4. THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE REDEEMER
1. The Redeemer lived some nineteen hundred years ago and remained thirty-three years on the earth.
In the early Christian times the date was reckoned by the consuls of the year.
From the time of the great Christian persecution under Diocletian, the Christians began to reckon their years from the accession of that tyrant (the era of the martyrs). Dionysius Exiguus, in 525, was the first to reckon from the Annunciation of Our Lady, i.e., the conception of Christ. Charlemagne introduced the custom of dating from the birth of Christ. There is an error, however, of four years, so that Christ was actually born four years before the year 1 of the Christian era.
The time preceding Christ is known as that of the Old Testament or the Old Law, that following as the New Testament or New Law (Heb. ix. 15-17).
The word testament is appropriate as expressing the will of God, recalling the legacy of the Promised Land to the Jews, and to Christians, the one sealed with the blood of animals, the other with the blood of Christ.
2. The work of the Redeemer was confined for the most part to Palestine.
Palestine is the ancient Chanaan, known later as Judea or the “land of promise” or the “holy land,” made holy by the presence of Christ. Its small extent (it was only about half the size of Switzerland) had many counterbalancing advantages; its central position adapted it for the spreading of the true religion, its fertility in the midst of the surrounding desert made it independent of other nations, and secured its inhabitants from undesirable intercourse with the heathen. The population in the time of Our Lord was about 5,000,000, of whom 1,000,000 lived at Jerusalem. At the present day the whole population is only half a million, and in Jerusalem hardly 25,000.
Palestine is situated on the Mediterranean, and includes both banks of the Jordan.
The boundaries of Palestine are: Phoenicia on the north, the desert on the east, Arabia on the south, and the Mediterranean on the west. The Jordan, a river varying from eighty to one hundred and fifty feet in width, the scene of the passage of the Jews and the baptism of Our Lord, flows in a turbid, yellow current, and passes through the little lake of Merom and the lake of Genesareth, the scene of so many of Christ’s labors, and finally into the Dead Sea, the site of Sodom and Gomorrha. On its way it receives the brooks Karith and Cedron.
The divisions of Palestine are: in the south, Judea in the centre, Samaria; in the north, Galilee, and in the east, beyond the Jordan, Persea, Itursea, and the district of Trachonitis.
The inhabitants of Judea were the firmest adherents of the true faith; those of Samaria had given themselves up to the worship of idols, and the Galileans, especially in the north, were in part pagans, despised by the Jews as well on that account as for their uncouth dialect.
The most important city of Palestine was Jerusalem, where the Temple stood.
Jerusalem (i.e., City of Peace), is situate on four hills, of which the highest is Sion, lying westward of the hill of Acre, with the pool of Siloe lying south; to the north is Mount Moriah, on which the Temple stood, and further still to the north is the hill of Bezetha and the modern town. Westward of Moriah is Golgotha or Calvary. These hills lie between two valleys, of which the westward is called Ilinnom (or hell, because there the Jews used to sacrifice their children to Moloch), and the eastern, the valley of Josaphat (or judgment of God, on account of the tradition that God would judge the world there). To the east of the valley of Josaphat is the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemani. Jerusalem was in existence at the time of Melchisedech, who reigned there about 2000 B.C.; it became, under David (about 1000 B.C.), the residence of the Jewish kings; about four hundred years later (in 588 B.C.) it was destroyed by Nabuchodonosor, restored again about fifty years later (536 B.C.), and again destroyed by the Romans under Titus in the year 70 A.D. The Temple in Our Lord’s time was a magnificent and imposing building (Cf. Mark xiii. 1) of white stone; it had an outer court, the court of the Gentiles, and an inner, the court of the priests, containing the altar of burnt offerings. Within this court again was the Temple proper, a building of about thirty metres in length, ten in breadth, and fifteen in height, with a flat roof of cedar. The Temple proper consisted of the vestibule, the holy place, and the holy of holies; the walls of the two last places were covered with solid plates of gold and the two chambers were separated by a veil, the veil of the Temple. In the holy of holies, between two great golden cherubim, lay the ark of the covenant containing the tables of the law, Aaron’s staff, and the manna; and here in a cloud rested the majesty of God, the Shechinah. The Temple was built by Solomon about 1000 B.C., was destroyed by Nabuchodonosor in 588 B.C., and in 516 was rebuilt by Zorobabel on the return from the Babylonian exile (though the ark was no longer there), and was restored again by Herod in the time of Christ. In the year 64 A.D., the restoration was complete, till the Romans came in 70 A.D., and destroyed the building. Julian the Apostate endeavored to rebuild it in 361, but an earthquake cast down the works, and fire coming from the earth drove away the workmen. The Temple will never be rebuilt till the end of the world (Dan. ix. 27).
Besides Jerusalem the towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth deserve mention.
Places of interest in Judea: South of Jerusalem lies Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ; further south still is Hebron, where dwelt Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the parents of Si. John the Baptist; east of Jerusalem is Bethany, the village where Lazarus dwelt, and the desert of Quarantania, where Our Lord went through His forty days fast. Northeast of Jerusalem is Jericho, the city of palms, the abode of Zacheus, the penitent tax-gatherer; north of Jerusalem is Emmaus, where Our Lord appeared to His two disciples after the resurrection; on the seacoast is Joppe, famous in the annals of the crusades, where Peter restored Tabitha to life and was summoned to receive the Gentile centurion, Cornelius; further to the south and extending along the coast is the district which was formerly the land of the Philistines, with its towns of Gaza and Ascalon; westward of the Dead Sea is the desert of Inda, otherwise called the desert of St. John. Places of interest in Samaria: The capital Samaria is situated near the centre of the district; south of it is Jacob’s well, near Sicham, where Our Lord spoke with the Samaritan woman; eastward is Garizim, where the Samaritans had a temple dedicated to the service of idols; in the south is Siloe, where from the time of Josue, the tables of the law were kept for over three hundred and fifty years; along the coast of the Mediterranean stretches the fertile plain of Sharon; by the sea is situated Cæsarea, the residence of the governors. In the northwest, close by the sea and on the boundary, is Mount Carmel, rising some thousand feet, its fertility, beauty, and numerous caves making it peculiarly adapted to the wants of the hermits who dwelt there; it was the scene of the sacrifice of Elias and of the priests of Baal. Places of interest in Galilee: Nazareth, or the city of flowers, the residence of the Mother of God at the time of the Annunciation, and of Christ till His thirtieth year. South of it is Mount Thabor, where the transfiguration took place, and Nairn, where Christ restored the young man to life. East of Nazareth is Cana, where Christ performed His first miracle at the wedding-feast. On the lake of Genesareth are situated: Capharnaum, “Christ’s own city,” in which He dwelt and where He worked so many miracles, e.g., the cure of the centurion’s son, and the raising of the daughter of Jairus; here, too, He promised the institution of the Blessed Sacrament and called the apostle Matthew; to the south is Bethsaida, whence came the apostles Andrew and Philip; then comes Magdala, the dwelling-place of the sinner Magdalen; Tiberias is also a town on this lake. In the north of Galilee is Cæsarea Philippi, where Peter received the power of the keys. Quite beyond the boundaries of Galilee, in Phoenicia, on the coast, are the two cities of Tyre and Sidon, more than once visited by Christ. On the borders of Galilee is the range of the Lebanon, ascending to 10,000 meters, and covered with perpetual snow; not more than three hundred cedars remain of its once famous forest; to the east is Hermon, rising about 9500 metres; and still further east is Damascus, in the neighborhood of which St. Paul was converted. Places of interest in Perrea: Close by the Dead Sea, and eastward of the mouth of the Jordan, near to Bethabara is the place where St. John baptized; here he pointed out Christ and called Him the Lamb of God; further to the east is Mount Nebo, on which Moses died; south of the lake of Genesareth is Pella, the refuge of the Christians during the siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D.
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