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Matthew, Apostle

Matthew means “gift of God” in Hebrew, and he was also called Levi in a few passages in the New Testament. We know that Matthew was one of the writers of the Synoptic Gospels that chronicled much of Jesus’ ministry but just like the other disciples, his name vanished quickly from most Biblical records after Jesus’ death. But thanks to his skills as a writer, the modern Christian can read about Jesus’ life, deeds, and death through the Gospel of Matthew with his unique perspective.

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As Jesus’ Disciple

The Apostle Matthew was the son of a man named Alphaeus and he lived in the coastal village of Capernaum. There were no records of his early life, but he introduced himself as a tax collector (publican) in his own book during the time of Herod Antipas (Matthew 9:9; 10:3). Since he worked as a tax collector, it was possible that Matthew was one of the wealthiest disciples of Jesus. He was also mentioned in Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15. He was with the other disciples after Jesus’ resurrection in Acts 1:13.

St._Matthew
“The Inspiration of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio”

One of the most remarkable stories about Matthew was his willingness to drop everything and follow the Lord after Jesus called him for his ministry. In addition, Matthew invited Jesus over to his house as a guest of honor in a banquet along with the other tax collectors and other sinners. The Pharisees met Matthew’s feast and Jesus’ choice to join the sinners with indignation to which the Lord replied that, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)

After Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

Beyond the Book of Acts, there were no reliable sources for Matthew’s life after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Much of the events that were associated with Matthew post-Jesus came from tradition or records that could not be verified. Eusebius of Caesarea, in his book Church History, mentioned that he “first preached to the Hebrews” and then prepared to preach to “other people.” Clement of Alexandria also mentioned Matthew briefly in his books Paedagogus and Stromata. According to tradition, Matthew either died a natural death or that he traveled to Ethiopia where he was killed by King Hertacus. His feast day is celebrated every September 21st.

References:
Picture By Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggiohttp://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/caravaggio/matthew.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=136502
Clement of Alexandria. “Paedagogus.” Documenta Catholica Omnia. Accessed July 27, 2016. http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0150-0207,_Clemens_Alexandrinus,_Paedagogus_[Schaff],_EN.pdf.
Clement of Alexandria. “THE STROMATA, OR MISCELLANIES.” Orthodox EBooks. Accessed July 27, 2016. http://www.orthodoxebooks.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/The Stromata – Clement of Alexandria.pdf.
Eusebius of Caesarea. “Church History.” Documenta Catholica Omnia. Accessed July 27, 2016. http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0265-0339,_Eusebius_Caesariensis,_Church_History,_EN.pdf.
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Bartholomew the Apostle

Bartholomew was one of Jesus‘ disciples who, unlike the strong-willed Peter and skeptical Thomas, pretty much stayed in the background. Not much is known about Bartholomew’s life before and during Jesus’ ministry, and most of what we can glean about his life after the Lord’s death were based on the accounts of other writers. Passages that mention Bartholomew are too few (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; and Acts 1:13), but he was also associated with the disciple called Nathanael mentioned only in the Gospel of John (Bartholomew was never mentioned in the book of John).

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If Bartholomew and Nathanael were one and the same, then this disciple was born in Cana in the region of Galilee. Nathanael scoffed after Philip told him about Jesus of Nazareth for the first time, but changed his mind after Jesus demonstrated his power to him(John 1:43-51). The name “Bartholomew” was mentioned once again after the death and resurrection of Jesus in Acts 1:13 and what we know about his life post-resurrection can only be patched together from tradition.

Saint_Bartholemew
“The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew”

Missionary to India and Armenia

According to Eusebius of Caesarea in the Ecclesiastical History, Bartholomew traveled to India and preached about Jesus to the people who lived in the northeast portion of the realm. He left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew in India and went on with Jude the Apostle to the Roman province of Armenia. The men gained a lot of converts for Christ in the region and even convinced the Armenian King Polymius to turn to Christianity. According to Movses of Khorenatsi in the History of Armenia, Bartholomew preached in the Ararat region but was later martyred at a place called Albacus around 68 AD by the order of King Sanatruces of Adiabene (Arbela). Before his death by crucifixion or decapitation, it was said that Bartholomew was also flayed alive. His feast day is held every August 24.

References:
Picture By José de Riberahttp://www.nga.gov/fcgi-bin/tinfo_f?object=72037 http://admirersofbaroqueart.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17344420
Eusebius, and G. A. Williamson. The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967.
Movses of Khorenatsi “Full Text of “The History of the Armenian People, from the Remotest times to the Present Day”” Accessed July 19, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/historyofarmenia00morg/historyofarmenia00morg_djvu.txt.
“The Book of Saints : A Dictionary of Servants of God Canonized by the Catholic Church :.” The Book of Saints : A Dictionary of Servants of God Canonized by the Catholic Church :. Accessed July 19, 2016. https://archive.org/stream/bookofsaintsdict00stau#page/39/mode/1up.
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The Biblical Years of Silence

At least four hundred years passed between the prophecies of Malachi (430-420 BC) and Matthew’s written account of Jesus’ life (50-60 AD). Those years were known as the Biblical Years of Silence because of the lack of historical accounts in the Bible that would have helped enlighten readers about the events during this significant gap in time. The name itself can be misleading as those years were anything but silent.

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So, what happened during the four-hundred-year silence between Malachi and Matthew (or more specifically, James who wrote his letter in 44-49 AD)? It is not surprising that Judea and the Jews experienced some peaceful years during this four-hundred-year period, but many years in between were wracked with internal strife and invasions. Let’s take a look at Israel’s colorful history during the Biblical years of silence.

The Achaemenid Period (450-330 BC)

Bible_years_of_silence
Most do not realize that those years of silence were anything but silent.

The modern Bible’s Old Testament ended with the prophecies of Malachi, which were written between 430 to 420 BC. Malachi lived during the twilight years of Persian Achaemenid dynasty’s domination of Judea and other Near East territories. Many years before his birth, the Persians had freed the Jews from exile, allowed them to return to their homeland, and gave them permission to practice Judaism freely (a sharp contrast to the restrained religious policies of the Assyrians and Babylonians). The Second Temple was later rebuilt under Zerubbabel (with the approval of the Persian king) being finished in 516 BC. This completed the work begun by both Nehemiah and Ezra. In 333 BC, Alexander the Great defeated Darius III of Persia and ended the Achaemenid domination in the Near East.

Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Period (330-166 BC)

The Greco-Macedonian army under Alexander the Great spent the years between 334 and 323 BC conquering the Near East and even ventured as far as the northwestern frontier of India. Alexander the Great ruled his empire from 330 to 323 BC but his vast territory disintegrated immediately after his death. Various generals, friends, and family members fought for domination in his former territories, but only four leading diadochi (bodyguards) remained in power: Seleucus took Mesopotamia as well as Central Asia, Attalus ruled Anatolia, Antigonus dominated Macedon, and Ptolemy ruled Egypt.

Judea under the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties was generally peaceful and stable. The era was also marked with increased Hellenistic influence in Palestine, from art, architecture, politics, and culture. Many Jews adopted Greek names and learned to speak and write Koine Greek. It was also the time when Ptolemy of Egypt commissioned seventy translators to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek which resulted in the Septuagint.

The peace in Judea only disintegrated during the reign of the Seleucid dynasty king Antiochus IV (214 to 164 BC) who persecuted the Jews and forbade them from practicing Judaism. Antiochus forced the Jews to worship Greek gods and ordered the destruction of the Scriptures—an act which greatly angered the Jews. Some Jews welcomed the change, but other rigidly adhered to Judaism as a response to the repression. 

The Hasmonean Period (166-63 BC)

As the repression of Judaism continued a Jew named Mattathias (along with his sons) rose up and led the rebellion against Antiochus in 167 BC. His son, Judas Maccabeus, also led the Jewish revolt between in 167 AD until his death in a battle against the Greeks in 160 AD. This era saw the rise of the Hasmonean Dynasty starting from Judas Maccabeus and ending with Antigonus II Mattathias (the Hasmonean) who led a fierce rebellion against the Romans.

The Roman Period

The Roman general Pompey invaded Jerusalem in 63 BC which led to the capture of the city and the end of the Hasmonean Dynasty. Roman rule over Palestine began in the same year through Hyrcanus II, but Parthia was also a dominant force in the Near East at that time. Parthians besieged Jerusalem in 40 BC to get rid of the Roman-appointed governor Herod, but he had fled some time earlier to Rome and only the unlucky high priest Hyrcanus II remained as ruler of the city (Hyrcanus was mutilated by the Parthians which made him unfit to hold the position of the high priest). The Roman general Marc Antony brought Herod back to Jerusalem, drove the Parthians out, and installed Herod (an Idumean) as secular ruler of the Roman province of Judea.

In year 19 BC, Herod improved the Second Temple first built by Zerubbabel during the Achaemenid period. He was Judea’s ruler when Jesus was born between 6 and 4 BC and was responsible for ordering the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem shortly after Jesus’ birth.

References:
Bauer, Susan Wise. The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007.
Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Antiquities of the Jews. London: Routledge.
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Where Can The Garden of Eden Be Located?

“Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden, he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches. The first branch, called the Pishon, flowed around the entire land of Havilah, where gold is found. The gold of that land is exceptionally pure; aromatic resin and onyx stone are also found there. The second branch called the Gihon, flowed around the entire land of Cush. The third branch, called the Tigris, flowed east of the land of Asshur. The fourth branch is called the Euphrates.”
Genesis 2:8-14 (NLT)

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Moses, the writer of Genesis, painted a lovely and inviting picture of the Garden of Eden that for many Christians, it remains as the ideal of paradise: lush, well-watered, abundant in food, and free from sin. It was Adam and Eve’s first home until they were driven out as a result of their disobedience. Since then, the Garden of Eden faded into obscurity until it became nothing more than just an allegory or an idealized place. It was overshadowed by many other Biblical locations—yet, the mystery lingers.

So where can we find the Garden of Eden? Or perhaps, is it even possible to know its general location?

The clues can be found in the Bible itself and the rivers mentioned in Genesis 2:10-14 are the keys to finding the famed garden that was Adam and Eve’s first home. Two of the most prominent, Euphrates and Tigris, retained their original names even after thousands of years had passed. These two rivers still run through a land once known as Mesopotamia, which corresponds to parts of present day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Satellite photos also show dry waterways on the plain north of the present-day Kuwait, which means that apart from the Tigris and Euphrates, the plain was once watered by other rivers that were perhaps Pishon and Gihon.

garde_of_Eden
“Map showing the rivers in the Middle East known in English as the Tigris and Euphrates.”

But the Pishon and Gihon rivers are more problematic as the names completely disappeared from history. For example, Gihon was described as a river that “flowed around the entire land of Cush” and this is where it gets confusing. The place name “Cush” is associated with the land of Kush in Ethiopia, which is almost geographically impossible since the African nation is nowhere near Mesopotamia. Another ancient city which seemed like a probable candidate for the “land of Cush” is the Mesopotamian city of Kish. It was situated right in the middle of both the Euphrates and Tigris, which made sense if it was, indeed, the Cush in the book of Genesis. Other candidates were the Hindu Kush for the “land of Cush” (according to some Arab scholars), as well as the Nile for the Gihon river (according to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus).

Another mysterious river is the Pishon, described as a river that “flowed around the entire land of Havilah, where gold is found. The gold of that land is exceptionally pure; aromatic resin and onyx stone are also found there.” According to Flavius Josephus in his book The Antiquities of the Jews, “Phison, which denotes a multitude, running into India, makes its exit into the sea, and is by the Greeks called Ganges.” Josephus, however, did not present other evidence to back his claims.

Another possible location of the Pishon was presented in recent years by Missouri State University archaeologist Juris Zarins and Boston University geologist Farouk El-Baz. They claimed that the fossilized river that ran through the Arabia peninsula into modern Kuwait and emptied to the Persian Gulf was the location of the Pishon. For them, the key Biblical phrase they used to find the Pishon river was “Havilah, where gold is found” and there is only one place in Arabia where gold can be mined: the Mahd adh Dhahab in the Hejaz area. The dried riverbed (possible Pishon river) once flowed northeast of the Madh adh Dahb, which in Arabic means the Cradle of Gold and a likely candidate for the land of Havilah.

References:
Picture By No machine-readable author provided. Kmusser assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=323268
Bauer, Susan Wise. The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007.
“Has the Garden of Eden Been Located at Last?” Has the Garden of Eden Been Located at Last? Accessed July 13, 2016. http://www.ldolphin.org/eden/.
Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Antiquities of the Jews. London: Routledge.
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Jonah: On the Way to Joppa

During the reign of King Jeroboam II (793-753 BC), a Northern Kingdom prophet named Jonah was called by God to “announce the Lord’s judgment” (Jonah 1:1-2) to the Assyrians. God commanded him to go to Assyria’s capital, the city of Nineveh to preach against its wickedness and convince the people to repent. The heart of the Assyrian empire was located around 500 miles northeast of Gath-Hepher, Jonah’s hometown in the Galilean region. (For a better picture of Bible events and location, refer to the Holy Land Map in conjunction with this article.)

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It was clear from the start that Jonah was unwilling to go to Nineveh because the Bible did not mince words with his response to God’s command: he ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). Jonah was understandably resentful about preaching repentance to the Assyrians, so he headed to the port city of Joppa to catch a ship bound for Tarshish. Joppa (modern Jaffa) was a harbor city located far west of Jonah’s village of Gath-Hepher. While the modern location of the famed city of Tarshish is still being disputed (according to the Septuagint and Vulgate translations of the Bible, Tarshish was another name for the city of Carthage while historian Flavius Josephus asserted that it was the Anatolian city of Tarsus).

There is a modern argument, however, that Jonah did not go directly to the port city of Joppa so that he could escape from the presence of God. It was said that he travelled to the city of Joppa to put himself out of God’s reach—which made sense only if God’s power was limited by location (Joppa was a Philistine territory at that time). Perhaps Jonah took the attempt to escape one step further by passing through at least four to five ports to shake off God’s presence. Clever or not, Jonah sent a clear message to God that there was no way he would willingly go to Nineveh.

Jonah
Jonah was inside the belly of a fish for 3 days.

This theory, however, is not without its issues. First, Jonah’s hometown of Gath-Hepher was located in the Northern Kingdom. The only significant ports that lay between the town of Gath-Hepher and the Philistine port in Joppa were Acco (modern Acre) to the northwest and Dor to the west. If Jonah, however, was based in Samaria (and not in his hometown) during the reign of King Jeroboam II, there were no other ports of considerable size and importance near the capital for one of the most famous escapees in history to take refuge in except for Joppa.

God’s omniscience and omnipresence also hindered the theory that Jonah passed through at least four to five ports to shake off His presence. The Lord was with Abraham as he travelled from Harran down to Canaan and Egypt—all of which were pagan cities. He was also with Jacob when he came back to Upper Mesopotamia after he tricked Isaac to give away his brother Esau’s blessings. God’s presence was also felt during the Israelite’s struggle in Egypt, Daniel’s captivity in Babylon (although this would come much later than Jonah’s adventure), and many other instances in the Bible when location (even the schemes of men) simply did not present a problem for God to show his power. God also heard and answered Jonah’s prayer while he sat inside the belly of the fish after it swallowed him (he was eventually vomited on dry land).

Whether he passed through a number of ports on the way to Joppa or not, the book of Jonah continues to fascinate readers thousands of years after it was written. There are lessons that his story offers to its readers, although people will probably never know the truth about this detail on his journey. Two things are for sure: God extended His mercy even to the merciless and men could never thwart the plans of God.

References:
May, Herbert G., G. N. S. Hunt, R. W. Hamilton, and John Day. Oxford Bible Atlas. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Singer, Isidore, and M. Seligsohn. “JewishEncyclopedia.com.” TARSHISH -. Accessed June 29, 2016. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14254-tarshish.
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10 Bible Study Habits you need to stop doing immediately!

1. Starting without prayer. 
It is difficult to start out a scripture study session under the pressure of stress. Prayer can help relieve your tensions and clear your mind from current problems or distractions. Conducting your studies under the guidance of prayer can not only help you understand Biblical meaning, but may lead to scriptural answers to modern quandaries.
“Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. A man is powerful on his knees.”
~ Corrie ten Boom
2. Using today’s definitions for Biblical words. The Bible was originally written in different languages, namely Greek and Hebrew. The translation of some words into English may not have the exact meaning. If you run across a word or phrase that doesn’t quite make sense, consider doing some research on the Biblical translation to see if there is an alternate meaning. For example, the word jealous in today’s dictionary is  “feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages.” As opposed to the Biblical translation from Greek and Hebrew as warmth or heat which can be linked to the word passionate. (Go Here for a more detailed explanation.)

3. Confusing the spiritual with the literal. Just as not being sure of the exact definition for certain words, trying to take every story from the Bible literally could lead you to an intellectual dead end. Christ was often using parables or stories to explain a concept.  These stories often included several meanings that would be entirely missed or misunderstood if the reader was taking them literally. Although this is an obvious concept with most avid Bible readers, it is important to keep it in mind during your studies to ensure you are not overlooking important lessons. Reminding yourself that there are several meanings behind each concept will help you get a greater view.

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4. Studying a subject without any idea of time frame. The Bible was not ordered chronologically and can be confusing when you are doing your reading from front to back. The letters of Paul are arranged from longest to shortest. That is why it can be hard to understand what he is saying. Using a reference for when those letters were written can help clarify their message. You can use this free bookmark to help.

5. Going Solo. While there is nothing wrong with reading your Bible on your own, conducting a regular scripture study is much easier when you have others involved. Maintaining a regular schedule is one of the most important aspects of Bible study. Being involved or creating your own study group in which you have responsibilities to will help keep you on task. The more regular the study group, the stronger the bond between study and friendship. Each person can lean on the other for clarification on Biblical concepts.

10 Bible Study Mistakes

6. Not knowing  the writer. Who is speaking and who are they speaking to? What is the goal of the writer and what circumstances were they under? With this in mind, it is much easier to understand the intent and meaning behind the writer’s words.

7. Researching Biblical stories with no idea of the historical background. Keep in mind that the writings of the Bible are based on reactions of and teachings to the people in real history. Many prophets were subject to the rulings of common historical leaders. Who were those leaders? Were they good or evil? What were their current circumstances? These factors played a major role in how those prophets were treated. Ask yourself these questions: What time period did am I reading about? What historical events were taking place? What historical events were about to happen? Where is this event? How does this affect the reactions of the people during this time? If you can answer any of those questions, your studies can become more clear. The Bible Timeline is a great tool to use for that purpose.

8. Overthinking. Going into too much depth over topics without reading the entire story can lead to confusion. “Verse overkill” makes it possible to miss the real meaning from looking at one puzzle piece instead of the entire puzzle.  Keep in mind that spending a lengthy amount of time on one subject can make it easy to forget the original purpose of the topic.

9. Giving grammar too much credit. Going back to the translation of the Bible, remember that each language is written differently. The English punctuation may not match the Greek and Hebrew versions. For an “un-grammar lesson” on the Bible go here.

10. Expecting an instant understanding. There are several depths and several meanings to the Bible. For many, each time they read the Bible, they learn something they didn’t notice before. If you come across a portion of the Bible that is overwhelming, consider moving on and going back to that topic later. You may find clarification in your studies as you progress. Do no give up because one section is hard to understand.

What helps you study the Bible? Comment below with your advice. 

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Apostle Thomas

 Thomas as Jesus’ Disciple

The Apostle Thomas, one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15), was probably one of Christian history’s famous skeptics who gave way to the term “Doubting Thomas.” He was, however, one of the very first to acknowledge the Lord’s divinity with his exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection (John 20:28). Thomas stood out among all the disciples during Jesus’ short ministry because of his doubts and even after Jesus’s death, the apostle played a large role in shaping the Gnostic philosophy (if the Gnostic gospels attributed to him were, indeed, narrations of his life after Jesus’ ascension to heaven).

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His given names, Thomas (Aramaic) and Didymus (Greek), reflect the fusion of cultures in first century Judea—one dominated not only by Roman but also Greek and Jewish cultures. Both names mean “the Twin” (John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2), but it was unclear who his twin was or why he was given that name. He and the other disciples were with Jesus when news of Lazarus’ reached them (John 11:16). It was Thomas who asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” shortly before Jesus was arrested.

The Lord reappeared to the disciples after his resurrection (John 20:19-21), but doubting Thomas merited a special mention in the succeeding verses as he was not with them at that time. Jesus reappeared to him in John 20:24-29 and showed him his pierced hands as proof of his identity. He also had Thomas touch his wounded side and reassured the disciple that he, indeed, was resurrected. “Stop doubting and believe,” was the gentle admonition Jesus gave to Thomas.

Jesus reappeared to some of the disciples, including Thomas, by the Sea of Galilee days after his resurrection (John 21). Thomas was present in the gathering of the disciples in Acts 1, as well as during the appointment of Matthias as a replacement for Judas Iscariot. After this, Thomas virtually disappeared from Biblical history except in other historical records and Gnostic texts—most of which were unverifiable.

Saint_Thomas
“Martyrdom of St. Thomas by Peter Paul Rubens”

Acts of Thomas

The Acts of Thomas, written in its original form in Syriac, was a third-century apocryphal text that was not included in the New Testament. It seemed to start where the 1st chapter of Acts left off, right in the heart of Jerusalem with Thomas and the other disciples gathered in one place. They were on the verge of preaching the good news in other regions, and they drew lots to determine which region each one of them should go. Thomas got India and was initially reluctant to go to an unfamiliar territory, but Jesus reappeared to him one night to reassure the apostle of his presence. This, however, did not cure Thomas of his doubts.

Meanwhile, a man called Abbanes wandered around Jerusalem on an errand to buy a carpenter for his master, the Indo-Parthian king Gundaphorus. Jesus saw Abbanes as he walked through the marketplace, approached him, and proceeded to “sell” Thomas to the king’s merchant as a carpenter. The apostle went with Abbanes the following day and started a whole new adventure in India.

They docked at the port of a city called Andrapolis and Thomas was eventually called to the presence of the king just after the wedding celebration of his daughter. The king asked him to bless the new couple in their room, to which the apostle agreed to but when they left, Jesus appeared to the couple and told them to keep themselves chaste. He convinced them not to have children so they could find enlightenment and both eventually converted to Christianity. The king heard the news about the couple’s conversion the following morning which made him livid at the possibility of not having heirs. He commanded his men to look for and bring the apostle to him, but Thomas had sailed away to the territory of king Gundaphorus before he was caught.

The king Gundaphorus asked Thomas to build a palace for him and provided him with money for this project. Instead of building the palace, Thomas gave the money away to the poor which resulted in his imprisonment. The king’s brother, a man named Gad, died shortly afterwards and saw that the king had a palace in heaven because of the apostle Thomas. The deceased brother asked to be sent back to earth so he could buy the palace.

Martyrdom and Feast Days

The apostle performed more miracles after this and according to Edessene tradition, his adventures ended only when he was killed by four soldiers with spears. According to another story from India, Thomas was killed by a Brahmin with a spear in 72 AD because of the apostle’s popularity among the people. In the 9th century, Saint Thomas’ feast day was held on December 21st which was the day that he supposedly died. In the Martyrology of St Jerome, the third day of July was Saint Thomas’ feast day as it was the day when his relics were transported from the city of Mylapore in Chennai, India to Edessa in northern Mesopotamia. The Byzantine Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Saint Thomas’ day on the sixth of October.

References:
Picture By Peter Paul RubensOphelia2, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14520851
Klijn, Albertus Frederick Johannes. The Acts of Thomas: Introduction, Text, and Commentary by A.F.J. Klijn. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
McDowell, Sean. The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus.
“The Acts of Thomas.” The Acts of Thomas. Accessed June 21, 2016. http://gnosis.org/library/actthom.htm.
“St. Thomas – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online.” St. Thomas – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online. Accessed June 21, 2016. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=410.
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Where Were Sodom and Gomorrah Located?

Sodom and Gomorrah — two cities that became infamous for the greatness of the sins of the people that once lived there and the tragic destruction that followed. The search for the location of the doomed sister cities continues to fascinate many scholars, historians, and Bible readers. The story of these sister cities served as a cautionary tale (Jude 1:7) against sexual immorality, as well as other sins such as “pride, gluttony, and laziness” (Ezekiel 18:48-50).

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Some clues that aid in the search: Sodom and Gomorrah formed the Pentapolis of the Cities of the Plain (Genesis 14:2) of the Jordan Valley which included Admah, Zeboim, and Zoar (Bela). It was there that Lot decided to settle with his family after a dispute between his herdsmen and Abraham’s over the land on which their herds and flocks grazed; meanwhile, Abraham remained and settled in the territory of Canaan

Sodom
“Peter Paul Rubens, Lot fleeing Sodom”

Sodom and Gomorrah were famous for the wickedness of its people as shown in Genesis 13:13 and by Genesis 19, it was doomed by God to be completely destroyed. Lot was warned about this destruction by the two angels he protected from the men of the city. He was told to take his family and find refuge in the mountains.

Another clue: Lot pleaded for the angels to spare a little village called Zoar so they could find shelter there. This was granted and according to Genesis 19:24-25, the Lord “rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation.” The destruction was so great that Abraham saw it as he stood in Mamre (modern Hebron), far off west of the Jordan Valley. Lot and his daughters left Zoar later and temporarily lived in a cave in the mountains.

Zoar: The Key to Sodom and Gomorrah

For creation geologist Dr. Steve Austin, Biblical archaeologist Dr. Bryant G. Wood, and other scholars, Zoar was the key to finding the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. To pinpoint Zoar (and possibly Sodom and Gomorrah), they first needed to locate the region where the cities were built. The search for Zoar took them to the southern region of the Dead Sea where the Jordan Valley is located, near the modern city of Safi in Jordan. They looked for the cave where Lot and his daughters supposedly lived in when they escaped Zoar and found the remains of an ancient church named the Sanctuary of St. Lot with a cave near it. It overlooked the modern town of Safi, which made it possible that the town once known as Zoar is now named as-Safi.

Zoar (Safi) is the only town that is still in existence after thousands of years since the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Historical records show that it was involved in commercial trade as recently as the 10th century AD. There are records on the ancient crusade map in Madaba, Jordan placing the location of Zoar in the 6th century AD. According to

According to Isaiah and Jeremiah (15:5 and 48:34-35 respectively), Zoar was located in Moab. The Jewish historian Josephus stated that Zoar was located south of the Dead Sea. Zoar was also described by the Arab tribes that lived there as “As-Safiyah”. These point to the location of Safi as former Zoar making it was the perfect jump-off point for finding the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira: Ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah?

The angels of the Lord gave Lot and his family enough time to escape the destruction. According to Dr. Steve Austin, they probably traveled for six hours to Zoar by foot. He and other Biblical scholars that support this theory retraced the steps of Lot and came to the conclusion that the ruins of Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira in Jordan are the possible candidates for the sites of ancient Sodom and Gomorrah. Safi could be reached within six hours from Bab edh-Dhra by foot, and it was one of the biggest sites in the area that was settled by the time of Abraham (Early Bronze Age). The destruction that happened at the site was perhaps visible from Mamre (modern Hebron) in Canaan, and its location was an excellent sister city site.

The remains of Bab edh-Dhra is now just a mound (tell) with a cemetery right beside it. Geologists discovered that Bab edh-Dhra is located near an enormous fault zone, and the site experienced massive changes in geology over the years. It was once a fortified city with a 21-ft wide defensive wall (now collapsed) and contained a temple of an unknown god. Wadi Numeira, the remains of an ancient city near the ruins of Bab edh-Dhar, is said to be the city of Gomorrah. Numeira, just like Bab edh-Dhra, had a collapsed fortification, border fault, and evidence of widespread destruction caused by fire (burn deposits). Pieces of charcoal (from burned timber, possibly house beams) were found when the sites were excavated and in Numeira itself.  Two human skeletons who died from trauma (burns and collapse of a structure) were found buried on site.

Both places were destroyed during the Early Bronze Age by ignition and collapse of structures, consistent with the “fire and burning sulfur” destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In addition, both sites were located near enormous border fault lines which contained a combination of combustible bitumen, petroleum, and natural gas. It is possible that what destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was a super-earthquake that spewed these destructive materials forced up by earth’s movement.

Evidence Against This Being the Site of Sodom and Gomorrah

Most archaeologists place the destruction of the two proposed cities during Early Bronze Age III which puts them about 400 years before the Biblical dates for their destruction. So does this mean these aren’t the infamous Biblical cities?

Dr. Bryant Wood of the Biblical Archaeological Society writes “In reality, the archaeological date for the end of the EB III period cannot be determined with any degree of certainty. Dating for the Bronze Age in Palestine is dependent upon synchronisms with the known history of Egypt. To date, we have no such synchronisms for the EB III (Early Bronze Age III) period. To date, we have no such synchronisms for the EB III period. There are a few correlations for the previous EB II period, suggesting that it was approximately contemporary with the Archaic Period (First and Second Dynasties) in Egypt, ca. 3100–2700 BC

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References:
Picture By Peter Paul Rubens – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=158561
Wood, Bryant G. “The Discovery of the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.” The Discovery of the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. April 16, 2008. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/04/16/The-Discovery-of-the-Sin-Cities-of-Sodom-and-Gomorrah.aspx#Article.
Austin, S. A. Sodom & Gomorrah Parts 1 & 2Origins, produced by Cornerstone TeleVision Network
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Paul, Apostle

The apostle Paul was one of the most prolific early Christian writers of the New Testament. He would be regarded as one of the pillars of Christianity for his role in spreading the good news about Jesus Christ. From his role in the persecution of Christianity’s newest converts early in his career to his conversion on the road to Damascus and to his death in Rome, he would remain as one of the Bible’s most dramatic transformation stories, and he would be remembered as Christ’s most zealous spokesman after his death.

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Saul: The “True” Jew

Saul was raised in the Greco-Roman city of Tarsus in Cilicia (located in modern-day southern Turkey), a crossroads in Asia Minor where trade, religion, and different ideas converged. While it was located in Asia Minor, Tarsus was a province of Rome which made Saul, a man of Jewish descent, a Roman citizen. Although he and his family lived in Tarsus, he was aware of and even proud of his Jewish heritage. He boasted that he was “a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.” (Philippians 3:5) He received the highest possible Jewish education under Gamaliel when he was sent to Jerusalem at the age of 13 and soon became a high priest in the same city (Acts 22:2-5).

Paul_Apostle
“Saint Paul delivering the Areopagus sermon in Athens”

He first appeared in the book of Acts (7:58) after he gave the approval for the brutal stoning of Stephen. He became one of the fiercest opponents of budding Christianity.  He personally saw to it that the new converts were taken from their homes and imprisoned. He sought to wipe out new converts in other places, so he asked for letters from a high priest which authorized him to take them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. On the way to Damascus, Jesus appeared to him in a vision and told him to go into Damascus. A bright light which blinded Saul accompanied this vision and he had to be led into the city by his companions. This blindness was taken away when a man named Ananias was commanded by the Lord to place his hands on Saul. This was the start of Saul’s complete 180-degree turn from zealous persecutor to Christianity’s leading spokesman.

He stayed in Damascus for several days and preached in the local synagogue that Jesus is the Son of God—an event that baffled the disciples and other Jews who knew him as someone who brutally hounded the believers. The Jews planned to kill him at the city walls but Saul learned of this plot, and his followers helped him escape to Jerusalem by lowering him in a basket through a hole in the wall. He went to Arabia to come to terms with this event in his life and stayed there for three years before he returned to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:13-24). Unlike the other disciples who were wary of Saul, Barnabas extended the hand of friendship to the new apostle. Saul joined the other apostles and preached around Jerusalem about Christ in the city. He had to be sent first to Caesarea and then back to Tarsus after he got into trouble with the Grecian Jews. Barnabas later went to Tarsus to look for Saul and both set off to meet the new believers in Antioch (in Syria) where they would be first called Christians (Acts 11).

First Missionary Journey 

Paul’s first missionary journey would take him, as well as Barnabas and John Mark, from Antioch in Syria to the major cities of central Asia Minor and back again to Antioch where they started.

From Antioch, they traveled to Seleucia in Syria and sailed on to Salamis and Paphos in Cyprus. They sailed to Perga in Pamphylia and traveled to Pisidian Antioch where they preached about Christ to the whole city and converted many to the faith. But they were expelled when the local Jews saw how successful they were in the conversion of many people. They traveled onward to Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe where persecution also followed them. However, they gained more followers for Christ in these cities.

They returned to Antioch in Turkey, then Perga in Pamphylia, and down to Attalia. Finally, they sailed back to Antioch in Syria and reported what happened to them along the way to the members of the church, as well as the success they had in preaching to the Gentiles.

Second Missionary Journey

After a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas about John Mark (he abandoned them during the first missionary journey in Pamphylia), both apostles decided to separate ways. Paul took with him Silas, and they were later joined by Timothy while Barnabas sailed off to Cyprus with John Mark. Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia, then went to Derbe and Lystra with Timothy. They passed through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, as well as the borders of Mysia and Bithynia. They went to Troas and after a vision of a man of Macedonia who begged them to come over.The men left Asia Minor for Europe and sailed off to the Greek island of Samothrace and Neapolis. They departed for the Roman Colony of Philippi and met the first European convert named Lydia on the city gate leading to the river.

Paul and Silas were thrown in prison in Philippi after Paul freed a slave girl from a spirit which enabled her to tell fortunes and earn money for the people who owned her. This angered her owners who felt that Paul robbed them of a source of income and both men were brought to the authorities. They were stripped, beaten, and imprisoned with their feet fastened in stocks to prevent them from any attempts to escape. They were freed after a powerful earthquake shook the prisons doors open and their shackles came loose. Thia caused the jailer to despair when he thought that his charges had escaped. The jailer attempted to kill himself, but the Paul and Silas ministered to the jailer and converted him and his family to the Christian faith.

They departed Philippi after they were released and passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia; they continued to Thessalonica and preached there but were met with opposition especially from the Jews. They were sent to Berea for their own safety and were met with success there, but the Jews who opposed them in Thessalonica followed them to Berea after they heard about Paul and Silas’ success. Paul was sent to Athens and preached there while Silas and Timothy stayed behind in Berea. He then departed for Corinth where he met two Jewish tentmakers named Aquila and his wife, Priscilla. He stayed with them as he was also a tentmaker by trade while waiting for the arrival of Silas and Timothy. Unfortunately, the Jews in Corinth also brought trouble for Paul. He was hauled to the court of the proconsul of Achaia. The proconsul Gallio let Paul go despite the accusations and he sailed for Syria along with Aquila and his wife, Priscilla. Paul dropped off Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus, then traveled to Caesarea and Antioch.

Third Missionary Journey

Paul traveled around the regions of Galatia and Phrygia and ministered in these places for some time. He went back to Ephesus and ministered there, but went away to Macedonia after a riot in Ephesus. He traveled through Macedonia and Greece but decided to sail from Philippi to Troas. They stayed there for seven days and traveled to Assos, Mitylene, Kios, Samos, and Miletus but skipped Ephesus as Paul wanted to reach Jerusalem before the Pentecost.

Paul’s visit to Jerusalem after the Third Missionary Journey would be his last after he was accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple. He was dragged out of the place by the Jewish mob. He surrendered to the Roman centurions, and they transported him to a Tribune. They then had to take him to Caesarea Maritima after a plot to kill Paul was revealed. Paul appealed to the governor to send him to Rome instead so he could defend himself as a Roman citizen, his request was granted.

Trip to Rome: The End of the Road

Paul sailed to Rome as soon as his request was granted but was shipwrecked in Malta after a storm. They survived the shipwreck and sailed to Rome after three months in Malta where the people showed him kindness. The ship docked in Syracuse, Rhegium, and Puteoli; then they traveled to the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns before they reached Rome. He stayed in Rome for many years and preached there under the watchful eyes of the Roman guards. The book of Acts is quiet about Paul’s death but according to the Acts of Paul (an apocryphal text), the Roman emperor Nero had Paul beheaded sometime during his reign.

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References:
Picture By Raphael – Royal Collection of the United Kingdom, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1718078
Stamps, Donald C., and J. Wesley. Adams. The Full Life Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1992
Polhill, John B. Paul and His Letters. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1999
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Was Abraham alive when Jacob and Leah were born?

Which one was not

Abraham who was first called Abram, remembered as the father of many nations, may have even known Shem who was still alive when he was born around 1996 BC.

Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah. He was known for taking his brother Esau’s birthright. Later, he had a large family which consisted of twelve sons. These sons began the twelve tribes of Israel.

Leah was Jacob’s first wife by trickery. She was not as loved as Rachel, his second wife, but she did bare him many sons.

All three of these Bible characters preceded the time of Moses. But which of these characters was not around during 1829 BC?

Answer:

Abraham and Jacob were both alive during 1829 BC. By the time Leah was born, Abraham had passed away. Click here if you want to look at their timelines.

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