Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Scribe

Baruch, the scribe (Hebrew, sopher), served as the amanuensis or secretary of Jeremiah the prophet.

Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them. (Jeremiah 36:32 ESV)

A few years back a bulla of the seal of Baruch the scribe was discovered during an archaeological excavation in Jerusalem. A bulla is a piece of hardened clay bearing the impression of a seal.

A scribe working in the synagogue at Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A scribe working in the synagogue at Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A scribe was copying a manuscript in a small room of the synagogue at Masada last May. This was the first time I had noticed a scribe there. In the days prior to the invention of the printing press the scribe played a highly significant role in society.

King of Israel felled by stray arrow

The story is in 1 Kings 22. Ahab, king of Israel (874-853 B.C.), and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (870-848), decided to try to take back the city of Ramoth-gilead which had fallen under the control of the king of Aram (Syria). Ramoth-gilead is a city of tranjordan, now in the northern part of Jordan near the border with modern Syria.

Ahab was fearful to be seen in battle and disguised himself to avoid attack.

Now an archer shot an arrow at random, and it struck the king of Israel between the plates of his armor. The king ordered his charioteer, “Turn around and take me from the battle line, because I’m wounded.” (1 Kings 22:34 NET)

The king of Israel died and was taken to Samaria for burial.

JP van de Giessen, a fellow blogger at Aantekeningen bij de Bijbel, has kindly granted permission for the use of these wonderful photos he made at the Romanfestival in Nijmegen (the Netherlands). He tells me that the festival is organized every two years with many actors. At this festival there were about 100 soldiers, 10 calvary and 120 civilian people (from slave to noble).

JP says the archers he photographed are Persian archers dressed according to the time of the Seleucids (the period between the testaments). They provide great illustrations for a lesson on 1 Kings 22.

Persian archer dressed as at the time of the Seleucids. Photo: JP van de Giessen.

Archer from the time of the Seleucids. Photo: JP van de Giessen.

According to JP, one of the archers he spoke with said he needed a year to create his costume, and another year for his bow and sword.

Archer from time of Seleucids. Photo by archer dressed as at the time of the Seleucids. Photo: JP van de Giessen.

Archer dressed as at the time of the Seleucids. Photo: JP van de Giessen.

More photos may be viewed here. JP van de Giessen holds the rights to these photos, but I think he is pleased when they are used in teaching. Click on the photo for a larger image.

The deal is the thing; buying & selling in the Middle East

Most Americans who have traveled with me find the bargaining that goes on in a shop  in the Middle East difficult at first. Items are not marked with a price. The seller, whether in a high class shop or a vendor on the street, tries to make as much as possible. He tries to convince his prospective buyer that this is the first sale of the day, will bring him luck, or is a good deal.

The Jerusalem Post Online Edition ran an article yesterday about an auction in Tel Aviv of the coin collection of Wolfgang Masser. The article says he “has spent decades assembling one of the best private collections of ancient coins in Israel.” He said that he did not “wish to burden his children or grandchildren with the sale.” I imagine they are happy, too!

Masser explains how he became involved in collecting biblical era coins.

“I must admit that I became enthusiastic quite quickly,” he said. “Can one really find and acquire coins that lay in the hands of men and women who lived in this country 2,000 years ago and bore names from ancient writings such as Shimon Bar-Kochba, Pontius Pilate and Herod? “My Zionist idealism was mixed with curiosity and romanticism. The time was indeed opportune – the situation had ‘normalized’ after the events of the Six Day War. People from the “field” – Jews, Arabs and, of course, officials interested in archeology began to search for coins, and relatively many specimens came into the open.”

Since Masser had a car and Yashin [the neighbor who got him interested in coins] didn’t, the two began to drive regularly to Bethlehem and Jerusalem on Saturdays in search of rarities.

“The main and richest source was a young Greek-Catholic Arab dealer from Bethlehem called Kando,” Masser recalled. “This slightly built young man had been introduced to the ‘profession’ by his father, Khalil Eskander, an antiquities dealer nicknamed Kando.

“The father became known in connection with the discovery and sale of the famous scrolls of Qumran near the Dead Sea to Hebrew University Prof. Eliezer Sukenik (father of Yigael Yadin). He made some money with the scrolls, which he used to set up an antiquities shop for his son in Bethlehem and to buy himself a hotel in Jerusalem, where he set up a similar shop – but where we only rarely found anything of interest,” continued Masser.

“The antiquities shop of Kando Jr. was a modest place in the main street of Bethlehem, not far from Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. As you came inside, there were display cases on the right and left with ancient ceramic, glass and a few ancient metal artifacts. No coins in view. In the background stood an enormous desk and behind it, Kando Jr.”

Negotiations over a sale involved an elaborate and time-consuming ritual, recalled Masser. “If he had a visitor, then he would bid him a hasty farewell and turn to us. First coffee, family and politics. Then he would slowly bring out for us his latest acquisitions in a ceremony – the longer it lasted, the more beautiful and valuable were the coins he presented.

“This was intended, and put us in a heated state of anticipation. The coins were examined with a magnifying glass and their history and year of issue were discussed.

“Finally the price was mentioned. This part of the conversation was usually handled by Haim, who had much more experience than me. In most cases, there was a discount.

“Kando was, despite his youth, clever enough to know how to handle regular customers who were market-savvy. On especially successful occasions he made us a present of an ancient oil lamp from the same period, or invited us to lunch. He was a very good salesman. There was full trust on both sides.

“When he showed us especially valuable pieces which I desired but did not have enough money on me for – I never bought on credit – he would let me take the coin with me, saying, ‘So we shall meet in 14 days, with the money or with the coin.’ Everything took place without written agreements.”

Read the full article here. Kando’s store in Bethlehem is still open, and similar dealing still goes on. The store is run by Shibly (in the green shirt), grandson of Kando, and other family members. Kando, from his portrait over the cases, still looks down on the deal.

Kando's Antiquities Shop in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Kando's Antiquities Shop in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sort of dealing mention in the article is reminiscent of what we read regarding Abraham’s purchase of a burial place for Sarah from Ephron the Hittite (Genesis 23).

HT: Joseph Lauer

Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens

A reader asks about the location of the Arch of Hadrian that we wrote about in the previous post. The Arch is on the busy Leoforos Amalias. If you approach the arch and go through it, it leads to a park where the  Temple of Olympian Zeus, or Olympieion, stands. This is the area east of the Acropolis. The first photo shows the view from the Acropolis. The Temple is clearly visible. On the left you may also see the Olympic Stadium. The Arch of Hadrian is visible near the lower left corner.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus from the Acropolis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus from the Acropolis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If you enter the park through the Arch of Hadrian you will have a nice view of the what remains of the Temple.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Blue Guide on Athens and Environs says this is “the largest temple in Greece. It took 700 years to complete.” A temple was begun here as early as 550 B.C., but was not completed until the time of Hadrian.

Perhaps Paul saw this temple as he visited the sites of the city while awaiting the coming of Silas and Timothy from Macedonia.

For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Act 17:23 ESV)

A map of Athens showing the central area, including the Arch of Hadrian, is available here.

Hadrian’s arch in Athens

The Roman emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) left arches in many cities he visited. The arch in Athens marks the entry to the Temple of Zeus. Rant and Reddish describe the arch:

The imposing Arch of Hadrian was constructed in honor of the emperor following the completion of the temple [to Zeus], and Hadrian himself walked through it to attend the dedication of the temple in 131 C.E. The western side of the arch (toward the old city) carries the inscription “This is Athens, the city of Theseus.” The inscription on the eastern side of the arch facing the temple (and toward a section of Athens that had been newly renovated by Hadrian) states, “This is the city of Harrian and not of Theseus. (A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, 33)

To get a photo like this one requires some good footwork. The arch faces one of the busiest streets in Athens, but one must move out into the street between cars to get an unobstructed view.

Arch of Hadrian in Athens. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Arch of Hadrian in Athens. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Photoshop, and some other photo editing programs, provide the opportunity to manipulate photos in unusual ways. Here is the same photo textured as if it were painted on canvas.

Arch of Hardrian on canvas. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Arch of Hadrian on canvas. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The fourth major persecution of the church by the Roman Empire came in the days of Hadrian.

Armenians gather in Turkey

The 10th century Armenian church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van (Turkey) was restored and reopened as a museum by the Turkish government in 2007.  About three months after the opening I was able to visit the church.

Armenian Church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Armenian Church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are some marvelous frescoes and carvings of Bible stories inside and outside the church. The one pictured below shows the raising of Lazarus (John 11) and the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (John 12). Scenes such as these served to remind those who saw them of the biblical accounts. An Armenian translation of the (Greek) Septuagint Old Testament “was made for the Christian communities of eastern Asia Minor” about A.D. 400 (Price, The Ancestry of Our English Bible, 3rd rev. ed., 119). The New Testament translation was made about the same time (198). Price says,

Armenian manuscripts are very numerous, probably more numerous than those of any other version except the Latin Vulgate.

Bible stories in the Akdamar Island church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bible stories in the Akdamar Island church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Earlier this week USA Today reported that the Turkish government allowed several Armenian Christian pilgrims to visit the Akdamar church last Sunday. This was the first time a service had been held in the church since it was “abandoned during the mass killings of Armenians 95 years ago.”

The media has directed much attention lately to the problems of minority religions in Turkey. The CBS news show 60 Minutes included a feature about restrictions on the Greek Orthodox in Turkey a few weeks ago.

The region around Lake Van in eastern Turkey was the ancient region of Urartu, known as Ararat in the Bible.

  • Noah’s ark landed on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4).
  • The men who assassinated the Assyrian king Sennacherib fled into the land of Ararat (2 Kings 19:37 = Isaiah 37:38).
  • The kingdoms of Ararat may have joined other nations in the capture of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:27).

The Book of Kells and the Scottish connection

Last week I visited the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland, to take another look at the Book of Kells which dates to about A.D. 800.

Entrance to Trinity College Library. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Entrance to Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Two volumes of the famous illuminated Gospels in Latin were on display in a special case. One showed the first words of Luke 4.
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness. (Luke 4:1, ESV)

Two full pages were used for these words and the associated drawings. Another volume was open to John 7:31-40.

The Book of Kells is famous for its drawings showing the The Four Evangelists, that is, the four writers of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Souvenirs may be seen in shops throughout Ireland with these images imprinted on them. Here is a plate depicting John as an eagle.

John as an Eagle. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

John as an Eagle. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In A.D. 597 Saint Columba went from Ireland to Iona, an island near the coast of Scotland, to teach Christianity. The famous Book of Kells, an illuminated Gospels, was likely prepared by the monks of Iona about A.D. 800.

It is not certain that anything remains on the island of Iona from the time of Columba, but there are numerous medieval ruins. Here is a photo I made a couple of years on the island.

Columns on the Isle of Iona, Scotland. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Columns on the Isle of Iona, Scotland. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Eventually the Book of Kells was brought to the Abbey of Kells, a monastery that had been founded by Columba, about 40 miles north of Dublin.

Trinity College was founded in in 1592 under a charter of  Queen Elizabeth. The oldest remaining buildings date to the early 1700s. Visitors are allowed to visit the Long Room of the Old Library. This room, almost 200 feet long, is impressive to anyone who loves books.

The Long Room of Trinity College Library

The Long Room of Trinity College Library. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Samaritan synagogue discovered near Beth-shean

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a 1,500 year old Samaritan synagogue southwest of Beth-shean (Bet She’an).

The remains of a synagogue and farmstead that operated in the Late Byzantine period, which were unknown until now, were exposed in an archaeological excavation conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and underwritten by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, prior to enlarging a residential quarter south of Bet Sheʽan, c. one half kilometer west of the Jordan Valley highway (Route 90).

According to Dr. Walid Atrash and Mr. Ya’aqov Harel, directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery of another Samaritan synagogue in the agricultural hinterland south of Bet She’an supplements our existing knowledge about the Samaritan population in this period. It seems that the structures uncovered there were built at the end of the fifth century CE and they continued to exist until the eve of the Muslim conquest in 634 CE, when the Samaritans abandoned the complex. The synagogue that is currently being revealed played an important part in the lives of the farmers who inhabited the surrounding region, and it served as a center of the spiritual, religious and social life there. In the Byzantine period (fourth century CE) Bet She’an became an important Samaritan center under the leadership of Baba Rabbah, at which time the Samaritans were granted national sovereignty and were free to decide their own destiny. This was the case until the end of the reign of Emperor Justinian, when the Samaritans revolted against the government. The rebellion was put down and the Samaritans ceased to exist as a nation.”

The building, facing Mount Gerizim, had a mosaic floor. The last line of a Greek inscription was revealed. According to the report, the inscription reads,

T[ ]OUTON NEWN — meaning “This is the temple.”

There will likely be other suggestions on the reading of the inscription.

Samaritan Synagogue Inscription. Photo by Tal Rogovski, IAA.

Samaritan Synagogue Inscription. Photo courtesy IAA.

This is the third Samaritan synagogue to be found in the vicinity of Beth-shean.

The full report may be read here.

Bible students know that the Samaritans play an important role in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Follow these references for some information: 2 Kings 17:29; Luke 9:52; John 4; Acts 8;25.

HT: Joseph Lauer; Todd Bolen, Bible Places Blog.

Apollo signet ring discovered at Tel Dor

More and more discoveries from Israel are revealing the influence of Hellenistic and Roman culture in the area. The most recent announcement comes from the University of Haifa excavation at Tel Dor.

Bronze signet ring with portrait of Apollo (Microscope photo adapted by Paula Weimann Barak, courtesy of the Tel Dor Expedition.

Bronze signet ring with portrait of Apollo (Microscope photo adapted by Paula Weimann Barak, courtesy of the Tel Dor Expedition.

The report says,

A rare bronze signet ring with the impression of the face of the Greek sun god, Apollo, has been discovered at Tel Dor, in northern Israel, by University of Haifa diggers. “A piece of high-quality art such as this, doubtlessly created by a top-of-the-line artist, indicates that local elites developing a taste for fine art and the ability to afford it were also living in provincial towns, and not only in the capital cities of the Hellenistic kingdoms,” explains Dr. Ayelet Gilboa, Head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, who headed the excavations at Dor along with Dr. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

When the ring was recovered from a waste pit near Hellenistic structures, it was covered with layers of earth and corrosion, and the archaeologists had no indication whatsoever that it would reveal the shape of a legendary figure. Only after the ring was cleaned up at the Restoration and Conservation laboratory at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, was the profile of a beardless young male with long hair, clean shaven and adorned with a laurel wreath, revealed. The ring was examined by Dr. Jessica Nitschke, professor of classical archaeology at Georgetown University in Washington DC, and by Dr. Rebecca Martin, assistant professor of art at Southeast Missouri State University, both of whom are partners in the Tel Dor excavations. Both confirmed that the image is that of Apollo – one of the most important of the Olympian gods in Greek mythology, god of the sun, of light, music and song.

The archaeological context and style of the signet ring date it back to the 4th or 3rd century B.C.E. This type of ring was used as a seal or was dedicated to the temple of the god imprinted on the ring. Since it was found in an urban context and at an orderly archaeological dig, the discovery is of great significance: Most of the small pieces of art originating in the Near East until now are of unknown origin, having been displaced through illegal antique trade, or purchased by museums and collectors before scientific archaeological research began.

The ring also testifies to the cosmopolitan character of this region as far back as 2,300 years ago. Despite the damage caused over the centuries, its high quality is easily recognizable. The precious object was found in the same area as a small gemstone with an engraved image of Alexander the Great and a rare, exquisite Hellenistic mosaic floor that were unearthed during earlier excavation seasons. All these discoveries are very likely to be linked to a nearby structure which is currently being excavated, the architectural features of which indicate that it is a grand elite structure.

These finds indicate that the circulation of fine art objects was not limited to the capital cities of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the east, such as Alexandria in Egypt or Antioch and Seleucia in Syria, where the main populations were Greek, but also spread to smaller centers, such as Dor, which was primarily populated by local Phoenician inhabitants.

The town of Dor was an important port on the Mediterranean shore from 2000 B.C.E. until 250 C.E. Pieces of Greek-style art, such as signet rings and miniature gems, began to appear in the east at the time of the Persian Empire (6th-4th centuries B.C.E.) and became more common after Alexander the Great conquered the region, passing through Dor on his journey from Tyre to Egypt in 332 B.C.E. Subsequently, the town of Dor became one of the centers of Greek culture in the land of Israel, and that culture left its mark even after Dor was conquered by Alexander Jannaeus, King of Judea, around 100 B.C.E. and its impact is evident well into the Roman era.

The full report which provides some information about the dig may be read here.

Tel Dor. Photo by Sky View. Courtesy of the Tel Dor Expedition.

Tel Dor. Photo by Sky View. Courtesy of the Tel Dor Expedition.

Dor is mentioned only a few times in the Old Testament Scriptures.

  • When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of the victories of Joshua and the Israelites he put together a confederacy of armies including the king of the “heights of Dor on the west” (Joshua 11:2).
  • Joshua conquered “the king of Dor in the heights of Dor” (Joshua 12:32).
  • Dor was allotted to the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 17:11). The writer of Joshua quickly acknowledges that Manasseh could not take possession of these cities, “because the Canaanites persisted in living in that land” (Joshua 17:12; see Judges 1:27).
  • Solomon appointed his son-in-law Ben-abinadad over the height of Dor (1 Kings 4:11).
  • Ephraim’s territory extended to the border of Manasseh, including “Dor with its towns” (1 Chronicles 7:29).

HT: Joseph Lauer

Royal theater box at the Herodium

Last week reports began to circulate about Herod’s royal theater box at the Herodium. Here are some excepts from the News Release published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Royal box uncovered at Herodium reveals further evidence of luxurious lifestyle of famed King of Judea

A “royal box” built at the upper level of King Herod’s private theater at Herodium (Herodion in Greek) has been fully exposed in recent excavations at the site, providing a further indication of the luxurious lifestyle favored by the famed Judean monarch.

The excavations, in the frame of Herodium’s National Park at the eastern edge of Gush Etzion, were conducted by Prof. Ehud Netzer under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology.

The theater, first revealed during the years 2008-2009, is located halfway up the hill close to Herod’s mausoleum, whose exposure in 2007 aroused worldwide attention. The highly decorated, relatively small theater was built in approximately 15 B.C.E., which was the year of the visit to Judea of Marcus Agrippa, second in the hierarchy of the Roman Empire, said Prof. Netzer, who has been assisted in the excavations by Yakov Kalman, Roi Porath and Rachel Chachy.

The royal box (measuring eight by seven meters and about six meters high) is the central space among a group of rooms attached to the upper part of the theater’s structure. This impressive room doubtlessly hosted the king, his close friends and family members during performances in the theater and was fully open towards the stage.

Its back and side walls are adorned with an elaborate scheme of wall paintings and plaster moldings in a style that has not been seen thus far in Israel; yet, this style is known to have existed in Rome and Campania in Italy during those years. This work, therefore, was no doubt executed by Italian artists, perhaps sent by Marcus Agrippa, who a year before his visit to Judea met Herod on the famous Greek island of Lesbos said Netzer.

On the upper parts of the walls are the room’s highlights: a series of unique “windows” painted with outfolded shutters on either side and various naturalistic landscapes within. They include scenes of the countryside, the Nile River and a nautical scene featuring a large boat with sails. One can identify features of trees, animals and human beings. Some of these windows have survived intact on the walls, whereas others were found in fragments on the floor and are undergoing restoration in the Israel Museum’s laboratory.

Painted windows with shutters appear in the late Second Pompeian Style in Italy, and mainly depict unrealistic views like theater settings and still-life. The closest parallels for the windows at Herodium are known from the “Villa Imperiale” at Pompeii, dated to the early Third Style, 15 to 10 B.C.E.

The News Release may be read in its entirety here.

Joseph I. Lauer secured the available photos and has been kind enough to share them.

Herodium theater royal box. Photo by Gabi Laron, Hebrew University.

Herodium theater royal box. Photo by Gabi Laron, Hebrew University.

The Hebrew University report says,

The data accumulated during the excavation proves that the theater’s lifetime was very short, less than ten years. Slightly before Herod’s death, It was deliberately destroyed in order not to disrupt the conic shape of the artificial hill. During the construction of the artificial hill (as well as the famous monumental stairway which begins at the bottom of the hill), parts of the theater, including the “royal box,” were temporarily used by the builders, leaving their footsteps in the form of subdivision walls, cooking installations and graffiti.

Herodium royal box. Photo by Tal Rogovski, Hebrew University.

Herodium theater royal box. Photo by Tal Rogovski, Hebrew University.

I had the opportunity to make some aerial photos of the Herodium December 15, 2009. Shadows were on the north side of the Herodium, but the massive area of the excavation can be seen. Note especially the theater. I feel certain that the royal box described above is under the blue roof. Click on the image to for a larger photo.

Aerial photo of the Herodium. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial photo of the Herodium. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Herodium is located about four miles southeast of Bethlehem. When we think of these two places together we recall Herod’s frantic attempt to kill Jesus.

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16 ESV)

All of the photos are suitable for use in teaching presentations.