Bible Archaeology

Ancient Biblical Gardens ‘Bloom’ Again

An ancient royal garden has come back into bloom in a way, as scientists have reconstructed what it would’ve looked like some 2,500 years ago in the kingdom of the biblical Judah.

Their reconstruction, which relied on analyses of excavated pollen, reveals a paradise of exotic plants.

The luxurious garden had been discovered at Ramat Rahe, an archaeological site located high above the modern city of Jerusalem, about midway between the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This site was inhabited since the last century of the Kingdom of Judah (seventh century B.C.) until the early Muslim reign in Palestine (10th century), a period that saw many wars and exchanges of power, with the garden evolving under each civilization.

Since excavators discovered the garden, they could only imagine its leafy, flowery inhabitants. That is until now.

The garden relied on an advanced irrigation system, which collected rainwater and distributed it using artsy water installations, including pools, underground channels, tunnels and gutters.

These water installations ended up being the key to the team’s new discovery; the researchers found grains of pollen that likely got trapped in plaster when the installations were renovated and the plaster still wet. The result was preserved pollen grains.

In samples dating back to the Persian period (between the fifth and sixth centuries B.C.), the team found grains from local fruit trees, ornamentals and imported trees from distant lands.

“This is a very unique pollen assemblage,” study researcher Dafna Langgut, a pollen expert at Tel Aviv University, said in a statement.

For instance, they found evidence of willow and poplar trees, which would have required irrigation to survive in the garden. They also found pollen associated with ornamentals, such as myrtle and water lilies; native fruit trees, including grape vine, common fig and olive; and imported citron, Persian walnut, cedar of Lebanon and birch trees. The researchers think the ruling Persian authorities likely imported these exotics from remote parts of the empire to flaunt their power.

The team suggests these imported plants had a lasting impact on the region and Judaism, said Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University. Take the citron tree. It made its first appearance in Israel in this garden, and since has worked its way into Jewish tradition. The citron, or etrog, is one of the four species of plants used at Sukkot, a biblical holiday.




British Health Service Plans to Eliminate Hospital Chaplains

Catholic Culture reports on the increasingly godless mindset in Britain:

The British government is cutting back sharply on funding for hospital chaplains, explaining that there is no evidence that the presence of chaplains improves the quality of medical care.

The National Health Service estimates that over £18 million could be saved if all hospitals conformed to national standards for care, and argues that the money saved by eliminating chaplains from the payrolls would allow for hiring over 1,000 nurses’ assistants.

Vatican Insider has more.



‘Ashes to Go’ for Those on the Fly

Speaking of Ash Wednesday coming up soon, have you ever heard of such nonsense?

For those too busy to go to church on Ash Wednesday, The Rev. Sandra Cosman of St. John’s Episcopal Church will be out standing on Main Street Wednesday, February 22 offering ‘Ashes to Go.’

For two hours, 1 to 3 p.m., Rev. Cosman will stand in her vestments holding a bowl of ashes from the burning of last year’s Palm Sunday palm fronds, offering all faiths a thumbprint of the ash on their forehead. Adminstered to the same spot on the forehead where Christians are baptized, they mark the beginning of the Lenten season…

But this is the first year for “Ashes to Go” in East Hartford. The idea was spawned in Chicago two years ago with ashes offered to commuters as they waited on Metra train platforms…

Rev. Cosman is willing to administer ashes to all passers-by on Main Street Wednesday, including people on bicycles, on foot, and those waiting for the bus. She will be standing in her white vestments next to the sidewalk at the busy intersection of Main Street and Burnside Avenue.

A meaningless exercise helping those who are perishing not one little bit. People should make time to worship God in community. Ash Wednesday is a solemn occasion. Reverent. Not to be reduced to yet another modern innovation Church Episcopal commercial venture.




Homily – 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (2012)

[Click here for the lessons]

Surely the reading of this account in our Gospel today stands as one of my favourite childhood scriptural memories. I remember being enthralled looking at one artists rendition in the Good News Bible, men ripping open the roof to lower down a paralytic into the middle of a crowded room, all so that their friend could be healed by Jesus. The attraction for me to this story was twofold:

  1. The faith of the men, and
  2. The compassion of Jesus.

Our faith in Jesus will always be rewarded. As believers, we live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

Now, it is interesting that this portion of Scripture comes to us as Lent is about to begin. It is, in point of fact, a rather timely lesson.

Pope Benedict XVI in his recent Lenten message (2012) called on the faithful to care for others. We are to be concerned about one another and not to remain in ‘isolated’ or ‘indifferent’ to the needs of other people. Concern for others, he said, means wanting what is good physically, morally and spiritually for one’s neighbour, and this, in a contemporary culture that ‘seems to have lost the sense of good and evil.’

Wanting that which was good physically, morally and spiritually for one’s neighbour, was what prompted the men in the Bible to help their paralytic friend – his needs moved them to action. So determined are they that they carry him up a roof, dig a hole in it, and lower him down on a stretcher.

So perhaps, you can now see how timely the lesson is?

As we are about to make our way through austere Lent, we are called upon to have faith and like the men in the Gospel, to see the plight of other, to carry our neighbours in need. And we carry them to Jesus, the Great Physician, the One who can heal and attend to every need. We don’t just do this in a physical sense, through acts of charity and love, but also spiritually, through our prayers and forgiveness.

Lent calls upon on us to dedicate ourselves anew to Christ. It is a season of reflection and stock-taking, for deep soul-searching and repentance, and for living out the commandment: ‘Love thy neigbour as thy self’ (Mark 12:31); to have a heart of compassion, not a heart of stone.

So many Christians sadly walk around with hearts of stone. Oblivious to the needs and wants of others. Uncaring and unsympathetic. Self-righteous. Perhaps a bit like the Scribes present in the Gospel. Watching Jesus’ every word and every movement. Criticising. Others are mercifully less so. But all of us need our hearts broken from time-to-time. And Lent is such a time.

A time of fasting and prayer, a time of self-denial and confession, a time of whole hearted devotion to the Saviour of our souls, and a time to help others too, to make their way to the Cross.

Our forebears used to keep really strict Lents. They would fast and pray throughout. No meat or meat products were to be eaten for the 40 days of Lent, and only one meal a day was allowed, eaten after 3pm (the hour of mercy). And strictly no alcohol. This applied not just to clerics, but to all laymen. These days, we only fast on Ash Wednesday, and Friday’s are supposed to be meatless.

It is however, still a good thing to plan for Lent. This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. We’ve already seen the importance of recognising the physical and spiritual needs of others. But often in order to do so, for our eyes to be opened, lifted off our selfish selves, we need to break with sin. And we can do so by offering sacrifices to Christ during Lent.

Sacrifices? Yes. First start by prayerfully planning. Go and ask Jesus what He desires from you. Speak to a Priest. Seek spiritual direction. Formulate a plan and then stick to it. Some of the more traditional forms of penance – the works of satisfaction imposed on or recommended by the Priest, or acts that a believer imposes on him or herself outside of the Sacrament – include:

  • Abstaining from meat
  • Abstaining from all alcohol
  • Abstaining from luxuries
  • Abstaining from TV, music, radio, and/or movies
  • Intense Prayer
  • Daily Rosary

But as you research these things, you’ll soon enough find that other known recommendations (amongst others) include:

  • Waking up in the night for a prayer vigil
  • Sleeping without a pillow
  • Sleeping on the floor
  • Taking cold showers
  • Putting a pebble in your shoe
  • Carrying a cross in your pocket

Remember the goal of penance, the mortification of flesh, is to deny oneself in order to attain a spiritual goal.

Fr Michael Geisler, a priest of the Opus Dei, explains:

Self-denial helps a person overcome both psychological and physical weakness, gives him energy, helps him grow in virtue and ultimately leads to salvation. It conquers the insidious demons of softness, pessimism and lukewarm faith that dominate the lives of so many today”

–         (Crisis magazine July/August 2005).

Saint Paul says:

I preach that they should do penance and turn to God, doing works worthy of penance.” (Acts 26:20).

And so my prayer for you and I, as Lent is to begin in three days time,  is it that we would perform ‘works worthy of penance.’ That we would determine to see the need in ourselves, and the needs of others. That we would stop at nothing to get ourselves right with God, and help others get right with Him too. To grow in holiness, as we live for Jesus. And in all that we do, and all that we say, give glory to God our Father through Jesus His Son.

Allow me to conclude with a quote by St John Chrysostom:

Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works.
If you see a poor man, take pity on him.
If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him.

Do not let only your mouth fast,
but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands
and all the members of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is

Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.

For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and
devour our brothers?

May He who came to the world to save sinners, strengthen us to
complete the fast with humility! Have mercy on us and save us.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,




What is Sin and Why Does It Need to Be Forgiven?

This Sunday is the last before the start of Lent, and in this weekend’s Readings we are confronted with two recurrent themes: the forgiveness of sin, and the pouring out of God’s Spirit. The two are related to each other, but figuring out just what the relationship is will require some reflection on what sin actually is.

Continue to read: Thoughts on the Readings of the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, here.