Artifacts & Biblical History

The Holy Family Ate those Pesky House Sparrows

by Steve Ray on October 10, 2019

The Holy Family was not wealthy. When you had a firstborn son in Israel you were required to take a lamb to the Temple for the redemption of your firstborn son but if you were poor you could take to turtledoves instead. Mary and Joseph took the two turtledoves or pigeons which demonstrates they were not a wealthy family (Lk 2:24).

Another food that was common among the people of Israel and the Middle East, and still is today, were grasshoppers, locusts and crickets.

According to the law of Moses insects and swarming things were unclean. But of all the insects these three were kosher (Lev 11:22). These were the crickets, locusts and grasshoppers. John the Baptist would not have eaten them if they were not clean according to the law of Moses. But we know that he did eat them (Mt 3:4) and so did I.

Janet and I were sitting on our back porch yesterday morning drinking our coffee and discussing the Mass readings for the day. Jesus said “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny…”

I am mediately interrupted my reading and said to my wife, “Why would anyone sell two sparrows? And why would anybody want to buy them?” This sent me on a quest.

My first bird book when I was a kid

My discovery amazed me!

My father moved us out to the country in 1961. I was only six years old when we moved to a little farm forty miles west of Detroit Michigan. My father instilled in me a love for watching birds and I have been an avid birdwatcher around the world ever since. I still have my books from 10 years old marking the dates and list of all the birds I’ve seen and when I saw them.

One of the birds that we find everywhere and I’ve always called it a “rat with wings” was the ubiquitous House Sparrow. They always destroyed the eggs of the beautiful Bluebirds in the bluebird houses we had built. In every way we have considered them pests and I cannot recall how many I have shot with my pellet gun.
That all changed yesterday morning when my wife and I were drinking our coffee and reading the daily readings of the Church.

With Jesus’s words about sparrows being sold two for a penny or three for two pennies (Mt 10:29; 12:6) my questions popped up.

My first inquiry was what the word “sparrow” meant. I discovered the word was usually used generically for any small bird, but presumably and most likely the House Sparrow (passer domesticus) which originated in the Middle East! Surprise, Surprise! They are a biblical bird! I was always under the impression they were from Europe, but nope. They immigrated to Europe and America.

My second inquiry was “Why would anyone want to buy the sparrows?” And then I found the big surprise — they were used as food by the poor people among the Jews because they were considered a clean food — kosher. Entrepreneurs would trap them and sell them. The purchaser would kill them, pluck them and cook them.

According to a popular Jewish commentary on Deuteronomy we read, “In practice, only a limited number of birds (and their eggs) are considered permissible [kosher]: chicken, capon, Cornish hen, turkey, domestic duck and goose, house sparrow, pigeon, squab, palm dove, turtledove, partridge, peacock, and, according to some authorities, guinea-fowl, quail, and what is today called pheasant.” Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 139.

Emperor Domitian had a special price limitation on food items and the sparrows were the cheapest among those food price limitations he set.

Sparrows on skewers for cooking

Sparrows were sold in the marketplace and eaten frequently enough for Jesus to mention them as something that everyone would commonly know. Sparrows were eaten as a common food.

I found lots of quotes from historical sources but way too many to add here.

But one thing is for certain, we have very little idea of the Holy Family’s day-to-day living and what they experienced  000 years ago — and what they ate. Grasshoppers, sparrows…?

Next time I have all the grandkids here at our home — I doubt they’ll eat the grasshoppers — but I’ll bet they enjoy the sparrow pie — especially if I don’t tell him what’s in it :-)

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The_Ressurrection_of_ChristToday is the Feast Day of St. Moses. What? Moses is a saint? Yes, and so are many of the heroes of the Old Testament.

Adam and Eve have liturgical feast days, so do Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, King David and many others.

The Roman Martyrology (1600) lists saints recognized up to that point including many saints not in the Church’s general calendar. Some that it remembers are Habakkuk (Jan. 15); Isaiah (July 6); Daniel and Elias/Elijah (July 20 and 21); the seven Maccabees and their mother (Aug. 17); Abraham (Oct. 9); and King David (Dec. 29).

We in the West have not discussed it much, but the Eastern Churches remembers them every year.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

“The patriarchs, prophets, and certain other Old Testament figures have been and always will be honored as saints in all the Church’s liturgical traditions” (CCC 61).

48340dc324c6ca26bea274dc480c6789Here is an interesting article in the newsletter of the Association of Hebrew Catholics.

It not only explains the “sainthood” of Old Testament heroes, but gives a list of the dates for various prophets, kings, and virtuous men and women before Christ.

For the article and the calendar, click here.

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In answer to the question on air about the redemption of Adam and Eve, I promised a bit of information. The Catechism 489 states, “Throughout the Old Covenant the mission of many holy women prepared for that of Mary. At the very beginning there was Eve; despite her disobedience, she receives the promise of a posterity that will be victorious over the evil one, as well as the promise that she will be the mother of all the living.

Another quote CCC 635 “Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.… He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him—He who is both their God and the son of Eve.… “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son.… I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

Soshestvie-vo-ad(Picture to right: Jesus raises Adam and Eve from their graves. Notice they are wearing halos. Notice a similar picture at the top of the post.)

One Journal I own states it well, though I don’t agree with the article overall:

“In this first dispensation, there is a clear illustration that the only way of salvation is by the grace and personal provision of God. After the judgment section of Chapter 3, the literal translation states that the Lord God himself “made garments of skin for Adam and for his wife, and He caused to clothe them.” The Lord God initiated and was the causative agent (Hiphil stem—“cause to”) of the personal redemption of Adam and Eve by providing a method of restoring the personal relationship with Him. Some conclude that the personal faith of Adam was expressed by naming his wife, Eve (living or life-giver), and believing that (strong textual emphasis) “she, she will be (the) mother of all living.” This act would have verified that he believed in the future promise of God (3:15) and in the prospect of continued life after judgment (3:20). In a similar way, having acknowledged that the Lord was the source of her first born son, Eve confirmed her personal faith in the Lord and His previous promises of children (3:15–16; 4:1).

“Considering that this was a possible theophany of God, the full impact of the statement may be realized. This would be Christ himself who had performed this sovereign act of divine grace for Adam and Eve, another Old Testament verification that Christ was involved providentially in the affairs of mankind from the beginning!”

Conservative Theological Journal Volume 2 2, no. 7 (1998): 455–456.

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Did the Bible Always have Chapters & Verses?

by Steve Ray on August 23, 2019

IMG_8656No! The chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are relatively recent additions to the Bible. Originally it was written in Hebrew and Greek and there were NO chapter and verse divisions–in fact, most of the time there was not even spaces between the words!

Interestingly, in the book of Hebrews the writer is quoting the Old Testament and because it did not have chapters and verses and he was working out of a cumbersome rolled scroll, the writer said “Somewhere it says . . .”  (Heb 2:6, 4:4).

Here is a paragraph from my book St. John’s Gospel:

“The different divisions of the material within the NT books are not ancient. The chapter divisions are usually attributed to Cardinal Hugo de San Caro, who in A.D. 1248 used them in preparing a Bible index, but he may have borrowed them from the earlier [Catholic] archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton.

The modern verses derive from Robert Estienne (Stephanus), who, according to his son Henry, made the divisions while on a journey on horseback from Paris to Lyons. They were first published in Stephanus’ Greek Testament of 1551 and first appeared in an English translation of the NT in William Whittingham’s version of 1557. The first complete Bible in English with our verses was the Geneva Bible of 1560” (Achtemeier, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 699).

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A Page from my New Book on Genesis

July 31, 2019

This book has been on the back burner for quite a few years. But I took five weeks off this summer to finish it. About 12 hours a day since June 28 and I am almost done. Just putting the finishing touches on it this week before leaving for the Family Conference in Wichita, two […]

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Joachim & Anna: Nativity and Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

July 26, 2019

The birth and presentation of Mary is described in the early 2nd century document known and loved by the first Christians. It is the source for the names of Mary’s parents Joachim and Anna. It is entitled “The Protoevangelium of James.”  It is fascinating. I have only provided the first 1/3 of the document. The […]

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Finalizing My Book on Genesis…Here are a Few Favorite Paragraphs about Creation

July 17, 2019

Here are a few paragraphs from my new book on Genesis which is nearly done. Genesis 2:7 is foundational and crucial to the whole story of the cosmos, Man and salvation. God takes dust or clay from the ground and like a potter he fashions a human being. The scientific formulas used by God still […]

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Bloody Martyrdoms in Lyons – Feast Day of St. Irenaeus

June 28, 2019

In honor of the feast day of St. Irenaeus today I have reposted a blog from several years ago when we were filming our documentary on Apostolic Fathers, Handing on the Faith. Here is the story… “We finished getting all our work done in Lyon for St. Irenaeus. It was very cold and windy — with snow hampering […]

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Last Days of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome

June 28, 2019

Happy Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul…. Join us in Rome, Assisi, Manoppello, and Lanciano the first week of December this year, in preparation for Christmas! (Click here for more info!) When I take my pilgrims to Rome one of my main objectives is to introduce them to the saints – especially Peter and […]

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How Much Can a Camel Drink? – as he bites me!

June 13, 2019

Since we will soon be in Jordan and Israel again riding camels, I thought I would post some fun and interesting facts – and a movie of the camel trying to bite me. I recently wrote the Bible Study on Genesis for www.CatholicScriptureStudy.com. In chapter 24 Abraham sends his unnamed servant to find a bride […]

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When Is the Word “Love” First Used in the Bible?

June 8, 2019

When is the first time the word love is used in the Bible? It is great fun to ask a million questions when you open the Bible. Good questions serve to unlock the treasure chest revealing untold riches. Since the Bible is a book and books are made of words, it is great fun to […]

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Did Jesus Ascend into Heaven from Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12) or from Bethany (Luke 24:50)?

May 30, 2019

Today is Ascension Thursday. The Ascension always falls on a Thursday, 40 days after Resurrection Sunday. Then 9 days of praying in the Upper Room (1st Novena) and on the 50th day from the Resurrection the Holy Spirit fell on Pentecost. Pentecost means “the fiftieth day.” One of our past pilgrims wrote to me expressing […]

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How We REALLY Got the Bible – the Facts Simply Presented (print this out, hand it out)

May 16, 2019

This is just one page of Bob Sullivan’s excellent little tri-fold handout to explain how we got the Bible. It is from the Catholic and historical perspective without all the Protestant biases and twisting of history. I think you enjoy the whole thing which you can see here. You can print this out, fold it […]

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The Technology of Scripture Study: The Middle Ages (and a hilarious video at the end)

April 30, 2019

“I am an ecclesiastical historian by training and a Bible software guy by trade. Which, I think, puts me in the unique position to write about the history of the intersection of technology and Scripture study in a series of posts.” Written by my friend Andrew Jones PhD: “We might start with a description of […]

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Lovely Jewish Music from Biblical Times

April 27, 2019

I LOVE the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn) used in Jewish life and worship. This is a beautiful Jewish prayer and the shofar is in the first 1.5 minutes of the video. The “shofar” trumpet or ram’s horn is mentioned over 130 times in the Bible. Moving Jewish prayer worth listening too – putting […]

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How the Ancient Hebrews Viewed the Universe

April 25, 2019

This is part of Verbum Catholic Bible Software. I encourage every Catholic to get this Catholic and Bible Study software. Visit http://www.verbum.com/steveray. Use Promo Code STEVERAY10 for a 10% discount.

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Entering the Empty Tomb; A Contrast – Now and Back Then

April 19, 2019

It looks different today, but the place is the same. It is darker now, covered with a dome that blocks the sun. There is no grass, no hillside, no trees waving their leaves nearby. Instead there are the hushed voices of hundreds of people, the Muslim call to prayer echoing in the distance and the […]

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