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It's not hard to understand why the New Testament might resonate more strongly for the cultivation of relics than the Old Testament over the centuries of the Church's history. To name a few:

  • The Holy Grail
  • The Spear of Destiny
  • The Stone of Unction (once resided in Ephesus)
  • The True Cross
  • The Holy Girdle (and other Marian relics)
  • Bones of the Saints

Many of these New Testament relics hold clear theological and soteriological significance.

With regard to why early Christian institutions (Byzantine Church, Roman Church, as well as quasi-autonomous monasteries) have not devoted resources to the acquisition of Old Testament relics, I can think of two major factors:

  • Preservation bias (the Old Testament happened a long time ago)
  • Less straight-forward interpretation

This scholarly work lays out some of the thinking behind the acquisition of relics in Byzantium, how they were collected and what divine influence they were expected to provide. The focus is clearly on Passion relics and virtually nothing on relics from the Pre-monarchistic period or Post-exilic period that bookends the Old Testament.

The closest thing I was able to find was featured in a different monograph from Brill Publishing, titled The Paintings of the Pre-Islamic Kaaba. Here the author highlights that the Kaaba once housed ram horns believed to originally have belonged to the ram that Abraham sacrificed in place of Isaac. While the time period is concurrent with Christian relic acquisitions, it's an Islamic view on the sanctity of an Old Testament relic. Moreover, I have not encountered any Christian institution that had an expressed interest in acquiring the ram horns of Abraham's sacrifice.

Question

Taking the general direction of my above research, what evidence do we have for the existence of Old Testament relics that were sought after by the early Church(es)? Not including the Ark of the Covenant, which is rather ubiquitous.

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    The ark of the covenant of the LORD: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more. Jeremiah 3:16. These artefacts were for a specific purpose, for a specific time. Then, their purpose was over and the reality was to be realised. Why attempt to find what God has (no doubt) hidden >
    – Nigel J
    Jul 3, 2023 at 5:14
  • The existence of relics which some may venerate, e.g. the Shroud of Turin, does not make the practice scripturally valid. The second commandment, that which says "thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters under the earth," broadly speaks against the veneration of objects. That said, there may be few willing to own up to such a practice today.
    – Biblasia
    Jul 3, 2023 at 9:09
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    Really interesting question. I know there are relics of St Anne (Mary's mother) and purported relics of John the Baptist, both being old testament figures from a certain point of view, but I would love to know if there are surviving relics of figures actually mentioned in the OT.
    – workerjoe
    Jul 3, 2023 at 18:04
  • If it helps to clarify, it's more of a church history question than a theological question. Cheers Jul 4, 2023 at 1:38

1 Answer 1

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By way of serendipity, I found a satisfactory answer to this question in the current book I'm reading: "A Short History of Antioch" by Bouchier (1876). This was nearly two months after I asked the question, and had nearly forgotten about it. An account from a source the author cites quickly refreshed my memory:

Beneath a church near the west end of the city was a crypt reached by a flight of steps. This place was said to house the tomb of Ezra and of Asmunit herself, Moses' rod, Joshua's staff, a fragment of the Tables of the Law, Jephthah's knife and more. It is possible that some of these curiosities were really brought from Jerusalem in the time of Epiphanes, and had been preserved first by the Jews, then by the Christians down to the writer's age.

Here, Bouchier was referring to a source by the name of "Hadji khalifa", more about him here. Khalifa was writing at a later date, so a degree of skepticism may be on order. However, his work, on balance, is fairly well-received by scholars.

If nothing else, this account shows that there was at least an interest in Old Testament relics in Asia Minor -- though we cannot exhaustively prove the accuracy of his narrative. It's the closest I've come to tracking down threads of OT relic veneration. Also noteworthy is that Antioch, the historical locus of the Arian and Nestorian sects/heresies was the location of these relics. A place whose Christology didn't recognize any subdivisions within the Godhead to also be the site where OT not NT relics were venerated does somewhat fit the spiritual landscape of the day. Again, mostly speculation, but it seems plausible enough to me.

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