Monthly Archives: March 2009

The Wilderness of Judea

John the Baptist preached in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:3), and Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1). Jesus spoke to the crowds about John this way:

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? (Luke 7:24 ESV)

The wilderness (Greek eremos) of Judea is described this way in Bauer (BDAG):

Of the Judean wilderness, the stony, barren eastern declivity of the Judean mountains toward the Dead Sea and lower Jordan Valley.

The Hebrew word for this wilderness is midbar. Charles F. Pfeiffer said the wilderness of Judea,

is the region of rugged gorges and bad lands in the eastern part of Judah where the land slopes off toward the Jordan Valley. In ancient times this area was infested with wild animals. Except for a brief time during the spring rains the wilderness is arid. (Baker’s Bible Atlas, 201)

Many people who read the Bible in English, without checking into the matter, think of the wilderness as being a place filled with wild growth and underbrush. Jesus’ question to the crowds indicates that no reeds are to be found in the wilderness. In this case a picture really is worth a thousand words. This shows one of the many changing views one might see in the wilderness. This one was made in the month of November and shows a view west toward Jerusalem.

The wilderness of Judea. Looking west up toward Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The wilderness of Judea. Looking west toward Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The wilderness of Judea stretches west from the Jordan Valley up to the Mount of Olives. Of course, it extends much farther south along the Dead Sea.

Update: 04/01/09

Green pastures and quiet waters

Psalm 23 is one of the best known and most loved chapters of the Bible. In it David describes his relationship to the LORD under the analogy of a sheep and his shepherd.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:1-4 NIV)

This Psalm  describes one of the common scenes in certain parts of the Middle East. Our photo was made in the mountains of ancient Urartu (Ararat) in eastern Turkey. Notice especially the green pastures and the quiet waters.

A shepherd provides green pastures and quiet water for his sheep. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A shepherd provides green pastures and quiet water for his sheep. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jesus called Himself the “good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). Jesus wants the same of elders or overseers in the local church, and He reminds them that it is God’s flock and that He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers– not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:1-3 NIV)

Good shepherds serve God’s flock willingly to provide food, care, and protection for the sheep. The concept of “lording it over” the flock or “domineering” is foreign to the spirit of a good shepherd. Overseers lead the flock by their example of godliness.

The Watchman

The watchman (or watchmen) is mentioned at least 35 times in the Old Testament. His role was one of great significance in keeping a city safe from attackers.

The prophet Ezekiel was appointed as a watchman over the house of Israel.

Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you must give them a warning from me. (Ezekiel 3:17 NET)

Further explanation is given in chapter 33.

But suppose the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people. Then the sword comes and takes one of their lives. He is swept away for his iniquity, but I will hold the watchman accountable for that person’s death. (Ezekiel 33:6 NET)

The Psalmist reminds us that the LORD must be the true guard of a city.

If the LORD does not build a house, then those who build it work in vain. If the LORD does not guard a city, then the watchman stands guard in vain. (Psalm 127:1 NET)

This photo was made a the site of Hazor where a warrior stands in the position of a watchman over the city. The watchtower allows him to look in all directions, but especially to the north. The prophets of Israel warned of the approaching enemy from the north. See Jeremiah 1:14 and Isaiah 14:31.

The Watchman at Hazor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Watchman at Hazor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The closest thing to the concept of the watchman in the New Testament is found in the description of the “leaders” among Christians mentioned in Hebrews 13:17.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaints, for this would be no advantage for you. (NET)

William Hendriksen points out that the identity of the leaders is not specified.

Those leaders who had spoken the Word of God in earlier days were no longer present. They must be remembered for their conduct and faith, says the author of Hebrews 13:7. Successive leaders have taken their place. The writer is not interested in the status of these leaders—he gives no hint whether they were elders, overseers, preachers, or teachers. Rather, he asks the reader to obey them. (New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Hebrews, 426)

The shepherd and his sheep

Scenes typical of biblical times are common Jordan, Turkey, and portions of the West Bank of Palestine today. There are some differences, of course.

We were traveling between Diyarbakir and Sanliurfa, Turkey, in early June. Several farmers were harvesting their grain using modern combines.

Harvesting grain in Eastern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Harvesting grain in Eastern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

As quickly as the combine passed by, the shepherds brought in the sheep to feed.

The sheep/shepherd analogy was used by Jesus to describe His relationship to His disciples.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11 ESV)

When Paul spoke to the elders of the Ephesian church he instructed them “to shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28 NAS). I note that the ESV uses the term care instead of shepherd to translate the Greek poimaino. That certainly conveys the right idea.

Shepherds care for their sheep in Eastern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shepherds care for their sheep in Eastern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Peter instructed elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). The NET Bible says, “Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you.” Lest these men who have been appointed to this work be elevated in their own importance, Peter added,

And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:3 NET)

not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:3 ESV)

J. B. Phillips, in his translation of this text, used a vivid phrase to illustrate the overreaching of some elders:

You should aim not at being “little tin gods” but as examples of Christian living in the eyes of the flock committed to your charge. And then, when the chief shepherd reveals himself, you will receive that crown of glory which cannot fade.

The number of New Testament textual variants

This note is not about travel, but it is about an extremely important subject. Sometime during 2008 Daniel Wallace wrote a series of articles on the subject of Textual Variants. Due to a crash these articles were lost. Recently the one on “The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation” was recovered and posted at Parchment and Pen. Go directly to the post here.

At the bottom of his post you will see links to several Related Posts.

Earlier I posted a note about two recent lectures by Dr. Daniel Wallace here.

A visit to the Siegfried H. Horn Museum

Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, has long been associated with archaeological work, especially in Jordan. This work is carried out under the name of the Institute of Archaeology.

The interesting history of the Siegfried H. Horn Museum may be read here. The name of Siegfried H. Horn is well known to anyone who had read about biblical archaeology in modern times.

Last week I was at Valparaiso, Indiana, presenting a series of lessons on Bible History and Archaeology. I had long wanted to visit the Horn Archaeological Museum. When we learned that we were slightly more than an hour away, Mark Russell, Steve Wolfgang and I made the trip one morning. The Museum is hopeful of moving into a new facility as soon as the project can be funded. At this time the small museum is open only on Saturday afternoon, but they will open by appointment, as they did for us.

The Siegfried H. Horn Archaeological Museum houses over 8,500 artifacts, but only a small portion of those are on display. There are replicas of a few famous artifacts such as the Black Obelisk of Shalmannessar II and the Moabite Stone

There are significant original pieces from most areas of the Bible world with Mesopotamia and Transjordan being featured. There is a mummified Ibis from Egypt. The Egyptian god Thoth was portrayed with the head of an Ibis. I never see representations of these gods without thinking of Paul’s description of the Roman world prior to the coming of Christ.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:22-23 ESV)

Mummfied Ibis from Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mummified Ibis from Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the main exhibit hall there is a life-size Bedouin tent. This makes a good background for explaining patriarchal life.

Authentic Bedouin Tent at Horn Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Authentic Bedouin Tent at Horn Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV)

Two other things should be mentioned. There are some wonderful models. One that impressed me was of the Roman rolling-stone tomb at Heshbon. The murals covering biblical and modern church history are impressive.

I recommend that anyone traveling in the vicinity of Berrien Springs, or those living within driving distance, take advantage of this opportunity to visit. Bible class teachers would do well to become familiar with this Museum and arrange for their students to see it.

Our thanks to Jody Washburn, an Administrative Assistant at the Institute of Archaeology, for her help in making our visit pleasant.

The Oriental Institute

Yesterday I visited the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.  When I visit a museum such as this I am not only looking for items with a specific connection to a biblical account, such as the prism which mentions Hezekiah, but also for artifacts that might illustrate daily life in Bible times.

Cooking pots are mentioned several times in the Scripture. One such reference is a sort of proverb.

It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.  For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 7:5-6 ESV)

This cooking pot is from Iron IIc at Megiddo (732-600 B.C.).

Cooking pot from Megiddo. OIUC. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cooking pot from Megiddo. OIUC. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notice the interesting account from the days of the prophet Elisha.

When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” Then one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they did not know what they were. So they poured it out for the men to eat. And as they were eating of the stew, they cried out and said, “O man of God, there is death in the pot.” And they were unable to eat. But he said, “Now bring meal.” He threw it into the pot and said, “Pour it out for the people that they may eat.” Then there was no harm in the pot.  (2 Kings 4:38-41 NASB)

One wonders what might have been cooked in that now-broken pot from Megiddo.

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago is one of the great museums of biblically related artifacts in the world. The University of Chicago excavated at the Neo-Assyrian city of Khorsabad from 1928 to 1935. This site was the fortress of King Sargon II (721-705 B.C.).

Assyrian winged bull, OIUC. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Assyrian winged bull, OIUC. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The OIUC web page describes the winged bull this way:

This colossal sculpture was one of a pair that guarded the entrance to the throne room of King Sargon II. A protective spirit known as a “lamassu”, it is shown as a composite being with the head of a human, the body and ears of a bull, and the wings of a bird. When viewed from the side, the creature appears to be walking; when viewed from the front, to be standing still. Thus it is actually represented with five, rather than four, legs.

Sargon II is mentioned only once in the Bible (Isaiah 20:1). There was a time when some critics denied the existence of Sargon II and suggested that the Bible writer made up the name. The great museums, Oriental Institute, British Museum, and the Louvre, have abundant evidence of his existence.

Photography is allowed in the museum.

The museum website will provide all the info you need to plan your visit to the Oriental Institute Museum.

Bronze Age gate at Dan opened

Ha’aretz announces the opening of the Bronze Age gate at Dan after restoration.

The Nature and National Parks Protection Authority yesterday opened “Abraham’s Gate” at Tel Dan in the north, for visits by the public.

The ancient structure from the Canaanite period of the Bronze Age is made of mud and is thought to have been built around 1750 B.C.E. The authority named the archaeological site for Abraham, the first patriarch of the Jewish people, indicating that it dates from the period of Abraham.

The gate was uncovered in 1979 but more recently underwent restoration. It is composed of three arches and constructed of sun-dried mud brick on a foundation of large basalt stones. The gate, which in ancient times stood seven meters tall, has been restored to its original height. It features two towers and a horizontal structure linking them below the arches, the oldest arches ever found in the Land of Israel.

Read the full article here.

This photo shows the condition of the gate August 31, 2008. I don’t know what has been done to “open” the gate to the public.

Bronze age gate at Dan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bronze age gate at Dan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This gate was dubbed “Abraham’s Gate” in the Ha’aretz headline. We have no way of knowing that Abraham saw this gate, but he might have. The Bible records that when the kings of the east took Lot captive, Abraham pursued them as far as Dan (Genesis 14:14).

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Mount Hor

The Scripture records that Aaron was buried on Mount Hor (Numbers 20:25-29). We wrote about this here. A few interesting questions have been left in a comment. I am away from home for the week and do not have access to all the materials I might check, but here is a brief response.

1. How long would it take to walk unaided up Mt. Hor? Are there clearly marked-out historical trails?

Hikers make the trek. My recollection is that one should allow between a half and a full day for the trip up and down. A guide book such as Lonely Planet would surely answer this question. Perhaps some reader has made the climb and will tell us.

2. Do you know anything about the history of the Muslim shrine at the summit? I’m sure there have been quite a bit of academic research into this over the years, but I’m hoping for a simple answer about how reliable is this tradition about the exact location of Mt. Hor?

Not really. There are many “traditional” places identified by Jews, Christian, and Muslims, but a large number of them are without any historical foundation. Todd Bolen has this comment, along with a nice photo, at Bible Places.

In Bedouin tradition, Jebel Haroun is Mt. Hor where Moses’ brother Aaron was buried.  Most scholars reject this, locating Mt. Hor near Kadesh-barnea to the west.

I trust this will be helpful.

Here is a photo of the beginning of the Siq at Petra. Almost everyone likes to show the photos of the narrow part. It is beautiful, even from the beginning.

The beginning of the Siq at Petra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The beginning of the Siq at Petra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.