ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

10 Interesting Facts, Beliefs and Theories About the Bible Lands

Ten interesting facts, beliefs and theories about the holy land.

The Bible lands…beautiful, sacred, mysterious, brimming with history, abounding in contrasts… There is so much to learn about this area of the world, that you might not already know these “interesting facts, beliefs and theories” listed below. Some shed light on the events of the Bible, making the Scriptures “come alive” for us, while others are just fascinating bits of knowledge to have. For sure, all ten bring us a little closer to knowing and understanding the world that Christ knew and loved.

Did you know …

…that the real Last Supper may not have looked very much like Leonardo DaVinci’s classic depiction? Ordinarily, at the suppers that Jesus and the Apostles held, they reclined on the floor instead of sitting. The Last Supper was no exception: “Now when evening arrived, He reclined at table with the twelve disciples.” (Matt. 26:20)

According to Rev. Kenneth Campbell, a Franciscan Friar who serves as guide in the Holy Land, they ate in this manner in order to get the feeling that they were indeed “free men” – of Egypt’s domination.

…that tears were precious in Egypt and Palestine, and were actually collected and kept in bottles? Sometimes made of decorated glass, bottles containing tears of the bereaved were placed in tombs with the deceased.

The existence of tear bottles explains the Biblical quote: “You have noted my agitation, now collect my tears in your wineskin.” (Ps. 56-8) The fact that tears were precious also helps us to understand why Christ was so moved by the penitent woman in St. Luke’s Gospel account.. “And turning to the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Dost thou see this woman? I came into thy house; thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she has bathed my feet with tears, and has wiped them with her hair. Wherefore, I say to thee, her sins, many as they are, shall be forgiven her, because she has loved much.”’

…that the Antonia Fortress – where Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate – was a residence and guard tower rebuilt by Herod the Great and named in honor of his friend, Mark Anthony? Situated at the N. W. corner of the Temple court in Jerusalem, the fortress gave Roman authorities a good view of the entire temple area, should any insurrection occur when great numbers of Jews gathered on the Sabbath or on feast days. (Model shown above)

…that four of the seven Sacraments were instituted in the same place? At different times, Christ inaugurated Penance, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Holy Eucharist in the Cenacle, or “Upper Room.”

…that a pavement found below the present Church of the Dames de Sion in Jerusalem may be part of the ancient courtyard, identified with Gabbatha, where Jesus appeared before Pilate? The Gospel account tells us: “Pilate therefore, when he heard these words, brought Jesus outside, and sat down on the judgment-seat, at a place called Lithostrotos, but in Hebrew Gabbatha,” (John 19:13). Located near the Via Dolorosa, part of the paving has been identified by Pere H. Vincent. Scratched on the paving is a Roman gaming board, one of the most valuable archaelogical finds in Jerusalem, on which soldiers may possibly have whiled away their time while awaiting Pilate’s verdict (John 19:23). The etchings in the pavement are still clearly discernible today.

…that at 1,292 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest sheet of water in the world? It is all that is left of an arm of the sea which once extended from the Red Sea to the Lebanons. Also called the “Salt Sea,” its saline content is five times greater than that of the oceans. The result is greater buoyancy, but no fish can exist in the Sea.

…how the famous “Street Called Straight” in Damascus, Syria got its name? Like the main streets of nearly all the great Hellenistic cities, this street – where the disciple Ananias came in search of the newly-converted St. Paul – ran straight as an arrow from one end of the city to the other. (H.V. Morton, In the Steps of St. Paul)

…why the fish came to be associated with Christ? During the persecution period, it was a symbol whose secret meaning was known only by the initiated. The Greek word for fish pronounced “ichthus,” and the five component letters are the initials of the Greek words meaning “Jesus Christ , Son of God, Savior.” (Fifth century mosaic floor shown above.)

…what the term “swaddling clothes” means? The New Harper’s Bible Dictionary describes the practice thus: “A newborn Hebrew child, like the infant Jesus, was washed and rubbed with salt, and laid on a square of cloth, his head in one corner and his feet in the corner diagonically opposite; the cloth was folded over his sides and up over his feet, and the swaddling bands were then tied round the bundle. His hands were fastened to his sides. Swaddling was continued until the child was several months old. The little Palestinian “papoose” was thus conveniently carried by his swaddling bands to field work, or strapped to his mother’s back.

As late as 1936, H.V. Morton reported the use of swaddling clothes in the Near East: “An Arab child in Syria today is nursed exactly as in Old Testament times.” The effect, he stated, was that the child became a “very small mummy.”

…the famous Moslem sanctuary, the Dome of the Rock is built on the site of the Jerusalem temple? The location of the Temple is definitely known, because the Sacred Rock Moriah, where according to many scholars, animals were sacrificed on the altar of burnt offering, exists today under the Dome of the Rock.

There were two temples: the first one built by Solomon around 960 B.C. and destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.; the second built by Herod and destroyed by the Romans under Titus in 70 A.D. In February, 1867, Lieutenant Warren, R.E., excavating for the Palestine Exploration Fund, had an exciting find: 80 feet below the present surface of the Haram esh-Sherif, or Temple area, was a builder’s mark in Hebrew characters sunk into the Herodian masonry.

The Haram esh-Sherif is important to all three great religions of the Near East. Jews remember it as the place where Abraham stood ready to sacrifice his son Isaac, and as the site of the Holy of Holies. Today, they pray at the Western or Wailing Wall – a 52-yard stretch of limestone blocks from the retaining wall of Herod’s Temple.

Christians know it as the area that Christ visited from boyhood on, where He, during certain seasons “sat daily…in the temple teaching.” (Matt. 26:55)

And Moslems believe that the sacred rock marks the spot where Mohammed ascended to heaven on a stairway of light.

Get to know us and stay informed about the impact your support makes.

Nous constatons que votre préférence linguistique est le français.
Voudriez-vous être redirigé sur notre site de langue française?

Oui! Je veux y accéder.

Hemos notado que su idioma preferido es español. ¿Le gustaría ver la página de Asociación Católica para el Bienestar del Cercano Oriente en español?

Vee página en español