Akademy

Saint John the Baptist

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John the Baptist, Saint.—The principal sources of information concerning the life and ministry of St. John the Baptist are the canonical Gospels. Of these St. Luke is the most complete, giving as he does the wonderful circumstances accompanying the birth of the Precursor and items on his ministry and death. St. Matthew’s Gospel stands in close relation with that of St. Luke, as far as John’s public ministry is concerned, but contains nothing in reference to his early life. From St. Mark, whose account of the Precursor’s life is very meagre, no new detail can be gathered. Finally, the fourth Gospel has this special feature, that it gives the testimony of St. John after the Savior’s baptism. Besides the indications supplied by these writings, passing allusions occur in such passages as Acts, xiii, 24; xix, 1-6; but these are few and bear on the subject only indirectly. To the above should be added what Josephus relates in his Jewish Antiquities (XVIII, v, 2), but it should be remembered that he is woefully erratic in his dates, mistaken in proper names, and seems to arrange facts according to his own political views; however, his judgment of John, also what he tells us regarding the Precursor’s popularity, together with a few details of minor importance, are worthy of the historian’s attention. The same cannot be said of the apocryphal gospels, because the scant information they give of the Precursor is either copied from the canonical Gospels (and to these they can add no authority), or else is a mass of idle vagaries.

Zachary, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest of the course of Abia, the eighth of the twenty-four courses into which the priests were divided (I Par., xxiv, 7-19); Elizabeth, the Precursor’s mother, “was of the daughters of Aaron”, according to St. Luke (i, 5); the same Evangelist, a few verses farther on (i, 26), calls her the “cousin” (suggenis) of Mary. These two statements appear to be conflicting, for how, it will be asked, could a cousin of the Blessed Virgin be “of the daughters of Aaron”? The problem might be solved by adopting the reading given in an old Persian version, where we find “mother’s sister” (metradelphe) instead of “cousin”. A somewhat analogous explanation, probably borrowed from some apocryphal writing, and perhaps correct, is given by St. Hippolytus (in Nicephor., II, iii). According to him, Mathan had three daughters: Mary, Soba, and Ann. Mary, the oldest, married a man of Bethlehem and was the mother of Salome; Soba married at Bethlehem also, but a “son of Levi”, by whom she had Elizabeth; Ann wedded a Galilean (Joachim) and bore Mary, the Mother of God. Thus Salome, Elizabeth, and the Blessed Virgin were first cousins, and Elizabeth, “of the daughters of Aaron” on her father’s side, was, on her mother’s side, the cousin of Mary. Zachary’s home is designated only in a vague manner by St. Luke: it was “a city of Juda”, “in the hill-country” (i, 39). Reland, advocating the unwarranted assumption that Juda might be a misspelling of the name, proposed to read in its stead Jutta (Jos., xv, 55; xxi, 16; D.V.: Jota, Jeta), a priestly town south of Hebron. But priests did not always live in priestly towns (Mathathias’s home was at Modin; Simon Machabeus’s at Gaza). A tradition, which can be traced back to the time before the Crusades, points to the little town of Ain-Karim, five miles southwest of Jerusalem.

The birth of the Precursor was announced in a most striking manner. Zachary and Elizabeth, as we learn from St. Luke, “were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame; and they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren” (i, 6-7). Long they had prayed that their union might be blessed with off-spring; but, now that “they were both advanced in years”, the reproach of barrenness bore heavily upon them. “And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function in the order of his course before God, according to the custom of the priestly office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord. And all the multitude of the people was praying without, at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zachary seeing him, was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John: and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord; and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people” (i, 8-17). As Zachary was slow in believing this startling prediction, the angel, making himself known to him, announced that, in punishment of his incredulity, he should be stricken with dumbness until the promise was fulfilled. “And it came to pass, after the days of his office were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days, Elizabeth his wife conceived, and hid herself five months” (i, 23-24).

Now during the sixth month, the Annunciation had taken place, and, as Mary had heard from the angel the fact of her cousin’s conceiving, she went “with haste” to congratulate her. “And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant”—filled, like the mother, with the Holy Ghost—”leaped for joy in her womb”, as if to acknowledge the presence of his Lord. Then was accomplished the prophetic utterance of the angel that the child should “be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb”. Now as the presence of any sin whatever is incompatible with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the soul, it follows that at this moment John was cleansed from the stain of original sin. When “Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, … she brought forth a son” (i, 57); and “on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they called him by his father’s name Zachary. And his mother answering, said: Not so, but he shall be called John. And they said to her: There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And demanding a writing table, he wrote, saying: John is his name. And they all wondered” (i, 59-63). They were not aware that no better name could be applied (John, Hebr.: Jehohanan, i.e. “Jahweh hath mercy”) to him who, as his father prophesied, was to “go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways: to give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto remission of their sins: through the bowels of the mercy of our God” (i, 76-78). Moreover, all these events, to wit, a child born to an aged couple, Zachary’s sudden dumbness, his equally sudden recovery of speech, his astounding utterance might justly strike with wonderment the assembled neighbors; these could hardly help asking: “What an one, think ye, shall this child be?” (i, 66).

As to the date of the birth of John the Baptist, nothing can be said with certainty. The Gospel suggests that the Precursor was born about six months before Christ; but the year of Christ’s nativity has not so far been ascertained. Nor is there anything certain about the season of Christ’s birth, for it is well known that the assignment of the feast of Christmas to the twenty-fifth of December is not grounded on historical evidence, but is possibly suggested by merely astronomical considerations, also, perhaps, inferred from astronomico-theological reasonings. Besides, no calculations can be based upon the time of the year when the course of Abia was serving in the Temple, since each one of the twenty-four courses of priests had two turns a year. Of John’s early life St. Luke tells us only that “the child grew, and was strengthened in spirit; and was in the deserts, until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (i, 80). Should we ask just when the Precursor went into the wilderness, an old tradition echoed by Paul Warnefried (Paul the Deacon), in the hymn, “Ut queant laxis”, composed in honor of the saint, gives an answer hardly more definite than the statement of the Gospel: “Antra deserti teneris sub annis … petiit …” Other writers, however, thought they knew better. For instance, St. Peter of Alexandria believed St. John was taken into the desert to escape the wrath of Herod, who, if we may believe report, was impelled by fear of losing his kingdom to seek the life of the Precursor, just as he was, later on, to seek that of the newborn Savior. It was added also that Herod on this account had Zachary put to death between the temple and the altar, because he had prophesied the coming of the Messias (Baron., “Annal. Apparat.”, n. 53). These are worthless legends long since branded by St. Jerome as “apocryphorum somnia”.

Passing, then, with St. Luke, over a period of some thirty years, we reach what may be considered the beginning of the public ministry of St. John (see Biblical Chronology). Up to this he had led in the desert the life of an anchorite; now he comes forth to deliver his message to the world. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar … the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching” (Luke, iii, 1-3), clothed not in the soft garments of a courtier (Matt., xi, 8; Luke, vii, 24), but in those “of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle about his loins”; and “his meat “—he looked as if he came neither eating nor drinking (Matt., xi, 18; Luke, vii, 33)—”was locusts and wild honey” (Matt., iii, 4; Mark, i, 6); his whole countenance, far from suggesting the idea of a reed shaken by the wind (Matt., xi, 7; Luke, vii, 24), manifested undaunted constancy. A few incredulous scoffers feigned to be scandalized: “He hath a devil” (Matt., xi, 18). Nevertheless, “Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the country about Jordan” (Matt., iii, 5), drawn by his strong and winning personality, went out to him; the austerity of his life added immensely to the weight of his words; for the simple folk, he was truly a prophet (Matt., xi, 9; cf. Luke, i, 76, 77). “Do penance: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt., iii, 2), such was the burden of his teaching. Men of all conditions flocked round him.

Pharisees and Sadducees were there; the latter attracted perhaps by curiosity and scepticism, the former expecting possibly a word of praise for their multitudinous customs and practices, and, all, probably, more anxious to see which of the rival sects the new prophet would commend than to seek instruction. But John laid bare their hypocrisy. Drawing his similes from the surrounding scenery, and even, after the Oriental fashion, making use of a play on words (abanimbanim), he lashed their pride with this well-deserved rebuke: “Ye brood of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father. For I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire” (Matt., iii 7-10; Luke, iii, 7-9). It was clear something had to be done. The men of good will among the listeners asked: “What shall we do?” (Probably some were wealthy and, according to the custom of people in such circumstances, were clad in two tunics.—Joseph., “Antiq.”, XVIII, v, 7.) “And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner” (Luke, iii, 11). Some were publicans; on them he enjoined not to exact more than the rate of taxes fixed by law (Luke, iii, 13). To the soldiers (probably Jewish police officers) he recommended not to do violence to any man, nor falsely to denounce anyone, and to be content with their pay (Luke, iii, 14). In other words, he cautioned them against trusting in their national privileges, he did not countenance the tenets of any sect, nor did he advocate the forsaking of one’s ordinary state of life, but faithfulness and honesty in the fulfillment of one’s duties, and the humble confession of one’s sins.

To confirm the good dispositions of his listeners, John baptized them in the Jordan, “saying that baptism was good, not so much to free one from certain sins [cf. St. Thom., “Summ. Theol.”, III, Q. xxxviii, a. 2 and 3] as to purify the body, the soul being already cleansed from its defilements by justice” (Joseph., “Antiq.”, XVIII, vii). This feature of his ministry, more than anything else, attracted public attention to such an extent that he was surnamed “the Baptist” (i.e. Baptizer) even during his lifetime (by Christ, Matt., xi, 11; by his own disciples, Luke, vii, 20; by Herod, Matt., xiv, 2; by Herodias, Matt., xiv, 3). Still his right to baptize was questioned by some (John, i, 25); the Pharisees and the lawyers refused to comply with this ceremony, on the plea that baptism, as a preparation for the kingdom of God, was connected only with the Messias (Ezech., xxxvi, 25; Zach., xiii, 1, etc.), Elias, and the prophet spoken of in Deut., xviii, 15. John’s reply was that he was Divinely “sent to baptize with water” (John, i, 33); to this, later on, our Savior bore testimony, when, in answer to the Pharisees trying to ensnare him, he implicitly declared that John’s baptism was from heaven (Mark, xi, 30). Whilst baptizing, John, lest the people might think “that perhaps he might be the Christ” (Luke, iii, 15), did not fail to insist that his was only a forerunner’s mission: “I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand and he will purge his floor; and will gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke, iii, 16, 17). Whatever John may have meant by this baptism “with fire”, he, at all events, in this declaration clearly defined his relation to the One to come.

Here it will not be amiss to touch on the scene of the Precursor’s ministry. The locality should be sought in that part of the Jordan valley (Luke, iii, 3) which is called the desert (Mark, i, 4). Two places are mentioned in the Fourth Gospel in this connection: Bethania (John, i, 28) and Ennon (A. V. Aenon, John, iii, 23). As to Bethania, the reading Bethabara, first given by Origen, should be discarded; but the Alexandrine scholar perhaps was less wrong in suggesting the other reading, Bethara, possibly a Greek form of Betharan; at any rate, the site in question must be looked for “beyond the Jordan” (John, i, 28). The second place, Ennon, “near Salim” (John, iii, 23), the extreme northern point marked in the Madaba mosaic map, is described in Eusebius’s “Onomasticon” as being eight miles south of Scythopolis (Beisan), and should be sought probably at Ed-Deir or El-Fatur, a short distance from the Jordan (Lagrange, in “Revue Biblique”, IV, 1895, pp. 502-05). Moreover, a long-standing tradition, traced back to A.D. 333, associates the activity of the Precursor, particularly the Baptism of the Lord, with the neighborhood of Deir Mar-Yuhanna (Qasr el-Yehud).

The Precursor had been preaching and baptizing for some time (just how long is not known), when Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan, to be baptized by him. Why, it might be asked, should He “who did no sin” (I Pet., ii, 22) seek John’s “baptism of penance for the remission of sins” (Luke, iii, 3)? The Fathers of the Church answer very appropriately that this was the occasion preordained by the Father when Jesus should be manifested to the world as the Son of God; then again, by submitting to it, Jesus sanctioned the baptism of John. “But John stayed him, saying: I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matt., 14). These words, implying, as they do, that John knew Jesus, are in seeming conflict with a later declaration of John recorded in the Fourth Gospel: “I knew him not” (John, i, 33). Most interpreters take it that the Precursor had some intimation of Jesus being the Messias: they assign this as the reason why John at first refused to baptize him; but the heavenly manifestation had, a few moments later, changed this intimation into perfect knowledge. “And Jesus answering, said to him: Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfil all justice. Then he suffered him. And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him…. And, behold, a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt.,15-17).

After this baptism, while Jesus was preaching through the towns of Galilee, going into Judea only occasionally for the feast days, John continued his ministry in the valley of the Jordan. It was at this time that “the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to him, to ask him: Who art thou? And he confessed, and did not deny: and he confessed: I am not the Christ. And they asked him: What then? Art thou Elias? And he said: I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered: No. They said, therefore, unto him: Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself? He said: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias” (John, i, 19-23). John denied he was Elias, whom the Jews were looking for (Matt., xvii, 10; Mark, ix, 10). Nor did Jesus admit it, though His words to His disciples at first sight seem to point that way; “Elias indeed shall come, and restore all things. But I say to you, that Elias is already come” (Matt., xvii, 11; Mark, ix, 11-12). St. Matthew notes “the disciples understood, that he had spoken to them of John the Baptist” (Matt., xvii, 13). This was equal to saying, “Elias is not to come in the flesh.” But, in speaking of John before the multitude, Jesus made it plain that he called John Elias figuratively: “If you will receive it, he is Elias that is to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt., xi, 14, 15). This had been anticipated by the angel when, announcing John’s birth to Zachary, he foretold that the child would go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke, i, 17). “The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me: because he was before me … that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water…. And I knew him not; but he who sent me to baptize with water, said to me: He upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon him, he it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God” (John, i, 29-34).

Among the many listeners flocking to St. John, some, more deeply touched by his doctrine, stayed with him, thus forming, as around other famous doctors of the law, a group of disciples. These he exhorted to fast (Mark, ii, 18), these he taught special forms of prayer (Luke, v, 33; xi, 1). Their number, according to the pseudo-Clementine literature, reached thirty (Horn. ii, 23). Among them was Andrew of Bethsaida of Galilee (John, i, 44). One day, as Jesus was standing in the distance, John, pointing Him out, repeated his previous declaration: “Behold the Lamb of God”. Then Andrew, with another disciple of John, hearing this, followed Jesus (John, i, 36-38). This account of the calling of Andrew and Simon differs materially from that found in St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke; yet it should be noticed that St. Luke, in particular, so narrates the meeting of the two brothers with the Savior, as to let us infer they already knew Him. Now, on the other hand, since the Fourth Evangelist does not say that Andrew and his companions forthwith left their business to devote themselves exclusively to the Gospel or its preparation, there is clearly no absolute discordance between the narration of the first three Gospels and that of St. John.

The Precursor, after the lapse of several months, again appears on the scene, and he is still preaching and baptizing on the banks of the Jordan (John, iii, 23). Jesus, in the meantime, had gathered about Himself a following of disciples, and He came “into the land of Judea: and there He abode with them, and baptized (John, iii, 22),—”though Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples” (John, iv, 2).—”There arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews [the best Greek texts have “a Jew”] concerning purification” (John, iii, 25), that is to say, as is suggested by the context, concerning the relative value of both baptisms. The disciples of John came to him: “Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond the Jordan, to whom thou gayest testimony, behold he baptizeth, and all men come to him” (John, iii, 26-27). They undoubtedly meant that Jesus should give way to John who had recommended Him, and that, by baptizing, He was encroaching upon the rights of John. “John answered and said: A man cannot receive any thing, unless it be given him from heaven. You yourselves do bear me witness, that I said, I am not Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom’s voice. This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above, is above all. He that is of the earth, of the earth he is, and of the earth he speaketh. He that cometh from heaven, is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth….” (John, iii, 27-36).

The above narration recalls the fact before mentioned (John, i, 28), that part of the Baptist’s ministry was exercised in Perea: Ennon, another scene of his labors, was within the borders of Galilee; both Perea and Galilee made up the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas. This prince, a son worthy of his father Herod the Great, had married, likely for political reasons, the daughter of Aretas, king of the Nabathaeans. But on a visit to Rome, he fell in love with his niece Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Philip (son of the younger Mariamne), and induced her to come on to Galilee. When and where the Precursor met Herod, we are not told, but from the synoptic Gospels we learn that John dared to rebuke the tetrarch for his evil deeds, especially his public adultery. Herod, swayed by Herodias, did not allow the unwelcome reprover to go unpunished: he “sent and apprehended John and bound him in prison”. Josephus tells us quite another story, containing perhaps also an element of truth. “As great crowds clustered around John, Herod became afraid lest the Baptist should abuse his moral authority over them to incite them to rebellion, as they would do anything at his bidding; therefore he thought it wiser, so as to prevent possible happenings, to take away the dangerous preacher… and he imprisoned him in the fortress of Machaerus” (Antiq., XVIII, v, 2). Whatever may have been the chief motive of the tetrarch’s policy, it is certain that Herodias nourished a bitter hatred against John: “She laid snares for him: and was desirous to put him to death” (Mark, vi, 19). Although Herod first shared her desire, yet “he feared the people: because they esteemed him as a prophet” (Matt., xiv, 5). After some time this resentment on Herod’s part seems to have abated, for, according to Mark, vi, 19, 20, he heard John willingly and did many things at his suggestion.

John, in his fetters, was attended by some of his disciples, who kept him in touch with the events of the day. He thus learned of the wonders wrought by Jesus. At this point it cannot be supposed that John’s faith wavered in the least. Some of his disciples, however, would not be convinced by his words that Jesus was the Messias. Accordingly, he sent them to Jesus, bidding them say: “John the Baptist hath sent us to thee, saying: Art thou he that art to come; or look we for another? (And in that same hour, he cured many of their [the people’s] diseases, and hurts, and evil spirits; and to many that were blind he gave sight.) And answering, he said to them: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, to the poor the gospel is preached: and blessed is he whosoever shall not be scandalized in me” (Luke, vii, 20-23; Matt., xi, 3-6).

How this interview affected John’s disciples, we do not know; but we do know the encomium it occasioned of John from the lips of Jesus: “And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak to the multitudes concerning John. What went ye out into the desert to see? A reed shaken with the wind ? “All knew full well why John was in prison, and that in his captivity he was more than ever the undaunted champion of truth and virtue.—”But what went you out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are in costly apparel, and live delicately, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written: Behold, I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say to you: Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke, vii, 24-28). And continuing, Jesus pointed out the inconsistency of the world in its opinions both of himself and his precursor: “John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and you say: He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking: and you say: Behold a man that is a glutton and a drinker of wine, a friend of publicans and sinners. And wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke, vii, 33-35).

St. John languished probably for some time in the fortress of Machaerus; but the ire of Herodias, unlike that of Herod, never abated: she watched her chance. It came at the birthday feast which Herod, after Roman fashion, gave to the “princes, and tribunes, and chief men of Galilee. And when the daughter of the same Herodias [Josephus gives her name: Salome] had come in, and had danced, and pleased Herod and them that were at table with him, the king said to the damsel: Ask of me what thou wilt, and I will give it thee…. Who when she was gone out, said to her mother, what shall I ask? But she said: The head of John the Baptist. And when she was come in immediately with haste to the king, she asked, saying: I will that forthwith thou give me in a dish, the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad. Yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her: but sending an executioner, he commanded that his head should be brought in a dish: and gave it to the damsel, and the damsel gave it to her mother” (Mark, vi, 21-28). Thus was done to death the greatest “amongst them that are born of women”, the prize awarded to a dancing girl, the toll exacted for an oath rashly taken and criminally kept (St. Augustine). At such an unjustifiable execution even the Jews were shocked, and they attributed to Divine vengeance the defeat Herod sustained afterwards at the hands of Aretas, his rightful father-in-law (Joseph., loc. cit.). John’s disciples, hearing of his death, “came, and took his body, and laid it in a tomb” (Mark, vi, 29), “and came and told Jesus” (Matt., xiv, 12).

The lasting impression made by the Precursor upon those who had come within his influence cannot be better illustrated than by mentioning the awe which seized upon Herod when he heard of the wonders wrought by Jesus who, in his mind, was no other than John the Baptist come to life (Matt., xiv, 1, 2, etc.). The Precursor’s influence did not die with him. It was far-reaching, too, as we learn from Acts, xviii, 25; xix, 3, where we find that proselytes at Ephesus had received from Apollo and others the baptism of John. Moreover, early Christian writers speak of a sect taking its name from John and holding only to his baptism. The date of John the Baptist’s death, August 29, assigned in the liturgical calendars can hardly be relied upon, because it is scarcely based upon trustworthy documents. His burial-place has been fixed by an old tradition at Sebaste (Samaria). But if there be any truth in Josephus’s assertion, that John was put to death at Machaerus, it is hard to understand why he was buried so far from the Herodian fortress. Still, it is quite possible that, at a later date unknown to us, his sacred remains were carried to Sebaste. At any rate, about the middle of the fourth century, his tomb was there honored, as we are informed on the testimony of Rufinus and Theodoretus. These authors add that the shrine was desecrated under Julian the Apostate (c. A.D. 362), the bones being partly burned. A portion of the rescued relics was carried to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria; and there, on May 27, 395, these relics were laid in the gorgeous basilica just dedicated to the Precursor on the site of the once famous temple of Serapis. The tomb at Sebaste continued nevertheless, to be visited by pious pilgrims, and St. Jerome bears witness to the miracles there wrought. Perhaps some of the relics had been brought back to Sebaste. Other portions at different times found their way to many sanctuaries of the Christian world, and long is the list of the churches claiming possession of some part of the precious treasure. What became of the head of the Precursor is difficult to determine. Nicephorus (I, ix) and Metaphrastes say Herodias had. it buried in the fortress of Machaerus; others insist that it was interred in Herod’s palace at Jerusalem; there it was found during the reign of Constantine, and thence secretly taken to Emesa, in Phoenicia, where it was concealed, the place remaining unknown for years, until it was manifested by revelation in 453. In the many and discordant relations concerning this relic, unfortunately much uncertainty prevails; their discrepancies in almost every point render the problem so intricate as to baffle solution. This signal relic, in whole or in part, is claimed by several churches, among them Amiens, Nemours, St-Jean d’Angeli (France), S. Silvestro in Capite (Rome). This fact Tillemont traces to a mistaking of one St. John for another, an explanation which, in certain cases, appears to be founded on good grounds and accounts well for this otherwise puzzling multiplication of relics.

The honor paid so early and in so many places to the relics of St. John the Baptist, the zeal with which many churches have maintained at all times their ill-founded claims to some of his relics, the numberless churches, abbeys, towns, and religious families placed under his patronage, the frequency of his name among Christian people, all attest the antiquity and widespread diffusion of the devotion to the Precursor. The commemoration of his Nativity is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honor a saint. But why is the feast proper, as it were, of St. John on the day of his nativity, whereas with other saints it is the day of their death? Because it was meet that the birth of him who, unlike the rest, was “filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb”, should be signalized as a day of triumph. The celebration of the Decollation of John the Baptist, on August 29, enjoys almost the same antiquity. We find also in the oldest martyrologies mention of a feast of the Conception of the Precursor on September 24. But the most solemn celebration in honor of this saint was always that of his Nativity, preceded until recently by a fast. Many places adopted the custom introduced by St. Sabas of having a double Office on this day, as on the day of the Nativity of the Lord. The first Office, intended to signify the time of the Law and the Prophets which lasted up to St. John (Luke, xvi, 16), began at sunset, and was chanted without Alleluia; the second, meant to celebrate the opening of the time of grace, and gladdened by the singing of Alleluia, was held during the night. The resemblance of the feast of St. John with that of Christmas was carried farther, for another feature of the 24th of June was the celebration of three masses: the first, in the dead of night, recalled his mission of Precursor; the second, at daybreak, commemorated the baptism he conferred; and the third, at the hour of Terce, honored his sanctity. The whole liturgy of the day, repeatedly enriched by the additions of several popes, was in suggestiveness and beauty on a par with the liturgy of Christmas. So sacred was St. John’s day deemed that two rival armies, meeting face to face on June 23, by common accord put off the battle until the morrow of the feast (Battle of Fontenay, 841). “Joy, which is the characteristic of the day, radiated from the sacred precincts. The lovely summer nights, at St. John’s tide, gave free scope to popular display of lively faith among various nationalities. Scarce had the last rays of the setting sun died away when, all the world over, immense columns of flame arose from every mountain-top, and in an instant, every town, and village, and hamlet was lighted up” (Gueranger). The custom of the “St. John’s fires”, whatever its origin, has, in certain regions, endured unto this day.

by Charles L. Souvay in catholic.com

Groundbreaking Agreement Brings OSMTJ and OSMTHU Templars to the Table

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Regent Fr+ Nicolas Haimovici-Hastier (third from right) with his Magisterial Council in Zagreb, Croatia 2019

A groundbreaking agreement was signed between the OSMTJ and the OSMTHU, two of the leading branches of the Templar Order whose most modern institution dates back from over 200 years ago.

In a notably fragmented movement, with many small groups of undetermined origin and frequent divisions in the main branches, the firm determination of the OSMTHU to counter current trends and work on a convergence of goals expressed by the Declaration of Arraiolos (Portugal, 2018) was met by the long standing work for Templar Unity of the OSMTJ, under Regent Nicolas Haimovici-Hastier. Upon the Regent’s proposal to select a city or Templar relevant place that could work as a neutral ground of Cultural Exchange, where all groups, researchers, students and general public interested in the Templar Order could meet, discuss, learn and create bonds of friendship, the Grand Priory of Portugal of the OSMTHU committed to make all efforts to elect Vila Nova da Barquinha – of the Castle of Almourol fame and location of the Templar Interpretation Center (CIT) – the official seat of the Cultural Exchange Association between both branches.

To that end the early preparation steps have been taken to have a 3 year run of an International Congress to start in 2019 in Fall, in a date to be announced shortly.

So, leave your calendars opened to travel to Portugal this Fall, to Vila Nova da Barquinha (Almourol) – a short distance from Lisbon’s main airport and a shorter distance from Tomar – to be part of history when both groups celebrate fraternal friendship under the protection of the Templar Order.

Copy of the Agreement:

Bible History Set in Stone

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A few weeks ago, while leading a pilgrimage tour to Israel, I couldn’t wait to bring the group to one of the greatest museums in the world: the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Packed with artifacts from the biblical period, it’s a treasure trove for anyone interested in the material remains of salvation history.

The museum also houses one of the more important archaeological finds of recent years: an artifact that has bolstered our confidence in the veracity of the Old Testament accounts of the kingdom of David, his son Solomon, and their successors.

Biblical “minimalists” had long contended that King David did not actually preside over a kingdom that originated circa the tenth century B.C., as the Bible states. Indeed, these scholars alleged that David, Solomon, and in fact the entire line of Davidic kings chronicled in the Old Testament, are nothing more than fictional characters invented by the writers of the Hebrew scriptures.

In favor of the “minimalist” argument was the lack of any evidence of David’s existence outside the Bible.

But here’s where archaeology came to the rescue. During the 1993-94 excavations at Tel Dan, in northern Israel, a stele (a stone slab bearing an inscription) was unearthed. Made from basalt, a volcanic rock plentiful in the region, it bears an account of a military victory. Scholars have postulated that the inscription commemorates an Aramean king’s defeat of Israelite forces. It may have been commissioned by Hazael or Ben-Hadad III, his son (cf. 2 Kings 10:32, 13:3, 22; 2 Chron. 22:5).

The key line on the monument, the stunning find, is the mention of the “House of David.” There it was, written in stone—independent confirmation of David’s existence and of a line of kings so powerful that defeating armies from this “House” warranted a public brag of sorts on this stele, for all passersby to read and marvel at.

Analysis of the stele dates it to the mid-ninth century BC, right around the time when, according to Scripture, David’s dynasty would have been flourishing. It appears that the stele was broken by the Israelites after they recaptured the area some time later, and was eventually repurposed into building blocks for the city wall.

After this discovery, as chronicled by Craig Evans, the minimalists changed their approach. “Okay, okay,” they admitted, “maybe David existed after all. But he was a nobody. A local tribal chief, at best, certainly not the originator of the vast, Iron-Age kingdom described in the Old Testament.”

At this point, faced with what seems like special pleading, one is tempted to respond like Jerry Seinfeld: “Really? Really?”

But don’t despair—again, archaeology is our friend here.

First of all, if David had been merely a small-time local yokel, what on earth were his descendants doing fighting battles all the way up north, near the modern-day border that separates Israel and Syria, far from his allegedly tiny operation in Jerusalem?

Also, a vast, centralized complex of buildings—in all likelihood, a government compound—has been unearthed in the Old City of Jerusalem, and can be seen on tours today. It’s located in what’s known as the “City of David” and dates to approximately the tenth century B.C.; once more, the time when Scripture says that David and Solomon were establishing their empire. Again, this seems fairly excessive if we’re talking about an insignificant tribal chieftain, but it does fit the biblical narrative of David’s expansive realm.

To this our minimalist might say, “I’ll grant you that David existed, and perhaps he did preside over a significantly large kingdom, but we still can’t trust what the Bible says about him. The people of David’s time would not have been significantly literate enough to record his exploits or those of his descendants”.

This last objection is at least partially answered by—you guessed it—yet another archaeological discovery. In 2008, an ostracon (an inscribed piece of pottery) dating to the tenth century B.C. was disinterred at the ancient fortress city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which was the only fortified Judahite city during the reigns of David and his predecessor, King Saul (in fact, the Qeiyafa ostracon is the only extant relic that mentions Saul).

The famed French epigrapher Émile Puech regards the inscription as the earliest writing narrating the transition of Israel from a people ruled by judges into a kingdom. It shows that the people living around David’s time were literate, and in fact, more than capable of recording (and passing on) the annals of David’s dynasty, such as we see in the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles.

The Tel Dan stele and the Qeiyafa ostracon are just two examples from the multitude of archaeological discoveries in Israel that have bolstered our understanding of, and in many cases substantiated the reliability of, biblical records of history. Since only roughly five percent of all biblical sites have been excavated to date (which is unbelievable considering how much has already been found), It’s truly exciting to think of how many more such finds may be unearthed in the years to come.

by Cale Clarke, in catholic.com

Zagreb taken over by the Templars

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Anyone taking a stroll down Zagreb’s main plaza last Saturday afternoon, could think the city was being invaded by Templars. Indeed a large number of knights and dames in full uniform, white mantles flying in the wind like peace flags, paraded on their way to the Cathedral where the Rector was expecting the group.

This was not an ordinary event. The Grand Priory of Croatia, headed by Prior Vinko Lizec, had a very busy day planned. After a long evening on Friday where the Magisterial Council of the Order, presided by Master Antonio Paris from Italy and headed by Chancellor Luis de Matos from Portugal, discussed current Templar cooperation efforts and the new projects being launched in 2019, every delegation was pleased to gather at the lobby of the Dubrovnik Hotel on Saturday morning.

The scholar explains some of the events of Croatia Templar history to Dame Patricia (Spain) and Prior Leif Pedersen (Denmark)

Prior Leslie Payne (England) and Dame Susana Ferreira (Portugal)

The first point of call was the headquarters of the Croatian Priory, where an exhibition on the Templar history of the country was guided by historians of the National History Academy. There were maps signaling, for the first time, the many Templar possessions in Slavonia (ancient name of the Province), alongside photographic reproductions of many of the original documents, some presented to the public for the first time. The scientific quality of the work undertaken is unquestionable. The Order is proud of this work.

Some of the manuscripts and documents reproduced in the exhibition

The delegations were then taken to the Church of Saint John the Baptist an 18th century building that stands on the site of the last templar church in Zagreb. The Master lead the ceremony in which he installed Fr+ José Miguel Salazar as Prior of Spain and Fr+ Angelo Nappo as Grand Prior of Italy, confirming Fr+ Vinko Lisec as Grand Prior of Croatia of the OSMTHU. The beautiful pipe organ was masterfully played by an invited musician and a choir sang an inspiring arrangement of the “Non Nobis” hymn by Simon Rattle that left everyone in the church in a state of elevated admiration.

A comprehensive and delicious meal preempted the Conference in the afternoon. The invited delegations presented their salutations. Hosted by the Grand Priory of Croatia and the Magisterial Council of the OSMTHU, present were the Grand Priory of Portugal, the Grand Priory of Spain, the Grand Priory of Italy, the Grand Priory of Slovakia of the OSMTH – Regency, the Grand Priory of England and Wales, the Grand Priory of Denmark and the Grand Priory of Croatia of the OSMTJ, with a special message from Regent Fr+ Nicolas Haimovici Hastier.

Master Paris, Prior Lisec and Chancellor Matos underlined the need for cooperation between all Templar groups, highlighting some of the most important events in the last year. The Chancellor also said that one year ago this convergence was impossible and that, looking to the horizon, all Templar lineages meet in one point, inviting everyone to work on a convergence of efforts right now instead of just hopping for the infinite to come to us instead. Finally he presented the Templar Corps as a genuine structure that can show the leadership and service needed to set service standards to the Order worldwide.

The group then was conducted to the Catedral of Zagreb, parading in full dress. The only exception was Dame Patrícia Oyarzun, Private Secretary to the Master and Chancellor Matos, because Dame Patrícia had difficulties to walk uphill and Fr+ Matos is an opportunist and doesn’t like to walk!

Chancellor Matos accompanies Dame Patrícia in the Taxi, in full dress. The driver insisted in taking the picture 

In the Cathedral the large group was received by the Rector and entered the temple, that was filled with people, in silence and taken to seats reserved for the ordained. The celebratory mass was very moving. Not only the cathedral is a beautifully preserved and in places very well restored 12th century Gothic building, but the liturgy was also tastefully interwoven with musical moments, with traditional vocals and modern instrumental sounds. Beautiful Kyrie. When the group was lead in a ceremonial procession to the plaza in front of the Cathedral, the sun was setting and the hearts were filled.

The event concluded with a Gala Dinner, during which a treaty was signed between the Magisterial Council of the OSMTHU and the International Templar Confederation – Saint Bernard de Clairvaux, that joins over 30 Templar organizations in charity projects based on the Church of San Rocco of Rome managed by the Templars of San Rocco.

Signature of the Protocole with Fr+ Renato Parlato, on the upper left, representing the Confederation

Yes, that day the Templars took over Zagreb. For two days of intense work, fun, relaxation and cultural discussions, brother and sisters from all over Europe were able to forget their different origins, traditions and lineages and live the true brotherhood of Templar ideals.

Next stop: South America and Rome before the end of the year. Do follow us!

Templar Interpretation Center opens in Portugal

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In the close vicinity of the Templar city of Tomar, Portugal, one of the most evocative Templar Castles in the world can be found: Almourol. Situated in a small island in the middle of the Tagus river, overseeing both margins and guarding secret Templar routes from all enemies, Almourol is the subject of legend.

In late 2018 the Municipality of Vila Nova da Barquinha opened right in the center of the village, the new Centro de Interpretação Templária (Templar Interpretation Center), a place where the Templar Order and its continuation in the Order of Christ (of Discoveries fame) is celebrated with dedicated exhibitions, conferences, a comprehensive library and multimedia displays available to the public to explore.

The Center had the major backing, apart from the Municipality and the Portuguese Army that currently has jurisdiction over the Almourol castle, of researcher, philosopher and historian Prof. Manuel J. Gandra, the most respected authority in Templar studies in Portugal – not only because of his strong academic background, but also because he has been the most prolific and consistent author on the theme in the last 25 years. The Center and Prof. Gandra’s work have been fully endorsed by the OSMTHU, that plans to promote a few cultural events in 2019 and 2020 and associate the Order to this beacon of Templar history that merits the attention and collaboration of the Templar world.

The Templar Globe is preparing an interview with Prof. Gandra about the TIC. Meanwhile, please take a look at a video about this remarkable place.

JORNADAS TEMPLÁRIAS PARA O CONHECIMENTO ECUMÉNICO

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As “Jornadas Templárias para o Conhecimento Ecuménico” decorreram nos passados dias 13, 14 e 15 de Abril/2018, em Lagos, no Algarve.

 

As Jornadas constituíram-se de um “Trivium”:

A – Integrando um conjunto de actividades, constituindo-se de uma “Feira de Cultura Regional”, com área expositiva da Ordem dos Templários, feira-do-livro, artesanato, doçaria regional e conventual; que decorreu no Armazém Regimental nos dias 13, 14 e 15.

B – Assim como, no dia 14, sábado, realizaram-se as Jornadas do Conhecimento propriamente ditas, no Auditório do Edifício da Câmara Municipal – Lagos Séc.XXI, entre as 09:30 e as 18:30, com um conjunto de palestras, por Dignitários convidados, que abordaram o tema proposto na perspectiva da corrente doutrinária, filosófica, sociológica, espiritual ou religiosa que professada por cada um dos ilustres convidados.

Cada prelecção durou até 40 minutos, em que o orador respectivo expôs a sua comunicação dentro do Tema escolhido para este Ano – Esperança e Caridade. As comunicações não foram sujeitas a período de perguntas nem a contraditório, procurando-se a construção de um Conhecimento Ecuménico, pelo reconhecimento e aceitação da diferença, a partilha de realidades, a abertura pelo entendimento a diferentes Verdades.

A abertura dos trabalhos decorreu com uma actuação musical, pelo Grupo Coral de Lagos, com trechos medievais dos Séc. XIV e XV.

As Jornadas Templárias tiveram entrada livre a Toda a Comunidade e Organizações. Todos foram muito bem-vindos.

A Organização esteve a cargo da Comenda de Laccobriga e contou com o alto-patrocínio da OSMTHU – Priorado Ibérico da Ordem do Templo, o apoio da Associação Lagoriente – Al-Gharb, da Associação Grupo Coral de Lagos, do Exército Português, da Junta de Freguesia de São Gonçalo de Lagos e da Câmara Municipal de Lagos, assim como o apoio de diversas Organizações da Sociedade Civil nacional.

Objectiva-se a elaboração de um resumo das comunicações das Jornadas, bem como a elaboração da Acta das Jornadas Templárias, com o objectivo final de publicação deste conhecimento e a divulgação do mesmo junto de diversos Organismos da Sociedade, assim como a sua difusão dentro da Ordem do Templo.

Foram convidados oradores representantes de Confissões Religiosas, de Instituições étnicas e convidados da sociedade civil, nomeadamente:

Igreja Católica Romana, Maçonaria Regular, Judaismo, Peregrinos de Santiago, Entidades de Solidariedade Social, Templários e Investigadores Académicos.

Considerando-se que este é um tema central, quer no ternário das virtudes teologais: Fé, Esperança e Caridade; quer na constelação mítica e histórica da identidade portuguesa; eis então o motivo primeiro da escolha do tema para esta primeira edição das Jornadas Templárias para o Conhecimento Ecuménico. Pelo que a Comenda de Laccobriga da OSMTHU deseja, desta forma, poder inculcar a semente em Todos aqueles que, durante este dia, buscaram o conhecimento ecuménico, a aceitação e a partilha, caminhando para um mundo melhor, mais fraterno, de paz, em que os valores crísticos sejam a bandeira que possamos elevar bem alto.

C – No dia 15, domingo, pela manhã, decorreu uma cerimónia solene, interna à Ordem mas aberta a todos os Irmãos de todos os Ramos Templários; chamamento que, de forma fraternal, teve eco e que, nesta celebração eucarística da Igreja Joanita Templária, a Egrégora saiu reforçada, os Irmãos preencheram os seus corações e cumprimos  mais uma etapa deste Caminho para a missão a que nos haviam incumbido.

Arrolamos aqui também, outra trindade, entre o Infante Henrique de Sagres, el-Rei Dom Sebastião e a Rainha Santa Isabel de Portugal. Ainda que vindos por caminhos diferentes, encontrar-se-iam ao centro, fundindo, num só, dois aspectos complementares da espiritualidade portuguesa. Pelo caminho de Sebastião vinha a esperança no resgate  espiritual e temporal do povo português. Pelo de Isabel, a universalidade do amor, aspecto central no impulso da dádiva e da caridade. Teríamos, então, a Esperança e a Caridade. E, de Henrique, o Navegador, temos esta bela terra de Laccobriga, capital de antanho do Reino do Algarve, sede deste caminho para Ocidente em busca do Oriente, herdeira do entreposto marítimo na demanda da Jerusalém.

Resta-nos, agradecendo a participação de todos, a Todos convidar e vincular para as segundas Jornadas Templárias para o Conhecimento Ecuménico, a realizar em 2019, em Lagos. Juntai-vos a Nós neste desígnio que a Todos nos envolve.

No nobis Domini, no nobis, sed Nomini Tuo da Glóriam

A Todos Vós, meus irmãos, Boas Jornadas.

 

PROGRAMA ::

 

+ Dr Luis de Matos, Prior Geral do Priorado Ibérico O::S::M::T::H::U::

+ Prof. Manuel Gandra, Apresentação do Livro: Alquimia

+ Dr Joaquim Jorge, Presidente da AMAYUR – Ayurveda

+ Dr Jaime Ramos, Presidente da Fundação A.D.F.P.

+ Pe José Manuel, Pároco da Praia-da-Luz

+ Drª Isabel Quirino, Psicóloga, Peregrina dos Cam. de Santiago

+ Ms Susana Karina, Tese Mestrado – Memórias de Santiago

+ Prof. Manuel Gandra, Filósofo, Investigador e Autor

+ Dr Luis Fonseca, Deputado Mestre em Portugal do G:.P:.R:.D:.H:.

Scientist Finally Read the Oldest Biblical Text Ever Found

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The charred lump of scroll sat in an archaeologist’s office, impossible to read without destroying it – until now.

Scientists have finally been able to read the oldest biblical text ever found.

The 2,000-year-old scroll has been in the hands of archaeologists for decades. But it hasn’t been possible to read it, since it was too dangerous to open the charred and brittle scroll.

Scientists have now been able to read it, using special imaging technology that can look into what’s inside. And it has found what was in there: the earliest evidence of a biblical text in its standardised form.

The passages, which come from the Book of Leviticus, show the first physical evidence of a long-held belief that the Hebrew Bible that’s in use today has is more than 2,000 years old.

The discovery was announced in an article in Science Advances written by researchers from Kentucky and Jerusalem. It described how the researchers used a tool called “virtual unwrapping”, which provides a 3D digital analysis of an X-ray scan.

By using that, it was the first time that researchers have been able to read an ancient scroll without actually opening it.

“You can’t imagine the joy in the lab,” said Pnina Shor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who participated in the study.

The digital technology, funded by Google and the U.S. National Science Foundation, is slated to be released to the public as open source software by the end of next year.

Researchers hope to use the technology to peek inside other ancient documents too fragile to unwrap, like some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and papyrus scrolls carbonized in the Mt. Vesuvius volcano eruption in 79 CE. Researchers believe the technology could also be applied to the fields of forensics, intelligence, and antiquities conservation.

The biblical scroll examined in the study was first discovered by archaeologists in 1970 at Ein Gedi, the site of an ancient Jewish community near the Dead Sea. Inside the ancient synagogue’s ark, archaeologists found lumps of scroll fragments.

The synagogue was destroyed in an ancient fire, charring the scrolls. The dry climate of the area kept them preserved, but when archaeologists touched them, the scrolls would begin to disintegrate. So the charred logs were shelved for nearly half a century, with no one knowing what was written inside.

Last year, Yosef Porath, the archaeologist who excavated at Ein Gedi in 1970, walked into the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls preservation lab in Jerusalem with boxes of the charcoal chunks. The lab has been creating hi-resolution images of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest copies of biblical texts ever discovered, and he asked researchers to scan the burned scrolls.

“I looked at him and said, ‘you must be joking,”‘ said Shor, who heads the lab.

She agreed, and a number of burned scrolls were scanned using X-ray-based micro-computed tomography, a 3D version of the CT scans hospitals use to create images of internal body parts. The images were then sent to William Brent Seales, a researcher in the computer science department of the University of Kentucky. Only one of the scrolls could be deciphered.

Using the “virtual unwrapping” technology, he and his team painstakingly captured the three-dimensional shape of the scroll’s layers, using a digital triangulated surface mesh to make a virtual rendering of the parts they suspected contained text. They then searched for pixels that could signify ink made with a dense material like iron or lead. The researchers then used computer modeling to virtually flatten the scroll, to be able to read a few columns of text inside.

“Not only were you seeing writing, but it was readable,” said Seales. “At that point we were absolutely jubilant.”

The researchers say it is the first time a biblical scroll has been discovered in an ancient synagogue’s holy ark, where it would have been stored for prayers, and not in desert caves like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The discovery holds great significance for scholars’ understanding of the development of the Hebrew Bible, researchers say.

In ancient times, many versions of the Hebrew Bible circulated. The Dead Sea Scrolls, dating to as early as the 3rd century B.C., featured versions of the text that are radically different than today’s Hebrew Bible.

Scholars have believed the Hebrew Bible in its standard form first came about some 2,000 years ago, but never had physical proof, until now, according to the study. Previously the oldest known fragments of the modern biblical text dated back to the 8th century.

The text discovered in the charred Ein Gedi scroll is “100 percent identical” to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries, said Dead Sea Scroll scholar Emmanuel Tov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who participated in the study.

“This is quite amazing for us,” he said. “In 2,000 years, this text has not changed.”

Noam Mizrahi, a Dead Sea Scrolls expert at Tel Aviv University who did not participate in the study, called it a “very, very nice find.” He said the imaging technology holds great potential for more readings of unopened Dead Sea Scrolls.

“It’s not only what was found, but the promise of what else it can uncover, which is what will turn this into an exciting discovery,” Mizrahi said.

Additional reporting by Associated Press