Monthly Archives: December 2008

Top archaeological discoveries of 2008

Todd Bolen has posted his “Top 8 of 2008: Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Bible” at the BiblePlaces Blog. Take a look.

Ashkelon and the Seacoast

This has been a busy month for me. It was the month of two cataract surgeries, but I won’t be able to get the needed glasses for reading until about the second week of January. With each surgery it takes about two days to get over the dilation and do any serious reading and computer work.

I want to share a photo of the beach and Mediterranean Sea at Ashkelon. The city is in the news this week due to the conflict between Israel and Gaza. Ashkelon is the closest Israeli town to the Gaza Strip.

The Sea at Ashkelon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The LORD spoke against the Philistine cities through the prophet Jeremiah (ch. 47). These verses caught my attention.

How long will you cry out, ‘Oh, sword of the LORD, how long will it be before you stop killing? Go back into your sheath! Stay there and rest!’ But how can it rest when I, the LORD, have given it orders? I have ordered it to attack the people of Ashkelon and the seacoast. (Jeremiah 47:6-7 NET)

Jesus lived in Nazareth

This photo of two children was made at the Nazareth Village (a nice place to visit).

Children at the Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Children at the Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

All four Gospels and the book of Acts make a reference to Nazareth as the place where Jesus lived in his early years. This one from the Gospel of Luke is set at a time when Jesus was about 12 years of age (Luke 2:42), and before He was 30 (Luke 3:23).

And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:51-52 ESV)

Satellite imagery reveals Egyptian ruins

CNN has a report on the use of satellites to help unearth ancient Egyptian ruins. Read the full article here. The report features the work of Sarah Parcak, an archaeologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In our society we tear down anything that is a decade or more old in order to build a new structure. Except, of course, for our historical districts. It wasn’t that way in the ancient world. If a structure was destroyed or ravaged, the conquerors might build a new one in the same place. They would build over and utilize any walls still standing.

Building in ancient Egypt was along the Nile River and in the Delta. Much of what shows as Egypt on a modern map is not currently habitable. Eighty two million people live in this small space, according to the CNN report. When I took my first group to Egypt in 1967 we were told that the population was 40 million. Even then it seemed crowded; now it is terrible.

Here are a few comments about Parcak’s work:

In this field, Parcak is a pioneer. Her work in Egypt has yielded hundreds of finds in regions of the Middle Egypt and the eastern Nile River Delta.

Parcak conducted surveys and expeditions in the eastern Nile Delta and Middle Egypt in 2003 and 2004 that confirmed 132 sites that were initially suggested by satellite images. Eighty-three of those sites had never been visited or recorded.

In the past two years, she has found hundreds more, she said, leading her to amend an earlier conclusion that Egyptologists have found only the tip of the iceberg.

“My estimate of 1/100th of 1 percent of all sites found is on the high side,” Parcak said.

And here are some comments made by Parcak about the value of the satellite images:

“We can see patterns in settlements that correspond to the [historical] texts,” Parcak said, “such as if foreign invasions affected the occupation of ancient sites.

“We can see where the Romans built over what the Egyptians had built, and where the Coptic Christians built over what the Romans had built.

“It’s an incredible continuity of occupation and reuse.”

The flooding and meanders of the Nile over the millennia dictated where and how ancient Egyptians lived, and the profusion of new data has built a more precise picture of how that worked.

“Surveys give us information about broader ancient settlement patterns, such as patterns of city growth and collapse over time, that excavations do not,” said Parcak, author of a forthcoming book titled “Satellite Remote Sensing and Archaeology.”

In every town along the Nile in Upper Egypt (the south) buildings crowd the river. This scene is from Edfu.

Shops at Edfu in Upper Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shops at Edfu in Upper Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Fifth Gospel

Early in the month we noted a few things about the late Bargil Pixner and his book on the Fifth Gospel here.

We have more comments on these post coming from friends via personal Email than via the Comments feature. These are always appreciated, either way. This helpful note came from Linda Rowlett.

I bought the book The Fifth Gospel when we were in Israel. Last night I saw an hour long film on PBS about it showing lots of the places we saw as well as some new things. It had [Bargil] Pixner explaining some of his ideas. If you have not seen it there is a trailer you can view at this site. It was wonderful to see so much around Galilee again and brought back lots of good memories of our trip and that beautiful area. His explanations about the land, the sea, the fishing, etc. were really interesting.

See the brief trailer here. I checked the PBS web site and found no reference to this program. It may have been a local presentation in Linda’s area.

Our photo shows a modern fisherman casting a net in the vicinity of Tabgha. The dark colored building, made of local basalt,  on the shore is designated by Roman Catholics as the Church of the Primary (more about that later).

A modern fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A modern fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. (John 21:6)

The Wise Woman of Abel-Beth-Maacah

No sooner had King David put down the rebellion of his son Abaslom when a Benjamite by the name of Sheba led a rebellion against him. The men of Israel rebelled against David and followed Sheba, but the men of Judah remained loyal to the king.

Realizing that Sheba was a greater threat than Absalom had been, David called on Abishai to take servants (warriors) and capture Sheba. Joab’s men when out from Jerusalem to capture Sheba. This pursuit took Joab’s men all the way to the north of the Israelite territory, to a town named Abel-Beth-Maacah. Some English versions use Abel Beth Maacah, or a similar variant. In modern Israel this town is almost on the border with Lebanon between Kiryat Shmona and Metulla.

Sheba traveled through all the tribes of Israel to Abel of Beth Maacah and all the Berite region. When they had assembled, they too joined him. So Joab’s men came and laid siege against him in Abel of Beth Maacah. They prepared a siege ramp outside the city which stood against its outer rampart. As all of Joab’s soldiers were trying to break through the wall so that it would collapse, a wise woman called out from the city, “Listen up! Listen up! Tell Joab, ‘Come near so that I may speak to you.” (2 Samuel 20-14-16 NET)

Our photo, looking east, shows the massive mound thought to be the site of Abel-Beth-Maacah. This photo was made the last day of August. The dry tell stands out distincting from the surrounding orchards. Apples are grown in this area. On a clear day one would be able to see the Beka Valley and Mount Hermon beyond the tel.

Abel-Beth-Maacah in northern Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

Abel-Beth-Maacah in northern Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The wise woman reasons with Joab. She tells him that this town formerly was a place where people would ask for advice to end a dispute. She said,

I represent the peaceful and the faithful in Israel. You are attempting to destroy an important city in Israel. Why should you swallow up the LORD’s inheritance? (2 Samuel 20:19 NET)

Joab agreed that he would not destroy the city if she would hand over Sheba. She agreed to throw the head of Sheba over the wall. She did what she promised and the destruction was averted. Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem.

Abel-beth-Maacah is mentioned in at least two other passages.

  1. The city was conquered by Ben-hadad, king of Aram [Syria] (1 Kings 15:20).
  2. The city was captured by Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, in the days of Pekah of Israel.

BiblePlaces Newsletter

Todd Bolen’s BiblePlaces Newletter for December is now available. It includes a wonderful aerial photo of the Elah Valley. The main feature is a series of (Google) satellite photos of Jerusalem with the natural features (hills, valleys, springs, quarters of the city, etc.) identified. If you teach any lesson dealing with the city of Jerusalem you need these PowerPoint slides.

You should subscribe to the BiblePlaces Newsletter, but if you have not yet done so you may access the current issue here. The subscription link is at the bottom of the page.

The photo below shows one of the modern gates of Jerusalem. It is labeled Stephen’s Gate on one of the slides mentioned above. Murphy-O’Connor says that Suliman called it the Bab el-Ghor (the Jordan Valley Gate). In Hebrew it is called the Lions’ Gate, but you may notice that the animals to the left of the gate are panthers. Murphy-O’Connor says this was “the heraldic emblem of the Mamluk sultan Baybar (1260-77). This is the only gate of the Old City on the east side that is currently open.

Lions Gate or St. Stephen Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lions' Gate or St. Stephen's Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Newsweek attacks biblical authority & marriage

Perhaps you have already seen the cover, and cover story, of Newsweek (Dec. 15, 2008). The cover, showing a drawing of a Bible, touts the main article by Lisa Miller, “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” Miller is the religion editor of Newsweek.

Rather than write my own reply, I would like to direct you to the Blog by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Read it here.  Mohler correctly points out that the real issue in this discussion is one of biblical authority.

As always, the bottom line is biblical authority.  Lisa Miller does not mince words.  “Biblical literalists will disagree,” she allows, “but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history.”  This argument means, of course, that we get to decide which truths are and are not binding on us as “we change through history.”

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham says,

No matter what one thinks about gay rights–for, against or somewhere in between–this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt–it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition. (Newsweek, Dec. 15, 2008, p. 4)

Well, there you have it. The editor of Newsweek has resolved this matter with one editorial.

If you are interested in a good study of this subject you might enjoy the video by Dr. Robert Gagnon, author of  several works on Homosexuality and the Bible, here. Or, read Dr. Gagnon’s 26 page response to the Miller article here.

Bethlehem and Shrines

Shrines. Throughout the lands where Bible events transpired church buildings have been erected over this or that “sacred spot.” These buildings, whether in Jerusalem, Nazareth or Bethlehem are little more than show places. Tourists stream through them at a steady rate observing the ancient ornamentation.

In Bethlehem the traditional place where Jesus was born, now covered by the Basilica of the Nativity, would hardly remind one of anything he reads in the New Testament. The visitor now finds a building which reveals “a succession of slow decay and hasty repairs” The Middle East, 1966 ed., 622). In this building he sees mosaics with gold backgrounds dating from the 12th century, and art of the middle ages. The ruins of the large buildings erected by Justinian in the 6th century simply serve to cover the 4th century building by Constantine. The student of church history never forgets that all of this was the activity of an apostate church and does not reflect New Testament Christianity.

Their value. The shrines do serve a useful purpose. We have no record to indicate that the earliest Christians built any shrines at the sites associated with the ministry of Jesus. One can imagine, however, that fathers would tell their sons and that residents would tell visitors where certain events happened. If this information was faithfully transmitted from the first to the fourth century when the first shrines were erected, then the shrine has kept alive the memory till now.

The shrines have preserved sites, which if left in the open would have eroded or been damaged or built over so that the memory would be lost.

This photo shows the interior of the Greek Orthodox Church that is said to be built over the birthplace of Jesus.

Interior of the Church of the Nativity. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the Church of the Nativity. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our study about Bethlehem brings to our mind the reality of the earthly ministry of Jesus. In Bethlehem we see the expression of the love of God who sent His own son to the earth.

The next photo shows the Armenian chapel in the Church of the Nativity. It stands between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

Armentian altar in the Church of the Nativity. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Armenian altar in the Church of the Nativity. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bethlehem – the Birthplace of Jesus

Years ago we would say that Bethlehem is located in the hill country of Judea about six miles south of Jerusalem. Today, Jerusalem stretches all the way to Bethlehem. It is no longer easy to get to Bethlehem. The massive wall built by Israel (Israelis call it the “fence”) separates Bethlehem from Israel.

During the Patriarchal period the town was called Ephrath (Genesis 48:7; 35:9-27). Later, as part of the territory allotted to the tribe of Judah, it was the home of Ruth and Boaz and became the birthplace and early home of David (1 Samuel 17:12, 15). The town was sometimes called the “city of David” (Luke 2:4, 11), but is most famous as the birthplace of Jesus (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4-15; Matthew 2:1-16).

When one visits the Bible lands today he must realize that 2,000 years of history, involving both repeated building and the destruction of what has been built, has left nothing to remind one of the original place where Jesus was born. Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 160) said Joseph “took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village.” Origen (mid-third century) said the cave where Jesus was born was being shown and even the enemies of the faith were talking of it. Jerome, a resident of Bethlehem (A.D. 386-420), tells how the birthplace of Jesus and other places associated with the ministry of Jesus were defiled from the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine. The Church of the Nativity now stands at this spot.

Today I have chosen to include a photograph of vineyards in the hill country immediately to the west of Bethlehem.

Terraces in the hill country of Judea near Bethlehem. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Terraces in the hill country of Judea near Bethlehem. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Gordon Franz has written a good article about Bethlehem which is posted on the ABR web site. Read it here.