Monthly Archives: July 2009

I take every step with them

A couple of my friends, Royce and Luke Chandler, are in Israel to participate in the archaeological dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The site, overlooking the Valley of Elah, is also called the Elah Fortress. They are spending a few days traveling in Israel prior to joining the dig.

Luke is posting some of his photos and a bit of information about the places on his A Bible, History & Travel Blog. Today he has a great photo of the Jezreel Valley from the Spring of Harod to the Hill of Moreh (Judges 7). Take a look.

More information on Judean exiles in Babylon

Abraham Rabinovich, a long time writer for the The Jerusalem Post, has compiled some fascinating information about the Judeans in Babylonian Exile during the time of Nebuchadnezzar.

King Jehoiachin was only 18 years old and had occupied the throne of Judah barely three months when he was led off into Babylonian captivity in 598 BCE together with his wives, his mother, his servants, his eunuchs and thousands of “the chief men of the land.”

But what happened to them when they reached Babylon? And what happened there to the tens of thousands of others who joined them in exile when the First Temple was destroyed a decade later? The Bible tells us of the return to Judah half a century later but virtually nothing of what the expellees experienced in Babylon itself…

However, scholars have been able to gain a measure of access to these missing years from cuneiform documents unearthed in Iraq in the last century, including a trove illicitly dug up in the final years of Saddam Hussein’s regime and only now nearing publication. The documents are innocuous – business records, land deeds, tax accounts – but together are able to shed light, feeble but suggestive, on this central period in Jewish history.

Rabinovich comments specifically on the fate of Jehoiachin, the young Judean king.

“We have been able to make history out of dry documents,” says Prof. Israel Eph’al of the Hebrew University, an epigrapher and historian of the ancient Near East.

Early last century, archeologists digging in Babylon, the capital of Babylonia, uncovered cuneiform tablets in a vaulted chamber beneath the ruins of an ancient structure believed by some to have been the base of the fabled “Hanging Gardens” of Babylon. These tablets, deciphered in the 1930s by German Assyriologist Ernst Weidner, detailed the storage of oil and other commodities and their distribution. Four of the badly damaged tablets concerned the supply of oil to “Jehoiachin, king of Judah” and his five sons. The date is five years after he was taken captive. The fact that he was being provisioned by the Babylonian authorities and that he retained his royal title suggests that he was being treated with deference even though he had been taken captive because his father, Jehoiakim, had rebelled against Babylon. Favorable treatment is also suggested by the fact that at 23 he already has five sons, indicating that the young royal was not deprived of the wives who had accompanied him.

Read the entire article here.

Because German archaeologists worked at Babylon for more than a decade in the early part of the 20th century, the best collection of archaeological artifacts are in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin. Here is a photo of one of the ration tablets mentioned in the article.

Ration tablet from Babylon, now in Berlin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ration tablet from Babylon mentioning Jehoiachin, the exiled king of Judah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This information harmonizes with what we are told in the Bible, under  (2 Kings 25:27-30). This text describes an event some years later under the reign of Evil-merodach. Verse 30 says of Jehoiachin,

He was given daily provisions by the king for the rest of his life until the day he died. (2 Kings 25:30 NET)

Here are the dates I normally follow in the study of this part of Bible history:

  • Nebuchadnezzar takes Daniel and other royal youths to Babylon (605 BC).
  • Jerusalem captured by the Babylonians. Jehoiachin taken to Babylon (597 BC). Zedekiah was made king. Ezekiel was among the prophets taken to Babylon.
  • Zedekiah was blinded and taken to Babylon (586 BC). Jerusalem destroyed. Many exiles taken to Babylon. Jeremiah was left in the land of Judah.
  • Babylon captured by the Medes and Persians (539 BC).
  • Judean exiles allowed to return to Judah (536 BC).
  • A second group of exiles returned in the days of Ezra (458 BC). Some remained in Babylon.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Where were you 40 years ago?

Even if we did not remember the exact day, all of us have heard that today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Our family had moved to Florida the previous December. School was not in session. What a great opportunity to take the boys to Cape Canaveral to see the “moon shot.”

Still in awe after the launch of Apollo 11. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Still in awe after the launch of Apollo 11. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

You may notice what appears to be a scratch on the slide running from the ground up into the water. That is the antenna to an little battery-operated TV. Afterwards we had a great picnic lunch mom had prepared.

The Land of Rameses

Note: Over the past nine years I have contributed nearly 100 articles on Bible places to a magazine published by some of my friends. Normally I do not repeat the material here for several years.  The typesetter made a mistake in the July, 2009, issue of Biblical Insights using the title from the previous issue. Because of this I decided to run the article here with the correct title.


For many years scholars identified Rameses with Tanis (San el Hagar). Tanis is often identified with the Zoan which was built seven years after Hebron (Numbers 13:22). As a result of recent excavations in the eastern Nile Delta by Austrian archaeologists under the direction of Manfred Bietak, Rameses is now identified with Tell el-Daba. Tell el-Daba is situated on the eastern side of the ancient Pelusiac branch of the Nile River in the biblical land of Goshen (Gen. 45:10) which is also called the land of Rameses (Genesis 47:11). Rameses was the starting point of the exodus (Ex. 12:37; Num. 33:3,5).

Scholars posit four main proposals for the date of the exodus. (1) Before 2000 B.C. (Anati); (2) 1477 B.C. (Goedicke); (3) about 1450 B.C. (Bimson); (4) 1280 B.C. (popular view). If we believe that 1 Kings 6:1 should be taken seriously, as I do, the date of the exodus would have been about 1446 B.C. Conservative scholars disagree over whether there was a long bondage (430 years), or a short bondage (215 years).

The history of this area should be divided into three periods: pre-Hyksos, Hyksos, and post-Hyksos. The Hyksos were foreign (Canaanite or Asiatic) rulers who lived in the eastern Nile Delta and eventually ruled northern Egypt for some 108 years (c. 1663-1555 B.C.; 15th dynasty). In the pre-Hyksos period the town was known as Rowaty (“the door of the two roads”). During the 15th Dynasty the name was changed to Avaris. The Hyksos made their capital there and retained the name. When the Egyptians ran the Hyksos out of Egypt the name was likely changed to Peru-nefer (“happy journey”). Pharaoh Rameses built a new city at the same location and named it Rameses.

During their stay in the land of Egypt the Israelites built the storage cities of Pithom and Rameses (Exodus 1:11). Pharaoh Rameses II ruled Egypt about 1304 to 1227 B.C. How could the Israelites have built the city of Rameses prior to 1446 B.C. if Pharaoh Rameses was not the ruler of Egypt until nearly 200 years later? Some have suggested that the name Rameses was given to the city by the Hyksos in the 17th century B.C. Perhaps the city was named for a private individual by that name. The most common explanation is that Rameses is the modernization of an obsolete place name. We might say that Caesar crossed the English Channel though it was not known by that name at the time. We say St. Nicholas of Myra was a Turkish bishop, but Turkey did not exist at the time.

Earlier this year I spent two days in the land of Goshen. My guide gained access to a field in the Tell el-Daba area where we saw remnants of a colossal statue of Pharaoh Rameses II estimated to have been more than 30 feet high. The royal precinct of the city at the time of Moses has also been uncovered at Ezbet Helmi on the bank of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile.

Remnant of a colossal statue of Rameses II at Tell el-Daba in the land of Goshen.

Remnant of a colossal statue of Rameses II at Tell el-Daba in the land of Goshen.

It is incorrect to say that there was no Egyptian building in the delta during the time of Rameses II. The storage city constructed by the Israelites was not known as Rameses when they built it, but by one of the earlier names.

Mount Hermon

Mount Hermon is the southern end of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range. The mountain is about 20 miles long and has three peaks. At 9,232 feet above sea level it is the highest mountain of Canaan, or Roman Syria, named in the Bible. The mountain now is shared by the countries of Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. The photo below shows mount Hermon from the east, a few miles south of Damascus toward Quneitra. This photo was made the middle of May, 2002. There was more snow on the west side of the mountain in Lebanon than you see here.

View of Mount Hermon from the East. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2002.

View of Mount Hermon from the East. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2002.

The first biblical reference to Mount Hermon is found in Moses’ account of the Israelite conquest of transjordan (Deuteronomy 3:8). He says that Israel took the land from the hand of two Amorite kings “from the valley of Arnon to Mount Hermon.” The Sidonians, of ancient Phoenicia, called the mountain Sirion, and the Amorites called it Senir (Deuteronomy 3:9). The half-tribe of Manasseh lived in the area of Bashan which is south of Mount Hermon (1 Chronicles 5:23). The Mountain of Bashan is probably a reference to Mount Hermon (Psalm 68:15). Hermon is mentioned in four references in the poetic books of the Old Testament (Psalm 42:6; 89:12; 133:3; Song of Solomon 4:8).

The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name. (Psalm 89:11-12 ESV)

The Valley of Aijalon and Joshua’s Long Day

The events of Joshua 9 and 10 are likely well-known to all readers of this page. After the Israelites entered Canaan and captured Jericho and Ai, the inhabitants of Gibeon acted craftily to deceive the Israelites into making an alliance with them. Even though Israel had been deceived they kept their end of the bargain when the Gibeonites were threatened. Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, headed up a group of Amorite kings to fight against Gibeon.

The LORD helped Israel by sending large hailstones upon the enemy. Joshua spoke to the LORD in the presence of Israel: “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon” (Joshua 10:12). Gibeon sits on the central mountain range about 6 miles north, and slightly west, of Jerusalem. As one makes the descent from Gibeon westward toward the coastal plain he goes through the valley of Aijalon.

When we travel on the modern highway from Jerusalem down to the Ben Gurion Airport we cross over the valley of Aijalon. Our photo of the valley is made below traditional Emmaus (Nicopolis) looking northwest. The terrain shows the Shephelah, or as many English versions indicate, the lowland. To the right is the way up to Gibeon. To the left one continues past the towns of Aijalon and Gezer down to the coastal plain.

Overlooking the Valley of Aijalon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Overlooking the Valley of Aijalon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Three east-west valleys divide the Shephelah and provide access between the plain and the mountains. To the north is the valley of Aijalon. Further south is the valley of Sorek, and then the valley of Elah. Significant battles took place in the valley of Aijalon and the valley of Elah.

The town of Aijalon which overlooks the valley was allotted to the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:42), but Dan moved to the northern part of the country and Aijalon was considered one of the cities of Judah and Benjamin (2 Chronicles 11:5-12). In the days of King Ahaz the city had fallen under Philistine control (2 Chronicles 28:16-20).

Have scientists discovered Joshua’s long day?

In 1969 an article began to be circulated in church bulletins, and more recently by Email, claiming that scientists had found evidence of the missing day of Joshua 10. Harry Rimmer had reported a similar story in The Harmony of Science and Scripture in 1936. There is no truth to this claim. I have an article written in response to it available at An article by Dr. Bryant Wood is available at the ABR web site here.

This article was published in Biblical Insights, Feb. 2007.

Extraordinary Finds at the Mt Zion Excavation

That the title of the July update after three weeks of digging at the Mt Zion Excavation. The report by James D. Tabor is available here. The location is a beautiful one. It lies between the road and the old city wall on the south side of the Old City of Jerusalem, and it overlooks the Hinnom Valley (Joshua 18:16). There are some nice photos of the site and some of the discoveries.

Discoveries in the past three weeks include:

  1. A stone vessel with an ancient inscription of ten lines in archaic Jewish script.
  2. Murex snail shells with holes drilled in them.
  3. A fire pit dated to just after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
  4. The threshold of a Fatimid period double gate.
  5. An arched doorway with mosaic floor and plastered wall.
  6. Several 2nd temple vaulted chambers that likely contained mikvot (ritual baths).
  7. Miscellaneous items such as coins, intact lamps, etc.
Herodian lamp from Mt Zion Excavation. Photo: Tabor Blog.

Herodian lamp from Mt Zion Excavation. Photo: Tabor Blog.

The excavators, Tabor and Gibson, have found evidence in some of these items that causes them to think this might have been an area were priests from the Second Temple period lived. (Second Temple means the Herodian Temple, which was really the Third Temple!).

Archaeology is hard work, but as these little things come to light it is exciting to have a better understanding of the past.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Could this be the quarry of Herod the Great?

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday the discovery of a large stone quarry dating to the first century B.C. It is suggested by the director of the excavation that this was one of the quarries used by Herod the Great in his building projects in Jerusalem.

First century B.C. quarry on Shmuel HaNavi Street. Photo: Assaf Peretz, courtesy IAA.

First century B.C. quarry on Shmuel HaNavi Street. Photo: Assaf Peretz, courtesy IAA.

Dr. Ofer Sion, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, believes, “The immense size of the stones (maximum dimensions: length 3 m, width 2 m, height 2 m) indicates it was highly likely that the large stones that were quarried at the site were destined for use in the construction of Herod’s magnificent projects in Jerusalem, including the Temple walls. It seems that a vast number of workers labored in the quarry where various size stones were produced: first they quarried small stones and when the bedrock surface was made level they hewed the large stones. The stones were quarried by creating wide detachment channels that were marked by means of a chisel which weighed c. 2.5 kilograms. After the channels were formed the stones were severed from the bedrock using hammers and chisels”.

The full news release may be read here. Similar quarries have been discovered in Jerusalem in the decade. Todd Bolen, at Bible Places Blog, provides some links to the earlier quarries as well as some good photos. One photo shows the Ketef Hinnom quarry that has since been covered by the Menahem Begin Heritage Center. I’m glad Todd was there to capture that one.

HT: Todd Bolen; Joseph Lauer

Codex Sinaiticus now online

According to a BBC report, the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus is now available online. More information about the project is available in this report by Reuthers. The link to Codex Sinaiticus is here.

Here is a photo of Saint Catherine’s monastery, at the foot of Jebel Musa, the traditional Mount Sinai, where the manuscript was discovered in the 19th century.

St. Catherine's Monastery at Jebel Musa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

St. Catherine's Monastery at Jebel Musa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

HT: Paleojudaica; Frank Walton

USA sends ambassador back to Syria

For whatever reason(s) the media seems to have overlooked the decision of the Obama administration to send an ambassador back to Syria. Read a little about the decision at CNN.

Syria is an important country historically and politically. The capital city of Damascus is mentioned as early as the time of Abraham (Genesis 14:15), and there is indication that Abraham had considerable contact with the city. He suggests that Eliezer of Damascus might become his heir in the absence of a natural son (Genesis 15:2).

Damascus is situated immediately east of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range on what Rainey calls “the Damascus tableland” (The Sacred Bridge, 32). The River Barada (probably the Abanah of 2 Kings 5:12) runs east from the Anti-Lebanon range through the city of Damascus. The Syrian Desert stretches east of Damascus to the Euphrates River valley. The photo below was made looking west from my hotel balcony to the mountain range. The main part of the city is to the right (north). Go south a few miles and you have a clear view of Mount Hermon.

View of Damascus looking west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2002.

View of Damascus looking west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2002.

The only references to Damascus in the New Testament are those associated with the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul). All but two of these are in Acts 9, 22, and 26. The others are in 2 Corinthians 11:32 and Galatians 1:17.

The Syria of today is not the same political entity we read about in the Bible; only the name is the same.