April 13, 2014

Events of Holy Week: Palm Sunday

For anyone who has studied in-depth the last week of the Savior's mortal ministry, you know there are some, well, inconsistencies. Did Jesus really cleanse the Temple on Sunday (as Matthew and Luke describe), or did it happen on Monday (as Mark's gospel records)? Were there two women who anointed the feet/head of Jesus (one on the Saturday before Palm Sunday as John records, and one on Wednesday), or was it just one woman? Was Jesus actually crucified at 9:00 AM or at noon of Good Friday? Or perhaps the most perplexing of all, was the Last Supper an actual Passover feast, or did Jesus celebrate the feast a day early?

The simple answer, no one really knows. Scholars disagree on how to resolve the inconsistencies, however, when you study Holy Week as four separate stories, a beautiful tapestry of depth and meaning arises. In searching for timelines of Holy Week, I never found one that really addressed all of these intricate issues. So, I decided to make my own. Hopefully, this timeline of the events of Holy Week will help you appreciate the beauty of this most significant week in history. Hopefully, it will help you understand that the Gospel writers most likely were more interested in preserving the profound symbolism of Holy Week, and not so much an hour-by-hour chronology of events.

Over the next week, in an attempt to show the hidden meaning of the events of Holy Week, I will share several of the most precious gems I have discovered over the years. To begin, I will start with Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday
Each of the four Gospels records the events of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. According to the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), the event took place on the same day when the Passover lambs were being chosen. According to the Law of Moses, the Israelites were to select their lambs on the 10th day of the month (five days before Passover, see Exodus 12:3). Once selected, the lamb was then taken into the homes of the families of Israel where it lived for the next five days (see Exodus 12:3-6). On the fourteenth day of the month, the family was then to kill the lamb, without breaking any bones, and smear the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their home. This made for a poignant lesson for the children, who after living with the lamb and becoming fond of it, would see it killed and eaten, so that they could be saved.

The significance of this is that on the very same day the Israelites were choosing their lambs (the 10th day of Nisan), Jesus rides into Jerusalem and is chosen by the people (the true Lamb of God). Also, during the same time that the lambs were being taken into the Jewish houses for the next five days, Jesus teaches in his Father's house, the Temple of God. The power of the symbolism is amazing.

April 1, 2014

Triclinium Passover Feast (Biblical Dinner) 2014

Though it is impossible to know for sure how the Last Supper took place, it seems that likely the setting was at a Triclinium table. Each year I host a dinner to help guests better understand the Last Supper, with the hope that they can better appreciate this most significant event. Below are some pictures for a Triclinium Passover dinner I held last month.

Setup of the triclinium tables
Preparing all of the food baskets for the tables
Various types of biblical food
Unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and food baskets
Guests reading from the Passover Haggadah
Servants assisting with the washing of hands
Servants serving guests the Passover dinner
Guests enjoying the Passover dinner

March 18, 2014

High Priest Ephod and girdle

After nearly 10 months of work (off and on), I have finally finished the ephod (the apron-like part) and girdle (or waistband) of the high priest. This was one of the most challenging aspects of the priestly clothing because of the unique aspect of the fabric. According to the Bible, the cloth was to be made of red, purple, blue, white, and gold threads (see Exodus 28:6-8). Needless to say, you don't just walk into Jo-Ann Fabrics and ask for Jewish High Priest cloth! Below are a few pictures of the various parts of the project.

Loomed fabric for the high priest ephod
Closeup of the loomed fabric of the ephod
The belt tassels and ephod of the high priest
High priest belt (or girdle) which is sewn to the ephod
Looming the ephod

March 4, 2014

Ash Wednesday - A Time of Preparation

Tomorrow is what most Christians celebrate as Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of Lent, which is a time of reflection, repentance, self-denial, fasting, and preparation for the coming Easter. Many Christians will mark the season of Lent by giving up something in their life that draws them away from the Savior. To commemorate the start of Lent, on Ash Wednesday each member of the congregation will come before the priest to have a small cross marked upon their forehead. The ashes are from the burned palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday, and are mixed with a small amount of oil or water. The ashes symbolize the ancient custom of repenting in sackcloth and ashes (see Daniel 9:3), and the sign of the cross foreshadows the crucifixion. These 40 days before Easter (46 days minus the six Sundays) are to call our minds to the 40 days when Jesus fasted in preparation for his own ministry, and our own preparation for the most sacred time of the year.

As I have been preparing for Holy Week this year, I thought of how the Savior prepared his own disciples for his final week of life. In the weeks and months leading up to the crucifixion Jesus prophesied of his impending death on three separate occasions. Each of these prophecies were used to help the disciples prepare for the tragic, yet glorious coming events.

The first prophesy took place six days before the Transfiguration (generally dated from about six months to only a few weeks before Jesus' final week). Just before Jesus uttered the prophecy, he asked his disciples "Whom do men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27). The disciples each told the Savior of whom others said that he was, and Jesus then asked them "But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ” (8:29). Immediately following this confession of faith, Jesus then gave the first of three prophecies: "And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (8:31). One of the powerful lessons of these prophecies is the responses given by the apostles to the Savior. On this first occasion, Peter takes Jesus and rebukes him, after which Jesus censures Peter by calling him Satan and says unto him that he "savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men" (8:33). One can only image the sting that Peter must have felt. Only moments before he had expressed his devotion and belief, only to be given the most harsh rebuke that he had most likely ever received.

A short time after this first prophecy (perhaps only a few weeks later), as they began the trek towards Jerusalem, while still in the Galilee, Jesus spoke the next prophecy. “For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” (Mark 9:31). The response of the disciples is in stark contrast to the first, in that they “understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him” (9:32). After the stinging rebuke of Peter, it is understandable that none of the disciples would want to respond in any way.

As they continued their travels to Jerusalem, and just before they had reached Jericho (only a short distance from Jerusalem), Jesus uttered the third prophecy saying, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again” (Mark 10:33-34). The response to this last prophecy by the disciples is marked by utter silence. Not even their inner-most feelings are recorded in the Gospels. Only days later, Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem with shouts of acclimation on what now is called Palm Sunday.

Why then would Jesus make these three prophecies to his disciples in the weeks before his crucifixion? It seems to me that he wanted to prepare them not only for the tragic events of Holy Week, but to teach them of who he truly was. To teach them that he would not be the Messiah that they thought he was, a political leader who would free them from the chains of Roman control, but instead a suffering Messiah who would free them from the greater chains of sin and death. Each of these three responses of the disciples teaches us of how the disciples truly saw Jesus. Likewise, we too should ask ourselves the same question: “But whom say ye that I am?”

During this Lenten season, perhaps the most important thing we can give up is the misconceptions we hold of who we think Jesus is. Let us see him as he is, and fully accept his sacrifice on our behalf. When faced with the awful cross, let us accept his death, and not work to impede the power of the atonement in our lives. Instead let us meekly, and humbly accept the Savior for who he is, the true Messiah who came to suffer, die and rise again for our sakes!

February 26, 2014

Pomegranates and Bells of the High Priest

Along the bottom hem of the Jewish high priest's blue robe was a row of pomegranates and bells (see Exodus 28:33-35 and Exodus 39:24-26). The pomegranates were to be made of purple, blue and scarlet wool (similar to the ephod and breastplate, except without the thread of gold). Though the Bible does not tell us how many bells or pomegranates were to be included, Jewish tradition states that there were to be 36, 70, or 72 pomegranates in total (Temple Institute). As I was more interested in the look (and as the Bible does not actually prescribe the number), I included 17 pomegranates and 17 bells.

The pomegranate is a symbol of the promised land, as it was one of the fruits brought back by the spies when they entered Canaan (see Numbers 13:23). It is also a symbol of posterity or prosperity, as there are literally hundreds of seeds in each fruit. The pomegranate is also a symbol of royalty and the temple, as the fruit has a small crown on the top, and as the design was used on the pillars of Solomon's temple (see 1 Kings 7:18-20).

Thus, as the high priest walked around, he carried on him the signs of the promised land, great posterity, royalty, and temple blessings. All blessings promised to those who truly understood and apply in their lives the sacrifice of the Great High Priest, even Jesus Christ.

February 19, 2014

The Crown of the High Priest

The Jewish high priest wore a golden crown with the words "Holiness to the Lord" engraven upon it (see Exodus 28:36-38). The crown was not like a traditional royal crown (going all the way around the head and covering the top) but instead was a small plate that was held on by two blue straps tied in the back. According to Jewish tradition, the crown was two fingerbreadths wide and went from ear to ear (Temple Institute).

The Bible states, "It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD." (Exodus 28:38 ESV).

From this verse it seems to indicate that the crown made the high priest holy, or "set apart" so that he could bear the guilt of the people upon himself. Aaron (and the later high priests) were all sinful (as Christ is the only sinless man ever to live), thus the crown only seems to symbolize that it is through a holy life that one can approach God. Because the high priest was considered "holy" he hallowed, or made holy, the gifts (sacrifices) brought forth by the children of Israel.

From the Bible we learn that Jesus Christ is the true "great High Priest" (see Hebrews 4:14). Just as the high priest went before the Lord to intercede before God, so Jesus the Messiah goes before God and intercedes on our behalf. Jesus was of royal blood (of the lineage of King David), thus the crown represents the royal lineage of Christ as the true King of kings. The words "holiness to the Lord" represent the life the Savior lived. Because of his sinless life, he makes our gifts (or our sacrifices that we bring to the altar of God) become holy, or acceptable to God.

Engraving the Hebrew letters on the back of the crown
The crown of the Jewish high priest
Wearing the crown of the Jewish high priest
The crown with the words, "Holiness to the Lord"
The back with the blue ribbons tied, holding the crown on the head

February 12, 2014

High Priest Pants or Breeches

Breeches of the high priest from Vestitus Sacerdotum Hebraeorum 
The first piece of clothing of the Jewish high priest outfit that I have finished is the undergarments, pants, or breeches. We learn about the pants in Exodus 28:42, which reads: "And thou shalt make them [the priests] linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach."

According to the Talmud, the pants are described as the following: "We were taught: To what can the priests' pants be likened? To the knee breeches (riding pants) worn by horsemen; wide from the hips to the thighs, tied with a lace, and without an opening-neither in back nor in front" (as quoted on the Temple Institute website).

Below are a few pictures of the pants or breeches I completed:

February 5, 2014

Hypocephalus and the Book of Abraham

In celebration of studying the Book of Abraham from the Pearl of Great Price this year, I decided to recreate and photograph a few of the hypocephali I have created recently and in the past. The hypocephalus comes from Egypt and is a disc-shaped object used during the burial process. The hypocephalus generally was made from stuccoed linen (though some were made from metal, wood, papyrus, and clay), then painted with various designs and patterns.

The disc-shaped object was placed under the head and was believed to help protect the dead by enveloping them in light as they transitioned from the mortal to immortal-life. There are around 100 examples of hypocephali today, each one unique in their own way (click here to view an excellent collection of hypocephali found throughout the world.).

In the early LDS church history, founder Joseph Smith purchased several mummies containing papyrus scrolls and a hypocephalus, today known as Facsimile #2 (click here for a video showing a display of some of the artifacts from the Book of Abraham).

Below are several photos of the recreated hypocephali that I have created over the years. I hope to be posting a video here in a few weeks, so check back if you would like to see it.

Hypocephalus 36188 (the original is on stucco, but I placed it on papyrus)
Recreation of the Book of Abraham hypocephalus on stucco-linen
Recreated hypocephalus 37909
Recreated hypocephalus 37909 (front side)
Recreated hypocephalus 37909 (back side showing linen)
Recreated hypocephalus 37909 (showing linen and stucco)
My first recreated hypocephalus, now framed with the other facsimiles

January 29, 2014

Wool, Linen, and Gold Thread for the High Priest Clothing (Part 2)

Once I found the right threads for the clothing of the Jewish high priest, I had to figure out how to combine them into a loomed piece of fabric. At first I tried using the white linen thread as the warp thread, and then individually using the purple, blue, and red wool thread as the weft threads. This was very difficult to work with on the loom and did not look very good, as it created a striped pattern instead of a more solid color (see blue and red stripes on the left on the below image).

Test fabric using scrap yarn and various threads and weaves
I finally decided that I needed to twist my own yarn. I first created a wooden rope twister out of pieces of wood and a coat hanger to test out the thread. Once I decided on making my own thread, I made a Lego machine that stretched each piece of yarn out (around 50 feet long) and then twisted the three yarn colors together using the Lego machine on each end (similar to a ropewalk). The problem is it took around two hours to twist about 50 feet of yarn. At this rate, it would take me approximately forever to complete just the yarn. I had to come up with a more effective method for twisting yarn.

I started searching online and found several motorized yarn twisting machines, including this one built using an erector set. Once I saw it, I knew that this was how I would twist my yarn. The final machine (see below for images) includes four motors, 27 gears, and who knows how many pieces. With this new machine I can spin about 100 feet in about 20 minutes.

Front side of my Lego yarn twisting machine
The key to the machine is a small gear (see the second image below) that allows for two separate rotations on the same shaft. This allowed for the three bobbins to spin one direction, while allowing the actual shaft to spin another direction. This was no small feat to figure out to say the least.

The three bobbins with purple, blue, and red wool yarn
The center gray gear allows for two separate rotations on the same shaft
To create tension, I added a rubber band to the bobbin mechanism
The next challenge was how to add the gold thread. At first I placed it on a fourth bobbin (next to the three others). However, the gold always got trapped inside of the thread. The only solution I could think of was to wrap the gold on the outside of the thread after it was twisted, ensuring that it stayed on the outside.

This mechanism keeps the yarn separate until it is twisted together
Gold thread is wrapped after twisting to ensure that it stays on the outside
The final winder that pulls the finished yarn through the machine
The backside of my Lego yarn twisting machine

January 26, 2014

Wool, Linen, and Gold Thread for the High Priest Clothing (Part 1)

Linen white thread, gold thread, and purple, red and blue wool yarn
The next challenge I have had with creating the clothing of the Jewish high priest was purchasing the proper material for the breastplate and the ephod (the backwards apron). The cloth is to be woven from purple, red and blue wool, then mixed with white linen, and gold thread. (Interestingly enough, this is the only exception for the command against the mixing of wool and linen together for Jewish clothing.)

Good luck trying to find purple, red, blue, white, and gold cloth. I looked, you won't find it, not even anything close. After going to several fabric stores, scouring eBay and Amazon, I came to the conclusion that I would have to loom the cloth myself. Below are samples of the various threads and yarn I will be using to recreate the outfit:

Wool yarn for the Jewish high priest clothing
Lego yarn bobbins used for spinning the yarn into one thread