Grapes from Thornbushes

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus averred that a man can’t gather grapes from thorn bushes. The second time that Jesus spoke of thorns in gospels was in the familiar parable of the sower and the seed. Most of us can recite this parable:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.  Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13.3-8 ESV).

In the first century, many farmers scattered (broadcast) seed on top of the soil rather than plow soil, scattered seeds, then re-plowed soil to cover seeds.  The challenge with broadcasting seed is that seed falls various places, i.e., on a pathway, in thin soil, among thorns. Seeds sprouted and grew; but, thorns can surround good seedlings and choke their growth. Jesus’s interpretation of seed which fell among thorns is: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13.22 ESV).  

Thornbush

First century Palestine contained several types of thorns and thorn bushes. The Bible names several to them, i.e., Jotham’s thorn tree in Judges, crackling thorn bushes in Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah’s buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides, R. palaestinus). In Israel, buckthorns grow in wood, shrub-lands, and the mountain vegetation of Mount Hermon.  The buckthorn is a slow-growing shrub, rarely reaching a height of six feet.

The Palestine buckthorn is evergreen.  It grows with a many-branched, tangled form, and velvety thorns.  Young stems are green; with maturity, bark turns gray. The buckthorn fruit is a small (1/4 inch), oval berry. Initially, the berry is green, but, turns black when ripe. Berries are poisonous to humans, but a good source of food for birds.

Symbolism: Trash

A Hebrew word for thorn is shayith1 which translates as trash, scrub, and thorn.  Trash is debris from plant materials, something worth little or nothing, and something thrown away. Trash is an excellent symbol for individuals who make a commitment to Jesus; then, quit living a Christian life because worldly cares choke their commitment. God’s judgment will fall on people who treat God and his laws as worthless, i.e., as if they are trash.  If individuals want to be something thrown away like trash, God will allow them to be this way (Romans 1.28).  God will give them over to a reprobate mind.

Reflection: How do you behave in a “trashy” manner?

Copyright: 10/2/2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Grape, Vine, Vineyards

Bible References: John 2.1-12; Mark 12.1-12.

Jesus was familiar with symbolism of vines and vineyards. He knew that often when the Old Testament prophets referenced vine or vineyard, they spoke about judgment that God would bring upon disobedient Israelites. The grapevine didn’t elicit positive images to first-century Jews. The first time Gospel writers recorded an interaction with Jesus and the grapevine, he performed a miracle at Cana in Galilee.  Subsequently, several of Jesus’s teachings used grapevines, vineyards, and wine.

Very early in Jesus’s ministry, he and disciples were at a marriage feast. The feast was at the bridegroom’s home. Possibly, the groom was a friend or relative of Jesus’s family. Mary, Jesus’s mother, was there; she was concerned that all went well at the feast. Servants obeyed Mary’s directions. When the wine ran out, Mary told Jesus, clearly expecting him to do something. Although a little reluctant to become involved, Jesus turn water into wine and performed his first-recorded miracle. Jesus’s miracles pointed to him as Messiah and were designed to honor God.

God told Israelites that seven plants would be available to them in the promised land (Deuteronomy 8.8) The grapevine was one a plant. Vitis vinifera is the botanical name for the grapevine that grew in Israel.  In ancient Israel, grapevines were a principle crop because grapes could be eaten fresh, dried, or made into wine. Although the Negev was a popular area for wine production in ancient times, today, grapes and wineries are present throughout Israel.

When Jewish leaders began to oppose him, Jesus started to use parables to make points. One parable focused on a vineyard (Mark 12.1-12). A man planted a vineyard. He protected the vineyard by putting a fence around it and adding a watch tower. He dug a pit for the winepress. Then, the man leased the vineyard to tenants and left the country. After a season, the owner sent a series of servants to obtain the fruit (money) the vineyard produced. Tenants beat and/or killed each servant. Not once did tenants pay the owner what was due him. Finally, the owner said to himself:  I will send my beloved son, my heir, to collect what is due me. Surely, the tenants will respect my son; but, instead of respecting the owner’s son, they killed him.

After telling this parable, Jesus asked listeners what the vineyard owner should do. He gave an answer—the owner will destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. In response to Jesus’s answer, religious leaders wanted to arrest Jesus. They knew that God was the vineyard owner who sent multiple prophets to claim the fruit that Israel should have produced. The Israelites/Jews beat or killed prophets.  They knew that Jesus’s parable meant that God was going to take the spiritual vineyard from Jews and give it to another people. Perhaps these same Jewish leaders started to think of killing Jesus this early in his ministry. Did they even imagine that by killing Jesus, they were killing God’s son?

Reflection: Do you ever act in a way that God wants to take his spiritual vineyard away from you?

Copyright: August 13, 2018. Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my website at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com.

Zillah, wife and plant

Bible Reference: Genesis chapter 4.

In Genesis chapter four, we read about the offspring of Cain. The chapter provides a contrast to chapter five in which the offspring of Seth is outlined. In the offspring of Cain, Lamech, a seventh-generation grandson of Adam, had two wives simultaneously.  This is the first time that plural wives were identified in the Bible.  Lamech’s second wife was named Zillah. One source identified that Zillah was a third cousin of Lamech. Zillah birthed at least two children: Tubal-Cain, who forged tools from bronze and iron, and a daughter named Naamah.

Although we know little about Zillah, we know that her husband was a murderer. He admitted to his two wives that he murdered a young man for injuring him. Lamech averred that if God planned to take sevenfold vengeance on anyone killing Cain, then he, Lamech, should be avenged 77 times. Contemplating Lamech’s words, readers aren’t sure whether his is bragging about his actions or admitting his wrong. Whichever Lamech did, most certainly his  wife Zillah, reaped  consequences.

Zillah was named after a spiny, woody shrub (Zilla spinosa) that grows in desert, to include extreme desert, regions.7  Stems can grow up to five feet tall. The zilla grows as wide as tall so that the zilla appears rounded. Stem and spine color are bluish-gray. Fruit resembles chickpeas (garbanzo beans). When mature, the plant  loosens from soil. Winds blow it  across the desert similar to a tumbleweed in western United States.

In contrast to the overall unpleasant stems and spines, Zilla spinosa produces a lovely four-petal lavender, occasionally pink, flower. I imagine that Zillah was named after the flower rather than after the spiny plant.

The website, Flowers in Israel,7 included that the brier named by Ezekiel is the zilla plant: “No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign LORD” (Ezekiel 28.24 NIV). Ezekiel’s complete prophecy against Sidon is in Ezekiel 28.20-26. Sidon was a  Phoenician city.  Originally, Sidon was included in the inheritance of the tribe of Asher, but Asher didn’t conquer it. Sidon  gloated when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon.

If I identified one word that encompassed the story of Zillah in Genesis and the prophecy of Ezekiel against Sidon, that word would be malicious. Malicious means a desire to cause pain, distress,  or injury to another.3 Maliciously, Lamech  injured a young man in the process of murdering him. Most likely, Lamech’s action caused distress to the young man’s family and distress to his wife, Zillah. Sidon’s gloat over Judah’s pain, injury, and distress was malicious. I can just imagine Sidonians rubbing their hands together and laughing when Jerusalem fell.

The take-away message from the Zilla spinosa is that beautiful flowers may occur simultaneously with spines which cause injury. Importantly, we can stop pondering how loved ones hurt us and reframe our thinking. How do we, although beautiful individuals, have the capacity to  injure and distress others with our words and behavior.

Reflection: A dear friend told me recently that a mutual friend’s words hurt her through what she said. At about the same time, the mutual friend shared that she was hurt by my dear friend’s words. I need to always look at my own behavior and make sure that I don’t cause pain, injury, or distress to others. Do you find it easier to criticize others than to take accountability for what you do?

Copyright: December 1, 2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Persian (Iran) Shield

The prophet Isaiah lived around 735-681 BC. He foresaw the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the Jews taken into captivity into Babylon. The Persians defeated the Babylonians. As predicted by Isaiah, Cyrus, a Persian king,  allowed the Jewish exiles throughout the Persian Empire to return to Jerusalem and rebuild God temple there. Judah became Judea, a province of the Persian Empire which was the height of its power 550-330 BC.

The Persia Empire acted as a shield for small Judea, even allowing Judea to have its own governor. Persia protected Judea from other countries, i.e., Egypt.  Persians (present day Iran) continued to protect the Jews. For example, Esther became Queen in Persia and shielded the Jews in the Persian Empire from being massacred.  Astrologers followed a star from Persia to Jerusalem to find and worship Jesus. They shielded Jesus by withholding information from King Herod about the specific location of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’s home. Thus, Joseph had time to escape King Herod by taking his family to Egypt.

Persian Shield Plant

This plant was developed in Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia south of China and east of India. Myanmar has a tropical climate. The plant is most success in USDA plant zone 10 but can (sometimes) grow in zones 8 -11 outdoors. Most gardeners  grow this beautiful plant indoors to regulate its environment and keep it flourishing. When growing the plant indoors, the plant must be in heat of over 60 degrees. Space Persian shield plants about 36 – 48 inches apart. On the back deck (Plant Zone 7), my plant grew as tall as three feet in one season.

One of the appeals of a Persian shield plant is its natural bushiness. However, you can make it even more bushy in appearance by pinching the stems back every now and then. Persian shield plants require constant moisture. Water them thoroughly and evenly twice a week. The top six inches of soil should be constantly moist.

Symbolism: Shield

Because the Persian shield plant was only recently developed, it is not a Bible plant. However, the symbolism of Persia acting as a shield for Judea and even Jesus is seen in the Bible.  Persia is present-day Iran. The name Persian shield most likely came from the motif on the shield of Persia soldiers during Persia’s years of conquest and rule.

A shield is a protective device. It prevents arrows, javelins, and other projectile devices from killing or wounding a soldier. St. Paul wrote that with the shield of faith, Christians can withstand the fiery darts of Satan (Ephesians 6.16).

Reflection: How’s your shielding? Wouldn’t it be great if Persia (Iran) acted as Israel’s shield in the 21st century?

Copyright September 12, 2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Alpha & Omega of Myrrh

Use of myrrh was recorded throughout the Bible. In Genesis (37.25), Joseph was sold to Ishmaelites, who included myrrh in their trade caravan. Esther (2.12) completed a 12-month beauty treatment, which included myrrh, before she was taken to King Xerxes. Myrrh perfumed the robes of a king (Psalm 45.8) and the bed of an adulteress (Proverbs 7.17). Myrrh was catalogued seven times in Song of Songs to describe the Lover, the Maid (Bride), and Solomon’s gardens. In Revelation (18.13), John listed myrrh as a commodity no one would buy after Roman fell.

Despite the various times myrrh was identified in the Bible, three  times stand out:

  1. The earliest is in Exodus. Myrrh was a component of anointing oil used in the tabernacle (Exodus 30.22-33). This same anointing oil was used in the temple in 1st century Jerusalem.
  2. Myrrh was a gift that the wise men brought to Jesus at his birth (Matthew 2.11). There, myrrh symbolized the deity of Jesus; he was the Son of God. Also, myrrh represented “gifts;” God gave his son as a gift to mankind. Thirty-three years after Jesus’s birth, Jesus gave his life as a gift for mankind. In turn, the gift that Jesus wants from each of us is that we belief in him as risen Savior. When we belief in Jesus as Savior, we accept God’s gift of his son and Jesus’s gift of his life.
  3. Myrrh was present at Jesus’s burial. Following the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’s body in linen saturated with myrrh and aloes (John 19.39). Then, they laid Jesus’ body in a tomb carved in rock.

Likely New Testament myrrh was from a different plant than in the Old  Testament. Further, different plant species were used to make myrrh in different countries. Most myrrh in the Roman Empire came from the Commiphora myrrha plant; however, in Israel the plant used to make myrrh was the C. abyssinica (C. habessinica, myrrh tree, Arabian myrrh, Yeman myrrh). Probably, the myrrh used by Nicodemus and Joseph was from the C. abyssinica plant. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter because myrrh had a bitter taste.

The Plant Product

Myrrh is a dried resin from myrrh trees. In present day Israel, pilgrims can view myrrh trees in the Biblical Landscape Reserve. The myrrh plant is a small tree that grows up to twenty feet tall. The trunk (bole) is as tall as thirteen feet. When myrrh resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on the tree trunk or branches. An aromatic gum resin seeps from the wounds. When exposed to air, gum hardens forming irregular-shaped yellow or brown globules. The globules smell pleasant, but, taste bitter. Today, myrrh is sold by vendors in the bazaar in the old city of Jerusalem. Most the sold myrrh is sharp-edged, marble-size pieces.

Reflection: The Greek word for myrrh is smurna, which translates “strengthened for.” At Jesus’s birth, the Magi brought Jesus a gift that symbolically strengthen him for his life on earth. Considering how Jesus was persecuted on earth, a gift that even symbolically strengthen him was a superlative gift.

Copyright 10/11/2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Epiphany Gifts – Frankincense

Most Christians know about frankincense. Frankincense was an ingredient in incense and a baby gift that wisemen brought to Jesus. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judea, wise men came from the east to worship him (Matthew 2.1-18).  Bible scholars believe that wise men were from Persia (current day Iran).  The visiting wise men were astrologers. They followed a star that first appeared in the East. These Persian sages believed that the star was a sign that a Jewish king was born.

Not surprisingly, the wise men stopped first in Jerusalem, capital city of the Jewish state. There, they met with King Herod and asked to see the newborn king. Because Herod feared a contender to his rule, he asked Jewish scholars where their prophets said that the Messiah would be born. Their answer was “Bethlehem.” The crafty Herod shared the Bethlehem location with the wise men. Herod told them to contact him after they found the child. Herod claimed that he wanted to go and worship the new born babe.

The wise men left Jerusalem and followed the star to Bethlehem where it stopped over the place where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived.  Best estimates are that wisemen arrived in Bethlehem 12-18 months after Jesus’s birth. By this time, many Jews, who came to Bethlehem to register for the Emperor’s census, had left Bethlehem to return to their homes.  Likely, Joseph and his family lived with a family member or had a house of their own. Seeing the baby Jesus, wise men fell on their knees and worshiped him. They gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

After the wise men left Bethlehem, God gave Joseph a dream. God told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape being killed by King Herod. The family stayed in Egypt until God told Joseph it was safe to return to Judea. Probably, Joseph used the wise men’s gifts to subsidize the family’s trip to Egypt and their lives there. My guess is that Joseph bartered some of the frankincense for a donkey so that Mary didn’t have to walk and carry Jesus all the way to Egypt. Joseph may have used the gold to make the family’s years in Egypt easier.

Frankincense Tree

Frankincense was from Boswellia sacra (B. thurifera). Both the plant and its resinous product are called frankincense. Almost all frankincense is harvested from wild trees. It is sap which trees exude when cut. When exposed to air, the sap-like resin hardens. Frankincense can be opaque, white, or yellow crystal. Often, frankincense is described as smelling like aromatic pine. Ancient Near East women used frankincense as part of a daily beauty routine. When breathed in, frankincense can promote feelings of peace, satisfaction, and an overall sense of mental wellness.

Odor of Sanctity

So complete is the link between frankincense and religious occasions that frankincense is known as the “Odor of Sanctity” and associated with sainthood. Sanctity implies a holy life and character, a life worthy of religious veneration. Sanctity encompasses reverence, respect, and purity. Saints were recognized in both the Old and New Testaments. God knows his saints and watches over them. Psalmists averred that God delights in the saints, preserves them, and that they lack nothing (Psalm 16.3; 31.23; 34.9). Samuel wrote that God will guard the feet of the saints (1 Samuel 2.9). Loving words from God are, “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalms 116.15 ESV).

Birth-day presents

At Jesus’s birth, wisemen brought him baby gifts, birthday presents, believing Jesus was a king’s son. They were accurate. Jesus was the son of God, born as a baby into the human world. Jesus’s life encompassed reverence for his father and God’s laws and precepts. Jesus’s life was pure—no evil thoughts, no illicit sex, no immoderate words. Jesus was more than a saint; however, his birth, death, and resurrection, made a way for each of us to be saints as we live our lives. No, we won’t always exhibit saintly behavior; however, our corrupt behavior is covered by the blood that Jesus shed for us. Once we accept Jesus as our Savior, we become saints. When God sees us, he sees us through the imputed righteousness of his Son. We have a “get into heaven” card when we die.

Copyright 10/9/18: Carolyn Adams Roth

Misltetoe Facts

Copied from Roger Di Silvestro   |   December 17, 2012

The white berries of mistletoe plants are poisonous to humans but valuable food to many other species.

Often used as a symbol of renewal because it stays green all winter, mistletoe is famed for its stolen-kisses power. But the plant also is important to wildlife, and it may have critical value for humans, too. Extracts from mistletoe—newly used in Europe to combat colon cancer, the second greatest cause of cancer death in Europe and the Americas—show signs of being more effect against cancer, and less toxic to humans, than standard chemotherapy.

Here are some mistletoe facts that may give you new respect for a plant that, until now, you might have considered as just an excuse to limber up your lips:

  • There are 1,300 mistletoe species worldwide. The continental United States and Canada are home to more than 30 species, and Hawaii harbors another six. (Note: To my knowledge Mistletoe does not grow in Holy Lands other than were grafted onto oak trees and thorn trees: CAR).
  • Globally, more than 20 mistletoe species are endangered.
  • All mistletoes grow as parasites on the branches of trees and shrubs. The genus name of North America’s oak mistletoe—by far the most common species in the eastern United States—is Phoradendron, Greek for “tree thief.”
  • Ancient Anglo-Saxons noticed that mistletoe often grows where birds leave droppings, which is how mistletoe got its name: In Anglo-Saxon, “mistel” means “dung” and “tan” means “twig,” hence, “dung-on-a-twig.”
  • Mistletoes produce white berries, each containing one sticky seed that can attach to birds and mammals for a ride to new growing sites. The ripe white berries of dwarf mistletoe, native to the western United States and Canada, also can explode, ejecting seeds at an initial average speed of 60 miles per hour and scattering them as far as 50 feet.
  • When a mistletoe seed lands on a suitable host, it sends out roots that penetrate the tree and draw on its nutrients and water. Mistletoes also can produce energy through photosynthesis in their green leaves.
  • As they mature, mistletoes grow into thick, often rounded masses of branches and stems until they look like baskets, sometimes called “witches’ brooms,” which can reach 5-feet wide and weigh 50 pounds.
  • Trees infested with mistletoe die early because of the parasitic growth, producing dead trees useful to nesting birds and mammals. A mistletoe-infested forest may produce three times more cavity-nesting birds than a forest lacking mistletoe.
  • A variety of birds nest directly in witches’ brooms, including house wrens, chickadees, mourning doves and pygmy nuthatches. Researchers found that 43 percent of spotted owl nests in one forest were associated with witches’ brooms and that 64 percent of all Cooper’s hawk nests in northeastern Oregon were in mistletoe. Several tree squirrel species also nest in witches’ brooms.

Mistletoe grows in tangled balls of stems that can be up to five feet across. They’re sometimes called witches’ brooms.

  • Three kinds of U.S. butterflies depend on mistletoe for survival: the great purple hairstreak, the thicket hairstreak and the Johnson’s hairstreak. These butterflies lay eggs on mistletoe, and their young eat the leaves. The adults of all three species feed on mistletoe nectar, as do some species of native bees.
  • The mistletoe’s white berries are toxic to humans but are favored during autumn and winter—when other foods are scarce—by mammals ranging from deer and elk to squirrels, chipmunks and porcupines. Many bird species, such as robins, chickadees, bluebirds and mourning doves, also eat the berries.
  • The kissing custom may date to at least the 1500s in Europe. It was practiced in the early United States: Washington Irving referred to it in “Christmas Eve,” from his 1820 collection of essays and stories, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. In Irving’s day, each time a couple kissed under a mistletoe sprig, they removed one of the white berries. When the berries were all gone, so was the sprig’s kissin’ power.

Reflection: Let’s be frivolous: Do you like to be kissed under mistletoe?

 

Origin of Christmas Tree

St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, VA; photograph by Jim Forney.

Contrary to popular belief, the Christmas tree was not adapted from ancient European pagan beliefs. The Christmas tree has a younger history than pagan practices of first through third century European tribes who Christian missionaries encountered. Pagan Germanic and Scandinavian tribes initially used the hawthorn or cherry trees or branches in their celebrations.

Most likely use of Christmas trees started with medieval plays popular in the early middle ages (476 AD) to the beginning of the Renaissance (c 1400 AD).  Initially called morality, miracle, and mystery plays, these plays began in churches and taught Bible lessons for everyday life; that is, the plays had a moral. Plays that celebrated Jesus’ birth were linked to the creation story, primarily because Christmas eve was the feast day of Adam and Eve (Tait and Tait, 2008). Over time, the plays became raucous and were moved out of churches into public squares or town centers.

In nativity plays, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a Paradise tree. Paradise trees represented both the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Holy Trinity Church). Paradise trees that symbolized the Tree of Knowledge were decorated with apples to symbolize the forbidden fruit; while Paradise tree that symbolized the Tree of Life were decorated with sweets.  Round pastry wafers (cookies), that symbolized the bread of the Eucharist, were placed on the Tree of Life. When morality plays were suppressed in the 15th-16th century, Paradise trees were moved into homes. Over time red balls substituted for the apples, lights were added, and a Star of Bethlehem placed on the tree top.

Traditionally the Christmas tree was put up on Christmas Eve and taken down on Twelfth Night, the Vigil of the Epiphany. Part of the reason for the short span of time the Christmas tree was in place was to differentiate the Christmas tree from pagan trees which often times had trees planted in boxes inside the home the entire winter months.

Christian scholars and historians are not sure when evergreen trees were first used as Christmas trees. Evergreen means having foliage persists as opposed to dropping annually. Evergreen trees retain their green or blue-green color throughout the year, rather than changing color according to the seasons. In cold, snowy, dark winters in Europe, evergreen trees were a sign of everlasting life with God.  By the end of the Middle ages, a common legend some Christian’s believed was that when Christ was born, near the shortest day of the year (December 25), every tree on earth produced new green shoots despite their ice and snow coverings.

In 21st century United States, popular choices for Christmas trees are in the fir, pine, spruce, cypress, and cedar genus. Firs (Abies) include the balsam fir, Fraser fir, and noble fir. Pine (Pinus) used as Christmas trees are the Eastern white pine, Scot’s pine, and mountain pine. With its bluish-gold needles, spruce (Picea) are a favorite Christmas tree. Spruce varieties used as Christmas trees include the Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce, and (in the Pacific northwest) the Klamath mountain spruce. At times, the Arizona cypress (Cupressus genus) the eastern red cedar (Juniperus genus) are used as Christmas trees.

Frequently, churches that understand that Christmas trees are distinct from pagan worship include a 15 – 20-foot tree in their sanctuary. Below the evergreen tree are placed red poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). What we think of as flaming red petals are actually the leaves of the plant. Poinsettias are a recent addition to Christmas decorations but perhaps years from now will be part of Christmas traditions.

Copyright 10/09/18: Carolyn A. Roth

Swaddling Cloths

When Mary returned to Nazareth from visiting her cousin Elizabeth, her betrothed, Joseph, decided that the couple should leave for Bethlehem. Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered that all men must go to their home town to register for tax purposes. Joseph was of the lineage of David and his home town was Bethlehem.

When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph’s family’s homes were packed. Inns were filled with other returned Bethlehemites. Joseph’s kin told him that he and Mary were welcome to sleep in the barn. Mary gave birth to her first-born son, Jesus in this barn environment. As was the custom in the Ancient Near East culture, Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths (Luke 2:7), Swaddling cloths were narrow band of cloths wrapped around newborn children to restrain and quiet them. A mother’s womb was snug and warm; these cloths mimicked the womb. Newborns have fingernails, so the cloths would have prevented the newborn Jesus from scratching himself has he wiggled around.

The swaddling cloths Mary wrapped Jesus in were probably made from cotton. Because of their poverty, Joseph and Mary likely were unable to afford linen cloths. Often pictures of Jesus wrapped in cloths at his birth depict the cloths as white; however, likely the cloths were gray or brown as the cotton was unbleached. Perhaps, swaddling cloths that Mary used were several colors because they were cast off rags. Have you ever cared for a newborn? They both urinate and have small bowel movements. Likely, Mary knew this newborn characteristic and used cloths that could be changed separately on Jesus’s lower body.

The cotton cloths were probably from the Gossypium herbaceum plant, also known as Levant cotton and Arabian cotton. Cotton plants were domesticated in India about 3000 B.C. and grew in Mesopotamia at least from 1000 B.C. In the 7th century B.C. cotton was present in the Arad Valley in Palestine. Possibly, returned Jewish exiles brought cotton cloth and cotton plants back with them from Persia.  G. herbaceum isn’t the same species of cotton grown in present-day Israel, nor the species grown in the United States. When cotton plants are irrigated, most flower mid-to-late summer. Large, showy, solitary blooms have five petals (1-2 inches long). Flowers are yellow (occasionally white) at first, then fade to a soft red or pink. The cotton plant fruit is called a boll. When ripe, the boll splits and a mass of fine white filaments or fibers exude.  The white fibers are the cotton of commerce. Seeds are present in the white fibers. In ancient times seeds were separated from fibers by hand, then the fibers woven into cloth.

Luke recorded that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Most photographs showed this manger made from wood, filled with straw, and elevated off the barn floor. The Nazareth Exhibit in the Museum of the Bible showed a contrasting scenario. There, the manger was hewed out of an approximately two by one-foot stone. The interior of the manger was rough. The Bible never recorded that the manger was filled with straw before the newborn Jesus was laid in it. Swaddling cloths could have been the cushion for the newborn Jesus.

Luke’s story of Jesus being wrapped in swaddling cloths symbolizes Jesus as the lamb of God.  It was in the Bethlehem area that newborn lambs were birthed for Temple sacrifice. Because the lambs had to be unblemished, often shepherds wrapped them lambs in swaddling cloths. As these lambs were fed by their mothers, they were kept unblemished.

Please visit my website to learn more about Bible plants and my ministry: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Copyright May 28, 2018; Carolyn Roth

Christmas Holly = Holy

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It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas. Time for holly. These pictures are of the beautiful American holly tree (Ilex opaca) that grows in southeastern United States. This one is in the St. John Church Bible Garden. It is evergreen. These picture were taken on December 12 when the temperature is freezing at night. My friend told me that he goes out in the church garden, cuts springs from the holly trees there, and uses them for garland in his home. I think that this holly tree is happy to be used in this way.

Don’t confuse this tree with the holm tree in the Bible. That tree is an evergreen oak (Quercus ilex). Both species take their name from the pointed leaves.

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If you want to grow holly trees you need a male and a female. Only the female tree produces the beautiful red berries.

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A Christmas carol is The Holly and The Ivy.

Reflection: When I see, or hear, the word holly, I always think of holy. God is holy–pure, just, kind, bright–and I am not. If I were holy, I would want to be like the colors of the holly tree, e.g., vibrant, pleasing to look at, even colorful. I would want people to look at me and smile, as I do when I look at a holly tree.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: December 13, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

 

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