"...they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.... "Luke 2:22

Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary walked with the Child the seven miles to Jerusalem and the Temple. They were going there to "buy back" Jesus. The night before Christ's ancestors left Egypt under the leadership of Moses, every first-born male in that land, both human and animal, was taken by the angel of death except in those Hebrew families that had smeared their doorposts with the blood of the lamb they had killed and eaten as the Lord prescribed. From that time on, every first-born Hebrew male belonged to the Lord and had to be "bought back" by means of a sacrifice appropriate to the family's economic status.

The Temple the Holy Family entered was the "second temple" (the one built in 516 B.C. by the Jews returning from the Babylonian exile) but greatly enhanced by Herod. He had started this refurbishing twenty years before and it would be another sixty-four years to its completion. So the Temple to which Joseph and Mary brought Jesus was one under construction, especially the porticos which rimmed the thirty-acre esplanade in the center of which was the Court of Israel and the Holy of Holies. At the time the Holy Family made arrangements for their sacrifice, the Portico of Solomon along the eastern edge of the esplanade was already in place and complete. This would become the favorite "preaching place" of the adult Jesus and it was the site of the boy Jesus' encounter with the Temple teachers. In all probability it was also  the site of his encounter with Simeon and Anna as described in Luke's gospel. In 70 A.D. the Romans completely destroyed the Temple grounds and buildings. Over the years the Arabs have restored the esplanade which today is graced by two buildings, the Crusader church of St. Mary (now a mosque) and the beautiful Dome of the Rock which stands where once stood the Holy of Holies.

" behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem." Matt 2:1

To the Hebrews of Jesus' day, "The East" was the territory on the other side of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. It was inhabited and controlled by an extraordinarily skilled tribe of shepherds called the Nabataeans. They originated in northwest Arabia and over a period of six-hundred years from the fifth century B.C. spread their dominion as far north as Damascus. They developed their own style of architecture, a unique and delicate pottery and, vital to the success of their strongholds and agriculture, a sophisticated system of water engineering. Their capital was Petra, a city hewn out of rock within a ring of almost impenetrable mountains in the Jordanian desert. Even today it can be reached only on foot or on horseback.

Strategically situated at the cross roads of ancient trade routes, Petra thronged with merchants bringing goods from the Mediterranean, Egypt, Damascus and Arabia. With Petra as an almost impenetrable base, the Nabataeans controlled the caravan routes, extorting taxes from those using them, grew wealthy and prospered. In the centuries immediately before and after the birth of Christ, the Nabataeans were at the height of their power.

Night travel in the desert was more comfortable and the Nabataeans were good at it, using the stars and planets for navigation. A group of them evidently noted an extraordinary night sky event (star) and interpreted it to mean the birth of an extraordinary leader. They followed it north from Petra and then west to Jericho and Jerusalem. They sensed they were near to their goal and asked Herod for information. Directed to Bethlehem they proceeded there and found the Child Jesus. They gifted him with the coin of their realm--gold and expensive resins. It  was a peculiarity of the Nabataens that, after visiting a religious shrine, they would return by a different route to manifest a personal change for the  better. Warned about Herod, they skipped a return to Jerusalem and proceeded south to Hebron and the Aqaba.


"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation...." Matt 2:18






Rachel's Tomb-Interior

On the northern outskirts of the town of Bethlehem is a small building with a sparkling white dome. It is the Qubbet Rahil, the tomb of Rachel, the traditional burial place of the beloved wife of the Patriarch Jacob. The biblical narrative (Gen. 35:19-48) tells us that the family of Jacob was traveling in the mountain area of Canaan when Rachel died in childbirth, the first woman in the Bible mentioned as having done so. Jacob buried her there on the road leading into Bethlehem.

The sages of Israel asked: "Why did Jacob bury Rachel on the way to Bethlehem? " Their answer: Jacob foresaw that the exiled children of Israel would pass that way, so he buried her there that she might ask mercy for them. In his gospel account Matthew has a different idea. He knows that the Bethlehem area is where the tribe of Benjamin located in the Holy Land and that, as a consequence, the children killed by Herod in his frustration over that failure of the Magi to inform him about the new born king were the progeny of Benjamin and the descendants of Rachel. And so, as the massacre of the Innocents takes place, Rachel from her tomb bewails the fate of "her children."

After they expelled the Crusaders from the Holy Land, the Moslems allowed only people of their faith to enter the tomb. But in 1841, Sir Moses Montefiore obtained the keys for the Jews. Today the Tomb is visited by  people of all faiths, especially by women who seek help from the gentle and beloved mother. The place of the tomb is marked by a large stone overlaid with velvet coverings. According to popular belief, a red thread measured against the tombstone is a good luck charm and a piece of such thread is often tied around wrists of brides and newborn babies.


"Rise. take the child and his mother; and flee to Egypt...." Matt. 2:13

Jesus escaped the massacre perpetrated by Herod because, just after the visitors from "the East" had left Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and directed him to immediately take the child and his mother and escape into Egypt. Thus warned, the Holy Family traveled south to Hebron and then to Ashkelon. Then they followed the trade route Via Maris along the Mediterranean coast into Egypt passing through the land of Goshen in the Nile delta, the area where Jesus' ancestors lived for several hundred years until Moses led them out into the Sinai desert. Eventually they reached the Nile River traveling up it to Matarieh, where they stayed for some time.

Several legends pertain to this site. The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew relates, "The divine travelers entered Matarieh [present-day Heliopolis]. As they had not there any friend whose hospitality they might claim, they entered the temple called the Capital of Egypt. In it were 365 idols to whom homage was offered up every day. And it happened that when the blessed Mary with her Child entered the temple, all the idols fell down upon their faces and were broken to pieces." A legend with a more likely basis is found in the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus (in Arabic) which states that at Matarieh the Lord Jesus produced a spring in which Our Lady Mary washed his clothes. The spring remains and water is still brought up from its depths by means of a water wheel turned by oxen. For centuries, Christians in Egypt have believed these waters to be  holy and medicinal. Even Moslems have always venerated this spring as being endowed with marvelous  healing power. A tradition so ancient, uninterrupted and general hardly leaves room to doubt that the divine power must have manifested itself in some way at this spring.

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