Israel and Middle East

Was Jesus Really Born at THAT Place in Bethlehem?

by Steve Ray on October 13, 2014

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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5000 Years of Middle East Control in 90 Seconds

by Steve Ray on October 12, 2014

No part of the world has changed hands and governments and religions more than the Middle East. This is a fascinating “moving map” of all the changes over the last 5,000 years.

Click here to for fast-pasted map

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Jews as Proof of God’s Existence & Faithfulness

by Steve Ray on October 10, 2014

Winston Churchill wrote “Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.“

Jewish soldiers get first glimpse of the Western Wall

He is absolutely right! I have often said they are remarkable people –gifted in a special way and blessed by God. They had no homeland for 2,000 years yet held together and thrived no matter how scattered they were or how terribly persecuted. Like cream, they always rise to the top.

Where are the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites? They disappeared; yet even though scattered over the face of the earth (called the Diaspora) the Jews have survived, remained intact, and have thrived. God made promises to Abraham that his seed would be unable to be counted — as the sand on the shore and the stars in the heavens.

Remarking on the Jews, of which he was one, St. Paul wrote: “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” ( Rom 11:29). These gifts and calling are readily apparent even now, 4,000 years later. I have always thought the existence of the Jews and their incredible impact on civilization – even though their numbers are relatively small — is a convincing proof of the existence of God and to his faithfulness. Imagine, there are only 13 million Jews in the whole world, yet look at the huge and disproportionate impact they exert on our society.

I was recently in a bookstore buying a pile of books on Jewish culture and history — the better to understand the Bible and the roots of Christianity. The woman at the counter was surprised and asked if I was a Jew. I said, “Not by ethnicity, but certainly by affinity since I am a Catholic. I love the Jewish people and spend a lot of time in Israel.” She looked around, hesitating, and then said quietly, “I’m Jewish.”

I smiled and reached out my hand to shake hers. I said, “Congratulations. You are one of the great proofs of God’s existence. I envy you.” She was shocked — “No one has ever congratulated me for being Jewish before,” she said.

Our late Pope referred to the Jewish people as our elder brothers — and so they are. It might be just a story, though it may also be true, that once when the Pope and the head Rabbi of Rome were going into St. Peters, the Rabbi motioned for the Pope to step in first. But the Pope stopped and gestured for the Rabbi to precede him saying, “The Old Testament first!”

There was great wisdom here. The Bible is Jewish. Only one biblical writer was a gentile and the Old Testament is 90% of what we carry in the book called the Bible. The New Testament only makes up 1/10th of the book. The Church may be the branches and the fruit, but the roots and truck of our tree are certainly Jewish.

And considering those who hate the Jews, I love the little ditty that goes like this: “How odd of God to choose the Jews, but odder still are those who choose the Jewish God and hate the Jew.”

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History of Religion; Muslim Demographics, the World

October 4, 2014

Watch this 7 minute video (below) titled: MUSLIM DEMOGRAPHICS: THE TIDAL WAVE (15 million have viewed this video)   See the world your grandchildren will know–different from the world we know today. It is my opinion that Islam is maybe the greatest threat to the world, to peace and to freedom. Islamophobic, hysteric? Hardly. I am [...]

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Iraqi Nuns Slam Media Silence on Middle East Christian Persecution

September 23, 2014

Sometimes it takes a David to defeat a Goliath – or, in this case, unassuming nuns to speak where the media remain silent.  Speaking out for Christians persecuted in the Middle East, Mother Olga Yaqob and Sister Hatune Dogan slammed the American media for keeping silent. The nuns spoke with MRC during the In Defense of [...]

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Roller Coaster Day: Holy Sites and Wonderful Adventures.

September 3, 2014

Today what’s an incredible day of many adventures. We started the day with Mass at the Mount the Beatitudes where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount. Then we went up to the Golan Heights to visit Caesarea Philippi where Jesus said “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”. Lunch [...]

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Jerusalem is Safe! Our 1st Day in Israel! – Video to Show Real Life on the Ground (not on CNN)

August 31, 2014

Hello Everyone. Janet and I have settled in, made sure everything is safe and in good order. We have the 60-seater bus ready to go with our new colorful 6′ x 2′ foot magnetic signs to slap on both sides of the bus. We have Rosaries for everyone to touch on the holy sites, our [...]

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We arrived in Jerusalem and all is well :-)

August 30, 2014

We arrived at the Tel Aviv airport this morning at 5:00 AM. It is no different from the 130 times we’ve arrived in the past. We’re now at the Notre Dame Hotel in Jerusalem, went out for dinner went to Saturday evening Mass and are now comfortably settled into our hotel. Our group is very [...]

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Long Term Cease-Fire Announced between Israel and Hamas

August 26, 2014

This is good news for our pilgrims as we are leaving this weekend for the Holy Land. We are very pleased that our full bus is still full and everyone trusted us to wait and watch and still go. Now their patience and trust will pay off with a wonderful pilgrimage following in the footprints [...]

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Archbishop Sako’s Disappointment with Response to Iraq’s Disaster

August 12, 2014

Patriarch Sako: Refugee Situation Escalating, U.S. Military Action Disappointing Says Iraq’s Christians Face Hard Dilemma: Emigrate or Stay By Staff Reporter VATICAN CITY, August 11, 2014 (Zenit.org) – The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon has highlighted the extent of the refugee situation in northern Iraq, warned of “escalating” humanitarian needs, and said the hardships facing Iraqis [...]

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Patriarch of Iraq YELLS at the World; “Where are You?” His Words Here – Steve to discuss this topic today on Al Kresta Show

August 8, 2014

Steve will join the Al Kresta Show on Ave Maria Radio from 5:20 – 6:00 to discuss the slaughter of Christians in Iraq and the silence of the world. Iraq’s Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako: a Voice in the Desert Catholic Leader Appeals to Pope, Brother Bishops: ‘Speeches Are Good for Nothing’ ROME, August 08, 2014 [...]

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Christians Fleeing Nineveh as ISIS Muslims Destroy their Cities – Where is the West??

August 7, 2014

UPDATE: Glad the Pope finally calls on the world to step in and “end the crisis” and help the Christians being slaughtered and displaced in Iraq. I hope this means more than just following along behind ISIS to pick up the dead bodies, feed and care for the raped and starving: (Reuters) – Pope Francis [...]

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Christians Branded before Death or Exile: the Arabic letter for “n” – Nazarene

August 5, 2014

Branded: Nazarene (CNA Catholic News Association) Have you seen this symbol? This is the arabic letter “nun,” the first letter in the word “Nazarene.” In Mosul, Iraq, it has been painted on doors to identify the homes of Christians who are then brutally beaten and often executed. A militant Sunni organization known as the Islamic State [...]

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Negotiating Peace Between Gaza and Israel?

August 2, 2014

I received an e-mail blaming Israel for killing innocent children and destroying homes in Gaza. There was a demand to stop the war immediately, open the borders of Gaza and free the people inside. Is this all a good idea? Is this sad situation all Israel’s fault? First, there is a reason the borders are [...]

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Pope Francis Talks with President Peres of Israel about Gaza, War and Peace

July 18, 2014

Pope Francis spoke to President Peres this morning and asked to deliver a message of coexistence, moderation and peace to all the citizens of the region in light of the current security situation. His Holiness Pope Francis spoke to President Shimon Peres earlier today (Friday, 18 July 2014), and conveyed a messaged of coexistence, moderation [...]

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Excellent Assessment on Iraq from the Iraq’s Patriarch

July 1, 2014

Interview with Patriarch Sako with Zenit.org where you can read the whole excellent interview. Q: There are calls for American intervention to stop the advance of ISIS. What do you think? Patriarch Sako: No. I don’t view it like that. The Americans have been here and they made a lot of mistakes. The current situation [...]

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