Dura Europas was an ancient and obscure military outpost and trading center near the Euphrates River on the edge of the eastern Roman Empire. Its rediscovery in 1932 revealed several important archaeological finds, including a Christian house church and a Jewish synagogue. The synagogue was remarkable for the frescoes that covered its walls. One of the central figures depicted in the synagogue is Abraham, shown receiving God’s promise that Abraham will be the “ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:4). Abraham’s crossed and covered hands portray his acceptance of this promise (on the gesture, see Shabbath 10a in the Babylonian Talmud). Abraham’s white hair reflects the ancient Jewish tradition that “there never was a man upon whom grey hairs were sprinkled until Abraham came” (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer LII). The vaulted heaven indicates that Abraham’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Early Christians, especially Paul, saw the Abrahamic promise as scriptural warrant for the inclusion of the gentiles in the people of God (Rom. 4:13–25).
The call of Abram is one of my favorite stories in the whole Bible. I have moved quite a lot, and the experience of packing up my life in England to move to the U.S. nearly three years ago is still fresh in my memory. The challenges that face Abram and his family are exciting, probably daunting, but certainly not without their cost. I love the way the call is vague about the destination: it seems that getting moving is more important than knowing the final details.
The Transfiguration has a hundred sermons in it; it is packed with hints about the identity of Jesus Christ, the relationship of the Trinity, and the story of salvation. But to me the most touching element is the subplot: a moment when three ordinary people are overwhelmed in the presence of greatness.