Monday, December 26, 2016

Chronicles of a Baby Boomer - The First Christians





The eastern Mediterranean is an interesting place for many reasons. I'm thinking of geology right now. Once it was all under water. Life teamed in the water above the future Levant and, where there is life, there is death. They go together. Living things in the seas died and sank to the bottom where they accumulated and built up and were compressed under the tremendous weight of sand, sea, and salt above.

The calcium carbonate of the sea shells of the formerly living things gradually turned to rock. Limestone, chalk, and marble. We are all familiar with the Calabria marble Michelangelo so coveted for his statues. There was none of that here. Just a layer of chalk with a cap of hard limestone on top. This is the geology west of Jerusalem and down to the Philistine Plane. Most things in Israel are built of the rose colored limestone.

The Romans found it useful. The Romans found a use for everything. They were the Swiss Army knives of engineering. In this case, they dug down through the limestone and into the soft chalk. That is what they were after. They quarried the chalk for cement. They delved through the harder limestone and into the soft chalk. They hollowed out caverns and pulled the chalk up through narrow chimneys. And abandoned them when they were done. Chalk rooms. Chalk tunnels. Chalk catacombs. And chalk Christians.

First century Christians fled here for refuge from persecution in Jerusalem. They lived in the rooms. Carved them out even further. Created chapels. Churches. Alters. Places of worship. Dormitories. Kitchens. A first century commune.

Funny, that. For a first century refugee camp of Christians there were no crucifixes. No crosses. The first century symbol of Christianity was the fish. I saw fish symbols carved in the rock above alters, but no crosses. Fish. Icthus. In Greek, Jesus Christ God's Son Savior. An anagram.

No one focused on his death. But his life. Christianity as a cult of death came later. When the Romans found a use for it, too.

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