Sleeping with Bacchus: cats and stress

 

PF-Moving-house_GettyMoving: nobody likes it. It’s unsettling, disorienting, chaotic. Every stress scale includes it. If you live within a tight budget it’s also appallingly hard work. And the older you get, the greater the possibilities of personal disaster. The specters of back injury and clinical exhaustion pile onto the routine risks of things broken or left behind, toes smashed, muscles strained, and near-death experiences driving top-heavy, tank-like vehicles. And I speak from a continent of experience.

When humans move, we understand why we do it, although it’s never easy, and seldom without pain. But what about the animals who share our lives, who go because we go? No, let’s be more specific: what about our cats?

Morgan
Morgan

We had finally been forced to leave our fire-scarred land for a new home, and the year was turning toward the 2nd anniversary of my cat Morgan’s death, which had resulted from the stress of our original flight from the wildfire.  And that meant I was also approaching the 2nd anniversary of my mother’s death (she died a week after Morgan).

Trauma makes tracks in our memories, links among synapses like connections in a railroad switching yard: a mental switch is thrown, direction changes imperceptibly, and we find ourselves traveling a road wearing the smooth semblance of the here and now, but invisibly cracked and pitted with old emotion. The unseen past trips us with its rubbled pain and creates new trauma where none need be: a trick of the mind, and one that caught me off-guard.

I had adopted a pair of kittens from a local shelter not long after Morgan’s death. From his earliest days, the male, Bacchus, had a sweetness I’d rarely encountered in a cat before, and I loved him beyond reason. When we moved to Colorado, he developed a urinary infection in the first weeks. I watched him closely, and began to see symptoms like Morgan’s appearing. When he strained to urinate for over a minute with no success I packed him into his carrying case and took him to the vet. Probably stress-related from the move, the vet said, and my heart quaked.

Bacchus
Bacchus

Stress. We talk about it all the time. Most of us are sure we have too much of it. We assume we understand what it is, but the word can mean at least four different things:

  1. in physics, force per unit area;
  2. in language, emphasis on a word;
  3. in psychology, emotional discomfort produced by external and/or internal circumstances;
  4. in biology, a stimulus that generates a state of heightened physiological response, and the physiological and anatomical consequences of that response.

The familiar buzzword is #3. Most people are aware of #2, some are superficially familiar with #1 from news reports on structural collapses after earthquakes, but I doubt that many people without biological or medical training are aware of #4.

The vets I consulted about Morgan and Bacchus almost certainly spoke in biological terms—but what I heard was pop psychology. I went away believing that the emotional terrors of moving were direct causes of both infections. We were speaking subtly different languages.

Photo by Hannibal Poenaru
Photo by Hannibal Poenaru

FlightThere are two basic scenarios for biological stress: the perceived threat can be real, or it can be imagined. If the threat in the stimulus is real, then running away or fighting will relieve the stress, and the body can return to normal. But when the threat is imagined, the situation is more complex. If, as in Bacchus’ case, a cat perceives a threat in a new environment, but neither fight nor flight is possible, his body is unable to relax from the heightened response, and the stress is prolonged and unresolved. So he remains in a state of inappropriate physiological alert to the stimulus of this new environment for days and weeks. Such stress has an exhausting effect over time.

Apparently, Bacchus’ response to feeling lousy from the extended time on high alert was to stop drinking water. An unfortunate choice, since he then started building up uric acid in his system, which caused bladder inflammation and pain, making him think he needed to urinate when he didn’t—with the result that he felt worse and even less inclined to drink anything, and became dehydrated.

Morgan-Bacchus collage
Morgan-Bacchus collage

By the time I packed Bacchus into his carrying case, my emotional train had already switched tracks without my awareness: I was sure I was rushing to save his life, but in fact I was caught up in a replay of the trauma of the wildfire and Morgan’s illness and death. Judgment and clear-sightedness had fallen away. As for Bacchus, taking him to the vet was probably the worst thing I could have done. Already suffering from the effects of physiological stress because of our move, he found himself suddenly moved again, but this time abandoned in a strange vet’s kennel, with neither his human nor his sister for comfort. Suddenly his life had gotten much worse.

Bacchus stayed overnight at the clinic, but by midmorning the next day he had produced no urine sample, so the vet used a needle to draw urine from his bladder. It hurt, and Bacchus vomited. Concerned that shock was a possibility, the vet hydrated him, analyzed the urine, and sent him back home with some antibiotics. At 2 AM Bacchus began to stagger and vomit. He was going into shock.

Shock is a sudden and drastic drop in blood pressure that is usually fatal if not reversed quickly. It is commonly caused by an extreme reaction to threatening stimuli, great blood loss, or pain—any of which will have greater impact if the animal is already dehydrated. Immediate intravenous fluids are the only effective treatment for a cat in shock, so I rushed Bacchus to an emergency clinic twenty miles away. He barely made it, but they saved his life.

If I had responded to Bacchus’ symptoms with a little thought and research instead of recycled panic, I could have taken special care to be sure he drank enough water and watched him closely for a couple of days. Perhaps he never had an infection—just inflammation. By taking him to the vet, I subjected him to greatly increased stress and dehydration, and when the vet drew urine, Bacchus was frightened by the pain. I might as well have been setting him up to go into shock.

Cat’s Nightmare, C.L. Francisco
Cat’s Nightmare, C.L. Francisco

The odd thing about the whole situation is that neither Bacchus nor I engaged with actual events. Bacchus responded to threat where there was only sudden change, and I was running on fear laid down by a similar trauma in my past. In a sense we were both sleepwalking, moving through self-created dreamspace.

My emotional overreaction to Bacchus’ stress probably added to his difficulties. A cat’s human is rather like a parent, and the cat looks to his human to assess danger and alert him to its presence. My alarm at Bacchus’ health issues and my ongoing anxiety over his well-being undoubtedly communicated their message to him: “Be afraid! Be very afraid!” And his stress increased.

Sad cat in cage, by Giordano
Sad cat in cage, by Giordano

I suspect the vet realized that if the feedback loop of Bacchus’ stress response couldn’t be interrupted, Bacchus would not recover. So after hydrating him for 36 hours he told me to come get him and take him home. When I approached the cage, Bacchus was lying in the back corner, looking much like he looked when he went into shock: almost dead. I knelt down and called his name, and he growled and hissed without even opening his eyes. I unlatched the cage door and called him again, and his eyes flew open as if he really heard me that time. But when I reached in and picked him up, he snarled and spat and tried to scratch me. At last, as I pulled him out and held him close, he relaxed and began to burrow into my neck.

Bacchus
Bacchus

I recognized the pattern and felt sudden shame. By permitting old trauma to derail me from the reality of the present, I had opened a door for Bacchus to do the same. Now we were both sleeping the troubled sleep of past pain reliving itself in the present. Did he hear someone call his name? Terror. Was someone picking him up? Pain soon to come. He was snared by a shock different from what nearly killed him—he was suffering from incipient post-traumatic shock.

Each day after he came home he grew a little stronger. Kitty water bowls bloomed throughout the house, tempting him to drink. He started eating and drinking, and soon he even romped a bit. I worked relentlessly at monitoring and releasing my own anxiety. Now, more than 5 years later, he still flinches at any sudden noise or movement, but otherwise he’s my warm, loveable friend.

Miner’s Canary
Miner’s Canary

Bacchus granted me a rare inside look at the damage we inflict on ourselves and others when the landscape around us is transformed by our own emotions.  The animals who share our space mirror more than our care and grooming. They are individuals with interwoven multilevel awareness like ours. But unlike our human relations, they suffer in silence, never accusing us, allowing us to see how we hurt them without triggering our defensiveness and self-justification.

If we let ourselves see them clearly, they can be our counselors, even our guides. But too often they are only our miners’ canaries, dying in vain to warn us of inner toxins we have ignored until escape is impossible.

Bacchus Today
Bacchus Today

Thanks to the One, it wasn’t too late for Bacchus or for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Painted Gospels

 

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In the days before Yeshua’s Cat was written, before the wildfire scorched our land, I was exploring the changes that had carried humanity forward in time from the old Earth-based cultures of the Stone Age, through the violent upheavals of the late Bronze Age, and into the time of the Roman Empire. The planned lectures and workshops vanished in the wildfire’s smoke, but something else emerged. I realized that without the art of these ancient peoples we would understand almost nothing about them. So where was the art of the early church? How had my education in early Christian history managed to focus so entirely on words? As a result, I turned to the internet and the local university library and began to search for the visual language of the early Church. (In case you’d like to explore on your own, Picturing the Bible by Jeffrey Spier is a good place to start.)

Wiki_Jesus-NuntiatellaCatacombs
Painted bust of Jesus, Nunziatella Catacombs

For much of the mid-20th century, common wisdom dismissed the “search for the historical Jesus” as a groundless hope, a fantasy for the unrealistic.  But although we may never see a portrait of the flesh and blood man Jesus, the search has proved far from “groundless”: in our time the Earth herself has been yielding up the voices and visions of Jesus’ earliest followers with increasing frequency.

1st C walls under San Clemente, photo Marc Aurel
1st C walls under San Clemente, photo Marc Aurel

Anyone who visits Rome today steps into a buzzing archaeological hive. This in itself isn’t so strange; after all, many of Rome’s greatest attractions were literally unearthed from its ancient past. What fascinates me is how these ruins emerge. They aren’t turned up by a farmer’s plow, or weathered out of an eroding riverbank, but excavated from beneath the city’s basements. Apparently, Rome buried itself. And the same can be said of Jerusalem, or almost any other Mediterranean capital.* In Rome, for example, the twelfth-century Basilica of San Clemente that still stands today used the walls of the fourth-century San Clemente as foundations.  This earlier church rose on top of a first-century mansion.  Stairs of ever-increasing age, exposed in recent excavations, descend from the sunlit world down through the virtually intact fourth-century church and into the bowels of ancient Rome.  There visitors can walk along a first-century Roman alleyway and explore a now-subterranean apartment building adjacent to the walls of the mansion used as an early Christian meeting place.  And under it all lies the rubble of Rome’s great fire of 64 CE.

Santa Maria Antigua, Rome
Santa Maria Antigua, Rome

Canyons carved into the human past are literally opening at our feet along the Roman streets.  We can almost believe we hear the slap of sandaled feet two thousand years dead. Anything seems possible. The past walks with us in ways we never imagined. Beneath the many strata of Roman civilization lies tuff, or hardened volcanic ash. Tuff is relatively soft until exposed to air, and is ideal for tunneling.  This Roman bedrock made possible the creation of the lowest levels of all Roman ruins, the catacombs.  As long as sufficient structural support was left in place, there was almost no limit to the number and extent of these labyrinthine burial chambers.

 

Catacombs of St. Callisto
Catacombs of St. Callisto

Although the most famous are Christian, catacombs existed before the early church period, and provided burial space well into the Common Era for those of many different religions.  Their painted burial chambers offer us some of the earliest glimpses into the faith of Christian believers, perhaps even back to the middle of the first century.

Vatican Necropolis, 3rd C. CE
Vatican Necropolis, 3rd C. CE

Visual art as a way of communicating our experience of the world is always personal, and far more powerful than words.  Art strikes human depths directly.  When a person chooses images to express the soul’s deepest yearnings in the face of death, non-essentials fall away.  The heart chooses whatever makes life livable, hope possible.  When we look at funerary art, we meet human beings as they turn their faces toward the mystery of life moving into death.  This mystery is what we find in the catacombs.

Jesus raising Lazarus, Via Latina catacombs
Jesus raising Lazarus, Via Latina catacombs
NikeHerc
Winged Victory and Hercules

So why are these earliest of Christian testimonies so little known?  Why have these painted gospels made so little impact on how Christians understand their faith today? Perhaps it is because our own worldviews get in the way.  So an American tourist in Rome snaps a photo of Nike (Winged Victory), and calls her a Christian angel.  Another sees a faded catacomb painting of Hercules with the three-headed dog Cerberus and identifies him as the Good Shepherd (with peculiar sheep).  We see what we expect to see,  squeezing everything into familiar molds. Or perhaps most people just haven’t had the chance yet to truly experience these painted gospels for themselves.

 

Early Christians chose dramatic images of Jesus and the Old Testament when they painted their tombs. Those appearing most frequently in the 3rd century and earlier are below:.

Jesus the Good Shepherd, who cared unceasingly for his flock:

Early catacomb images of the Good Shepherd
Early catacomb images of the Good Shepherd

Jesus the miracle-worker, who healed the sick, raised the dead, and controlled the elements:

Early catacomb images of Jesus performing miracles
Early catacomb images of Jesus performing miracles

Jesus the wise teacher:

Early catacomb images of Jesus teaching
Early catacomb images of Jesus teaching

Jonah’s sojourn in and emergence from the fish’s belly:

Early catacomb images and tomb carvings of Jonah
Early catacomb images and tomb carvings of Jonah

Daniel’s deliverance from the lions:

Early catacomb images of Daniel in lion’s den
Early catacomb images of Daniel in lion’s den

The three young men protected from the fiery furnace:

Early catacomb images of three men in fiery furnace
Early catacomb images of three men in fiery furnace

Early Christians also painted images of themselves on tomb walls, using two motifs more often than others:  women and men with arms raised in prayer and praise; and small groups of Christians gathered around shared ritual meals.

Early catacomb images of Christians gathered together
Early catacomb images of Christians gathered together

The paintings in the house church at Dura Europos in Syria (dating from about 230-250 CE) are the only Christian images of similar age that have been discovered. The paintings there depict the good shepherd, Jesus’ miracles, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the women at the tomb, as well as Old Testament scenes. Also like the catacombs, they portrayed contemporary believers in positions of praise (orants).

No crucifixes, no suffering martyrs, no images of sacrifice appeared in the early years.  These came at least 500 years later, with the developing doctrines of the church.

But what does all this have to do with people like us, living two thousand years later?  What impact might it have?  Let me paint you a picture with words.

Jesus, Nunziatella catacomb
Jesus, Nunziatella catacomb

The Christian faith whispering from the dark walls of the catacombs shows us a young man of their own culture–robed, beardless, often holding a wand in his hand–reaching out with compassion and power to touch and heal the human pain around him. He stops the flow of menstrual blood that has made a woman ritually unclean for years. He commands death to release the dead Lazarus, and death yields to him. He sits as a teacher in a circle of disciples, speaking words of life. A strong man with bare legs, he stands among a flock of sheep, carrying a lamb across his shoulders. He betrays no weariness or impatience, only watchful care.

The faith pictured here is in a loving, powerful, and wise man sent from God to point the way and guide his people. They relied on his healing power, his love, and his commitment to their well-being. His God-given power was stronger than death, stronger than the destructive powers of nature, and stronger than human malice.

Early catacomb image of women serving a meal
Early catacomb image of women serving a meal

The believers in these painted gospels were neither theologically complex nor concerned with church structure. Women appeared in positions of leadership as often as did men. No canon of scripture had yet been established, although Paul’s letters were circulating among believers by the 50’s–when there were already growing Christian communities in Rome. Church hierarchy was only a spreading shadow on the horizon, and authority was fluid. What we now consider to be the four gospels were written between 70 and 100 CE, and did not become authoritative until much later. Communities of Christians followed their own personal experience and oral traditions, and suffered at the whim of Roman emperors.

By the third and fourth centuries, the increasingly hierarchical church forcibly silenced dissenting voices. Orthodoxy narrowed to a fine line. A few men concentrated all the power in their own hands. Congregations became sheep in ways they had never anticipated in the early years, and their shepherds were not always good. Too often fear, shame, and guilt discouraged the sheep from straying. Bloody sacrifice–Jesus’ own, and that of the martyrs–became a cornerstone of church doctrine where it had never been before. Bishops formulated creeds, damning those who did not confess Jesus in precisely their words–along with all followers of other faiths. The groundwork was laid for the Crusades and the Inquisition.

The Pains of Hell, 1100 CE
The Pains of Hell, 1100 CE

Like the Romans buried Rome, the church buried itself. But unlike Rome, what the church buried they rarely considered fit to use for new foundations. Whether these developments, and those that have followed in the centuries since, have anything at all to do with the message of Jesus of Nazareth is a question more and more people are asking today. In the end each of us may need to dig through the rubble of time and consciousness to find our own buried treasure. But one thing seems clear:  the treasure is there. Perhaps our perceptions are at fault.

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Wealthy Jerusalem home of the Herodian period
Wealthy Jerusalem home of the Herodian period

* The Wohl Museum of Archaeology in Jerusalem has excavated similar subterranean houses of the Herodian period from the hillside overlooking the Temple Mount.  Although currently the museum has no website of its own, many pictures of their discoveries are available online . . . .

 

 

 

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The Wildfire that Birthed Yeshua’s Cat

A number of people have asked me to share more about the wildfire that resulted in the death of the young cat whose memory lies behind Mari in The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat. This is the story of that wildfire.

CatBarSing

Killing drought followed years of plentiful rainfall. Temperatures spiked into the 100’s and refused to drop. Creeks ran low. The odor of pine resin hung heavy in the air. A dry lightning strike—and a rancher who didn’t take it seriously enough—provided the critical mass, and two weeks later wildfire had consumed 40,000 acres of forest, pastures, and homes.

FireCloudSB2We dismissed the first smoke rising behind the buttes as nothing more than a wayward cloud, never imagining that the storm building there would explode into a holocaust. The days that followed dragged by in anxious succession. Winds dropped, and then blew up again out of nowhere. The fire turned back on itself, only to gather strength and roar off in another direction. Waves of rumor obliterated facts.

 

One night we drove out to watch the fire’s progress from a nearby ridge. News pictures of fire-lit nightscapes are commonplace now, but for us 8 years ago the scene was nothing less than apocalyptic. Small refugee animals fleeing the fire choked the dirt roads as we steered a path among them.  I remember the porcupines best, humping their way in unseemly haste through the sullen light. Lines of flame spreading across the black ridges looked like flowing lava. The images presented themselves to our visual processors as nonsense, unreadable data. Nothing in our lives had prepared us for this.

PineRidgeNight4

First we evacuated the horses, just in case. We found carriers for the dogs and cats and set them by the doors. When the call came, we were as ready as we could have been, but we had room for little but the animals, basic clothing, toiletries, and our computers. Then for a week of endless days we waited in a small motel on a busy highway 30 miles away.

IMG_3972 Dark ravine rootsWhy our home didn’t burn will always remain a mystery. The firefighters abandoned their efforts in the face of high winds and encircling fire. We were advised to expect a total loss. But in the end, the flames stopped as if by divine fiat all along the wire pasture fences that enclosed our buildings. Sap melted out of the old redwood paneling in my house from the heat, but only the land burned—the land and something deep in the flesh of my small black cat.

 

Morgan, cat of quiet pine groves that she was, probably hadn’t ever been in any building other than my house, and certainly never a motel on a busy highway. For a week she hardly came out from under the bed. No matter what I tried, she refused to eat, and she probably didn’t drink. By the time we returned to the still-smoldering ruins of our forest, she had a urinary infection. No medication touched it, and she grew steadily weaker, until at last the vet tested her for feline leukemia. The results were positive: she’d probably been born with it. All options vanished. The vet’s theory, and a sound one from what I’ve heard, was that the physical stress of her changed environment roused the sleeping disease into burning life. She might have stood a better chance if I’d left her behind to survive the wildfire on her own.

Within two months of the fire, Morgan was dead. I buried her in the charred grove where we had planned to build a small chapel. Beneath boughs once sweet with resin, in smoke-filled light and brittle shade, I laid her under the endless sky. And I grieved.

DoorwayIntoForeverSm2
Morgan in her last week with friend Toby (Photoshop design, “Doorway Into Forever”)

Burnt trees FP2But the grief had really begun when the vet first placed the figurative black cloth on his head and passed sentence of death. A dead forest surrounded me. My gentle cat was fading away in my arms. Eventually I gathered courage and resumed my walks beneath beloved trees, now wasted skeletons streaked with amber tears.

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I remember shutting my heart against the echoes of pain that surely must lie in ambush along those charcoaled aisles. But as weeks passed, only woodland stillness reigned. Blowing ash darkened the sun—smoke without fire, forest lives airborne—but already the forest’s heart was turning to the east. Life was emerging from death.

 

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Blasted meadows were greening. Tenacious pines, seared but stubborn, drank deep to gather strength for life. Fire-crimsoned cones dropped seed. Seedlings broke the fragile soil. *

 

 

 

I found comfort in the cycle of life, and even in death..

 

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Somehow over the next five years, Morgan’s death, questions about the Creator’s on-going involvement in non-human nature, the timing of Jesus’ coming in human history, and the redemption of the suffering Earth—all came together into the creation of Yeshua’s Cat. The spiritual doubts that had plagued my heart for years ripened and bore sweet fruit.

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I’ll continue the story of this journey in a few weeks. Come back soon!

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* To read about the devastating effects of salvage logging on the recovery of burned forests, click here.

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The Decapolis

What exactly was the Decapolis? It was mentioned twice in Mark’s gospel and once in Matthew’s, but described only as a region near Galilee where Jesus’ fame spread. In The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, Yeshua and Mari spend considerable time in the Decapolis among the Greco-Roman peoples there.

Decapolis meant literally “ten cities” in Greek, and referred to a loosely knit group of ancient cities in what is now Israel, Jordan, and Syria. No one can say for sure which cities were included in the ten–or even if there were exactly ten–since their relationship was never formalized in Greek or Roman law. As best we know, they were independent cities, each established as a polis, or city-state, with its own local sphere of influence. They supported each other because of their common ties of culture, similar economic interests, and commitment to the Greek, and later, Roman, empires. With the construction  of Roman roads they became even more closely interconnected: outposts of the Roman Empire on its furthest eastern edges,  islands of Greco-Roman speech and culture, determinedly set apart from the Aramaean, Nabataean, and Jewish populations all around them.

The Decapolis
The Decapolis

The red dots on the map above mark the eight cities closest to Galilee that were probably included in the Decapolis in the early 1st C. CE. The cities connected by red lines are the ones Yeshua visited in The Gospel According to Yeshua’s Cat, although (except for Scythopolis) they aren’t identified by name in the book. In the paragraphs below, cities where specific events in Yeshua’s Cat took place are identified by small cat silhouettes:

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_AntiochusIVEpiphanes
Antiochus Epiphanes

Greek influence in Syria was strongest between the time of Alexander the Great and the reign of the Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whose rule ended a century before the Roman conquest in 63 BCE. Most of the Decapolis cities were founded during this period.

When Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple and forbade the observance of the Jewish religion, Israel revolted, led by Mattathias the

Judas Maccabeus, Acre Synagogue, photo Dr. Avishai Teicher
Judas Maccabeus, Acre Synagogue, photo Dr. Avishai Teicher

Hasmonean and his five sons, later known as the Maccabees. They overwhelmed the Seleucids and forced them to concede Israel’s limited independence, thus founding the Hasmonaean dynasty, which ruled in Israel until after the Roman conquest. Once the Greeks were defeated in Israel, the Hasmonaeans turned their eyes to the walled cities of Trans-Jordan, and conquered most of the Decapolis by the beginning of the 1st C BCE.

Ancient Roman statue of Pompey the Great
Ancient Roman statue of Pompey the Great

After annexing the Decapolis, the Hasmonaeans forced Judaism and circumcision on the predominantly gentile population of Hippos, exiled the gentiles from Scythopolis, and burned Pella to the ground after it refused to accept the Jewish religion. Circumcision was a point of irreconcilable conflict between Greeks and Jews. For the Jews it was the essential mark of the male believer in the One God; for Greeks it was a desecration of the divinely formed human body.

Hard feelings between the people of Israel and the Decapolis during the time of Jesus had roots both in the Seleucid oppression of Israel and the years of warfare under the Hasmonaeans. Each side had known cruelty and suffering. When Pompey claimed the Decapolis for Rome in 63 BCE, the gentile population greeted him as a liberator, and killed many Jewish residents in revenge for Hasmonaean cruelty. Once the Romans established themselves in the Decapolis, a period of extensive rebuilding began, lasting into the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE. As a result, little remains of the original Greek cities.

 

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Hippos looking west across Sea of Galilee

BlogCatStampHIPPOS sat on a high ridge overlooking the eastern side of Sea of Galilee, surrounded on all sides by steep inclines and high fortifications. One thin shoulder of rock approached the main gate on the east, where a fortified road connected the city to the eastern hills as well as indirectly to the sea. Of all the Decapolis cities, Hippos is said to have harbored the greatest antagonism toward Israel for her part in the Hasmonaean wars.

BlogCatStampAs you read of the blind man Yeshua healed outside the gates of the first Decapolis city he visited, you can imagine that long ridge by which travelers still approach the gates of Hippos.

 

 

View of the eastern approach to Hippos
View of the eastern approach to Hippos

BlogCatStamp_Gadara13GADARA, like Hippos, was built on a long ridge with steeply sloping sides. Unlike the other Decapolis cities, Gadara developed an international reputation for philosophy, art, and literature. Pilgrims to the hot springs located below the city also contributed to its cosmopolitan atmosphere. Some scholars believe that the story of the demoniac among the tombs was set in its general locale.

BlogCatStampYeshua’s debate with the young philosopher took place in a wealthy home in Gadara.

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Gadara’s theatre, photo by Berthold Werner
Abila, photo by APAAME
Abila, photo by APAAME

ABILA is still little more than an excavation in process, with only tantalizing possibilities visible to the visitor. But the area awaiting excavation is immense. The ruins extend across two tells, and appear to include structures going back as far as 4000 BCE.

 

 

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Gerasa Cardo, photo by Bgabel
Gerasa Cardo, photo by Bgabel

GERASA, or JARASH, was a strong walled city, but stood in a river valley rather than on a hill. Most of the surviving structures date back to a massive Roman building program begun in the 1st C CE. The Cardo, or main thoroughfare, is one of oldest structures, running east-west through the city, with the marketplace on its west side.

 

Below are the remains of the market, or macellum, where Yeshua’s parable of the prodigal son brought a tide of change to the people of the Decapolis. This was also the market where Mari trapped Maryam into speaking with Yeshua.

The Macellum at Jarash, photo by APAAME
The Macellum at Jarash, photo by APAAME

PELLA, of all the ancient cities of the Decapolis, has left the greatest mystery behind. Almost no ruins from the Roman period have survived. Located in the hills on the east side of the Jordan Valley, on a major Roman road, Pella lay in an area with fertile soil and plentiful water, where towns had stood almost continuously from Neolithic times. After Alexander Jannaeus sacked and leveled the city in 82 BCE, it was entirely rebuilt by the Romans. Archaeologists have suggested that after the great earthquake of 526, the inhabitants of Pella might have recycled the rubble of Roman buildings to rebuild the city.

Site of ancient Pella looking toward the Jordan River
Site of ancient Pella looking toward the Jordan River

BlogCatStampSCYTHOPOLIS, or BEIT SHE’AN, is the only one of the Decapolis cities located on the western side of the Sea of Galilee. These ruins have been extensively excavated, revealing almost continuous occupation from the earliest times, although the city’s significance fluctuated with intermittent wars and violent conquest. The Seleucids founded Scythopolis in the 3rd C BCE on the ruins  of the ancient city of Beit She’an, destroyed during the Assyrian sack of Israel. During the Hasmonaean wars much of the Greek polis was destroyed. Once the Romans took over, Scythopolis was named the capital of the Decapolis, and a massive urban building program began, which continued through the next 2-300 years. The steep hill, or tell, which rises to the north of today’s excavated Roman city, covers the remains of the biblical Beit She’an, as well as Seleucid and early Roman ruins. Most of the monumental Roman buildings were completed during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE on the flat land to the south and east of the tell, leaving little evidence of the city’s appearance during the time of Jesus, although the main layout of the streets may have been similar.

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Temples were built on the tell at various times during Greek and Roman occupation, perhaps partly because of Scythopolis’ fame as  a major center for the worship of Dionysos. Legends of the time located the tomb of his nurse Nysa at Scythopolis.

BlogCatStampBecause of the city’s connection to the Greco-Roman dying and rising agricultural god, in Yeshua’s Cat the procession of Tammuz’ devotees witnessed by Mari, Yeshua, and the disciples took place in Scythopolis. The tell was the hill the mourning women climbed by torchlight.

Excavations on the tell at Beit She’an
Excavations on the tell at Beit She’an

 

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Watching for the Return of the Light

My sister-in-law Wendy Francisco (who did the art for Yeshua’s Cat’s front cover) has insisted that I would find myself adding new pages to the Cat from time to time, and I have equally firmly replied that I never would. Well, Wendy won. Over the last two or three weeks that unmistakable nudge (much like a cat butting her head against your chest) has been growing more insistent.

And, Donna West, it was your kind comment on my post about the cat who inspired the book that pushed the nudge into actual words, drawing me out of the busy-ness of publishing concerns and back into Mari’s world.

So, I wish each of you a blessed Christmas, and as a gift from Mari to you, here are a few new words from her, never published before–perhaps for some later edition.

For those of you who have the paperback edition, this would be inserted at the top of page 124, just after “. . . filled with laughter.”  For those of you with the Kindle edition, it’s in Chapter 15, Magdala, just after Mari muses about the nature of the festival of lights, and before Yeshua starts speaking on the last night of the feast.

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NightSkyXmas7b

One night after everyone had gone to bed I finally asked him. “Are your people celebrating the return of the sun’s warmth when they celebrate their festival of lights, son of Earth?”

“Yes and no, little mother,” he replied, turning his head and smiling as he opened his eyes. “We measure the years by the seasons of the moon, not by the sun’s path, so none of our holy days takes note of the sun’s movement, not even this one. No, this week we rejoice in events almost 200 years past, when a great man named Judas Maccabeus cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem from the pollution of a pagan altar put there by foreign conquerors. Our many lamps call us to remember that the One’s light can dispel even the deepest darkness.”

He rose to his feet and reached out his arm in invitation, so I leapt to his shoulder, wrapping my tail around his neck. Together we walked out under the winter sky and stood on the hill, watching the stars touch the great sea with their cold fire.

“Yet, little leopard,” he continued as if he had never paused, “you are right when you wonder if we are also welcoming the sun’s return. Just as stars grow brighter in the long nights, each light that burns in winter’s darkness whispers of that hope. Together with all Earth’s children, our hearts grow full when we see the sun begin its long journey back to the heights of heaven. This too reminds us of the One’s faithfulness.”

I curled around his neck more closely to dispel the night’s chill, but I said nothing. I only purred with pleasure at his closeness. I sensed that words still lay unspoken in his heart.

“Sweet Mari, my mother told me that I was born on a night like this, when the stars danced in a black sky, and the breath of humans and beasts alike clouded vision with their brief mist. Joy filled the night and sang in the heavens at the wonder of my coming into the world. All things were made new under that sky, she said.”

I rubbed my whiskers against his cheek, and he continued.

“I can almost hear the heavens singing on such nights. The One’s face shimmers behind the host of stars like a distant oasis in the heat of a desert’s summer day. And yet the chill of a winter night and the searing heat of the desert’s noon both lie quiet in the hollow of his hand.

“As do you and I.”

 

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The First “Christmas” Art

 

Catacomb of St Callisto, Rome. Photo by Jim Forest
Catacomb of St Callisto, Rome. Photo by Jim Forest

Did you know that most of the very early “Christmas” art that has survived into the present is in the catacombs around Rome?

 

 

 

The Annunciation, Catacomb of Priscilla, 2nd C CE
The Annunciation, Catacomb of Priscilla, 2nd C CE

 

Perhaps the earliest known Christian painting is a simple 2nd century portrayal of the Annunciation, on the dome of a tomb in the Catacomb of Priscilla. But dating wall paintings is an inexact science at times, and many believe the paintings at Dura Europos to be earlier.

 

 

Virgin and Child with Balaam, Catacomb of Priscilla, 3rd C CE
Virgin and Child with Balaam, Catacomb of Priscilla, 3rd C CE

 

A painting of the Madonna and Child in the same catacomb complex has been dated to the late 3rd century. These paintings were done in the popular Roman style of the time.

Much of what remains of early Christian art has been discovered in these catacombs, which were used primarily from the 2nd through the 8th centuries CE. They were closed in the 9th century, mainly because of repetitive destruction by invading Goths and Lombards.

 

 

Crosses were not common among the earliest symbols. Instead, the Chi Rho, Good Shepherd, fish, anchors, alpha and omega, and praying figures known as “orants” were typically used to decorate tombs. The Good Shepherd in particular was also a common symbol for pagan Roman burials.

The Magi before Herod, 431, Santa Maria Maggiore
The Magi before Herod, 431, Santa Maria Maggiore

Not until after 313, when the Edict of Milan made the practice of Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire, did Christian art become more public, and eventually, more complex. The Magi with their gifts was a favorite theme in the 4th and 5th centuries, as was the Annunciation, the angels singing praises, and the Virgin and Child; however, Mary was most often portrayed solemnly, seated on a throne with the child in her lap.

There has  been some discussion about whether the arrow-like symbols in the painting below of Jesus with Peter and Paul might also be angels.

After the first millennium artists began to “humanize” the nativity, adding details to the scene and softening Mary’s appearance. Finally, by the 1300’s the classical paintings we’re familiar with today began to emerge.

Interestingly enough, the first portrayal of Jesus on the cross didn’t appear until sometime between the 6th and 8th centuries.

 

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Thanksgiving and Sukkot

ThanksgivingCatGreetings

Thanksgiving’s closest parallel in Israel’s year is the Festival of Sukkot, or Booths/Tabernacles, one of the three great Jerusalem pilgrimage festivals. Because of Israel’s lunar calendar, Sukkot, like Passover, falls on different days and even different months each year in our solar calendar, but generally it comes in mid-October.

In the story of Yeshua’s Cat, Sukkot is the time Yeshua and his disciples spend at Bethany, when Lazarus attacks Mari, and Mary of Magdala is healed.

CatBarSingSm

 

van Gogh, Olive Orchard
van Gogh, Olive Orchard

Sukkot has its roots in Israel’s celebration of the harvest, when they gathered in the fruit of their labors from the fields and vineyards, and celebrated the beginning of the rainy season.

 

 

 

Ficus_carica_FigsRipeningThroughout the week, four species of plants were ceremonially waved (citron fruit, the closed frond of a date palm, and leafy boughs of the myrtle and willow trees) in recognition of the green trees of the land. Wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates represented their harvested crops. Above all, the week was a time of rejoicing, and of remembering God’s care for Israel during the years of her wandering in the wilderness and living in tents, or booths.

 

sukkotBefore the first and holiest day of Sukkot, which came five days after Yom Kippur, each family built a small booth, where they lived together during the festival.

 

 

 

Illumination of the Temple
Illumination of the Temple

On the day itself, sacrifices of animals and grain began and continued throughout the week. The Illumination of the Temple came at the end of the first day, when four seventy-five-foot candelabras were lit in the Women’s Court of the Temple to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had guided them in the wilderness. Dancing and rejoicing continued through that night, and the whole city was lit by the brilliance of the lamps.

 

The Pouring of the Water was observed each morning when a priest drew water from the pool of Siloam and poured it on the great altar, as both prayer and thanks for the coming of the rains. Each evening the devout men of Israel gathered at the pool to dance and rejoice with music and torches.

Pool of Siloam
Pool of Siloam

Not only did Sukkot celebrate the gathering in of the crops before the heavy rains and the memory of Israel’s wilderness journey, but also the beginning of the New Year, when the past year’s mistakes had been wiped away, and all the world was new.

 

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Egyptian Mau Cats: Mari’s Family

What are Egyptian Mau cats? I guess there are a good many people out there who know as little about the Mau as I did before I did a little digging, so I’ll offer a brief history (apart from the fact that these are the cats from whom Mari is descended).

 

EgyptCatHieroglyph

Cat sarcophagus, early 14th C BCE, photo Lazaroni
Cat sarcophagus, early 14th C BCE, photo Lazaroni

“Mau” is the Middle Egyptian word miw  for “cat,” or “one who mews” (coming into use somewhere in the period from 2000 – 1300 BCE)–a great example of onomatopoeia in human language development. At the left is the hieroglyph “miw,” according to Alan Henderson Gardiner’s sign list. The Egyptian Mau appears in numerous papyri, tomb paintings, and carvings from about 2000 BCE onward, including the sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s cat (right). Thutmose was Akhenaten’s elder brother, who died before ascending the throne.

 

Felis sylvestris lybica
Felis sylvestris lybica
Tomb of Nebamun, Thebes, 1350 BCE
Tomb of Nebamun, Thebes, 1350 BCE
Felis chaus, photo Eyal Bartov
Felis chaus, photo Eyal Bartov

Most scholars agree that the Mau is descended from the African wildcat common to north Africa (felis sylvestris lybica) and the Egyptian jungle cat (felis chaus nilotica). But these wildcats as we know them are not spotted like the Egyptian Mau. It’s hard to say when the early Egyptian Mau replaced its body stripes with spots. As late as 1350 BCE, the Tomb of Nebamun depicted a striped tabby cat helping Nebamun hunt birds. But we do know from the evidence of thousands of cat mummies that today’s spotted Mau were common before the Common Era.

Ra and Apophis, Papyrus of Hunefer, 1300 BCE
Ra and Apophis, Papyrus of Hunefer, 1300 BCE

Somewhere around 1500 BCE the sun god Ra took on the characteristics of a spotted male cat and, according to the myths of the time, journeyed to the underworld every night, where he killed the snake demon Apophis, who nightly tried to prevent the sun’s rising.

 

 

 

Hathor, temple of Bubastis, photo Nicholson-CR
Hathor, temple of Bubastis, photo Nicholson-CR
Bastet, Louvre, photo Mbzt
Bastet, Louvre, photo Mbzt

Bast was a cat/lion goddess who served as protector and defender of the Pharaoh and later of the sun god Ra in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. She was eventually eclipsed by the goddess Sekhmet, also a warlike lion goddess. The changes in Bast’s significance, title, and even name were complex and confusing, all morphing as dynasties changed and regional beliefs merged over time. Near the beginning of the first millennium BCE she became known as Bastet, and was identified almost solely with the Egyptian domestic cat. She retained her protective role, influenced by the domestic cat’s skill in dealing with cobras and rodents, and also became associated with fertility and motherhood. Bubastis , or Pe-Bast, was established as the temple center of the cat goddess’s worship early in the 1st millenium BCE. The temple was famous for its beauty, although its significance declined after the Persian conquest of Egypt in 525 BCE. Worship of Bastet was finally outlawed  in 390 CE, after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Bronze Cat, ca 500 BCE, photo Glenn Ashton
Bronze Cat, ca 500 BCE, photo Glenn Ashton

During its most active years, the temple at Bubastis was renowned throughout the ancient world for the ecstatic revelry of its festivals, it oracle, and its innumerable domestic cats and cat mummies, many buried with grave goods for the afterlife (milk, mice, and other edibles). In fact, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 30:17) mentions the city of Bubastis, and by implication its temple to Bastet with its famous revels, when he makes his prophecies concerning the downfall of Egypt.

 

Egyptian Cat Mummy
Egyptian Cat Mummy
Egyptian Tomb Painting
Egyptian Tomb Painting
Domestic cat on carved stele, 1450 BCE
Domestic cat on carved stele, 1450 BCE

The reverence Egyptians felt for their cats is well documented. While cats themselves were not considered divine, they were sacred to the deities who adopted their appearance, and thus were due scrupulous respect and honor.

According to Herodotus (5th C BCE), families grieving for dead cats shaved their eyebrows as an expression of their grief. More curious is his description of the behavior of cats around fires. “When a fire occurs,” he said “the cats seem to be divinely possessed; for while the Egyptians stand at intervals and look after the cats, not taking any care to extinguish the fire, the cats slipping through or leaping over the men, jump into the fire; and when this happens, great mourning comes upon the Egyptians.” Perhaps Herodius was confused; surely cats can’t have changed that much in two thousand years.

Herodius’ account of a battle between Persians and Egyptians near Pelusium may be more accurate. According to Herodotus, the Persians had captured numerous cats before the battle and released them as battle was joined. Rather than risk harming the cats, the Egyptians surrendered. From their point of view, this was probably wise: unless you happened to be a servant of the goddess in the temple of Bastet, killing a cat was a crime punishable by death, not to mention whatever punishment the gods might inflict in the afterlife. Diodorus (1st C. BCE) describes a mob slaying a Roman soldier who accidentally killed a cat, in spite of the pharaoh’s pleas for mercy.

 

Cairo Cat, photo Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Cairo Cat, photo Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Sadly, in many of Egypt’s cities today, cats are considered pests, and are often abused, neglected and even slaughtered. The recent turmoil in Egypt has only aggravated their situation, adding many abandoned pets to the feral population, and killing uncounted animals in the streets. The Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) continues to fight an uphill battle for their protection.

 

For the most part, Egypt’s cats have retained their distinctive appearance through the centuries. Many are identical to the cats of ancient history–and to the breed standards of the Egyptian Mau among cat fanciers. After all, “Egyptian Mau” literally means  “Egyptian Cat.” DNA studies of cat mummies show very little difference between the ancient and modern Mau.  Cats like the one above could easily be Ptolemaic statues come to life. Modern breeders have even traveled to Egypt to acquire likely cats to expand the genetic pool of the pedigreed Mau.

For an excellent all around presentation of the breed known today as Egyptian Mau, take a look at http://www.isiska.co.uk/ , the website of Isiska Egyptian Maus.

 

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Mary Magdalene

 

“If the Savior considered her worthy, who are you to reject her?”  from The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, trans. Karen L. King

 

“Mary Magdalene,” by Piero di Cosimo
“Mary Magdalene,” by Piero di Cosimo

I guess quite a few church leaders over 2 millennia—including Peter, if Mary’s gospel is to be believed—felt comfortable doing just that. Both the Gospel of Mary of Magdala and Mary herself were very nearly buried for two thousand years. Of course she’s practically a cultural icon today, what with her rediscovered gospel, the Da Vinci Code, and even her own opera. If you haven’t kept up with all the brouhaha surrounding her contemporary rehabilitation, try the Smithsonian’s excellent overview, “Who Was Mary Magdalene?” online at   http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/who-was-mary-magdalene-119565482/.

 

It’s curious that although the gospels’ cast of characters reads like the credits for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (blink and you’ll miss the women) church fathers still conflated most of the few women mentioned into a composite Mary Magdalene. References to Mary Magdalene’s character in the original texts described her only as previously demon-possessed and a follower of Jesus, helping with his support.

Francesco_Hayez_006
Francesco Hayez , “Mary Magdalene as a Hermit”

As a result of the pronouncements of such men as Pope Gregory the Great, the two most important women in church tradition became the ever-virgin Mary and the Magdalene montage: a woman taken in adultery, demon possessed, and repenting of great sexual sins. In other words, the virgin and the whore: one of the most common and destructive stereotypes ever devised of women. I should mention that this conflation only happened in the Western, or Roman, church. What is now the Eastern Orthodox Church preserved the older, more balanced view of Mary Magdalene as the Apostle to the Apostles, and companion of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Who was Mary Magdalene really?

“Mary Magdalene,” Jose de Ribera
“Mary Magdalene,” Jose de Ribera

I’m staying out of the debate. It’s not my area, and Karen L. King is doing a commendable job of defending my general point of view. But I will say that the now-outdated descriptions of her as a woman with a profligate past should have been buried long before now.

Two major traditions developed around the question of how Mary Magdalene lived her life after the resurrection. According to one, she lived with Mary the mother of Jesus and John in Ephesus, where she eventually died and was buried. According to the other, she went with Lazarus to France, preaching and later living as a penitent hermit wearing only her own hair, and died and was buried there. This latter legend was by far the more popular in Western art, and is the inspiration for Mary Magdalene’s frequent portrayal with long hair and meditating on a skull—as well as the term “maudlin,” derived from “Magdalene” and referring to her constant weeping for her sins.

 

The evolving legends of Mary Magdalene wove themselves into a fascinating and bizarre bit of history. Among the more macabre elements were the acrimonious claims to what appear to be multiple sets of her earthly remains. Much of the bickering died down after the French Revolution, when many sites claiming to possess her relics were destroyed. Today, in addition to her possible burial places, relics reputed to be hers are still preserved, including a gold-encased skull, a piece of her tibia, a tooth, part of an arm, and a bit of a foot, to name only a few. And that doesn’t begin to account for the second and third class relics.

 

In case this is alien territory for you, I’ll explain. There are three classes of relics in the Roman Catholic Church: 1st class relics, items relating to Jesus (robe, cross, etc.) or actual bits of saints’ bodies; 2nd class relics, including items used or worn by saints; and 3rd class relics, items that have touched 1st or 2nd class relics. It’s a fascinating subject, spilling into Paul Koudounaris’ amazing newbook, Heavenly Bodies, which documents the discovery of the jeweled skeletons of the “catacomb saints.”

Mary of Magdala is the most important character in Yeshua’s Cat after Yeshua and Mari. And I’ll give you clue: she isn’t a prostitute or a penitent there. But she has always fascinated me in all her incarnations, as you can see below in my digital mosaic, which expresses my own grief over the church’s demonization of Mary.

My own expression of grief over church tradition’s warping of Mary Magdalene’s memory
My own expression of grief over church tradition’s warping of Mary Magdalene’s memory

 

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The Emergence of Yeshua’s Cat

Morgan
Morgan

How did the cat in Yeshua’s Cat come to be?

I’d like to say that Mari emerged fully grown from my brow, like Athena from the brow of Zeus, but it didn’t happen that way. She grew slowly as I wrote, born from  the personality of the small black cat under the fir tree in the photo, maturing and growing as the book grew, and I with it. She was the author of the book as much as I.

 

Ragdoll kittens
Ragdoll kittens

While I was writing Yeshua’s Cat, I was also lending a hand with my sister-in-law Wendy’s Ragdoll cattery. So not only did I have my three rescue cats dancing in and out of my thoughts and over my computer keys, but I also entertained rolling tides of soft-furred queens, kings,  princes and princesses, rising and tumbling over the threshold of my room with the rhythms of the day. (They’re gorgeous, by the way: Treasure Mountain Ragdolls).

 

 

Chami
Chami

And then there was Chami, the elegant Bengal queen who moved in with me for several weeks while she was between homes. Beautiful and sweet-tempered though she was, she left me feeling as if living with her was a bit like inviting a panther into my bed. I slept lightly in her presence. I suppose the movie Cat Woman deserves mention as well, disappointing as it was. It did send me googling off for more data on the Egyptian Mau. Before seeing the movie, I knew little more than rumors of the breed. Afterwards I was curious enough to want to discover how much of the movie’s hype had been based in fact.

 

Egyptian Mau, photo Liz West
Egyptian Mau, photo Liz West

What conclusions I drew about the relationships between the movie and the Mau I no longer remember, but I did stumble onto one amazing thing: the Egyptian Mau cats in the photos looked like the Mari in my mind. I had finished the book by the time I made this discovery, but that made no difference to the identification. Mari was darker than most Egyptian Mau, more like a black or smoke Mau, but her build, her markings, and her face were all theirs–not to mention her affectionate nature, her devotion to her human, her protectiveness, and her hunting skills. So her breed was established, at least in my mind.

 

Egyptian Bronze, ca 400BCE, photo KaDeWeGirl,Flickr
Egyptian Bronze, ca 400BCE, photo KaDeWeGirl,Flickr

Since Yeshua discovered Mari on the edges of the barren desert surrounding the Dead Sea, I decided that her feline family might have arrived in the area by way of the Nabataean caravans traveling up from Sinai. Or perhaps they were wandering strays from one of the Nabataean cities to the south, or even escapees from a passing camel train. The Nabataeans had originally been tent-dwelling desert shepherds and traders, a mysterious group related to the Bedouin who amassed great wealth over several centuries from their trading networks, and eventually settled down in desert cities. Rock-cut Petra is their most famous settlement, although they also built cities further west and south along the ancient spice routes.

 

Nabataean sculpture, Petra, photo Berthold Werner
Nabataean sculpture, Petra, photo Berthold Werner
Asian Wildcat indigenous to Israel, photo by Terry Whittaker
Asian Wildcat indigenous to Israel, photo by Terry Whittaker

As far as research can tell us, people of 1st C Israel did not keep pets–even dogs–although there was some limited cooperation between the two species. Perhaps the absence of pets was due to Israel’s  concern for ritual purity, particularly relating to the ritual uncleanness of scavengers and predators. In any case, their attitude toward animals seemed largely functional. The prophet Ezekiel singled out Bubastis, city of the temple of the cat goddess Bastet, as one of the cities upon which God would pour out his wrath (Ezek 30:17). His mention of this city suggests that the cat goddess was familiar to the people of Israel. She might even have inspired dislike of cats in general. Wealthy Greeks and Romans, however, frequently kept pets, ranging from snakes, monkeys, and fowl to their favorite pet, the dog. But outside of Egypt cats weren’t often accepted as companions until the Common Era.

 

Cats almost certainly lived on the fringes of Israelite society, even though they may not have been welcomed into people’s homes. By the 1st C C.E., cats had been semi-domesticated throughout the eastern Mediterranean area for several thousand years. Wherever grain was cultivated, rodent control was essential, and cats filled that ecological niche efficiently. They would have been a long-established part of Israel’s environment.

CatBarSing

For Yeshua to have kept company with a cat would certainly have been seen as aberrant behavior, even religiously questionable. But he had his own ways of dealing with such things.

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