Monthly Archives: February 2008

New Excavation Planned for Magdala

The town of Magdala is not mentioned in the Bible, but Mary Magdalene is mentioned a total of 12 times in the four gospels. This place may have been her birthplace or her home. A few late manuscripts mention Magdala (Matthew 15:39 KJV), but earlier manuscripts read Magadan. Magdala is located about 4 miles north of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The Hebrew word Magdala means tower. In New Testament times the city had become Hellenized and bore the Greek name Tarichea because of the importance of the salted-fish industry there. Mendel Nun located a harbor at the site. He says,

“In ancient times, pickled sardines were an important element of diet throughout the countryespecially for those who lived near the lake” (BAR, Nov/Dec 1993).

Josephus had his headquarters at Magdala during the first Jewish Revolt against Rome (A.D. 66-70). He was able to get a group of at least 230 boats to go from Magdala to Tiberias (Jewish Wars 2.635-637). Vespasian attacked the town from the sea and destroyed it.

Archaeological excavations were conducted at Magdala in the early 1970s, on the plot owned by the Franciscan fathers, by Corbo and Loffreda. Biblical Archaeology Review announced (Sept/Oct 2007) that a new excavation will begin under the direction of Franciscan scholar Michele Piccirillo. In recent years entry to the site has been closed. The new excavations are welcomed.

The photo below is one that I made in 1977 of the area overlooking the earlier excavations. A first century mosaic from Magdala showing a boat is on display at Capernaum. Moments after posting this blog I noticed that a report had been issued on new finds at Magdala. You may read the report and see new photos here. It will be exciting over the next few years to watch this ancient town give up its secrets.

Site of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in 1977.

Israel Issues a New 2-Shekel Coin

A new 2-shekel coin entered circulation recently in Israel. This might be of interest to people who plan to travel to Israel. The Israeli New Shekel is worth about 27 cents in US money, so the 2-shekel (NIS 2) will be roughly equivalent to our half-dollar. Most American tourists who are in travel groups have prepaid their arrangements and have little need to exchange funds. Dollars are widely accepted in Israel.

The new coin has an interesting historical association on the reverse side. It is a design of a cornucopia, a horn of plenty, and a pomegranate. This design is from an historical coin minted in the days of John Hyrcanus. Hyrcanus was one of the Maccabeans who successed Judas. He became high priest, and then ruler of the Hasmonean Dynasty from 135-104 B.C. During his reign we have the first reference to the Jewish parties, Pharisees and Sadducees, that are prominent in New Testament times.

John Hyrcanus extended the territory of the Maccabeans by seizing Idumaea (enter Herod!) and compelling the Idumaeans to be circumcised. He seized Samaritan territory and destroyed the temple of the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim. This is the temple alluded to by the woman of Samaria when she said to Jesus, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain [Gerizim], and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20).

History is interesting, isn’t it? Here is a photo of the new 2-shekel and the bronze Prutah minted in the time of Hyrcanus. The photo is from Wikimedia Commons. Glancing through Hendin and Meshorer, I see that this design was fairly common during the period of the Maccabees.

Israel 2-shekel and coin from time of John Hyrcanus.

The pomegranate can be eaten fresh, used for fresh juice, or processed into an alcoholic drink for future use. Writers say the pomegranate,

“is a beautiful, symmetrical fruit, scarlet in color. Filled with small seeds surrounded by juicy pulp, the fruit became an obvious symbol of fertility” (King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, 104).

Another source says,

“The pulp is divided into 9 or 10 partitions which hold the numerous seeds. The pulp is delicious and very refreshing to eat because of its copious juice. the seeds yield a syrup called grenadine. The flowers are used in the treatment of dysentery” (Fauna and Flora of the Bible, 169).

Saul stayed on the outskirts of Gibeah “under the pomegranate tree” (1 Samuel 14:2). The girl of the Song of Solomon is told twice that her “temples are like a slice of a pomegranate behind your veil” (Song 4:3; 6:7). She also says, “I would give you spiced wine to drink from the juice of my pomegranates” (Song 8:2). The fruit was used as the design for decoration on the hem of the garment of the high priest (Exodus 28:33).

This beautiful pomegranate was growing at the site of ancient Aphrodisias in Turkey. The photo is better than some I have from Israel. Enjoy.

Pomegranate growing at Aphrodisias in Turkey.

The Death of Aaron on Mount Hor

When Aaron, Israel’s first High Priest, died his son Eleazar became the High Priest. The book of Numbers says that Aaron died on the mountain top of Mount Hor.

“Take Aaron and his son Eleazar and bring them up to Mount Hor; and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron will be gathered to his people, and will die there.” So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. After Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.” (Numbers 20:25-29, NASB).

Deuteronomy records that Aaron died at Moserah (10:6), but it also records that he died on Mount Hor (32:50). We need not think of this as a discrepancy.

The best solution that can be posed to this problem so far is that Moserah is probably a larger area that included Mount Hor. Thus it would be quite correct to declare that Aaron’s death was either on Mount Hor (Num 20:22–29; 33:38–39; Deut 32:50) or Moserah (Deut 10:6). (Hard Sayings of the Bible, 166).

Mount Hor is identified traditionally with Jebel Nebi Harun in the territory of ancient Edom near Petra. From the area of the hotels above Petra one can see the white Moslem shrine marking the tomb of Aaron on the top of Mount Hor. This photo shows the monument in the distance. The mountains reflect the typical color of the area around Petra.

Mount Hor near Petra in Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sunset at the Dead Sea

Here is a photo that I made at sunset on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan. The view looks west over the sea and the mountains of Judea between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The Dead Sea is called the Salt Sea in the Bible (Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:3, 12). The width of the sea at this point is about 11 miles. The level of the Dead Sea is now almost 1400 feet below [Mediterranean] sea level. This northern end of the Dead Sea is about 1300 feet deep.

Sunset at the Dead Sea, looking toward the mountains of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mazar now reads seal as Shlomit

We mentioned here that a seal found in the “City of David Excavation” in Jerusalem had been read by Prof. Eilat Mazar as Temech. In a comment on that page we noted that she had now changed her mind about the reading.

Today, the Jerusalem Post carried an article about this.

Mazar had originally read the name on the seal as “Temech,” and suggested that it belonged to the family of that name mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah.

But after the find was first reported in The Jerusalem Post, various epigraphers around the world said Mazar had erred by reading the inscription on the seal straight on (from right to left) rather than backwards (from left to right), as a result of the fact that a seal creates a mirror image when used to inscribe a piece of clay.

Several other scholars said the reading should be Shlomit.

Mazar said Monday that she accepted the reading of “Shlomit” on the ancient seal, and added that she appreciated the scholarly research on the issue.

“We are involved in research, not in proving our own opinions,” Mazar said.

Shlomit is the name of a woman mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19. Several English versions I checked use the spelling Shelomith. Whether the seal has anything to do with the persons named in the biblical text is unknown.

Mount Nemrut in Commagene

Today I have posted an article on Mount Nemrut at I think you will find the article of interest.

The Kingdom of Commagene was important in the first century B.C., and has connections with Alexander the Great and Darius, and with one of the characters mentioned in the New Testament. I think you will enjoy it.

This photo shows the approach to the top of Mount Nemrut in Eastern Turkey. The Euphrates River valley is far below in the haze.

Approach the top of Mount Nemrut with the Euphrates Valley below.