The Queen of Sheba

queen_sheba_poynter_1890The Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon is one of the most famous diplomatic visits in the Bible, but we know very little about this powerful monarch.  Her visit appears in religious texts sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, however, her name was never mentioned.  We are not exactly sure where “Sheba” even is.  She is described as a “Queen from the South”, who came to visit King Solomon to test his great wisdom.  She brings with her a treasure trove of frankincense, myrrh, gold and jewels as well as a head full of riddles.  He answers them to her satisfaction and converts her to worship Yahweh.  Then she returns to her country.  That is the last the Bible mentions her, but there are additional stories about this powerful queen.

One of the candidates for the location of Sheba is the Horn of Africa, specifically Ethiopia.  This is one of the two places the trees which produce frankincense grow.  The Queen of Sheba features prominently in the Kebra Nagast, the Ethiopian holy book.  There is a story about how this legendary beauty had one human leg and one leg that was hairy and cloven footed “like a goat”.  Solomon was curious about this and had the floor of his palace polished until it shone like a glass mirror.  Then had the unsuspecting queen walk across it and saw her deformed leg, but it was transformed into a human leg before his eyes.  

There is an additional story about how the queen warns Solomon that as an unmarried woman, she was going to put up with no funny business and he was not to touch her.  Solomon agreed as long as she would not take anything of his.  Solomon then invites the queen to a great banquet full of extremely salty and savory food, but offers nothing to drink.  The queen returns to her chambers and awakens extremely thirsty.  She goes looking for something to drink, and find a pitcher of water next to Solomon’s bed.  She takes a drink and he awakes and informs her she has broken her agreement.  So they end up in bed together.  Solomon has obviously not seen the HR consent video.  Between this story and the upskirt mirror floor, Solomon kind of sounds like a jerk.  Anyway after this night together, the queen returns home pregnant with Solomon’s child.  She bore a son, who she named Menelik, meaning “Son of the Wise”.  Years later, Menelik visited his father in Jerusalem and everyone remarked on the resemblance between father and son.  Solomon offered Menelik the throne of Israel, but Menelik refused returning to his capital in Aksum taking with him the Ark of the Covenant.  According to Ethiopian tradition, the Ark is there to this day in a special chamber in the courtyard of St. Mary’s Church.    However, the ruins at Aksum are a thousand years after the time of Solomon.

Another tradition has the kingdom of Sheba being in the Arabian peninsula, or what is modern day Yemen.  This is near the crossing to Africa and is only a few kilometers from the horn of Africa.  Marib was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Saba, which could easily have been mistranslated or written as Sheba.  In Marib, excavations are underway of a temple known as the Mahram Bilqis or Temple of Bilqis.  In the Islamic tradition, Bilqis is the name given to the Queen of Sheba.  This is not mentioned in the Koran, but in later stories.  These stories include the goat leg legend, but in this story both of her legs are like a goat and they are not healed.  

Because these two places are close together, it is possible that they were both part of the Kingdom of Sheba and that Bilqis ruled both Ethiopia and southern Yemen from Marib.  Louise Schofield believes she has found one of the sources of the Queen of Sheba’s wealth in northern Ethiopia.  She found a temple dedicated to the moon god with Sabaen inscriptions, the language of Sheba.  From there they found the remains of a large battle and mines.  Despite the evidence of Sheba, there is no primary evidence of the existence of its queen.  Perhaps those are revelations that are still waiting for us

ER

The James Ossuary

12919635_248774432131313_4607136331580658409_nToday I have chosen to discuss the “James Ossuary”. The infamous bone box was obtained by an antiquities collector in the 1970’s from an unknown source in Jerusalem, and left in a cellar for nearly 30 years, until the owner asked a renowned expert to decipher the inscription on the ends. The inscription translated to say the ossuary belonged to James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. The box was then offered to a museum in Canada, for display for a period of time.

The owner claimed no knowledge of the context in which the ossuary was obtained at source, nor realisation of the historical and archaeological importance of the artefact prior to the deciphering of the inscription, except to say that he was told at the purchase that the box was sourced as a sole item. It was only when the ossuary rapidly gained publicity and excitement grew on an international level that its authenticity was called into question. This speculation culminated in one of the most well-publicised and long drawn out trials involving the suspected forgery of an artefact. The owner and a well-known dealer in antiquities, who is also a renowned scholar in the field, were both arrested and charged by the Israel Antiquities Authority with several counts of forging antiquities. The resulting trial lasted seven long years.

During the trial, evidence obtained by the IAA and Israel’s police scientists was shown to be flawed, due to a combination of lack of expert knowledge and contamination. Their tests also damaged the relic to the point where future tests would probably not be possible. The experts who supposedly tested the patina and decided it was faked, were found to have tested other later materials in error, most importantly residue from modern cleaning processes. The Prosecution witnesses, several leading experts, in turn testified that they could not dismiss the possibility of the authenticity of the artefact, in fact most of them agreed it was not a forgery. One expert for the prosecution offered results of dating tests he had conducted based on incorrect scientific methods, he had no expertise in the study of ancient stonework, nor the study of bio-organic changes in such items. During his tests he gained many results which contradicted his theory, he chose not to present those findings.12439466_248774522131304_3010829502630337698_n

Experts for the defence agreed that without a doubt that not only was the inscription in its entirety authentic, but that matching biological evidence in the patina on both the ossuary and into the engraving, including Jesus, was consistent and in such a pattern that could not be faked due to ageing processes, it was all ancient therefore all parts of the inscription were authentic.

The Judge acquitted both defendants of all charges relating to forgery of the artefacts in question, including the ossuary, and delivered scathing rebuttals to the IAA and Prosecution. Despite being found not guilty, the IAA have refused to return the items resulting in accusations of punishment for the owner despite his innocence, and rumours of some ulterior motive, perhaps an effort to obtain the artefacts for their own benefits. Several other similar allegations of forgery and other charges have been mentioned during the debate. It is confirmed the IAA owns a storage facility holding thousands of antiquities obtained by similar means.

The ironic fact is the authenticity of the ossuary was never in question. Experts agreed from the outset that this was without doubt an ossuary dating from during the first century CE, and the first part of the inscription was also genuine. This box housed the bones of James, son of Joseph. It was only alleged that the second part of the inscription, relating James to Jesus, was forged.

11218203_248774542131302_8319742979069370872_nDespite this, it appears that in the world of antiquities mud sticks. The James Ossuary is known as one of the greatest hoaxes in modern times. Debate continues to rage about the significance of the ossuary. If it were indeed authentic, it would cause a huge spanner to be thrown into the Christian works. That Jesus had siblings, which ironically is cited in the New Testament, calls into question Mary’s role as the Perpetual Virgin. Irrefutable proof that this artefact is authentic would beg the question, which other “biblical” antiquities dismissed as forgeries are in fact authentic? In the expert field, the verdict may be in, but the Jury is definitely still out.,

Phoebe

The Lost Tribes of Israel

Lemba tribesmen at prayer Photo Credit- Josh Bernstein
Lemba tribesmen at prayer Photo Credit- Josh Bernstein

Jacob had twelve sons, and the descendants of those sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. They settled in the promised land, then divided into to two kingdoms. Everyone was living happily, more or less, until the conquest of the northern kingdom. The Bible discusses the lost tribes of Israel in 2 Kings 17:6: “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.” The Assyrians conquered all of Israel and destroyed the First Temple. Once in exile, this left only the Tribe of Judah, the Tribe of Simeon, the Tribe of Benjamin and the Tribe of Levi. Eventually, Cyrus the Great conquered the Assyrians and allowed the Jews to go back to the Promised Land, but not all of them came back. Some historians believe that there are no “official” lost tribes, but there was definitely some migration. The truth of it was lost to the sands of time.

Fast forward to 1980s. Historian Tudor Parfitt was conducting a lecture on Ethiopian Jews, the Falashas, in Johannesburg, South Africa when he noticed some native people in the back of the lecture hall in what looked to be yarmulkes. Parfitt chatted with them after the lecture and found they were tribesmen from the Lemba tribe, who claimed to be descended from a lost tribe of Israel. He was fascinated and agreed to travel through dangerous terrain to the Lemba homeland to see for himself. He spent the weekend there, then returned to England. However, Parfitt kept coming back and ended up spending months living with the Lemba tribe studying their customs.

The Lemba are a Bantu-speaking tribe who live in the northeast corner of South Africa in the area of Venda. They shared many customs with Semitic people specifically the Jews. The first thing he noticed was their ritual slaughtering of animals was very similar to Jewish traditions. They also kept kosher dietary laws and circumcised their boys, unlike any other tribes in the area. The Lemba also kept one day of the week holy, strongly discouraged marriage outside the tribe and inscribed a Star of David on the gravestone of a deceased tribe member. Parfitt dug deeper and contacted Professor Mashya Mathiva, who is the historian of the Lemba tribe. At Professor Mathiva’s suggestion, he also got in contact with a tribesman who was writing a book on the Lemba, Wilfred Phophi. Parfit describes Phophi as a “card carrying lunatic that was full of good information when he wasn’t screaming and shouting at me.” Through a series of interesting interviews, Parfitt was able to dig out that the ancestors of the Lemba were from the priestly caste and came from a place called Sena. The Lemba referred to Sena the way we would refer to heaven. The word Sena in medieval Arabic meant “Zion” or Jerusalem.

The oral traditions of the Lemba said “We crossed Pusela and we came to Africa. We rebuilt Sena, and then we went inland and had something to do with the construction of the Great Stone City.” However, no one could exactly say what that meant. The Great Stone City was thought to be a reference to the city of Great Zimbabwe, but the rest was unknown. The story continues that “At that point, we broke the law of God and we ate mice.” Mice would not be kosher and not ritually fit for Lemba consumption. And then they were scattered, as they put it, among the nations in Africa. Parfitt felt very strongly about finding what Sena was and unraveling this mystery for the Lemba people. In fact, Professor Mathiva had given Parfitt this charge when they first met, and Parfitt took this very seriously.

Parfitt kept striking out until he was doing some unrelated study in Yemen. He was speaking with a sheik who told him a city named Sena was at the end of the Wadi Masilah. Parfitt traveled there and found tribes with the same names as the Lemba. He felt strongly it was connected. However, he lacked hard evidence.

Teaming up with group from The Center for Genetic Anthropology at University College London they turned to DNA. The took DNA samples from the men of the Lemba and compared them with the Cohen [Kohen] modal haplotype (CHM) on the Y chromosome. People with the last name of Cohen are descended from the caste of priests, who must be descended from Moses’ brother Aaron. A significant number of the Lemba shared this common Y chromosome. They also took samples from the area in Yemen around Sena and found a significant overlap. From this evidence, connections between these populations can be made. The theory is after their expulsion following the destruction of the First Temple, a select number of the priesthood escaped to Yemen and then migrated to Africa.

Parfitt kept his word and Sena was found, and the Lemba can take their place as one of the tribes of Israel.

ER

Sources available on request

JESUS OF NAZARETH

Reconstruction of Jesus' face by forensic scientists. Photo credit- www.popularmechanics.com
Reconstruction of Jesus’ face by forensic scientists. Photo credit- www.popularmechanics.com

This article is going to be controversial, and I fully accept that, but I want to establish that this article is meant to engender conversation not provoke an Internet Holy Flame War. What I write here comes from an educated place. I have done an in depth study of several versions of the Bible (NIV, KJV, and a terrible translation of WYC), the Torah, the Koran, the Book of Mormon (Latter Day Saints), as well as many different teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism. A good portion of this is also based around the book “Zealot” by Reza Aslan, a noted and respected historian. Also note – There is SO MUCH information that I cannot possibly put it all into a reasonable article. So many hundreds of thousands of books have been written on the subject, so I’m going to do my best to condense this down into the bare facts based on historical context and cultural background. Ready? Three controversial statement in 3… 2… 1…

 

Jesus was NOT white.

Jesus was a Jew, who followed the laws and practices of the Jewish tradition.

Jesus was not the only messiah.

 

Okay, so let us back up and let me explain these before I move on.

1) Jesus’ skin pigmentation was not the pale color attributed to a Caucasian cultural background. It is acknowledged in the Bible that Mary is indeed the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:42, ESV), and as Mary herself was not the bastard daughter of Romans, we can assume she matched the cultural pigment profile of the region. Even assuming God is Caucazoid, Jesus is, at best, a healthy mix of melanin profiles.

2) Jesus was a Jew. He was called King of the Jews many times over, he practiced Jewish traditions (the last supper is generally assumed to be a Passover meal), and he was called Rabbi by his disciples and followers (Mark 9:5, NIV).

3) And finally, and this is where historical context comes into it, Jesus was not the only messiah. It’s true! In his time, many called John the Baptist the messiah, as well as a little known guy named Apollonius of Tyana. Not to mention many others throughout that period. See, times were not easy, what with the Romans basically pervading every aspect of everyday life. There were so many men claiming to be the messiah that, even though proclaiming oneself a leader or king above that of Roman leadership was illegal, mostly the Roman’s ignored it. So what sets Jesus apart from these others? Why does the Christian faith honor him above all others? In a word? Propaganda.

Now hold up. Before you get all angry with me, propaganda isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am in no way saying that Jesus wasn’t a groovy Jew with radical notions of government, leadership, and social justice – he totally was and I dig that. But Jesus must have had an edge on his messianic rivals – and that edge was charisma and a good campaign manager. (God maybe? Not saying, just saying.)

Look, taking the divine out of it for a moment, this guy managed to get noticed. Raising the dead, traipsing around with hookers and lepers, feeding the masses, walking on water, this guy and his disciples knew how to work the rumor machine. Guy is unconscious, thought to be dead? Jesus wakes him up. Feeding the masses? Good pre-planning. Walking on water? Guy swims out to the boat, a few well-placed innuendos to the uneducated masses and BOOM! Divine Bridge of God.

He got so much attention that the Roman policy of ignoring the upstart messianic Jews became more and more difficult. I mean when a carpenter’s son suddenly has enough devoted followers to threaten a governor, you’ve got to take notice, right?

So Pilate did what he had to do. He followed the letter of the law, even gave the people a chance to save their erstwhile savior. I won’t speak to the division of the Christian and Jewish faiths that came about from this moment, but I find it rather reprehensible to blame an entire culture and religion for the actions of a likely ill-informed few. And Jesus dies on the cross.

Then he is, ostensibly, resurrected. But in the earliest versions of Mark, the chapter ends at 16:8, and this itself was written some 300 years after Jesus’ death. Here is the whole passage from the New International Version:

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
8 “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

The remaining versus (9-20) didn’t enter into it until much much later. Seems awfully weird that it just cuts off before they get a chance to talk to the risen Christ. Just a dude in robes telling them that Jesus had risen and went ahead to Galilee to… what? Get his affairs in order? See the sites one last time?

This article is not meant to dispute the divinity of Christ. I know what I just said, but listen: If you’re a believer, everything I cited here can be explained. But if you’re a skeptic (and I am), there are plenty of holes in your plot to be poked. Even ignoring the fact that if Jesus was the Messiah, he was a rather poor one as he did not bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth as he was prophesied to do. Indeed, he instead implied that the Kingdom of God was in fact, Earth (Luke 17:21). And frankly if THIS is the Kingdom of Heaven? God can keep it.

Consider this food for thought: If Jesus was the son of God, then what he managed to do in his short time on this globe was nothing terribly special. If indeed God is truly all powerful, He has contrived to do something that has failed, thus proving his own fallibility. But if Jesus was just a man with radical ideas… then he has done more (for good or for ill) than any single human being living or dead has ever done. And THAT to me is the REAL gospel of Jesus.

AG

Archangel

11180297_161613964180694_1326815881445740600_nFollowing on from our recent post regarding Lilith (who legend states married an archangel – Samael – after being expelled from the Garden of Eden) and questions we have received regarding the differences between Angels and Archangels we have put this little post together to guide you through the most common references you are likely to come across.

An archangel (literally means chief angel) is an angel of high rank. Beings similar to archangels are found in a number of religious traditions; but the word “archangel” itself is usually associated with the Abrahamic religions.

When thinking of Archangels Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael probably come to mind. They are venerated in the Roman Catholic Church with feasts and are the only reconized archangels.
But did you know that in many other religions there are others?

Roman Catholic Archangels:

Michael is the “Prince of the Heavenly Host,” the leader of all the angels. His name is Hebrew for “Who is like God?” and was the battle cry of the good angels against Lucifer and his followers when they rebelled against God.

Gabriel, whose name means “God’s strength,” Announced the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zacharias, and also the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of Mary.

Raphael, whose name means “God has healed” because of his healing of Tobias’ blindness in the Book of Tobit. Tobit is the only book in which he is mentioned. His office is generally accepted by tradition to be that of healing and acts of mercy.

Now also we can’t forget about Lucifer (we will be doing a seperate post on him)some have him as an archangel while others have him as a regular angel. Lucifer means ‘light bearer.’ Other names that may refer to Lucifer include Satan, Iblis, Beelzebub, Ba’al, Belial, Apollyon, Azazel, Leviathan, Lumiel, Prometheus, and Devil.

In Islam, the named archangels include:

Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic). Gabriel is said to be the archangel responsible for revealing the Quran to Muhammad and inducing him to recite it. Gabriel is known as the angel who communicates with the prophets. Various hadiths (traditions) mention his role in delivering messages from “God the Almighty” to the prophets.

Michael (Mikhail in Arabic). Michael is often depicted as the archangel of mercy who is responsible for bringing rain and thunder to Earth.

Israfil (Israfel or Israafiyl). According to tradition, Israfel is the angel responsible for signaling the coming of Judgment Day by blowing a horn/trumpet. It translates in Hebrew as Raphael.

Azrael , in the Quran (Surah al-Sajdah 32:11) is responsible for parting the soul from the body.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) believe that there is only one archangel (Michael), based on the literal meaning of the Greek word “chief angel”. They also believe that the definite article at Jude 9 (“Michael the archangel”) means there is only one archangel.

Orthodox iconography, each angel has a symbolic representation:

Michael in the Hebrew language means “Who is like unto God?” or “Who is equal to God?” St. Michael has been depicted from earliest Christian times as a commander, who holds in his right hand a spear with which he attacks Lucifer/Satan, and in his left hand a green palm branch. At the top of the spear there is a linen ribbon with a red cross. The Archangel Michael is especially considered to be the Guardian of the Orthodox Faith and a fighter against heresies.

Gabriel means “Man of God” or “Might of God.” He is the herald of the mysteries of God, especially the Incarnation of God and all other mysteries related to it. He is depicted as follows: In his right hand, he holds a lantern with a lighted taper inside, and in his left hand, a mirror of green jasper. The mirror signifies the wisdom of God as a hidden mystery.

Raphael means “God’s healing” or “God the Healer” (Tobit 3:17, 12:15). Raphael is depicted leading Tobit (who is carrying a fish caught in the Tigris) with his right hand, and holding a physician’s alabaster jar in his left hand.

Uriel means “Fire of God,” or “Light of God” (II Esdras 4:1, 5:20). He is depicted holding a sword against the Persians in his right hand, and a flame in his left.

Sealtiel means “Intercessor of God.” He is depicted with his face and eyes lowered, holding his hands on his bosom in prayer.

Jegudiel means “Glorifier of God.” He is depicted bearing a golden wreath in his right hand and a triple-thonged whip in his left hand.

Barachiel means “Blessing of God.” He is depicted holding a white rose in his hand against his breast.

Jerahmeel means “God’s exaltation.” He is venerated as an inspirer and awakener of exalted thoughts that raise a person toward God (II Esdras 4:36). As an eighth, he is sometimes included as archangel.

In the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, 1 Enoch describes Saraqael as one of the angels that watch over “the spirits that sin in the spirit.” (20:7, 8)

Jewish literature, such as the Book of Enoch, mentions Metatron (normally thought to be the Scribe of God and also Enoch himself) as an archangel, called the “highest of the angels”, though the acceptance of this angel is not canonical in all branches of the faith. Some branches of the faiths mentioned have identified a group of seven Archangels, but the actual angels vary, depending on the source. Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael are always mentioned; the other archangels vary, but most commonly include Uriel, who is mentioned in 2 Esdras.

In the Kabbalah there are ten archangels, each assigned to one sephira: Metatron, Raziel (other times Jophiel), Tzaphkiel, Tzadkiel, Khamael, Raphael, Haniel, Michael, Gabriel and Sandalphon. Chapter 20 of the Book of Enoch mentions seven holy angels who watch, that often are considered the seven archangels: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Saraqael, Raguel, and Remiel. The Life of Adam and Eve lists the archangels as well: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael and Joel.

Judaic tradition, where they are named as Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Remiel and Saraqael. While this book today is non-canonical in most Christian Churches, it was explicitly quoted in the New Testament (Letter of Jude 1:14-15) and by many of the early Church Fathers. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church to this day regards it to be canonical.

In the late 5th to early 6th century, Pseudo-Dionysius gives them as Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Chamuel, Jophiel, and Zadkiel.
The earliest Christian mention is by Pope Saint Gregory I who lists them as Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel (or Anael), Simiel (Samael), Oriphiel and Raguel. A later reference to seven archangels would appear in an 8th or 9th century talisman attributed to Auriolus, a “servant of God” in north-western Spain. He issues a prayer to “all you patriarchs Michael, Gabriel, Cecitiel, Oriel, Raphael, Ananiel, Marmoniel (“who hold the clouds in your hands”)

I hope you enjoyed this little toe-dip into the world of the winged. In a further post I will explore cherubim, nephilim, seraphim and “guardian” angels, and discuss some of the theories about the existence of angels.

Adela