EXCLUSIVE: The mysterious story of the “seven sleeping youths”
(ORDO NEWS) — This story stands out from other religious narratives and rather resembles the plot of a science fiction story. In the modern press, not the topic of the unknown, this legend is described as follows:
“They are called differently – the Seven Sleeping Youths, the Seven Youths of Ephesus or the Seven Holy Youths, but they are equally revered both in Christianity and in Islam. These young men lived in the city of Ephesus in the III century AD, during the time of severe persecution of Christians, and were themselves hidden Christians. All of them were of noble birth, and one was the son of the mayor of Ephesus. When the Roman emperor Decius Trajan arrived in the city, he ordered all residents to make sacrifices to the pagan gods before the next planned war. However, seven friends pointedly refused to do so.
Surprisingly, they were not even killed for this, but only stripped of their military belts and sent to “think and change their beliefs.” For this, the young men decided to go into voluntary exile. They left the city and took refuge in a cave on Mount Ohlon (Selion or Peony). The exact location of this cave is still unknown.
For a while, the young men lived in a cave, but then the emperor returned and ordered them to appear for trial if they still refuse to obey his order. The young men came and declared that they did not give up their faith, and then they were sentenced to a terrible death. The young men were taken into a cave in which they took refuge, and then they blocked the entrance with stones so that they slowly died inside from hunger and thirst. At the entrance to the cave, there was a box with tablets on which it was described who was walled up here and for what offenses. However, due to divine intervention or something else (we will discuss this in more detail below), the young men did not die, and soon one after another fell asleep.
Days, months and years passed, and they kept sleeping and sleeping. And so two centuries passed. The 5th century AD came, and the owner of the land on which stood Mount Ohlon with a cave decided to start building a house and for this he ordered his workers to dismantle the entrance to the cave and bring these stones to him. And as soon as the entrance to the cave was opened again, all seven young men woke up, as if they had not slept for two centuries. Moreover, the young men did not even remember how they were walled up in a cave, but soon they got hungry and sent one of them, named Iamblichus, to go to the city for bread. When Iamblichus approached Ephesus, he was amazed at what he saw; a Christian cross was depicted on the gates of the city. The times of persecution of Christians are over. However, Iamblichus still did not understand what was the matter, he wrote off the cross for a divine miracle, and then went to buy bread, for which he paid with a coin from the time of Decius Trajan.
When the guy was brought to the mayor, he understood from his vague words that the matter was completely different, and then he released Iamblichus and all those curious to that very cave. Only then, near the cave, the same box with tablets was found, which described everything that happened to the seven young men.
One more detail should be mentioned separately. It was in the 5th century that many doubters (heretics) appeared that a dead man could be resurrected by the will of the Lord. That is, those who doubt the miracles performed by Jesus and the very resurrection of Jesus. “How can there be a resurrection of the dead if after death there is no body or soul left?” They asked. And when the seven youths appeared, who had been dead or had slept for two centuries in a cave, then this was interpreted by the people as what God proves by this incident – the resurrection from the dead is possible.
Soon, rumors about the miracle of the seven youths spread to other cities, and Emperor Theodosius II arrived in Ephesus. He talked for a long time about something with the young men in the cave, and then they bowed to him and again “fell asleep” or died. After that, the cave was again walled up, and it was announced that the young men would be resurrected next time before the World Court.
In Islam, the legend of the seven youths sounds similar, only there was still a dog with them. If this was a real case, how could it be explained from the point of view of logic and without resorting to divine intervention? Maybe the young men fell into a prolonged lethargic sleep? This state is very similar to death, and in history there are cases when a person who fell into a lethargic sleep was mistaken for the deceased and buried. According to some sources, the longest lethargic sleep lasted 22 years, but this person was regularly fed with a tube. Without food and water, no lethargic patient can last that long. However, what if the metabolism of the human body is slowed down so much that all reactions in the cells also “fall asleep”? We see something like this in science fiction films, when a person during long flights in space is put into anabiotic sleep. Science, however, is only approaching the study of this practice. But the human body is known for its surprises. It itself can go into a state of suspended animation at low temperatures.
In 2006, 35-year-old Japanese man Mitsutaka Utikoshi spent 24 days without food or water, falling into a state similar to suspended animation. The man disappeared in the mountains, and when he was found, the metabolic process in his body practically stopped, his pulse disappeared, and his body temperature reached 22 degrees. Doctors theorized that he fell into a state of hypothermia early on. His brain functions then recovered 100%. Let’s imagine that something similar happened to those young men in the cave. After a decrease in temperature, from a lack of fresh air and due to stress (to see how you are walled up alive, then another test), they fell into a radically prolonged suspended animation and came out of it only when fresh air entered the cave. However, their bodies undoubtedly survived the strongest shake-up and could not return to normal.
Let’s add some details to the above story and hypotheses. Seven youths lived in the 3rd century. Maximilian, one of them, was the son of the mayor of the city of Ephesus, the other six of his friends also came from the Ephesian aristocracy, and they were all in the military service and were Christians. Emperor Decius (Decius Trajan) (249-251) arrived in Ephesus and ordered sacrifices to pagan deities, but the young men refused to do so. Then the emperor ordered to remove from them the insignia of military distinction – military belts, but, nevertheless, released them, hoping that they would change their minds while he was at war.
The young men left the city and took refuge in a cave on Mount Ohlon, where they prayed, preparing for a martyr’s death. Iamblichus, during one of his campaigns to the city for bread, heard that the emperor had returned, and they were looking for him with his comrades for trial. The youths voluntarily left the cave and appeared at the trial. They were sentenced to die in their cave – the emperor ordered to block the entrance to it with stones so that the youth would die of thirst and hunger. Two dignitaries who were present at the laying of the entrance were secret Christians and, in order to preserve the memory of the martyrs, they put in the masonry a reliquary with two tin tablets, where the names of the seven youths and the circumstances of their suffering and death were written.
According to the life, by the will of God, the youths did not die, but fell asleep in a wonderful dream that lasted two centuries. The Lord allegedly revived the youths, and they woke up, as if from an ordinary dream, unaware that almost two hundred years had passed. Preparing to accept the torment, the friends instructed Iamblichus (in the Catholic tradition he bears the name Diomedes) to buy them bread again in the city. Approaching the city, the young man was amazed to see the holy cross on the gate – the time of persecution against Christians had long passed. Paying for the bread, Iamblichus gave the merchant the coin of the emperor Decius and was detained as a hidden treasure of old coins. He was brought before the mayor, who at that time had a bishop. The priest realized that God was revealing a secret through the young man, and went with the people to the cave.
Soon the emperor himself arrived at Ephesus and talked with the youths in the cave. Then the holy youths in front of everyone’s eyes bowed their heads to the ground (lay down?) And fell asleep again, this time supposedly until the day of the general resurrection. The emperor wanted to put each of the youths in a precious shrine, but, appearing to him in a dream, the holy youths said that their bodies should be left in a cave on earth.
John Kolov in the life of Paisius the Great cites the Ephesian youths as an example of the fact that spiritual food can also nourish satisfyingly. In Islam, a legend tells that young men slept for 309 years, thinking that they slept one day. After a while, the young people sent one of their comrades to the city to buy food for them. On the way, he noticed that the city had changed a lot. Approaching the merchant, he handed him a coin. However, he, noticing that the coins looked different, took this young man to the ruler, to whom he told his story. At that time, Christianity was already dominating the Roman Empire. However, the Islamic version differs from the Christian: having become interested in this miracle, people went to the cave to which the young man pointed. They found that everyone who was there, including a dog named Kitmir, had disappeared. After that, this place became sacred.
The legend spread from Ephesus. Already in the 5th century, it was widely dispersed in Asia Minor and Syria. The oldest surviving source is the Syrian text of a monk named Jacob of Saruk (5th century). Another version of the 6th century is found in a Syrian manuscript in the British Museum, where 8 sleeping are named. Perhaps the eighth sleeper is a dog named Kitmir. It is interesting that in the VIII century. Paul the Deacon in his “History of the Lombards” places the scene in Germany: “On the farthest outskirts of Germany, in the northwest, on the ocean shore, there is a cave under a rock, where seven youths have slept since time immemorial.” There is an Anglo-Norman poem “Li set dormanz” (Seven Sleepers), written by a certain Chardry. But it gained particular popularity during the time of the Crusades. Its presentation is also found in The Golden Legend by Yakov Voraginsky.
Jacob of Sarug gives the youthful sleep duration of 372 years. In accordance with the chronology of the reign of emperors, the period of sleep is sometimes reduced to 193 or 187 years. They also mention the closeness of the legend with the history of the origin of the constellation Ursa Major, which is found in a number of Eurasian legends, the stars of which are interpreted as 7 men and one dog – the star Alcor. Catholic tradition believes that the relics of the youths rest in France, in the church of Saint Victoire in Marseille, where they were transferred during the Crusades, when a cave with the remains was discovered near Ephesus. The Ephesian caves were excavated by Austrian archaeologists of the 19th century.
First of all, the definition of “sleeping” seems to be incorrect. Sleep (even lethargic) involves metabolism, consumption of air, water and food. These young men had nothing of the kind. It would be more correct to talk about a coma. Suppose the young men got hold of some unknown witchcraft drug that plunges them into a coma for a long time. For example, something like tetrodotoxin, the poison of the puffer fish, which is used to brainwash the sorcerers of Haiti. But a coma from tetrodotoxin lasts only a day (and the coffin must be dug out in 12 hours, otherwise the poisoned person will suffocate without air). And here – 200 or even 360 years … The coma turns out to be some kind of strange, almost vampiric …
Next – about the coin. Images of the emperor Decius Trajan were placed on gold coins. I understand that the sci-fi plot is very beautiful just with this coin with the face of an emperor who has not ruled for 2-3 centuries. But the young man was sent to the market to buy not a herd of cows (the price of a gold coin), but some bread. Why do we need a different coin – a copper one, and they depicted not the face of the emperor, but all sorts of other symbols. Moreover, the same for centuries.
An interesting detail: if a young man bought a couple of loaves of bread with a gold coin, then he would have been poured with change of copper coins weighing tens of kilograms, which he simply could not carry. However, none of the traders in his market would have taken a gold coin (for a variety of reasons, including because it could be counterfeit). There were special specialists for gold coins on the market – money changers. The young man had to turn to the money changer with his coin. According to the legend, the noise was raised due to the fact that the coin is old and supposedly from a hoard. Well, so what? After all, the young man himself is from the family of the main aristocrats of the city, in the most expensive clothes, and besides, he has elite military clothes. And the sword with him. Who could dare argue with him? Let me remind you that Maximilian, the son of the mayor of the city of Ephesus, sent his friend young Iamblichus and a similar cadet to the market for bread. And if the cadets did not have copper coins, but only gold coins were found, then it clearly belonged to the son of the mayor of the city. And in this case, the whole story appears in a slightly different light …
Now about the fact that the young men woke up from a coma at the age of 200-300 and allegedly did not notice anything. But, firstly, it is difficult not to notice that you have fecal masses in your pants, from which the intestines got rid of when immersed in a coma. For if these feces remained in the intestines, they would cause rotting and automatic death there. Another option is that the excrement has fossilized in the gastrointestinal tract over the centuries, which also means intestinal obstruction and death.
And secondly, the most obvious. People for 200-300 years “slept” in a cave with rot and insects, and then they wake up – and their clothes are like yesterday. Although it should have long since crumbled to dust. And no one in the city says that Iamblichus came to the market in rags. And then the new emperor comes to meet with the young men – and those in the same clothes. Suppose “the young men were asleep.” And their clothes? Was she “sleeping” too?
Let us assume that young men did not grow old while in this state, since science knows the facts that patients do not age during lethargic sleep. True, waking up, they immediately begin to grow old literally before our eyes, and with such progress, these comatose people, waking up, really should have aged before our eyes and die the next day. But not a word about their sudden aging. And most importantly: during lethargic sleep, patients grow nails and hair. For 200-300 years, the youths should have grown patla and nails of several meters. Where is it? However, in order to grow nails and hair, you need to eat something (it’s just a vampire in a coma that feeds on the “life juices” of its victims).
In general, from all sides this story is absolutely implausible and illogical.
“AT THE PLACES OF BATTLE GLORY”
Living in Germany (Munich) Orthodox publicist Anatoly Kholodyuk visited the cave itself with the remains of seven sleeping youths, about which he spoke in the essay “In the Amman Cave of Seven Sleeping Youths: From Travel Notes on Jordan.” Eyewitness impressions are always interesting:
The Jerusalem Pilgrim Center Russia in Paints, together with the Tel Aviv travel agency New Zin Tours, opened in April 2007 a new route linking the Holy Land with Jordan, where, as you know, there are also many Christian shrines. One of them is located almost on the very outskirts of Amman, in the Al-Rajib tract. This is the famous cave of the Sleepers (Ahl Al-Kahf), revered by Christians as a cave, in which, according to legend, Christian youths who fell asleep for many years hid from persecution in the time of Emperor Decius (Decius). They woke up already in the heyday of Christianity.
True, other caves of Western and Central Asia, and even Spain, are also associated with the seven wonderful sleep of the deceased youths of Ephesus. But the cave in the tract Al-Rajib (another name is Al-Rakim) was revered as the resting place of these Christian martyrs in the 5th-6th centuries. Visiting these places with trade caravans, Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was probably well acquainted with the legend of seven sleeping youths saved by the Lord from persecution for their faith. It is believed that the narration “Cave” of the 18th sura of the Koran is nothing more than a version of the Christian tradition, which was known to the inhabitants of ancient settlements on the territory of modern Amman even before the establishment of Islam in this city.
… Friends from childhood, Maximilian, Iamblichus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exa Custodian (Constantine) and Antonin (other names are called in the Western tradition) were the sons of noble citizens of Ephesus and were in the military service of the emperor. When the persecution of Christians began under the emperor Decius (Decius, 249-251), all of them, having presented themselves on a denunciation to the emperor, openly confessed their faith in Christ, for which the insignia of military distinction were removed from them. The recalcitrant faced torment and execution. The holy youths hid in a cave, where they spent time in fasting and prayer, preparing for the martyrdom. Iamblichus, as the youngest of the youths, disguised himself and went to buy food. The emperor, having learned about the place of stay of the youths, ordered to block the entrance to the cave with stones so that they would die alive in it from hunger and thirst. Two dignitaries who participated in the walling up of the cave, were secret Christians. They decided to preserve the memory of the martyrs, for which they imperceptibly hid the reliquary among the stones, where the names of the young men and the history of their martyrdom were written on a tablet. The young men, however, did not perish: the Lord brought them into a wonderful dream that lasted for about two centuries.
By that time, the persecution of Christians had ceased, but heresies appeared that denied the resurrection of the dead. Then, through these seven youths, the Lord revealed the secret of the expected resurrection from the dead and the hereafter: they woke up, unaware of their long sleep. The entrance to the cave was dismantled, and one of the youths with old coins went to the city to buy bread. The young man began to doubt that he had come to the same city, for he not only saw the crosses there, but also heard the name of Jesus Christ openly pronounced. The one who had paid for the bread in old coin was detained and taken to the mayor, where at that time the local bishop was also present. In the conversation it became clear that the Lord through a long sleep and the awakening of the youths reveals to the Church the mystery of the resurrection of the dead. Having gone with the people to the cave, the bishop and his companions saw living youths.
Soon the emperor Theodosius the Younger (408-450) kissed the saints in the cave. Suddenly the youths bowed their heads to the ground in front of everyone’s eyes and fell asleep again. This time – until the general resurrection.
… The temple in the Amman cave is in the form of an equilateral cross (which testifies to its non-Muslim origin), its ceiling and walls are lined with stone. On the left there are three white-stone tombs, on the right there are four others, and in one of them a glazed hole turns black. Probably, once here, as in other martyria, the sacrament of the Eucharist was performed on the tombs with the remains of the saints: the stone tombs of the martyrs for Christ symbolized the tomb of the Savior Himself. And the seven holy youths decided to die for Christ because they believed in their resurrection in Him and with Him.
The relics of the saints now rest in that very tomb with a glazed opening. A Muslim serving as a guard and minister in the cave said that “in 1963, all seven tombs of the cave were opened, and in each of them a skull and bones were found, as well as some household items.” The remains were transferred to one tomb, in the end of which a hole was inaccurately punched. The Muslim directed the beam of a pocket flashlight, and through the dusty glass we saw them, piled up in a heap.
There is also a simple glazed cabinet in the cave, on the shelves of which there are simple objects that were once discovered in the cave: a small earthen jug, some tools and a few other incomprehensible gizmos.”
These are the impressions of a tourist …
TRAVELERS IN TIME
I dare say that time travel and the “time machine” were not invented by Herbert Wells. The first time travelers are seven young men who were instantly transported from the III century to the V century. And if we reason sensibly and scientifically, then within the framework of anomalism everything was in fact as follows. (And the plot is just quite sci-fi!)
Some cadets of the 3rd century hid from persecution in a cave into which other people were afraid to enter because of its bad reputation. That is, because of some anomalies in the cave, “devilry”. In an abnormal way, the young men were transferred two or three centuries into the future. Where they got unchanged, in the same clothes, with their dog. And no one saw them “sleeping” for 2-3 centuries, so there is no reason to call them “sleeping centuries”. They practically disappeared from their time and instantly found themselves in the future.
The icons depicting “sleeping” are simply a naive interpretation, for the monks did not understand the very concept of a “time machine”. And in general, the whole religious concept was here retroactively far-fetched to “search for some meaning.” Religion is not connected here in any way, before us in its pure form is movement through time.
I am inclined to believe the Islamic version of events that “having become interested in this miracle, people went to the cave to which the young man pointed. They found that everyone who was there, including the dog named Kitmir, had disappeared.”
But where did they disappear to? Yes to the same place where they came from. In his third century. Because not a single source reports about the city of Ephesus in the 3rd century AD, that the children of aristocrats, including the son of the mayor of the city, evaporated there at once. This is a late fiction of event interpreters.
In reality, something else happened. Seven cadets, having spent the night in an anomalous cave, were transported into the future. Seeing this, they raised a big fuss, including demanding the presence of the authorities. And the most interesting thing in this story is the reaction from their ancestors, because the young men claimed their kinship with the aristocrats of the city, that in fact it was necessary to prove (that they were not crooks). In general, the scandal turned out to be big.
But the next day the young men evaporated. But where did you go? Are you back in your walled-up cave in your time?
I can’t believe that the mayor of Ephesus allowed the remains of his son to lie in some cave. Like other aristocrats of the city, they allegedly treated the remains of their sons. It is clear that the parents came to that cave. We had to come. Well, where is the story that they found sleeping children there and carried them to their homes? After all, this is how everything should be, but not a word about it.
The ends don’t meet …
In general, the story is extremely mysterious. Perhaps the most mysterious and sci-fi among the legends about the saints of Christianity …
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