Tomb of Mary (Mother of Jesus) – Photos & Tours
Jan 23rd, 2011 by SM

Mary, Aramaic, Hebrew: Maryām, Miriam; Arabic Maryam, was known as a Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee. Israel’s Tourism Ministry has launched tours for Christian pilgrims who would like to know more about the life of Mary, mother of Jesus.

Tour operators are able to plan special pilgrimages for tourists who wish to trace Mary’s footsteps in the Holy Land, visiting the spots where she is supposed to have lived and traveled.

Inside view of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary and Altar

Inside view of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary and Altar

The itinerary includes Mary’s birthplace near Nazareth, located in northern Israel, her Tomb near Jerusalem, Mary’s Spring, and more. In addition, the Israeli government has coordinated its efforts with the Palestinian Authority so as to facilitate trips to Bethlehem and other Christian holy sites in Judea and Samaria.

For Christians, “the Holy Land is the physical connection with the life of Jesus,” Friar Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Roman Catholic Church custodian of the Holy Land explained that one could not talk about the life of Jesus without also talking about his mother, however.

A full-color booklet outlining the new itinerary in English will also be translated into Spanish, French, Italian, Polish and Portuguese. The English name “Mary” comes from the Greek Μαρία, which is a shortened form of Μαριάμ. The New Testament name was based on her original Hebrew name Miryam.

Early writings name her parents as Joachim and Anne. However, in the canonical New Testament the gospel of Luke suggests that Mary’s father to be Heli the son of Matthat. According to the apocryphal Gospel of James Mary was the daughter of Joachim and Anne. She resided at Nazareth in Galilee, presumably with her parents and during her betrothal–the first stage of a Jewish marriage.

Mary is involved in the only event in Jesus’ adolescent life that is recorded in the New Testament. At the age of twelve Jesus, having become separated from his parents on their return journey from the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, was found among the teachers in the temple.

After Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and his temptations by the devil in the desert, Mary was present when, at her intercession, Jesus worked his first public miracle during the marriage in Cana by turning water into wine. Subsequently there are events when Mary is present along with James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, called Jesus’ brothers, and unnamed “sisters”.

Outside view of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary

Outside view of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary

There is also an incident in which Jesus is sometimes interpreted as rejecting his family. “And his mother and his brothers arrived, and standing outside, they sent in a message asking for him. And looking at those who sat in a circle around him, Jesus said, ‘These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.'”

According to some traditions, Mary died surrounded by the apostles (in either Jerusalem or Ephesus) between three days and 24 years after Jesus death. The House of Mary near Ephesus in Turkey is traditionally considered the place where Mary lived until her assumption. The Gospel of John states that Mary went to live with the Disciple whom Jesus loved, identified as John the Evangelist. Irenaeus and Eusebius of Caesarea wrote in their histories that John later went to Ephesus, which may provide the basis for the early belief that Mary also lived in Ephesus with John.

Christian devotion to Mary goes back to the 2nd century and predates the emergence of a specific Marian liturgical system in the 5th century, following the First Council of Ephesus in 431. The Council itself was held at a church in Ephesus which had been dedicated to Mary about a hundred years before. In Egypt the veneration of Mary had started in the 3rd century and the term Theotokos was used by Origen, the Alexandrian Father of the Church.

Christian Marian perspectves include a great deal of diversity. While some Christians such as Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have well established Marian traditions, Protestants at large pay scant attention to Mariological themes. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutherans venerate Mary. This veneration especially takes the form of prayer for intercession with her son, Jesus.

The apocryphal Protoevangelium of James, which is not part of new testament scripture, has been the source of many Orthodox beliefs on Mary. The account of Mary’s life presented includes her consecration as a virgin at the temple at age three. The High Priest Zachariah blessed Mary and informed her that God had magnified her name among many generations.

Zachariah placed Mary on the third step of the altar, whereby God gave her grace. While in the temple, Mary was miraculously fed by an angel, until she was twelve years old. At that point an angel told Zachariah to betroth Mary to a widower in Israel, who would be indicated. This story provides the theme of many hymns for the Feast of Presentation of Mary, and icons of the feast depict the story.

The Orthodox believe that Mary was instrumental in the growth of Christianity during the life of Jesus, and after his Crucifixion, and Orthodox Theologian Sergei Bulgakov wrote: “The Virgin Mary is the center, invisible, but real, of the Apostolic Church”

Theologians from the Orthodox tradition have made prominent contributions to the development of Marian thought and devotion. John Damascene (c 650─c 750) was one of the greatest Orthodox theologians. Among other Marian writings, he proclaimed the essential nature of Mary’s heavenly Assumption or Dormition and her mediative role.

Protestants typically hold that Mary was the mother of Jesus, but was an ordinary woman devoted to God. Therefore, there is virtually no Marian veneration, Marian feasts, Marian pilgrimages, Marian art, Marian music or Marian spirituality in today’s Protestant communities.

Islamic views on Mary: Islam regards Mary as the virgin mother of Jesus who they believe was one of the prophets. In the Qur’an, Mary has one of the biggest chapters. She is treated in the Sura Maryam and Al-i imran. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned as Maryam, more in the Qur’an than in the entire New Testament. She enjoys a singularly distinguished and honored position among women in the Qur’an.

A chapter in the Qur’an is titled “Maryam” (Mary), which is the only chapter in the Qur’an named after a woman, in which the story of Mary (Maryam) and Jesus(Isa) is recounted according to the Islamic view of Jesus. She is mentioned in the Qur’an with the honorific title of “our lady” (syyidatuna) as the daughter of Imran and Hannah.

She is the only woman directly named in the Qur’an; declared (uniquely along with Jesus) to be a Sign of God to mankind Qur’an 23:50, as one who “guarded her chastity” Qur’an 66:12, an obedient one Qur’an 66:12; chosen of her mother and dedicated to God whilst still in the womb Qur’an 3:36; uniquely (amongst women) Accepted into service by God Qur’an 3:37; cared for by (one of the prophets as per Islam) Zakariya (Zacharias) Qur’an 3:37; that in her childhood she resided in the great Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem and uniquely had access to Al-Mihrab (understood to be the Holy of Holies), and was provided with heavenly ‘provisions’ by God Qur’an 3:37.

Mary is also called a Chosen One Qur’an 3:42; a Purified One Qua’an 3:42; a Truthful one Qur’an 5:75; her child conceived through “a Word from God” Qur’an 3:45; and “exalted above all women of The Worlds/Universes (the material and heavenly worlds)” Qur’an 3:42.

The Qur’an relates detailed narrative accounts of Maryam (Mary) in two places Sura 3 Qur’an 3:35 and Sura 19 Qur’an 19:16. These state beliefs in both the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Virgin birth of Jesus. The account given in Sura 19 Qur’an 19:1 of the Qur’an is nearly identical with that in the Gospel according to Luke, and both of these (Luke, Sura 19) begin with an account of the visitation of an angel upon Zakariya (Zecharias) and Good News of the birth of Yahya (John), followed by the account of the annunciation. It mentions how Mary was informed by an angel that she would become the mother of Jesus through the actions of God alone.

In the Islamic tradition, Mary and Jesus were the only children who could not be touched by Satan at the moment of their birth, for God imposed a veil between them and Satan. According to author Shabbir Akhtar, the Islamic perspective on Mary’s Immaculate Conception is compatible with the Catholic doctrine of the same topic. The Qur’an says that Jesus was the result of a virgin birth. The most detailed account of the annunciation and birth of Jesus is provided in Sura 3 and 19 of The Qur’an wherein it is written that God sent an angel to announce that she could shortly expect to bear a son, despite being a virgin.

Other views; To date, scholars continue to debate the accounts of the birth of Jesus from several perspectives, including textual analysis, historical records and post-apostolic witnesses.

The Virgin Mary was worshipped as a Mother goddess in the heretical Christian sect Collyridianism, which was found throughout Arabia sometime during the 300s AD. Collyrdianism was made up mostly of women and even had women priests. They were known to make bread offerings to the Virgin Mary, along with other practices. The group was condemned as heretical by the Roman Catholic Church and was preached against by Epiphanius of Salamis, who wrote about the group in his writings titled Panarion.

From the early stages of Christianity, belief in the virginity of Mary and the virgin conception of Jesus, as stated in the gospels, holy and supernatural, was used by detractors, both political and religious, as a topic for discussions, debates and writings, specifically aimed to challenge the divinity of Jesus and thus Christians and Christianity alike. In the 2nd century, as part of the earliest anti-Christian polemics, Celsus suggested that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier named Panthera. The views of Celsus drew responses from Origen, the Church Father in Alexandria, Egypt.

In December 2010, Catherine Lawless of the University of Limerick stated that by analyzing 15th-century Florentine manuscripts, she had concluded that Ismeria was the maternal grandmother of Mary.

John the Baptist’s Head In Damascus Mosque
Jan 14th, 2011 by James

The Umayyad Mosque is said to hold the head of John the Baptist in an opulent tomb, which is frequently visited by Christian pilgrims. Next to the mosque is the tomb of the warrior Saladin, who fought the crusaders in the 12th century.

Damascus has a wealth of treasures, from ancient Roman ruins to the 8th-century Umayyad Mosque, the pearl of the labyrinthine, walled old town. Other ancient treasures, include the National Museum of Damascus in the west of the city, which holds artifacts from prehistoric times through to the Kingdoms of Israel, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods. It also holds ancient Syrian treasures such as the world’s first alphabet.

Not just an ancient treasure trove, Damascus was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979 and is a hub for local contemporary visual art and theatre. New galleries in the city include the international space Ayyam Gallery. It displays some of the best new art from Syria, including work by sculptor Mustafa Ali, who also runs his own art foundation. The Tajalliyat Gallery, describes itself as “a space for cultural, intellectual, and artistic meeting.”

The Dar al-Assad for Culture and Arts is the official opera house of Syria and has an impressive schedule of world-class concerts and performances, while the French Cultural Institute holds regular music recitals and talks.

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John the Baptist Islamic Relics 

Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā (Arabic: translated literally as John, son of Zechariah, is an Islamic prophet also known as the Biblical figure John the Baptist. He is believed by Muslims to be a witness to the word of God, and a prophet who would herald the coming of Jesus (Isa). His father Zakariya, the Biblical priest Zechariah, too was an Islamic prophet.

Islamic tradition maintains that John was one of the prophets that Muhammad met on the night of the Mi’raj, his ascension through the Seven Heavens. It is said he met John and Jesus in the second heaven (Jannah), where Muhammad greeted his two ‘brothers’ before ascending with Gabriel (Jibral) to the third heaven, where he met Joseph (Yusuf), son of Jacob (Ya`qūb). John’s story was also told to the Abyssinian king during Muhammad’s Migration to Abyssinia. 

Etymology: The name John is derived, via Latin and Greek, from the Hebrew name Yochanan (Hebrew). Arab Christians use the name Youhanna for John, coming directly from the Hebrew and Aramaic which was used at the time.

The Arabic name Yahya is usually understood to mean “he shall live”, spiritually meaning that John will forever be remembered as a great prophet. The names Youhanna and Yahya are, however, likely to be derived from the same base meaning and root. 

Islam’s Story of John: In the Qur’an, God frequently mentions Zechariah’s continuous praying for the birth of son. Zechariah’s wife, mentioned in the New Testament as Elizabeth, was barren and therefore the birth of a child seemed impossible. 

Birth of John: As a gift from God, Zechariah was given a son by the name of Yahya (John), a name specially chosen for this child alone. In accordance with Zechariah’s prayer, God made John and Jesus, for whom John paved the way, renew the message of God, which had been corrupted and lost by the Israelites. As the Qur’an says:(His prayer was answered): “O Zakariya! We give thee good news of a son: His name shall be Yahya: on none by that name have We conferred distinction before.” He said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?”
He said: “So (it will be) thy Lord saith, ‘that is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before, when thou hadst been nothing!'”
(Zakariya) said: “O my Lord! give me a Sign.” “Thy Sign,” was the answer, “Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three nights, although thou art not dumb.” [Qur’an, sura 19 (Maryam), verse 7]

Prophecy of John: John was exhorted to hold fast to the Scripture and was given wisdom by God while still a child. He was pure and devout, and walked well in the Presence of God. He was dutiful towards his parents and he was not arrogant or rebellious. John was one on whom God sent peace on the day he was born and the day he died. He, along with all the prophets, will be resurrected on the Last Day to bear witness to the message. John is called a righteous, honorable and chaste person and, in a sense, also paved the way for Jesus, who, by God’s command, would also help correct the corruptions that had crept into the faith of Israel. As God says of John: (To his son came the command): “O John! take hold of the Book with might”: and We gave him Wisdom even as a youth, [Qur’an, sura 19 (Maryam), ayah 12]

John was a classical prophet, who was exalted high by Allah, for his bold denouncing of all things sinful. Furthermore, the Qur’an speaks of John’s gentle pity and love for all creatures and his humble attitude towards life, for which he was granted the Purity of Life: And piety (for all creatures) as from Us, and purity: He was devout, And kind to his parents, and he was not overbearing or rebellious. So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)! [Qur’an, sura 19 (Maryam), ayah 13-15 ]

The veneration of Yahya prevailed amongst some Muslim groups who were partly influenced by Byzantine Christian practices. This veneration, according to Muslim scholar Abu Rayhan Biruni, included a feast commemorating Yahya’s beheading on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Av.  A shrine existing through to modern times is the oratory (maqām) of Yahya, located in the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus. Some early reports mention that Umayyad caliph al-Walid I unearthed the head of Yahya and placed it in a pillar in Damascus, which had an architectural capital shaped like a basket of palm leaves.

Other sources, such as the Iraqi scholar al-Harawī, mention that the head had been transferred to the city of Aleppo by Mu’izz al-Daula Thimal bin Salih of the Mirdasid dynasty in 1043. Historians Zayd b. al-Hasan al-Kindī and Ibn al-Adim note that the head was then stored in the upper oratory of the Citadel of Aleppo within a basin made of marble. The head was later evacuated to the Aleppo congregational mosque due to invading Mongol forces who had burned down the Aleppo citadel and upper oratory. There, according to Ibn Shaddad, it was buried west of the minbar (pulpit), with another oratory built for it. It thus became another spot of veneration for Yahya, and a place where some Syrians believed extra blessings (barakah) existed
Shrine of Yahya located at the Umayyad Mosq
ue, Damascus.

Secrets for Your Soul
Dec 9th, 2010 by AZ

Regardless of different beliefs, if people believe the Divine Presence is everywhere then mankind’s secular paradigms of thinking only function morally with a divinely inspired intelligence. When people can recognize wisdom and truth and extract it from its shield that perverts its meaning and message, then they have participated in the redemption process of restoring lost and exiled Light.

Through the Divine master plan of the external universe and by our observance of the Laws of the Universe we integrate the outer universe with the personal universe that is inside us. Thus human beings, by elevating their souls to unite with the Divine realm also elevate all other entities in the cosmos. That is the essence of spiritual enlightenment. This is the key to finding the meaning of “Peace on Earth” – Genesis 12:3

Prophecy is bestowed only upon a very wise sage of a strong character, who is never overcome by his natural inclinations in any regard. Instead, with his mind, he overcomes his natural inclinations at all times. He must [also] possess a broad and correct perspective. A person who is full of all these qualities and is physically sound [is fit for prophecy].

When he enters the Pardes [the realm of spiritual knowledge] and is drawn into these great and sublime concepts, if he possesses a correct perspective to comprehend and grasp [them], he will become holy. He will advance and separate himself from the masses who proceed in the darkness of the time. He must continue and diligently train himself not to have any thoughts whatsoever about fruitless things or the vanities and intrigues of the times.

Instead, his mind should constantly be directed upward, bound beneath [G-d’s] throne [of Glory, striving] to comprehend the holy and pure forms and gazing at the wisdom of the Holy One, blessed be He, in its entirety, [in its manifold manifestations] from the most elevated [spiritual] form until the navel of the earth, appreciating His greatness from them.

When the spirit rests upon him, his soul becomes intermingled with the angels called “ishim”, and he will be transformed into a different person and will understand with a knowledge different from what it was previously. He will rise above the level of other wise men, as the prophet, Samuel told Saul: “[The spirit of G-d will descend upon you] and you shall prophecy with them. And you will be transformed into a different person.” (Samuel I 10:6)

There are a number of levels among the prophets. Just as with regard to wisdom, one sage is greater than his colleague, so, too, with regard to prophecy, one prophet is greater than another. They all, [however share certain commonalities].

They receive prophetic visions only in a visionary dream or during the day after slumber has overtaken them, as the verse states: “I make Myself known to him in a vision. I speak to him in a dream.” (Num. 12:6)

When any of them prophecy, their limbs tremble, their physical powers become weak, they lose control of their senses, and thus, their minds are free to comprehend what they see, as the verse states concerning Abraham: “And a great, dark dread fell over him.” (Gen. 15:12)

Similarly, Daniel states: “My appearance was horribly changed and I retained no strength.” (Daniel 10:8)

When a prophet is informed of a message in a vision, it is granted to him in metaphoric imagery. Immediately, the interpretation of the imagery is imprinted upon his heart, and he knows its meaning.

For example, the ladder with the angels ascending and descending envisioned by the patriarch Jacob was an allegory for the empires and their subjugation [of his descendants]. Similarly, the creatures Ezekiel saw, the boiling pot and the rod from an almond tree envisioned by Jeremiah, the scroll Ezekiel saw, and the measure seen by Zechariah [were all metaphoric images].

Similarly, some of the prophets would relate the allegory and its explanation. Others would relate only the explanation. At times, they would relate only the imagery without explaining it, as can be seen in some of the prophecies of Ezekiel and Zechariah.

All of the prophecies come in the form of metaphoric imagery and allegories.

4. All the prophets do not prophecy whenever they desire. Instead, they must concentrate their attention [upon spiritual concepts] and seclude themselves, [waiting] in a happy, joyous mood, because prophecy cannot rest upon a person when he is sad or languid, but only when he is happy.

Therefore, the prophets’ disciples would always have a harp, drum, flute, and lyre [before them when] they were seeking prophecy. This is what is meant by the expression [I Samuel 10:5]: “They were prophesying” – i.e. following the path of prophecy until they would actually prophecy – as one might say, “So and so aspires to greatness.”

Those who aspire to prophecy are called “the disciples of the prophets.” Even though they concentrate their attention, it is possible that the Divine Presence will rest upon them, and it is possible that it will not rest upon them.

6) All the statements made above describe the path of prophecy of all the early and later prophets, with the exception of Moses, our teacher, the master of all the prophets.

What is the difference between Moses’ prophecy and that of all the other prophets? [Divine insight is bestowed upon] all the [other] prophets in a dream or vision. Moses, our teacher, would prophecy while standing awake, as states: “When Moses came into the Tent of Meeting to speak to Him, he heard the Voice speaking to him.” (Num. 7:89)

[Divine insight is bestowed upon] all the [other] prophets through the medium of an angel.

Therefore, they perceive only metaphoric imagery and allegories [which reflect the nature of that particular angel]. Moses, our teacher, [would prophecy] without the medium of an angel, as the verses state: “Mouth to mouth I speak to him” (Num. 12:8), “And G-d spoke to Moses face to face” (Ex. 33:11) and “He gazed upon the image of G-d” (Num. 12:8) – i.e. there was no metaphor. Rather, he would perceive the matter in its fullness, without metaphor or allegory. The Torah testifies concerning him “[I speak to him…] manifestly, without allegory” (Num. 12:8), meaning his appreciation of prophecy would not be through metaphor, but through open revelation, appreciating the matter in its fullness.

All the [other] prophets are overawed, terrified, and confounded [by the revelations they experience], but Moses, our teacher, would not [respond in this manner], as the Torah relates: “[G-d spoke to Moses…] as a man speaks to a friend” (Ex. 33:11) – i.e. just as a person will not be awe-struck from hearing his friend’s words, so, too, Moses’ mental power was sufficient to comprehend the words of prophecy while he was standing in a composed state.

All the [other] prophets cannot prophecy whenever they desire. Moses, our teacher, was different. Whenever he desired, the divine spirit would envelop him, and prophecy would rest upon him. He did not have to concentrate his attention to prepare himself [for prophecy], because his [mind] was always concentrated, prepared, and ready [to appreciate spiritual truth] as the angels [are]. Therefore, he would prophecy at all times, as the verse states: “Stand and hear what G-d will command you.” (Num. 9:8)

He was promised this by G-d, as [implied by]: “Go and tell them ‘Return to your tents,’ but you stand here together with Me” [Deut. 5:27-28]. This should be interpreted to mean that when prophecy departs from all the [other] prophets, they return to their “tents” – i.e. the needs of the body, like other people. Therefore, they do not separate themselves from their wives. Moses, our teacher, never returned to his original “tent”. Therefore, he separated himself from women and everything of that nature forever. He bound his mind to the Eternal Rock. [Accordingly,] the glory never left him forever. The flesh of his countenance shone, [for] he became holy like the angels.

7) There is the possibility that a prophet will experience prophecy for his own sake alone – i.e. to broaden his perspective and to increase his knowledge – [allowing him] to know more about the lofty concepts than he knew before.

It is also possible that he will be sent to one of the nations of the world, or to the inhabitants of a particular city or kingdom, to prepare them and to inform them what they should do or to prevent them [from continuing] the evil which they are doing.

When he is sent [on such a mission], he is given a sign or a wonder [to perform], so that the people will know that G-d has truly sent him. Not everyone who performs signs or wonders should be accepted as a prophet: only a person who is known to be fit for prophecy beforehand; i.e. his wisdom and his [good] deeds surpass those of all his contemporaries. If he follows the paths of prophecy in holiness, separating himself from worldly matters, and afterwards performs a sign or wonder and states that he was sent by G-d, it is a mitzvah to listen to him, as the verse states: “Listen to him” (Deut. 18:15).

It is possible that a person will perform a sign or wonder even though he is not a prophet – rather, the wonder will have [another cause] behind it. [This is because signs and wonders and even divining the future can be performed by sorcery and the like, as explained in [Ch. 8-10]. It is, nevertheless, a mitzvah to listen to him. Since he is a wise man of stature and fit for prophecy, we accept [his prophecy as true].

This is the nature of [the Torah’s] commandment. [To give an example of a parallel:] We are commanded to render a [legal] judgment based on the testimony of two witnesses. Even though they may testify falsely, since we know them to be acceptable [as witnesses], we presume that they [are telling the truth].

Considering these matters and the like, the Torah states: “The hidden matters are for G-d, our Lord, but what is revealed is for us and our children” (Deut. 29:28), and “Man sees what is revealed to the eyes, but G-d sees into the heart” (Samuel I 16:7).

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