Origins of Foot Washing & Foot Kissing (Cameron Kippen)


NOTE: This article is taken from the Canadian Federation of Podiatric Medicine (CFPM). The author is a Podologist and Shoe Historian from Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia.

Research into the religious significance of the washing and kissing of bare feet was inspired by the recent “foot worship” scandal of George Passias who “washed” and kissed Ethel Bouzalas’ feet with his own mouth. The former priest was defrocked last year for his sexcapades which came to light in video format.

What may surprise you dear reader is Christians protected their feet by the patronage of the holy.

Byzantine mosaic of washing the disciples' feet, at the Monreale Cathedral, Italy
Byzantine mosaic of washing the disciples’ feet, at the Monreale Cathedral, Italy

Two Saints championed the legs and feet, St Peter (The Apostle). The Feast of Peter and Paul is June 29th; and Servatus (Servaas, Servatius or Servais), his Memorial Day is 13 may. Servatus is frequently depicted as a bishop with three wooden shoes.

In Biblical times shoes were made from animal skins, and these were difficult to clean. This may explain why shoes in the Old Testament, an agricultural society came to represent all that was unclean. The emblems of filth were left outside homes and considered quite unsuitable for holy places. Feet encased in footwear required to be purified and this responsibility usually fell to the lowest house servant. Foot bathing signified the status of an honored guest and put them at ease and comfort. It also kept the floors, clean. Foot washing was viewed as an honor or service and became a common Jewish custom at formal banquets and took place either on arrival or before the feast.

Foot washing, when undertaken by anyone other than the lowest servant in the household, took on significant symbolic importance. Most authorities recognize this humble action as deliberate act of humility, a mark of respect or deliberate self-humiliation. Ceremonial feet washing often involved marking the toe with blood or oil to symbolize either consecration or the cleansing of the entire person. This type of ritual was considered important before entering God’s house. Bathing feet in oil was also taken as a prospect of wealth. When Mary Magdalene washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair, she also anointed them with expensive ointment. For this token of devotion, Christ forgave her sins then proceeded to remind his host that he had not been extended the same courtesy as would be appropriate to a welcome guest. Jesus then subverted the symbolism by washing the feet of his disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. Despite protestation he reminded his devotees the significance of foot washing, which is celebrated to this day. ‘I have done this to give you an example of something that you should do.’ Christ’s action demonstrated that service rather than status represented greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven. This action prepared his disciples (and their converts) to walk in the path of righteousness. Christians adopted the Hebrew foot washing ceremony and in some religious faiths this is still considered as one of the three ordinances (sacrament) i.e. baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and foot washing.

An Emperor Kissing the Pope's Feet, Illustration from 'Acts and Monuments' (John Foxe)

Foot washing acts as a renewal of baptism and commitment to living God’s way of life. Foot washing is still practised in one form or other throughout the world on the Thursday before Good Friday. Popes, religious leaders, and monarchs have all honoured the commitment to faith and humanity. In the UK the ceremony was often accompanied with the distribution of alms in the form of food and drink, clothes and money. Until 1689, in the reign of William & Mary, the monarchs personally washed the feet of the selected poor. Foot cleaning was replaced by specially minted coins, called Monday Money. To this day the custom is still celebrated on the day before Good Friday, when Her majesty the Queen distributes specially minted money to the poor. A man and woman are chosen to represent each year of the monarch’s life and given the special coins in a church. The specially minted coinage is worth much more than its face value.

Pope Francis Kissing the foot of a Muslim boy
Pope Francis Kissing the foot of a Muslim boy

Proskunew describes a Persian custom, which involved kneeling and putting the face to the ground. This sometimes involved kissing the ground. Taken as the act of submission, respect, gratitude, supplication, neediness, and humility. This was used on all sorts of occasions. Thought to have originated as a non-verbal greeting where men of equal rank would kiss each other on the lips. An inferior kissed his superior on the cheeks, and where one was much less noble rank than the other, he fell to the ground in homage. Considered to have become ritualized at the oriental courts, depending on rank, visitors would prostrate themselves, kneel in front of, bow for, or blow a kiss to the king. There may have been practical reasons for blowing a kiss as halitosis was thought to be common. Magicians would use the same technique in order to prevent contamination of the sacred fire. Alexander the Great (327) spread his empire to incorporate others and naturally took Iranians to serve at his court. To win his or her respect and support he had to act like a Persian king, and ordered everybody to behave according to the oriental court ritual. The court custom, caused consternation amongst the Greeks as prostration, bowing or kneeling, to anyone other than the Gods was unacceptable. Despite violent opposition it is not clear whether Alexander the Great’s attempt at cultural infliction, succeeded.

However, proskynesis was commonly practiced at the courts of his successors and remnants remain today occidentals, still bow for kings and queens. By the time of the Old Testament the custom had passed in judicial behavior and when an accused was brought before the judge, he lay prostate. If found guilty, the judge would place his foot on their neck. If innocent the judge would stoop over and lift their face with his hand. Lifting the face was a Hebrew concept, which equaled a declaration of innocence in a judicial, proceeding. When Muslims bow towards Mecca this is another reference to proskynesis and by contrast the posture of early Christian worship. was standing.

Saint Francis, complete with his own stigmata, fondles and kisses the bleeding wounds of Jesus
St. Francis, complete with his own stigmata, fondles and kisses the bleeding wounds of Jesus

According to Brasch (1989), kissing the feet was a gesture of homage and deference, far removed from its erotic roots. Millions of pilgrims with loving pressure have worn down the feet of the statue of Saint Paul in Rome with their lips. At the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire it was the custom for the faithful to kiss the right hand of the Papal Father. In the eighth century, a rather passionate woman took liberties and according to legend, the Pope cut off his hand in disgust. The custom of kissing the Pope’s right foot was adapted as more appropriate. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) had kings and churchmen kiss his feet. Today the act of homage involves kissing the Pontiff’s right shoe. Lips are aimed at the cross-depicted on the shoe. This is either taken as a tribute to his authority or the simulation of servitude.



The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches practice the ritual of the Washing of Feet on Holy and Great Thursday (Maundy Thursday) according to their ancient rites. The service may be performed either by a bishop, washing the feet of twelve priests; or by an Hegumen (Abbot) washing the feet of twelve members of the brotherhood of his monastery. The ceremony takes place at the end of the Divine Liturgy.

After Holy Communion, and before the dismissal, the brethren all go in procession to the place where the Washing of Feet is to take place (it may be in the center of the nave, in the narthex, or a location outside). After a psalm and some troparia (hymns) an ektenia (litany) is recited, and the bishop or abbot reads a prayer. Then the deacon reads the account in the Gospel of John, while the clergy perform the roles of Christ and his apostles as each action is chanted by the deacon. The deacon stops when the dialogue between Jesus and Peter begins. The senior-ranking clergyman among those whose feet are being washed speaks the words of Peter, and the bishop or abbot speaks the words of Jesus. Then the bishop or abbot himself concludes the reading of the Gospel, after which he says another prayer and sprinkles all of those present with the water that was used for the foot washing. The procession then returns to the church and the final dismissal is given as normal.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos washes the foot of a priest during a ceremony in Jerusalem's Old City
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Metropolitan Theophilos washes the foot of a priest.


In the scriptures scholars accept feet were used as metaphors for the genitalia. Keen to downplay emphasis on the generative process which was more pagan, the ancient Hebrews took the foot and made it a gender icon.
‘And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in. I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.’ (Gen 19:2)
In Isaiah (7:20) reference was made to the hair of the feet. Most authorities interpret this passage to mean pubic hair. By sexualizing the feet, there was need to cover them from uninvited gaze. In the vision of the Lord’s glory, Isaiah described the six wings of the seraphims.
‘and with twain he covered his feet.’ (Isaiah 6:2)
Centuries later, Christian art avoided showing feet of the Devine with only the more risque artists risking ex communication, by tempting viewers to glimpses of uncovered feet. Angels were painted with large wings, which covered their feet, hence, a representation of modesty. The term shoe, which had its derivation in Old English (Anglo Saxon), describes a cover but not as protection, instead it meant to partially conceal, in an alluring manner. In Biblical times feet were not sexually attractive but could become so, when embellished with sandals. The penis metaphor is most obvious in the Book of Ruth.
‘And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down ; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.’ (Ruth 3:4)

Another sex tapes involves Ethel Bouzalas rubbing her feet on Father George Passias’s face.
Ethel Bouzalas rubbing her feet on Fr. George Passias’s face.


Pilgrims carrying the good news of God’s Salvation had beautiful feet:

‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publish salvation; that saith unto Zion, The God reigneth!’ Is 52:7

‘Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings that publisheth peace!’ Nahum 1:15
By the New Testament those spreading the Gospels wore sandals.

‘And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;’ Ephesians 6:15

The ancient custom of falling voluntary at another’s feet was taken as a mark of reverence.
‘And I fell at his feet’ 1 Sam 25: 24

‘And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet..’ Esher 8:3.
Many who met Jesus were described to fall to their feet.
‘And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet.’ Mk 5:22

‘And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.’ Rev 1:17

Taking hold of the feet of another was considered an act of prayer.

‘And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet’ 2 Kings 4:27

‘And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.’ Mt 28:9
The action of touching a heel had profound meaning.
‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed ; it shall bruise thy head , and thou shalt bruise his heel.’ Genesis 4:15
Jacob meant ‘one who grabs the heel’ or ‘heel god’ in Hebrew.

‘He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God:’ Hosea 12:3

‘And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel: and his name was called Jacob’ Gen 25:26
Images of heels were linked to potential disaster and the vulnerability of humanity.

‘The gin shall take him by the heel, and the robber shall prevail against him.’ Job 18:9

By the time of the New Testament, sitting at someone’s feet was considered an act of submission and tachability.
‘They went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus,’ Luke 8:35

‘And she had as sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his word.’ Luke 10: 39

Spreading the Word of God across the known world would entail travelling. There is direct reference to Jesus Christ in the New Testament saying to his disciples to wear sandals whilst spreading the gospel. Later in the scriptures he is attributed to a statement not to be overburdened with footwear. Most scholars accept the latter to mean to travel light. By implication however as shoes and sandals were the preferred costume of the privileged then perhaps the Disciples were being directed to become more accepted by the higher social strata yet by the same token, not to appear too well attired to offend the poor. If sandals were to play an important role in the beginnings of Christianity then sandal makers and in particular sandal repairers would have a contributory role. Many affluent converts were disinherited from their family’s wealth yet compelled to spread the WORD, they needed an income for support themself. Many became sandal makers who worked by night whilst doing God’s work during day.

Sinful woman washes christ's feet
Sinful woman washes Christ’s feet





On Avarice (St. John Cassian, ca. 420 AD)

NOTE: The following article is taken from On the Eight Vices, which can be found in the Philokalia:

Also see the Saint’s book: The Institutes of the Coenobia:


Our third struggle is against the demon of avarice, a demon clearly foreign to our nature, who only gains entry into a monk because he is lacking in faith. The other passions, such as anger and desire, seem to be occasioned by the body and in some sense implanted in us at birth. Hence they are conquered only after a long time. The sickness of avarice, on the contrary, can with diligence and attention be cut off more readily, because ft enters from outside. If neglected, however, it becomes even harder to get rid of and more destructive than the other passions, for according to the Apostle it is ‘the root of all evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10).


Let us look at it in this fashion. Movement occurs in the sexual organs not only of young children who cannot yet distinguish between good and evil, but also of the smallest infants still at their mother’s breast. The latter, although quite ignorant of sensual pleasure, nevertheless manifest such natural movements in the flesh. Similarly, the incensive power exists in infants, as we can see when they are roused against anyone hurting them. I say this not to accuse nature of being the cause of sin – heaven forbid! – but to show that the incensive power and desire, even if implanted in man by the Creator for a good purpose, appear to change through neglect from being natural in the body into something that is unnatural. Movement in the sexual organs was given to us by the Creator for procreation and the continuation of the species, not for unchastity; while incensive power was planted in us for our salvation, so that we could manifest it against wickedness, but not so that we could act like wild beasts towards our fellow men. Even if we make bad use of these passions, nature itself is not therefore sinful, nor should we blame the Creator. A man who gives someone a knife for some necessary and useful purpose is not to blame if that person uses it to commit murder.

This has been said to make it clear that avarice is a passion deriving, not from our nature, but solely from an evil and perverted use of our free will. When this sickness finds the soul lukewarm and lacking in faith at the start of the ascetic path, it suggests to us various apparently justifiable and sensible reasons for keeping back something of what we possess. It conjures up in a monk’s mind a picture of a lengthy old age and bodily illness; and it persuades him that the necessities of life provided by the monastery are insufficient to sustain a healthy man, much less an ill one; that in the monastery the sick, instead of receiving proper attention, are hardly cared for at all; and that unless he has some money tucked away, he will die a miserable death. Finally, it convinces him that he will not be able to remain long in the monastery because of the load of his work and the strictness of the abbot. When with thoughts like these it has seduced his mind with the idea of concealing any sum, however trifling, it persuades him to learn, unknown to the abbot, some handicraft through which he can increase his cherished hoardings. Then it deceives the wretched monk with secret expectations, making him imagine what he will earn from his handicraft, and the comfort and security which will result from it. Now completely given over to the thought of gain, he notices none of the evil passions which attack him: his raging fury when he happens to sustain a loss, his gloom and dejection when he falls short of the gain he hoped for. Just as for other people the belly is a god, so for him is money. That is why the Apostle, knowing this, calls avarice not only ‘the root of all evil’ but ‘idolatry’ as well (Col. 3:5).

How is it that this sickness can so pervert a man that he ends up as an idolater? It is because he now fixes his intellect on the love, not of God, but of the images of men stamped on gold. A monk darkened by such thoughts and launched on the downward path can no longer be obedient. He is irritable and resentful, and grumbles about every task. He answers back and, having lost his sense of respect, behaves like a stubborn, uncontrollable horse. He is not satisfied with the day’s ration of food and complains that he cannot put up with such conditions for ever. Neither God’s presence, he says, nor the possibility of his own salvation is confined to the monastery; and, he concludes, he will perish if he does not leave it. He is so excited and encouraged in these perverse thoughts by his secret hoardings that he even plans to quit the monastery. Then he replies proudly and harshly no matter what he is told to do, and pays no heed if he sees something in the monastery that needs to be set right, considering himself a stranger and outsider and finding fault with all that takes place. Then he seeks excuses for being angry or injured, so that he will not appear to be leaving the monastery frivolously and without cause. He does not even shrink from trying through gossip and idle talk to seduce someone else into leaving with him, wishing to have an accomplice in his sinful action.

Late 15th Century depiction of Avarice, with the Pope, a Bishop, a Cardinal, monks and a prince/king all receiving just punishment after death.

Because the avaricious monk is so fired with desire for private wealth he will never be able to live at peace in a monastery or under a rule. When like a wolf the demon has snatched him from the fold and separated him from the Hock, he makes ready to devour him; he sets-him to work day and night in his cell on the very tasks which he complained of doing at fixed times in the monastery. But the demon does not allow him to keep the regular prayers or norms of fasting or orders of vigil. Having bound him fast in the madness of avarice, he persuades him to devote all his effort to his handicraft.

There are three forms of this sickness, all of which are equally condemned by the Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the Fathers. The first induces those who were poor to acquire and save the goods they lacked in the world. The second compels those who have renounced worldly goods by offering them to God, to have regrets and to seek after them again. A third infects a monk from the start with lack of faith and ardor, so preventing his complete detachment from worldly things, producing in him a fear of poverty and distrust in God’s providence and leading him to break the promises he made when he renounced the world.

Examples of these three forms of avarice are, as I have said, condemned in Holy Scripture. Gehazi wanted to acquire property which he did not previously possess, and therefore never received the prophetic grace which his teacher had wished to leave him in the place of an inheritance. Because of the prophet’s curse he inherited incurable leprosy instead of a blessing (cf. 2 Kgs. 5:27). And Judas, who wished to acquire money which he had previously abandoned on following Christ, not only lapsed so far as to betray the Master and lose his place in the circle of the apostles; he also put an end to his life in the flesh through a violent death (cf. Matt. 27:5). Thirdly, Ananias and Sapphira were condemned to death by the Apostle’s word when they kept back something of what they had acquired (cf. Acts 5:1-10). Again, in Deuteronomy Moses is indirectly exhorting those who promise to renounce the world, and who then retain their earthly possessions because of the fear that comes from lack of faith, when he says: ‘What man is there that is fearful and faint-hearted? He shall not go out to do battle; let him return to his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart’ (cf. Deut. 20:8). Could anything be clearer or more certain than this testimony? Should not we who have left the world learn from these examples to renounce it completely and in this state go forth to do battle? We should not turn others from the perfection taught in the Gospels and make them cowardly because of our own hesitant and feeble start.

30 pieces of silver.Shekels on 350 year old Hebrew Manuscript.Judas Iscariot betrayal
30 pieces of silver.Shekels on 350 year old Hebrew Manuscript.Judas Iscariot betrayal

Some, impelled by their own deceit and avarice, distort the meaning of the scriptural statement, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). They do the same with the Lord’s words when He says, ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me’ (Matt. 19:21). They judge that it is more blessed to have control over one’s personal wealth, and to give from this to those in need, than to possess nothing at all. They should know, however, that they have not yet renounced the world or achieved monastic perfection so long as they are ashamed to accept for Christ’s sake the poverty of the Apostle and to provide for themselves and the needy through the labor of their hands (cf. Acts 20:34); for only in this way will they fulfill the .monastic profession and be glorified with the Apostle. Having distributed their former wealth, let them fight the good fight with Paul ‘in hunger and thirst . . . in cold and nakedness’ (2 Cor. 11:27). Had the Apostle thought that the possession of one’s former wealth was more necessary for perfection, he would not have despised his official status as a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 22:25). Nor would those in Jerusalem have sold their houses and fields and given the money they got from them to the apostles (cf. Acts 4: 34-35), had they felt that the apostles considered it more blessed to live off one’s own possessions than from one’s labor and the offerings of the Gentiles.

The Apostle gives us a clear lesson in this matter when he writes to the Romans in the passage beginning, ‘But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints’, and ending: ‘They were pleased to do it, and indeed they are in debt to them’ (Rom. 15:25-27). He himself was often in chains, in prison or on fatiguing travel, and so was usually prevented from providing for himself with his own hands. He tells us that he accepted the necessities of life from the brethren who came to him from Macedonia (cf. 2 Cor. 11:9); and writing to the Philippians he says: ‘Now you Philippians know also that . . . when I departed from Macedonia no church except you helped me with gifts of money. For even in Thessalonica you sent me help, not once but twice’ (Phil. 4:15-16). Are, then, the avaricious right and are these men more blessed than the Apostle himself, because they satisfied his wants from their own resources? Surely no one would be so foolish as to say this.

Ananias and Sapphira (4th c. tomb)
Ananias and Sapphira (4th c. tomb)

If we want to follow the gospel commandment and the practice of the whole Church as it was founded initially upon the apostles, we should not follow our own notions or give wrong meanings to things rightly said. We must discard faint-hearted, faithless opinion and recover the strictness of the Gospel; In this way we shall be able to follow also in the footsteps of the Fathers, adhering to the discipline of the cenobitic life and truly renouncing this world.

It is good here to recall the words of St Basil, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. He is reported once to have said to a senator, who had renounced the world in a half-hearted manner and was keeping back some of his personal fortune: ‘You have lost the senator and failed to make a monk.’ We should therefore make every effort to cut out from our souls this root of all evils, avarice, in the certain knowledge that if the root remains the branches will sprout freely.

This uprooting is difficult to achieve unless we are living in a monastery, for in a monastery we cease to worry about even our most basic needs. With the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in mind, we should shudder at the thought of keeping to ourselves anything of our former possessions. Similarly, frightened by the example of Gehazi who was afflicted with incurable leprosy because of his avarice, let us guard against piling up money which we did not have while in the world. Finally, recalling Judas’ death by hanging, let us beware of acquiring again any of the things which we have already renounced. In all this we should remember how uncertain is the hour of our death, so that our Lord does not come unexpectedly and, finding our conscience soiled with avarice, say to us what God says to the rich man in the Gospel: ‘You fool, this night your soul will be required of you: who then will be the owner of what you have stored up?’ (Luke 12: 20).



Christmas Stories in Christian Apocrypha: The birth of Jesus in the apocryphal gospels (Tony Burke, 2015)

NOTE: This Bible History Daily [Biblical Archaeology Society] article was originally published on December 10, 2014. It has been updated.

The presepio (nativity scene) is a centuries-old craft and one of Naples’s best-known traditions. This Neapolitan presepio was displayed in Rome.

One of the most familiar images of the Christmas season is the nativity scene—the well-known depiction of Jesus’ birth—displayed in an array of public and private settings, including churches, parks, store windows and on fireplace mantles. The scene, first assembled by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223, is iconographic, meaning its various elements are intended primarily to depict theological—not historical, nor even literary—truths. It harmonizes two very distinct stories: Luke’s birth of Jesus in a stable, visited by shepherds, and attended by an angelic host and Matthew’s Magi, who are led by a star to the home of Jesus’ family sometime before Jesus’ second birthday.

To most people viewing the nativity scene, it depicts the birth of Jesus as it happened, with farm animals, shepherds, angels and Magi crowding the Bethlehem stable. But the combination is apocryphal, in the wide sense that the complete scene is not an accurate reflection of what the Biblical texts say about Jesus’ birth and in the narrow sense that such harmonization of Matthew and Luke is a common feature of noncanonical Christian infancy gospels. Actually, these gospels not only combine the Biblical stories, they enhance them, with additional traditions about the birth of Jesus that circulated in antiquity. Of course most Christians throughout history were unaware of this distinction; before widespread literacy, Christians told the story of Jesus’ birth without awareness of which elements were based on Scripture and which were not.

The Christian Apocrypha are rich with tales of the birth of Jesus. The earliest and most well-known of these are the stories found in the Protevangelium (or “Proto-Gospel”) of James. Composed in the late second century, this text combines the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke with other traditions, including stories of the Virgin Mary’s own birth and upbringing. The Protevangelium was exceptionally popular—hundreds of manuscripts of the text exist today in a variety of languages, and it has profoundly influenced Christian liturgy and teachings about Mary. The Protevangelium was transmitted in the West as part of the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which added to it tales of the Holy Family’s sojourn in Egypt and, in some manuscripts, stories of Jesus’ childhood taken from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Other Pseudo-Matthew manuscripts incorporate a different telling of Jesus’ birth from an otherwise lost gospel that scholars call the Book about the Birth of the Savior. In the East, the Protevangelium was translated into Syriac and expanded with a different set of stories set in Egypt to form the Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was later translated into Arabic as the Arabic Infancy Gospel. Another Syriac reworking of theProtevangelium lies behind the Armenian Infancy Gospel. Christians in the East also expanded on Matthew’s Magi traditions creating the Revelation of the Magi, the Legend of Aphroditianus, and On the Star (erroneously attributed to Eusebius of Caesarea), each of which in their own way narrates how the Magi became aware that the star heralded the birth of a king.

If readers of these apocryphal texts could see the modern nativity scenes, they would be surprised to find the baby Jesus in a stable: In the infancy gospels, the birth takes place in a cave outside of Bethlehem, the same location given also by Justin Martyr (in his Dialogue with Trypho 78), who died around 165 C.E. They might have expected also to see a midwife in the scene; indeed, she does appear regularly in Eastern Orthodox depictions of the nativity, helping Mary bathe the newborn. As theProtevangelium tells it, Joseph left Mary in the cave and went into Bethlehem to find a midwife. But as Joseph and the midwife approached the cave, they saw a bright cloud overshadowing it. The cloud then disappeared into the cave and a great light appeared, which withdrew and revealed the baby Jesus. Each of the later expansions of the Protevangelium narrate this scene in their own unique way, but they all endeavor to show that Jesus was not born in a natural manner, thus allowing Mary to remain physically a virgin after the birth. So superhuman is Jesus that some texts report that he could be perceived in multiple forms. The Armenian Infancy Gospel, for example, reports that the Magi each saw him in a different way: as the Son of God on a throne, as the Son of Man surrounded by armies, and as a man tortured, dead and resurrected.

The apocryphal accounts agree with Luke that the shepherds visited the Holy Family shortly after Jesus’ birth. In the Western texts, the family then moves from the cave to a stable and places the baby in a manger. There an ox and an ass bend their knees and worship him, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 1:3, “The ox knows it owner, and the donkey its master’s crib” (see Pseudo-Matthew 14 and Birth of the Savior 86). Though an apocryphal embellishment, the animals became a common ingredient in subsequent depictions of the nativity and may be observable in nativity scenes today.

Most often, the cave remains the scene of subsequent events, including the circumcision (from Luke 2:21) and the visit of the Magi. The Magi are typically depicted in art and iconography as three richly-adorned Persian kings. However, Matthew calls them only “magi from the East” (Matthew 2:1) and does not say how many there were. The writers of the apocryphal texts did their best to clarify these matters. In the Revelation of the Magi, there are at least twelve Magi—the same number is given in other Syriac traditions—and they came to Bethlehem in April (not December) from a land in the Far East called “Shir,” perhaps meant to be understood as China. The Armenian Infancy Gospel says there were three kings, and they were accompanied by 12 commanders, each with an army of 1,000 men, which would make for a very crowded stable indeed. Many of the texts continue the story of the Magi and tell what happened when they returned to their home country: In theLife of the Blessed Virgin (=Arabic Infancy Gospel) they bring back one of Jesus’ swaddling bands, which they worship because it has miraculous properties; in the Revelation of the Magi they share the vision-inducing food (some kind of magic mushrooms?) given to them by the star; and in the Legend of Aphroditianus they return with a painting of Jesus and his mother. None of these apocryphal Magi traditions are featured in nativity scenes today, but some of them influenced medieval art and literature.

Christians of all times and places have delighted in the story of Jesus’ birth, so much that they have yearned to learn more about the first Christmas than is found in the Biblical accounts. The Christmas nativity scene is the outcome of efforts by creative and pious writers to fill in blanks left by Matthew and Luke and to combine multiple traditions, Biblical and non-Biblical, into one enduring image. The nativity scene is a timeless representation of when God became man; it is also a testament to human imagination and the art of storytelling.

This small tripartite painting, The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, is part of a massive altarpiece known as the Maestà. Composed of many individual paintings, the Maestà was commissioned by the Italian city of Siena in 1308 from the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna. It contains elements of the birth of Jesus from Christian Apocrypha, including the cave, the ox, the ass and the midwife.

Interested in learning about the birth of Jesus? Learn more about the history of Christmas and the date of Jesus’ birth in the free eBook

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Whatever Happened to the Dead Sea Scrolls? (Dr. Martin A. Larson, 1981)

NOTE: The following article is a lecture that was presented at the 1981 Revisionist Conference. Though this article is strictly on the Dead Sea scrolls and does not contain many of the typical elements of an IHR article–anti-Semitism, holocaust denial, etc.–it is interesting to note that many of Geronda Ephraim’s monastics share similar views contained on the IHR website; primarily Holocaust Revisionism. Though the monastics do not deny that Jews suffered and died during World War II, they claim that the numbers are highly exaggerated as well as what went on at concentration camps. Geronda Paisios once stated the number of Jews that died was only in the thousands. Similar statements are also found in the books of Geronda Haralambos Vasilopoulos and other Greek Orthodox writers which are sold in monastery bookstores.

Dr. Martin A. Larson
Dr. Martin A. Larson

I was brought up in a very religious family, but at an early age I had begun to question some of the teachings that were given to me in my boyhood. And I remember how I questioned the minister of our church when I was reading for confirmation at the age of fifteen concerning some of the atrocities committed by the Jews after they left Egypt, under the leadership of Moses, and according to the story of the Old Testament, invaded Palestine, attacked the inhabitants there, took their property, and drove them from their homes with the help of their God, Jehovah. My interest in religion continued unabated over the years. And thus it was that when I wrote my Ph.D. thesis at the University of Michigan, it dealt with Milton’s theology — particularly his Trinitarian concept — and I published a book on the subject in 1927. But then for many years I had no opportunity to study religion or, in fact, anything else. But soon after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, I retired from active business and could then devote myself to study. I therefore plunged into research of the Scrolls, and in due course, published a book on the subject called the Essene Heritage. And so, the authors of the Scrolls, the Essenes, their writings and their impact on history has been a subject of consuming interest to me for many years.

The Origin and Development of the Cult

Let us first summarize some of the known facts concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls and their authors, the religious organization known as the Essenes (they were also called The Holy Ones, the Poor Men, the Sons of Light, etc.) and who existed in Judaea and the nearby desert from about 192 B.C. to the date of their extinction and destruction in 69 or 70 A.D., when the Roman armies marched through Palestine and finally destroyed Jerusalem. This cult is probably unique as an historical phenomenon; throughout its existence, it was opposed to the Jewish authorities; although it accepted the Scriptures which constitute the Old Testament, it revised, rewrote, or completely reinterpreted them. Also, what is even more significant than important, they gradually absorbed various elements from other sources, such as Zoroastrianism and Pythagoreanism. As a result, they prepared an entire corpus of original scripture which was not only a definite departure from official Judaism, but in basic contradiction to, and a repudiation of, this system of doctrine and ritual.

Reconstruction of the Qumran compound, thought to house the Essene community.
Reconstruction of the Qumran compound, thought to house the Essene community.

At the beginning, the cult was simply a reaction against the Hellenizing of Jewish life under Greek domination, but shortly thereafter, it split into two well-defined factions, one of which developed into later Essenism and the other into the Pharasaic movement which produced the Rabbinical priesthood, who, to this day, constitute the official spokesmen for Judaism. By 143 B.C., as we learn from Josephus, three distinct groups had been fully developed in the Jewish population: they were the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Saducees, of whom the last represented the wealthy, upper-class Jews, who had embraced Epicureanism as their philosophy.

In 134 B.C., Hyrcanus, the only surviving son of Judas Maccabaeus, became king of an independent Israeli nation and ruled until the year 104. In the next year, Alexander Jannaeus assumed the throne and ruled until 78, after which his widow, Helene, or Salome Alexandra, served as Queen Regent until the year 76, when her two sons, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, after taking over, fought each other in a bloody internecine conflict for the possession of power, until the year 64, when Pompey the Roman general invaded Palestine and reduced the Jewish nation into a Roman province under puppet rulers and procurators, who continued until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

The Titus Arch in Rome that celebrates the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD by Titus.
The Titus Arch in Rome that celebrates the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD by Titus.

Original Cultic Scriptures

During the period from 192 to 60 B.C., the Essenes produced a great corpus of literature under the inspiration of leaders known from generation to generation as The Teacher of Righteousness, he was also called the Holy Great One, and was given other titles signifying revelatory powers as direct conduits of messages from the Supreme God of the Universe, who, by the way was something quite different from Jehovah, the tribal god of the Jews. Extremely interesting is the fact that two very important documents — The Book of Enoch and The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs – were well known among the early Christians and accepted by them as sacred literature of their own. Scholars had no suspicion that these, although widely used in later periods, were produced by the Essenes until the scrolls were discovered near the Dead Sea in 1947. Since hundreds of fragments of these documents were found in the caves, it became obvious that they were among the very important scriptures composed and used by the Essenes themselves.

Persecution and Separation

Whatever else we may consider as firmly established, it is certain that under the reign of Hyrcanus, who was affiliated with the Pharisees previous to 104 B.C., there was persistent persecution of the Essenes, partly because of doctrinal deviations but perhaps even more because of their condemnations of the Jewish authorities, who frequently invaded neighboring territories and forced people there to accept Judaism and circumcision on pain of persecution and even of death. Thus it was that about 104 B.C., as we learn from Josephus, the Essenes became an esoteric mystery-cult with its own communes, its own code of laws, discipline, and organization, which included a total withdrawal and separation from all public activity. As a result, it became the depository of total religious commitment, living in expectation of the day, not very far in the future, when an all-powerful divine personage would appear, send all their Jewish persecutors into everlasting torture in hellish dungeons under the surface of the earth, and establish the kingdom of the saints, (the Sons of Light) with its capital in Jerusalem.

Under Alexander Jannaeus, who ruled from 103-78 B.C., this hostility and persecution intensified. The Essene documents written during this period are filled with the fiercest denunciations of the Jewish priests and authorities, who not only raided the communes of the Holy Ones and decimated their membership, but were also guilty of constant acts of aggression against their innocent and unoffending neighbors. I know of no other literature replete with comparable condemnations of acts of violence committed without provocation. The documents in our possession which contain this material are The Habakkuk Commentary, Parts IV and V of the Book of Enoch, and various statements found in The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the original portions of which were composed while Hyracanus was king.

This situation seems to have continued under Queen-Regent Alexandra and her two sons between 78 and 64, when the independent Jewish state was suddenly terminated by the interposition of Roman authority. It is interesting to note that Herod the Great, the puppet Roman ruler of Israel from 39 to 4 B.C., was an Idumaean who had converted to Judaism and was therefore know as a half-Jew.

At all events, it is certain that the tension between the Essenes and the government was, if anything, more fierce under Jannaeus than it had ever been before. As we have noted, they became a secret brotherhood in 104 in order to avoid total extermination; in spite of this, however, their persecution continued; with their members under solemn vows of secrecy, their organization survived and, in time grew, especially under the comparatively mild regimen which followed the conquest of Judaea by Pompey in 64.

The Execution of the Rabbis

Josephus relates that Jannaeus, who had at first espoused the Pharisees, later went over to the Sadducees; and when the former were accused of conspiring with the Syrians to subvert the government, Jannaeus had 800 leading rabbis crucified at one time; and, as they hung on their “trees” or crosses, he had his soldiers cut the throats of their wives and children as he himself feasted at a great banquet with his concubines and his favorites. This had been doubted by many until the fact was confirmed by the publication of a Dead Sea Scroll fragment which related precisely the same facts.

150 years earlier, 800 Jews were crucified by Jannaeus.
150 years earlier, 800 Jews were crucified by Jannaeus.

The Execution and Deification of the Teacher

The climactic event in Essene history occurred in 70 or 69 B.C. Although all the details of this will probably be known only if more Scrolls are published, certain facts are known. At that time, the Teacher of Righteousness- that is, the Essene leader-went boldly into Jerusalem and there, in the very temple itself, he proclaimed and condemned the lawless corruption and aggressions of the priests and authorities who ruled in Israel. He was therefore seized and executed, by what means is not certain, but some scholars believe that he was crucified.

Shortly thereafter, the persuasion developed among his followers-until it became actual dogma-that he was the Most High God of the Universe Himself who had appeared for a time as a man among men; that he died a sacrificial death for the redemption of sinners; that he had risen from the grave on the third day; that he had returned to his throne in heaven; and that, before the end of the then-existing generation, he would send a representative to the earth. This representative would in due course be invested with unlimited power and would terminate the present dispensation, conduct the last judgment, and establish the communal kingdom of the saints on earth, who would then come into possession of all the property of the wicked, who would, thereafter, suffer infinite and eternal agonies in hell.

The Essene Revelations Completed

Except for a few original documents written after 69 B.C., and the final interpolations added to The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs at the same time, the cult seems at this point to have considered its corpus of literature and revelation complete. The members studied their scriptures in the various communes scattered about Palestine. Those destined for a special type of leadership were sent to the headquarters at Qumram near the Dead Sea, where they multiplied their holy writings in a scriptorium, where members underwent ritual baptisms daily, and where, dressed in white robes, they partook of sacramental meals in an upper chamber every day.

Qumran cave 4, where ninety percent of the scrolls were found.
Qumran cave 4, where ninety percent of the scrolls were found.

The Secret Esoteric Order

From Josephus, who was a neophyte in the Order for three years, the world has always known a good deal about the Essenes. When an individual joined, he sold everything he owned and turned the proceeds over to the curator of the Order, who kept this in a separate fund for three years, when it was returned to the applicant if he did not qualify for membership. If he did qualify, his property was intermingled irrevocably with that of the Order, and he was admitted to the commune, but still not permitted to partake of the sacramental bread and wine, nor was he yet taught all its mysteries until the end of five years, when, if he satisfied the leaders as to his truth and reliability, he was finally admitted to full membership. Josephus states that if a member was expelled for some serious infraction of discipline, he simply lay down in the desert and died of starvation, since he could not eat any other kind of food.

“Ichthys” was used by early Christians as a secret Christian symbol.

Between 60 B.C. and 69 A.D., the communes, which increased to 4,000 male members, continued with little alteration, while awaiting the coming of the Redeemer. However, as the Romans subjugated Galilee on their southward march toward Jerusalem, they came across various Essene communes and, suspecting the cultists of being a secret and conspiratorial society planning the overthrow of Roman rule, members were tortured under interrogation to reveal their secret doctrines. However, as Josephus tells us, they died, smiling, rather than violate their sacred oaths to never, no never, reveal their beliefs to anyone, no matter what the provocation might be.

An early circular ichthys symbol, created by combining the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ, Ephesus.
An early circular ichthys symbol, created by combining the Greek letters ΙΧΘΥΣ, Ephesus.

Secreting the Scrolls

Then an extraordinary event occurred. As the Romans approached the Dead Sea headquarters at Qumram, the Essenes placed their sacred writings in hundreds of earthen jars, sealed them carefully, and secreted them in various caves located in the rugged terrain. We believe that they expected to return in the not-too-distant future to resume their long-practiced way of life. But, of course, they never did.

Was Jesus an Essene?

The existence of the Essene cult had always been known from the extensive references to, and descriptions of, them in Josephus, Pliny, and Philo Judaeus. Interestingly enough, Thomas De Quincey, a famous English essayist, declared about 1825, that there never was a separate Essene organization; that the so-called Essenes were simply Christians gone underground; that otherwise we would have to accept the blasphemous conclusion that there were two independent, yet almost identical, revelations at the same time and in the same place.

There are scholars who believe that Jesus had been a full-fledged member of the Order; that he was persuaded that He was the personage foretold in their scriptures who would be empowered to establish the Kingdom of Righteousness, and that, therefore, he broke his vow of secrecy and preached the doctrines of the Order in the highways and the byways of Galilee. Some scholars are also convinced that not only John the Baptist but also the original core of men who established Christianity had been members of the Order. Some believe in addition that when their communes and headquarters were destroyed by the Romans, many of the Essenes became an integral and decisive element in the formation of the Christian movement. There was, in particular, one segment known as the Ebionites, or the Poor Men, who recreated in detail in their own literature, the doctrines, teachings, and discipline of the Essene communities. Actually, the three Synoptic Gospels, and especially Luke, are studded with statements in complete harmony with the cultic teachings, as is the so-called Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew. The more we study the Dead Sea Scrolls and the early canonical Christian

Scriptures, the more striking are the parallels which become evident. We have already noted that two important Essene documents were widely accepted by the early Christian converts as genuine scriptures of their own. Perhaps these converts had previously been Essenes.


The Great Discovery

In 1947, an event of world-shaking significance occurred. An Arab shepherd-boy, following a stray goat, entered an aperture on the side of a cliff and stumbled into a cave where the Essenes had secreted a number of jars containing scrolls. However, few of these were intact; most had been broken, and their contents scattered about the floor, much of the material torn into shreds. Obviously, the caves had been invaded, perhaps several times, with damage which cannot easily be assessed. However, after the Arabs had recovered two virtually complete manuscripts of Isaiah, a copy of the Manual of Discipline, The Thanksgiving Pslams, The Habkkuk Commentary, the Damascus Document, and the War scroll, they sold these to a group in New York; and, in a short time, they were made available to the world in translations by Millar Burrows, Dupont-Sommer, Gaza Vermes, and Theodore Gaster.

The Psalms Scroll (11Q5), one of the 972 texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with a partial Hebrew transcription.
The Psalms Scroll (11Q5), one of the 972 texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with a partial Hebrew transcription.

Many More Scrolls Discovered

Then began an archeological search without parallel in religious history. One expedition after another went to the Dead Sea area in search of more scrolls. One team was headed by Millar Burrows, who states in his Dead Sea Scrolls that material sufficient to fill three large volumes was found in a single cave, cave four in which two-thirds was original Essene scripture and the remainder consisted of Jewish canonical books. After these were placed in the Jordanian Museum in Jerusalem, an international team of eight scholars were selected to collect, piece together, and prepare for publication this incomparable treasure of source-material; of these, four were Roman Catholics; three had Protestant affiliations; and only one, John Marco Allegro, was without personal religious commitment. Without much delay, Allegro translated and published everything committed to him, including the delicate Copper Scroll, which listed precious metals and jewels worth millions of dollars secreted somewhere in the desert-where they still remain. However, he published also the material which tells the story of how Jannaeus crucified the rabbis; and after he declared in an interview that the Teacher of Righteousness may have been crucified in 70 or 69 B.C., by the Jewish authorities, he was thereafter denied all access to the Scrolls and was not even permitted to visit the Jordanian Museum in which they were kept. He complained bitterly that after years of delay not one line of the Scrolls, in addition to his, were translated and published; and this in spite of the fact that no less than 400 separate documents had been pieced together by 1965 and could just as easily have been given to the world, as were the four or five published shortly after the -original discovery.

A view of part of the Temple Scroll that was found in Qumran Cave 11.
A view of part of the Temple Scroll that was found in Qumran Cave 11.

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs contained a great many passages which had always be considered of Christian origin because they depict a personage in many respects similar to, or almost identical with, the character and mission attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. However, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, this theory became untenable as fragments of the Testaments written nearly a century before the emergence of Christianity were found scattered about the caves which contained the very statements which had always been believed to be Christian interpolations. When I learned about these, I wrote to the curator of the Jordanian Museum offering to fly there if I would be permitted to photograph a piece of parchment from the Testament of Levi. He replied that if I came, I would not even be permitted to look at it, much less take a picture of it.

The Six-Day War of 1967

And so, even though year after year had slipped by without any additional publication of Scroll material, I continued to hope that someday it would become available. But then, as you know, a catastrophic event occurred in 1967 — the Six-Day War, (as it is called) in which the Israelis seized all of Jerusalem, including the Jordanian Museum and its contents.

The Fate of the Scrolls

Over the years, until his death, I corresponded with Millar Burrows, who had written a sympathetic review of my book, The Essene Heritage, published in 1967. He refused to admit that there was any attempt to delay or prevent the publication of the Scrolls. Once he even declared that the Oxford Press was on the verge of releasing a large volume of this material; but the publishers stated to me in a letter that they had no such project under consideration.

Thus, year after year, I kept prodding Burrows on the subject, and his replies became more and more evasive until they ceased altogether.

The Damascus Document Scroll, 4Q271Df, found in Cave 4
The Damascus Document Scroll, 4Q271Df, found in Cave 4

One question continued to occupy my interest: what had become of the scrolls? Why were none of them published for so many years? Sometimes I wondered whether they woud survive or ever be made available to the public. However, we should note that even in the custody of the Jordanians, they were hold in the strictest secrecy-and why? I could only surmise that extreme pressure had been exerted by both Christian and Jewish sources: -from the former, because it would not be beneficial to them should it be established that this faith grew out of a Jewish cult and was, therefore, not an original revelation; nor would the Israelis wish the Scrolls released, since they were filled with fierce denunciations of Jewish religious leaders and civil authorities.

It is my considered opinion and my sad conclusion that the Dead Sea Scrolls will never be given to the world unless basic changes occur: first, they must be removed from the custody of the Israeli government and, second, we must establish an intellectual climate in the western world in which scholars and ministers can discuss religious subjects without fear of reprisals, in the form of lost prestige, removal from lucrative positions, loss, of salaries or other sanctions which can be enforced against anyone who dares to interfere with the emoluments or the powers of those who are most powerful and influential in society.

I think it is as simple as that. And at the back of my mind lingers a gnawing fear that instead of being translated and published, the leather or parchment on which the Scrolls are inscribed, may be physically destroyed or become undecipherable before anything is done to release them. And it is highly significant that for several years there has been little or no discussion anywhere concerning the Scrolls. It seems that by ignoring the whole subject, its significance will die in the public consciousness.

The War Scroll, found in Qumran Cave 1.
The War Scroll, found in Qumran Cave 1.

The Museum in Jerusalem

From various friends who have recently returned from tours of the Middle East, I have learned a number of significant details. There is now in Jerusalem an onion-top-shaped building, designed to resemble the earthen jars in which the Scrolls were placed in 69 A.D.; most of the structure is underground and resembles a tunnel. This building is called the Shrine of the Book, and tourists are told that it houses not only the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also other documents found at the fortress of Massada and still others related to the revolt of Bar Kokhba which occurred in 135 A.D. A 24-foot Scroll of Isaiah is on open display. I have been told that documents said to be original Scrolls are to be seen under extremely thick glass covers. I have been told also that in case of an emergency such as an attack, all the cases containing the manuscripts could be lowered into an impregnable underground vault.

An entrance into an excavated cave used by Bar Kokhba's rebels
An entrance into an excavated cave used by Bar Kokhba’s rebels

However, so far as I have been able to learn, no one is permitted to make an examination of these scrolls, touch them, or photograph them. No one, to whom I have talked, has the faintest idea of what is actually in the museum. And certainly, not one word of the Essene material has been published in the fourteen years that have elapsed since the Six-Day War.

Whether the Scrolls are there or in condition to be examined, I certainly do not know, nor have I been able to obtain any information on this score.

A cluster of papyrus containing Bar Kokhba's orders found in the Judean desert by modern Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin.
A cluster of papyrus containing Bar Kokhba’s orders found in the Judean desert by modern Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin.

The Future of the Scrolls

What, if anything, the future holds in store in this field beyond what is now occurring, remains of course to be seen. I can think of no possible valid reason why the Scrolls have been withheld now for nearly thirty years. If they could not be prepared for publication in that length of time, would a century or two centuries be enough? It seems to me that unless we can rescue them from their present custody and also achieve a new and different intellectual world climate, there is little hope that anyone now living will ever see any translation of these scrolls.

I consider what has happened and is continuing to occur in the matter of the Scrolls the greatest cover-up of important historical material that has occurred in modern history. The enemies are the special interests and a fierce bigotry that can only continue to persist by ignoring one of the most important questions that have ever faced world-scholarship. I do not expect to see any new developments during my lifetime, and it is one of the great disappointments of my career as a scholar and writer.

Two examples of the pottery that held some of the Dead Sea Scrolls documents found at Qumran.
Two examples of the pottery that held some of the Dead Sea Scrolls documents found at Qumran.

New Controversy Surrounds Alleged ‘Jesus Family Tomb’ (Tia Ghose, 2015)

NOTE: Archaeology is a science that is viewed cautiously and, in some cases, apprehensively, by more traditional Orthodox Christians. Because Scriptures are viewed as God-inspired and true, anything that contradicts them is usually dismissed as false or demonic. There are varying views in the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. A common view is, “We don’t need western scholars to interpret our Scriptures, we have the God-bearing Fathers.” More generally, there is a circular reasoning argument that exists: When science backs or supports something mentioned in Scriptures or the Fathers, this is used as a proof or validation of orthodoxy. When something contradicts, it is wrong. When it comes to archaeology, if it is a matter of objects dated to the right time period, it is used as validation.  If the dating disagrees, then carbon dating methods are criticized as an inaccurate science, or, “The Bible isn’t meant to be read as a scientifically or historically accurate book.” There are also many other “arguments” used–which lack any basis or evidence–to “validate” the inaccuracies contained within Scriptures and the writings of the Orthodox Church Fathers. This article is taken from Live Science, April 09, 2015:

A new piece of evidence is reigniting controversy over the potential bones of Jesus of Nazareth.

A tomb in a suburb of Jerusalem excavated in 1980 contains bone boxes with names of some of Jesus' family members. Some historians believe this tomb may have contained the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, though others are skeptical. Here, an ossuary from the Talpiot tomb. Many believe the inscription reads "Yeshua son of Yehosef," or "Jesus son of Joseph."
A tomb in a suburb of Jerusalem excavated in 1980 contains bone boxes with names of some of Jesus’ family members. Some historians believe this tomb may have contained the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, though others are skeptical. Here, an ossuary from the Talpiot tomb. Many believe the inscription reads “Yeshua son of Yehosef,” or “Jesus son of Joseph.”

A bone box inscribed with the phrase “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” is potentially linked to a tomb in Talpiot, Israel, where the bones of people with the names of Jesus’ family members are buried, according to a new chemical analysis. Aryeh Shimron, the geologist who conducted the study, claims that because it is so unlikely that this group of biblical names would be found together by chance, the new results suggest the tomb once held the bones of Jesus. Historians place Jesus’ birth at some time before 4 B.C. in Nazareth, a small village in Galilee.

“If this is correct, that strengthens the case for the Talpiot or Jesus Family Tomb being indeed the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth,” said Shimron, a retired geologist who has studied several archaeological sites in Israel.

If true, the idea that Jesus was buried on Earth would undermine one of the central tenets of Christianity — that Jesus was physically resurrected and rose bodily to heaven after his crucifixion.

But many historians are skeptical. They say the names on the bone boxes (inside the Talpiot tomb) don’t all match with those of Jesus’ family. In addition, the current research has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the experts say. [See Photos of the Controversial Bone Boxes]

Family of Jesus

In the time of Jesus, people buried the dead initially in a shroud, but once the flesh had rotted away, they often took the remaining bones and collected them in a small limestone box, called an ossuary, said Mark Goodacre, a New Testament and Christian origins scholar at Duke University in North Carolina who was not involved in the current study. [See Images of the Jonah Ossuary]

One of these bone boxes, the James Ossuary, made headlines in 2002, when it was first revealed. The first-century box is inscribed with Aramaic text that translates to “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” If it’s authentic, the ancient artifact could potentially be the only known relic from the family of Jesus of Nazareth.

The James Ossuary, which was held by a private collector since 1976, contains the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." New evidence suggests the bone box came from a tomb where other bone boxes with family names of Jesus of Nazareth are found.
The James Ossuary, which was held by a private collector since 1976, contains the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” New evidence suggests the bone box came from a tomb where other bone boxes with family names of Jesus of Nazareth are found.

But in 2003, the Israel Antiquities Authority argued that the “brother of Jesus” text was forged, and the collector, Oded Golan, was later tried for fraud. After seven years, an Israeli judge concluded that Golan was not guilty of forgery, in part because Golan produced a photograph of the box sitting on his shelf in 1976, and would therefore have not had an incentive to forge the inscription many years before he went public with the discovery.

Tomb raiders

In 1980, another group of researchers unearthed a first-century tomb in Talpiot, a suburb of Jerusalem. The tomb was flooded with a reddish soil called rendzina, and buried in this soil were 10 boxes, six of which were inscribed with names such as Jesus, Mary, Judah, Joseph and Yose. [Photos: 1st-Century House from Jesus’ Hometown]

The house seen here is one of two houses in Nazareth that date to the first century AD. Research reveals that people in the Middle Ages believed that Jesus grew up in this home.
The house seen here is one of two houses in Nazareth that date to the first century AD. Research reveals that people in the Middle Ages believed that Jesus grew up in this home.

The tomb came into the public spotlight with the 2007 documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” written by Israeli journalist and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, and produced by “Titanic” producer James Cameron. In recent years, Jacobovici has put forward the theory that the James Ossuary came from the Talpiot tomb — and that the tomb was the final resting place of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. But most archaeologists were skeptical of that claim, Goodacre said.

In the new study, Shimron took scrapings from several places on the James Ossuary and the Talpiot tomb ossuaries. He then compared the traces of chemicals — such as aluminum, magnesium, iron and potassium — from those boxes with about 30 to 40 randomly chosen ossuaries collected by the Israel Antiquities Authority. (Some bones were analyzed for DNA but could not be studied thoroughly because they were quickly reburied after excavation, as Jewish law forbids disturbing Jewish burials, Shimron said.)

Shimron found that the chemical signatures from the James Ossuary matched those from the Talpiot bone boxes.

“The flooding of [the] tomb was caused by this earthquake which hit Jerusalem in [A.D.] 363,” Shimron told Live Science. “That soil and mud that flooded the tomb also buried the ossuaries.”

Because both of the boxes contain chemical signatures associated with this soil, the findings suggest the James Ossuary originally came from the Talpiot tomb, Shimron said.

What’s in a name?

If true, the new findings could strengthen the case for the Talpiot tomb containing the bones of Jesus of Nazareth. In this interpretation,  after Joseph of Arimathea initially buried Jesus in an empty tomb, his body may have later been laid to rest in this family plot, said James Tabor, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who has worked in the past with Jacobovici, who financed the current research. [8 Alleged Relics of Jesus]

Altogether, ten bone boxes were unearthed during the 1980 excavations of the Talpiot tomb, though one mysteriously disappeared. Six of those boxes have inscriptions, many with names that match those of Jesus' family members. However, critics say that not all the names are a match. Here, some of the boxes from the Jesus family tomb.
Altogether, ten bone boxes were unearthed during the 1980 excavations of the Talpiot tomb, though one mysteriously disappeared. Six of those boxes have inscriptions, many with names that match those of Jesus’ family members. However, critics say that not all the names are a match. Here, some of the boxes from the Jesus family tomb.

The trouble is proving that the tomb belongs to Jesus of Nazareth and his family, rather than a completely different Jesus. The argument for the former theory rests on statistics — namely, that it would be incredibly unlikely that names associated with Jesus of Nazareth’s family would occur by chance for another unrelated Jesus, according to Jacobovici. Adding in another ossuary with names associated with Jesus — namely, the James Ossuary — would potentially buttress that statistical case.

But many experts say that statistical case doesn’t hold up. For one, almost all the names in the tomb were common at the time. In addition, some of the inscriptions, such as the name for Jesus, are hard to read, said Robert Cargill, a classics and religious studies professor at the University of Iowa in Ames, who was not involved in the study.

What’s more, some of the names found on ossuaries from the tomb have no historical precedent — such as “Judah, son of Jesus.”

“There’s no evidence at all that Jesus had a son at all, let alone a son called Judah,” Goodacre said.

One of the boxes is inscribed with what may be “Mariamne” or, alternatively, “Mary and Mara,” Goodacre added. While Jacobovici argues that the name corresponds to one of Jesus’ followers, Mary Magdalene, early Christians didn’t call Mary Magdalene “Mariamne” — rather, she was just called Mariam or Marya, Goodacre said.

When those inconsistencies are also considered, the statistical case for the names matching those of Jesus’ family falls apart, Cargill said.

Jacobovici disagrees with their interpretation of the statistics.

“The fact is that this tomb has more evidence going for it now than probably any other archaeological artifact on the planet. The names are not common and some of the versions of the names are unique e.g., ‘Yose’ (which corresponds to one of the brothers of Jesus),” Jacobovici said in an email to Live Science.

Debate heats up

Another inconsistency comes in the timing of the discoveries. The James Ossuary was in a collector’s hands by 1976, but the tomb wasn’t discovered until 1980, Cargill said.

The A.D. 363 earthquake opened up the tomb centuries ago, so it’s possible that the box was closer to the entrance of the tomb and was partly visible from the surface, whereas the other boxes were still submerged and hidden. Someone could have seen it and quickly absconded with it, without having discovered the other tombs, Tabor said.

In addition, Tabor argues that, as a Jewish man of his day, Jesus of Nazareth was more likely to be married with kids, rather than celibate. So the mention of Jesus’ son Judah is not problematic for their theory, even if Judah were never mentioned in historical documents, Tabor added.

The James ossuary was first revealed to the public in 2002, but the Israel Antiquities Authority later said that the latter part of the inscription - "brother of Jesus," was a forgery. After a seven-year trial, a judge cleared the Oded Golan, who owned the box, of forgery. Now, a new geological analysis says it has the same chemical signature as ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb.
The James ossuary was first revealed to the public in 2002, but the Israel Antiquities Authority later said that the latter part of the inscription – “brother of Jesus,” was a forgery. After a seven-year trial, a judge cleared the Oded Golan, who owned the box, of forgery. Now, a new geological analysis says it has the same chemical signature as ossuaries from the Talpiot tomb.

Theological questions

The new findings are incredibly controversial because they deal with one of the most polarizing figures in history — Jesus of Nazareth. Traditional Christians believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and ascended to heaven after he was crucified and returned to walk on Earth, Tabor said.

“If you find the bones of Jesus, the resurrection is off,” Tabor told Live Science. Conservative Christians “see it as an attack on Christianity and also a refutation of the faith of Christianity.”

But Goodacre and Cargill said theological questions don’t factor into their skepticism. Rather, the real issue is that the scientific standards have not been met, Cargill said.

Ossuaries, or bone boxes, were fairly common during the time of Jesus. Families would typically bury people in a linen shroud, and once the flesh had rotted away, the bones would be collected and placed in a limestone or chalk box. Here, the ossuary thought to hold the bones of Caiaphas family. According to the New Testament, Caiaphas was a Jewish high priest who masterminded the plot to kill Jesus.
Ossuaries, or bone boxes, were fairly common during the time of Jesus. Families would typically bury people in a linen shroud, and once the flesh had rotted away, the bones would be collected and placed in a limestone or chalk box. Here, the ossuary thought to hold the bones of Caiaphas family. According to the New Testament, Caiaphas was a Jewish high priest who masterminded the plot to kill Jesus.

Tomb of Lazarus, Bethany

Bethany (Arabic: al-Azariyya) is a Muslim and Christian Arab village (pop. 3,600) on the southeast slopes of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. Bethany was the home of the Lazarus, Mary and Martha and the setting for a number of New Testament events.

The Tomb of Lazarus in Bethany has long been venerated by Christians and Muslims alike, and a modern church dedicated to the resurrected saint stands on the site of much older ones.

19th century photograph of the tomb said to have belonged to Lazarus
19th century photograph of the tomb said to have belonged to Lazarus


Bethany was the home of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:38-44), and his sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus often stayed in their home.

Jesus was anointed at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany (Mark 14:3) and returned to Bethany after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:11). According to Luke 24:50, Jesus ascended into heaven near Bethany (commemorated at the Chapel of the Ascension).

The Tomb of Lazarus today (Bethany)
The Tomb of Lazarus today (Bethany)


A village has been here since at least Roman times, and nearby was an Iron Age settlement that is believed to be the biblical Ananiah in the territory of Benjamin (Neh. 11:32) that is called Bethany in the New Testament (Beth Ananiah = Bethany).

There is no record of a church in Bethany in the 4th century, although both Eusebius the historian and the Bordeaux pilgrim (333) mention the tomb of Lazarus in a vault or crypt. Around 490 AD, St. Jerome recorded visiting the Tomb of Lazarus as the guest room of Mary and Martha, which is the Lazarium mentioned by the pilgrim Egeria in her account of the liturgy on Saturday in the seventh week of Lent:

This structure known as the Lazarium was destroyed in an earthquake and was replaced by a larger Church of St. Lazarus in the 6th century. The church was mentioned by Theodosius before 518 and by Arculf around 680, and survived intact until Crusader times.

Inside the Tomb of Lazarus
Inside the Tomb of Lazarus

During the Crusades, King Fulk and Queen Melisande purchased the village of Bethany from the Patriarch of the Holy Sepulchre in 1143 in exchange for land near Hebron. Melisande built a large Benedictine convent dedicated to Mary and Martha, extensively repaired the old church of Lazarus and rededicated it to Mary and Martha. She also built a new west church to St. Lazarus over his tomb; fortified the monastic complex with a tower; and endowed it with the estates of the village of Jericho.

The convent of Sts. Mary and Martha became one of the richest convents in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Melisande’s sister Joveta was elected abbess at the age of 24. Afer the fall of the Crusader kingdom in 1187, the nuns went into exile. The new west church was probably destroyed at this time, with only the tomb and barrel vaulting surviving; the 6th-century church and tower were heavily damaged but remained standing.

The village seems to have been abandoned thereafter, but a visitor in 1347 mentioned Greek monks attending the tomb chapel. By 1384, a mosque had been built on the site. In the 16th century, the Mosque of al-Uzair (Ezra) was built in the Crusader vault, which initially made Christian access to the tomb more difficult. However, the Franciscans were permitted to cut a new entrance on the north side of the tomb and at some point the original entrance from the mosque was blocked (photo, right).

In 1952-55 a modern Franciscan church dedicated to St. Lazarus was built over the Byzantine church of St. Lazarus and Crusader east church of Sts. Mary and Martha. In 1965, a Greek church was built just west of the Tomb of Lazarus.

Lazarus1 Lazarus2



The forecourt of the Franciscan Church of St. Lazarus stands over the west end of the older churches, from which parts of the original mosaic floor are preserved. The west wall of the forecourt contains the west facade of the 6th-century basilica, with three doorways.

The cruciform-plan church stands over the east end of the older churches. Trapdoors in the floor just inside reveal parts of the apse of the 4th-century church (the Lazarium), which was shorter than the 6th-century church. The modern church bears a mosaic on its facade depicting Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The interior is decorated with polished stone and mosaics.

Just up the hill on the left is the 16th-century Mosque of al-Uzair. The courtyard is in the Byzantine church atrium and the mosque is built in the vault that formerly supported the west end of the 12th-century church.

A further 25m up the hill on the left is the modern entrance to theTomb of Lazarus, which is accessed by 24 very uneven stone steps. This probably was a rock-cut tomb, but very little of its original form remains. The rock probably collapsed under the weight of the large Crusader church built above it.

The original blocked entrance can be seen in the east wall of the antechamber; this alignment suggests the tomb predates the Byzantine churches and may well be from the time of Lazarus.


Even further up the hill is a modern Greek Orthodox church that incorporates a wall of the Crusader church built over the tomb. Nearby are substantial ruins that belong to the Orthodox Patriarchate and are traditionally identified as the House of Simon the Leper(where Jesus was anointed) or the House of Lazarus. The remains of a tower belong to the Crusader monastery (c.1144).


The 8 Cases of Suicide in the Bible (Alexander Murray)

NOTE: Although the early Church Fathers allowed the taking of one’s life under certain circumstances, later Church Fathers believed that suicide was not allowed in any circumstance.

St. Clement of Alexandria (3rd century) taught that Christians must not engage in suicide martyrdom because, according to Clement, any man who kills a godly person sins against God, even if that man is himself. Moreover, Christians ought to flee whenever possible because voluntarily presenting themselves for judgment makes them partially guilty of their own deaths. (Stromata, Book 4:4-11)

St. Ambrose of Milan praises St. Pelagia of Antioch for killing herself to preserve her chastity.
St. Ambrose of Milan praises St. Pelagia of Antioch for killing herself to preserve her chastity.

The early Church Father St Jerome categorically stated that Christ would not receive the soul of one who commits suicide. [Saint Jerome, Letters 39:3]. Eusebius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome make however an interesting exception to their otherwise absolute and inclusive condemnation: those who commit suicide in order to preserve their chastity.

St. John Chrysostom praises St. Domina for killing her own two daughters, and then herself, in order to preserve their chastity.
St. John Chrysostom praises St. Domina for killing her own two daughters, and then herself, in order to preserve their chastity.

Other Church Fathers believed that suicide was not allowed in any circumstance. St. Augustine of Hippo believed that anyone who took his or her own life was beyond repentance because that person had violated the sixth commandment which clearly states “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). After the 4th century AD, the Church no longer accepted women who committed suicide in order to preserve their chastity into the ranks of Saints. Men and women now had to have patience and endure (with thanksgiving and prayer, no doubt) the rapes and other forms of sexual abuse and humiliation (whether singular or gang rapes) that they endured at the hands of their captors or abusers.

Contrary to earlier Patristic teachings, St. Augustine rejected all forms of suicide, even to preserve one's chastity.
Contrary to earlier Patristic teachings, St. Augustine rejected all forms of suicide, even to preserve one’s chastity.

The Orthodox Church commemorates the Feast Day of saints who committed suicide: Agathonike (October 13), St. Apollonia of Alexandria (February 9), St. Euplus of Catania (August 11), Sts. Domnina, with her two daughters Bernike and Prosdoke (October 4), St. Pelagia of Antioch (June 9), St. Lucretia (November 22), etc.

As well, Church Fathers like St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose praise many of these Virgin-Martyr saints for committing suicide—and in the case of St. Domina who threw her two daughters into the river—murder to preserve their chastity.