Jots & Tittles
Vatican Treasures on Display
Ever since Constantine built for the pope not one but two great basilicas (the Lateran and St. Peter’s), the Vatican has been creating and collecting art, books, buildings, maps, liturgical vessels, vestments and more. Now more than 350 of these papal treasures—most of which have never before left Vatican City—are touring the United States.
The exhibit, which opened at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in March, includes models of Constantine’s churches and of the Sistine Chapel; works by Giotto, Bernini, Canova and Bellini; papal rings, staffs, silk robes and even shoes; chalices; and mosaics.
The exhibit also includes the Mandylion—a relic that the museum is touting as the “oldest known representation of Jesus.”
As Robin Jensen of Andover Newton Theological Seminary explained in a recent issue of BR, the Mandylion is a portrait of Jesus said to have miraculous origins. According to Byzantine legend, when Abgar, a fabled king of first-century Edessa, was struck ill, he sent to Jesus for a cure. In return, Jesus sent an impression of his face that had been left miraculously on a towel (Greek mandulion) that he had used to wipe his face. The portrait not only cured Abgar, it also served to repel a Persian attack on Edessa. In the tenth century, the Mandylion was moved to Constantinople. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to trace the original Mandylion’s whereabouts after the Crusaders sacked the city in the 13th century, especially since numerous copies were made in the East. (See Robin Jensen, “The Two Faces of Jesus,” BR 18:05.)
The exhibit will remain at the Houston Museum of Natural Science through July 27, 2003; it will then travel to the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art (August 2003-November 2003), the Cincinnati Museum Center (December 2003-April 2004) and the San Diego Museum of Art (May-September 2004). Tickets are required. In Houston, they are available by phone: 713–639-4629; or on the museum Web site: http://vatican.hmns.org.
The Biblical Archaeology Society, which publishes BR, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science hoped that the recently surfaced ossuary (bone box) inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” would be exhibited at the museum at the same time. But the Israel Antiquities Authority refused to extend the export permit after the ossuary was shown at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Genesis of E.T.s
The Raelians, the religious group that announced last winter it had produced the first human clone, has another claim to fame: They are, according to a University of Virginia report on religious movements, one of the only UFO “descendants” whose creation story is based on the Book of Genesis.
The Raelian story begins in Genesis 6:1–2, the very passage that inspired the writers of the Book of Enoch (see articles in this issue): “When people began to multiply on the face of the ground and daughters were born to them, the sons of God [bene Elohim] saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose.”
These sons of God and daughters of men produce a horrific race of giants, called the Nephilim, who, in the extrabiblical Book of Enoch, terrorize mankind. In Raelian tradition, they produce, well, Raelians.
In his 1986 book Let’s Welcome Our Fathers from Space, Raelian founder Rael (formerly known as Frenchman Claude Vorilhon) translates the Hebrew term Elohim as “aliens,” or “those who came from the sky.” In ancient times, these alien Elohim mastered cloning technology on their own distant planet. After scouring the universe for a planet suitable for life, they set up a lab (a.k.a. the Garden of Eden) on Earth, and began producing humankind (the 013daughters of men). The clones soon became aggressive, however, and were expelled from the garden.
Rael claims that he is one of the few prophets (Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed are others) produced by the mating of the Elohim and the cloned daughters of men.
Just as we went to press with our story on the newly rediscovered source for tekhelet or biblical blue (the Murex trunculus snail, as reported in “The Search for Biblical Blue,” BR 19:01), Zohar Amar of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University reported on his discovery of what he claims is the source for biblical scarlet (tola’at hashani): a type of coccid, or scale insect.
Although rabbinic sources name the coccid as a source for the scarlet dye, for years no scarlet-producing species was found in Israel. So, for the past few years Amar and his students have scoured Israel’s forests looking for the right coccid. They discovered that the Kermes oak coccid, found in southwestern Samaria, can turn wool a brilliant orange. To produce the dye, the coccid is collected in summer, dried, then mixed with water and heated to boiling. Of course, orange isn’t red. In support, Amar cites the first-century C.E. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who described the scarlet hangings in the Temple as symbolic of fire (Jewish Wars 5.5.4), which, as Amar quickly points out, is really more orange than red.
Priceless dyes are frequently mentioned together in the Bible, as in Exodus 25:4, where yarns dyed purple (argaman), blue (tekhelet) and scarlet (tola’at shani) are listed as gifts suitable for God. Until recently, only the source of argaman was known. In “The Search for Biblical Blue,” BR 19:01, Ari Greenspan argued that a secretion from the Murex trunculus snail, long known to have been used in ancient times to produce purple dye, could also have been used to create biblical blue. The Murex dye changes color depending on the length of time it is exposed to the sun.
The Bible in the News
In troubled times, people dream of golden ages past. They might do better to turn to the pages of the popular press, where they’ll find Paradise is not lost at all. Indeed our present world is replete with putative gardens of Eden.
The New World is home to dozens—from Florida, with its “high bluffs and deep ravines along the Apalachicola River, a wilderness so beautiful that a local promoter once claimed it was the original home of Adam and Eve,” to Costa Rica, where a nine-year-old exclaimed, “This could be the Garden of Eden,” as he and his family “padded about on luminous green lawns [and] blue-crowned birds and giant butterflies flitted among the agapanthus and Busy Lizzies.”
Vineyards are particularly prone to such comparisons: “When autumn ‘laughs across the sky’ in Niagara, a veritable Garden of Eden unfurls … Mother nature seems to have created the Niagara peninsula with wine-making in mind.” From the Northwest: “Stretching for 300 kilometers between the Cascades and the hilltop vineyard is the Willamette Valley, a veritable Garden of Eden with orchards, golden fields and plantations of hazelnut trees … That same soil is producing some of the best pinot noir in the United States.” To the south is California’s Napa Valley, where (dare we say it?) a grimmer reaper works, as indicated by this headline: “Grapes of wrath grow in winemakers’ Garden of Eden”—referring to The Far Side of Eden, a controversial book described as “decrying various aspects of the viticultural paradise.”
But gardens of Eden, at least in the United States, are not limited to what Nature has wrought. There is, for example, the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas (population 450), which comprises “an outdoor sculpture garden made of concrete and native post-rock limestone.” Of a proposed Ohio nudist colony, the Columbus Dispatch tells us: “Think the Garden of Eden with an indoor heated pool, volleyball court, snack bar and, to deter voyeurs, a high fence.”
In the world of sports, we find San Diego Padres’ pitcher Adam Eaton as he “returns to his Garden of Eden,” a.k.a. the pitcher’s mound, after a year’s absence. The world of entertainment is not without Edens of its own, as in Paul Rudnick’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, with “Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden, along with Jane and Mabel”; and the New City Theatre’s production of The Diaries of Adam and Eve, in which “banishment from the Garden of Eden is like downgrading from a four- to a three-star hotel.”
We would not wish to give the impression that North America has a monopoly on gardens of Eden. Quite the contrary. Mile for mile, the British Isles appears to have more Edens than anywhere else on earth. In remote Cornwall a $130 million multi-domed botanical garden known as the Eden Project “restricts its displays to plants that are useful to humanity,” according to the Augusta Chronicle. In that regard, “a large stand of cannabis bemuses many a visitor,” although a guide hastily explains that it doesn’t “contain the drug found in marijuana.” A gardener from Coventry is donating a huge cactus; he hopes he’ll be rewarded with “a free pass to Eden,” he said. What a delightful prospect!
Even stranger, the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s “is erecting inflatable ‘sensory’ tunnels that will have real grass flooring, plants, fruits, herbs and scented candles.” Called the Garden of Eden, of course, the tunnels will be built “as an extension of the supermarket’s entrance,” according to Marketing Week.
Australia, too, has put its own distinct spin on the Garden of Eden, as on so many other phenomena. The real estate listings for Port Douglas and its environs offer no fewer than two homes that are said to be veritable gardens of Eden, and it’s hard to gainsay, with descriptions like this: “A small pocket of natural rainforest hugs a tropical creek” and “every plant in the garden is a native Australian, combining rich and vibrant colours to create a wonderfully natural setting.”
And, finally, an entertainment feature about a Darwin, Australia, club offers the following: “Did you miss St. Valentine’s Day yesterday? Then Darwin’s Throb Nightclub will put a little love in your life with a ‘Garden of Eden’ party tonight. The infamous Pussycat Lounge will be transformed into an evening of decadence and opulence … With the motto ‘make love, not war’ patrons are guaranteed to enjoy themselves.” Now, was that before or after the Fall?
Vatican Treasures on Display