For the record, I'm neither an academic nor a scholar, and admittedly, I've never been to many of the places posted here. So if someone should find a mistake, or believe I omitted something, please feel free to email me and I'll correct it.

I can be contacted at dms2_@hotmail.com.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

LEBANON

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Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon, Harissa, courtesy, PhilStar.com
Lebanon is located in the center of the eastern Mediterranean coast and is even smaller than Israel. Aside from the Mediterranean, it is bounded on the south by Israel and on the east and north by Syria. Throughout history, Lebanon has constantly had to fight for its ancient Phoenician/Maronite Christian identity, especially against Arab Muslim colonialism, but have only been partially successful - since independence in 1943, by law, the president has to be a Maronite. But on the other hand, the prime minister and speaker of the parliament have to be Arab Muslims and as such, the whole of Lebanon, including the Maronites, was forced to be a full member of the Arab League since its founding in 1945. Since then, the Arabs have successfully brainwashed the Maronites into thinking that they are Arab Christians. Those who refused this identity, were often killed. This was especially so in the 1970s during the civil war when the PLO would massacre approximately 100,000 unarmed Maronite men, women, and children, with the tacit approval of the United Nations. Since the war, the indigenous Lebanese have made impressive economic gains, on a par with that of Europe and Israel, in spite of the fact that they are still persecuted and harassed by the Arabs and are constantly under the watchful eye of Hezbollah.

Before the introduction of Christianity to Lebanon, the Phoenicians, as with most ancient peoples of the time, were pagans. During this period, Phoenicia was never a single unified country, but was made up of four main autonomous city-states, each ruled by their own kings, the two leading city-states being Tyre and Sidon. Byblos and Arwad were next in importance (see Byblos). During the reigns of David and Solomon in Israel, both Tyre and Sidon had mixed Israelite and Phoenician populations even though they were often ruled by Phoenician kings. Sometimes, the kings themselves even had mixed ancestry, for example King Hiram of Tyre who assisted King Solomon in building the Temple in Jerusalem. The following is a list of the ancient Phoenician kings centered in Tyre:

Agenor (ruled from c. 1500 BCE), Phoenix, Eri-Aku, Abi-Milku, Aribas, Baal Termeg, Baal, Pummay, (the list of the next century is unclear and it is resumed again in the early 10th century BCE when Sidon, which was formerly ruled by Ahiram, joined Tyre to form a union, but the kings continued to rule from Tyre), Abibaal, Hiram I, Baal Eser I, Abdastartus, Astartus, Deleastartus, Astarymus, Phelles, Itobaal I, Baal Eser II, Mattan I, Pygmalion;

Under Assyrian rule - Itobaal II, Hiram II, Mattan II, Itobaal III who ruled an independent Tyre;
Babylonian rule - Baal II, Yakinbaal, (monarchy overthrown in favor of judges), Chelbes, Abbar, Mattan III and Ger Ashtari jointly, Baal Eser III, Hiram III who restored the monarchy;

Persian rule - Mattan IV, Boulomenus, Abdemon, the Cypriot Evagoras of Salamis who briefly united Tyre with Cyprus, Eugoras, Azemilcus who reigned during the siege of Alexander the Great, Abdolunim.

Thereafter, the territory of Tyre alternated between Greek and Roman rule.
According to some histories, Saint Peter was the first to evangelize the Phoenicians whom he affiliated to the ancient patriarchate of Antioch. Paul also preached in Lebanon, having lingered with the early Christians in Tyre and Sidon. Even though Christianity was introduced early to Lebanon, its spread was very slow, particularly in the mountainous areas where paganism was still unyielding.
The earliest indisputable tradition of Christianity in Lebanon can be traced back to Saint Maron in the 4th century AD, being of Greek/Eastern/Antiochian Orthodox origin and the founder of national and ecclesiastical Maronitism. Saint Maron adopted an ascetic and reclusive life on the banks of the Orontes river in the vicinity of Homs, Syria and founded a community of monks which began to preach the gospel in the surrounding areas.  
After the Arab conquest and occupation in the 7th century, Saint John Maron, a monk of Sarmin in Syria,  led his followers to the Lebanese mountains to the village of Kfar Hai and there, consolidated Lebanon’s Maronite heritage, often protected by the Marada warriors who were also Maronites. The following is a list of the patriarchs since his time (Druze leaders will be covered in a different posting):

John Maron, Kyros, Gabriel, John Maron II (transferred the patriarchal seat to Yanouh then to Byblos), Youhanna, Gregorius, Stefanos, Mark, Eusebius, Youhanna II, Yeshu, David, Gregorius II, Theophilactus, Yeshu II, Domitius, Ishaq, Youhanna III, Shamun, Urmia, Youhanna IV, Shamun II, Shamun III;

Crusader period (1099-1305) – (During the Crusades, the Maronites went into communion with the Roman Catholic Church.) Yousef al Jirjisi, Butros (the patriarchate briefly moved to the town of Mayfuq but then returned to Byblos), Gregorius, Yacoub, Youhanna V, Boutros II, Boutros III, Boutros IV, Urmia Amchiti, Daniel, Youhanna VI, Shamun IV, Yacoub II, Daniel II, Luqa and Urmia III (the two patriarchs, ruling at the same time, caused a schism in the church but it reunified after the death of Urmia in 1297), Shamun V succeeded and led the Maronites into the:  

Mameluke Egyptian period (1305-1516) - Shamun V, Youhanna VII, Gabriel II, David II, Youhanna el Jaji (transferred the patriarchal seat to Kannoubine), Yacoub el Hadathi, Yousef el Hadathi;

Ottoman Turkish period (1516-1918) - Seman el Hadathi, Mousa Saade el Akari, Mikhail al Rizzi, Sarkis el Rizzi, Yousef el Rizzi, Youhanna Makhlouf, Gewargios Omaira al Duwaihi, Yousef Halib el Akouri, Youhanna el Bawab, Gerges Beseb’eli, Estafanos el Duwaihi, Jibrail II, Yacoub Awad, Yousef V el Khazen, Seman Awad, Tobias el Khazen, Yousef Estefan, Mikhail Fadel, Philip Gemayel, Yousef Tyan, Youhanna Helou, Yousef Hobaish (moved the patriarchal seat to Bkerke), Yousef IX el Khazen, Boulos Massad, Youhanna el Hajj, Elias Peter Hoayek led the Maronites from Ottoman to French rule after WWI;

French rule (1918-1943) – Elias Peter Hoayek, Anthony Peter Arida (led from French rule to independence);

Independence – Anthony Peter Arida, Paul Peter Meouchi, Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Bechara Boutros al Rahi (the present incumbent).

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

CAPERNAUM/KFAR NAHUM, ISRAEL

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4th century synagogue, Capernaum, courtesy RomeArtLover.it
The town of Capernaum, or Kfar Nahum as it was originally called in Hebrew, was a fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was established during the time of the Judean Hasmonean dynasty in the 2nd century BCE and had a population of about 1,500.  Later, it became the home of Matthew the Evangelist, as well as Saint Peter whose house was converted into a place of worship by the early Judeo-Christians, officially becoming a church under the authority of the Byzantines.
A major archaeological site, excavations in Capernaum have revealed two ancient synagogues, one built over the other, the most recent, dating back to the 4th century. In Christian tradition, one Sabbath, while sojourning in Capernaum, Jesus healed a servant of a Roman centurion. This servant later built the first synagogue and this became the place where Jesus preached. According to the Synoptic Gospels, he selected Capernaum as the center of his public ministry in Galilee after he left the small mountainous hamlet of Nazareth (Matthew 4:12–17). Eventually though, he came to curse the town, along with Bethsaida and Chorazin, because of their lack of faith in him as the Messiah. Other healings by Jesus that occurred in Capernaum included the healing of Simon Peter's mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38–39), the healing of the lepers, and the healing of the paralytic lowered by friends through the roof, as reported in Mark 2:1–12 and Luke 5:17–26. Capernaum survived the Jewish revolts against Rome in the 1st and 2nd centuries even though the Jewish historian Josephus received treatment there after suffering a battle injury nearby along the Jordan River.
By the 4th century, the local houses were constructed with good quality mortar and fine ceramics. This was about the time that the synagogue, now familiar to Israelis and tourists alike, was built. This synagogue contained a relief depicting one of the earliest representations of the Magen David (Star of David). There were some European archaeologists early in the 20th century who believed that it also contained an upper floor reserved for women, with access by means of an external staircase located in a small room. But this opinion was not substantiated by later excavations. There are two inscriptions on the site, one in Greek and the other in Aramaic, that commemorate the benefactors that helped in the construction of the building. There are also carvings of five- and six-pointed stars and of palm trees.
Capernaum remained inhabited for several centuries since its founding. It was revived after the earthquake of 749 but was later abandoned in the 11th century, shortly before the Crusader conquest. Archaeological activities at the site, as well as throughout the country, began in the early 19th century. By 1866, the British Captain Charles William Wilson identified the remains of the synagogue, and in 1894, the Franciscan Friar Giuseppe Baldi of Naples, the Custodian of the Holy Land, was able to recover a good part of the ruins from the Bedouins. The Franciscans raised a fence to protect the ruins from frequent vandalism, and planted palms and eucalyptus trees brought from Australia to create a small oasis for pilgrims. The most important excavations began in 1905 under the direction of German archaeologists Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger. They were continued by Franciscan Fathers Vendelin von Benden (1905–1915) and Gaudenzio Orfali (1921–1926). The excavations resulted in the discovery of two public buildings, the synagogue and an octagonal church. In 1926, Father Orfali began the restoration of the synagogue. The work was interrupted by his death in a car accident later that year (which is commemorated by a Latin inscription carved onto one of the synagogue's columns), and was continued by Virgilio Corbo beginning in 1976. Excavations have been ongoing, with some publication on the Internet as recently as 2003.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

CAIRO

Hanging Church
The Hanging Church, courtesy, Coptic-Cairo.com
The city of Cairo is the capital of Arab-occupied Egypt. It is also the seat of its government, presently headed by President Abdel Fatah al Sisi. The indigenous Copts today, have a high regard for President al Sisi which puts to rest that all Arab Muslims are evil, which they certainly are not. Should Egypt free itself from the occupation and become a Coptic state, like Israel is a Jewish state, President al Sisi could very well find himself with an honored place in society, perhaps continue as president. Unfortunately, he is just one individual and there are many more Arabs who are evil and who try to make the lives of the indigenous Egyptians a living hell. Regarding Cairo, such incidents include, but are not limited to, the following: 2009 – a Coptic protest over a church burning resulted in an Arab Muslim mob of rage that killed 9 of the protesters and injured 150; 2011 – another mob attacks two churches. Twelve are killed and 232 injured; that same year, a peaceful protest over a church burning angered an Arab Muslim mob, including members of the military, and 27 protesters were killed, 329 injured; 2016 – a suicide bomb during a church service killed 27 and injured 49; and in 2017 – Arab gunmen opened fire on a church service killing 9 and injuring 9.
History books give the foundation year of Cairo as 972 and built by the Fatimid Arabs. This, however, is not true. Present-day Cairo was actually an outgrowth of several ancient sites in the area namely, Memphis, at one time, the capital of ancient Egypt, today hovering around Cairo’s southern border. Heliopolis also served as capital when Memphis was not. It hovers on Cairo’s northern border. In between, the ancient Egyptians erected several monuments that have stood the test of time including: the Pyramid of the Pharaoh Djoser, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Sphinx. In the 6th century BCE, the Persians built a fort settlement on the Nile and called it “Babylon” after the ancient city on the Euphrates. The Persians also built a canal from the Nile (from today’s Fustat) to the Red Sea. From that time and for many centuries afterwards, Babylon gained importance while nearby Memphis, as well as Heliopolis declined. 
In the period when Egypt was under Roman occupation, it is believed, in Christian tradition, that the Cairo area was one of the places the Holy Family visited during their flight from Judea to Egypt, and they stayed at the site that became the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (today, in the neighborhood of Abu Serga). By the 4th century, as Christianity spread in Egypt, the Copts staged a revolt against Roman rule, but it was summarily crushed resulting in the Romans establishing a fortress and settlement on the site of the old Persian structures built centuries earlier. It was that fortress settlement that became the nucleus of the Cairo proper, and Coptic Cairo in particular. In the late 4th and early 5th centuries, many churches were established in the area. The Hanging Church, located on the fortress grounds and so named because it was built over the southern gate, was said to have been built during the time of the Patriarch Isaac (690-692), fifty years after the conquest of Egypt by the Arabs. Eventually, it became the official seat and residence of the Coptic Pope and remained so for the next 1200 years. Alexandria remained the historic and traditional seat until today.  
Since the Arab conquest and probably until the 8th century, the neighborhood of Fustat, the first Arab settlement in Egypt which intermittently served as capital of the local Arab occupation, was also a Coptic center. It is said that the Amr ibn al As Mosque, named after the leader of the Arab conquerors, was built in part from columns stolen from local Coptic churches.
The Moqattam area of Cairo was, according to Coptic tradition, the scene of the moving of the Moqattam Mountain. Al-Mu’izz, a Fatimid Arab caliph, asked Patriarch Abraham (reigned 975-978), the 62nd patriarch, to prove the truth of a verse in the Bible (Matthew 17:20) that he believed related to the Mountain: “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” After three days of praying and fasting for guidance in front of a painting of the Virgin Mary, the Virgin Mary appeared to the Patriarch in a vision and instructed him on his response. When he returned to the caliph, he made the Mountain move. Al-Mu’izz was therefore convinced of the truth of the Christian faith and thereafter, allowed the Coptic Church certain privileges. However, from the 12th century onward, the Copts suffered persecution and high taxation imposed on them by the Arab authorities. This problem became so acute, that they felt forced to sell one of their churches, built in the 8th century, to the local Jewish community who thereupon built the Ben Ezra Synagogue which still stands (empty) today.
Since 1300, the Papal seat was transferred several times to different locations around Cairo: in 1300, to the Church of Saint Mercurius; in 1400, the Church of Saint Mary in Harat Zawila neighborhood; in 1660, under Pope Matthew IV, to the Church of the Virgin Mary in Harat Elroum neighborhood; in 1800, under Pope Mark VIII, to Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, in Azbakeya neighborhood; and in 1971, to Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Abbassiya neighborhood where it remains today.
In 1908, after receiving approval and a number of silver antiquities from Patriarch Cyril V and raising funds by public subscription, a certain Marcus Simaika Pasha built the Coptic Museum and inaugurated it on March 14, 1910. It was a modern architectural wonder, competing with some of the local churches. Some of the most prominent churches found in and around Cairo today, aside from those mentioned above, include: Saint George and Saint Abraam, Saint Gawargious and Saint Anthony, and Saint Mark Churches, located in Heliopolis; Saint Marc, and Saint Mona Churches in Giza; Saint Mary in Masarra; Saint Mary and Saint Bishoy, and Saint Mary and Saint Rewies, in Abbassiya; Saint Mary in Zeitoon; Saint Saman el Dabagh in Moqattam; Saint Mary, Archangel Saint Mikhail, Saint Anthony, and the Martyrs Saint Philopateur and Saint Demyana Churches in Shoubra; Saint George in el Zaher; Saint Mary in Ard el Golf; Saint Marc in el Maady; The Virgin Mary in el Faggala; Saint Mary in el Matareyta; Saint George in Almaza; Saint Mary, and Saint Mina Churches in Old Cairo; Saint Barbara in el Sharabiya; Saint George and Saint Abo Sefein, and Saint Mary Churches in Central Cairo; Saint Mona in al Farag; the Holy Virgin in Babylon el Darag; Saint Menas in Fum al Khalig; and Saint Mona in Garden City.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

BYBLOS, LEBANON

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Byblos, courtesy, Wikipedia

[exerpts taken from Wikipedia, curate.nd.edu, and Maronite-heritage.com]

The ancient city of Byblos, which the Arab occupation authorities refer to as “Jbeil”, is a town in Lebanon, (the ancient Phoenicia) about 26 miles north of Beirut. It is today, almost totally inhabited by indigenous Lebanese, descendants of the ancient Phoenicians, the Maronites. With a population of 40,000, it is the largest city in the Mount Lebanon region and is also considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is also said that Byblos was the first city built in Phoenicia. Beginning approximately 10,000 years ago, before the arrival of the Phoenicians in, what is now Lebanon, the town was actually known by several names. When the Phoenicians arrived, they renamed it “Gebal” and made it their first capital. A new social structure was built with each Phoenician city-state in Lebanon worshipping their own gods. The god of Gebal was known as Baalat Gebal to which, the local inhabitants built a temple. However, one of the most important local monuments of this period was the temple of Resheph, a Canaanite war god.
Gebal remained the Phoenician capital for 1500 years until it eventually moved to Tyre. From Gebal, they conducted a sea-trading empire, trading with the lands around the Mediterranean and beyond. The use of the alphabet was spread by Phoenician merchants through this maritime trade, especially into parts of North Africa and Europe. The oldest known representation of the Phoenician alphabet is inscribed on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Gebal, dating approximately to the 11th century BCE. 
Beginning in the 8th century BCE, Gebal was ruled by the following kings: Sibittibaal, Urumilki, Milkiasaph, and Yehowmelek who were all tributary to the invading and conquering Assyrian Empire. In 539 BCE, Phoenicia was conquered by the Persian Achaemenid Empire (538–332 BCE) and Gebal became the fourth of four Phoenician vassal kingdoms established by the Persians – the first three being SidonTyre, and Arwad. The year 332 BCE came the Greek conquest under Alexander the Great and Greek influence became widespread. Thus, the name “Gebal” was Hellenized and renamed “Byblos” (from where the word “Bible” originated). Mediterranean trade continued unhampered and coins came to be used as currency. Byblos became the import-export center of papyri – so much so that papyri was known as “Byblos material”. In addition, the temple of Resheph was elaborately rebuilt, and the city, though smaller than its neighbors, was a center for the cult of Adonis. In the 3rd century, a small but impressive theater was constructed. During the Roman period, Byblos grew rapidly. Christianity was introduced by Saint John Mark, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and Byblos became an independent bishopric. By the first and second centuries, the Phoenicians produced many scholars and academics, one of the most prominent being Philo of Byblos who wrote a detailed history of Phoenicia.
In 636, the Arab Muslims conquered Phoenicia and thus began a slow process of Arabization of the area. By 1104 however, Phoenicia fell to the Christian Crusaders with whom, the Maronites formed an alliance. Work on the Church of St. John-Mark of Byblos, later used for Maronite worship, started during the Crusader era in 1116. It was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1176 AD. When Islamic forces captured the city a decade later, the church was transformed into a set of stables. After the final defeat of the Crusaders by the Muslim Mamluk rulers of Egypt and their conquest of the regions of the Levant, the Maronites of Byblos, like the rest of Lebanon, often came under attack by their new overlords. But in 1357, they became divided against themselves – those of the Byblos area against those of the Bsharre area just to the east. Taking advantage of the situation, the Mamluks invaded Byblos and the nearby town of Batroun in 1367, destroying these and the surrounding villages, and burning their Patriarch alive. Many people escaped to Cyprus. With the Mamluks now the clear masters of the land, and Byblos invaded by Arab settlers, the town was now more often referred to as “Jbeil”, the Arabized form of “Byblos”.

The eparchy of Jbeil was erected on June 12, 1673 and its canonical erection was confirmed in the Maronite Synod of Mount Lebanon in 1736. In 1768 it was united to the Eparchy of Batroun. Later, the Church of Saint John-Mark was given to the Maronites as a gift by the Druze Prince Youssef Chehab after they aided him in capturing the city. In 1848 the seat of the Eparchy Jbeil-Batroun became the seat of the Maronite Patriarch. After the violence in 1860 between the Maronites and the Druze, the Maronites set out on an education program, for both boys and girls. In 1863, following the orders of her superiors, Saint Rafqa, a Maronite nun, went to the School of the Monastic Order in Byblos, where she spent more than a year, teaching girls education and faith. There, she remained with success until she was transferred to another village the following year where, again, she educated the local girls in academic studies.
Since the 1920s, Byblos has been the site of several archaeological excavations. In the 60s and 70s, it was a major tourist destination, often being visited by the likes of Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. On June 9, 1990, the Eparchy of Jbeil-Batroun was separated and Jbeil became an independent eparchy.  
Today, despite the Maronites in Lebanon, and those of Byblos/Jbeil in particular, being under the constant watchful eye of Hizbollah and their allies, Byblos is still managing to re-emerge, with determination, as an upscale tourist hub. With its ancient portPhoenician, Roman, and Crusader ruins, sandy beaches, and surrounding picturesque mountains, as well as its fish restaurants, open-air bars, and outdoor cafes, the city makes an ideal tourist destination. Other sites include:
The Church of Saint George, the church of Mar Yacoub, the church of Saint Peter, Ain el-Malik or King’s Spring, the L-shaped Temple erected about 2700 BCE, the Temple of the Obelisks originally built between 1600–1200 BCE, the necropolis of the kings of Byblos including King Ahiram, the Roman theater built around AD 218, the Byblos Wax Museum, the Byblos Fossil Museum, the old medieval part of Byblos, and the old market.
In addition, there is an annual summer music festival that takes place in the historic quarter.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

EGYPT

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courtesy, Archaeological-Tours.com
In the last hundred years or so, Egypt could have been considered the center of the Arab world. In politics and culture and arts, Egypt attracted people from across the Arab world to take part in its diversity and prosperity. After the founding of the Arab League in 1945, it was in Egypt that, for many years until today, important decisions took place. In fact, It could be said that Egypt was the “capital” of the Arab League. There was only one problem though. Egypt is not an Arab country. True, about 90% of its population is Arab, and Muslim, but originally, Egypt was not an Arab country. The original inhabitants, the ancient Egyptians, are the Coptic Christians of today. The ancient Egyptians were not Arab therefore the Copts are not Arab. Therefore, Egypt is, in fact, an Arab-occupied country where its indigenous people are living under Arab occupation and oppression.  

Below, is a list Egypt’s rulers beginning with the Pharaohs. It briefly glosses over the list of Pharaohs (since there are so many of them), and are followed, in more detail, by their successors, the Coptic Popes based in the Church of Saint Mark in Alexandria. The Arab and Muslim occupation rulers are ignored unless it’s important to mention.

Before the conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, Egypt was ruled by a series of 31 dynasties. The first dynasty began c. 3200 BCE under Narmer who unified Upper and Lower Egypt. Other well-known Pharaohs since then included:
Djoser, Snefru, Khufu, Neferefre, Mentuhotep, Amenemhat, Ahmose,
Yaqub Har (during whose reign, the Hyksos invaded Egypt and replaced the native Egyptian dynasties with their own beginning with Semqen),
Sekhemre (last Hyksos king before being driven out thus, re-establishing native Egyptian rule beginning with Rahotep),
Kamose, Amenhotep, Thutmose, Hatshepsut, Manetho, Akhnaten, Tutankamun, Nefertiti,
Raamses II (possibly the same Pharaoh during the Exodus),
Horemheb, Seti, Merneptah, Shishak,
Bocchoris under whose reign, the Nubians took over the throne under Piye. (The Nubians today are the indigenous people of Sudan, also living under Arab occupation and oppression.),
Shabaka, Taharqa,
Tantamani (last Nubian Pharaoh in Egypt before they were driven out and the throne, once again, came under native rule under Tefnakht II),
Necho, Psamtik, Apries. 

Thereafter, Egypt became an autonomous province in the Persian Empire until the Persians were driven out in 404 BCE by Amyrtaeus. In 343 BCE, the Persians returned only to be driven out again eleven years later by the Macedonian Greeks under Alexander the Great who founded the city named after himself – Alexandria. Alexander’s successors, the Ptolemies ruled for almost three centuries, its most famous ruler being Cleopatra.

In 30 BCE, Egypt was conquered by Rome. In the first century, Christianity was introduced which eventually evolved into its own unique form – Coptic Christianity. Its first leader was said to be St. Mark, a disciple of Jesus Christ. He established the holy seat in Alexandria in a church that bears his name and where future Coptic popes would rule, on and off, ever since. He was martyred c. 61 CE by the Romans and was succeeded by St. Anianus. His successors during the early centuries of the Church were as follows: Avilius, Kedron, Primus, Justus, Eumenius, Markianos, Celadion, Agrippinus, Julian, Demetrius, Heraclas, Dionysuis, Maximus, Theonas, Peter, Achillas, Alexander, Athanasius, Peter II, Timothy, Theophilus, Cyril, Dioscorus, Timothy II, Peter III, Athanasius II, John I, John II, Dioscorus II, Timothy III, Theodosius, Peter IV, Damian, Anastasius, and Andronicus.

Under the Arab conquest and occupation (641-1171): Benjamin, Agathon, John III, Isaac, Simeon, Alexander II, Cosmas, Theodore, Michael, Mina, John IV, Mark II, James, Simeon II, Joseph, Michael II, Cosmas II, Shenouda, Michael III, Gabriel, Cosmas III, Macarius, Theopilus, Mina II, Abraham, Philotheos, Zacharias, Shenouda II, Christodoulos, Cyril II, Michael IV, Macarius II, Gabriel II, Michael V, John V.

Under the rule of the Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty (1171-1250): Mark III, John VI, Cyril III.

Under the rule of the Mameluke dynasty (former Turkish slaves, 1250-1517): Athanasius III, Gabriel III, John VII, Theodosius II, John VIII, John IX, Benjamin II, Peter V, Mark IV, John X, Gabriel IV, Matthew, Gabriel V, John XI, Matthew II, Gabriel VI, Michael VI, John XII.

Under the rule of the Ottoman Turkish Empire (1517-1880): John XIII, Gabriel VII, John XIV, Gabriel VIII, Mark V, John XV, Matthew III, Mark VI, Matthew IV, John XVI, Peter VI, John XVII, Mark VII, John XVIII, Mark VIII (Egypt briefly under French rule during his reign), Peter VII, Cyril IV, Demetrius II.

Cyril V: during his reign, Egypt passed from Ottoman to British rule and then, in 1922, “independence” but as an Arab Muslim country. At the time, such an identification was not emphasized, but since the revolution in 1952, it was, and the indigenous Egyptians have lived under Arab occupation and oppression ever since. The Coptic Popes who ruled from St. Mark’s Church in Alexandria since the reign of Cyril V, until today, were: John XIX, Macarius III, Joseph II, Cyril VI, Shenouda III, Tawadros II (the present incumbent).

Saturday, August 10, 2019

BETHLEHEM AND TOMB OF RACHEL

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Tomb of Rachel, northern outskirts of Bethlehem, courtesy, JewishIsraelTours.com

[the majority of this article is credited to Nadav Shragai, Senior Researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs]

Bethlehem today is a largely Muslim city with a Christian minority, located about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. The Hebrew matriarch Rachel died on the northern outskirts of Bethlehem while giving birth to Benjamin. For centuries and to this day, her grave has been a venerable holy site for Jews throughout the world. After the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, Bethlehem was among the cities of Judah allowing it to rapidly become a Jewish city. Its name means “house of bread”, probably indicating that bread-making was an important industry at that time. It was the scene of the story of Ruth who became the ancestor of David, and it was through him, a native of Bethlehem, that the messiah would spring forth, ushering in an era of peace and justice. In Christian tradition, that would be Jesus Christ.

During the days of Herod, and after, Bethlehem achieved historic importance as the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ, and as such, has been the site of pious Christian pilgrimages throughout the centuries, even today. Since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70, Bethlehem became less and less a Jewish city and more and more a city of foreign peoples, mainly Christians. As early as the second century, a stable in one of the grottoes close by the town was pointed out as the spot where Jesus was born. After the Arab conquest in the 7th century, a handful of Jews still lived there. In the 12th century, the traveler Benjamin of Tudela counted 12 Jews among the foreign population. His was also the first recorded Jewish visit to the Tomb of Rachel. For decades afterward, the Tomb continued to be an important site of Jewish pilgrimages. It was visited by Rabbi Ovadiah di Bertinoro in the second half of the 15th century and by the 16th century, the Arab historian Mujir al Din regarded Rachel’s Tomb as a Jewish holy place. The building received its distinctive shape in 1622 when the Turkish governor of Jerusalem, Mohammad Pasha, permitted the Jews to wall off the site’s four pillars that supported the dome. Thus, for the first time, Rachel’s Tomb became a closed building, which also simultaneously prevented Arab shepherds from grazing their flocks at the site. Yet according to one report, an English traveler claims this was done “to make access to it more difficult for the Jews.”

Since the 18th century, the local Taamra tribe of Arabs would harass Jews visiting the tomb and collect extortion money to enable them to visit the site. One of the scribes who managed the accounts of the Sephardic Jewish kolel (congregation) reported on the protection money that the Jews had to pay. According to him, the payment was to the “non-Jews and lords of the lands who are called effendis…(15000) Turkish grush…and these are the people who patrol the way of Jaffa Road, Kiyat Yearim, the people of the Rama, the site of Samuel the Prophet, the people of Nablus Road, the people of Efrat Road, the tomb of our Matriarch Rachel…so they would not come to grave-robbing, heaven forbid. And sometimes they complain to us that we have fallen behind on their routine payments and they come scrabbling on the gravestones in the dead of night, and they did their things in stealth because their home is there. Therefore, we are compelled against our will to propitiate them.”

In 1796, Rabbi Moshe Yerushalmi, an Ashkenazi Jew from central Europe who immigrated to Israel, related that a non-Jew sits at Rachel’s Tomb and collects money from Jews seeking to visit the site. Other sources attest to Jews who paid taxes, levies, and presented gifts to the Arab residents of the region. Ludwig August Frankl of Vienna, a poet and author, related that the Sephardic community in Jerusalem was compelled to pay 5000 piastres to an Arab from Bethlehem at the start of the nineteenth century for the right to visit Rachel’s Tomb. Taxes were also collected from the Sephardim in Jerusalem to pay the authorities for various “rights”, such as, among other things, payment to the Arabs of Bethlehem for safeguarding Rachel’s Tomb. Rabbi David d’Beth Hillel, a resident of Vilna who visited Syria and the land of Israel in 1824, testified that “…On the opposite hill, there is a village whose residents are Arabs and they are most evil. A stranger who comes to visit Rachel’s Tomb is robbed by them.” In 1827, Avraham Behar Avraham, an official of the Sephardic kolelim in Jerusalem, obtained recognition from the Ottoman Turkish authorities of the status and rights of Jews at the site. This was, in practice, the original firman (royal decree) issued by the Ottoman authorities recognizing Jewish rights at Rachel’s Tomb. The firman was necessary since the Arab Muslims disputed ownership by the Jews of Rachel’s Tomb and even tried by brute force to prevent Jewish visits to the site. From time to time Jews were robbed or beaten by local Arab residents, and even the protection money that was paid did not always prevail. Avraham approached the authorities in Constantinople on this matter and in 1830, the Turks issued the firman that gave legal force to Rachel’s Tomb being recognized as a Jewish holy site. The governor of Damascus sent a written order to mufti of Jerusalem to fulfill the sultan’s order. A similar firman was issued the following year. In 1841, Sir Moses Montefiore obtained a permit from the Turks to build another room, with a dome, adjacent to Rachel’s Tomb to keep the Arab Muslims away and to help protect the Jews at the site. A door to the domed room was installed and keys were given to two Jewish caretakers, one Sephardic and the other Ashkenazi. Jewish caretakers managed the site from that time until it fell into Arab hands in 1948.

This present status notwithstanding, Arab harassment continued. In 1856, James Finn, the British Consul in Jerusalem, spoke about the payments that the Jews were forced to make to Arab Muslim extortionists at some of the holy places including Rachel’s Tomb: “100 lira a year to the Taamra Arabs for not wrecking Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem.” In spite of all the dangers, Jews continued to make their way to the site.

By 1905, Bethlehem was a majority Christian city with a Jewish population of 1, a doctor, according to the English traveler Elkan Adler (rising to 2 in 1922). Yehoshua Burla, the father of author Yehuda Burla, was the caretaker of Rachel’s Tomb. The last caretaker was Shlomo Freiman who often spoke of Arab harassment of Jews at the site in the closing days of the British Mandate. He was prevented from having any access once the site came under Arab occupation after the War of Independence. After the Six Day War, Jewish pilgrimages began again. On October 19, 2010, the anniversary of Rachel’s death, some 100,000 Jews visited the site.

Since Jews are prohibited from living in Bethlehem, the nearest Jewish locations to the city are the present neighborhoods of Gilo and Har Homa in the southern part of Jerusalem. Much of the land of the town of Irtas was owned by a Jewish convert to Christianity in the mid-19th century. But since then, the town has had no Jewish association.

BETAR

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ruins of the fortress of Betar, courtesy, Wikipedia

The fortress of Betar was located practically on the border of the ancient Israelite tribal territories of Judah and Benjamin. Later containing a local Sanhedrin, it was of some importance at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. During the revolt against Rome (132-135), Shimon Bar Kokhba, the leader of the revolt, made Betar the chief base of operations, giving shelter to large numbers of Jewish refugees from the Roman onslaughts. As the revolt was being suppressed, town by town, a powerful Roman force under Julius Severus, which included detachments of the fifth (Macedonica) and the tenth (Claudia) legions, closely surrounded Betar and besieged it for two and a half years until 135. In the summer of that year when the nearby Yoredet HaZalman stream ran dry, the city began to suffer from thirst. Betar was, hence, destroyed on the ninth of month of Av, exactly 65 years to the day after the destruction of Jerusalem. The killed were left to decay in the surrounding fields and only after the revolt was totally suppressed, was it made possible to give them a proper burial. A Roman garrison was then left at the site because of its strategic importance. After the Arab conquest and occupation of Israel in the 7th century, Arabs settled on top of this ancient Jewish town calling it by the Arabic name, “Batir”. Overnight, Betar became an Arab town but it has been suggested that the Fin-Nun clan, who partly lives in this town, is of Jewish origin. In 1874, Betar became the site of archaeological excavations under the noted French archaeologist Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau who discovered there, a Latin inscription mentioning the Roman detachments that surrounded the fortress during the revolt against Rome.  

After the War of Independence in 1948, Batir found itself just a few hundred yards from the armistice line, inside Arab-occupied Judea. Beginning in 1950, native-born Israelis along with olim from Argentina from the right-wing movement also named “Betar”, began to return to the approximate area, on the Israeli side, and the town of Mevo Betar was founded. The armistice line was erased after the Six Day War but much of the land on the outskirts of both towns remained barren. It wasn’t until 1985 that the religious, and still growing community of Betar Illit was founded a few miles south, over the “green line”.