Is There a Photo of Jesus?


Of course, I’m talking about the Shroud of Turin here—this “Catholic relic” appears to some to be the burial shroud of Jesus, and as such it seems made to order for Protestant scorn, and it is so startling that even the Vatican has been reluctant to display it over the centuries. But frankly, it’s been subjected to every kind of scientific test you can imagine over the last 45 years or so, and, despite occasional claims to the contrary, nobody has yet proved it a hoax. Personally, I am not a dogmatic supporter of the Shroud’s authenticity, but I find it intriguing, and I don’t believe that the Bible rules it out.

Enhanced photo of the Shroud of Turin.

There are a number of good (and quite a few bad) books on the subject, so I haven’t been tempted to take it up myself before now. I finally decided to write about it in response to a negative article on that I just ran across. I will describe the Shroud and its history below, discuss the forensic evidence in its favor, then propose a scenario for its authenticity that I think accurately accounts for the culture of Jesus’ day without breaking Scripture.

Description of the Shroud

The Shroud of Turin is a single, fire-damaged sheet of linen about 14 feet long and 3.5 feet wide (more precisely, 8 x 2 Royal Cubits, where the Royal, or Long, Cubit is 20.67 inches). On one face of the sheet is a faint image of the ventral and dorsal (front and back) sides of a dead, naked, adult male, lying flat and with hands covering groin. It appears that the cloth was laid flat, and a body laid on it with the feet close to one end. Then the other end of the cloth was folded in half lengthwise over the top of the head and down to cover the feet, staining the cloth with blood. The image, apparently that of a crucifixion victim, appeared on, or was applied to, the cloth at some time after the blood staining.

Contrary to this paining, the image is on the inside of the fold. Illustration from, “The Shroud of Turin: 7 Intriguing Facts”.

To the naked eye, the Shroud is a faint yellow monochrome, with the image appearing as a photographic negative. Enhanced photos of the Shroud are printed as photo negatives of the negative image that is on the cloth itself.

On top, the Shroud as photographed. On the bottom, a photonegative of the top image. From, UNA NAVE ESPACIAL LLAMADA TIERRA Capitulo XXXVIII Sindone 5

The intensity range of the image, rather than representing color as in a black and white photograph, records the varying distance between the draped cloth and the surface of the body.

3-dimensional cardboard carving of the head imaged on the Shroud, using relief data generated by a BK VP-8 Image Analyzer™. From National Geographic Magazine, June 1980.
The wounds, bloodstains and other marks on the Shroud of Turin,, “The Shroud of Turin: 2.4. The wounds”

In contrast to the human image, which is confined to an extremely thin layer on one side of the cloth, blood residue deposited on and within the weave of the cloth formed a fluid stain penetrating into the fibers. These stains are consistent with contact between the wounded body and the cloth, and between corresponding locations on the two lengthwise halves of the cloth.

I first learned about the Shroud when National Geographic published an article about it in their June 1980 issue. The thrust of that article was that a large team of American Scientists of various specialties, with lots of expensive equipment, had travelled to Turin, Italy, where the Shroud is kept, and done a lot of very intricate testing. They found a great deal of evidence supporting its validity, and none proving it a hoax. Nobody has ever been able to figure out how in the world it was made. The one hope of the research team was that a carbon 14 (C14) test would either prove it genuine or show that it is a recent forgery, but since the test sample is always destroyed during carbon dating, the church at that time would not let them damage the cloth to test it. By 1988, the Vatican did give permission to test a small sample, and the carbon test was finally done. With a big sigh of relief by doubters, the date obtained was 14th Century, AD. Case closed, right?

A murky provenance

Not so fast! The indisputable chain of custody only goes back to the 1350’s, more or less matching the carbon date, but there is also anecdotal evidence that it might have been around much longer.

Supposed travels of the Shroud. This is from a PowerPoint slide presented by The Shroud Center of Southern California. The appearance of the annotated dates were edited by me here for clarity.

Earlier provenance is based on sketchy data from sources that cannot be verified with certainty. Purportedly, a disciple of Jesus’ (not one of the 12) named Thaddaeus salvaged the cloth and took it to Edessa (the site now known as Urfa, Turkey). Edessa was Seleucid originally but became a Roman vassal city in the early 3rd Century. In the early 7th Century, it passed to Persian (Sassanian), and shortly thereafter, Muslim control.

Medieval legend holds that the Shroud remained in that city and was secreted behind a tile inside a city gate during parts of those years of conquest. The image on the cloth was mentioned in several apocryphal documents, and the cloth itself came to be called the Mandylion. That term is from a Greek word meaning a towel or tablecloth, and it referred to a loose military garment, open at the sides, that was draped over Medieval armor, more or less resembling a serape). In AD 943, the Byzantine Emperor (presumably Constantine VII) ransomed the Mandylion from the emir of Edessa and took it to Constantinople, where it was kept in the Blachernae Church. In AD 1204, it disappeared after Constantinople was sacked by Christian crusaders during the 4th Crusade. Legend holds that it was thereafter in the custody of the Knights Templar until the 1350’s, when it is known to have been exhibited a number of times in Lirey, France.

Pilgrim badge commemorating the so-called “Shroud of Lirey”. Drawn by Arthur Forgeais, 1865, from an original artifact. The heads of the two pilgrims are missing from the artifact.

Archaeological evidence is scant. The coin shown below is from the 7th Century and seems to me to tie the Mandylion to the Shroud of Turin fairly convincingly.

Byzantine coin, minted AD 692. The image stamped on this coin seems to me to be indisputably based on the Shroud image, unless somehow the Shroud was based on the coin!
The Sudarium of Oviedo

There is a funerary face cloth called the Sudarium of Oviedo that is believed by many to be the cloth mentioned in John 20:7 “also the cloth that had been around his head, lying not with the sheets but in a separate place and still folded up.” This is an ancient linen cloth with bloodstains, but no mysterious image. Documentation for this cloth goes back to at least the 7th Century, since it has remained in one place for all that time. According to,

A 1999 study by the Spanish Center for Sindonology, investigated the relationship between the two cloths. Based on history, forensic pathology, blood chemistry (both the Shroud and the Sudarium have type AB blood stains), and the blood stain patterns being exactly similar and congruent on both cloths, they concluded that the two cloths covered the same head at two distinct, but close moments of time.

If the Shroud is genuine, then I think it probable that the Sudarium is, as well, but that isn’t my subject here. What is germane to this discussion will be mentioned below.

The Sudarium should not be confused with another legendary cloth allegedly connected with the crucifixion, the Veil of Saint Veronica (Berenike).


Forensics—findings and objections

Carbon 14 dating is known to be very accurate, to within a predictable range, so the stories from before the 14th Century can’t be true, can they? Well, unfortunately, in this case there are a couple serious problems with the dating. One is that the Shroud has allegedly been exposed to centuries of contamination by extraneous carbon from multiple surroundings, making it virtually impossible to accurately calibrate the test. Another is that repairs have been made to the Shroud on at least two occasions. One was after it was damaged by molten silver during a fire in 1532, but the patches sewn on in that case were sufficiently clumsy that it was easy to avoid them. An earlier repair, though, was so skillfully patched, by expert interweaving of threads, that the newer linen of the patch was undetected until years after the 1988 carbon testing—and of course it turned out that it was apparently the fabric of that patch that was tested, not the original fabric which theoretically still could date to the 1st Century. Subsequent non-radiometric dating methods have reportedly raised the probability of an early origin.

The image on the cloth is not painted, nor is it dyed, or inked or otherwise applied. It has the appearance of the cloth itself being scorched, but not at high temperatures. Modern science cannot say with certainty how this scorching occurred, though some sort of radiation is probably the cause. Neutron radiation has been proposed, but since the image penetrates the cloth only to a very small percentage of its thickness, then anything more energetic than an alpha particle beam (Helium-4 nuclei) makes no sense to me.


The effects of various electromagnetic radiation types (light wavelengths less energetic than those on the chart) on textiles have been studied. From a layman’s point of view, I think that what makes the most sense is a pulse in the ultraviolet range, which is known to cause cellular damage to the surface layers in fabric. Shroud researcher John P. Jackson proposed that vertical exposure to UV as the Shroud collapsed into a vacuum after Jesus “dematerialized” beneath it, could account for the image, in all respects. I’m not qualified to critique his work other than to say, “It makes sense to me”, in a general fashion. To be clear, if He dematerialized, then He immediately rematerialized at some other location. Biblical precedent for this is seen in Philip’s departure from the Ethiopian road and materialization in Azotus , on the way to Antioch, and in Jesus’ appearance before “Doubting Thomas” after His resurrection.

The blood stains on the cloth have an unnatural appearance, particularly on the enhanced views, because they penetrate the weave and are not part of the “scorched” image. Furthermore, they fluoresce in views like the right pane of the following photo. is confused by these views, thinking that the blood is floating above the skin and hair, where it should be a crust or pool on the skin and should be beneath the outer layers of hair. In reality, what we see here is a contact transfer of blood to the cloth. Forensics show that the blood was on the cloth before the image was deposited. If this is Jesus’ authentic funeral shroud, then the blood on the cloth is from shortly after His death, when it was only partly coagulated. The image, on the other hand, is from a later time, presumably at the instant of His resurrection.

Positive (left) and negative of the face on the Shroud. Free image from also questions the drooping hair on the image, thinking that it should be collapsed to the surface Jesus was lying on, not hanging as if He were standing up. I don’t agree. Scripture says that He was beat over the head with a stick while wearing the crown of thorns:

17 They dressed him in purple and wove thorn branches into a crown, which they put on him.
18 Then they began to salute him, “Hail to the King of the Jews!”
19 They hit him on the head with a stick, spat on him and kneeled in mock worship of him.
—Mark 15:17–19 CJB

As I can personally attest, head wounds bleed profusely. Jesus was savagely beaten over the head while wearing a crown of thorns, so he bled heavily through His hair before even going to the cross. By the time He came down from the cross, some 9 hours later, most of that blood would have hardened like hair spray.

Bloodstained forehead. Cropped photograph of the Shroud, from Stephen E. Jones, “My position on the Shroud: The Shroud of Turin: The Burial Sheet of Jesus! #7”

The cloth of the Shroud is not the cheap material used for menstrual rags, burial wrappings, or even middle-class clothing, but rather a high-grade cloth used for upper-class clothing and tapestries, very rare and expensive at the time. The weave was a herringbone twill, with threads composed of 70 to 120 fibrils of flax. Expert examination indicates that it was hand-spun, bleached, woven by hand, then washed with soapweed. These were characteristics of 1st Century linen weaving (in Medieval times, bleaching was commonly done after weaving of the cloth). This weaving technique was practiced by Syrian weavers, and remnants of such cloth were found at Masada, dating from no later than AD 70. Some folks object that this cloth isn’t really a luxury product because better fabrics from the time were composed of linen/wool blends. That was not an option in Judea, because:

¶ “‘Observe my regulations.
“‘Don’t let your livestock mate with those of another kind, don’t sow your field with two different kinds of grain, and don’t wear a garment of cloth made with two different kinds of thread.
—Leviticus 19:19 CJB

The blood-like deposits on the Shroud have been verified to be aged blood. It is red, more like fresh blood, because it contains high concentrations of bilirubin, along with creatinine, ferritin and myoglobulin, all of which, in the concentrations found, are proteins characteristic of blood shed under tremendous physical trauma, like that of torture. Washing with soapweed also helps to preserve the hemoglobin color.

Blood-stained cloth from the Shroud., from Stephen E. Jones, “The Shroud of Turin: 2.5. The bloodstains”.
Fossilized heel bone of a crucifixion victim, with spike. The heels were nailed into the sides of the upright.
Roman flagrum from Herculaneum (modern Ercolano) near Pompeii, from Stephen E. Jones, “The Shroud of Turin: 2.4. The wounds”.

Blood staining of the cloth and bruising on the image is consistent in all respects with the testimony of Scripture. There is blood on the wrists and feet, from the nails. The Greek allows for extension of “hand” to include the wrists, as would be anatomically required to hold a grown man to a cross with nails. There is blood on the side, from the Roman spear. UV studies reveal a halo of fluorescence around this blood. Serum separated from the blood accounts for that and matches scripture describing “blood and water” from the wound. There is blood on the head from the crown of thorns and the beatings. There are bloody, dumbbell-shaped marks all over the body due to 130 lashes with a Roman flagrum. There are swollen cheeks and a broken nose from beatings. There are abrasions on knees and shoulders from stumbling from the Praetorium to Golgotha (Gulgolta). criticized what they considered to be blood flow patterns inconsistent with gravity, but my own examination of photo evidence doesn’t bear that out.

Various types of pollen were found on the Shroud. Concentrated around the head region, in particular, there is a large amount of pollen from the thistle Gundelia tournefortii, a spiny plant common in the Jerusalem area that blooms (and pollinates) in the spring. The “crown of thorns?”

Crown of Thorns exhibit, “Helmet” of thorns in the permanent exhibition of the Shroud of Turin in the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. Contrary to popular images, a “helmet” style of crown was more appropriate for a Middle Eastern king than a Greek “wreath”. Blood patterns on the Shroud suggest a helmet. also criticizes the proportions of the body on the Shroud. First, they are concerned that the image shows a man about 5 ft. 10 in. in height, which they think, probably correctly, is taller than most 1st Century Jews. Yet, people of all ethnicities vary in height, and that would not make Him a freak among His own people. Perhaps they were obliquely referring to Isaiah’s prophecy:

He was not well-formed or especially handsome;
we saw him, but his appearance did not attract us.
—Isaiah 53:2 CJB

I think that is saying that Messiah will not be a heartthrob who attracts people by His physical charisma. Other detractors have claimed that it also implies that He will not stand out in a crowd because of His height. I am not convinced. Being a bit taller than average would help Him speak to crowds. also sees distortions in the lengths of the image’s limbs, the thickness of one leg and the size of the head. Once again, I’m not convinced. The image appears to be a vertical projection onto a cloth that is draped over a real three-dimensional person, and thus not perpendicular to the cloth at all locations. This would be expected to cause apparent foreshortening of perspective in places.

Is the head disproportionately small for the body? Perhaps. That has been explained by some as rigor mortis freezing (but see my next paragraph) the head in a downward tilt, from hanging on the cross. I think it is more likely that His Head was resting on something in the tomb; perhaps he was still wearing the crown of thorns. thinks it is ridiculous to believe that Jesus’ hands could be over His groin, because they believe He would have gone into rigor mortis on the cross, with His arms frozen at an upwards slant. But that is a ridiculous suggestion, and they should know better—rigor mortis is part of the decay process, and Jesus didn’t decay! Acts 13:37 (ESV) ” but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.”

Many detractors are convinced that the image should not show a beard, because:

I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who plucked out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
—Isaiah 50:6 CJB

I wear a beard. I don’t think it could be plucked out aside from small amounts at a time. They tried. This is Hebrew poetic hyperbole. It emphasizes a point using exaggeration. Not uncommon in the Psalms and Prophets. Looking at the Shroud image, it appears that the beard is forked, and in fact, that was noticed and incorporated into the commemorative coin shown above. That was either His style, or the plucking was partially successful.

Others don’t think that there is enough damage to Jesus, per:

Just as many were appalled at him,
because he was so disfigured
that he didn’t even seem human
and simply no longer looked like a man,
—Isaiah 52:14 CJB

Again, this is poetic hyperbole. I’ll bet that if you were to find a severed and mangled human hand on the ground, you would recognize it as human remains!

Biblical Considerations

Okay, here’s where I start the fun part.

The writers on are, I’m sure, good Christian folks, but I often disagree with their interpretations of Scripture, and more often with their analyses of science and history. Regarding their treatment of the Shroud of Turin, I certainly do agree, unequivocally, that the Shroud is completely unnecessary as proof of Jesus’ existence, His crucifixion, His resurrection, or His deity. However, I don’t think they have a good understanding of 1st Century Jewish burial practices. Here I will challenge their perceptions of how the Shroud appears to contradict Scripture.

The primary objection of was that the person in the Shroud evidently was not given the entire customary treatment. They suggest, in part, that Jesus could not have been entombed in a one-piece linen shroud because Lazarus was not—Lazarus’ body was washed, then slathered with aloe and wrapped with aloe-impregnated linen strips (plural) before entombment:

44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
—John 11:44 ESV

The truth is that even in Judea, with all its customs, there wasn’t just one way to be buried, because the legal precepts of Torah didn’t speak about it all that much. If you were rich or a king, you got the plush treatment, coffin and all. The indigent sometimes got tossed out the Dung Gate and put in a pauper’s grave. That’s evidently how landowners Chananyah and Shappira (Ananias and Sapphira) ended up.

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,
2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 ¶ After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.

10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
—Acts 5:1–10 ESV

I submit here that Jesus and Lazarus were handled in different manners because the circumstances of their deaths were different. Jesus was as a convicted felon. Lazarus died at his home at a time more suitable for “standard practice.” Because Lazarus was in good legal standing, there was not a hard and fast requirement for him to be buried the same day, though that was the ideal. He would have been taken to his family tomb as soon as practical, dressed in normal clothes. Then, at some time during the days of mourning, probably soon after rigor mortis broke some 36 hours after death, he would be prepped for his long sleep. This included wrapping him in multiple strips of linen that were smeared in spices (usually myrrh and sticky aloe) in order both to bind the cloths to each other and to the body, and to mask odor. A separate small piece of linen (a facecloth) was also provided to cover or wrap the head.

When Jesus was brought down from the cross, burial on the same day as death was required from:

22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree,
23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.
—Deuteronomy 21:22–23 ESV

But clearly there was simply no time for the normal burial customs to take place before the sun set. I think that Joseph or one of the others climbed up and wrapped the facecloth around His face and the crown of thorns. Jesus was then taken down and laid on a bier, most likely on top of the shroud brought by Joseph, so that His shame could be covered. His clothes had been plundered by the Roman soldiers, so he was naked.

The evidence of the Shroud shows Jesus’ torture and death just as described in Scripture, when understood in its cultural context. The events surrounding His final words and His death are described plainly in Matthew 27:45–56 and the parallels. His crucifixion began at around 9:00 am (e.g., Mark 15:25 “It was nine in the morning when they nailed him to the stake.”), and the darkness began around noon. He died at “about the ninth hour” which, by Jewish counting, was somewhere around 3:00 pm. Evidently His dead body remained on the cross for most of the rest of the afternoon because, while Luke is silent on the timing, the other three Gospels are united in placing the approach of Joseph of Arimathea to Pilate at “around evening.”

Nisan 14–17 timeline, simplified, ©Ron Thompson. The Gregorian dates presented here are my own calculations, from NOAA lunar phase charts.

I will propose a likely scenario for what followed, harmonized with John 19:38–42, since that is the version stressed by and others:

38 ¶ After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body.
39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.
40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.
41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.
42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
—John 19:38–42 ESV emphasis added; see below for discussion

The crucifixion was on Friday, Nisan 15. Jesus had celebrated His last Passover Seder the night before, and it was now the 1st day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was, in Jewish law, a Sabbath (Heb. Shabbat). The next day was to be the 7th day weekly Shabbat. Restrictions for the two days were similar, except that the mid-Passover weekly Shabbat was always considered to be particularly important. In the case of consecutive Shabbatot, it was permissible to prepare for the second one on the day of the first one.

So, when Joseph spoke to Pilate, dusk and the start of the Saturday Shabbat were rapidly approaching, as emphasized in Mark, using a Jewish English translation:

42 Since it was Preparation Day (that is, the day before a Shabbat), as evening approached,
43 Yosef of Ramatayim, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who himself was also looking forward to the Kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Yeshua’s body.
—Mark 15:42–43 CJB emphasis added

There was a delay, because Pilate needed to check precedent, then once Joseph had permission, he barely had time to do what absolutely had to be done before the Temple shofarim (ram’s horn trumpets) signaled that the sun had sunk below the horizon and Shabbat had begun. First, he must walk quickly from the Praetorium (probably Herod the Great’s palace) to the nearby crucifixion site at Gulgolta (I believe that to be the site under the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, just outside the city wall of that day). Then with the help of Nicodemus and the Disciples, he had to lower Jesus to the ground, remove the nails from His wrists and heels, place Him on the bier, and carry Him the short distance to the tomb.

“Linen wrappings”, or a shroud?

John 19:40 says “wrappings”, plural othonion (Gr. ὀθονίοις), which may refer to the customary saturated linen strips, but I think it meant, simply, the Shroud and the headcloth. Since Biblical Greek has no punctuation, I suggest that for comparison with the synoptics, vs 40b should be translated “bound it in linen cloths, with the spices”. In other words, the binding strips and the spices were stored in the tomb for later processing, as soon as ritually permitted. There simply could not have been enough time that day!

The three synoptic Gospels all refer to “a linen sheet”, singular sindoni (Gr. σινδόνι a different Greek term probably referring to the fineness of the cloth).

Mark 15:46 says “Yosef purchased a linen sheet; and after taking Yeshua down, he wrapped him in the linen sheet (σινδόνι), laid him in a tomb which had been cut out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.

Matthew 27:59 uses the same singular, sindoni, as Mark, “Yosef took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen sheet, (σινδόνι) 60 and laid it in his own tomb, which he had recently had cut out of the rock.”

Likewise, Luke 23:53 “He took it down, wrapped it in a linen sheet (σινδόνι), and placed it in a tomb cut into the rock, that had never been used.”

Is there any other Scripture that might verify my interpretation?


The Jewish custom was to seal a tomb, then come back in a year to pick up the dry bones and put them in an ossuary or a family niche. I can think of no reason why it would be necessary to open up a tomb two days later to renew spices already applied, yet that is what suggests was going on early that Sunday morning:

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.
2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”
—Mark 16:1–3 ESV

Joseph was not able to complete the customary preparation of the body because it was the Sabbath, and an even more important Sabbath was about to start. He did what could be done quickly, then he left Jesus wrapped in the shroud he had brought, rolled the stone into place, and notified Jesus’ mother that she would need to complete the process—which was really the family’s job in the first place. Washing the body, then applying the cloth strips and spices was a job that it would have probably taken them at least two or three hours to complete.

In conclusion approached this subject much as they do in their creation articles. They started out their story the way I do, by reading key books and articles on the subject. But they were looking for talking points, not for real issues. Their minds were made up going in. This shows up in several places. For one, they were quick to comment on the “floating blood” on the image’s head. Yes, that’s what it looks like, but “looks like” isn’t always enough. If they had read in depth, they would have learned that those big blobs were contact stains in the cloth, not part of the image on the cloth. In the picture, those stains fluoresced, like white teeth under black light at a party.

Another very major fault with the approach is that most Hermeneutics don’t allow you to make theological decisions based on a single passage. The article shows why. Their case was built on John’s account of the burial, but John contradicts all three of the synoptic gospels. By “contradictions”, I’m not implying error. The four Gospel writers viewed events from four different directions, and each had a point he was trying to make. Think about the old saw about the blind men and the elephant. The exegete’s responsibility is to study the Scriptures together to find the harmony that is there!

A third fault in the post is that they were so sure of the end result they were going to get that they rushed into the fight with wild punches. Rigor mortis is part of the decay process. Do they really think that Jesus began to decay? I don’t think so!

A fourth, and the last I will mention, is that they wrote from a shallow understanding of culture. The Bible is God’s autobiography. It touches on other things, but it’s not a self-help book, it’s not a science text, it’s not a history, and it’s not a civics book. To fully understand the cultural context of Judea, you have to go beyond Scripture and examine extra-Biblical sources. Their understanding of 1st Century burial practices is superficial.

Nobody will ever be able to prove that the Shroud is authentic. Some folks think that an artistic genius like Leonardo DaVinci could have pulled off a hoax like this, but why would he? Besides, yes, he did conceive of helicopters back in his day, but he didn’t build one! To successfully produce what the technology of his day could not allow him even to see boggles my mind.

Frankly, I would like for this to be genuine. Prior to the incarnation, God in all three persons was spirit. Whenever he materialized to a physical form, it was transient. Until Jesus took on flesh. I’d like to think that there is a commemoration of that flesh, here on earth!

Geology and the Saudi Sinai

Fig. 1: Jabal Maqla (Jabal al-Lawz range, from web site)

A topic that comes up over and over again on social media archaeology groups is the contention that the real Biblical Mount Sanai is the mountain Jabal al-Lawz in northwest Saudi Arabia.

This is one of around a hundred astounding finds claimed by the late Ron Wyatt, who left his job as a medical technologist in Tennessee to chase his dreams as an amateur archaeologist. I don’t think that even a single one of his claims is valid. What he did was travel around the Middle East searching for things that superficially looked like something described in the Bible. A real archaeologist would produce tangible evidence for the find. Wyatt usually claimed to have found such evidence, but if so, only his own eyes ever saw it.

I previously disputed the contention by Wyatt’s many supporters that the traditional site of Mt. Horeb/Sinai, Jebel Musa, on the Sinai Peninsula, cannot be correct because that area was part of Egypt, not Arabia as Galatians 4:25 seems to require (see Moses, Paul, Sinai, Midian and Arabia). I thought I would spend a little time and space here discussing some of the other evidence alleged in support of Jabal al-Lawz.

I should state at this point that it is difficult to disprove something that cannot be proved in the first place. My purpose here is to offer a more sensible explanation of two of the main talking points used to justify the Saudi Sinai claims—the black mountaintop and the split rock. I offer no proof of my own contentions. I’ve never been on that site, so all I can provide is sound principles and other folks’ photographs and research.

The “Burnt Mountain”

The most striking feature of the Saudi Mountain is the black summit, which is claimed, based on a superficial visual impression only, to have resulted from God’s appearance over the mountain:

16 ¶ On the morning of the third day, there was thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain. Then a shofar [ram’s horn] blast sounded so loudly that all the people in the camp trembled.
17 Moshe brought the people out of the camp to meet God; they stood near the base of the mountain.
18 Mount Sinai was enveloped in smoke, because ADONAI descended onto it in fire — its smoke went up like the smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently.
19 As the sound of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moshe spoke; and God answered him with a voice.
—Exodus 19:16–19 CJB (emphasis added)

Fig. 2: Peak of Jabal Maqla, the “Burnt Mountain”,

There is some confusion as to the proper name of the mountain in question. Ron Wyatt, Bob Cornuke and others Applied the name Jabal al-Lawz to the mountain pictured above, but al-Lawz is a somewhat higher peak to the north of that pictured, which is correctly called Jabal Maqla, meaning “Burnt Mountain”. That’s a minor point. The major question is, why is the peak blackened? Is that, as claimed by Wyatt and his followers, a remnant of scorching by God’s presence in the lightning, fire and smoke recorded in Exodus?

My interpretation of the passage above is that the lightning may have been literal, or perhaps static electricity, but that the fire and smoke were simply God’s sh’kinah glory, the same phenomena as the pillar of fire and smoke that led the Israelites for 40 years and that is never recorded to have damaged anything.

Furthermore, the contention that the mountainside was burned and that the burned area would still be visible after 3500 years, is beyond implausible. Compare the fire on Mt. Carmel when Elija confronted the priests of Ba’al some 600 years later; no trace of that remains, and Mt. Carmel is a known location.

Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
—1 Kings 18:38 ESV

I have not been to the site of al-Lawz, but I have seen many photos, and I have read formal geological descriptions of the area, which is strikingly similar to portions of the Rio Grande Rift Valley in New Mexico, which I am personally well acquainted with, having grown up in Albuquerque.

Biblical Midian lies within the northwestern extremity of the Arabian-Nubian Shield, which is a granitic batholith, shown in gray below, that spans the Red Sea. Granite magmas solidify deep within the earth’s crust and are exposed by succeeding uplift and erosion. The Red Sea itself is a more recent rift zone, where plate tectonics (continental drift) is pulling northeast Africa and southwest Asia apart. Rift zones are always associated with volcanic activity, and this case is not different, as is also shown on the map, fig. 3.

Fig. 3: Distribution of northeast Africa and Arabia Cenozoic volcanism (, William Bosworth)

In reality, the blackened peak of Jabal Maqla is not due to scorching, but rather to lava flows, which are common along the rifting Red Sea and Jordan Valley. The geological literature describes the Jabal Maqla itself to be composed of a light-colored granite capped with volcanic rhyolite and andesite. The andesite is what makes the peak seem “burnt” (fig. 4). Rhyolite is a brown-colored lava which shows up on some aerial photos as volcanic dikes in older andesite flows.

Fig. 4: Andesite example, Photo ©Siim Sepp, 2005

The volcanic nature of the peak is particularly obvious from satellite imagery. The photos below (fig. 5 and the added fig. 5a) show the mountain and its surrounding drainage pattern. Note that the wadi on the north side is fed primarily from farther north, outside the blackened area. The tributary wadis that flow from the Jabal Maqla peak are paved with silt weathered from the darker andesite lavas.

Fig. 5: Jabal Maqla, Google Earth
Fig 5a (added): Clear view from southwest of obvious lava flows at Jabal Maqla. Google Earth.

Next (fig. 6) is a view cropped from a visitor’s photo, shot on the summit of Jabal Maqla. The partially weathered rocks they are sitting on are clearly volcanic in origin. To my eye they are primarily black andesite, with lighter colored rhyolite inclusions.

Fig. 6: Crop of 3rd-party photo taken on the summit. Source unknown.

For comparison, I am including as fig. 7 a photo of a typical New Mexico lava flow, from the region close to Carrizozo, south of my childhood home in Albuquerque.

Fig. 7: Carrizozo Little Black Peak, New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science.

The “Split Rock”

Unnumbered (added): Article from unknown source.

The second geological feature in the area that I want to discuss is the “split rock of Rephidim“, which Wyatt followers claim to have found to the northwest of Jabal al-Lawz.

1 ¶ All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”
3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
4 So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.
6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
—Exodus 17:1–7 ESV

The claim is that this (fig. 8ff) is the rock that Moses struck with his rod, causing water to gush out to satisfy the thirst of the Israelites. As proof, they offer that the rock is close to Horeb; it is huge; it is split roughly in two, top to bottom; and it shows “obvious signs of water erosion.” Scripture says nothing about the appearance of the rock. Nearness to Horeb (Mt. Sinai) is only proof if Jabal al-Lawz really is Horeb.

I will discuss the question of erosion, below, but first I want to mention the probable origin of the rock and the rubble base on which it rests. This will have some bearing.

Glacial origin?

My initial reaction when I first saw photos of this granite behemoth and its associated elongated mound of rubble was surprise at what appeared to me to be glacial deposits in the Arabian desert! It would take a geological survey to establish the truth of my conjecture, but after research, I determined that there is indeed evidence of Mid-Cryogenian (Neoproterozoan) glaciation in the northern Arabian–Nubian (A-N) Shield region. This was a “snowball earth” period, one of two periods when virtually the entire planet was covered by continental ice sheets. The surface geology of the A-N Shield at this time is represented in gray on fig. 3, labeled as the Proterozoic basement complex.

Factors that led me to my conclusion were (a) the gigantic boulder that I thought surely must be a “glacial erratic“, an out-of-context rock too big to have been deposited by almost any other means; (b) the ridge on which it rests, appearing to possibly be “glacial till“, which is a deposit of rubble “usually described as massive (not layered), poorly sorted, and composed of multiple types of angular to sub-rounded rocks”; and (c) horizontal surfaces polished by fine grit and striated by larger fragments carried along at the base of the glacier.

Fig. 8: Split Rock, from 3rd party drone clip. The surface of the rock beneath the boulder shows apparent striations and polishing.
Fig. 9: Split rock, from 3rd party drone clip. Seen on edge and showing part of an apparent till ridge, or “moraine”.
Fig. 10: Rubble underlying the split rock, from
Is the split miraculous?

Probably not. Such splitting is a normal characteristic of “frost wedging”, where moisture penetrates a small hole or crack in a rock, freezes, and wedges the opening larger. The ice melts, more water enters, and the cycle repeats. Over time, even huge boulders (and this one is said to be as large as 60 feet in diameter) will split. I have seen literally thousands of split rocks in New Mexico alone. The splits are almost always vertical, like this, because the water flows under gravity in the rock. I’ll provide two examples here.

Fig. 11 is a granite boulder, no doubt another glacial erratic, in the arid Joshua Tree National Park, in California. Fig. 12 is a photo of what is now a popular climbing spot near Albuquerque. Frost wedging accounts for probably all of the fracturing seen here. I did not take this picture, nor am I a rock climber, but some 50 years ago I stood either on that spot or on one very much like it close by, after hiking up along the axis of the ridge with a friend. Imagine my terror…

Fig. 11: Frost wedging in Joshua Tree National Park, ©Randall Nyhoff
Fig. 12: Knife Edge granite shield outcrop, Sandia Mountains, New Mexico. ©Steven VanSickle.
Erosion in and around the split rock

Descriptions of this rock always say there is “obvious water erosion” associated with it. Doubting Thomas Research Foundation (DTRF) is one organization that was apparently established by an individual to promote Jabal al-Lawz and its features. In one article they state about the split rock, “The erosion is within this split, along several paths descending from the base of the rock, and in the front and back of the hill at the bottom.” I will respond to this by commenting on photographic evidence I have seen.

Weathering of the megalith

Transportation of glacial till is slow and involves pushing, rather than rolling or tumbling. Rocks embedded in the till might become fragmented, or partially fractured, or chipped at the corners, but only roughly rounded. If sandwiched between ice and the underlying rock surface, polishing and scoring may result. I am assuming that the split rock is a glacial erratic that ended up at the top of the pile when the glacier melted. Sitting there, in that environment, it would have been subjected to three major weathering agents: frost wedging, exfoliation, and wind abrasion. The latter of these is mostly ineffective against hard igneous rocks.

However, both frost wedging and exfoliation are evident here. First, the frost wedging that I discussed above is undoubtedly responsible for the big split, and also for the oblong rock fragments littering the floor of the split, as well as the angular fissures in the walls of the split, as shown in fig. 13, below. I have also seen video footage of thin flakes of rock on the split’s floor. This was obvious debris from exfoliation—the eggshell layers that can be clearly seen in fig. 13.

Fig. 13: Floor of the Saudi “Split Rock”, showing exfoliation of the rock face. ©JohnTrifBrent.

Fig. 14 exhibits exfoliation on the external surfaces of the megalith, and on the rocks in the photo’s foreground. Exfoliation is due to heating and cooling of the rock itself, as opposed to thermal cycling of water in rock fractures. Temperature changes within the rock will be felt more quickly at the surface than under it, causing differential expansion and contraction. Since the granite is crystalline and brittle, an outer “skin” will eventually separate from its substrate. Such flakes, still clinging to the surface, can be seen in both photos, fig. 13 and fig. 14. Weathering by exfoliation typically rounds the surface of boulders. A great example of this is the Half Dome pluton, in Yosemite National Park.

Fig. 14: Exfoliation of the rocks
A supporting structure?

DTRF (see above) also makes the following observation: “At the top of the hill, on one side of the split rock, is a large rectangular rock that may be holding the split rock upwards. In theory, this rectangular rock may serve a logistical (sic) purpose if the Exodus story is accurate. It would hold the split rock up for the scene to take place, as well as provide a safe spot for Moses to stand after striking the rock.

Referring back to fig. 8, I assume that the author is referring to the vertical block immediately in front of the split rock, on the right or more probably the horizontal block on the left. From the photos I’ve seen, I would presume these to both be merely additional segments of the same boulder. Both are effectively separated from the main “lobes” of the boulder by wedging surfaces. To clarify, I have very roughly sketched what I see as the edges of major wedging planes in fig. 15.

Fig. 15: Wedging boundaries in split rock megalith. The shaky hand is mine.
A plinth for the split rock?

Of more interest to me, shown in fig. 16 (a crop of fig. 8), is the more or less flat surface that the megalith is sitting on. The regularity of the apparent cross-hatching on top of this rock surface suggests a striated and polished surface caused by dragging at the base of the glacier.

Fig. 16: Striated rock beneath the split rock.
Fig 17: Example of glacial striations and scouring, in high mountain terrain.
Erosion of the rock piled beneath the split rock

DTRF also noted erosional channels on “several paths descending from the base of the rock“. Other visitors to the site frequently mention such paths, or troughs, running from the split rock, down the face of the rubble, to the wadi below. The more astute acknowledge that this could be due to millennia of natural runoff. Others insist that there is not enough rain in the region to account for the erosion they see on the slope. Some visitors evidently account for the rubble-strewn mound itself by appealing to a strong flow of water from the rock after it was split by Moses’ rod.

I have seen one such erosional channel on video, but as a former desert-dweller, I have to say that it is not very impressive, and not visible on any of the photos presented here. Nor would I expect it to be. Clear, potable water simply does not erode solid granite blocks. Even if this rock had gushed water for the year that the Israelites stayed on Mt. Sinai, the only effect it would have on this mound would be to wash away small particles, from clay-sized through perhaps some cobbles. In the geologic ages since this mound was deposited, I would expect no more than the amount of erosion that is actually seen here.

DTRF seems to suggest that the rock might be limestone. if so, it might be dissolved by low pH water flow. It is not limestone. It is granite with other hard silicates mixed in, not carbonates.

Erosion in the surrounding wadi

DTRF on the wadi: “The ground level on both sides of the hill is smooth and uneven, giving the visual appearance of former water flows being there. It appears distinct from the rougher terrain that surrounds the site.” That is a good description of what can clearly be seen in photos and videos of the area.

He also states, primarily with respect to the rubble mound: “Yet, there is a lack of rainfall in this area of the world and there aren’t significant flash floods that could explain the apparent water erosion.” I totally disagree with this statement.

I suspect that the Hijaz area of northwest Saudi Arabia gets no more than a few inches of rain in a year, but the complex dendritic drainage system visible on satellite images (see next three figures) shows that there is plenty of flash flooding to move loose sediments for long distances, over time. Fig. 18 shows that the split rock lies central to a catch basin collecting runoff from the mountains to the east and south. In other words, erosion around the rock is from drainage upstream of the rock, not from the rock itself.

Above the split rock, in the east, there is another terrace and a larger catch basin. Water from that terrace cascades downwards, downstream of the rock, as is seen more clearly in fig. 19, an oblique view from the west. Referring back to fig. 18, water from these two basins flows downstream to the northwest, to an intersection with a main-channel wadi that flows south-southwest and ultimately empties into the Red Sea.

Fig. 20 is a wider-angle 3D view, from the southwest. This is the best view to see the scope of erosion in the area, and reveals that the area east of fig. 18 is a broad, flat, plateau.

Fig 18: Drainage system for the area around Jabal al-Lawz, Jabal Maqla, and the split rock. Google Earth. North at top.
Fig. 19: Oblique view of split rock area, looking down from the west. Google Earth.
Fig. 20: wider view, from the southwest. Google Earth.

I decided to add fig. 21 to emphasize the elevation changes in the region. Jabal Maqla is not marked here but is near the top edge of the photo in the blackened region. If the Israelites were camped near their water source at the split rock, then none of the highland areas marked here, and especially not Jabal Maqla, were easily accessible.

Light Yes, But Why Salt?

[Scriptural quotations from ESV unless otherwise noted]

13 “You are salt for the Land. But if salt becomes tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except being thrown out for people to trample on.
14 ¶ “You are light for the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Likewise, when people light a lamp, they don’t cover it with a bowl, but put it on a lampstand, so that it shines for everyone in the house.
16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they may see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
—Matthew 5:13–16 CJB

Christian theology often tends to forget that the Church did not yet exist when Jesus spoke these words. In fact, it did not exist until believing Jews and non-Jews had both been given the indwelling Holy Spirit, and that did not happen until after Jesus’ Ascension. His earthly ministry throughout His First Advent was specifically to Jews, not to the unborn Church, and not to non-Jews in general. In Matthew 10:5b–6, He told his 12 apostles-in-training, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In Matthew 15:24, when he was asked by a Canaanite woman to rid her daughter of a demon, He responded by telling her that He “was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

That is certainly not to say that He rejected overtures of faith by non-Jews. He ultimately granted the request of the Canaanite woman, and in Matthew 8:10b, He granted the petition of a Roman centurion and told His followers, “With no one [else] in Israel have I found such faith.”

But the fact remains that Jesus’ ministry, and in fact the whole of the four written Gospels, were directed to Israel. When we fail to recognize that fact, we open ourselves to the heresy of misappropriating Scripture. In this post, I am addressing one example of such error in discussing the concepts (plural) of “salt and light“, which Christians almost always discuss as if it were a “Church thing”, and just one thing. I do believe there is an important Church application, and I’ll address that near the end.

Please read this post as an academic exercise for improving our understanding of Scripture, not as criticism of any well-meaning individual or organization.

The context of the message

Matthew 5–7 is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. “Sermon” may be too strong a term, because it is unclear which group Jesus was speaking to.

1 ¶ Seeing the crowds, Yeshua walked up the hill. After he sat down, his talmidim came to him,
2 and he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
—Matthew 5:1–2 CJB

The fact that Jesus was sitting, which limits voice projection, and that only the talmidim are mentioned as following Him up the hill, raises the question: was it an oration to all the people milling around, or just those gathered around closest to Him?

View from the possible location of the Mt of Beatitudes. The hillside is now, of course, the home of an ornate monastery, with immaculate gardens overlooking Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). Photo © Ron Thompson, 2008.

The term ὄχλουςα (ochlousa) is translated crowds, above, or multitudes in the KJV. This is an odd plural, sort of like “infinities”. Two infinities are still just infinity. Two crowds are still a crowd. I suppose it could be like “the crowd on His left and the crowd on His right”, but the term is always used for the group of people following Him, so that is unlikely. Roy Blizzard and David Bivin, in their book Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, suggest that ὄχλουςα is a technical term referring to “the inhabitants of the surrounding area”, which might be an actual “multitude”, or might be just a few people.

Drones like the religious leaders that the Sanhedrin sent to follow Him from place to place would be a separate group mingled in and on the fringes of the gathered locals. Thir function was much like the Soviet trawler back in my Navy days that always trailed along behind my ship, an aircraft carrier, in the Mediterranean. When they had opportunity, they steamed in among the destroyers and frigates of our task force, spying and occasionally harassing.

There were probably at least some underemployed “seekers” in the mix, as well, following from place to place hoping for some sort of healing or salvation. Many probably finding what they sought.

The folks gathered more closely around Jesus and probably sitting near Him on the hill were His talmidim, or disciples, and verse 13, about salt would have applied more to them than to the larger group (see below). Whichever it is, Matthew 5:11–16 was clearly applicable only to Godly Jews when it was spoken.

Salt and Light to whom?

Before addressing the meanings of “salt” and “light” in Matthew 5, I think it important also to answer the question, who were to be the recipients of the salt and the light? I used the Complete Jewish Bible to quote Jesus’ words, above, because I think it correctly differentiates the two Greek words that the English Standard Version renders as “world”.

St. Augustine Lighthouse, © Ron Thompson 2001

In verse 14, “world” is a translation of the Greek κόσμος (Kosmos). In the modern world, the term “cosmos” refers to the universe as a whole, but in ancient times, the heavens above were thought to be merely a dome, or a sheet draped above the earth we inhabit. So, in effect, κόσμος referred to the world as a whole, consisting of all nations. Israel was, indeed, understood to be commissioned as God’s evangelist nation to the rest of humanity.

In verse 13, a different word, γῆ, or Ge, is used. In general, γῆ can, in fact, be translated as “world”, but I think that when connecting the word to Israel, it is almost always proper to default the translation to “land“, meaning specifically, Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Jesus’ listeners here were being told to be “salt for the Land”, i.e., a preservative for the people, or Covenants, of Israel. Not for the greater earth. Similarly, in verse 5, we are told that the meek will “inherit the land”. This is certainly true. It is a direct quotation from Psalm 37:11, which taken in context is clearly referring to Israel’s eventual peaceful habitation in the Land of Israel.

Light for the world

I will discuss the question of light before salt, because Christian usage of this term is more straightforward than that of salt.

As is expressed many times in the Tanakh, or “Old Testament”, particularly in the poetic Psalms and Prophets, the concept of “light“, where physical light is obviously not meant, primarily pertains to knowledge of truth. To shine a light, in this respect, is to bring the knowledge of salvation. It is clearly this idea that Jesus had in mind in the Matthew 5 text. This, I think (and most would agree), is borne out by his quotation of Isaiah 8:23–9:1 in the preceding chapter, Matthew 4:

12 ¶ Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.
13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,
14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 ¶ “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
—Matthew 4:12–16 ESV, emphasis added

However, there are a number of other symbolic usages of the term in the Tanakh, and I think that in some sense, all of these can be read into Jesus’ words. I will list some of these, with examples from the ESV:

To lead people forward—as God’s sh’kinah leading the Israelites through the darkness of the Wilderness:

Neh. 9:19 You in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.

To lift the hearts of people—as God’s protection of the people menaced by Haman:

Esth. 8:15–17 Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. 16 The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. 17 And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday.

To expose sin—as God’s exposure of evil nations and rulers:

Job 12:21–25 He pours contempt on princes
and loosens the belt of the strong.
22 He uncovers the deeps out of darkness
and brings deep darkness to light.
23 He makes nations great, and he destroys them;
he enlarges nations, and leads them away.
24 He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth
and makes them wander in a trackless waste.
25 They grope in the dark without light,
and he makes them stagger like a drunken man.

To bring health and life from illness and death—as suggested by Elihu’s reproof of Job:

Job 33:28–29 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
and my life shall look upon the light.’
29 “Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.

To bring confidence—as expressed by David after his deliverance from Saul:

Psa. 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?

Salt for the Land
Sea Salt. Photo from

While the Jewish concept of spreading “light to the world” represents God’s entire reason for Israel’s election as His chosen people—the total evangelization of all peoples on earth—

the “salt” concept has nothing to do with evangelization and is much more limited in scope.

From the example references to “salt”, below; from the record of history; and from a correct translation of γῆ (see above), it is clear to me that by exhorting His listeners to be “salt“, He was commanding them to function as His Covenant people, and by their words and actions, to be a preservative for the Godly remnant in Israel. Only such a Godly remnant could possibly function as evangelists to the world at large.

In the Ancient Near East (ANE) before written records were as ubiquitous as they later became, contracts and treaties were often “sealed” by ceremony. Salt, because of its preservative qualities and its flavor, was often part of such ceremonies. That practice was so prevalent that it was incorporated into Biblical covenants and covenant-related practice without explanation. The first mention in scripture is the instruction for preparation of incense to be burned in the Tabernacle:

34 ¶ The LORD said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part),
35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.
—Exodus 30:34–35 ESV

Grain offerings were also to be seasoned with salt:

You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
—Leviticus 2:13 ESV

Contributions to the priesthood from consecrated meat offerings were to be salted:

All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you.”
—Numbers 18:19 ESV

The public water supply of the city of Jericho was miraculously purified through application of salt by the prophet Elisha:

19 ¶ Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.”
20 He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.
21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the LORD, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.”
22 So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.
—2 Kings 2:19–22 ESV

When confronting Jeroboam’s army, Judah’s King Abijah invoked the eternality of the Davidic Covenant by pointing out that it was regarded as a covenant of salt:

Ought you not to know that the LORD God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?
—2 Chronicles 13:5 ESV

Application to the Church

The Church consists of two groups which, together, Scripture refers to as “the Commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2:12-13): (a) a Godly remnant of physical Israel; and (b) Godly non-Jews grafted into the first group. A full discussion of this doctrine (see Romans 9–11, for example) is beyond my scope here, but both of these peoples, in unity, clearly bear the responsibility to bring light to the world. It is less clear but probably equally valid to assert that both peoples share a responsibility to bring preservatory ministry to each other and to the converts attracted to the light.

I am not pronouncing anything earthshaking in this post. I am pointing out a technical inconsistency in Christian teaching, but not suggesting that we are grossly misdirecting our efforts. I simply think that it is better to correctly understand the Jewish foundations of the Church.