Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Cat in the Stable?

Felis silvestris ~ European wildcat
 Dear Friends,

Jesus and His disciples had covered a good amount of ground that day on their way to Capernaum. Tired and hungry, they were now resting at a home in a small village and waiting as the farmer’s wife and the other women were preparing a meal. As Jesus sat by Himself in the shade of the garden’s Sycamore tree and thanked God for the day, a cat jumped up on His lap. After gently padding the coarse texture of Jesus’ cloak, the cat lay down and curled up on His lap. As Jesus began to stroke her soft fur, the cat stretched out both front paws and began to purr. This is fiction of course but is it possible? A cat? With Jesus? You might be surprised to hear that my fictitious story would be not only possible but perhaps even likely to have occurred at some point in the three years of Jesus’ itinerant ministry. 

Based on archaeological evidence, we know that the Egyptians tamed cats approximately 4,000 years before the birth of Christ. The ancient Egyptians were so attached to their cats that they mummified them and entombed them with their owners so that both would enter the next life together. In 2014, at the excavation site of an elite cemetery in the ancient Egyptian city of Hierakonpolis, two adult cats and four kittens were found in a tomb. The measurements of their bones, dated 3640 BC, suggest the cats belonged to the species Felis silvestris, (see photo above) the European wildcats that were the likely ancestors of the cats who live in our homes today. 
A study published two weeks ago, sequenced DNA from 209 cats that lived from about 15,000 years ago to the 1700's in order to determine the history and migration of the ancient cats. The Middle Eastern wild cats expanded into the agricultural communities along the Mediterranean in the Old Testament days. The study suggested, “that grain stockpiles associated with these early farming communities attracted rodents, which in turn drew wild cats.” After seeing the benefit of having cats around, the humans began to tame and domesticate the feral cats.

Paul’s first missionary journey was to the Greek island of Cyprus. That was where, in 7500 BC, a human had been buried in a tomb with their cat. We can safely assume there were plenty of domesticated cats on this island by the time Paul arrived!

Yes, I know that most of us Christians believe that God created the earth in 4000 BC, but the Bible does not tell us the date that the earth was created. It was the Irish archbishop James Ussher in the 17th century who fixed the date of creation at 4000 BC. That science has established a much earlier date of creation does not at all conflict with the Creation Narrative in Genesis given to Moses by God. But that’s another topic. The important thing for Christian cat lovers to know is this. That cats were domesticated and common in the cities, farmlands and in the villages all along the Mediterranean during the New Testament days. That’s why I can say that it would be entirely possible for my fictitious story in the first paragraph to have actually happened.

Now please allow me to shake up our traditional Church story of the birth of Jesus. Was there a family of cats in the stable when Mary gave birth? The Bible doesn’t tell us what animals were there. We’ve all seen Nativity sets with oxen, sheep and goats even though those animals were typically not stabled but held in pens and pastures. I’ve even seen figurines of camels in the Nativity stable but never a cat. We don’t actually even know if Jesus was born in a stable, but we assume so because scripture tells us that after His birth, He was laid in a “manger” Luke 2:7 which is a feed trough for cows. And, anyplace where there is hay and animal feed, there are rodents and therefore the most likely animal that would have been there in the stable during the birth of Jesus Christ was a cat. 

God has given us animals to eat, animals for transportation and animals for companionship and comfort. In our ministry at the Abbey Road Villa assisted-living facility, I’ve heard from several of the women and a few men that the one they miss the most is their cat and showing them the photos of my cat brings a smile to their face. We love our pets and studies show that they are good for our mental health and emotional well-being. If God has given you one of His animals for comfort and companionship, will you take a moment to thank Him for that? 

And now... as we end this AMEN Corner you can see that my own Nativity scene will be looking a little different this year...

click to enlarge

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