Posted in history, theology

When Katie Von Bora wore black

By Elizabeth Prata

Katharina von Bora was a woman you should know, if you don’t already. She was born in 1499 in Lippendorf, Saxony, Germany. When she was five years old her father sent her to a monastery for education, and then to another one when she was 9. Ten years later, the growing Reformation movement has slipped into even the thick walls of the quiet Cistercian monastery and Katy, by now a nun, conspired to escape it with several other nuns. She had contacted Luther and Luther sent his friend Leonard Koppe, to retrieve the nuns. They escaped in a fish wagon. They arrived in Wittenberg, where you know who lived. Continue reading “When Katie Von Bora wore black”

Posted in history, theology

Who was King Chedorlaomer in Genesis?

By Elizabeth Prata

Jut as it didn’t take long after the Fall for the first murder, (Genesis 4, Cain killed Abel), it also didn’t take long for the first war to erupt, Battle of the Valley of Siddim. (Genesis 14).

In those days Kings ruled cities and near environs. There was what was known as the Five Cities of the Plain; Sodom, Gormorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, plus tiny Zoar. (Genesis 13:10-13). They are also known as the Cities of the Valley. It used to be a fertile and lush area, that was the reason Lot chose it when Abraham suggested they split their flocks due to crowding. Now it’s an area of wasteland, salt, and not much else. Most people believe the Plains referred to is the area south of the Dead Sea (Salt Sea).

The kings of the cities of Shinar had warred with the kings of the Plains and won. (Victors were Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim.)

The triumphant kings exacted tribute from the vanquished, and expected it regularly. Chedorlaomer is mentioned as the King receiving the tribute, perhaps he was the lead king among the five who were allies. His Elamite kingdom extended in what is today modern day Iran along the Persian Gulf. It is believed that the Elamite nation began in the area of modern day Iran sometime around 2700 BC and continued through 640 BC. From the Table of Nations of Noah blessing his sons Ham, Japheth and Shem, that the Elamites were perhaps descendants of Shem.

Except, 13 years later, having grown rebellious with the state of things, the Kings of the Plain decided to stop paying the tribute to Chedorlaomer. Of course this promoted a war, Chedorlaomer having called upon his allies for rectification of the situation.

Well, the Kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah Zeboiim and tiny Zoar, lost soundly. Chedorlaomer  ransacked the Cities of the Plain and carried off as much booty as they could, including Abraham’s nephew Lot and all his people and all his goods. (Genesis 14:12).

We know from the subsequent chapters that Abraham pursued Lot’s kidnappers for hundreds of miles. With 300 men Abraham eventually got Lot back and all his people and all his goods, too. Abraham praised the Lord.

Who was Chedorlaomer, though? Not much else is known of him via the Bible. He held sway as a successful King over a large area, so he must have been powerful. He is also noted in Chapter 14:5 to have warred against Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, and Horites and conquered them, too.

His name is known to be a compound word meaning worshiper- ‘Chedor’ and ‘la’omer,’ (“lagamaru”), the name of an Elamite deity, noted by Assurbanipal. In 1896 TG Pinches was reviewing some of the clay tablets held by the British Museum (they had been severely delayed in cataloging them, over 21,000 tablets came in from one site alone) and he thought he read Chedorlaomer’s name on one of the tablets, and there was general excitement in the biblical archaeology community for some years, but it was later disproven. To my knowledge, there are no secular sources in archaeology that mention Lot’s kidnapper king.

Now, Abraham was savvy in war and knowledgeable, but the Bible notes that he defeated mighty Chedorlaomer, powerful King of Elam and victor over many tribes, with only 318 men. As we know, the LORD does this to indicate HIS power and might, over all humans, including mighty kings, if it be His will. Melchizedek King of Salem said as much in Genesis 14:19-20,

Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!

Blessed be the Lord, King of Kings, King over all, even mighty Chedorlaomer, who, in the end, worshiped wrongly and paid the penalty for it. All those who believe in King Jesus, King of all, will have eternal life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10).


Posted in history, theology

A Day in the Life of: A Tanner

By Elizabeth Prata

Second in a series.

What was a day in the life like for a person who lived in New Testament Bible times? It depended on what trade the person made their living. Last time I looked at the woman of Thyatira, Lydia, a seller of purple. Today I’m interested in what a day in the life of a tanner would be like.

simon's house
“Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope,” prepared by Jessie Lyman Hurlbut

A tanner was a worker of hides. Tanner definition:

Tanning is the process of treating skins and hides of animals to produce leather. A tannery is the place where the skins are processed. (Source)

Tanners were low status people in the Jewish community. They dealt with unclean hides and death, and they smelled bad. Normally their workshop would be just one or two rooms and a courtyard far from a residential area. You might remember this was a requirement for Lydia’s trade, the dyer who used snail shells (or a plant) to extract and ferment purple, another malodorous process.

dipping skins in a vat of sumach
Dipping hides in a vat of sumach. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Volumes 1–5

Simon was a Tanner in Joppa. He housed Peter for many days according to Acts 10:32, Acts 9:43, Acts 10:17, Acts 10:6. Luke is very precise and mentions Simon’s trade three times in short order. There are only two other biblical references to leather itself; where leathern girdles are mentioned (the end product of tanning) and those are in 2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4).

Therefore send to Joppa and invite Simon, who is also called Peter, to come to you; he is staying at the house of Simon the tanner by the sea. (Acts 10:32).

And Peter stayed many days in Joppa with a tanner named Simon. (Acts 9:43).

Despite the infrequent mentions, leather was important and used in many goods. Thus, tanning was an important trade, just one that no one liked to be around.

Leather was widely used in biblical times: for sandals and shoes, and for straps and harnesses for horses, donkeys, and camels; the nod, a skin bottle for storing and transporting liquids, is still widely used in the Middle East. All writing materials were also produced from hides. A ritually important use of leather and parchment since ancient times is for Torah scrolls, tefillin, the straps of which must be made from ritually clean animals, and the contents of mezuzot. (Source)

Joppa (Jaffa) is now an old neighborhood in the city of Tel Aviv. It’s by the sea. You might remember Jonah fled from the LORD at Joppa where he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish.

As in Greece and Rome, tanneries had to be located on the outskirts of the towns, far from residential quarters. According to the Mishnah (BB 2:9) a tannery should be situated on the east side of the town only, at least 50 cubits from the outskirts. This was because tanning was a primitive, malodorous process. The residents of an alley or lane could prevent one of their neighbors from becoming a tanner (Mishnah BB 21b). For all these reasons the tanner’s status in society was low. (Source)

A Tanner’s dwelling and his workshop location was limited by his trade also. By necessity, they had to be close to to salt water seas.

Simon’s house was by the seashore, as is true of the tanneries along the Syrian coast today, so that the foul-smelling liquors from the vats can be drawn off with the least nuisance, and so that the salt water may be easily accessible for washing the skins during the tanning process. (Source – The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia)

Tanning was a low-status job, so tanners were because of their trade low on the totem pole. As with Lydia’s trade (dyeing of purple), by Jewish tradition, a wife could sue for divorce based on the unpleasantness of her husband’s tanning trade, and it would be granted. An unnamed Jewish Babylon Talmudic scholar of the 6th-12th century

explains that they are exempt because their bad odor, having penetrated their flesh, cannot be removed. This, he said, was why they had their own synagogues in his day in Babylon. The tanner’s trade was among those from which neither king nor high priest might be appointed, not because the tanner is ritually unfit, but because his occupation is despised

Poor Simon. So, geographically, ritually, and societally, a tanner endured a low status and a marginal communal living. Simon no doubt had friends, even the hated tax-collectors had friends, prostitutes and other tax collectors though they may have been. But a tanner’s trade prevented him from enjoying the full force and joys of communal living and even worship.


Joppa (or Jaffa as it’s called today, the oldest part of modern-day Tel Aviv) is about 45 miles from Jerusalem. On the map, you can see Nazareth to the northeast and Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) beyond that.

So what did a tanner DO? The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia describes the multi-step process. Simon would have had skins percolating in various stages of the process.

Within are the vats made either of stone masonry, plastered within and without, or cut out of the solid rock. The sheep or goat skins are smeared on the flesh side with a paste of slaked lime and then folded up and allowed to stand until the hair loosens. The hair and fleshy matter are removed, the skins are plumped in lime, bated in a concoction first of dog dung and afterward in one of fermenting bran, in much the same way as in a modern tannery. The bated skins are tanned in sumach, which is the common tanning material in Syria and Palestine. After drying, the leather is blackened on one side by rubbing on a solution made by boiling vinegar with old nails or pieces of copper, and the skin is finally given a dressing of olive oil.

That was the short version. Here’s the more descriptive process from Wikipedia..

The steps in the production of leather between curing (which involved salting) and tanning are collectively referred to as beamhouse operations. They include, in order, soaking, liming, removal of extraneous tissues (unhairing, scudding and fleshing), deliming, bating or puering, drenching, and pickling. Simon was busy. He either skinned the animal himself of got the skins from a skinner.

Skins typically arrived at the tannery dried stiff and dirty with soil and gore. First, the ancient tanners would soak the skins in water to clean and soften them. Then they would pound and scour the skin to remove any remaining flesh and fat. Next, the tanner needed to remove the hair from the skin. This was done by either soaking the skin in urine, painting it with an alkaline lime mixture, or simply allowing the skin to putrefy for several months then dipping it in a salt solution. After the hairs were loosened, the tanners scraped them off with a knife. Once the hair was removed, the tanners would “bate” (soften) the material by pounding dung into the skin, or soaking the skin in a solution of animal brains. Bating was a fermentative process which relied on enzymes produced by bacteria found in the dung. Among the kinds of dung commonly used were those of dogs or pigeons.

dressing hides in a syrian tannery
The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 1915

Sometimes, the dung was mixed with water in a large vat, and the prepared skins were kneaded in the dung water until they became supple from bacterial enzyme action, but not too soft. The ancient tanner might use his bare feet to knead the skins in the dung water, and the kneading could last two or three hours. This combination of urine, animal feces, and decaying flesh made ancient tanneries malodorous. Children employed as dung gatherers were a common sight in ancient cities. Also common were “piss-pots” located on street corners, where human urine could be collected for use in tanneries or by washerwomen. (Source)

I included the longer version so you can get an idea of what Simon dealt with every day. Hard labor, marginalization, and smelly, chemical-y dung and urine filled processes.

So now we can understand perhaps why Luke included the fact that Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner and mentioned that Simon was a tanner three times in rapid succession. Here, finally, we see as with all walks of life, tanners were finally enjoying fellowship in faith with other disciples. Peter choosing to stay with Simon (Acts 9:43) certainly helped equalize the rungs on the ladder and pointed to the fact that Jesus and only Jesus was primary and exalted. Prostitutes, tax-collectors, dyers, and tanners were fully included in the faith as much as wealthy men (Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus), lawyers (Paul) and luxury merchants (Lydia).

The cross is the great equalizer, and Jesus is full of grace and mercy. The societal inclusion for Simon the Tanner must have been heart-warming to him and his love for Jesus must have abounded all the more. Here at last, he could worship among the faithful, and not in a separate synagogue. On his one day of rest, his voice raised in hymns of praise must have been forceful and joyous.

Posted in history, Uncategorized

Forerunner to the Reformation: John Wycliffe

Martin Luther, 1483-1546

It is Reformation year 500. Five hundred years ago this October 31st, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Electorate of Saxony within the Holy Roman Empire. Luther wrote,

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Here are the actual 95 theses if you want to read them:
The 95 theses sums the Reformation up this way-

Luther spent his early years in relative anonymity as a monk and scholar. But in 1517 Luther penned a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. His “95 Theses,” which propounded two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds—was to spark the Protestant Reformation

Is there any event that is not connected in time by a previous event? Isn’t time a constant stream of events, all tumbling one after another, connected by their confinement to the visible riverbanks by the hands of God? Did the Reformation emerge all of a sudden, or were there catalysts and stepping stones laid first? Were there forerunners? I believe so.

As RC Sproul said recently, that before Luther there was Hus, (or Huss, spellings vary) who was preceded by Wycliffe, who was preceded by Augustin who was preceded by Paul who was preceded by Jesus.

The reason there are forerunners to Martin Luther and the Reformation is that Jesus never leaves Himself without a witness, and He as Master Husbandman tends soils so that there is always a soil ready to receive the Gospel. Even in “The Dark Ages”, the Gospel was doing its work in hearts. Salvations were always occurring.

Burk Parsons wrote of this connection from one era to the next, the vine as I envision it. It is planted by God and watered by Him, with men springing up along the vine as forerunners to His particular plan and path regarding the Reformation.

John Wycliffe was the morning star of the Reformation. He was a protestant and a reformer more than a century before Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Through Wycliffe, God planted the seeds of the Reformation, He watered the seeds through John Hus, and He brought the flower of the Reformation to bloom through Martin Luther. The seed of the flower of the German Augustinian monk Luther’s 95 theses was planted by the English scholar and churchman John Wycliffe.

Josh Buice wrote two weeks ago that The Reformation Resulted in an Explosion of Gospel Missions. He started a preaching series in–

–2017 with an emphasis on the Reformation and how our salvation is directly connected to the work of the Reformers. R. C. Sproul writes, “The Reformation was not merely a Great Awakening; it was the Greatest Awakening to the true Gospel since the Apostolic Age.”

During the days that preceded the Reformation, the Bible had been locked away in a dark dungeon by the Roman Catholic Church.  They insisted that the Word of God must be heard by the priests, who would speak it only in Latin. The Roman Catholic Church insisted that the common person was unable to understand the Word of God without the aid of a priest. However, they were unwilling to release control of the Bible, and in order to prevent anyone from getting their hands on the Word of God—they would burn people at the stake as an example to all who resisted their authority.

Under John Calvin’s leadership in Geneva Switzerland, thousands of missionaries were being trained and by 1562, over 2,000 churches had been planted in France. In 1560, the Geneva Bible was published which was greatly used in Europe and was also the Bible that was brought off of the Mayflower by the early Pilgrims of America. Through the Reformation, an explosion of gospel missions took place that shook the world.

Source Wikimedia Commons

The Reformation is an extremely important part of church history. One would think with the release of the Bible in the people’s language, the explosion of missions, the work of the Gospel in the hearts of many subsequent to the reformation, that our ecclesiology would progress in an upward trajectory. But satan does not like upward, only downward. He fights back. He fought back since the moment the first Geneva Bibles were released. And the Geneva Bible’s history is interesting in itself! It was the first Bible to be translated directly to of the Hebrew. It had extensive notes and cross references, making it the first study Bible. It was translated so that the people could read it. More here.

Sadly, 500 years after the start of The Reformation, there is currently a definite softening toward the Catholic Church by many people who should know better.

Philosopher and poet George Santayana famously said,

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense. Scribner’s, 1905: 284)

We must remain vigilant because we are not unaware of satan’s schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11). We should learn the past in order to remember the past and to push forward with clear, honest, uncomplicated Gospel evangelization. We shouldn’t ever remain ignorant of what has happened in the past of our church history. This is the 500th year of the Reformation. Here are some resources for you to learn more:

The Heresies of the Catholic Church

Evangelical Syncretism: Rethinking the Reformation

John MacArthur and RC Sproul on Sola Scriptura and the Reformation

Undermining the Headship of Christ (The line between John Hus and Martin Luther is explained here).

A History of the Reformation, article by RC Sproul

Memoirs of a Medieval Woman: this is a biography of Margery Kempe, taken from her dictated autobiography. She was born sometime around 1373 and died after 1438, which makes her a devotee of the Catholic Church at a time when both the rise of the Lollards (Wycliffe followers) was gaining traction and also the incessant Catholic pilgrimages to Jerusalem were occurring. It is also set in the time just prior to the Council of Constance. This Council was held between 1414 and 1418, principally to reunite Christendom from the ‘too many popes’ syndrome (schism) but also to examine the teachings of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus and to reform the RCC as a reaction to the attack on the Church’s authority.

Wikipedia lists her as “an English Christian mystic, known for dictating The Book of Margery Kempe, a work considered by some to be the first autobiography in the English language.” Kempe wrote of it all from a first person perspective. I liked the book for its attention to vivid detail on the practices of the Catholic Church, the realities of the pilgrimage journeys to the middle East, the ecstatic visions and examination of same by any and all church authorities Margery could get to listen (anchorites, priests, bishops, other mystics like Julian of Norwich, lay people…)