Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins

Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins

Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins

Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins


This book is a detailed examination of the literature and archaeology pertaining to specific sites (in Palestine, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Memre, Nazareth, Capernaum, and elsewhere) and the region in general. Taylor contends that the origins of these holy places and the phenomenon of Christian pilgrimage can be traced to the emperor Constantine, who ruled over the eastern Empire from 324. He contends that few places were actually genuine; the most important authentic site being the cave (not Garden) of Gethsemane, where Christ was probably arrested. Extensively illustrated, this lively new look at a topic previously shrouded in obscurity should interest students in scholars in a range of disciplines.


During a visit to Jerusalem in 1988, I was lucky enough to be shown the Greek Orthodox archaeological excavations on and around the Rock of Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Excited by what was uncovered, I asked to take a few photographs, and, upon being given permission, I advanced a couple of steps on to the Rock. I was about to take a photograph when my guide whispered, 'Quickly! This is a holy place . . . and you are a woman!'

His words struck many chords. At once I realized he had not expected me to walk on to the surface of the rock. I had seen men walking there the day before and had presumed that this was normal practice. However, I was not only a scholar but also 'a woman'. I did not press him on why 'a woman' should take special care in the holy places, but suspect it goes far back to Old Testament ideas about the uncleanness of a woman during her menstrual period (Lev. 15: 19-30). Perhaps this should not be a surprise, for the Old Testament is part of the Christian Bible, and its concepts have actively informed Christianity at every stage of its growth.

The idea of a holy place being in danger of contamination by those who may be unclean lies at the heart of why it is deemed necessary by Christians, Jews, and Muslims today to keep hold of such places. The holy site is supposed to be kept pristine. Cleanliness is truly next to godliness in these circumstances, but the cleanliness is not physical but spiritual. It is horror at spiritual pollution that comes across in the Christian writers of the fourth and fifth centuries when they consider how sites sacred to Christians have been used by pagans. In order to guarantee the spiritual cleanliness of the holy places, they must be in the hands of those who worship God correctly: those who can recognize what is unclean and guard against it.

What struck me even more forcefully about my guide's comment, however, was the strength of his conviction that the very rock on which I stepped was holy. The proscriptions for the ancient priests serving in the Jewish Temple and visitors to that . . .

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