Monthly Archives: May 2011

Ebla and the Ebla Tablets

The Ebla tablets were discovered by an Italian team of excavators at Tell Mardikh in Syria (about 30 miles S of Aleppo) in 1975. More than 17,000 cuneiform tablets were discovered. They date to the mid-third millennium B.C. when Ebla was the capital of a great Canaanite empire. Scholars state that there are important affinities between the Eblaite language and biblical Hebrew, both being members of the Northwest Semitic family.

Ebla - Tell Mardikh - Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins. May, 2002.

Tell Mardikh (Ebla) in Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins, May 2002.

Numerous articles have appeared in the popular press and in scholarly journals stating that the names of Sodom and Gomorrah appear in the Ebla tablets. At one point it was even being said that all five cities of the plain (Gen. 14), and perhaps the name of one of the kings, were mentioned in the tablets. Much controversy has surrounded this discussion. Infighting between the excavator (Paolo Matthiae), the epigrapher (Giovanni Pettinato), and other scholars, along with some political implications, clouded the whole issue.

The late Mitchell Dahood (died 1982), an expert in Ugaritic literature, claimed that the cities of Sodom and Zeboim “may have counterparts” in the Ebla tablets (Giovanni Pettinato, The Archives of Ebla, 287). Pettinato was the first to read and interpret tablets from the Ebla archives and the first to identify the Northwest Semitic language in which they are written. Paolo Matthiae, the archaeologist, says the rumors that there is proof of the historical accuracy of the Bible patriarchs, references to Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. “are tales without foundation” (Ebla: An Empire Rediscovered, 11). One scholar states, “the initial enthusiasm about the light the tablets would shed on the early stages of biblical culture is now mostly seen as exaggerated. Clearly, no biblical personages can be identified in the tablets … ” (Harper’s Bible Dictionary, [1985] 235). Dahood, in the Afterword of Pettinato’s book, commented on the pessimism of one university professor with this classic put down:

How a savant can determine how relevant to the Bible a new discovery may be before the tablets have been published must remain a mystery. (Pettinato, The Archives of Ebla, 273).

Dahood says that the people of Ebla spoke a dialect of Canaanite and that their principal god was Dagan the Canaanite or the Lord of Canaan. This indicates that Canaan extended much further north than previously thought (Pettinato, 272). Dahood cites several biblical passages in which he believes a parallel exists between the Hebrew and Eblaite words (271-321). Numerous names in Genesis find parallel in the Ebla tablets. I had the opportunity to hear Dahood speak on this subject at a professional meeting in Dallas years ago.

Ebla Tablet at Bible Land Museum Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins shortly after the BLMJ opened and photos were permitted.

An Ebla Tablet. BLMJ. Originally the museum allowed photos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

At this point scholars are not agreed on the proper reading of some of the Eblaite words. Perhaps in time we will know more about this. For the present we must wait patiently. Numerous articles about Ebla have appeared in Biblical Archaeologist and Biblical Archaeology Review, as well as other journals.

Word comes regarding the death of Professor Giovanni Pettinato at the age of 77. Details here. HT: Bible Places Blog.

Fields white for harvest

Many biblical accounts contain information not easily understood without some knowledge of the history and culture of the time. Such is true in the account of Jesus traveling through Samaria in John 4. You probably recall that He met the woman of Samaria when she came to the well to draw water.

While His disciples were in the city buying food Jesus taught the Samaritan woman. She then went into the city and began to tell the men that she had met this man who knew her intimate life.

When the disciples returned to Jesus He said,

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. (John 4:35 ESV)

This is one of those statements with a literal meaning as well as a spiritual one. What did he mean by four months? Four months separate the sowing and the harvesting. Barley harvest could begin around April 15. Wheat harvesting begins six weeks later in late May or early June. In May the fields would be white unto harvest. This helps to date the episode in John 4 to December or January, depending on whether the crop was barley or wheat.

When Jesus said the fields were white for harvest He was speaking of a spiritual harvest. The disciples did not know that He and the woman had already sowed the seed. They would reap the harvest. It is not inappropriate to see the harvesting in the two days Jesus stayed there teaching (John 4:39-43), or in the later events of Acts 8:39-43.

The photo below was made from En-Dor, looking north to Mount Tabor. The wheat fields are almost ready for harvesting.

Wheat ready for harvest at En-Dor near Mount Tabor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wheat ready for harvest at En-Dor near Mount Tabor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Under some light the fields even have a white appearance, as you see in the photo below.

Wheat ready for harvest near En-Dor and Mount Tabor. May 13. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wheat white for harvest. May 13. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

These little tips, scattered here and there in Scripture, reveal much about the daily life and culture of Bible times.

The khamsin (hamsin) before and after

Yesterday we wrote about the effect of the east wind on Larry’s hike along the Jesus Trail. Here is a brief followup that should be helpful.

Dr. Carl G. Rasmussen, author of Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, also maintains the Holy Land Photos website. He has a series of photos showing the effect of the khamsin (which he spells without the silent k, as hamsin), and the same view with normal visibility. To see these fascinating photos, with additional descriptive info, click here.

Carl now has 3230 photos of 322 biblical sites available on his website. The photos are available for free download in various sizes. Perhaps the most helpful feature to teachers and preachers is that they are available PowerPoint ready. He also discusses “The Transitional Seasons”, with the same beautiful photos, in the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible (rev. ed.) pages 30-31.

Click Zondervan Atlas of the Bible to order this book for $25.20 (free shipping). This is a savings of 37%.

New difficulties on the “Jesus Trail”

We have reported about Larry’s hiking on the “Jesus Trail” from Nazareth to Bethsaida. Larry’s last post was at the end of Day 3. On his trek from Moshav Arbel eastward he encountered a new problem — the strong East winds.

Almost everyone who has visited Israel has learned of the West winds that make their way through the depressions around the Sea of Galilee and create storms on the Sea. Unless you travel in the “transitional season” or in the (dry) summer season you may not have learned about the East wind. This wind is called the sirocco. In Egypt it is known as the khamsin, and in Israel as the sharav.

Denis Baly, The Geography of the Bible (1974 ed., pp. 51-53), explains these winds. He says they occur in the transitional seasons from early April to mid-June (that is now), and from mid-September to the end of October. Baly says,

It is this intense dryness and the fine dust in the air which are so exhausting, for other hot days, though troublesome, do not have the same effect. People with a heart condition, nervous complaints, or sinus trouble are particularly affected, but even the mildest-tempered person is apt to become irritable and to snap at other people for no apparent reason. Tourists find the sirocco especially frustrating, for not only does travel become fatiguing, but the fine yellowish dust which fills the air drains it of all color, blots out all but the immediate vicinity, and makes photography a mockery.

Here is how Larry described his day in an Email to me overnight.

No blog last night because of the storm. I woke to high winds from the east which dusted up the air so badly that photos were mostly useless. Worst part was that it was directly against me and really HOT. Pushing against 20+ mph winds really took the steam out of me. By the end of the day I was utterly exhausted.  Drank my full 3 litres and had good dinners and breakfasts, but energy levels are still very low.

The photo below is one of the aerial shots we made a week ago. It was made while flying over the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, with the view to the west. You can see Mount Arbel and the Wadi Hamam below. The Via Maris runs in this valley which is also called the Valley of the Doves. You will notice two lines of mountains further west.

I am rather sure that this is the route Larry was walking yesterday. Larry has lived in Washington state for many years. I think he is not bothered by the sudden rains, but the intense heat and strong wind from the east may be another matter. I want you to think about the fact that all of the biblical characters from the Patriarchs to Jesus and His disciples encountered conditions similar to these (and worse).

Aerial view of Arbel and the Via Maris. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Arbel, Wadi Hamam, and the Via Maris. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Baly cites several biblical references to the east and south winds that bring in the hot air and the dust storms. He says, “Where the mountains come close to the sea a strong sirocco pours down the slopes like a flood, at 60 miles an hour or more, stirring the sea into a fury.”

By the east wind you shattered the ships of Tarshish. (Psalm 48:7 ESV)

In the prophecy against Tyre, Ezekiel says,

“Your rowers have brought you out into the high seas. The east wind has wrecked you in the heart of the seas. (Ezekiel 27:26 ESV)

Notice Elihu’s comments to Job about the south wind.

Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge,  you whose garments are hot when the earth is still because of the south wind?  (Job 37:16-17 ESV)

Jesus also observed the effect of the south wind:

And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. (Luke 12:55 ESV)

Do you remember Jonah’s problems after enjoying the shade of his plant?

When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:8 ESV)

Baly calls attention to the effect of the spring siroccos on the crops.

The spring siroccos destroy the winter grass and may damage the crops if they come too soon, and hence they appear constantly in the Bible as a symbol of the impermanence of riches or of human life.

Note these additional references in your own study: Psalm 103:16; Isaiah 40:6-8; Hosea 13:15; Ezekiel 17:10; James 1:11.

When Larry goes back on line I am sure his vivid descriptions of his experience will be well worth reading. Here is the link.

Update: Larry is back in Jerusalem Wednesday evening.

Saul visited a medium at En-Dor (Endor)

En-Dor (or Endor) is a fairly insignificant site. It is now located in the middle of wheat fields and groves. I had seen it from the road, but this time I was able in a car to drive to it and get some better photos. This one shows the low tel, and a wheat field ready for harvest. The view is to the north. Mount Tabor dominates the scene to the right, but it is not visible in this photo. One has to go with the light in making photos.

En-Dor on the shoulder of the Hill of Moreh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

En-Dor on the shoulder of the Hill of Moreh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shards of pottery are visible all around, especially in the low areas of the farm road as well as in the plowed field. This is a certain indication of an ancient inhabited site.

Pottery shards at En-Dor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pottery shards at En-Dor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

En-Dor was located in the territory of Issachar, but was allotted to the half tribe of Manasseh that settled on the west bank of the Jordan (Joshua 17:11).

The most significant biblical event recorded in connection with En-Dor is the visit of  King Saul to the medium of En-Dor.

The Israelites were gathered with Saul on Mount Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistines gathered against him in the valley below he was afraid and sought out a medium or necromancer, even though earlier he had them removed from the land. This medium lived over the Hill of Moreh on the northern slopes at En-Dor. This tel is located about 2½ miles south of Mount Tabor on the south and east side of Highway 65. It is easily discernible by the palm trees growing there.

Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.” (1 Samuel 28:7 ESV)

Map showing location of En-Dor. Courtesy of

Map showing location of En-Dor. Courtesy of

Following Larry on the “Jesus Trail”

Last week Larry and I spent the week traveling here and there in Israel to many places not easily accessible to a tour group. Friday afternoon I dropped Larry in Nazareth where he would spent the night and begin the next morning walking the five-day jaunt on the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum and Bethsaida.

He tells about the beginning in Nazareth here. He reports on finding the Roman Road earlier on Friday, May 13 here.

The events of Saturday, May 14, from Nazareth through Sepphoris (Zippori) to Cana of Galilee, is recorded here.

Day 2 (May 15) of the journey from Cana (Kefr Kanna) of Galilee to Ilaniya is recounted here. He includes photos of flowers and butterflies that he saw along the way, and records his encounter with three vicious-appearing sheep dogs.

By the time you look at these blogs you will be ready to continue following the rest of the journey without any notification from me.

I am taking the liberty to include two of Larry’s many photos to entice you to take a look at his blog. The first shows one of the beautiful butterflies on a thistle bloom. There are several varieties of thistles (or briers) mentioned in the Bible. (If I am wrong about this, I know one of our readers who will send the correct information.)

Butterfly on a thistle bloom. Photo © Larry Haverstock.

Butterfly on a thistle bloom. Photo © Larry Haverstock.

This is where Larry spent the second night of his “Third Journey.”

Accommodation on the Jesus Trail - Night 2. Photo © Larry Haverstock.

Accommodation on the Jesus Trail - Night 2. Photo © Larry Haverstock.

No matter how “primitive” our accommodations may be, we are reminded of Jesus’ statement about his own situation on earth:

Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20 NAU)

Here is a self-photo of Ferrell (l) and Larry (r) on the Roman Road near Golani Junction.

Ferrell Jenkins & Larry Haverstock on Roman Road at Golani Jct.

Ferrell Jenkins & Larry Haverstock on Roman Road at Golani Jct.

For better photos of the Road see Larry’s blog (linked above) or this blog, here.

Safe arrival home

John Howard Payne (1791-1852) said it well, if not best, in “Home, Sweet Home.”

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne’er met with elsewhere.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place like home!

I arrived on time this morning in Atlanta  non-stop from Tel Aviv after almost 13 hours. After clearing customs and the USA security I waited for my flight to Tampa. It was a little strange going through security in Atlanta and watching how the agents acted. I don’t recall hearing anyone in Israel yelling at the passengers or being rude to them. Neither belts not shoes had to be removed in Tel Aviv.

Waiting at Tampa International for my wife to meet me. I did not intend to be traveling on Sunday, but got mixed up on the 11:20 p.m. flight and the 12:05 a.m. flight. By the time I discovered it I did not have opportunity to make the change. I got an extra day in Israel to rest a little before departure.

Now I have to sort the nearly 4700 hi-res digital photos I made. Half of those were made in three hours on the flight over Galilee.

Nikon D90 showing photo of the Jordan River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

My Nikon D90 showing photo of the Jordan River.

Several requests for info on a variety of subjects went unanswered. If you don’t receive a reply within a week or two please write again. To paraphrase the statement of Jesus about the evil or trouble of each day, “Sufficient unto the day are the Emails thereof.” 🙂

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:34 KJV)

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34 NAU)

Thanks for following this recent trip. Hopefully we can continue to share important biblical information with you on a regular basis.

I learned by Email this morning that Larry completed his first day of the Jesus Trail o.k.