Hotter Holy Land

Question: I remember the Bible describing the Holy Land as flowing with milk and honey. When I visited there recently, I found it dry and more desert-like. Was the Bible exaggerating?

Richard Evans, Tampa, Florida

Answer: Probably not. There is good evidence that the Holy Land as we know it today is somewhat warmer and drier than in biblical times.

For example, in Genesis 13, the region of Sodom and Gomorrah is described as being well-watered and like a rich garden. But the text makes it clear that this was its appearance “before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah” (Gn 13:10). Today that region, likely the area around the Dead Sea, is deep desert.

Other areas of the Holy Land seemed to have featured more trees and agriculture in biblical times than today. For example, in 1000 B.C., Solomon is described as being able to harvest prodigious amounts of trees for his building projects. Land-use studies and archeology also provide evidence of the prevalence of crops and forests, which were suited to cooler, wetter climates.

Israel currently has a program attempting to reverse the desertification by planting trees, a program that has received large financial support. This is an attempt to partially reforest Israel.

Your visit may also have been affected by topography and season. Israel has a wet season from October to April and a dry season from June to September, and this affects the greenery a great deal. Further, the region up north around the Sea of Galilee is far more green and lush than the areas south near Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Therefore, the Promised Land known in biblical times likely did flow with “milk and honey.” This expression speaks to abundant livestock and the rich crop life of an area more green and lush than today.

Dance during the liturgy

Question: With regard to long-adopted traditions within Christianity, like Santeria in Latin America, would it be safe to say that charismatic, Pentecostal dancing can also be traced back to black slavery voodoo practices and Santeria?

Robert Morales, Mountain View, California

Answer: No. Dancing is widespread in all cultures. We cannot narrowly attribute dancing, even in liturgical settings, as simply due to voodoo, Santeria or to pagan or even demonic roots.

It is true that different cultures ascribe different meanings to dance and thus have different tolerances for it in liturgical settings.

In the West, dance is more usually associated with romance and secular entertainment. In Africa and some places in the Far East however, dance is also used for praise and also has sacred meanings.

The Church generally frowns on dance within the sacred liturgy. There are, however, exceptions made for liturgies that take place in Africa and certain other settings.

Santeria and voodoo, though tacitly ignored by most Catholic prelates (due to racial and cultural complexities), cannot be equated with or “adopted” to the proper practice of Catholic Faith. That the practitioners of these borrow from Catholicism is not evidence that they are Catholic any more than Protestants (who also borrow from Catholicism) should be considered Catholics.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.