Charles Clermont-Ganneau and the Moabite Stone

Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau was born in France, on February 19, 1846 and became a member of the French Diplomatic Corps.

A skilled translator, Clermont-Ganneau became Professor of Oriental Languages including Hebrew and ancient Aramaic. He took specific interest in the archaeological evidence for Bible history. In 1873-74 he engaged in archaeological investigations in Palestine, especially around Jerusalem. He sought to link the names of Arab villages with the Bible names of towns. He also excavated tombs, studying ossuaries (burial coffins) used from the time of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. He found many New Testament names and also the symbol of the cross on some ossuaries.

Clermont-Ganneau is best remembered, however, for his translation of the Moabite Stone. That story commences in 1868 when a German medical missionary named Klein discovered an inscribed stone “four feet high, two feet wide and 14 inches thick” in the village of Dhibon (This is the Bible town of Dibon cited in Joshua 13:9), in Moab. Recognising the value of this Mesha Stele, although unable to decipher the writing, Klein offered to purchase the stone. But the German Consul also heard of the find and wanted to buy it.

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Then the young Frenchman, Charles Clermont-Gammeau, hired a local Arab to go and examine the stone. The poor copy of the inscription this fellow brought back was enough to convince Clermont-Gammeau of the stone’s historical value. Next he sent Ya’qub Karavaca, an Arab, and two companions to make a ‘squeeze’ of the inscription, by pressing wet paper on the stone and peeling it off when it was dry.

But the Bedouins who owned the stone caused trouble. A fight broke out.

“One of Karavaca’s companions was speared in the leg, but the other, as he fled, snatched the still wet squeeze off the stone and stuffed it inside his tunic…” (Diggings, January, 1995).

Suffice to say it is to Clermont-Gammeau we are indebted for the ‘Moabite Stone’, which is dated from about 850BC and now in the Louvre Museum in Paris –and the translation that speaks of Mesha, king of Moab rebelling against Omri, King of Israel … just as the Bible says it did! (II Kings 3:4-5).

Once again the spade had vindicated the Book of books.

Clermont-Gammeau continued to have a significant role in archaeological investigation, including the ossuaries mentioned earlier. He also functioned as the most reliable authority on antiquities following the discovery of the Moabite Stone.

A Jerusalem antiquities dealer, Moses Shapira, tried to cash in on the Moabite excitement, producing a multitude of fake Moabite artefacts including clay figurines, large human heads and clay vessels. He had them inscribed with texts copied from the Mesha Stele. The Germans, stung by missing out on the Moabite Stone, bought 1700 of Shapira’s artefacts for the Berlin Museum.

Clermont-Gammeau was convinced the pieces were forgeries and was able to expose the modern manufacture of the pieces.

Then in 1883 Shapira presented fragments of supposedly ancient parchment claimed to come from near the Dead Sea. Clermont-Gammeau not only suspected forgery but was able to show how Shapira had taken the fake strips from a Deuteronomy scroll he had previously sold to the British Museum. Shapira’s attempted sale for a million pounds fell through and he later shot himself.

Clermont-Gammeau died on February 15, 1923, just days before his 77th birthday.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Felix Neff Spends Himself in the High Alps

This is the day that … Felix Neff was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1798. His father died when he was young and his mother denied him expressions of motherly affection, hoping to increase his manliness. She was a deist, having no interest in worship of God, yet her son displayed a ready keenness for worship and faith.

Despite his religious interests and attendance he was not converted until he read Honey from the Rock by Thomas Willcock. He was struck by the fact that he could bring nothing to God and yet receive everything from Him. He wrote in the book, “Felix Neff has found peace here on these two pages”.

He went on to various forms of ministry, but his serious approach to religion did not go down well with those more given to wordliness. After 2 years of ministry in France, facing various oppositions, he, at the age of 24, was ready to commence his remarkable ministry in the French Alps.

He appreciated the chance to minister where he did not have to confront the shallow state of other ministers.

From village to village he travelled – “in dead of winter through drifts, the thunder of avalanches alone awakening the alpine stillness.  In four years he did not sleep five nights successively in the same place.  His stomach was destroyed by poor food and the irregularity of meal times.  He was always alone …” (A Book of Protestant Saints, by E. Gordon, page 201).

But he persevered.  He saw a “marked improvement in the moral life of the people” as they responded to his Christian teaching.  He introduced irrigation, taught better methods of potato culture, worked alongside the men of the village, helped build school houses – and even founded a teachers’ training college.

He became known as “the Apostle of the High Alps” of France. He described the conditions of the people thus. “The work of an evangelist in High Alps greatly resembles that of a missionary among the savages; the almost equal degree of uncivilization that prevails among them both, being a great obstacle to missionary labours. Among the valleys, under my charge, that of Freyssinieres is the most backward. Architecture, agriculture, education of every sort is in its very earliest infancy.”

However he did see revival there. “All the people seemed to give themselves up to reading, meditation and prayer; the young people especially seemed animated by a holy spirit; a heavenly flame appeared to have communicated itself from one to another. I had scarcely thirty hours’ rest during the week.”

And on his deathbed he wrote his final letter:  “I ascend to our Father in entire peace.  Victory!  Victory!  Through Jesus Christ.”

Felix Neff died at the age of 31.

Neff is called by some the David Brainerd of the High Alps. He had much in common with Brainerd. Both laboured in primitive conditions. Both were young. Both came to their field of labour under a cloud of misrepresentation. Both were highly self-sacrificing. Both remained unmarried. Both died at an early age from over-exertion under conditions of extreme hardship. Both experienced a work of reviving grace. Both were men of prayer.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Giralamo Savonarola Impacts Florence and is Martyred

This is the day that … Giralamo Savonarola was born to a noble family in Florence, Italy, in 1452.

At the age of 21, he left home secretly to join a Dominican monastery.

He was thirty when he preached his first sermons in St Marcos, Florence, resulting in ridicule and shame. “The disappointed thousands went away murmuring at the incompetence” of the preacher (Savonarola, by Rev. W. Rule, 1855, page 22).

For the next six years he retreated from the pulpit to master the art of preaching … and to study the Scriptures. His zeal was noted and he was recalled to Florence.

When he stood again in St Marcos, it was like a newborn John the Baptist, thundering out the Word of the Lord and calling sinners to repentance. “Tears ran profusely, mourners beat upon their breasts, crying to God for mercy; the church echoed and re-echoed with their sobs” (Prophets in Evangelism¸ by F. Barlow, page 159).

And among those whose sins he lashed was the infamous Medici – Lorenzo the Magnificent, Prince of Florence! Humanist notions had been promoted under Lorenzo. And even the Pope “who, though claiming to be head of the Church, was living openly in sin” came in for a powerful rebuke from this Italian ‘prophet’ (Yarns on Christian Pioneers, by E. Hayes, page 15).

Pope Alexander VI – one of the Borgia family – was denounced as “a heretic and an infidel”. Bear in mind that Savonarola was himself a Roman Catholic. But corruption and sin were rampant … and Savonarola attacked both clergy and civic leaders.

In 1493 Savonarola was given charge, as the first vicar-general, to reform the Dominican order in Tuscany, which he had proposed.

His great bonfire in the city plaza – 7 February, 1497 – saw the destruction of “lewd books, obscene pictures, carnival costumes, playing cards, dice, false hair, books on astrology and witchcraft – indeed anything that reeked of sinful living”.

The Venetian Ambassador offered him 20,000 gold ducats for his pile of ‘vanities’ heaped so high in a tiered pyramid. But Savonarola burned the lot!

The death of Lorenzo, and the invasion of France (destruction of the city averted by Savonarola’s face-to-face encounter with the French king), led to this remarkable preacher being the uncrowned ruler of Florence.

The republic of Florence was to be a Christian commonwealth, of which God was the sole sovereign, and His Gospel the law: the most stringent enactments were made for the repression of vice and frivolity. Gambling was prohibited and the vanities of dress were restrained by sumptuary laws.

It became a stronghold of puritanism … though not in doctrine!

By 1490 the tide of popular opinion was turning against him. Pope Alexander VI ex-communicated him (13 May, 1497). He was accused of heresy. He ignored the orders and continued in public office, but the next year the Medici were returned to power and Savonarola was ordered to stop preaching.

He was brought to trial for falsely claiming to have seen visions, and uttered prophecies, for religious error, and for sedition. Under torture he made avowals which he afterwards withdrew. He was declared guilty and the sentence was confirmed by Rome. On May 23, 1498, this extraordinary man and two Dominican disciples were hanged and burned.

A biographer records an interesting incident as Savonarola was led through the crowd to the place of his martyrdom. Some “broke through the police lines and slashed at his bare legs and feet with their knives and daggers …” But a poor old woman offered him a crust of bread. “Take and eat, Blessed Father Girolamo,” she said. He smiled, “Thank you, my daughter, but I need no food now. I have so little way to go. In a moment I will be in the mansions on high having sup with my Lord and Saviour” (A Crown of Fire, by P. van Paassen, page 313).

So it was, on 23 May, 1498, at the age of 46, he was hung and burned in the Plaza. During these final hours, the Catholic Bishop had said: “I declare thee separated from the church militant and triumphant.” To which Savonarola replied: “From the church militant, yes; but from the church triumphant, no; that is not yours to do!”

Luther spoke of Savonarola as “a pioneer of the Reformation” and another writer adds that this Dominican priest “seems to have believed in justification by faith” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 608).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Katie Booth the Marechale

This is the day that … The Marechale was born, in 1858.

She was the second child of William and Catherine Booth … and she, too, was named Catherine (but usually called Katie).

At the age of 22, she was taken to Paris by her mother and left there with a small group of equally young women to introduce the Salvation Army (of which her father was the “General”) into France.

Within a week she was “sworn at, jeered at, and pelted with stones and mud …” But her incredible tenacity and sincerity of purpose gradually won through. They nicknamed her “La Capitaine” at first … and then “La Maréchale” (the Field-Marshall).

The first meetings in Paris were in a dingy building in a rough quarter, where, as the Police Sergeant described her crowd, “They have got in that crowd half the cut-throats of Paris”. Yet these hardened men were dazzled by the innocent and dedicated zeal of the young ladies pressing upon them a gospel which their religion-hating culture had denied them.

After no result from exhausting effort a Christian lady advised Katie to return to her mother in England. The reply came, “If I cannot save France, I can die for it!” Young Catherine won her first convert by going to an old washer-woman at the back of the meeting, hugging her and telling her how much she loved her.

With the assistance of a dozen other young maidens under her remarkable leadership – ever in the forefront of the battle for souls – the Maréchale planted the Salvation Army also in Switzerland, Belgium and Holland.

On 8 February, 1887, she married Arthur Sydney Clibborn (the “Hallelujah Quaker” had been his nickname when he first joined the Salvation Army!) – and the couple were known as the “Booth-Clibborns”. Ten children were to be born in the next 15 years.

Then came the clash of personalities – General Booth laying down certain laws … to be implicitly obeyed … and Katie and her husband refusing to do so. It is a sad story …

Clibborn was a pacifist and he sided with the Boers in South Africa during the Boer War. He also wanted to preach divine healing and the imminent return of Christ; two themes which echoed through the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements which followed during the twentieth century. The Booth-Clibborns became followers of Scottish born preacher, Dowie, who believed himself to be a modern-day John the Baptist. Downie published Clibborn’s endorsement and that brought great tension with William Booth.

On 10 January, 1902, the Booth-Clibbons resigned from the Salvation Army. Ten years later, when her father lay dying – and blind – she was allowed into his room “on condition that she would not say who she was” (The Heavenly Witch, by C. Scott, page 217).

On 20 February, 1939, she was widowed, and on 9 May, 1955, she herself was ‘promoted to Glory’.

Despite her severance from the Army’s ranks over half a century earlier she never slowed up in her quest for souls.

Her fare to Australia (in 1936) was paid for by Dame Violet Wills, a member of the tobacco family … although Dame Violet was ironically, a campaigner against smoking.

After meeting the Maréchale John Ridley wrote:
I trace thy fervent feet
to many a haunt of Hell;
And hear thy voice so sweet
The gospel message tell;

And sinners in their shame
And women of ill fame
Will ever bless thy name,
La Maréchale.
(The Passion for Christ, page 72).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

King of America

I am an Aussie and so I am not into American patriotism. I leave that to them. Since American influence over western culture is ubiquitous much is written and said that is tinged with that patriotism. What I am writing here is not to suggest any idolatry of the American nation, but simply to share with you something I recently found which honours God with a significant place in that nation.

But first, some background.

Nations have their own deities, leaders, values, etc. These things have more impact on the nation and its future than might be anticipated by some. So when a nation makes a strong statement about what it is and what it stands for or worships, you can be sure there will be repercussions in the future.

The nation of France, as an example, made a deliberate mockery of God, during the French Revolution. Catholicism had been France’s national religion, but on November 10, 1793 Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was rededicated as a Temple of Reason. An opera dancer, Mademoiselle Maillard, draped in the colours of the new republic, was enthroned as the goddess of reason on the altar of the Cathedral. The Cathedral was then used as a food warehouse during the revolution.

That rejection of Christianity in all its forms has had profound impact on France and Europe in the centuries since.

In 1606 the Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quiros arrived at the Pacific islands of New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and dedicated all the lands from there to the South Pole as “Terra Australis del Espiritu Santu” – the “Great South Land of the Holy Spirit“. This dedication is held to have significant prophetic fulfilment yet to be enjoyed in Australia and New Zealand.

So, now to America. I was delighted to be shown the following excerpt from a tract titled “Common Sense”, written in 1791 by an Englishman who took up the revolutionary cause of the Americas. Thomas Paine uses the term “king of America” and directed it to acknowledge God’s significant role in that nation, which at that time had not yet developed its constitution or gained statehood.

Paine declares that God is the King of America and rules via His Law, which is found in the Bible. Thus a crown should be placed on the Bible itself, to show that God’s law is King and there should be no other. Then scatter the crown among the people to show that the law belongs to them.

“But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.” Thomas Paine “Common Sense”

(For a full text of this tract go to: http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/milestones/commonsense/text.html)

Thomas Paine proclaimed, before the formation of the fledgling nation, that God is the sovereign and God’s Word, the Bible, is the holy law upon which the nation is established.

That’s a wonderful start and is just part of what has made America a significant player in world affairs over the past 2 centuries. Note that the French mockery of religion dates to 1793, while Paine’s profession of God’s centrality occurred almost at the same time, 1791. In the 200 years since we can see that Reason did not produce the same national significance that godliness brought to America.

We need to be careful about what we dedicate ourselves to, at an official and practical level. Future generations are at stake.