Monthly Archives: December 2009

A note to my friends: Retiring again

In 2001 I retired from teaching in the Biblical Studies Department at Florida College, but I continued to work with a church on a part-time basis. I had intended to gradually cut back on that work in order to complete some writing that I have been working on over the years. Due to various circumstances, which any preacher understands, I thought it best to continue working with the church. Well, finally, I have decided to make the big move from being partially supported to living off the savings we have been been able to put away over the years. Anyone familiar with independent churches of Christ understands that there is no retirement plan. Perhaps we have begun to build smaller barns (cf. Luke 12:18). Retiring means giving up financial support, not giving up working for the Lord.

It is my plan to continue to lead tours of the Bible Lands, and possibly a few other places, as we have done for the past 42 years. I will continue to conduct a limited number of special lecture series. I am hopeful of being able to maintain the web sites [ and], and this blog as a by-product of the study and writing that I do. It is difficult to give up things one enjoys doing, but priorities must be set. I try to respond to short questions about specific Bible topics, but I may find it necessary to cut back on that.

Entry to the Water System at Beersheba. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Iron Age Water System at Beersheba. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

High over Israel

A guide friend in Israel notified me that one of his neighbors was experienced in aerial photography, and asked if I would be interested in going up during the recent trip to Israel. I indicated an interest and we began to work on the details. The pilot, Yoav, had to get permission and clear us with Israeli security well in advance of the flight. The first day we scheduled was scrubbed due to bad weather coming in. The following day was sunny and fairly clear. Certainly it was one of the best weather days we had during the first two weeks of December.

We flew from the Sde Dov Airport. This is a small airport along the Mediterranean coast immediately north of the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv. Arkia Airlines operates here with flights to Eilat, Rosh Pina, and perhaps other places. When we arrived at the airport to meet our friend and the pilot we had to go through strict security even though we had sent all of our passport details in advance. Once that was completed we headed for the plane, a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. Our pilot was well aware of most of the places we wanted to visit. He would tell us to be ready in two minutes, or in 30 seconds, for the best photos. We flew over Gezer, Zorah, Beth Shemesh, the Zorek Valley, Lachish, Jerusalem, the Herodium, Aphek/Antipatris, and lots of terrain in between in two hours and six minutes. I made 1754 photos during that time, filling an 8 gig card and two 4 gig cards. Probably not a Guinness record, but a record for me.

Perhaps over the next few weeks I will be able to share a few of these photos with you. Let’s begin with the Coastal (or Maritime) Plain south of Tel Aviv/Joppa. This area is also referred to as the Plain of Philistia because the Philistines lived in the region in Old Testament times. The Philistine cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza were in the southern coastal plain.

The plain of Philistia may be as much as 20 miles wide as we move further south. This photo gives one some idea of the territory immediately south of Tel Aviv as we fly south east to Gezer. Our altitude here was 800 feet.

The Coastal Plain of Philistia, south of Tel Aviv. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Coastal Plain of Philistia, south of Tel Aviv. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This region is now an important part of Israel, but in Bible times few Israelites lived in the area.

Don’t try this on your first trip

Some adventuresome souls who have been reading the posts about the recent trip to Israel may have in mind doing the same. After all, you have some friends who went to Europe on their own, bought an Eurail pass and saw everything in two weeks.

Not that I think that is the best way to see Europe in a limited amount of time, but I definitely warn against this for the first trip or two to Israel, Turkey, Jordan, or Egypt. When you read about a trip like the one I just completed the first two weeks of December, keep in mind that I have been traveling to Israel almost annually since 1967.

Your best choice for a first or second trip to the Bible Lands (or Holy Lands) is to travel with someone who has experience in this area. Look at a lot of itineraries before you make a decision. Look at the qualifications of the person leading the tour. Examine carefully the details such as class of hotels, number of meals, etc.

The most important thing you can do is to study about the places you will visit for several months in advance of the trip. A few weeks ago we presented a list of books that we suggest for this purpose here. Your most important study will come during the first year after you return from your trip. Because then you will have a better understanding of what you are reading about.

And don’t take too much luggage. It can spoil a good trip. I caught this photo of two tourists coming out of a hotel near the Dead Sea. Perhaps they had packed for a group.

Overloaded at the Dead Sea.

Overloaded at the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

“Cracked Pot Archaeology”

If you have not taken a look at Life and Land by Gordon Franz, I suggest you do so now. Gordon is a careful scholar. His material is always well researched and documented. One category that caught my attention at Life and Land is called Cracked Pot Archaeology. Here is how he describes this category.

The Cracked Pot Archaeology category contains articles about popular, contemporary archaeological theories and ideas that, like cracked pots, hold no water! These articles are a review, scholarly analysis and critiques of theories and ideas that have been presented on the Internet or popular books, movies, DVD’s and videos.

Over the past few years Gordon has written a number of articles about the claims of the late Ron Wyatt and Robert Cornuke. Last evening I presented a lesson on “Ports of Paul.” I only had time to talk about Caesarea Maritima and the events of Acts 27-28 (Malta, Syracuse, and Rhegium). I called attention to the claim of Robert Cornuke and the response by Gordon Franz. You will find his response to Cornuke’s book, The Lost Shipwreck of Paul, under the category of Paul and Places. Gordon provides information about the possible places on Malta where the shipwreck may have occurred. I will leave any discussion of that at this time, and let you enjoy working through his material.

The photo below shows Mellieha Bay on Malta. Beyond the bay you may see the island of Gozo. Mellieha Bay is a few miles north of St. Paul’s Bay, the traditional site of the shipwreck. We discussed several places on Malta back in September here, here, and a few other places (use the Search box to locate places you are studying).

Mellieha Bay, Malta. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mellieha Bay, Malta. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of Gordon’s recent articles is a response to Cornuke’s claim to have found an inscription with the name of Yahweh on it. Read it here. The final sentence by Franz sums it up:

The assertion that Mount Sinai is at Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia still lacks credible and verifiable historical, geographical, archaeological, or biblical evidence.

You will find links to articles dealing with the claim that Jebel al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia is Mount Sinai.

A word of warning. Beware of someone who has discovered something all others have overlooked. Be especially wary if they have found two things no one else knows about. Shall I keep counting?

2010 Five Day Bible Reading Program

Mark Roberts,, has a good five day [a week] Bible reading schedule available for 2010 here. A single copy for personal use is free. Churches and study groups may buy a license to print multiple copies. Check the catalog for other good materials currently available.

Vandalism of the Midras Ruins rolling stone tomb

The Midras Ruins (Horvat Midras) in Israel are part of the Adulam Grove Nature Reserve east of Hwy 38 between the Elah Valley and Beit Guvrin. According to the Parks department sign at the site, the ruins are part of an ancient settlement including caves, pits, and other installations. The Carta touring atlas says the area was continuously inhabited from the time of the Kings of Judah to the Roman period.

For several years I had wanted to visit the Midras Ruins. In August, 2008, I went there for the first time. It was hot, and the hour was late. Elizabeth and I looked for the burial cave with a rolling stone from the Roman period, but were not able to locate it. We spoke with some visitors from near Tel Aviv who had been crawling through the tunnels, but they were unable to help. Earlier this month Leon and I went to Midras and spent a lot of time searching for the burial cave. There are no signs pointing specifically to this burial site. As we searched the area we called a guide friend who told us we should go to the right of the entry. We tried that without success.

On another day our guide friend went with us. He said he had been there since the burial cave was restored. After we got to the site he called a friend who lives in the nearby village. He assured us that the cave was to the right of the entry. After more searching we noted that the older entry from the main road (Hwy 38) had been closed. Now the parking and entry is from the side road about a mile from the main road. Instead of the cave being to the right of the entry, it is to the left of the end of the trail. Here is the sign you need to look for.

Midras Ruins sign. Go toward Pyramid Tomb. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Midras Ruins sign. Go toward Pyramid Tomb. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Go toward the Pyramid Tomb. The burial cave is marked as number 4 on the left side of the trail. The sign at the cave indicates that it was in use from the first century B.C. until the Bar Kochba revolt (about A.D. 135). The site was vandalized about 15 years ago.

Midras Ruins Burial Cave. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Midras Ruins Burial Cave.

It was getting dark by the time we located the tomb, but I had a good flash attachment with me that allowed some fairly good photos.

Midras Ruins Burial Cave 4. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2009.

Midras Ruins Burial Cave 4. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2009.

I am not able to make out the graffiti above the tomb. Here is a closer view of the rolling stone.

Midras Ruins Burial Cave 4 with rolling stone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Midras Ruins Burial Cave 4 with rolling stone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This tomb is supposed to have been restored. Compare the way it looks now with the way it looked before the vandalism. There are two sources that I know about.

Dr. Carl Rasmussen, Holy Land Photos, says,

In 1976 part of the cemetery was excavated. Several tombs were uncovered, including, in my estimation, THE BEST ROLLING STONE TOMB in the country. Unfortunately in the late 1990’s the tomb site was totally destroyed by vandals.  BUT it has been reconstructed and is now visible in the Adullam Park!

Carl has six photos of the tomb here. Open a new browser and compare the tomb now with the photos he made earlier.

Todd Bolen, BiblePlaces Blog, has an excellent photo of the tomb before and after it was vandalized here. Here you may see the original photo with some restoration photos by A.D. Riddle. I think you will agree that the restoration is not very good.

Why is this tomb important enough that I would go to so much trouble to locate and photograph it? It is because this illustrates the type of tomb in which Jesus was buried.

And Joseph [from Arimathea] took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. (Matthew 27:59-60 ESV)

Why would anyone want to vandalize this tomb? Probably the same reason!

Several other tombs with a rolling stone are known in the Bible lands.

First century residence uncovered in Nazareth

A simple Jewish residence from the first century has been unearthed in Nazareth, according to an announcement made by the Israel Antiquities Authority today.

Excavation of first century Nazareth residence. Photo courtesy IAA.

Excavation of first century Nazareth residence. Photo courtesy IAA.

An archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority recently conducted has revealed new information about ancient Nazareth from the time of Jesus. Remains of a dwelling that date to the Early Roman period were discovered for the first time in an excavation, which was carried out prior to the construction of the “International Marian Center of Nazareth” by the the Association Mary of Nazareth, next to the Church of the Annunciation.

According to the New Testament, Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived in Nazareth together with her husband Joseph. It was there that she also received the revelation by the Angel Gabriel that she would conceive a child to be born the Son of God. The New Testament mentions that Jesus himself grew up in Nazareth.

In 1969 the Church of the Annunciation was erected in the spot that the Catholic faith identified with the house of Mary. It was built atop the remains of three earlier churches, the oldest of which is ascribed to the Byzantine period (the fourth century CE). In light of the plans to build there, the Israel Antiquities Authority recently undertook a small scale archaeological excavation close to the church, which resulted in the exposure of the structure.

According to Yardenna Alexandre, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus. The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period. From the few written sources that there are, we know that in the first century CE Nazareth was a small Jewish village, located inside a valley. Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period”.

In the excavation a large broad wall that dates to the Mamluk period (the fifteenth century CE) was exposed that was constructed on top of and “utilized” the walls of an ancinet building. This earlier building consisted of two rooms and a courtyard in which there was a rock-hewn cistern into which the rainwater was conveyed. The artifacts recovered from inside the building were few and mostly included fragments of pottery vessels from the Early Roman period (the first and second centuries CE). In addition, several fragments of chalk vessels were found, which were only used by Jews in this period because such vessels were not susceptible to becoming ritually unclean.

Another hewn pit, whose entrance was apparently camouflaged, was excavated and a few pottery sherds from the Early Roman period were found inside it. The excavator, Yardenna Alexandre, said, “Based on other excavations that I conducted in other villages in the region, this pit was probably hewn as part of the preparations by the Jews to protect themselves during the Great Revolt against the Romans in 67 CE”.

In a few of the archaeological excavations that were carried out in this crowded city, a number of burial caves dating to the Early Roman period were exposed that are situated close to the inhabited area. The modern Church of the Annunciation was constructed in the heart of Nazareth, above the Crusader Church of the Annunciation and atop the ruins of a church from the Byzantine period. In the middle of these churches is a cave that was already ascribed in antiquity to the house of Jesus’ family. Many storage pits and cisterns, some of which date to the Early Roman period, were found in the compound of the Church of the Annunciation.

Excavation of Nazareth residence and Church of Annuciation. Photo: IAA.

Excavation of Nazareth residence and Church of Annuciation. Photo: IAA.

The Ha’aretz article includes several additional photos here. The article in the London Telegraph includes a photo of the excavation director Yardenna Alexandre here.

Attempts to link this house to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are unfounded at this time.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:22-23 ESV)