Monthly Archives: August 2008

The valley of Elah and the Shephelah

Today we went back to the Valley of Elah and went to the top of Tel Azekah. Azekah is one of the keys to understanding the geography of the battle between David and Goliath. The Philistines were gathered between Soccoh and Azekah. Israel was camped in the valley of Elah.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array to encounter the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them. (1 Samuel 17:1-3)

The photo below was made from atop Tel Azekah. As you to look the east toward the Shephelah and the coastal plain, you see the mountain on the east of the valley. The mountain where the Israelites stood is on the left in the photo.

The Valley of Elah from Azekah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Valley of Elah from Azekah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

After this we went on to Bet Guvrin and Maresha. Maresha was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:5-10). King Asa fought and defeated a large army of Zerah of Ethiopia (Cush) (2 Chronicles 14:9-12). There is some information to suggest that Herod the Great was born here.

While in the vicinity we stopped by Tel Godet, possibly Moresheth, the home of Micah the prophet. Micah worked in the hill country while Isaiah was working in Jerusalem (8th century BC). More than a century afterward Jeremiah spoke of Micah’s prophecy concerning Jerusalem.

“Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “‘Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’ (Jeremiah 26:18.)

Our next stop was Lachish where I participated in the excavation in 1980. Too much to tell and show in one blog. A couple of interesting personal notes. As we drove in we met a gentlemen who works for the antiquities department. He lives in Lackish and has followed the history of the dig. A little later he came by and invited us to his home for tea. We enjoyed a nice visit with Chanan and Edna (they are close to our age) and we enjoyed sharing family stories as well as info about Lachish. Thanks for the hospitality.

The other personally interesting things is that there was an American group visiting the site. I spoke to the leader of the group, a young lady named Danielle from California. When I told her my name she said, “I read your blog.” Well, that made my day. I said, “How did you learn of my blog?” She said, “Through Todd Bolen.” We both bragged on the quality of Todd’s resources. Here a photo of the two of us in the gate of Lachish. The room to the right is the Room of the Letters, where the Lachish letters relating to the Babylonian destruction of th city were found.

Danielle and Ferrell in the gate of Lachish.

Danielle and Ferrell in the gate of Lachish.

Danielle, send me an Email and I will sent you a hi-res photo.

Coincidentally, today Todd Bolen has a post about significant sites in the shephelah (lowlands in some English versions). Read the full post here.

Visiting the Judean Hills

We were able to visit several sites in the Judean Hills yesterday. Many of them were in the territory of the Israelite tribe of Dan.

Zorah was the birthplace of Samson. The biblical record says,

And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.  (Judges 13:25)

Both of these towns are within an area now designated a forested park land.

When the Ark of the Covenant was returned by the Philistines on a cart pulled by milk cows, it came into the Zorek Valley near Beth Shemesh (1 Samuel 6). The ark was later taken to Kiriath-jearim before being moved to Jerusalem by David (2 Chronicles 1:4). We visited all of these sites.

We also visited the sites around the Valley of Elah where young David met Goliath the Philistine from Gath in a decisive battle (1 Samuel 17). While we were in the process of picking up five smooth stones for our grandson, Drew, a shepherd drove a flock of sheep across the brook. You can see from the photo that Elizabeth and I were separated for a while.

Elizabeth and I were temporarily separated in the brook of Elah by a flock of sheep. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Elizabeth and I were temporarily separated in the brook of Elah by a flock of sheep. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Understand that the brook (nachal) of Elah has water in it only during the rainy season. We also visited Tell es-Safi, thought to be the site of Gath, one of the major Philistine cities and the home of Goliath. The excavator, Aren Maeir, has a marvelous aerial photo of the top of the tell posted at the Tell es-Safi/Gath blog. We did not have time to climb to the top, but maybe we can get back to it another day.

In Jerusalem

Elizabeth and I had on-time flights to Israel. Can’t say as much for the car rental company at the Ben Gurion airport. Anyway, we are safely in our hotel in Jerusalem. We are looking forward to a good night of rest.

Maybe by tomorrow evening we will have some new info to post.

Was John the Baptist a member of the Dead Sea Sect?

Identifying the Dead Sea Sect. We are speaking of the Jewish group responsible for preparing and hiding the scrolls that were discovered in and around Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea beginning in 1947. The sect living here was likely the Essenes. I am aware of the numerous controversies about Qumran, but have not been impressed by the alternative views.

Was John the Baptist an Essene? It has been popular among some scholars to claim that John was an Essene. A suggestion is made that John’s parents died while he was yet a child. The Essenes were known to have cared for orphan children. So, they cared for John. Some comparisons may be drawn concerning John and the Essenes.

  1. John was in the deserts (Luke 1:80). The Essenes were in the desert.
  2. Both John and the Essenes used Isaiah 40:3 to describe themselves as the voice in the wilderness.
  3. The baptism (or washing) practiced by John and the Essenes required a change of heart.

There are significant differences between John and the Essenes.

  1. The Essenes hid themselves away from society in the wilderness. John was a very public figure.
  2. John had a much more strict diet (Luke 7:33) than did the Essenes.
  3. John preached Jesus as the Messiah. The Essenes did not recognize Jesus as Messiah, but they thought that the Teacher of Righteousness would arise from within their group.
  4. There was a strong organization among the Essenes that is missing among John’s disciples.

In the early days of my study about the Dead Sea Scrolls I found the book by F. F. Bruce, Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls. I am pleased to inform you that you may download this book free of charge here.

Here is a photo of Cave 4 at Qumran. Many of the important scrolls were located here.

Cave 4 at Qumran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cave 4 at Qumran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Did Zoroastrianism influence Christianity?

There are many subjects on which I would enjoy commenting, but I have determined to keep this Blog as a travel blog pertaining primarily to biblically related sites. And, I don’t have time to take care of another blog.

We had a comment on The Persian background of Iran that needs some comment. Our reader says,

And incidentally, there’s much more of Iran in the bible. The original “apple” was actually a pomegranate — which comes from Iran, for example. Mithraism, a Persian religion, was the basis for the celebtration of Christmass. The whole concept of hell and heaven and angles was introduced from Zoroastrianism into Judaism and then Christianity.

The Bible does not speak of an “apple” in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:3 and 3:6 we are told that Adam and Eve had been told not to eat “from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden.” The fruit was good for food. Earlier, in Genesis 1:29 we are told that God gave man “every tree which has fruit yielding seed, it shall be food for you.” The Hebrew words are the same for fruit, tree, and food in both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. We certainly do not know that the fruit was pomegranate.

The issue of whether Judaism and Christianity have borrowed some basic concept from Zoroastrianism is debatable. Notice the comment by Lewis and Travis in Religious Traditions of the World (Zondervan, 1991).

The relation between Zoroastrianism and the chief monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is debated. Part of the problem is due to the fact that the collection of Zoroastrian teaching was not completed until the fourth century C.E. [A.D.], leaving in some doubt who may have influenced whom in such matters as angels, resurrection, and eschatology. (57)

If one takes the New Testament as the complete and final revelation of the will of God for man, as I do, any changes in doctrine after New Testament times must be considered as departures from the faith. The argument goes something like this:

  • The New Testament is the completed revelation of the mind of God to man (Ephesians 3:1-7; 1 Corinthians 2:6-13; Ephesians 4:5; Jude 1:3; Romans 1:16; I Corinthians 1:21, et al.). The Scripture is the inspired word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Jesus is God (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:8; Colossians 1:15-17). He became flesh (John 1:14). He died on the cross for the sins of mankind (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2, 8; 15:3-4; Hebrews 9:28; Acts 2:36; 4:10).
  • The Bible warns about going beyond this teaching (1 John 4:1; Galatians 1:6-8; 2 John 1:9-11).

It is true that Mithraism was a significant competitor of Christianity in the second century Roman Empire. It was one of the favorite mystery religions of the Roman soldiers. At Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, in one of the substructures of a public building, evidence has been found indicating that one of the vaults served as a Mithraeum in the early 2nd century A.D.

Building at Caesarea Maritima converted to a Mithraeum in the early 2nd century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Building at Caesarea Maritima converted to a Mithraeum in the early 2nd century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Christmas, as a religious holiday, is not known in the New Testament. In this case we must say that later Christianity borrowed aspects of it from pagan sources. See my article on The Truth About Christmas here for more details.

If you are interested in a complete study about the relation between Persia and the Bible, I suggest Edwin M. Yamauchi’s Persia and the Bible with foreword by Donald J. Wiseman) Baker, 1990.

Yamauchi tells us that “the central cult image of Mithraism was the statue of the tauroctony or depiction of Mithras slaying the bull.” He says over 500 representations of this image have been found. Here is one I photographed in the Britism Museum.

The Sun-god Mithras slaying a bull. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the British Museum.

The Sun-god Mithras slaying a bull. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the British Museum.

The Persian background of Iran

The August, 2008, issue of National Geographic has a good article on the Ancient Soul of Iran. The emphasis is on the rich Persian history of the area. The article is online at The article includes many of those fabulous NG photographs. Most of them were shot in low light to evoke the past glory of Iran. There are more photos at the website than in the magazine. You might be able to buy a copy of the magazine at your local bookseller.

Iran is the only major area of the Bible world that I have been unable to visit. Maybe that will change within the next few years. Marguerite Del Giudice says,

In fact, the first thing people said when I asked what they wanted the world to know about them was, “We are not Arabs!” (followed closely by, “We are not terrorists!”

The article features the people of Iran, and not the government. There are some interesting comments on the influence of Zoroastrianism’s teaching.

Many of the great museums of the world have ancient Persian artifacts. This is especially true of the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Here is a photo from the Louvre of one of the Persian archers.

Archer from the Palace of Darius in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Archer from the Palace of Darius in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Persians played a significant role in the Restoration of the Judeans to their land after the Babylonian Exile. Here are a few highlights.

  • Cyrus, who conquered Babylon, allowed the Jews to return to their land in 536 B.C. See 2 Chronicles 36, and compare the Cyrus Cylinder (in the British Museum).
  • Darius I allowed the Jews to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (520-516 B.C.; Ezra 6:1-5).
  • Xerxes is the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther.
  • During the reign of Artaxerxes I, the second group of Jews return under the leadership of Ezra (458 B.C.). Nehemiah returned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (444 B.C.).

Video introduction to the ESV Study Bible

Here is a promotional video about the ESV Study Bible which is to be released October 15th

I think the maps and drawings will make this Bible especially useful for Bible students who want to put their study into a geographical and historical setting.

China Olympics opening is spectacular

I suspect that everyone reading this post saw either the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics or at least a few news clips about it. The Olympics originated with the Greeks centuries before Christ. The Isthmian games were conducted at Isthmia, a few miles from Corinth.

Paul used several illustrations relating to athletics in the epistles to the Corinthians.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;  but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NASB)

The Greeks had two words for crown. The diadema was the crown of the king. The stephanos was the crown of the victor in the races. This is the term used by Paul in the text above (the word wreath). Here is a photo of a nice sculpture displayed in the Athens National Archaeological Museum showing a young athlete wearing the stephanos. Incidentally, the stephanos was often made of olive branches, or other perishable items.

Young athlete wearing a crown (stephanos). Athens National Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Young athlete wearing a crown (stephanos). Athens National Archaeological Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

John also speaks of the stephanos. To the saints at Smyrna (modern Izmir in Turkey) he says,

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10).

Enjoy the Olympics, but think of the more important spiritual lessons.

Summary of the blogs

Over at the Biblical Studies Info Page, under Scholarly, then Blogs, I keep a list of several blogs that I regularly check. Here is a brief summary of some current items you might find of interest.

Todd Bolen calls attention to the continuation of the Western Wall excavations here. This excavation is on the extreme western side of the Western Wall plaza.

Aren Maer gives a wrap-up of the recent excavations at Gath (Tell es-Safi) here.

Ben Witherington includes a seminar paper by one of his doctoral students in review of Barth Ehrman’s Lost Christianities here. This has to do with the formation of the canon.

Mark Copeland has posted good photographs of 299 Sermon Charts pained by Steve Hudgins here. Steve pained a few charts for me, and some of my tour banners, years back. This shows the type of visual aids that some of us used. It was before flannel boards, opaque projections, overhead projections, and PowerPoint. The biggest problem is that the audience knew when we were only half finished! I doubt any of you will want to use a chart like this now, but you can get some great ideas for sermon starters, put them in PowerPoint, and see if they will gel.

Claude Mariottini has called attention to the problem of Fake Degrees, even among ministers and professors of biblical studies, here. Every now and then I see some preacher who wouldn’t know how to write a research paper advertising himself as Dr. So-and-so. Shameful.

Restricting information

China has been in the news a lot in the past years. Most recently we have seen them assuring us they could resolve a severe pollution problem within weeks. Then there were all of those toys containing lead. One day we told our little grandson to take something from his mouth that he had picked up off the floor. He said, “Why, was it made in China?” We heard that the media in China to cover the Olympics would have free access to the Internet, but then certain sites were blocked.

More serious than all of this are those matters pertaining to human rights and the restriction of religious rights. In 1986 we carried a few Bibles into the country and gave them to individuals or left them where they might be picked up. Several friends who have visited China, or lived there for short periods, have mentioned the restrictions and the secrecy under which Christians meet for study of the Bible and the worship of Christ.

Here is a photo I made in 1986 in one of the cities we visited. The only news the people got was what the government posted for them. Such censorship is deplorable whether in China or elsewhere. It is based on fear. I was in Bangkok when I learned of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The next few days in Hong Kong I saw marches protesting what was happening in mainland China. Several people had copies of newspaper reports about the incident. They wanted us to fax or mail them to their friends in China.

Men lined up to read the news in China in 1986. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Men lined up to read the news in China in 1986. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We hope the time will come when the people of China will have free access to the Bible and all other information so readily available to those who live in freedom.