Monthly Archives: September 2010

Ties between Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean, and Egypt

Folks who study the Bible have understood that the people of the ancient near east traveled through Canaan as they made their way from Mesopotamia to Egypt, and back.

Several discoveries illustrating the contact between these ancient lands have recently been made. We commented on discoveries at Tell el-Da’ba in Egypt showing contacts between Babylon and Egypt here.

Word has come of a Syrian-German expedition “working in the Katana Kingdom ruins at Tel el-Mesherfeh archaeological site in Homs.”

Prof. Peter Pfalzner said the archeological finds in the site during the past two days indicate that Katana Kingdom enjoyed influence and important international and trade ties.

He added the finds reveal the existence of cultural relations between Katana Kingdom and the Pharaohs and Mesopotamia, in addition to trade relations with Mediterranean countries

The news report, which may be read here, continues,

Pfalzner underlined the importance of Katana kingdom during the Middle Bronze Age in the 2nd Millennium BC, adding that the royal palace in it was one of the greatest in Syria. He also noted that the archeological sites in Syria are filled with treasures waiting to be uncovered.

The Middle Bronze Age (about 2100 to 1550 B.C.) is the period of the biblical Patriarchs. Assume for a moment that Abraham and his family came from Ur in southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), rather than from northern Mesopotamia (Genesis 11:28 — 12:5). The map from Bible Atlas shows some of the places we will mention below.

Map showing Hamath and Kedesh.

Map showing Hamath and Kedesh. Courtesy of

The route taken by Abraham from Haran to Shechem in Canaan would most likely take him through the Syrian towns we know as Aleppo, Ebla, Hama and Homs. Homs would be at approximately the point referred to in the Bible as the entrance of Hamath (= modern Hama; 1 Kings 8:65). Several of these references indicate that Israel’s territory extended that far north during certain historical periods (2 Kings 14:25; Amos 6:14).

A few miles south of Homs are two significant sites illustrating the movement of ancient kingdoms. Tell Nebi Mend is the site of the battle of Kadesh where Rameses II and the Hittites fought. Another site nearby is Riblah where Nebuchadnezzar made his headquarters when he destroyed Jerusalem.

Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him. They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon. (2 Kings 25:6-7 ESV)

Here is a photo I made of Tell Nebi Bend. The Orontes River is to our back in this photo, and the valley of the battle of Kadesh is on the opposite side of the tell. There were a few houses of a modern village on the tell, but most of them were empty.

Kadesh - Tell Nebi Mend in Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tell Nebi Mend (=Kadesh) in Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Bible informs us that 4 kings of the east engaged the 5 kings of the region of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14).

And all these joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). (Genesis 14:3 ESV)

The new information we are learning shows that such movement was not all that uncommon.

HT: Joseph Lauer

The olive shoots

The Bible is filled with illustrations from the agricultural practices and daily life activities of ancient Israel. We frequently pass over these images because we no longer understand the practices.

Here is an interesting one. In describing the happy home, one of the Psalms of Ascent says this,

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. (Psalms 128:3 ESV)

I must have photographed a dozen different examples of what the writer is alluding to. Perhaps this one will help you to enjoy it a little better.

Olive shoots coming from an olive tree. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Olive shoots coming from an olive tree. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

What happens after the olives are harvested?

Oded Borowski says the grape vines and the olive trees were the main fruit trees cultivated by Israelite farmers.

The main product of the vine was wine; olives were grown for oil. Both of these products were produced in special installations (winepress and olive press, respectively) as part of the harvesting season. The end products were stored in jars for local use, for barter, and for tax payments. The latter is well attested by the Samaria ostraca, which record the quantities of oil and wine received at the collection center in Samaria. Biblical and extrabiblical references indicate that there were different types and grades of wine and oil. (Daily Life in Biblical Times, 29)

The fresh olives are placed on one stone and crushed by rolling another stone over them. The olive is really between a rock and a hard place. The large top stone (the crushing stone) is turned by a person or an animal causing the stone to roll over the olives that have been placed on a hewn stone installation. The photo below was made at the Nazareth Village.

Olive crusher at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Olive crusher at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The olive crusher is most often seen outside near the olives. Here is a stone at Gezer. The view is toward the coastal plain.

Olive crusher at Gezer with view toward Coastal Plain. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Olive crusher at Gezer with view toward Coastal Plain. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Once the olives are crushed the pulp is put into bags or baskets with holes in the side. Heavy weights are placed on the bags to squeeze out the oil. This photo shows a simple oil press set up at Hazor.

Simple Olive Press at Hazor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Simple Olive Press at Hazor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The archaeological excavations at Tel Mikne/Ekron revealed that the city was a large industrial oil production center. Only a few of these vats are visible at the site today. The tell is partially cultivated and the rest is overgrown. The small museum at the nearby kibbutz is closed and all of the artifacts have been moved to Ashdod. I was told that they are not on display at this time.

Crushing basin with a pressing vat on either side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Crushing basin with a pressing vat on either side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Based on the excavations, artist Balage has drawn the olive oil production center at Tel Mikne/Ekron.

Olive oil production at Ekron. Art by Balage, Archaeology Illustrated.

Olive oil production at Ekron. Art by Balage, Archaeology Illustrated.

Once the oil is retrieved it is stored in large ceramic jars. When Gedaliah became governor of Judah after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem he told the residents to “gather wine and summer fruits and oil, and store them in your vessels” (Jeremiah 40:9-10).

Iron Age Hadad temple found in Jordan

Major news sources are reporting the discovery of a 3,000-year-old Iron Age temple from Khirbet ‘Ataroz near the town of Madaba (close to Mount Nebo and about 20 miles SW of Amman). The head of the Jordanian Antiquities Department said the find dates to the 8th century B.C. (a little shy of the 3,000 years mentioned by the news sources). Here are a few comments from the AP article.

He said the complex boasts a main room that measures 388 square feet (36 square meters), as well as two antechambers and an open courtyard.

The sanctuary and its artifacts — hewn from limestone and basalt or molded from clay and bronze — show the complex religious rituals of Jordan’s ancient biblical Moabite kingdom, according to al-Saad.”

Today we have the material evidence, the archaeological proof of the level of advancement of technology and civilization at that period of time,” he said.

The Moabites, whose kingdom ran along present-day Jordan’s mountainous eastern shore of the Dead Sea, were closely related to the Israelites, although the two were in frequent conflict. The Babylonians eventually conquered the Moabites in 582 B.C.

Archaeologists also unearthed some 300 pots, figurines of deities and sacred vessels used for worship at the site. Al-Saad said it was rare to discover so many Iron Age items in one place.

The article continues,

Among the items on display Wednesday, there was a four-legged animal god Hadad, as well as delicate circular clay vessels used in holy rites. Al-Saad said the objects indicate the Moabites worshipped many deities and had a highly organized ritual use of temples.

The AP report, with small photos of some of the artifacts, may be read here. The typical news reports fail to give adequate information about the discovery. In these cases, we wait for scholarly information.

Below I have a quotation from the revised ISBE giving a brief explanation about Hadad.

An alternative name for Baal, the head of the Canaanite pantheon, whose worship was expressed in fertility rites. The storm-god Hadad is mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions, and called on the monolith of Shalmaneser “the god of Aleppo.” In the Assyrian inscriptions he is identified with the air-god Rimmon. The union of the two names in Zec. 12:11 suggests this identity. (Hovey and Harrison, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Eerdmans, 1988; 2002). 2:590-591.)

Several thing should be noted by the Bible student.

  • Hadad is the Baal of the Old Testament.
  • Hadad is called the “god of Aleppo.”
  • Hadad is identified with Baal from discoveries at Ras Shamra (Ugarit).
  • The Israelites were warned not to “inquire about” the gods of the nations of Canaan, saying “How did these nations serve their gods?–that I also may do the same” (Deuteronomy 12:30). If you are reading this post you probably know what happened.

A few years ago I visited the archaeological museum in Aleppo. The entrance is decorated with replicas of the god Hadad (think Baal) standing on a bull

Hadad on a Bull. Aleppo Syria Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hadad on a Bull. Aleppo Syria Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Olive harvesting

The Mosaic law gave instructions about certain daily agricultural activities such as the gathering of grapes and the harvesting of olives.

When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:20 ESV)

Notice the reference to beating the olive trees here and in Isaiah 17:6. I have seen this in Italy, but have not been in Israel at the time of harvesting. Thanks to the generous use policy of Todd Bolen’s Pictorial Library of Bible Lands I am able to use this photo he made in the Shephelah. I encourage you to buy the entire set for use in your church or school classes.

Olive harvesting in the Shephelah. Photo courtesy:

Olive harvesting in the Shephelah. Photo courtesy

King and Stager describe the olive tree, the necessary climate, and the length of time necessary for trees to produce olives.

The hardy, long-lived olive tree is an evergreen growing five to eight meters high and with a trunk up to one meter wide. Found mainly in the highlands and in the foothills between the coastal plain and the central mountain range, the olive tree thrives in the rocky, shallow soil of the hillsides during the Mediterranean’s hot, dry summers and cool, rainy winters. It requires an average annual temperature of fifteen degrees centigrade (fifty-nine degrees fahrenheit). Because olives can be grown on mountain slopes with very little soil, the tree does not compete with cereals for fertile, arable soil. The olive tree grows in the Levant but not in Egypt or Mesopotamia, because a certain chill, needed to cause the olives to mature, cannot be achieved in the warmer climes. It takes years for olive trees to mature to full, producing trees, and then they bear fruit only every other year. It is commonly said that one plants an olive yard not for one’s self but for one’s grandchildren. Trees begin to flower only after five or six years. (Life in Biblical Israel, 95-96)

William Albright translated the first line of the Gezer Calendar (925 B.C.) this way,

His two months are (olive) harvest

The time of harvest may vary depending on the type of olive and the particular place. In Israel and the Palestinian West Bank we think of October and November as the two months of harvest.