Monthly Archives: October 2008

Baalbek – Roman Heliopolis

In the early days of my travel to the Middle East (1967-1975) our groups always visited Baalbek. From Beirut on the beautiful Mediterranean we drove  through the Lebanon the Beka Valley where Baalbek is located. This valley is more than 3800 feet above sea level. The headwaters of the Orentes and Libani rivers are in this valley.

In Roman times Baalbek was called Heliopolis, the City of the Sun. The ruins at Baalbek are among the most impressive in the world. There are three temples: (1)  Jupiter; (2) Baachus; (3) Venus.

In the quarry near Baalbek there is a stone which is estimated to weigh 2,000 tons,. It often suggested that it is the largest hewn stone in the world. The stone is 70 1/2 feet long x 13 3/4 feet high x 15 3/4 feet wide.

My last visit to Baalbek was in 2002. The Beka Valley was a Hezbollah stronghold and was filled with soldiers and artillery, all pointed south.

I would like to see peace prevail in Lebanon for many reasons. The one I will mention here is that it would allow many people of the West the opportunity to see the wonderful sites of the country, including Baalbek.

This photo is of the reconstructed propylaea, the monumental gateway, leading to the temple platform.

The reconstructed propylaea of Roman Baalbek. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The reconstructed propylaea of Roman Baalbek. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dog River in Lebanon

The Nahr el Kelb, the River of the Dog, flows into the Mediterranean Sea about nine miles north of Beirut, Lebanon. In antiquity the river was known as the Lycus. Many important armies have traveled through this pass in the Lebanon mountains leaving their inscriptions on the cliffs.

There are inscriptions or reliefs from the following ancient rulers:

  • Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II.
  • Assyrian kings Shalmaneser III and Esarhaddon.
  • Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.

Shalmaneser III took tribute from Jehu, the king of Israel,  841 B.C. Wright says,

“The tribute was evidently received after Shalmaneser’s fifth attack on Damascus, following which he had marched his army into Phoenicia. While there he says that he received the tribute of Tyre, Sidon, and Jehu, and placed his portrait on the cliff of Ba’ lira’ si. This portrait, along with those of other kings, including Rameses II of Egypt…” is located at Dog River, north of Beirut. (Biblical Archaeology, 158-159).

Jehu was king of Israel in the 9th century B.C. (2 Kings 9). The Bible does not record this event, but the annals of Shalmaneser III record the following information:

“…I (also) marched as far as the mountains of Ba’li-ra’si which is a promontory (lit.: at the side of the sea) and erected there a stela with my image as king. At that time I received the tribute of the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon and of Jehu, son of Ornri.” (ANET, 280)

This photo, made in 2002, shows the reliefs left by Salmaneser III and Ramses (right).

Reliefs of Shalmaneser III and Pharaoh Ramses at Dog River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Reliefs of Shalmaneser III and Pharaoh Ramses at Dog River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Byblos in Lebanon

Byblos is located on the Mediterranean Sea about 25 miles north of Beirut, Lebanon.The ancient Phoenician city of Gebal (modern Arabic Jbeil) was called Byblos by the Greeks because they saw scrolls there made from imported papyrus sheets. The Greek word byblos is translated book in our English versions of the Bible. In fact, our word Bible is derived from the work byblos.

The Gebalites worked with the builders of  Solomon and Hiram to fashion and prepare timber and stone to build the temple (1 Kings 5:17-18). The old men of Gebal are mentioned in the lamentation over Tyre.

The elders of Gebal and her skilled men were in you, caulking your seams; all the ships of the sea with their mariners were in you to barter for your wares. (Ezekiel 27:9 ESV)

Byblos is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The history of Byblos is revealed in the excavated ruins.

  • Canaanite or Phoenician ruins as early as 3000 B.C.
  • Egyptian ruins from about 1300 B.C. Rib Addi, king of Byblos wrote letters to Pharaoh Amenophis III to request reinforcements against his neighbors. These letters are part of the collection of letters found at Amarna.
  • Roman ruins from the time of Pompey, about 65 B.C.
  • Crusader ruins from the 12th century A.D.

My last visit to Byblos was in 2002. This is a photo I took of the Egyptian Temple of Obelisks which was dedicated to the Egyptian god Reshef.

The Temple of Obelisks at Byblos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Temple of Obelisks at Byblos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Zaccheus climbed up into a sycamore tree

The sycamore (Ficus sycomorus) is a type of tree growing only in the Jordan Valley and near the Mediterranean coast. The sycamore is pictured as growing in abundance in the shephelah (lowland, 1 Kings 10:27). This is in contrast to cedars which Solomon planted in Jerusalem.

The sycamore is not the same as the tree by that name that grows in North America. The sycamore tree belongs to the nettle family, like the mulberry and fig trees. The fruit looks like a fig, but the taste is unpleasant. It is eaten by the poor. See Fauna and Flora of the Bible, 179-81.

Zaccheus climbed up into a sycamore tree at Jericho (Luke 19:4). Here is a sycamore tree at Ashkelon that reminded me of Zacchaeus. The limbs are low. Even a child could climb into the tree to get a better view.

Sycamore tree at Ashkelon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sycamore tree at Ashkelon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Amos the prophet, who lived at Tekoah on the edge of the Judean wilderness, spoke of working with the sycamore fruit.

Amos replied to Amaziah, “I was not a prophet by profession. No, I was a herdsman who also took care of sycamore fig trees. (Amos 7:14, NET Bible).

This photo shows the sycamore figs on the tree.

Sycamore figs. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sycamore figs. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Sower Went Out to Sow…

One of the best known parables of Jesus is the parable of the sower and the soils. Note the account recorded in Luke.

“The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. “Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. “Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. “Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  (Luke 8:5-8 NASB)

Jesus used this simple, easily understood illustration to teach about the word of God and the hearts of men. Read the full account in Luke 8:5-15, Matthew 13:3-23, and Mark 4:1-20.

A few weeks ago I was traveling in the vicinity of Hebron and saw these fields that had been plowed and readied for planting. I would assume the crop would be barley or wheat. I was standing on the road. You can see the rocks (be sure the soil is rocky), the weeds (if not thorns), and the good ground. In the time of Jesus seed would be broadcast, scattered by hand. Seed would fall on all the areas, but only that which fell on good ground would bring forth an acceptable crop. Many of the fields in the central mountain range north of Bethlehem are much smaller, but each field has the four elements of good soil, rocks, thorns, and road. How would you describe your heart?

A field showing good soil, rocks, and weeds. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A field showing good soil, rocks, and weeds. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A Bible Land tour for less than $20.00

Journey Through the Holy Lands is a DVD featuring Michael Hasel of Southern Adventist University. Dr. Hasel is Director of the Institute of Archaeology and teaches archaeology at SAU in Collegedale, Tennessee.

In 2007 Hasel was filmed at important biblical sites providing a commentary about the significance of the site. The following sites are visited:

Garden Tomb; Church of the Holy Sepulcher; the Cardo; Western Wall; Temple Mount; Sheep Gate (often called St. Stephen’s or Lion’s Gate); Pool of Bethesda; Damascus Gate; the First Century House in the Jewish Quarter.

The Dead Sea Area
Qumran, Dead Sea, Masada, Wadi Qelt; Jericho

Egypt and the Sinai
The Giza Pyramids; Saqqara; St. Catherine’s Monastery; Mount Sinai

This DVD is not one of those slick TV presentations. It is the film of a competent scholar who is well acquainted with the history and archaeology of the area telling his tour group about it. I was impressed that Hasel spelled out the facts about such competing sites as the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb. At some places the commentary was very brief. At Jericho he mentioned the relevant research but did not show any of the evidence on the tell. There is no visit of sites in the Galilee.

At St. Catherine’s, Hasel tells about the discovery of the Sinaiticus Manuscript. Attractive maps and artwork has been added to the film. The background noise at the Giza Pyramids is noticeable and a distraction. The narration could have been added in a studio back home, but it would have changed the character of the film.

It was a pleasure to view the video. I would recommend it to those who have visited these areas and would like an on site review. It would be good for those who will never visit the sites, or those who are preparing for a trip.

Journey Through the Holy Lands is available for $15.00. Shipping and Handling for 1 or 2 copies is $2.50 each. For 3 or more copies it is $5.00.  Payment must be made by money order or check payable to Southern Adventist University. Send order to: Institute of Archaeology, Southern Adventist University, P.O. Box 370, Collegedale, TN 37315.

The Institute of Archaeology operates the Lynn H. Wood Museum which is the repository of the William G. Dever Near Eastern Collection. Check the web page here. I plan to visit the museum if I have an opportunity to travel in the area.

Review: Views That Have Vanished

Todd Bolen,, has released an extremely valuable CD that will be helpful to all students of the Bible lands. Views That Have Vanished is a collection of more than 700 high resolution photographs made by David Bivin beginning in 1963.

Views That Have Vanished - Photos of the 1960s.

Views That Have Vanished - Photos of the 1960s.

These photographs were made with one of the best cameras available at the time with the intent to be able to share them with family and friends who were unable to visit Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Greece. Bivin has now lived in Israel more than 30 years. Many of the places he visited in the 1960s have changed since then because of natural erosion. Some of the changes occurred because of archaeological activity, and the normal deterioration that takes place once a site is uncovered. Primarily the sites have changed because of the building activities of man.

My first visit to the Middle East was in 1967. Since then I have returned nearly 40 times and I have observed the tremendous changes made. Some sites, in preparation for visitors, are necessarily changed. Other sites are neglected and become dangerous for all but the most intrepid explorers to visit. Bivin had the wonderful opportunity live in Israel and record his experience in full color. I observe that many of the landscape photographs he made have a beautiful clear sky. Perhaps the sky was clearer 40 years ago. But, this is the advantage of living in the country and being able to go out when the weather is just right.

Everyone who has old photographs and slides knows that they begin to deteriorate after a few years. This happened to some of Bivin’s photographs. Todd Bolen has scanned these old negatives with high quality equipment. In many instances the color has been restored.

The photographs are available in high-resolution (1600 x 1200 or higher) in jpg format and also in PowerPoint with explanatory notes. I was especially impressed with the large number of photographs of some of the well known archaeologists of the past (Glueck, Yadin, et al.) and some historic views such as people in Jerusalem mourning the death of Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt.

Views That Have Vanished is a great addition to the already long list of photographic materials published by BiblePlaces. The CD belongs in the library of every church and every person who teaches Bible classes with an emphasis on the land in which these historical events took place. Frequently I say to my groups, “I wish you could have seen this before….” Now, you can see it through these photographs.

The CD is available for only $20 during October. Take a look here. If you would like to see some examples of Views then and now, take a look here.

Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo

As the term implies, Old Cairo is the oldest section of Cairo, Egypt. It is sometimes called Coptic Cairo. Visitors may see the Coptic Museum where some of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts are displayed. The last time I was in Cairo, in 2005, the museum was closed for some restoration. I am hopeful this will not be the case the next time.

The Church of St. Sergius is located in the Coptic area. Legend has it that Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus stayed here when they fled from Herod the Great. The New Testament records all we really know about their stay in Egypt.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:13-15 ESV)

The Romans built a fortress in the area of Old Cairo called Babylon. Some remnants of the fortress can be seen.

Of special interest is the Ben Ezra Synagogue. It was here that the 140,000 Cairo Geniza fragments of Hebrew and Jewish literature were found. The collection of material dating back to as early as the 9th and 10th century A.D. is now housed in Cambridge, England. This link will take you to some good information about the collection. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls these biblical fragments represented our oldest examples of the Hebrew biblical text.

This photo shows the interior of the restored Synagogue. Of course, few Jews live in Egypt now.

Ben Ezra Synagogue after restoration. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ben Ezra Synagogue after restoration. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ask for the ancient path

The Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, makes it clear that God’s people often depart from God’s way. There are numerous exhortation for His people who walk in the old paths.

This scene showing two paths at the site of biblical Shiloh reminded me of the Lord’s plea through the prophet Jeremiah in the days of the Babylonian threat against Jerusalem and Judah. The tabernacle was located at Shiloh for many years after Israel entered the land of Canaan. I was just reading the first few chapters of 1 Samuel that tell of Samuel living there during his early years.

Two paths at Shiloh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Two paths at Shiloh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Jeremiah 6:16)

To ask for the ancient path means to respect the revealed word of the Lord and follow it. This thought is similar to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-14).

Archaeology: The Bible as blueprint

The Jerusalem Post has been running a series of “People of the Year” articles. The most recent one was on Dr. Eilat Mazar. Mazar has been involved in a dig in the City of David over the last several years. The article says,

Mazar, who is both revered and reviled by some of her colleagues for being a “biblical archeologist,” says that the Bible is unquestionably the most important historical source for her work, since it contains a “genuine historical account of the past.”

“I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other,” she says. “The Bible is the most important historical source.”

The area where Mazar believes she has found a palace that might have belonged to David, has been covered by a structure to protect it. Here is a photo I made in early April.

A portion of the City of David excavation. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A portion of the City of David excavation. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The full article may be read here.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer.