"And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:
"And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked."
Gospel of Mark (14:51-52), KJV
Restorers have been working on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the refreshed mosaics have attracted some attention.
According to the World Monuments Fund: "Many roof timbers are rotting, and have not been replaced since the 19th century. The rainwater that seeps into the building not only accelerates the rotting of the wood and damages the structural integrity of the building, but also damages the 12th-century wall mosaics and paintings"
What does the archaeology of this sacred site tell us - that this is the birthplace of baby Jesus and a place of Christian worship from the first century? Dream on.
Let's look at the deepest layer, the Grotto.
The (mythologised) Christian, textual tradition has much to say for itself:
First-century holy site (c. 4–6 – 327 AD)
"The holy site, known as the Grotto, that the Church of the Nativity sits atop, is today associated with the cave in which the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is said to have occurred. In 135, Hadrian is said to have had the Christian site above the Grotto converted into a worship place for Adonis, the Greek god of beauty and desire. A father with the Church of the Nativity, Jerome, noted before his death in 420 that the holy cave was at one point consecrated by the heathen to the worship of Adonis, and that a pleasant sacred grove was planted there in order to wipe out the memory of Jesus. Although some modern scholars dispute this argument and insist that the cult of Adonis-Tammuz originated the shrine and that it was the Christians who took it over, substituting the worship of Jesus, the antiquity of the association of the site with the birth of Jesus is attested by the Christian apologist Justin Martyr (c. 100 – 165 ), who noted in his Dialogue with Trypho that the Holy Family had taken refuge in a cave outside of town:
"But when the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him." (chapter LXXVIII).
"Additionally, the Greek philosopher Origen of Alexandria (185 - c. 254) wrote:
"In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshipped and reverenced by the Christians." (Contra Celsum, book I, chapter LI)."
6. Giuseppe Ricciotti, Vita di Gesù Cristo, Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana (1948) p. 276 n.
7. Maier, Paul L. "The First Christmas: The True and Unfamiliar Story." 2001
8. Marcello Craveri, The Life of Jesus, Grove Press (1967) pp. 35–37
The problem with those sources is that they appear only in the medieval textual tradition; not one - and not one author - exists at all in the cultural layers claimed. That is, the sources are fakes and the putative authors, fictional. The three references come from apologetics and are worthless. Well, the whole is near worthless.
We do know, however, that Hadrian, after sacrificing his catamite Antinous in the Nile, in imitation of the Osiris myth, resurrected him as a god and then had a multitude of statues of him made, temples built to worship him and even a new city built in his name. Hadrian also erased Judaea from the map, brought about a third Holocaust (having taken part in the second) and built the city of Aelia Capitolina on top of the ruins of Jerusalem.
This is part of the reasoning for my earlier piece "Hadrian the Chrestian".
Even in the late 19th century, Sir James Frazer was able to state in his The Golden Bough (chapter 33) that the cult around the grotto was established long before the purported nativity and so the first worshippers there were Adonis followers, not Christians. There is a clear connection between Adonis as a fertility god and 'the spirit of the corn', and the name Bethlehem meaning the House of Bread or House of Corn.
|Catholic Grotto under the Church of the Nativity|
The grotto temple to Adonis was attacked and destroyed by Jews in the Third Jewish-Roman War (132-136), when Judaea was led by a messiah - Simon ben Kosiba - against the empire of Hadrian. This was a revolt against Chrestianity - a first-century cult of the imperial elite - at least as much as against Rome. The original Church of the Nativity is said to have been built in 339, atop the Grotto.
In chronological order for the grotto, we perhaps have Adonis, then Hadrian's Antinous-as-Adonis, then a Chrestian church above and lastly Christ.
|Temple of Apollon Hylates, Cyprus|
In this case, we may therefore be dealing with Adonis as a title (rather than name), for Adonis is connected with Adonai, “Lord” in Hebrew and used commonly in the New Testament. This example may not be unique, as scholars are argued how the Farnese Antinous in Naples is Adonis.
The Bethlehem grotto therefore seems to me to contain a series of syncretisms, Greek, Greco-Roman, Chrestian and Christian, and as such, not untypical.