In the last few episodes, we’ve examined the root meaning of the word ‘threshold’ and noted it came from a door-sill that held in the thresh—the grass or grain scattered over a floor. And we’ve also looked at the shift in meaning of threshold over the years towards our own era in which it also indicates a boundary or a limit or a transitional space, time or state.

However if we look back in time and if we focus our attention on the cultures of the Middle East, we find that a threshold was not a door-sill but a specially-shaped rock. For thousands of years, right up until the end of the nineteenth century, threshold rites were enacted at doorways. Sacrificial blood was spilt over a shallow stone basin which formed an altar right at the entrance.

So in Europe, a threshold was about holding in trampled grain; however, in Semitic and Arabic cultures it was instead about collecting blood. Now the very mention of ‘blood’ is apt to make many of us feel queasy and uncomfortable. It’s all too easy for our thinking to become refined, delicate and fastidious when it comes to blood as the divinely mandated requirement for reconciliation. Hebrews 9:22NIV tells us that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

But our culture thinks of itself as too advanced and mature for such primitive notions. We don’t realise how powerful the lure is that emanates from Hindu and Buddhist religion, pulling us into a revulsion not just for shedding blood but also for accepting blood shed on our behalf. Nor are we conscious of the snare posed by the ancient Greek cultural ideal of beauty and truth. In highlighting style, elegance and sophistication and consequently dissociating grace from the messiness and unpleasantness of blood sacrifice, it allows us to mentally sideline the staggering cost of reparation for sin. But by choosing to put blood out of sight, out of mind, we refuse to face the enormous implications of covenant.

And it’s covenant rather than sin offering that was associated with ancient thresholds. The doorways to Middle Eastern houses were usually positioned in one corner. In addition, the stone that marked the threshold was usually the very first block laid in constructing a house. Thus it was not only the foundation stone but also, because of its position at the corner, it was also known as the cornerstone.

Throughout this series I will constantly refer to threshold stones. Generally speaking, when I use that term, I mean a cornerstone. It’s important to realise the enormous significance of this stone in Jewish culture. Sometimes a propitiatory sacrifice was laid under it. It became an altar, painted with blood every Passover and it was also a sacred space where honoured guests were welcomed into the home. Most importantly of all, it was a place where covenants were ratified by the simple action of passing over blood.

This is Grace Drops and I’m Anne Hamilton. May the reconciling blood of Jesus strengthen you today.

Thank you to Lorna Skinner of for the background music.