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. 

http://www.podiatryinfocanada.ca/public/origins-of-foot-washing-and-foot-kissing

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.

POST SCRIPT

FOOT WASHING CEREMONY IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

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.

GENDERED AND SEXY FEET IN THE SCRIPTURES

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)

http://biblefeet.blogspot.com/2009/03/gendered-feet-and-sexy-feet.html

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.

THE MEANING OF FEET IN THE SCRIPTURES

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.

http://biblefeet.blogspot.com/2009/03/and-did-those-feetthe-meaning-of-feet.html

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

 

 

 

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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: https://archive.org/details/Philokalia-TheCompleteText

Also see the Saint’s book: The Institutes of the Coenobia: http://www.osb.org/lectio/cassian/inst/

 

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).

kolasi-edited

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-c15th-averice-pope-bisop-cardinal-monks-prince
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).

Demon

 

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.

Presepe_naples_rome2
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.

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_The_Nativity_between_Prophets_Isaiah_and_Ezekiel_-_WGA06754
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 http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/free-ebooks/the-first-christmas-the-story-of-jesus-birth-in-history-and-tradition/

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The “Dragon-Slayer” Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church

NOTE: The following article is a brief compilation of dragon accounts found in the Synaxarion of pre-Schism Orthodox Saints. Though some Orthodox commentators interpret these incidents as allegorical—either symbolizing the devil, paganism, or heresy—the fact remains that many of the Synaxarion of both Eastern and Western Saints before the Great Schism contain accounts of dragons, satyrs, centaurs, and other mythological creatures.

dragon_ancient

20th century Christian “rationalism” easily allocates dragons to the category of “allegory.” Yet even in the 21st century many of the simple village Greeks (Οι χωριάτες) still interpret these synaxarion literally—i.e. they believe that these saints literally slew dragons. It is impossible to determine the percentage of the medieval population that interpreted these stories literally. However, even the highly educated and God-inspired Church Fathers wrote and taught about the real existence of mythological creatures [St. Photius the Great, St. Athanasius the Great, St. John Damascene, St. Ephraim the Syrian, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, etc.] Though the following compilation is by no means a complete list, it will give the reader an understanding of the widespread belief in dragons (and other imaginary creatures) throughout medieval Orthodox Christendom.

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Prophet Daniel (December 17, †6th century BC): Bel and the Dragon is an apocryphal Jewish story which appears as chapter 14 of the Septuagint Greek version of the Book of Daniel and is accepted as scripture by some Christians, though not in Jewish tradition.  Daniel slays the dragon by baking pitch, fat, and hair (trichas) to make cakes (mazas, barley-cakes, but translated “lumps”) that cause the dragon to burst open upon consumption:

bel_dragon

“And in that same place there was a great dragon, which they of Babylon worshipped. And the king said unto Daniel, Wilt thou also say that this is of brass? lo, he liveth, he eateth and drinketh; thou canst not say that he is no living god: therefore worship him. Then said Daniel unto the king, I will worship the Lord my God: for he is the living God. But give me leave, O king, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff. The king said, I give thee leave. Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof: this he put in the dragon’s mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder: and Daniel said, Lo, these are the gods ye worship. When they of Babylon heard that, they took great indignation, and conspired against the king, saying, The king is become a Jew, and he hath destroyed Bel, he hath slain the dragon, and put the priests to death. So they came to the king, and said, Deliver us Daniel, or else we will destroy thee and thine house. Now when the king saw that they pressed him sore, being constrained, he delivered Daniel unto them: Who cast him into the lions’ den: where he was six days.” (Daniel 14:23-31)

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/5834178

St. Thomas the Apostle (October 6, 72): St. Thomas slays a dragon in India (see Acts of Thomas 30-3, ca. 220-40 AD). The apocryphal Acts of Thomas exhibit both Gnostic and Encratite affinities. The action takes place during St. Thomas’ mission to India. The fundamental correspondence with the Gospel of Thomas Tale and in particular with Lucian’s Philopseudes tale is striking.

St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis (detail)
St Philip Driving the Dragon from the Temple of Hieropolis (detail)

St. Philip the Apostle (November 4, 80): It is to St. Philip that the richest of all early hagiographical dragon-slaying narratives attach. Two closely related 4th-century AD Greek texts, the Acts of Philip and the Martyrion of Philip, bestow upon him three major dragon fights—doublets in origin, no doubt, but each now strongly differentiated and of considerable interest in its own right. These tales are important not only for their complex engagement with the classical dragon-slaying tradition, but also for the light they shed upon the religious battles of their own day. [See Acts of Philip 8:4, 7, 15-17, 9(V), 11:2-8, 13:1-4, 14:1-3, 14:7-9, 15.1 Martyrion of Philip 2(A), 7(V), 12-17 (V), 19-20 (V), 24(V), 26-8(V), 32(V), 39(V), 42(V)]

martamarylazarusSt. Martha of Bethany (June 4, †1st century): According to legend, St Martha left Judea after Jesus’ death, around AD 48, and went to Provence with her sister Mary and her brother Lazarus. With them, Martha first settled in Avignon (now in France). A further legend relates that Martha then went to Tarascon, France, where a monster, the Tarasque, was a constant threat to the population. The Golden Legend describes it as a beast from Galicia; a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than an horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent, that dwelt in a certain wood between Arles and Avignon. Holding a cross in her hand, Martha sprinkled the beast with holy water. Placing her sash around its neck, she led the tamed dragon through the village. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarasque

St Clement & the Graoully
St Clement & the Graoully

St. Clement, first Bishop of Metz (November 23, †1st century): According to legend, St. Clement, disciple of St. Pierre, would have arrived in Metz in the 1st century, accompanied by two disciples, Celeste and Felix. According to critics, the arrival of St. Clement only dates back to the end of the 3rd century, thus backing up allegations that St. Clement was a disciple of Saint Pierre.

The Graoully in the crypt of Metz Cathedral
The Graoully in the crypt of Metz Cathedral

St. Clement of Metz, like many other saints, is the hero of a legend in which he is the vanquisher of a local dragon. In the legend of Saint Clement it is called the Graoully or Graouilly. The legend states that the Graoully, along with countless other snakes, inhabited the local Roman amphitheater. The snakes’ breath had so poisoned the area that the inhabitants of the town were
effectively trapped in the town. After converting the local inhabitants to Christianity after they agreed to do so in return for ridding them of the dragon, Clement went into the amphitheater and quickly made the sign of the cross after the snakes attacked him. They immediately were tamed by this. Clement led the Graoully to the edge of the Seille, and ordered him to disappear into a place where there were no men or beasts. Orius did not convert to Christianity after Clement tamed the dragon. However, when the king’s daughter died, Clement brought her back from the dead, thereby resulting in the king’s conversion. The Graoully quickly became a symbol of the town of Metz and can be seen in numerous demonstrations of the city, since the 10th century. http://www.culture-routes.lu/php/fo_index.php?lng=en&dest=bd_ar_det&id=00000300

Saint Beatus Hermit of Thun, Apostle of Switzerland (ca. †112)

St. Beatus Hermit of Thun, Apostle of Switzerland (ca. †112): While legend claims that he was the son of a Scottish king, other legends place his birth in Ireland. Beatus was a convert, baptized in England by St. Barnabas. He was allegedly ordained a priest in Rome by St. Peter the Apostle, whereupon he was sent with a companion named Achates to evangelize the tribe of the Helvetii. The two set up a camp in Argovia near the Jura Mountains, where they converted many of the locals. Beatus then ventured south to the mountains above Lake Thun, taking up a hermitage in what is now known as St. Beatus Caves, near the village of Beatenberg, probably in the ninth century. Tradition states that this cave is where he fought a dragon. St. Beatus’ grave is located between the monastery and the cave entrance.

St. Beatus Caves
St. Beatus Caves

St. Quirinus of Vaux-sur-Seine, France (October 11, †285): No trustworthy historical report exists of the martyrs Nicasius, Quirinus, Scubiculus, and Pientia. One legend states that they died in 285 AD and that Nicasius was one of the first missionaries sent from Rome to evangelize Gaul in the first century. Nicasius thus may have been a regionary bishop. Quirinus is stated to have been his priest while his deacon was Scubiculus (who is known as Egobille in France). According to the legend he was put to death, together with Nicasius, in the pagus Vulcassinus (Vexin).

One variant of the legend states that Quirinus, Nicasius, and the deacon Scubiculus were sent to Gaul by Pope Clement, accompanying Saint Denis there. At Vaux-sur-Seine, Quirinus fought and defeated a dragon, which had lay waste to the area and poisoned a well.

Bienheure

St. Bienheuré of Vendôme, France (†3rd century): Tradition states that he lived in a cave near the town. Like St. George, he is said to have fought a dragon. His legend was conflated with that of Beatus of Lungern. The legend states that Bienheuré fasted and prayed before fighting the dragon. According to the legend, the dragon was so large that when it went to drink from a river at some distance away, its tail still lay in its cave. It was also so large that it drained the Loir when it drank from it. There are three versions of this combat: the first states that the dragon fled at the sight of St. Bienheuré; the second version states that Saint Bienheuré defeated the dragon with one blow from his staff; the third states that the dragon strangled itself with its chain.

St. Julian, First Bishop of Le Mans, France (January 27th, †3rd or 4th century): p He was consecrated a bishop at Rome and around the middle of the 3rd century, Julian was sent to Gaul to preach the Gospel to the tribe of the Cenomani. Their capital city was Civitas Cenomanorum (Le Mans), which was suffering from a shortage of drinking water. According to the legends surrounding his life, Julian thrust his staff into the ground and prayed. Water began to gush out of the ground. This miracle allowed him to preach freely within Le Mans. Other traditions state that St. Julian and one of his successors—St. Pavatius—killed the monsters which guarded a spring.

Red Dragon Fresco, St. Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vienne, France
Red Dragon Fresco, St. Savin-sur-Gartempe, Vienne, France
St. Crescentinus Kills the Dragon
St. Crescentinus Kills the Dragon

St. Crescentinus of Umbria, Italy (June 1, †303): Patron saint of Urbino. Crescentinus is traditionally said to have been a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity. To escape the persecutions of Diocletian, he fled to Umbria, and found refuge at Thifernum Tiberinum (the present-day Città di Castello). His defeat of a dragon led to a successful evangelization of the region together with his companions. His mission was confined particularly to the Tiber valley and the ancient Thifernum Tiberinum. He was subsequently beheaded.

St Margaret of Antioch & the Dragon, Medieval Book of Hours Illustartion
St Margaret of Antioch & the Dragon, Medieval Book of Hours Illustartion

St. Marina (Margaret of Antioch, July 17, †303): According to the version of the story in Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, and she was the daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. Her mother having died soon after her birth, Margaret was nursed by a pious woman five or six leagues from Antioch. Having embraced Christianity and consecrated her virginity to God, she was disowned by her father, adopted by her nurse and lived in the country keeping sheep with her foster mother (in what is now stmargaret02Turkey). Olybrius, Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East, asked to marry her but with the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon’s innards. The Golden Legend, in an atypical passage of skepticism, describes this last incident as “apocryphal and not to be taken seriously” (trans. Ryan, 1.369).

St. Ammon of Nitria (October 4, †357): I don’t believe that what we heard about Ammon, from a certain holy man we saw in the wilderness in the place in which he had lived, should be omitted. And so when, having parted from the blessed Apollonius, we proceeded to the part of the wilderness opposite Meridianum, we saw a dragon’s huge dragging tracks across the sand; his size had appeared so great that it looked like some treetrunk had been drawn through the sand. So that as we looked, we were struck with huge terror.

Monasticlocations

But the brothers who had escorted us encouraged us to dread nothing at all, but to rather to take hold of faith and follow the dragon’s track. ‘For you will see,’ they said, ‘how much faith may prevail, when you would have quenched it out of us. For we kill many dragons and snakes and vipers* with our hands; for as we read it written that the Savior allows those believing in Him “to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.”‘ (Lk. 10:19) But with them saying this, we dreaded more and more because of the fragility of our faithlessness, and we asked them not to want to follow the dragon’s tracks, but rather that we might proceed straight on the road. Yet one of them, impatient, had followed the dragon with alacrity. And when he had found its cave not far off, he called us so that we might have gone to him and seen the end of the business.

Yet another of the brothers who dwelt nearby in the desert hurried to meet us, and forbade us to follow the dragon, saying we could not endure his appearance, especially because we were not used to seeing anything such as that. Truly, he said that he himself frequently saw that same beast of incredible devastation, and that it was fifteen cubits long. And when he had advised us against approaching the place, he hurried himself to pull away, recall, and turn back the brother who had awaited us, prepared for the beast’s killing and unwilling to depart unless he had killed it…

St Ammon of Nitria

“Afterwards, at a different time, with a certain most immense dragon having laid waste to the neighboring regions and killed many, the inhabitants of that place came to the above-mentioned Father, asking him that he might kill the beast for their region; and at the same time, that they might persuade the old man to mercy, they brought a shepherd’s young son with them who had been terrified out of his mind by only a sight of the dragon, and had felled and been carried off, unable to move and swollen, from only the dragon’s breath. Then he restored health to this boy, indeed by anointing him with oil.

“Meanwhile, he would promise nothing to those urging him to kill the dragon himself, as if one who could not help them with anything. But rising early, he went off to the beast’s sleeping place, and fixed his knees to the earth, begging the Lord. Then the beast began to come against him with a huge attack, sending out foul snorting and hisses and rattles. But fearing nothing of this, he said, turning toward the dragon, ‘May Christ, the Son of God, Who shall destroy the great whale, destroy you.’ And when that old man spoke, immediately that direst dragon also vomiting poison with every breath, blew up, bursting down the middle.

“But when the neighboring inhabitants would have gathered and wondered at it, unable to bear the violence of the stink, they got together an immense mass of sand over it — with Father Ammon still standing by, because not even when the beast was dead did they dare approach it without him.” (St. Rufinus of Aquileia’s Historia Monachorum, chapter 8. (PL 21: 420, 14 – 422, 4.)

St. Sylvester I, Pope of Rome (January 2, 335): Pope Sylvester I was called in to kill a dragon that lived in a moat and devoured three hundred people daily. He went up to the beastie, called out Christ’s name, and bound its jaws together with a rope, when he then fixed permanently with the sign of the cross. St. Sylvester is often depicted leading a dragon on a chain.

Saint Silvester stops the dragon (Romanesque fresco) [12th century]
Saint Silvester stops the dragon (Romanesque fresco) [12th century]
There are two different versions of the Acts of Silvester—one dated ca. 500 AD and the other text a century or so earlier. Both texts project the dragon as an object of pagan cult. The A text has the Vestal Virgins taking food down into its cave to it. The B text is less specific about the identity of the virgins and ascribes the lead role in its cult rather to an undefined group of ‘mages’, no doubt in a desire to emphasize the fraud and illegitimacy of the creature’s worship. Whilst the A text does not specify the actual location of its dragon’s cave, the B text locates it in the Tarpeian rock. This was some 300 yards distant from Vesta’s temple in the Forum. Cakes of grain and honey were regularly given to the sacred snakes, both real and imaginary, that lived in Greek and Roman shrines. These narratives offer one of the most striking examples amongst Christian ones of the pestilential breath the dragon can produce. Silvester defeats the dragon by locking it up with key and chain in an abyss; thus the dragon is confined deep inside the earth, albeit in its own hole. This is also the final fate of the dragons faced by Thomas and Philip.

Saint Silvester stops the dragon
Saint Silvester stops the dragon

St. Donatus of Arezzo (August 7, †362): Passio of Donatus’ life was written by a bishop of Arezzo, Severinus. It states that Donatus brought back to life a woman named Euphrosina; fought and slew a dragon who had poisoned the local well; gave sight back to a blind woman named Syriana; and exorcised a demon that had been tormenting Asterius, the son of the Roman prefect of Arezzo.

180px-Hilarion_the_GreatSt. Hilarion the Hermit (October 21, †371): In Croatia, St. Hilarion destroyed a dragon by bidding the people to make a fire, into which he commanded the dragon to go. It did so and was cremated: “An enormous serpent, of the sort which the people of those parts call “boas” because they are so large that they often swallow oxen [boves], was ravaging the whole province far and wide, and was devouring not only flocks and herds, but husbandmen and shepherds who were drawn in by the force of its breathing. He [Hilarion] ordered a pyre to be prepared for it, then sent up a prayer to Christ, called forth the reptile, bade it climb the pile of wood, and then applied the fire. And so before all the people he burnt the savage beast to ashes. But now he began anxiously to ask what he was to do, whither to betake himself. Once more he prepared for flight, and in thought ranged through solitary lands, grieving that his miracles could speak of him though his tongue was silent.” (St. Jerome, Life of St. Hilarion the Hermit, Paragraph 39, http://www.voskrese.info/spl/jer-hilarion.html )

[It is perhaps worth mentioning that a short way down the coast from Epidaurus was the town of Bouthoé, (now Budva, Montenegro), famous in legend as the place to which the dragon-slaying hero Cadmus and his wife Harmonia had retired in old age, and where by some accounts they had themselves assumed reptilian forms. The town was supposedly named for the oxen (boés) which had drawn their cart from Greece to Illyria.]

Mercurialis of Forlì

St. Mercurialis, First Bishop of Forlì (May 23, †406): was the Christian bishop of Forlì, in Romagna. The historical figure known as Mercurialis attended the Council of Rimini in 359 and died around 406. He was a zealous opponent of paganism and Arianism. Many remarkable adventures were woven onto legends about his life. The legend states that he was the first bishop of Forlì, during the Apostolic Age, and saved the city by killing a dragon. He has often been depicted in this act, imagery that resembles that associated with St. George. The cathedral of Forlì is named after him.

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St. Marcellus, Bishop of Paris, Confessor (November 1, †5th century): The life of St. Marcellus was written by Venantius Fortunatus. St. Marcellus scared off a dragon that was attacking tiny pre-medieval Paris. The dragon in this story is ambiguous, being either chthonic or aquatic, and the saint in banishing it gives it the choice of disappearing into the desert, that is the wilderness, or the sea, which in the Parisian case is the river.

Fortunatus  then goes into all sorts of considerations of dragons in the Fathers, dragons in medieval saints’ legends, Rogation procession dragons, and so on. He points out that dragons often are explicitly a symbol of a particular nation (like the Welsh and Saxon dragons fighting each other, or the Draco Normannicus), or are thought of as just an impressive animal (Romans and medievals believed that dragons were the largest animal in existence, as Mediterranean whales were big but not as big as oceangoing whales), or as a symbol of pagan beliefs or an unjust government. They don’t always represent the Devil, although they often do. St. Marcellus came to be known as the “Patron Saint of Vampire Hunters.”

st-keyne-web

St Keyne (October 5, †505): The virgin recluse, called variously St. Cain, Keyne or Ceinwen, migrated from Brecknock in Wales to Keynsham in Somersetshire. The town is named after the Saint. It is said that when she arrived there, the lord of the manor gave her a piece of land, but it was so infested with huge venomous snakes that no prospective converts would visit her. Undismayed, she turned the snakes into stone, and tradition claims that the fossilised ammonites, which abound in the area, are their remains.

St Vigor

St. Vigor, Bishop of Bayeux (November 1, 537): When he had made the Sign of the Cross and made the dragon unable to resist him, and he had leashed the dragon with his stole in the best approved French style (making it “like a tame sheep”), he handed the dragon’s leash to Theudemir, with instructions to take it to the seashore, so that it would have no more power on the land.  the taming of the Dragon of Cerisy Forest was legendarily the reason that Volusianus, a local nobleman, gave the land to St. Vigor to start the monastery of Cerisy.

Horsham - St Leonard's Forest Dragon
Horsham – St Leonard’s Forest Dragon

St. Leonard of Limousin (†559): A Frankish nobleman who was baptised at the court of King Clovis in 498 by St Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, and then settled for a religious life. St. Leonard’s prayers ensured the safe delivery of Clovis’s child, and he was given as a reward as much land as he could ride round on a donkey in a day. He established a monastery on this land at Noblac near Limoges, and became its abbot. In his old age he became a forest hermit. There is a forest in West Sussex, England named after him.

Horsham - St Leonard's Forest Dragon Bench
Horsham – St Leonard’s Forest Dragon Bench

There is also a legend of St. Leonard the Dragon Slayer who lived in the forest and slew the last dragon in England. Æthelweard’s Chronicle of 770AD mentions “Monstrous serpents were seen in the country of the Southern Angles that is called Sussex”. St. Leonard was injured and Lilies of the Valley grow where his blood fell – an area of the forest is still called The Lily Beds. As a reward he requested that snakes be banished and the nightingales which interrupted his prayers should be silenced. However, dragons were still around in August 1614 as a pamphlet was published with the title “Discourse relating a strange and monstrous Serpent (or Dragon) lately discovered, and yet living, to the great Annoyance and divers Slaughters both of Men and Cattell, by his strong and violent Poyson. In Sussex, two miles from Horsam, in a Woode called St. Leonards Forrest, and thirtie miles from London, this present month of August, 1614”.

St. Samson and Dragon

St. Samson of Dol (July 28, †565): Some historians have argued that the St. Vigor story is drawn from the first Vita of Samson of Dol. However there are crucially different details in the two stories. The two saints do have a young companion in each story, but in the Samson story the boy is merely an observer and does not lead the tamed dragon away. Moreover, Samson flings the dragon from a height, and there is no mention of waters of any kind, in contrast to the sea in the Vigor story. Finally the dragon is commanded to die by Samson, while it is clearly left alive by Vigor. Saint Samson defeats another dragon later on, which he does fling into the sea, and charges to die in the name of Christ. In another of St. Samson’s dragon stories, he banishes the dragon without killing it. But instead of flinging it into the sea, the saint commands it to cross the river Seine, and to remain under a certain stone, revealing this dragon as a chthonic figure.

Saint Serf or Serbán (Servanus) (July 1, †583) is a saint of Scotland. Serf was venerated in western Fife. He is also called the apostle of Orkney, with less historical plausibility.  At Dunning, in Strathearn, he is said to have slain a dragon with his pastoral staff.

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St. Veranus, Bishop of Cavaillon (October 19, †590): A French saint, with a cultus in Italy. St. Gregory of Tours writes of miracles performed by Veranus, including the expulsion of a dragon. St. Veranus captured and expelled a winged dragon that had been terrorizing the region near his hermitage in Vaucluse. Making the sign of the cross, he commanded the creature “by the living and eternal God” never to harm anyone again.

St Gregory of tours

St. Gregory of Tours (November 17, †594):  In 589, a great flood of the Tiber River sent a torrent of water rushing through the city of Rome. According to Gregory, a contemporary bishop of Tours with contacts to the south, the floodwaters carried with them some rather remarkable detritus: several dying serpents and, perhaps most strikingly, the corpse of a dragon. The flooding was soon followed by a visitation of bubonic plague, which had been haunting Mediterranean ports since 541: “…In the month of November, the River Tiber had covered Rome with such flood water…A great school of water-snakes swam down the course of the river to the sea, in their midst a tremendous dragon as big as a tree trunk, but these monsters were drowned in the turbulent salt sea-waves and their bodies were washed up on the shore. As a result there followed an epidemic, which caused swellings in the groin” (History of the Franks, Book X, chapter 1).

Saint Carantoc of Wales (May 16, †6th century): Many details of his life are obscure or contradictory. The people of Carhampton who had been terrorised by a flying dragon. King Arthur said that he would strike a bargain with the saint. If St Carantoc could call up the dragon from the marches then he would restore the Altar to its owner. St Carantoc nodded and turned away in prayer, uttering a strange incantation over the swamp. Immediately the bog heaved and parted and amidst a terrible smell the dragon appeared right in front of the retinue. Only Arthur and the Saint stood their ground while the rest backed away in horror. The dragon the trotted up to the Saint and bent its head in submission. St Carantoc then led the dragon to the court of King Catho at Dunster Castle where the dragon was forced to vow never to hurt another soul again. So transformed was the dragon by the Saint that it never ate meat again and only used its fiery breath to aid the villagers in lighting bonfires in the rain. St Carantoc was granted land by the Kings and built his chapel by the river at Carhampton.

Saint Romanus, Gargouille, and presumably, the convict

St. Romain of Rouen, France (October 23, †640): The Catholic Encyclopedia claims that his legend has little historical value with little authentic information. St. Romain caught the Gargouille. On the left bank of the Seine were wild swamps through which rampaged a huge serpent or dragon who “devoured and destroyed people and beasts of the field”. Romanus decided to hunt in this area but could only find one man to help him, a man condemned to death who had nothing to lose. They arrived in the serpent’s land and Romanus drew the sign of the cross on the beast. It then lay down at his feet and let Romanus put his stole on him as a leash, in which manner he led it into the town to be condemned to death and burned on the parvis of the cathedral (or thrown into the Seine according to other authors). This legend was the origin for the bishops’ privilege (lasting until 1790) to pardon one prisoner condemned to death each year, by giving the pardoned man or woman the reliquary holding Romanus’s relics in a procession.

793 - Image of a fire dragon

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Entry for 793: “In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people shook; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and a little after those, that same year on 6th ides of January, the ravaging of wretched heathen people destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.”

Viking Dragon Ship.  Manuscript, Northumbia, England, 900s AD
Viking Dragon Ship. Manuscript, Northumbia, England, 900s AD

Saint Hermentaire (†10th century): Draguignan is a commune in the Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, in southeastern France. According to legend, the name of the city is derived from the Latin name “Draco/Draconem” (dragon): a bishop, called Saint Hermentaire, killed a dragon and saved people. The Latin motto of Draguignan is Alios nutrio, meos devoro (I feed others, I devour my children).  The name of Draguignan (“Dragonianum”) appeared for the first time in 909.

Coat of arms of Draguignan
Coat of arms of Draguignan

http://www.amazon.com/Drakon-Dragon-Serpent-Greek-Worlds/dp/0199557322/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

http://www.amazon.com/Dragons-Serpents-Slayers-Classical-Christian/dp/0199925119/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

The Hypocrisy of the Old Testament

One of the names of the primary Judaic god is El Shaddai. According to Exodus 6:2, 3, Shaddai (שַׁדַּי) is the name of the god known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The name Shaddai is again used as the god’s name later in the Book of Job. The root word “shadad” (שדד) means “to overpower” or “to destroy”. This would give Shaddai the meaning of “destroyer”, representing one of the aspects of the god, and in this context it is essentially an epithet. Ēl is a Northwest Semitic word meaning “god” or “deity” and it is used as the name of major Ancient Near East deities, including the God of the Hebrew Bible. El is a generic word for god that could be used for any god, including Hadad, Moloch, or Yahweh. Thus El Shaddai means “God the Destroyer.” The Septuagint and other early translations usually translate “El Shaddai” as “God Almighty.” However in the Greek of the Septuagint translation of Psalm 91.1, “Shaddai” is translated as “the God of heaven.” “God Almighty” is the translation followed by most modern English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures. The following article looks at some examples of the “destroyer” attributes of the Christian Triune God that are found in the Old Testament. Orthodox Christian theology teaches that the accounts of God speaking in the Old Testament are the Logos of God, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, Who would later incarnate, namely Jesus Christ.

seven-Names
The Septuagint does not transliterate the names of God. They are usually rendered Kurios or Theos.
  1. HUMAN SACRIFICES: KILLING OF INNOCENTS, INCLUDING THE UNBORN, INFANTS, CHILDREN AND THE PURE

And now go, and thou shalt smite Amalec and Hierim and all that belongs to him, and thou shalt not save anything of him alive, but thou shalt utterly destroy him: and thou shalt devote him and all his to [destruction], and thou shalt spare nothing belonging to him; and thou shalt slay both man and woman, and infant and suckling, and calf and sheep, and camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15:3)

“Samaria shall be utterly destroyed: for she has resisted her God; they shall fall by the sword, and their sucklings shall be dashed against the ground, and their women and child ripped up.” (Hosea 13:16)

“And he went up thence to Baethel: and as he was going up by the way there came up also little children from the city, and mocked him, and said to him, Go up, bald-head, go up. And he turned after them, and saw them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And, behold, there came out two bears out of the wood, and they tore forty and two children of them.” (2 Kings 2:23-24)

“Blessed [shall he be] who shall seize and dash thine infants against the rock.” (Ps. 137:9)

“Behold, I will stir up against you the Medes, who do not regard silver, neither have they need of gold. 18 They shall break the bows of the young men; and they shall have no mercy on your children; nor shall their eyes spare thy children.” (Isaiah 13:17-18)

“And if any man has a disobedient and contentious son, who hearkens not to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they should correct him, and he should not hearken to them; then shall his father and his mother take hold of him, and bring him forth to the elders of his city, and to the gate of the place: and they shall say to the men of their city, This our son is disobedient and contentious, he hearkens not to our voice, he is a reveler and a drunkard. And the men of his city shall stone him with stones, and he shall die; and thou shalt remove the evil one from yourselves, and the rest shall hear and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

“And God told Abraham, Take thy son, the beloved one, whom thou hast loved– Isaac, and go into the high land, and offer him there for a whole-burnt-offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (Genesis 22:2)

The Sacrifice of Isaac, from the pavement of the Beth Alpha synagogue (6th century)
The Sacrifice of Isaac, from the pavement of the Beth Alpha synagogue (6th century)
  1. VICTIMIZATION AND ABUSE OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN
  1. God permits the taking of little girls and women as “wife plunder”

“Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. But keep alive for yourselves all the *young* girls who have not known a man intimately.” (Numbers 31:17-18). The Hebrew word for “young” used here means “children.”

“But if they will not hearken to thee, but wage war against thee, thou shalt invest it; until the Lord thy God shall deliver it into thy hands, and thou shalt smite every male of it with the edge of the sword: except the women and the stuff: and all the cattle, and whatsoever shall be in the city, and all the plunder thou shalt take as spoil for thyself, and shalt eat all the plunder of thine enemies whom the Lord thy God gives thee.” (Deuteronomy 20:12-14)

“All their little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses.” (Genesis 34:29)

“And if when thou goest out to war against thine enemies, the Lord thy God should deliver them into thine hands, and thou shouldest take their spoil, and shouldest see among the spoil a woman beautiful in countenance, and shouldest desire her, and take her to thyself for a wife, and shouldest bring her within thine house: then shalt thou shave her head, and pare her nails; and shalt take away her garments of captivity from off her, and she shall abide in thine house, and shall bewail her father and mother the days of a month; and afterwards thou shalt go in to her and dwell with her, and she shall be thy wife.” (Deuteronomy 21:10-13)

Yahweh prefers killing the innocent children of sinners over the sinner.

“And I will kill her children with death” (Revelations 2:23)

“Who smote the first-born of Egypt, both of man and beast” (Psalm 135:8)

“Prepare thy children to be slain for the sins of their father; that they arise not, and inherit the earth, nor fill the earth with wars” (Isaiah 14:21)

“The Lord…bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and to the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7)

“For I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God, recompensing the sins of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation to them that hate me” (Exodus 20:5)

Drowned corpses during Noah's Flood (Basilica of San MArco, Venice)
Drowned corpses during Noah’s Flood (Basilica of San Marco, Venice)

Rape victims must marry their rapists

“And if anyone should find a young virgin who has not been betrothed, and should force [her] and lie with her, and be found, the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the damsel fifty silver didrachms, and she shall be his wife, because he has humble her; he shall never be able to put her away” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

If the rape occurs in the city, the victim must be stoned to death

“And if there be a young damsel espoused to a man, and a man should have found her in the city and have lain with her; ye shall bring them both out to the gate of their city, and they shall be stoned with stones, and they shall die; the damsel, because she cried not in the city; and the man, because he humbled his neighbour’s spouse: so shalt thou remove the evil one from yourselves” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

33-mosaic
Top: Jacob negotiates the purchase of the field in which he had pitched his tents. Bottom: Jacob told of the rape of his daughter Dinah.

Polygamy and sex slaves (concubines) okay for men, but females are said to be “defiled” if not found virgins on their wedding night

“And if any one sell his daughter as a domestic, she shall not depart as the maid-servants depart. If she be not pleasing to her master, after she has betrothed herself to him, he shall let her go free; but he is not at liberty to sell her to a foreign nation, because he has trifled with her. And if he should have betrothed her to his son, he shall do to her according to the right of daughters. And if he take another to himself, he shall not deprive her of necessaries and her apparel, and her companionship [with him]” (Exodus 21:7-10)

“And if anyone should take a wife, and dwell with her, and hate her, and attach to her reproachful words, and bring against her an evil name, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her I found not her tokens of virginity: then the father and the mother of the damsel shall take and bring out the damsel’s tokens of virginity to the elders of the city to the gate. And the father of the damsel shall say to the elders, I gave this my daughter to this man for a wife; and now he has hated her, and attaches reproachful words to her, saying, I have not found tokens of virginity with thy daughter; and these [are] the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall unfold the garment before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man, and shall chastise him, and shall fine him a hundred shekels, and shall give [them] to the father of the damsel, because he has brought forth an evil name against a virgin of Israel; and she shall be his wife: he shall never be able to put her away. But if this report be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel; then shall they bring out the damsel to the doors of her father’s house, and shall stone her with stones, and she shall die; because she has wrought folly among the children of Israel, to defile the house of her father by whoring: so thou shalt remove the evil one from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

“But a widow, or one that is put away, or profaned, or a harlot, these he shall not take; but he shall take for a wife a virgin of his own people.” (Leviticus 21:14)

“And if a man have two wives…”(Deuteronomy 21:15). Polygamy was originally permissible in the Bible. Jacob (who becomes God’s chosen people, Israel), has two wives (Rachel and Leah), who are both sisters (Genesis 30)

God commands Jacob to leave.  He announces his departure to his wives Leah and Rachel.
God commands Jacob to leave. He announces his departure to his wives Leah and Rachel.
  1. SLAVERY

“And whatever number of men-servants and maid-servants thou shalt have, thou shalt purchase male and female servants from the nations that are round about thee. And of the sons of the sojourners that are among you, of these ye shall buy and of their relations, all that shall be in your lands; let them be to you for a possession. And ye shall distribute them to your children after you, and they shall be to you permanent possessions for ever: but of your brethren the children of Israel, one shall not oppress his brother in labours” (Leviticus 25:44-46)

“And if a man site his man-servant or his maid-servant, with a rod, and [the party] die under his hands, he shall be surely punished. But if [the servant] continue to live a day or two, let not [the master] be punished; for he is his money” (Exodus 21:20-21)

“Because these are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; such an one shall not be sold as a [common] servant” (Leviticus 25:42)

Young Joseph sold by his brothers into captivity in Egypt. Byzantine mosaic, 14th c.
Young Joseph sold by his brothers into captivity in Egypt. Byzantine mosaic, 14th c.
  1. GENOCIDE AND RACISM

“For the wrath of the Lord is upon all nations, and [his] anger upon the number of them, to destroy them, and give them up to slaughter” (Isaiah 34:2)

“…and I will overthrow the thrones of kings, and I will destroy the power of the kings of the nations [Gentile, non-Hebrew]; and I will overthrow chariots and riders; and the horses and their riders shall come down, everyone by the sword striving against his brother” (Hag. 2:22)

“Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen [for] thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth [for] thy possession. Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:8-9)

“For thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God; and the Lord thy God chose thee to be to him a peculiar people beyond all nations that [are] upon the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6)

Daniel in the lions' den, Roman mosaic from Bordj El Loudi, Tunisia, 5th Century AD.
Daniel in the lions’ den, Roman mosaic from Bordj El Loudi, Tunisia, 5th Century AD.
  1. THIEVERY
  1. Killing people to confiscate their land (covetousness):

“And the Lord said to me, Behold, I have begun to deliver before thee Seon the king of Esebon the Amorite, and his land, and do thou begin to inherit his land. ” (Deuteronomy 2:31)

“And he brought us into the land of the Amorites that dwelt beyond Jordan, and the Lord delivered them into our hands; and ye inherited their land, and utterly destroyed them from before you.” (Joshua 24:8)

“Thus shalt thou do to all the cities that are very far off from thee, not [being] of the cities of these nations which the Lord thy God gives thee to inherit their land. 16 [Of these] ye shall not take any thing alive; 17 but ye shall surely curse them. ” (Deuteronomy 20:15-16)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace of Nebuchadnezzer. Byzantine Mosaic, 11th CE.3
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the 3 Youths in the Fiery Furnace of Nebuchadnezzer. Byzantine Mosaic, 11th CE.
  1. Gold, silver and other goods

“But [every] woman shall ask of her neighbour and fellow lodger, articles of gold and silver, and apparel; and ye shall put them upon your sons and upon your daughters,– and spoil ye the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:22) The lord reiterated this in Exodus 11:2.

“…We left no living prey. Only we took the cattle captive, and took the spoil of the cities. ” (Deuteronomy 2:34-35)

“And ye shall divide the spoils between the warriors that went out to battle, and the whole congregation.” (Numbers 21:27)

“And they took captive all the persons of them, and all their store, and their wives, and plundered both whatever things there were in the city, and whatever things there were in the houses.” (Genesis 34:29)

“All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them… The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:8, 10)

The Conquest of Jericho. Early Christian Mosaic.
The Conquest of Jericho. Early Christian Mosaic.
  1. CRUELTY: GOD TAKES PLEASURE IN HUMAN SUFFERING AND COMMANDS HIS FOLLOWERS TO DESTORY THE EARTH HE MADE

“And it shall come to pass that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you; and ye shall be quickly removed from the land, into which ye go to inherit it.” (Deuteronomy 28:63)

“For behold! the day of the Lord is coming which cannot be escaped, [a day] of wrath and anger, to make the world desolate, and to destroy sinners out of it.” (Isaiah 13:9)

“And ye shall smite every strong city, and ye shall cut down every good tree, and ye shall stop all wells of water, and spoil every good piece [of land] with stones.” (2 Kings 3:19)

“Now consider these things, ye that forget God, lest he rend you [literally, ‘tear into pieces’], and there is no deliverer.” (Psalm 50:22)

ART50610
The Return of the Explorers; Rebellion of the Israelites against Moses. Early Christian mosaic. 5th CE
  1. RAGES: GOD CURSES, SWEARS, KILLS AND DESTROYS EVERYTHING WHEN HE IS ANGRY

“So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.” (Psalm 95:11)

“I will slay in my anger and my fury” (Jeremiah 33:5)

“Therefore thus saith the Lord; I will even cause to burst forth a sweeping blast with fury, and there shall be a flooding rain in my wrath; and in [my] fury I will bring on great stones for complete destruction.” (Ezekiel 13:13)

“And my wrath and mine anger shall be accomplished upon them: and thou shalt know that I the Lord have spoken in my jealousy, when I have accomplished mine anger upon them.” (Ezekiel 5:13)

“I saw, and, behold, Carmel was desert, and all the cities were burnt with fire at the presence of the Lord, and at the presence of his fierce anger they were utterly destroyed.” (Jeremiah 4:26)

“For the heaven shall be enraged, and the earth shall be shaken from her foundation, because of the fierce anger of the Lord of hosts, in the day in which his wrath shall come on.” (Isaiah 13:13)

“And I trampled them in mine anger, and brought down their blood to the earth.” (Isaiah 63:6)

Drunkenness of Noah (narthex, entrance bay vault). 1220-85. Byzantine mosaic.
Drunkenness of Noah (narthex, entrance bay vault). 1220-85. Byzantine mosaic.
  1. GOD HARDENSHEARTS, BLINDS AND DEAFENS TO GAIN A LICENSE TO CAUSE CHAOS

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Go in to Pharao: for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that these signs may come upon them.” (Exodus 10:1)

“Ye shall hear indeed, but ye shall not understand; and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive. For the heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. And I said, How long, O Lord? And he said, Until cities be deserted by reason of their not being inhabited, and the houses by reason of there being no men, and the land shall be left desolate. And after this God shall remove the men far off, and they that are left upon the land shall be multiplied.” (Isaiah 6:9-12)

“And Seon king of Esebon would not that we should pass by him, because the Lord our God hardened his spirit, and made his heart stubborn, that he might be delivered into thy hands, as on this day.” (Deuteronomy 2:30)

NOTE: Abba Dorotheos of Gaza writes in his 5th Instruction, That We Should Not Trust Our Own Understanding, “But if one does not sincerely wish to do the will of God, then though go to a prophet, God might place in the heart of that prophet an answer corresponding to the man’s corrupt heart, as the Scripture says, And if a prophet should cause to err and should speak, I the Lord have caused that prophet to err (Ezekiel 14:9).”

Pendentif with the Joseph's dream about the seven fat and the seven lean cows. Detail from the dome with the story of Joseph of Egypt. Byzantine mosaic.
Pendentif with the Joseph’s dream about the seven fat and the seven lean cows. Detail from the dome with the story of Joseph of Egypt. Byzantine mosaic.
  1. CANNABALISM

“And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.” (Leviticus 26:29)

“Therefore the fathers shall eat [their] children in the midst of thee, and children shall eat [their] fathers; and I will execute judgements in thee, and I will scatter all that are left of thee to every wind.” (Ezekiel 5:10)

“I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons, and the flesh of their daughters; and they shall eat every one the flesh of his neighbour in the blockade, and in the siege wherewith their enemies shall besiege them.” (Jeremiah 19:9)

“And thou, son of man, say, Thus saith the Lord; Say to every winged bird, and to all the wild beasts of the field, Gather yourselves, and come; gather yourselves from all [places] round about to my sacrifice, which I have made for you, [even] a great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel, and ye shall eat flesh, and drink blood. Ye shall eat the flesh of mighty men, and ye shall drink the blood of princes of the earth, rams, and calves and goats, and they are all fatted calves. And ye shall eat fat till ye are full, and shall drink wine till ye are drunken, of my sacrifice which I have prepared for you. And ye shall be filled at my table, [eating] horse, and rider, and mighty man, and every warrior, saith the Lord.” (Ezekiel 39:17-20)

“And they that afflicted thee shall eat their own flesh; and they shall drink their own blood as new wine, and shall be drunken: and all flesh shall perceive that I am the Lord that delivers thee, and that upholds the strength of Jacob.” (Isaiah 49:26)

“And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.” (Revelations 19:17-19)

Mosaic of ancient women dressed for sports - Roman villa near Piazza Armerina - Sicily
Mosaic of ancient women dressed for sports – Roman villa near Piazza Armerina – Sicily
  1. LYING

“Thou saidst, I will give them flesh to eat, and they shall eat a whole month… The flesh was yet between their teeth, before it failed, when the Lord was wroth with the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.” (Numbers 11:21, 33)

“Fury is not in Me.” (Isaiah 27:4)

“I will not act according to the fury of y wrath, I will not abandon Ephraim to be utterly destroyed: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One within thee: and I will not enter into the city. (Hosea 11:9)

Moses and the daughters of the Pharaoh. Early Christian mosaic, 5th CE.
Moses and the daughters of the Pharaoh. Early Christian mosaic, 5th CE.
  1. Lying is condoned if it accomplishes God’s goals

God instructs Moses to lie to the Pharaoh: “And thou shalt say to him, The God of the Hebrews has called us; we will go then a journey of three days into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to our God.” (Exodus 3:18)

God instructs Samuel to lie: “And Samuel said, How can I go? whereas Saul will hear of it, and slay me: and the Lord said, Take a heifer in thine hand and thou shall say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 16:2)

“But [every] woman shall ask of her neighbour and fellow lodger, articles of gold and silver, and apparel; and ye shall put them upon your sons and upon your daughters,– and spoil ye the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:22)

“They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into my mind.” (Jeremiah 19:5) Now compare with Genesis 22:2 “Then He said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar, disguises herself as a prostitute in order to become pregnant by her dead husband’s brother, after his failure to marry her, and is justified by Judah in the narrative. Tamar is rewarded for her subterfuge by the birth of the twins Perez and Zerah, through whom the tribe of Judah is established (Genesis 38:27–30).

Jehu lies to the worshippers of Baal, aimed at killing all the prophets of Baal. (2 kings 10:18-28)

Joseph accused by Potiphar. Byzantine mosaic, 13th c.
Joseph accused by Potiphar. Byzantine mosaic, 13th c.

NOTE: In Orthodox Christianity, there are also times where it is permitted to lie if it will benefit the salvation of someone, such as in case of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos, who lied to protect his brother’s murderer from being lynched by an angry mob of Christians. In monasticism, if the Abbot or Abbess instructs their disciples to lie about something, it is not considered a lie, but rather a virtue, namely “blind obedience.” Lying is permitted in all cases to protect the reputation of the Church, or its representatives. This is called “guarding your brother’s conscience.” Thus, pedophilia and other scandals are kept silent, and criminals go unpunished, for the “benefit of the lay people.”

  1. BLOODY VENGEANCE

“Vengeance is Mine” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

“The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Psalm 58:10)

“Therefore the Lord says…”Ah, I will rid myself of My adversaries, and take vengeance on my enemies.” (Isaiah 1:24)

“It now must be said of Jacob and of Israel…a people rises like a lioness, and lifts itself up like a lion; It shall not lie down until it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain.” (Numbers 23:23-24)

“O LORD our God, you were to them God-Who-Forgives, though you took vengeance on their deeds.” (Psalm 99:8)

“I will feed those who oppress you (Israel) with their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine.” (Isaiah 49:26)

Joseph's Bloodstained Coat. Mosaic.
Jacob lamenting over Joseph’s bloodstained coat mosaic.
  1. GOD CAUSES EVIL, DECEIVES AND COMMANDS EVIL SPIRITS

“I am he that prepared light, and formed darkness; who make peace, and create evil; I am the Lord God, that does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

“And the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (1 Samuel 16:14)

“And now, behold, the Lord has put a false spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord has spoken evil against thee.” (1 Kings 22:23)

“And now, behold, the Lord has put a false spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord has spoken evil against thee.” (II Chronicles, 18:22)

“And if a prophet should cause to err and should speak, I the Lord have caused that prophet to err, and will stretch out my hand upon him, and will utterly destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.” (Ezekiel 14:9)

“Shall the trumpet sound in the city, and the people not be alarmed? shall there be evil in a city which the Lord has not wrought?” (amos 3:6)

“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth.” (II Thessalonians 2:11-12)

The Construction of the Tower of Babel. Mosaic
The Construction of the Tower of Babel. Mosaic

Also see Fr. Antonios Alevizopoulos, The Orthodox Church: Its faith, Worship and Life:

http://www.oodegr.co/english/biblia/orthodox1/orthodox1.htm

The Death of the Firstborn Sons of Egypt (St. Gregory of Nyssa, 4th c.)

NOTE: St. Gregory of Nyssa rightly contends that such a slaughter, if taken literally, would be morally intolerable. He therefore interprets the killing of the first-born as the Christian’s killing of personal vices early, before they can blossom into serious sins.The following article is taken from Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses, pp. 75–77:

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And it came to pass at midnight that the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharao that sat on the throne, to the first-born of the captive-maid in the dungeon, and the first-born of all cattle. And Pharao rose up by night, and his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in all the land of Egypt, for there was not a house in which there was not one dead.(Exodus 12:29-30)

Let us proceed to what follows in the text. We have learned through the things examined already that Moses (and he who exalts himself by virtue in keeping with his example), when his soul had been empowered through long application and high and lofty life, and through the illumination which came from above, considered it a loss not to lead his countrymen to the life of freedom.

A 3rd century fresco from the Dura Europos synagogue, showing the infant Moses being rescued.
A 3rd century fresco from the Dura Europos synagogue, showing the infant Moses being rescued.

When he came to them, he implanted in them a more intense desire for freedom by holding out worse sufferings to them. Intending to remove his countrymen from evil, he brought death upon all the firstborn in Egypt. By doing this he laid down for us the principle that it is necessary to destroy utterly the first birth of evil. It is impossible to flee the Egyptian life in any other way.

Water into blood (דָם): Ex. 7:14–25
Water into blood (דָם): Ex. 7:14–25

It does not seem good to me to pass this interpretation by without further contemplation. How would a concept worthy of God be preserved in the description of what happened if one looked only to the history? The Egyptian acts unjustly, and in his place is punished his newborn child, who in his infancy cannot discern what is good and what is not. His life has no experience of evil, for infancy is not capable of passion. He does not know to distinguish between his right hand and his left. The infant lifts his eyes only to his mother’s nipple, and tears are the sole perceptible sign of his sadness. And if he obtains anything which his nature desires, he signifies his pleasure by smiling. If such a one now pays the penalty of his father’s wickedness, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is Ezekiel who cries: The man who has sinned is the man who must die and a son is not to suffer for the sins of his father? How can the history so contradict reason?

Frogs (צְּפַרְדֵּעַ): Ex. 7:25–8:11
Frogs (צְּפַרְדֵּעַ): Ex. 7:25–8:11

Therefore, as we look for the true spiritual meaning, seeking to determine whether the events took place typologically, we should be prepared to believe that the lawgiver has taught through the things said. The teaching is this: When through virtue one comes to grips with any evil, he must completely destroy the first beginnings of evil.

 Lice (כִּנִּים): Ex. 8:12–15
Lice (כִּנִּים): Ex. 8:12–15

For when he slays the beginning, he destroys at the same time what follows after it. The Lord teaches the same thing in the Gospel, all but explicitly calling on us to kill the firstborn of the Egyptian evils when he commands us to abolish lust and anger and to have no more fear of the stain of adultery or the guilt of murder. Neither of these things would develop of itself, but anger produces murder and lust produces adultery.

Wild animals, possibly flies (עָרוֹב): Ex. 8:20–32
Wild animals, possibly flies (עָרוֹב): Ex. 8:20–32

Since the producer of evil gives birth to lust before adultery and anger before murder, in destroying the firstborn he certainly kills along with it the offspring which follows. Take for an example a snake: When one crushes his head he kills the rest of the body at the same time.

Diseased livestock (דֶּבֶר): Ex. 9:1–7
Diseased livestock (דֶּבֶר): Ex. 9:1–7

This would not have happened unless the blood which turns aside the destroyer had been poured out on our doors. And if it is necessary to perceive the meaning presented here more fully, the history provides this perception in both the killing of the firstborn and the safeguarding of the entrance by blood. In the one the first impulse to evil is destroyed, and in the other the first entrance of evil into us is turned away by the true Lamb. For when the destroyer has come inside, we do not drive him out by our own devices, but by the Law we throw up a defense to keep him from gaining a foothold among us.

Boils (שְׁחִין): Ex. 9:8–12
Boils (שְׁחִין): Ex. 9:8–12

Safety and security consist in marking the upper doorpost and the side posts of the entrance with the blood of the lamb. While in this way Scripture gives us through figures a scientific understanding of the nature of the soul, profane learning also places it before the mind, dividing the soul into the rational, the appetitive, and the spirited. Of these parts we are told that the spirit and the appetite are placed below, supporting on each side the intellectual part of the soul, while the rational aspect is joined to both so as to keep them together and to be held up by them, being trained for courage by the spirit and elevated to the participation in the Good by the appetite.

Thunderstorm of hail and fire (בָּרָד): Ex. 9:13–35
Thunderstorm of hail and fire (בָּרָד): Ex. 9:13–35

As long, therefore, as the soul is kept safe in this manner, maintaining its firmness by virtuous thoughts as if by bolts, all the parts cooperate with one another for good. The rational for its part furnishes safety to its supports, and in its turn receives from them an equal benefit.

Locusts (אַרְבֶּה): Ex. 10:1–20
Locusts (אַרְבֶּה): Ex. 10:1–20

But if this arrangement should be upset and the upper become the lower—so that if the rational falls from above, the appetitive and spirited disposition makes it the part trampled upon—then the destroyer slips inside. No opposition from the blood resists his entrance; that is to say, faith in Christ does not ally itself with those of such a disposition.

 Darkness (חוֹשֶך): Ex. 10:21–29
Darkness (חוֹשֶך): Ex. 10:21–29

For he says first to anoint the upper doorpost with blood, then to touch both side doorposts in the same way. How therefore would one anoint the upper first unless it be found on top?

Death of firstborn son (מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת): Ex. 11:1–12:36
Death of firstborn son (מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת): Ex. 11:1–12:36

Do not be surprised at all if both things—the death of the firstborn and the pouring out of the blood—did not happen to the Israelites and on that account reject the contemplation which we have proposed concerning the destruction of evil as if it were a fabrication without any truth. For now in the difference of the names, Israelite and Egyptian, we perceive the difference between virtue and evil. Since the spiritual meaning proposes that we perceive the Israelite as virtuous, we would not reasonably require the first fruits of virtue’s offspring to be destroyed but rather those whose destruction is more advantageous than their cultivation.

Exodus 11:1-10: the death of the firstborn sons, one of The Seven Plagues of Egypt.
Exodus 11:1-10: the death of the firstborn sons, one of The Seven Plagues of Egypt.

Consequently we have been taught by God that we must destroy the first fruits of the Egyptian children so that evil, in being destroyed at its beginning, might come to an end. And this insight agrees with the history, for the protection of the Israelite children took place through the pouring out of blood in order that good might come to maturity. But what would come to maturity in the Egyptian people was destroyed before it matured in evil.

10plagues_thumb

Gregory_of_Nyssa_(Menologion_of_Basil_II)

Review: The Joshua Delusion? Rethinking Genocide in the Bible (Thom Stark, 2010)

NOTE: This book is an attempt to rationalize the atrocities committed or commanded by God in the Old Testament for the New Testament Christian. The early Orthodox Church Fathers had a similar approach when dealing with passages that seemed irreconcilable with the Christian Faith and Orthodox Theology. The mosaics used in this article are from the 5th century and found in the Nave of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.

Recently there has been a new wave of biblical apologetics that seeks to defend the account of the Canaanite conquest and genocides depicted in the Book of Joshua in one or both of two ways:

 Top: The waters of the Jordan flow backward so that the people can cross, carrying the Ark.  Bottom: Joshua sends spies into Jericho. See Joshua 2:1-22.
Top: The waters of the Jordan flow backward so that the people can cross, carrying the Ark. Bottom: Joshua sends spies into Jericho. See Joshua 2:1-22.

(1) The language of total destruction, which depicts the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children, is a common motif in ancient Near Eastern war literature and is hyperbolic in nature—it is not meant to be taken literally. The accounts are exaggerated, and we should not read into them literal historical claims that women and children were in fact slaughtered.

Top: the visit of the
Top: the visit of the “prince of the host of the Lord” to Joshua before the conquest of Jericho(5:13-15). Bottom: Rahab the Prostitute helping an Israelite spy climb down the wall (Joshua 2).

(2) The book of Joshua is hagiographic in nature, which means that its intention was not to recount literal history so much as to make a moral point using the literary devices of warfare literature in order to encourage a certain type of orthodox religious behavior among the faith community who gathers to hear the book as sacred scripture. Both of these strategies have been taken up by Evangelical biblical scholar Richard Hess as well as by Christian apologists specializing in philosophy of religion such as Nicholas Wolterstorff, Paul Copan, and Matt Flannagan.

Bottom:  the Ark of the Covenant is carried around the walls to the sound of trumpets. Top: The Israelites take the city, helped by Rahab, who is seen on the battlements ( Joshua 6:12-19).
Bottom: the Ark of the Covenant is carried around the walls to the sound of trumpets. Top: The Israelites take the city, helped by Rahab, who is seen on the battlements ( Joshua 6:12-19).

Douglas S. Earl’s new book, The Joshua Delusion? Rethinking Genocide in the Bible, should be seen within the context of this new wave. It is by far the most sophisticated attempt to defend the biblical narratives along these lines, as it should be since Earl wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Book of Joshua.

josua-delusion

The hyperbolic reading of the Joshua genocides (the first of the aforementioned strategies) is wholly untenable for a number of reasons…Proponents of the hyperbolic reading will find no help from Douglas Earl. Earl argues that the book of Joshua is not about genocide; rather, it is a myth written to challenge the assumption of Israelites that their favor with Yahweh was owed to their ethnicity as descendants of Abraham.

Joshua and the Israelite people, Karolingischer Buchmaler, c.840
Joshua and the Israelite people, Karolingischer Buchmaler, c.840

Earl begins his first chapter with a statement of the historical problem of the Canaanite conquest: If Jericho was not razed, is our faith in vain? Earl points out that the majority of biblical scholars have concluded based on the archaeological evidence that a conquest of Canaan such as that depicted in the book of Joshua could not have occurred historically. He does not go into many of the details of the archaeological record, citing primarily Kathleen Kenyon’s excavation at Jericho, which concluded that no destruction took place anywhere near the time the conquest of Canaan is purported to have occurred (by either the conservative or critical dating of the emergence of Israel in Canaan). But his focus here is to state that if the conquest did not occur as described, our faith is not in vain.

Bottom: God tells Joshua to destroy the city of Ai. Top: Joshua does so. See Joshua 8:1-29.
Bottom: God tells Joshua to destroy the city of Ai. Top: Joshua does so. See Joshua 8:1-29.

Earl then proceeds to show that some early Christian theologians saw these texts to be morally problematic, and therefore opted for non-literal, metaphorical or allegorical readings. He quotes from both Origen and Gregory of Nyssa in this respect.

Origen explicitly states that the genocidal nature of the conquest narratives make it “impossible” to interpret the text literally. He opts instead to read them as allegories for Christ’s conquest of the soul. The Canaanites become symbols of the internal vices that Christians must overcome as Christ makes his conquest within us. Other interpreters did similar things, reading the conquest of Canaan as a metaphor for the Christian mission to the Gentiles. Gregory of Nyssa takes the same approach to the tenth plague of Egypt, the slaughter of the first-born sons. Gregory rightly contends that such a slaughter, if taken literally, would be morally intolerable. He therefore interprets the killing of the first-born as the Christian’s killing of personal vices early, before they can blossom into serious sins.

For Earl, Origen and Gregory show that morally problematic texts serve as “cues to the reader of the text to seek the significance of the text in a ‘spiritual sense’”. He rightly notes that the reading strategy of Origen and Gregory stand in counter-distinction to that of Marcion, who insisted on a literal reading of the conquest narratives.

Top: Joshua routs the Amorites. Bottom: God's hand casting hailstones on them. See Joshua 10:1-11.
Top: Joshua routs the Amorites. Bottom: God’s hand casting hailstones on them. See Joshua 10:1-11.

He summarizes: “The Church Fathers suggest to us that historical and ethical difficulties in a narrative might be indicators to us that we misread an Old Testament text if we read it primarily in terms of historical or ethical description via the ‘plain sense’ of the text. The Fathers mapped out a whole other way of reading the texts in a theologically faithful scheme, but a scheme that is perhaps unconvincing in a number of its details today. One could, therefore, reject the scheme, or one could ask if whether the fact the instincts of the Church Fathers were basically correct in moving towards reading some texts ‘non-literally,’ but in a non-literal sense that needs to be constructed and understood in another way today.”

So the battle can go on to its successful conclusion, Joshua orders the sun to stand still. See Joshua 10:12-14.
So the battle can go on to its successful conclusion, Joshua orders the sun to stand still. See Joshua 10:12-14.

Earl insists that the proper way to understand Joshua is as a myth. By “myth,” of course, Earl does not mean, “something that is not true.” The question of whether the text is historically true or not is irrelevant to its categorization as “myth.” He uses myth in the anthropological sense of a narrative that is used to bring a sense of coherency to a community.

Top: Joshua is ordering the execution of the 5 Kings that attacked Gibeon. Bottom: The order is carried out.
Top: Joshua is ordering the execution of the 5 Kings that attacked Gibeon. Bottom: The order is carried out.

Earl urges us to understand Joshua as such a “myth” that was composed in order to shape the identity of Israel, but the question of Joshua’s historicity is irrelevant, according to Earl, to understanding what the book of Joshua was trying to say and do. All of this leads Earl to conclude that “the historical and ethical difficulties [in the Book of Joshua] point us not necessarily to an allegorical or spiritual sense of a text, but rather to a symbolic sense that has theological and spiritual implications

The 28 page review can be read below:

Joshua's Tomb in Kifl Haris.
Joshua’s Tomb in Kifl Haris.