the east side of the Dead Sea in modern country of Jordan

Where is the head of John the Baptist today? There is a lot of controversy on this matter and many have claimed to have his skull. I would not be willing at this point to vouch for any of them.

To learn more about John, see my DVD Jesus, the Word Became Flesh and see where he was beheaded — filmed on location.  Click here.

Below: The remains of Herod’s Fortress of Machaerus where John was beheaded and what it looked like at the time of Christ.

As it was in the time of Christ How Marchareus looks today

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FIVE Radio Shows Tomorrow: Relevant, Spirit Catholic, Mater Dei, Terry & Jesse Show and Drew Mariani

August 23, 2016

I am just home from Poland and they’ve already tracked me down :-) First I will discuss St. Bartholomew, an apostle of Jesus that we know very little about on Relevant Radio at 7:00 AM Eastern, Then join us at 9:10 AM Eastern on Spirit Catholic Radio (listen live) for the Good Book Club as we […]

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Free Timeline of the 1st Century

August 22, 2016

The past is shrouded in a fog for most people. What was really going on in the 1st century during and after the live of Christ and the birth of the Catholic Church? Here is a simple Timeline of First Century Christianity. I created this to give you an overview on one page. I created the […]

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Why Protestants Reject 7 Books of the Bible – the Short Answer

August 19, 2016

Gary Michuta is an expert on the canon of Scripture, especially in regards to the Deutero-canonical books, what the Protestants call the Apocrypha. You can read his book Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger to see what I mean. Recently a friend asked Gary for the short answer as to why the Protestants removed seven books from […]

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My Free St. Paul Timeline

August 13, 2016

Since many people have no clue about the real life and timeline of St. Paul and his epistles, I am posting my St. Paul Timeline so everyone can get the big picture. Please feel free to print and use for personal use. When I was teaching my series on Acts of the Apostles (see the audio CDs […]

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Dear Protestant: Where Did You Get Your Bible?

July 26, 2016

From Little Catholic Bubble website Leila@LittleCatholicBubble Dear Protestant: Where did you get your New Testament? At least a couple of times every week, Protestants use New Testament verses to show me where the Catholic Church is wrong about something. I always make them take the necessary step back by asking the following: “Where did you get your […]

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Flint Knives at the Heart of the Gospel

June 26, 2016

Ah, excuse me? What do flint knives have to do with the Gospel? A whole lot! Abraham believed God against all odds and as a reward he was given the special sign of the Covenant with God. And what was that wonderful sign between them? In Genesis 17:10-11 God announces this sign to Abraham: “This […]

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Google and the Vatican Work Together so you can Tour the Catacombs in Rome

June 25, 2016

Since we are touring the catacombs today, thought you would all enjoy a tour yourself. Early Christian burial sites are now easier to see, both in person and via the Internet, thanks to 21st-century technology and collaboration between Google and the Vatican. “This is perhaps the sign of the joining of two extremes, remote antiquity […]

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Jesus Was A Jew – So What is That To You?

June 20, 2016

 Jesus was a Jew. This fact may escape the casual reader of the New Testament, but it is crucial to understanding Jesus and the book written about him—the Bible. Unhappily, in 21st century America we are far removed from the land of Israel and the ancient culture and religion of Jesus and his Jewish ancestors.  […]

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Mary and the Other Body of Christ; How Many People were in the Upper Room and Why?

May 12, 2016

The room was pretty full. It was warm but a gentle breeze was blowing—that would change. There was fear in the room. The Roman army was a thing to be feared, they had just crucified Jesus and it was a dangerous thing to associates of an executed criminal. They were also anxious about the promise. […]

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Did Jesus Ascend into Heaven from Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12) or from Bethany (Luke 24:50)?

May 10, 2016

One of our past pilgrims wrote with an apparent contradiction in the Bible and what I had said in Israel. The wording in the two verses below is what caused the confusion. Acts 1:12  “[After the Ascension] they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.” Luke […]

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Is the Catholic Faith Anti-Woman? Five Reasons the Catholic Church is the Most PRO-WOMAN Institution in History

April 1, 2016

COMMENTARY: One doesn’t have to look far to see that the term ‘war on women’ doesn’t apply. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! by ARINA O. GROSSU  Anyone who claims that the Catholic Church is anti-woman knows little about her rich history and Tradition in proclaiming the beauty and greatness of womanhood. There is no […]

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How We REALLY Got the Bible – the Facts Simply Presented (print this out, hand it out)

March 31, 2016

This is just one page of Bob Sullivan’s excellent little tri-fold handout to explain how we got the Bible. It is from the Catholic and historical perspective without all the Protestant biases and twisting of history. I think you enjoy the whole thing which you can see here. You can print this out, fold it […]

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Is this the Oldest Image of the Virgin Mary?

March 28, 2016

New York Times By Michael Peppard JANUARY 30, 2016 THE Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the most revered woman in the Christian tradition. In the history of art, she appears almost as frequently as Jesus himself. But for the past 80 years, one of the oldest paintings of her may have been hiding […]

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