Tag Archives: mount of olives

The 10th Red Heifer? And Dominus Flevit?

I usually don’t following items such as this but I find it rather interesting that some Rabbis in Israel are quite excited about the birth of a perfect Red Heifer.  From an article in BreakingNews Israel Harbinger to Messiah: Red Heifer is Born.” [ME: really?]

Red Heifers were used, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and wool or yarn, in a mixture that was used by the ancient Israelites/Judeans for ritual purification (Numbers 19).  According to Rabbinic sources 9 Red Heifers were slaughtered from the time of Moses until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

In order for the temple to be rebuilt and sacrifices to be reinstuted, the priestly line would need to be purifed—and a RH would be needed to produce the necessary purification material.

Years ago they thought that a RH had been produced in Nebraska (USA)—but due to Israeli laws such an animal could not be imported to Israel.

Almost three years ago the Temple Institute inaugurated its Raise a Red Heifer in Israel program. Due to laws restricting the importation of live cattle into Israel, the Temple Institute imported frozen embryos of red angus, implanting them in Israeli domestic cows. The pregnant cows were raised on cattle ranches in different locations throughout the country. The cows are giving birth this summer with several calves already having been born.

One week after it’s birth, the newborn red heifer was certified by a board of rabbis as fulfilling all the Biblical requirements. The rabbis emphasized that the heifer could, at any time, acquire a blemish rendering it unsuitable. They will be inspecting the calf periodically to verify its condition.

The red heifer was the main component in the Biblically mandated process of ritual purification for impurity that results from proximity or contact with a dead body.  Because the elements needed for this ceremony have been lacking since the destruction of the Second Temple, all Jews today are considered ritually impure, thereby preventing the return of the Temple service.

The red heifer is described in the Book of Numbers.

“This is the ritual law that Hashem has commanded: Instruct B’nei Yisrael to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid. Numbers 19:2

Several heifers have been found in recent years that seemed to qualify but ultimately were unsuited for the ritual. . . .


No less stringent than the laws pertaining to the heifer are the laws pertaining to the site where the heifer is burned. Almost 30 years ago, Rabbi Yonatan Adler, who is also an archaeologist, performed an in-depth study into the textual references to the site where the red heifer was burned, publishing his results in  in the Torah journal Techumin. His calculations, based on the Holy of Holies being located where the Dome of the Rock stands today, led him to a spot where Dominus Flevit, a Catholic Church built in 1955, now stands. Archaeological surveys discovered unique characteristics of the site that corresponded to descriptions in the Talmud.

View from the Temple Mount area toward Dominus Flevit—the site of the slaying of the Red Heifer?

View from Dominus Flevit towards the Temple Mount (aka Haram esh–Sharif).

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Another Gethsemane?

Christian travelers to the Holy Land will often visit the Church of All Nations and its associated garden and/or the Grotto of Gethsemane that is located to the north of it.  Both are associated with Jesus’ experience in the Garden on the night that he was betrayed.

The White Russian Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.

However, there is a third grotto that is located on the grounds of The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene where it is said that Jesus prayed on the night that he was betrayed.  Unfortunately the church compound is only open for visits for 4 hours each week, but its glistening golden domes are a familiar landmark on the western slope of the Mount of Olives.  It is a (white) Russian Orthodox Church built by the Czar Alexander III in 1888.  The church was dedicated to Alexander’s mother, Maria, but is named after Saint Mary Magdalene who was a follower of Jesus and is associated with anointing his body.  She was at the foot of the cross (John 19:25), and Jesus first appeared to her after his resurrection (John 20:1).

Entrance to the Gethsemane Cave on the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Although not frequently visited by Christian Pilgrims it is believed by some that Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed in this cave on the night that he was betrayed.

View of the altar in the cave/chapel on the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

In addition to the icons, note the ossuary on the right side of the image.

To view additional, free, high–resolution images of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene Click Here

Tombs in the Kidron — The Arrival of the Greeks!

When Christian tour groups are in Jerusalem usually they will visit the Mount of Olives and some of the churches on it.  However, they often will not have an opportunity to visit or reflect upon the monumental tombs from the Second Temple Period that are located in the Kidron Valley—on the lower, eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.

The Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley with Monumental Second Temple Tombs

Often a guide will refer to these tombs from a moving bus as being in existence in Jesus’ day and some reference will be made to Matthew 23:27–32—Jesus’ condemnation of the hypocrisy (whitewashed tombs) of some of the leadership of his day.

However, it seems to me that these monuments deserve more than just a glance from a moving tour bus.  If one stops in the vicinity (see below) it is really a great place to share with your group how Greek influence in the land was introduced by Alexander the Great (332 B.C.) and increased during the days of the Seleucids

So-called “Pillar of Absalom” with Syrian Style “Hat”

Upper Portion of the “Pillar of Absalom”

(Seleucids: Greeks ruling from Syria; note the “Syrian style hat” on the “Pillar of Absalom”) and Ptolemies

Tomb of Zechariah” with Pyramid Shaped top and Ionic Capitals

(Ptolemies: Greeks ruling from Egypt; note the pyramid shaped top of the “Tomb of Zechariah”).  Greek culture in general had certainly affected the lifestyle of the Jewish Jerusalem elites that probably had built these tombs — note the Ionic columns on “Absalom’s Pillar” and the “Tomb of Zechariah” and the Doric columns on the “Tomb of the sons of Hezir“).

By the days of Jesus the arrival of Greco–Roman culture  had rewritten, and was continuing in the process of rewriting, the cultural landscape of the peoples of the land.  All of this may seem to be a bit “technical” for a typical tour group but what better place to visually introduce your group to the fact and importance of  the arrival of Greco–Roman culture than here?

This rewriting of the cultural/religious landscape certainly had a very significant impact on the outlook of the people living in the land—including the Maccabees/Hasmoneans, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Herodians, etc.  How did these various groups deal with these powerful external influences?  Adopt the new culture?  Reject it?  Fight against it?  I believe that these are powerful questions that should be taken into account not only when discussing Second Temple Judaism, but also when expounding upon the ministry and message of Jesus.

#2 = a wonderful seating area to view the tombs, Kidron Valley, and Mount of Olives
#1 = a view down on Eilat Mazar’s Excavations (Travel Tip #8)

One great place to view and discuss the monuments and their significance is from viewing point #2 above (as a bonus the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount towers over you, and the famous “seam” in the eastern wall is clearly visible).  Another way is to actually visit the monuments.  A walk from the Pool of Siloam north in the Kidron Valley will take you to these tombs.  This walk provides an interesting opportunity to get a good “feel” for the Kidron, the location of the Gihon Spring, the City of David, and the Arab neighborhood of Silwan (check to see if local conditions are “calm” before taking this walk, and I do not suggest walking alone).

Click Here to view 12 high resolution images of these monuments in the Kidron Valley.

Why is the Hen Gathering Her Chicks? (Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34)

As Jesus leaves the Temple area in Jerusalem he is quoted as having said:

Matt. 23:37  ¶  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  (NIV)

This saying is also found in Luke 13:34 as Jesus is progressing towards Jerusalem.  This idea of protection and tender concern is also found in passages such as Psalms 17:8, 36:7, and 91:4.

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A modern mosaic of a mother hen protecting her chicks—on the altar of Dominus Flevit Church on the Mount of Olives (Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

 

In glancing at a number of commentaries on the Matthew 23 and Luke 13 passages, all I found were general statements about “protection” and “tenderness.”  However, I once heard a lecture by N. T. Wright where he seemed to suggest that what was involved here was a “barn yard fire,” where the mother hen gathered her chicks under her wings.  After the fire swept though the barn yard the mother hen had been incinerated, but the chicks under her wings were still alive—the hen sacrificing her life for her chicks.

This interpretation never struck me as too plausible and after lecturing to an adult group one of the participants came up to me and described a much more plausible explanation:

He said that he had grown up on a farm and that a hen has a variety of informative “clucks.”  For example a certain clucking sound would call her chicks to eat.  He also said that as a prank, he would cut out a cardboard eagle or hawk, affix it to a long stick, and would then maneuver it so that the shadow of the bird of prey would fall within the vision of the hen.  Upon seeing [the shadow of the fake] bird of prey she would utter a special clucking sound that called her chicks to gather under her wings for protection from the danger!  This of course is what she would do when a real bird of prey was threatening her or her chicks.  (my paraphrase)

Again, the hen sacrificing her life for her chicks.  I had not heard such an informative comment on this passage before—but then I am not a farmer, nor the son of a farmer!

The altar on which the above mosaic is found is located in the Roman Catholic Church Dominus Flevit that commemorates Jesus weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) as he entered the city from the east.

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View looking west over the Old City of Jerusalem from within Dominus Flevit. The “golden” Dome of the Rock is visible beyond the cross, and to the right of the Dome the grey Domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are visible. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

You can view/download 10 images of Dominus Flevit  Here.