Religion

What exactly is the Holy Grail – and why has its meaning eluded us for centuries?

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Type “Holy Grail” into Google and … well, you probably don’t need me to finish that sentence. The sheer multiplicity of what any search engine throws up demonstrates that there is no clear consensus as to what the Grail is or was. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people out there claiming to know its history, true meaning and even where to find it.

Modern authors, perhaps most (in)famously Dan Brown, offer new interpretations and, even when these are clearly and explicitly rooted in little more than imaginative fiction, they get picked up and bandied about as if a new scientific and irrefutable truth has been discovered. The Grail, though, will perhaps always eschew definition. But why?

The first known mention of a Grail (“un graal”) is made in a narrative spun by a 12th century writer of French romance, Chrétien de Troyes, who might reasonably be referred to as the Dan Brown of his day – though some scholars would argue that the quality of Chrétien’s writing far exceeds anything Brown has so far produced.

Chrétien’s Grail is mystical indeed – it is a dish, big and wide enough to take a salmon, that seems capable to delivering food and sustenance. To obtain the Grail requires asking a particular question at the Grail Castle. Unfortunately, the exact question (“Whom does the Grail serve?”) is only revealed after the Grail quester, the hapless Perceval, has missed the opportunity to ask it. It seems he is not quite ready, not quite mature enough, for the Grail.

But if this dish is the “first” Grail, then why do we now have so many possible Grails? Indeed, it is, at turns, depicted as the chalice of the Last Supper or of the Crucifixion or both, or as a stone containing the elixir of life, or even as the bloodline of Christ. And this list is hardly exhaustive. The reason most likely has to do with the fact that Chrétien appears to have died before completing his story, leaving the crucial questions as to what the Grail is and means tantalisingly unanswered. And it did not take long for others to try to answer them for him.

Robert de Boron, a poet writing within 20 or so years of Chrétien (circa 1190-1200), seems to have been the first to have associated the Grail with the cup of the Last Supper. In Robert’s prehistory of the object, Joseph of Arimathea took the Grail to the Crucifixion and used it to catch Christ’s blood. In the years that followed (1200-1230), anonymous writers of prose romances fixated upon the Last Supper’s Holy Chalice and made the Grail the subject of a quest by various knights of King Arthur’s court. In Germany, by contrast, the knight and poet Wolfram von Eschenbach reimagined the Grail as “Lapsit exillis” – an item more commonly referred to these days as the “Philosopher’s Stone”.

None of these is anything like Chrétien’s Grail, of course, so we can fairly ask: did medieval audiences have any more of a clue about the nature of the Holy Grail than we do today?

Publishing the Grail

My recent book delves into the medieval publishing history of the French romances that contain references to the Grail legend, asking questions about the narratives’ compilation into manuscript books. Sometimes, a given text will be bound alongside other types of texts, some of which seemingly have nothing to do with the Grail whatsoever. So, what sorts of texts do we find accompanying Grail narratives in medieval books? Can this tell us anything about what medieval audiences knew or understood of the Grail?

The picture is varied, but a broad chronological trend is possible to spot. Some of the few earliest manuscript books we still have see Grail narratives compiled alone, but a pattern quickly appears for including them into collected volumes. In these cases, Grail narratives can be found alongside historical, religious or other narrative (or fictional) texts. A picture emerges, therefore, of a Grail just as lacking in clear definition as that of today.

Perhaps the Grail served as a useful tool that could be deployed in all manner of contexts to help communicate the required message, whatever that message may have been. We still see this today, of course, such as when we use the phrase “The Holy Grail of…” to describe the practically unobtainable, but highly desirable prize in just about any area you can think of. There is even a guitar effect-pedal named “holy grail”.

Once the prose romances of the 13th century started to appear, though, the Grail took on a proper life of its own. Like a modern soap opera, these romances comprised vast reams of narrative threads, riddled with independent episodes and inconsistencies. They occupied entire books, often enormous and lavishly illustrated, and today these offer evidence that literature about the Grail evaded straightforward understanding and needed to be set apart – physically and figuratively. In other words, Grail literature had a distinctive quality – it was, as we might call it today, a genre in its own right.

In the absence of clear definition, it is human nature to impose meaning. This is what happens with the Grail today and, according to the evidence of medieval book compilation, it is almost certainly what happened in the Middle Ages, too. Just as modern guitarists use their “holy grail” to experiment with all kinds of sounds, so medieval writers and publishers of romance used the Grail as an adaptable and creative instrument for conveying a particular message to their audience, the nature of which could be very different from one book to the next.

Whether the audience always understood that message, of course, is another matter entirely.

in theconversation.com by Leah Tether

 

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Last Supper: What Wine Was Served at Jesus and the Apostles’ Final Meal?

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The Bible offers a pretty comprehensive answer to the question ‘WWJD?’: what would Jesus do? But, as Christians observe Easter and the Last Supper another question arises: what would jesus drink?

To answer this question, the location and timing of the final meal that Jesus had with his disciples before he was crucified is key. And three of four of the accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible – known as the Gospels – suggest that it took place on the last Thursday celebration of Passover in around AD 30,  Father Daniel Kendall, Professor of Theology and Scripture at the University of San Francisco told wine app Vivino.

“Unlike John the Baptist, Jesus drank wine,” explains Father Kendall, adding: “From the descriptions it was most likely a Seder meal. Since it was and is the most important of Jewish feasts, wine would have been part of the festivities.”

While grape varieties may not have been named and identified as they are now, wine had been made in this part of the Middle East since around 4000 BC.

Archaeological evidence suggests that around the time of the last supper, rich, concentrated wines were popular, says Dr Patrick McGovern, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and director of Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia.

In Judah more specifically – near Jerusalem where the Last Supper is said to have taken place – archaeologists have found a jar inscribed with: “wine made from black raisins”. This means that winemakers may have used grapes dried on the vine or in the sun on mats to create sweet, thick drinks. At sites nearby in the region, jars labelled “smoked wine” and “very dark wine” have also been found.

While it was common to water down wine at the time, there was a taste in Jerusalem for rich, concentrated wine, according to Dr McGovern.

Spices and fruits – including pomegranates, mandrakes, saffron and cinnamon – were used to flavour such wines, and tree resin were added to help preserve them. So, the wine drank at the Last Supper, then, might resemble the mulled wine some of us drink at Christmas.

Today, comparable bottles would include Amarone, which is made in Northern Italy with grapes dried on straw mats.

While it’s unclear exactly which wine Jesus drank at the last supper, Dr McGovern jokes: “If someone can find me the Holy Grail and send it to my lab, we could analyse it and tell you.”

in The Independent

Almoço de Reis 2018

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Realizou-se em Sintra o Almoço de Reis do Priorado de Portugal da OSMTHU, evento que abriu as actividades da Ordem para o ano de 2018.

O almoço foi presidido por Luis de Matos, Prior Geral coadjuvado pelos Comendadores de Sintra, Fr+ Paulo Valente KCTJ, Comendador de Lisboa – Colina das Chagas, Fr+ Luis Fonseca KCTJ, in Ecclesia Mons. Tau Christoforus de Lusignan e Comendador do Condado de Arraiolos, Fr+ Rui Herdadinha KCTJ, estando presentes ainda vários irmãos, irmãs, família e convidados.

Como é habitual, além do convívio, da conversa fraterna, da brincadeira costumeira em encontros como o nosso, o Almoço teve um tema sobre o qual se pôde reflectir e fazer alguma instrução de Cavalaria. Sendo dia de Reis, falou-se dos Reis Magos. Contudo, de todas as figuras tradicionais no Presépio, o foco foi colocado o Jumento. De facto, o mais esquecidos dos animais da Natividade tem muito que ensinar. Juntamente com o Bovino (que sublinha a letra B e a força criadora seminal), o Jumento (que sublinha a letra J e a força dócil e suave) expressa a dualidade que venera o Menino na manjedoura. O Jumento não apenas foi fundamental na fuga para o Egipto, como teve ainda um papel central no reconhecimento de Jesus como o Messias (e por isso o Ungido, ou Crestos). De facto, embora a tradição coloque Jesus num cavalo a caminho da Cidade Santa, ao chegar à porta da cidade desmontou e mandou que se buscasse um jumento para que nele montasse antes de entrar na cidade. Era esse o sinal designado por Isaías, que selava a profecia e dava a conhecer o Esperado.

A montada do guerreiro é o cavalo, que nos aparece como sendo branco em muitas histórias. Mas o Sábio apresenta-se num burrico. A dicotomia Cavalo/Jumento é a do Guerreiro/Monge. O clássico de Cervantes “D. Quixote de La Mancha” mostra-nos bem como o idealismo por vezes alucinado de Quixote do alto do seu cavalo Roncinante é equilibrado pela ligação à realidade imediata de Sancho Pança, que, fiel companheiro, como um eco da consciência interior, o segue no seu burrico sem nome.

A discussão e o convívio prolongou-se por muitas horas, com muitas contribuições para a reflexão de muitos dos presentes, sempre inquietos quando estes temas se discutem.

Foi sem surpresa que o nosso grupo foi o último a deixar o Restaurante, já muito próximo das 5:00 da tarde. Um grande obrigado a todos os presentes, pela alegria e boa disposição que trouxeram, e muito particularmente à Irmã Susana Ferreira DTJ que organizou o dia com todo o cuidado e detalhe.

A todos um excelente ano de 2018.


Short English Summary:

The Priory of Portugal celebrated Good Kings Day in a Lunch and debate event in Sintra last Saturday, January 6th 2018. Attending were Fr+ Luis de Matos, Grand Prior General and Chancellor and Interim Master of the OSMTHU, Fr+ Paulo Valente, Commander of Sintra, Fr+ Luis Fonseca, Commander of Lisbon – Chagas Hill and Fr+ Rui Herdadinha, Commander of Arraiolos, as well as numerous brothers and sisters, family and invited guests. The theme of the day was the symbolism o the Donkey in the Nativity scene, the less prominent of all the animals connected with Our Lord, but one of the most interesting in its meaning. With a starting point on the Donkey’s role on the biblical episode of the escape to Egypt and later in the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah when He entered Jerusalem riding a Donkey (as the prophecy had it), the group explored the deep and meaningful role of this animal in the life of Christ. A fulfilling day of joy and fraternal conviviality was closed long after everyone else had left the Restaurant and the group (as always) was the very last to part ways, so interesting and compelling was the discussion. From us all, a wish for a happy and peaceful year of 2018.

The Sea of Galilee: receding waters of biblical lake

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A sharp drop in annual rainfall in the northern Galilee region over the past three years has caused the lake’s waters to recede.

On the shimmering Sea of Galilee, where the Christian gospels say Jesus walked on water, 150 Nigerian pilgrims aboard a river boat sing and dance to an African beat. Their pastor, Reverend Samuel Tunde Ogunmodede, said he and his congregation had come to the biblical lake to see what they had, until now, only read about in the scriptures. “We came here to seek the face of God, pray to God as he did in the time of the disciples. We will pray here so that he will do the same in our lives,” he said on board the boat. About one million tourists from abroad visit the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberias or Kinneret, each year, according to the Israeli tourism ministry.

Stretching about 65 sq miles (170 square km) from the foot of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee (actually a fresh-water lake) spills into the Jordan River, where Jesus is believed to have been baptised. On a crisp winter day, worshippers from Singapore, Nigeria and Germany perform their own baptism ceremonies in the waters. The gospels tell of Jesus walking on the lake to comfort and save disciples as their ship was foundering in a storm and miraculously producing huge catches of fish for their nets. But the Sea of Galilee may need a few more miracles these days. A sharp drop in annual rainfall in the northern Galilee region over the past three years has caused the lake’s waters to recede, according to Israel’s Water Authority. It is now at its lowest in five years.

Receding water levels means higher salt levels, which harm the eco-balance and could render the water unusable. In an effort to control the damage, only a 10th of the annual average quantity of water supply has been drawn from the lake this year, a water authority spokesman said. In a complex operation, salt water springs are found and their flow is diverted out of the lake. To better keep the eco-balance and maintain water quality, the lake is stocked with millions of fish every year. The Sea of Galilee has, in the past, provided up to a third of Israel’s water. Israel now relies on the more expensive methods of desalination and recycling for more than half its water supply.

Reuters

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

Shroud of Turin ‘stained with blood from torture victim’, find researchers

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The Shroud of Turin is stained with the blood of a torture victim, scientists have claimed.

Analysis of the linen cloth, purportedly used to bury Jesus after his crucifixion, contains “nanoparticles” of blood which are not typical of that of a healthy person, according to researchers.

Institute of Crystallography researcher Elvio Carlino, one of the authors of the report, said the particles are conducive with someone having been through “great suffering”.

“Our results point out that at the nanoscale a scenario of violence is recorded in the funeral fabric,” authors wrote in the scientific article, published in PLOS One.

“The consistent bound of ferritin iron to creatinine occurs in human organism in case of a severe polytrauma.”

Researchers believe the particles show a “peculiar structure, size and distribution”, which corroborates the theory that it was used as a burial cloth.

They also believe it contradicts previous theories that the shroud was made in medieval times.

Professor Giulio Fanti, one of the author’s of the research, said: “The presence of these biological nanoparticles found during our experiments point to a violent death for the man wrapped in the Turin Shroud.”

The cloth’s authenticity is highly contentious and divides religious opinion.

Some Christians believe the fabric – which is kept in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin – is the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazereth, dating back over 2,000 years.

But previous scientific studies have suggested the cloth, which appears to be imprinted with the face of a man, may in fact be from the 13th or 14th century – centuries after Jesus is believed to have died.

One study found the cloth had been manufactured in India.

The research was published in US scientific journal PlosOne and is titled: “New Biological Evidence from Atomic Resolution Studies on the Turin Shroud.”

in independent.co.uk

Saint George Versus the Dragon

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Saint George is traditionally considered the patron saint of England. His legendary victory over the dragon is seen as symbolic of the power of the English people to subdue their powerful enemies. His red cross on a white background is the basis of the British Union Jack flag. In earlier years it was carried into battle as a standard. The image of George the dragon slayer has been used since the 1800s on English gold coins. However, none of the stories connected with this figure describe him as coming from the British Isles. The story reached England in the medieval period – the time of the Crusades. People were attracted to this tale of bravery and chivalry. In the course of time its foreign origins were forgotten and it began to be seen as an English tradition. It is not a coincidence that George has been the second most popular name given to English monarchs.

The George and the Dragon story

There are several versions of this story. Usually it is set in North Africa. One story recounts how the brave knight arrived in Libya after a very long and arduous trip by land and sea. Here he met a hermit who told him about a terrifying dragon that was terrifying the people of Libya. The dragon had an unpleasant habit of devouring young maidens. The problem the country faced was that all the young maidens had been eaten with the sole exception of the king’s daughter. It was her turn to be the dragon’s lunch tomorrow. The King of Egypt was offering his daughter in marriage to any brave knight willing to rid the land of this dragon.

This was exactly the kind of challenge George was searching for. He galloped off the valley where the beast lived just in time to see the princess of Egypt being led to this grisly death. He comforted her with the news that he was off to kill the dragon and she need not fear. True to his words he rode on to the cave where the dragon lived. The huge beast with a fifty foot long tail and a huge head was understandably furious at this intrusion on its territory. It came out of its cave roaring like thunder. George charged at the dragon and speared it but its scales were so thick his spear broke. George was dismounted but found refuge under a magical tree conveniently on hand for some emergencies. The tree’s magical powers shielded him against the dragon’s poison. When he had recovered from the failure of the first attack he went after the dragon again with his sword. The dragon doused him in poison and his armour fell apart. Everything was almost lost but George noticed just in time that there were no scales under the wings of the beast. He struck it under its wings with his sword and at last succeeded in dispatching the monster.

Interpretations

On the most basic level George and the dragon is an attractive fairy story. We learn about the triumph of good over evil in a manner that leaves no room for alternative interpretations. On a deeper level it is easy to detect in the persona of the dragon a symbolic representation of our fears of the unknown, or situations we perceive as very threatening. The dragon can be seen as almost insurmountable obstacle or approaching terror threatening our very existence. The conquest of the dragon shows that we have the abilities to overcome our most dreaded enemies with sufficient determination and courage. These ideas appeal to individuals. They also clearly held appeal for an island nation fearing invasion from its more powerful Continental neighbours.

If you want to connect the dragon slaying with some episode in early history, there is no evidence that Saint George is modelled on a person whom we know lived in a certain historical period. However, it is interesting to note that many cultures have stories featuring dragons. Some scholars suggest that one explanation for this maybe the survival of dinosaurs into a much later period than we used to believe. The theory has always been that dinosaurs died out before man came on the scene. These scholars postulate that early man might have seen dinosaurs and conceivably needed to defend himself against them. If this really was the case there may have been a real prototype for Saint George – an ancient warrior who fought and killed one of these prehistoric monsters. His exploits would have been talked and sung about for generations and so this story may have a germ of truth in its origins. More prosaically the stories of dragons may have been sparked by the discovery of dinosaur skeletons, which would certainly have the power to terrify a superstitious and uneducated farmer. In truth, we will probably never know.

By: Zoran Krdzic in newhistorian.com