“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again.”–Jesus Christ
“When he said that He himself would rise again from the dead, the third day after He was crucified, He said something that only a fool would dare say… No founder of any world religion known to men ever dared say a thing like that.” –Wilbur Smith (Bible scholar)
“I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my own ego will survive.” –Bertrand Russell (English Philosopher)
The story of Jesus’ resurrection is foundational to Christianity as a religion. To deny it is in effect to dismiss Christianity as just another myth which modern “enlightened” man ought to dismiss, the sooner the better, as a mere legend embellished over time. It is also to declare the whole of the gospels’ narration as an hoax perpetrated on human-kind in the last two thousand years. This is usually the attitude of assorted agnostics and atheists vis a vis Christianity and religion in general.
What we read in the gospels is that Jesus appeared alive to his disciples after his crucifixion and burial. They claim not only to have seen him but also to have eaten with him, touched him, and spent forty days with him. If this is false, it invalidates everything he said about himself, about the meaning of life and man’s destiny after his death. As Paul aptly puts it: “If Christ did not resurrect, our faith is in vain.” It is founded upon a lie. On the other hand, if the claim of resurrection is true, then, as written by theologian R.C. Sproul “Jesus has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses.” Indeed, all other religious leaders are dead, but Christianity insists that Christ is alive. So, is Jesus’ resurrection a fantastic fact or a vicious myth? To find out, we need to look at the evidence of history and draw proper conclusions.
Many skeptics have attempted to disprove the resurrection. Josh McDowell was one such skeptic who spent more than seven hundred hours researching the evidence for the resurrection. McDowell stated this regarding the importance of the resurrection: “I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history. McDowell later wrote his classic work, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1999), documenting what he discovered.
There are other skeptics such Bertrand Russell, quoted above, who is not concerned with historical facts but denies the resurrection; the mythologist Joseph Campbell who declares that the resurrection is not a factual event, just as most narrations in mythology are neither factual nor historical; the theologian John Dominic Crossan who seems to agree with Campbell. None of those skeptics present hard evidence for their views.
In advance of his death, Jesus told his disciples that he would be betrayed, arrested, and crucified and that he would come back to life three days later. That’s a strange plan! Jesus was no entertainer willing to perform for others on demand; instead, he promised that his death and resurrection would prove to people (if their minds and hearts were open) that he was indeed the Messiah. In other words, it is perfectly logical to suppose that since Jesus had clearly told his disciples that he would rise again after his death, failure to keep that promise would expose him as a fraud.
We know the facts of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross. Most scholars do not dispute the fact that there is an historical Jesus who was born in Palestine at the time when Caesar Augustus was Rome’s emperor, and who died under Tiberius’ reign when Palestine was governed by Pontius Pilate. An even greater darkness of depression annihilated the dreams of those who had become infatuated with Jesus’ charisma and joyful vitality. Former Lord High Chancellor of Britain, Lord Hailsham, notes that “The tragedy of the Cross was not that they crucified a melancholy figure, full of moral precepts, ascetic and gloomy … What they crucified was a young man, vital, full of life and the joy of it, the Lord of life itself … someone so utterly attractive that people followed him for the sheer fun of it.”
Pilate wanted verification that Jesus was dead before allowing his crucified body to be buried. So a Roman guard thrust a spear into Jesus’ side. The mixture of blood and water that flowed out was a clear indication that Jesus was dead. “The dead do not bleed, ordinarily, but the right auricle of the human heart holds liquid blood after death, and the outer sac hold a serum called hydropericardium.” Once his death was certified by the guards, Jesus’ body was then taken down from the cross and buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Roman guards next sealed the tomb, and secured it with a 24-hour watch.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples were in shock. Dr. J. P. Moreland explains how devastated and confused they were after Jesus’ death on the cross. “They no longer had confidence that Jesus had been sent by God. They also had been taught that God would not let his Messiah suffer death. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks.” All hope was vanquished. Rome and the Jewish leaders had prevailed – or so it seemed.
But it wasn’t the end. The Jesus movement did not disappear, and Christianity exists today as the world’s largest religion. In a New York Times article, Peter Steinfels cites the startling events that occurred three days after Jesus’ death: “Shortly after Jesus was executed, his followers were suddenly galvanized from a baffled and cowering group into people whose message about a living Jesus and a coming kingdom, preached at the risk of their lives, eventually changed an empire. Something happened.
There are only five plausible explanations for Jesus’ alleged resurrection, as portrayed in the New Testament: 1) Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. 2) The “resurrection” was a conspiracy. 3) The disciples were hallucinating. 4) The account is legendary or mythological. 5) It really happened. Let’s work our way through these options. In the first place we need to ascertain that there was a corpse. After all, occasionally “corpses,” or people who are believed dead, do recover and walk away.
One place to ascertain that is in the reports of non-Christian historians from around the time when Jesus lived. Three of these historians mentioned the death of Jesus: Lucian (c.120 – after c.180) referred to Jesus as a crucified sophist (philosopher). Josephus (c.37 – c.100 ) wrote, “At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of amazing deeds. When Pilate condemned him to the cross, the leading men among us, having accused him, those who loved him did not cease to do so.” Tacitus (c. 56 – c.120) wrote, “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty … at the hands of our procurator, Pontius Pilate.”
Noted skeptic James Tabor stated, “I think we need have no doubt that given Jesus’ execution by Roman crucifixion he was truly dead.” In light of such historical and medical evidence, we seem to be on good grounds for dismissing the first of our five options. Jesus was clearly dead, “of that there was no doubt.”
However, many others have questioned how Jesus’ body disappeared from the tomb. English journalist Dr. Frank Morison initially thought the resurrection was either a myth or a hoax, and he began doing research to write a book refuting it. The book became famous but for reasons other than its original intent.
Morison began by attempting to solve the case of the empty tomb. The tomb belonged to a member of the Sanhedrin Council, Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph must have been a real person. Otherwise, the Jewish leaders would have exposed the story as a fraud in their attempt to disprove the resurrection. Also, Joseph’s tomb would have been at a well-known location and easily identifiable, so any thoughts of Jesus being “lost in the graveyard” would need to be dismissed.
Morison wondered why Jesus’ enemies would have allowed the “empty tomb myth” to persist if it weren’t true. The discovery of Jesus’ body would have instantly killed the entire plot. And what is known historically of Jesus’ enemies is that in fact they did accuse Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body, an accusation clearly predicated on a shared belief that the tomb was in fact found empty.
Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, similarly stated, “If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable … to conclude that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered … that would disprove this statement.”
The Jewish leaders were stunned. They accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body. But the accusation did not hold water, for the Romans had assigned a 24-hour watch at the tomb with a trained guard unit (from four to 16 soldiers). Josh McDowell notes that these were not ordinary soldiers. “When that guard unit failed in its duty – if they fell asleep, left their position, or failed in any way – there are a number of historical sources that describe the punishment. They were stripped of their own clothes and burned alive in a fire started with their own garments, or they were crucified upside down. The Roman Guard unit was committed to discipline and they feared failure in any way.” It would have been impossible for anyone to have slipped by the Roman guards and to have moved a two-ton stone. Yet the stone was moved away and the body of Jesus was missing.
If Jesus’ body was anywhere to be found, his enemies would have quickly exposed the resurrection as a fraud. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association, summarizes the strength of this argument: “With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? … The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.” So, with no body of evidence, and with a known tomb clearly empty, Morison accepted the evidence as solid that Jesus’ body had somehow disappeared from the tomb.
As Morison continued his investigation, he began to examine the motives of Jesus’ followers. Maybe the supposed resurrection was actually a stolen body. But if so, how does one account for all the reported appearances of a resurrected Jesus? Historian Paul Johnson, in A History of the Jews (1988), wrote that “What mattered was not the circumstances of his death but the fact that he was widely and obstinately believed, by an expanding circle of people, to have risen again.” The tomb was indeed empty. But it wasn’t the mere absence of a body that could have galvanized Jesus’ followers (especially if they had been the ones who had stolen it). Something extraordinary must have happened, for the followers of Jesus ceased mourning, ceased hiding, and began fearlessly proclaiming that they had seen Jesus alive.
Each eyewitness account reports that Jesus suddenly appeared bodily to his followers, the women first. Morison wondered why conspirators would make women central to their plot. In the first century Jewish community, women had virtually no rights, personhood, or status. If the plot were to succeed, Morison reasoned, the conspirators would have portrayed men, not women, as the first to see Jesus alive. And yet we hear that women touched him, spoke with him, and were the first to find the empty tomb. Later, according to the eyewitness accounts, all the disciples saw Jesus on more than ten separate occasions. They wrote that he showed them his hands and feet and told them to touch him. And he reportedly ate with them and later appeared alive to more than 500 followers on one occasion.
Legal scholar John Warwick Montgomery stated, “In 56 A.D. [the Apostle Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive. (1 Corinthians 15:6ff.) It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”
Bible scholars Geisler and Turek agree. “If the Resurrection had not occurred, why would the Apostle Paul give such a list of supposed eyewitnesses? He would immediately lose all credibility with his Corinthian readers by lying so blatantly.”
Peter told a crowd in Caesarea why he and the other disciples were so convinced Jesus was alive: “We apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Israel and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by crucifying him, but God raised him to life three days later … We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41). British Bible scholar Michael Green remarked, “The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity … There can be no rational doubt that they occurred.”
As if the eyewitness reports were not enough to challenge Morison’s skepticism, he was also baffled by the disciples’ behavior. A fact of history that has stumped historians, psychologists, and skeptics alike is that these eleven former cowards were suddenly willing to suffer humiliation, torture, and death. All but one of Jesus’ disciples were slain as martyrs. Would they have done so much for a lie, knowing they had taken the body? Moreover, ignorant fishermen could hardly be expected to die for an idea, a la Socrates.
The terrorists on September 11 proved that some will die for a false cause they believe in. Yet to be a willing martyr for a known lie is insanity. As Paul Little wrote, “Men will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.” Jesus’ disciples behaved in a manner consistent with a genuine belief that their leader was alive and they were willing to die for him. No one has adequately explained why the disciples would have been willing to die for a known lie. But even if they all conspired to lie about Jesus’ resurrection, how could they have kept the conspiracy going for decades without at least one of them selling out for money or position? Moreland wrote, “Those who lie for personal gain do not stick together very long, especially when hardship decreases the benefits.”
Chuck Colson, implicated in the Watergate scandal during President Nixon’s administration, pointed out the difficulty of several people maintaining a lie for an extended period of time: “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for forty years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled twelve of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years?” Something happened that changed everything for these men and women.
Could mass hallucination be an explanation? Psychologist Gary Collins was asked about the possibility that hallucinations were behind the disciples’ radically changed behavior. Collins remarked, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.” Hallucination is not even a remote possibility, according to psychologist Thomas J. Thorburn. “It is absolutely inconceivable that … five hundred persons, of average soundness of mind … should experience all kinds of sensuous impressions – visual, auditory, tactual – and that all these … experiences should rest entirely upon … hallucination.”
Furthermore, in the psychology of hallucinations, the person would need to be in a frame of mind where they so wished to see that person that their mind contrives it. Two major leaders of the early church, James and Paul, both state forcefully that they encountered a resurrected Jesus, neither expecting, or hoping for it. The apostle Paul, in fact, led the earliest persecutions of Christians, and his conversion remains inexplicable except for his own testimony that Jesus appeared to him, resurrected. The hallucination theory, then, appears to be another dead end.
Some unconvinced skeptics attribute the resurrection story to a legend that began with one or more persons lying or thinking they saw the resurrected Jesus. Over time, the legend would have grown and been embellished as it was passed around. The same may happen with a myth. On the surface this seems like a plausible scenario. But there are three major problems with that theory. First, legends simply don’t develop while multiple eyewitnesses are alive to refute them. An historian of ancient Rome and Greece, A. N. Sherwin-White, argued that the resurrection news spread too soon and too quickly for it to have been a legend. Second, legends develop by oral tradition and don’t come with contemporary historical documents that can be verified. Yet the Gospels were written within three decades of the resurrection. Third, the legend theory doesn’t adequately explain either the fact of the empty tomb or the historically verified conviction of the apostles that Jesus was alive.
Therefore, the legend theory doesn’t seem to hold up any better than other attempts to explain away this amazing claim. Furthermore, the resurrection account of Jesus Christ actually altered history, beginning with the Roman Empire; and empire that within three centuries would be wholly Christianized; Constantine making Christianity its official religion. How could a mere legend make such an enormous historical impact within such a short period of time?
Morison was bewildered by the fact that “a tiny insignificant movement was able to prevail over the cunning grip of the Jewish establishment, as well as the might of Rome.” Why did it win, in the face of all those odds against it? He wrote, “Within twenty years, the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish religious establishment … In less than fifty years it had begun to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire. When we have said everything that can be said … we stand confronted with the greatest mystery of all. Why did it win?” Indeed, by all rights, if there were no resurrection, Christianity should have died out at the cross when the disciples fled for their lives. But, to the contrary, the apostles went on to establish a growing Christian movement.
J. N. D. Anderson wrote, “Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence – and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication … That simply wouldn’t make sense.”
With myth, hallucination, and a flawed autopsy ruled out, with incontrovertible evidence for an empty tomb, with a substantial body of eyewitnesses to his reappearance, and with the inexplicable transformation and impact upon the world of those who claimed to have seen him, Morison became convinced that his preconceived bias against Jesus Christ’s resurrection had been wrong. He began writing a different book – entitled Who Moved the Stone? (1987)– to detail his new conclusions. Morison simply followed the trail of evidence, clue by clue, until the truth of the case seemed clear to him. His surprise was that the evidence led to a belief in the resurrection.
In his first chapter, “The Book That Refused to Be Written,” this former skeptic explained how the evidence convinced him that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual historical event. “It was as though a man set out to cross a forest by a familiar and well-beaten track and came out suddenly where he did not expect to come out.” Morison is not alone in this. Countless other skeptics have examined the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, and accepted it as the most astounding fact in all of human history. C. S. Lewis, who once had even doubted Jesus’ existence, was also persuaded by the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. He writes, “Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open.”
One of those who originally thought the resurrection was simply a myth, only to reverse his position like Morison, was one of the world’s leading legal scholars, Dr. Simon Greenleaf. Greenleaf helped to put the Harvard Law School on the map. He wrote the three-volume legal masterpiece A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, which has been called the “greatest single authority in the entire literature of legal procedure.” The U.S. judicial system today still relies on rules of evidence established by Greenleaf. While teaching law at Harvard, Professor Greenleaf stated to his class that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was simply a legend. As an atheist, he thought miracles to be impossible. Three of his law students challenged him to apply his acclaimed rules of evidence to the resurrection account. After much prodding, Greenleaf accepted his students’ challenge and began an investigation into the evidence. Focusing his brilliant legal mind on the facts of history, Greenleaf attempted to prove that the resurrection account was false.
But Greenleaf was unable to explain several dramatic changes that took place shortly after Jesus died, the most baffling being the behavior of the disciples. It wasn’t just one or two disciples who insisted Jesus had risen; it was all of them. Applying his own rules of evidence to the facts, Greenleaf arrived at his verdict. In a shocking reversal of his original position, Greenleaf accepted Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation for the events that took place immediately after his crucifixion. To this brilliant legal scholar and former atheist, it would have been impossible for the disciples to persist with their conviction that Jesus had risen if they hadn’t actually seen the risen Christ.
In his book The Testimony of the Evangelists, Greenleaf documents the evidence that caused him to change his mind. In his conclusion he challenges those who seek the truth about the resurrection to fairly examine the evidence. Greenleaf was so persuaded by the evidence that he became a committed Christian. He believed that any unbiased person who honestly examines the evidence as in a court of law would conclude what he did – that Jesus Christ has truly risen. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ raises the question: What does the fact that Jesus defeated death have to do with my life? The answer to that question is what New Testament Christianity is all about.
The House of Mary
1820, Westphalia: Clemens Brentano sits next to her bed. Two years ago he moved to the city of Dülmen in Westphalia to be with her every day. With a notebook in his hands, he keeps notes of her visions, dreams and becomes her personal assistant. The German Romantic poet took the decision to stand next to Anna Katerina Emmerick, a young woman in the countryside who had been stuck for decades in her bed. She herself saw for years visions which concerned the life of the Virgin Mary and Christ and described everything in every detail. Clemens holds detailed notes and in 1835, 11 years after Anna Katerina’s death, he will publish his first book with her visions, “The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In 1842, after his death, another work with her visions entitled “The Life of Virgin Mary” will be published.
1891: Smyrna French Hospital, Ottoman Empire: Marie de Mandat Grancey, a member of the Daughters of Charity s run by the French Hospital of Smyrna, is dining at the Hospital’s dining room. There she will hear an excerpt from the books with Anna Katerina’s visions and ask two Lazarist missionaries, Fathers Poulin and Jung, to visit the point mentioned in the book as the last house of the Virgin Mary.
They began their mission on July 29, 1891, holding in their hands the excerpt of the book, ready to find every detail. Going to the Sirince area in Ephesus and going up Mount Bülbüldağı (Koressos) will stop asking a woman for water. She will tell them that they can find water a few miles further in the springs of the Monastery. After a few hours they will find themselves in front of the ruins of a monastery and a house where it will fit Anna Katerina’s descriptions. There She lived in the last years of her life, Our Lady, the Mother of Christ after His Crucifixion when she followed St. John. There she lived until the day of the Dormition (according to the Orthodox doctrine) and the Assumption (according to the Catholic doctrine) to Heaven.
The missionaries are returning to announce the news and their discovery. In August 1891, two more “missions” will begin for the place where Mother Mary’s House, Meryem Ana Evi, was discovered. They wanted to be sure they had found the right place.
In 1882, Archbishop Smyrna, Timoni, will visit the site where he will recognize the similarities with Anna Katerina’s narratives and begin the procedures for officially recognizing the part of the Catholic Church. Until then, the place was known as Panagia Kapoulou.
2018: A mini bus begind from Kusadasi and has as destination the location of Meryem Ana Evi, 7 km from Selçuk. An announcement has been made a long time ago so that the Temple Management Association (Dernek) can reserve the bus” for specific times of arrival and departure. Inside the bus, you’ll see a mosaic of tourists keeping their camera tightly, believers holding their rosaries and crosses in hands, women with foulards and the Quran in their bag. Most of them hold tightly the papers that have written their wishes. The desire is usually one: to bring to life the baby. And where else will they ask for it except for Mother Mary?
In 2015, filmmaker Manoël Pénicaud, along with his team, visited Meryem Ana Evi. In his camera he will speak, Paolo Pugliese, Capuchin Friar serving in the Temple. The Order of the Capuchins took over the care and management of the place in 1966, after the invitation of the Archbishop Smyrna, Alfred Cuthbert OFMCap Gumbinger. Sitting in a simple coffee table and wearing the Capuccino brown tunic, Paolo Pugliese will talk about his experience in Turkey.
“Virgin Mary is a woman. The main feature of a woman in every respect is a welcome and motherhood. She is here as a mother and as a woman who welcomes her children, both Christians and Muslims.”
While it’s heavy winter, the camera shows people in jacket and coat coming to pray. Outside the temple, there is the spot where candles light. Christians and Muslims lit their candles side by side with reverence and tranquility. Inside the shrine, Christins and Muslims attend the mass in Italia. Muslim women pay in their knees. At the entrance there is a large sign with extracts from the Qur’an that mention Virgin Mary and emphasize Her significance.
“I touched the paper on the wall and at that moment I realized that until that day I had not understood how much the world suffered. How many misery and needs there have been out there. How many personal tragedies!“The wall is full of papers. “The wall is the connection of the prayers of all these people.”
A few years ago, the New York Times will dedicate a few pages to Meryem Ana Evi. Scott Spencer traveled to Turkey to be able to describe the uniqueness of the place and talk to those who visited it. Friar Matthias will explain to him, “Muslims believe that Mary or Mary was a sacred figure but not the mother of God. She was just a woman with great virtues.”
Friar Matthias will continue explaining to the reporter that Maria is mentioned more than 30 times in the Koran and refers to Surah 3, verse 37. The journalist leaving the church will meet a woman who would open her heart “I live and work in Paris but I was born in Algeria. Since I was a little girl, I believed in miracles. I come here often. I come here because I believe in Maria. I’m a muslim.”
If you ever want to visit Meryem Ana Evi, you can find more information (in five different languages) on their website: http://www.meryemana.info/ and on their Facebook page where they make announcements about the functions and times and ways of visit and masses.
The “mysterious” Jew of Tunisia
33 days after the Jewish Easter. The Jews are preparing to celebrate Lag BaOmer. The Ghriba Synagogue with its Blue Tiles on Djerba Island in Tunisia wears its festivals to welcome its faithful who come from all corners of the world to celebrate Lag BaOmer with the 1100 Jews of the island.
Jews, Christians and Muslims come to the synagogue to pray and light candles. Women sit on the floor to put their eggs there with their wishes written on them. According to the local tradition, the stone of the floor used to be in the Temple of Jerusalem. Outside of the synagogue, the musicians have not stopped playing, the dried figs of wine flow abundantly and all of them eat from a table full of fish and couscous.
The story of the Jewish community
According to the history, a large number of Jews fled to Tunisia after the first temple was destroyed by the Romans, around 500 BC. During this period the first synagogue was built. The Jews brought with them a door from the Temple as well as a stone from the altar of the Temple. Today, according to the residents of the area, both the door and the stone are placed into the “Ghriba” Synagogue.
However, the Sephardic Jews of Spain found shelter on the island of Tunisia after the persecutions suffered by King Ferdinand and Isabella. Until 1956, when Tunisia gained its independence from France, the Jews would count 100,000 of which most would live on Djerba Island in harmony with their Muslim brothers.
In Arabic, Ghriba means “mysterious”, “strange” and many wonder why this name was given to the synagogue. According to the myth that dominates the narratives, the place where the congregation was discovered at the beginning of the 19th century inhabited a young “mysterious” girl who never spoke to anyone on the island. The girl died in her cabin when it grabbed fire. Surprisingly, the Jewish residents found her body intact and, in honor of the “mysterious” girl, founded the “Ghriba” Synagogue in the Jewish village of Harah Seghira.
The Lag BaOmer feast and coexistence
The pilgrimage to Lag BaOmer attracts hundreds of Jews from all over the world. They visit the synagogue, pray and participate in the rites that take place in both days of the feast. The marches are in the form of a wedding ceremony and symbolize the secret union between the People of Israel and the Divine. Women leave eggs with the name of a single girl in the place where the girl’s body is supposed to be found. The festival includes both Jews and Muslims. Muslim neighbors help the Jews prepare the place to welcome all this crowd. They also pray in the Synagogue while Muslim women leave the same eggs with written wishes in Arabic so they can get married in the future.
Muhammad has been making mats for the congregation for 50 years. “The most important thing for us is to show that in Djerba Jews and Muslims can live together harmoniously.”
As many people leave for a nearby beach or casino, the local Jews stay in the Synagogue so they can continue their own local customs: the first haircut of a three-year-old boy or the preparation of a big and specific dinner where the whole community will sit together.
The revenue that comes from the Lag BaOmer feast is enough. All the money is for the Jewish nursing home of the village of Harah Seghira and for the maintenance of the twenty synagogues on the island.
Amal who works in Houmt’s market and goes every year to the Synagogue to worship, says “Everything is to be human. We sit here next to each other and we see no difference. “
Walking through the streets of Djerba you can not recognize the Jew by the Muslim. Only a few older Jews put a piece of black cloth at the bottom of their trousers. Mourning for the destruction of the Temple.
Over the last three decades most visitors come from places outside Tunisia. By 2015, however, Israel issued a directive to Israeli citizens not to travel to Tunisia for the annual pilgrimage for safety reasons.
Earlier in the year, the country had suffered three terrorist attacks by extremist religious organizations. Almost all the attacks were in places an hour away from the island. That year, the security measures for the pilgrimage were draconian with checkpoints all over the island, special forces scattered all over, and military trucks full of guns.
On the first day of the feast, Abdelfattah Mourou, spokesman for the moderate Muslim party Islamic Enhanda, embraced rabbi Bittan outside the synagogue and told the crowd “Tunisia is protecting its Jews. What leads to the extremes is the existence of only one culture and one culture. The existence of many cultures leads us to accept one another normally. “
The Jews of today
Today, 1100 Jews live in Djerba. According to chief rabbi Haim Bittan each year only 30 new births are made to Jewish families. In recent years, Jews have begun to leave the place not because of persecution of a religious or racial nature but because of a financial crisis.
Yisha Mamou, 24, who is a teacher at the Hebrew Kindergarten, says “I graduated economically at public high school but, like most in Tunisia, I did not have the opportunity to continue at the University. I want to leave because I have nothing to do. All I do is go back to work and work on the house. “
Until 2004, the Jewish community of Tunisia supported three elementary schools, two lyceums and a religious study school (yeshiva) as well as archbishop. A few years ago, the only Kosher restaurant was closed, and as the whole Jewish community shows, it will begin to shrink if both their own state and the community itself find ways to keep young people there.
The Muslim Saint of a Greek Orthodox city
The Albanian Bektashi Monastery of Farsala
May 1st 2017: Some hundred meters outside Farsala, in the village of Asprogia, cars start gathering early in the morning. Whole families flock to pilgrimage, take out the spit with lambs, beers freeze on portable refrigerators, and someone puts on the cd player folk dances.
“They say it was Church, they say a lot. I know just one thing. That it was and still is a holy place, “says the pilgrim to the filmmaker Manoël Pénicaud. The Durbali Tekke or otherwise, Ireni Tekke was founded according to sources in 1492. The founder, the Durbali dervish came from the Iconio area of Minor Asia. As soon as he arrived in the village Ireni (the name of the village of Asprogia during the Ottoman domination), was granted the land and the building to create a new worship site, the tekke (monastery of Islamic mysticism and souffism). Also, according to sources, today’s temple was built on the ruins of a Byzantine church dedicated to St. George.
In Manoël Pénicaud’s short film, his “tour guide” will show us a hagiography of Saint George on a wall of the teke. “Saint George is being worshipped everywhere” he will explain. Especially in the Muslim world, the warrior and fighter Saint George has a prominent place. Over the centuries, the teke will be expanded by purchasing land from various villages in the surrounding areas. Many travelers and writers, including Andreas Karkavitsas, a Greek well known novelist(1892), will describe in his experiences the functioning of the teke and its role in the harmonious religious coexistence of Christians and Muslims. Archaeologist Frederick Hasluck will record in 1914 that only twenty years ago, in 1888, there were 55 dervishes living on the teke and that the coexistence of Christians and Muslims was perfectly normal.
The blooming and preservation of the teke will bring about the disruption of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Republic of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk will declare the Sufi and the Dervishes fraternities illegal and chase them mercilessly. The order of the Ottomans in the administration and in the life of Tekke will be taken over by the Albanians Bektashi. Bektashism was dominant in the Balkans, and especially in Albania, where to date there is a large number of believers. The successors of the teke will keep their reins up until 1973 when the last Albanian abbot of the Monastery dies and the memory will be almost erased
The Tekes today
Few people know the presence of Teke and even fewer locals remember its story. What remains is the mosque of the monastery and the tombs of the abbots. Both the mosque and graves are preserved in a very good condition since Albanians Bektashi i try to rescue them with the help of archaeologists and conservators. The problem of preservation of the teke is due to its legal and ownership status. While belonging to a religious institution in Albania, the Land Office of Larissa is in charge of its management. The various disagreements between the parties and the legal dangers have not so far enabled the use of the amount intended for teke’s maintenance.
In recent years the Farsala Municipality has prioritized teke and its proper maintenance. With the help of experts, the Municipality investigates the violations that occur in the area and proceeds to the complaints so that the image of teke is not distorted and be rescued before it is too late. Nevertheless, the Municipality’s objective is far superior to the mere maintenance of a historical and religious monument. The Municipality sees tekke as the opportunity to create an international center of study of the peoples and religions of the Balkans for the past 5 centuries.
God does not ask what you are
Before they enter the site of funerary monuments, they take off their shoes. Young, older, young children kiss the grave with the green covers. On the outside, the tomb of Durbali Sultan and the bust of Hatzi Bektas Veli, founder of Bektashism, in the 13th century. “Bektas Veli chose the best flowers of the religions and created the Bektashism,” says the old man with redheaded cheeks.
The cinematographer Manoël Pénicaud and his team visited the teke to record these moments of love and sharing on May 2017. I was fortunate to watch his short film at the “Shared Sacred Sites” Exhibition at the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, in the last January. In a green landscape, the believer who has taken over the duties of a guide confesses to the camera “Whoever is inside this temple does not ask the one who comes, what are you? Christian or Muslim? “ At the entrance, a green sign is hanging on a tree in Greek and in Albanian “We never forget you Durballi Sultan Baba.” An old woman enters to worship Saint Durbali “Durbali is Holy to us, He is saint to all and is a miracle maker.” “Every year Christians come from nearby villages. They worship, we celebrate the Kurban (feast) all together, we clean the place. This year, Easter was on the same dates, and so, many did not manage to come. “At the entrance of the Teke, there are the holy icons of Ali, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, St. Demetrius and the Virgin Mary.
The pilgrimage ends and the feast begins. Dozens of lambs for families and for those who come to worship and celebrate together are served on plastic tables. When he turns the spit, another pilgrim will share his life story with the camera .“God is for all. It’s not just mine or yours. We are from Albania. My daughter is 17 years baptized and goes to the Church and believes and receives the Eucharist. Me too. But she wants to come here too. Nobody and nothing compels us to come here. I drove 300 kilometers to come, another one came from Albania, and another one from Chalkida. “ “I do not ask anyone if he is a Christian or a Muslim. Why shall I care? If we eat and drink together, what do I care? So I have done so far in my life and so I will continue to do. “
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