Monthly Archives: November 2008

Treasures old and new

The use of current, reliable sources in our study and teaching is important. A study of the background and customs in Bible times is essential if we want to come to an understanding of the original meaning of the biblical text. One set of books that are helpful in this area is entitled New Testament Documents Illustrating Early Christianity. I think Eerdmans now handles the complete set of 9 volumes.

This is not to say, however, that older works are without value in our study. I have observed that some important material, after being noted by several scholars, will then be overlooked by later writers. Eventually few people have the original book and are unaware of the material.

One of the valuable older works is Light From the Ancient East by Adolf Deissman which was published originally in English in 1910. Deissman is the scholar who informed us that the Greek of the New Testament was the koine, common, vernacular Greek of everyday communication. Soon I plan to share a comment from Deissman about travel and preaching.

Listen to one of the parables of Jesus:

Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.” (Matthew 13:52)

Final SBL report

Sunday afternoon I attended a session on Rome and Religion: A Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue. The featured speaker was Karl Galinsky, a distinguished professor of classics from the University of Texas. His topic was The Cult of the Roman Emperor: Uniter or Divider. Galinsky began by saying that he was pleased to see that New Testament scholars had finally discovered the “historic context of the New Testament.”

Galinsky emphasized that the Emperor cult existed. He said that we must not think of it as the prominent cult, but as being intertwined with the other cults known throughout the Roman Empire. Another speaker, Barbette Stanley Spaeth, cited evidence of the emperor cult in Corinth. I found the information significant in the study of the book of Revelation as well as the epistles of Paul.

A Travel Note: The photo below shows an inscription which is now displayed in the garden of the archaeology museum in Bergama, Turkey (ancient Pergamum; Revelation 3:12-17). The inscription states that Pergamum was metropolis of Asia and twice NEOKOROS. This last word was the one commonly used when a city of Asia Minor was awarded the right to build a temple to the Emperor. This type of information must be taken into account when we consider the setting of the Book of Revelation.

Inscription at Pergamum claiming that the city was twice NEOKOROS. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Inscription at Pergamum claiming that the city was twice NEOKOROS. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Monday morning I attended another session on Biblical Lands and Peoples in Archaeology and Text. This one dealt with Samaria and the Samaritans. There were seven presenters. I especially enjoyed hearing Robert J. Bull of Drew University. Bull excavated a site called Tell er Ras on Mount Gerizim between 1964 and 1968 when it was under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I enjoyed seeing his photos, drawings, and explanations. His work uncovered evidence of Hadrian’s temple in the early second century A.D. In more recent excavations Y. Magen claims to have discovered the Samaritan temple destroyed by John Hyrcanus. Magen was not present. Some of the speakers indicated that a final report has not been made by Magen and they did not comment on the matter.

This whole area is of great significance to students of the New Testament. The conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samarian dealt with this issue.

“Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” (John 4:20).

Treasures from Assyria

Recently I wrote about the of Assyrian treasures from the British Museum currently exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. See here. Monday afternoon Leon Mauldin and I spent a few hours in the MFA visiting the Assyria exhibit as well as the Roman and Egyptian sections of the Museum. We had a little time to sample some of the other great art treasures there.

I had seen quite a few of the artifacts in the British Museum, but the exhibit was well arranged and certainly worth the time and fee. I urge everyone within a reasonable distance to attend between now and January 4. Check the web site here.

The artifact used on the front of the exhibit catalog and the advertising for the Boston exhibit shows a relief in ivory of a lioness devouring a man with negroid features in a thicket of stylized lotus and papyrus plants. This piece belongs to the Nimrud ivories displayed in the British Museum. Photos are not allowed in the Boston exhibit, but here is a picture I made about five years ago in the BM.

One of the Nimrud Ivories from the British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the Nimrud Ivories from the British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Both Israel and Judah had contact with the Assyrian Empire. There are numerous historical contacts between the two nations attested in both the Bible and the Assyrian records.

The reliefs on display show the Assyrians at war — always victorious. The kings are shown hunting lions and bulls. This spirit of conquest is mentioned by the prohphet Isaiah.

Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hands is My indignation, I send it against a godless nation And commission it against the people of My fury To capture booty and to seize plunder, And to trample them down like mud in the streets.  Yet it does not so intend, Nor does it plan so in its heart, But rather it is its purpose to destroy And to cut off many nations. (Isaiah 10:5-7)

Learning more at the SBL meeting

Sunday afternoon I attended two good sessions for a total of 10 papers or presentations. The first was on Biblical Lands and Peoples in Archaeology and Text. Ronny Reich of Haifa University spoke on the discovery of the road leading from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I saw a portion of this street and the tunnel underneath it earlier this year.

Street leading from Pool of Siloam up to the Temple Mount. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Street leading from Pool of Siloam up to the Temple Mount. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Doron Ben-Ami of the Israel Antiquities Authority spoke about the Givati Garage excavation south of Dung Gate. The structure found there is very large and is thought to have belonged to the family of Queen Helena of Adiabene. You can find more information and photos here.

One young scholar read a paper on Roman Jerusalem as a Setting of Earliest Christianity. He cited someone as saying that Acts might have been written in the middle of the second century. That theory is almost as old as the material he was dealing with. He thought that Luke’s account of the beginnings of Christianity was “magical.” Well, some presentations are well researched and profitable, and others are not.

Bible Lands and Peoples in Archaeology and Text presenters. Reich is speaking. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bible Lands and Peoples in Archaeology and Text presenters.Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

More later about the second section I attended.

Society of Biblical Literature in Boston

The annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature is being held in Boston this year. I have been attending these meetings for many years. I come in order to hear a few of the many valuable, and some not so valuable, presentations by scholars who are presenting their latest research on some particular topic.  When I was still actively teaching I often attended sessions that were related to the courses I was teaching. Now I tend to go to what is of interest.

These meetings attract more than 5000 members, most of whom are teachers in some field relating to biblical studies.

One of my favorite topics is archaeology and how it relates to biblical history. Many of the leading archaeologists make presentations or read papers telling about the most recent excavations. This, of course, puts me far ahead of the curve if one is waiting to read the information in a magazine or a book. In fact, I observe that many presentations given at SBL will eventually be a chapter in a volume published by the author some years later.

Saturday I heard Thomas Levy and other colleagues from the University of California San Diego tell about the recent work in southern Jordan dealing with the ancient Edomites and copper mining in the area. Levy has discovered that copper mining was common in the area from the 10th century B.C. I have already reported on this discovery, with photos, here, with a related post about mining at Timna here. I hope you will take time to read those reports.

In the afternoon I attended a session on the Wall of Jerusalem in the Persian Period. I suspect that the person making room assignments has no idea about some of the presenters. The most controversial of the speakers here was Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University. He has been dubbed the father of minimalism. Actually he is currently the most prominent in a long line of those who devalue the biblical record. The room was full and overflowing. I sat on the floor in order to be able to see the screen and hear the speaker. The presentations by Ronny Reich, Alon de Groot,  and Wolfgang Zwickel were also informative. Evidence from the Persian period is limited, possibly because it was a significant but short period of biblical history. Here are some of the major events:

  • The Jews were allowed to return from Babylonian Exile in 536 B.C. because of the decree of Cyrus. Remember that only a remnant returned.
  • The temple was rebuilt in 520-516 B.C.
  • Ezra returned with a second group in 458 B.C.
  • Nehemiah returned to help rebuild the wall in 444 B.C.

The evidence presented regarding the number of inscriptions, pottery, jewelry, etc. from the Persian period indicated a small number of items in comparison to the much larger number from the Iron Age and the Hellenistic Age. This is really not surprising when we consider the the circumstances of the period, the possible reuse of materials by later builders, etc.

Everywhere one puts down a pick in Jerusalem there is evidence of earlier civilizations. Keep digging!

Before closing, let me add a little something Persian to this post. Here is a photo of the Cyrus Cylinder, now in the British Museum.

The Cyrus Cylinder. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Cyrus Cylinder. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This document records that Cyrus allowed captive peoples to return to their homelands, build their temples and worship their gods. This is similar to the account given in 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1 regarding the Judeans.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia– in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah– the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,  23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!'” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23)

The Semitic Museum at Harvard

Friday afternoon I went with two of my former students, friends, and fellow-preachers to visit the Semitic Museum at Harvard. Tim Reeves preaches in Providence, RI. He offered to take Leon Mauldin and me to our hotel in Boston. I suggested going by the Museum before going to the hotel so Tim could visit also. I have been at the Museum before, but not since the new exhibit has been on view.

The Houses of Ancient Israel: Domestic, Royal, Divine is the featured exhibit at the Semitic Museum now. This exhibit traces the development and importance of the house in ancient Israel, from the family dwelling to the house of the king, and the house of the Lord (the temple). Here is a photo of the typical pillared “four-room” Israelite house that was common during the periods of the United and Divided Kingdoms.

Typical Iron Age (1200-586 B.C.) Israelite house. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Typical Iron Age (1200-586 B.C.) Israelite house. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

It would take several pages of writing to explain all of the items on display in the house. Their use could be illustrated with a variety of Bible verses. The research back of this house has been presented by Phillip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager in Life in Biblical Israel (Knox/Westminster, 2001). I highly recommend this book to all Bible teachers.

This is the only Museum I know about with displays of tablets from ancient Nuzi. About 4000 tablets in the Hurrian language were discovered by archaeologists in the early part of the twentieth century. Ancient Nuzi was not an important urban center, but these tablets reveal much about economic and domestic life from a period beginning about 2400 B.C. and continuing several centuries. It has been pointed out that several events associated with the biblical patriarchs, mentioned in the Book of Genesis, can better be illustrated  through an understanding of these documents.

Three Nuzi tablets at the Semitic Museum at Harvard. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Three Nuzi tablets at the Semitic Museum at Harvard. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For more information about the Semitic Museum at Harvard University check the web page here.

Text and Canon in Providence, RI

For the past few days I have been in Providence, RI, attending meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and the Near East Archaeological Society (NEAS). The theme for the ETS annual meeting was Text and Canon. I attended the four plenary session papers. These were extremely worthwhile. Here are the topics and speakers:

  • Old Testament Text – Peter J. Gentry
  • Old Testament Canon – Stephen Dempster
  • New Testament Text – Daniel B. Wallace
  • New Testament Canon – Charles E. Hill

Current, scholarly, material on these topics are needed among God’s people today.

I also attend several sessions of the NEAS. I heard Bryant Wood present evidence suggesting that Mount Sinai possibly should be identified with Gebel Khashm et-Tarif, and calling for more research in the area. This site is located about 22 miles north-northwest of the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat in the Wilderness of Paran on the current Egyptian side of the border. For more information check the Associates for Biblical Research website here.

In one session I heard Rex Geissler present some of the historical evidence for the area of ancient Urartu as the place associated with Noah’s Ark. Rex is president of Archaeological Imaging Research Consortium (ArcImaging). Over at the Biblical Studies Info Page I have several links to good photos by Rex in various parts of the world. You can get to his material at the ArcImaging page.

Bill Crouse presented material to bolster the case for an identification of the landing place of the ark with Mount Cudi in southereastern Turkey. I think Gordan Franz presented material in defense of this view also, but I was unable to be present.

There were two reports on the excavations this year at Tel Gezer in Israel.

Crossway, publisher of the English Standard Version of the Bible, has been sponsoring a special lecture for the past few years. The lecture this year featured Gregory K. Beale of Wheaton College on The Authority of Scripture: A Biblical Theology According to John’s Apocalypse. This was a great paper. Beale is author of The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary). I had heard Beale speak before, but it was a pleasure to hear him again and visit for a few moments. I am honored that my The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation is mentioned in a footnote of this commentary.

Ferrell Jenkins and Gregory K. Beale at ETS Annual Meeting. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Ferrell Jenkins and Gregory K. Beale at ETS Annual Meeting. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The book display at ETS has grown substantially over the years I have been attending the annual meetings(since 1975). The professors and others who attend get an opportunity to buy the recent publications in biblical studies at a sizable discount. I buy very few these days, but I have taken advantage of this opportunity over the years.

Well, its on to Boston for more meetings.

For a Florida guy, I must say that it is cold up here.

Medinet Habu in the Valley of the Kings

It is easy to bypass he temple at Medinet Habu when visiting the Valley of the Kings at Thebes (Luxor), Egypt. The site is definitely worth a visit.

Entrance to Medinet Habu temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Entrance to Medinet Habu temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rameses III reigned from 1186 to 1155 B.C. Structures built by the Pharaoh to serve as an administrative complex and funerary temple may still be visited today at Medinet Habu. The most interesting aspects of the temple to me are the reliefs of the Sea Peoples that the king claims to have subjugated. We usually understand that the Philistines of the Old Testament were Sea People. The five major cities of the Philistines were Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron (1 Samuel 6:17).

This photo from the British Museum is a cast of one of the Sea Peoples (Philistines).

British Museum cast of one of the Sea People. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

British Museum cast of one of the Sea People. Photo by Jenkins.

118th Pyramid Found at Saqqara

A pyramid believed to be the tomb of Queen Sesheshet, the mother of Pharaoh Teti, has been discovered below 23 feet of sand near Saqqara. The pyramid, dating to about 2300 B.C., is the second pyramid found this year. It is the 118th pyramid discovered in Egypt.

Read a news release here. National Geographic News includes photos and a video here. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council on Antiquities is quoted as saying, “I always say you never know what the sands of Egypt might hide.”

Tourists typically visit the Step Pyramid of Zoser (or Djoser) at Saqqara. This oldest freestanding stone building in the world is dated to about 2600 B.C., and is the work of the vizier and physican Imhotep.

Step Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Step Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

These pyramids, and those of Giza, were built long before any of the biblical characters made their way to Egypt. It is conceivable that Joesph and Moses would have been familiar with these pyramids.

Then Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, as his wife. And Joseph went forth over the land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:45 NASB)

Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. (Acts 7:22 NASB)

Iron Age stele speaks of soul apart from body

The New York Times reports here on the discovery of an interesting stele at Sam’al/ Zincirli (ZIN-jeer-lee), an ancient site in southeastern Turkey.

In a mountainous kingdom in what is now southeastern Turkey, there lived in the eighth century B.C. a royal official, Kuttamuwa, who oversaw the completion of an inscribed stone monument, or stele, to be erected upon his death. The words instructed mourners to commemorate his life and afterlife with feasts “for my soul that is in this stele.”
“Normally, in the Semitic cultures, the soul of a person, their vital essence, adheres to the bones of the deceased,” said David Schloen, an archaeologist at the university’s Oriental Institute and director of the excavations. “But here we have a culture that believed the soul is not in the corpse but has been transferred to the mortuary stone.”

A translation of the inscription by Dennis Pardee, a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilization at Chicago, reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of [the king] Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber [?] and established a feast at this chamber: a bull for [the god] Hadad, a ram for [the god] Shamash and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.”

Here is a photograph of the stele provided by the University of Chicago.

University of Chicago.

Stele from Zincirli in which the king says that his soul is in this stone. Photo: University of Chicago.

A well known monuments discovered at Zincirli in 1888 depicts the Assyrian king Esarhaddon holding ropes leading to Tirhakah, king of Egypt and Ethiopia [Cush], and Ba’alu of Tyre. Tirhakah is the kneeling figure with negroid features befriended King Hezekiah of Judah against the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:9). The photo below shows the two captives on the lower portion of the stele. It is now displayed in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin.

Esarhaddon stele showing Tirhakah and the king of Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Esarhaddon stele showing Tirhakah and the king of Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.