Monthly Archives: December 2011

Herod the Small

It is true that we refer to him as Herod the Great because of the power he exerted, his long reign, the sons he appointed as rulers, and the massive buildings and fortresses he constructed.

In character he was small or little.Notice the account of the birth of Jesus in Matthew 2, and Herod’s reaction to the news of the wise men from the east.

 1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,  2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;  4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:  6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'” 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-8 ESV)

When Herod learned that he had been tricked he was outraged, and made plans to kill not only Jesus but all of the male children in the Bethlehem region that were under two years of age.

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)

I have found it ironic that one of the most important of Herod’s building programs was the fortress known as the Herodium built within sight of Bethlehem. Nonetheless, this king feared an infant. Little men always fear those who threaten their power.

Here is a photo of the Herodium with some of the ruins of the lower Herodium in the foreground.

The Herodium with ruins of Herodia in the foreground. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Herodium with ruins of lower Herodium in the foreground. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The artificial conical structure was built by Herod as one of his fortresses. This fortress is located about 8 miles south of Jerusalem, 3 1/2 miles east of Bethlehem, on the western edge of the Wilderness of Judea.

The tomb of Herod the Great was discovered about half way up the north side in 2007 by the late Prof. Ehud Netzer. You may use the search box to locate other articles about the Herodium, including some aerial photos.

A few years ago I called attention to a psychological study of Herod. I see the review of the scholarly book is still available at Haaretz here. If you have thought or read that he was cruel, just wait till you read this.

Previous posts relating to the birth of Jesus and Christmas

Thanks for the good response to our posts on frankincense and myrrh. Over the past 4+ years I have written several posts about Christmas, the birth of Jesus, and Bethlehem, in hope that they would be beneficial to Bible students and teachers.

Here are links to some of the more significant articles, usually with photos.

If you have more interest in learning about the origin of the celebration of the birth of Christ, take a look here. A more detailed study of the historical aspects of the celebration is available in PDF here.

For the next couple of days I plan to spent some (read, total) time with my grandson. I trust you will enjoy quality time with your family and friends.

I see that Leon Mauldin has a post about the manger at Leon’s Message Board here, and another about the traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem here.

Todd Bolen has a list of his Christmas-Related Posts at Bible Places Blog here.

Some things you may not hear about Myrrh in a sermon

Myrrh is described in Fauna and Flora of the Bible, a publication of the United Bible Societies, as follows:

Myrrh is a dark-red gum with a strong aroma and a bitter taste. It exudes from a bush or tree belonging to a family of the burseraceæ which grows in Arabia, Abyssinia and on the Somali coast of East Africa. It is not native to Palestine. This tree or bush has a great number of knotted branches. The gum exudes from the branch as a thick light-coloured paste which, when exposed to the atomsphere, soon hardens and takes on a brownish colour. The finest myrrh was the resin secreted of itself (rather than by artificial incision) through the bark… (147)

When the secretion is collected directly from the bark it can be used as an ingredient in ointments.

When Ismaelites (Midianites) came from Gilead into the Dothan valley on their way to Egypt, Joseph’s brothers sold him to them (Genesis 37:27, 36). The Bible describes the caravan and the goods the Midianites were transporting.

a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. (Genesis 37:25 NAU)

In previous posts we have written about the Incense Route which was used by the Nabateans. This event was much earlier, and we see the caravan coming from the east (Gilead). The famous King’s highway ran through Gilead.

Myrrh is listed as a product of the land of Canaan when Jacob prepares his gift basket to be taken to Joseph (Genesis 43:11). This differs from what we normally read about myrrh. I do not know the solution to the problem at the moment. Perhaps it had been purchased from traveling merchants and was included with local products in the gift basket.

Myrrh could be in a liquid form. The ointment used in the anointing of priests had myrrh in it (Exodus 30:23). Oil of myrrh was in the cosmetics used by Esther (Esther 2:12). See also Song of Solomon 5:5.

The young man is advised to avoid the prostitute. He is told that she will entice him by saying,

I have sprinkled my bed
With myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. (Proverbs 7:17 NAU)

The young lady in the Song of Solomon thinks of her lover as a pouch or sachet of myrrh that lies all night between her breasts (1:13). She thinks of his lips as dripping with liquid myrrh (5:13).

The young man dreams of the time when he can approach her, and perhaps thinks of her breasts as the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.

Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. (Song of Solomon 4:6 ESV)

Myrrh displayed at Avdat, a stop on the Incense Route. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Myrrh displayed at Avdat, a stop on the Incense Route. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The wine offered to Jesus on the cross was mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23).

Nicodemus brought about 75 pounds (= 100 Roman pounds) of myrrh and aloe for the burial of Jesus (John 19:39). We may conclude from this that Nicodemus, like Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57 NAU), was a wealthy man.

Myrrh branch. From 1000 Bible Images (Logos digital edition).

Myrrh branch. From 1000 Bible Images (Logos digital edition).

The wise men brought rare and expensive gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:11). I trust that this brief discussion over the past three days has enhanced your understanding and appreciation of those gifts. What have we to give Him?

J. P. Van de Giessen has an article on Myrrh here, and a photo of the tree here.

Frankincense comes from a tree

In the previous post we looked at a few Biblical references that mention both frankincense and myrrh. We called attention to the Incense Route which ran from Arabia through Petra (now in Jordan) and Avdat in the Negev. In New Testament times this route was controlled by the Nabateans.

Frankincense is described in the Fauna and Flora of the Bible:

Frankincense is a balsamic gum exuding from the wood of different species of shrubs and trees belonging to the genus Boswellia. The bark is incised, and the finest quality of resin is obtained if this is done not too early in the year. The different species of Boswellia are native to India, the Somali coast and Arabia; the Midianites imported frankincense from Ephah and Sheba, Is 60:6; Jer. 6:20. Whether the Boswellia was grown in Palestine is rather doubtful. (121-122)

Frankincense is displayed at Avdat, stop number 62 on the famous Incense Route. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Frankincense at Avdat on the Incense Route. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Frankincense at Avdat on the Incense Route. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Bible indicates several uses for frankincense.

  • Used in the incense associated with the anointing of the priests (Exodus 30:32).
  • Placed on a grain offering (Leviticus 2:1-2).
  • Placed on the bread for the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:7).

Levites were appointed to take care of the frankincense used in the temple (1 Chronicles 9:29). Eliashib the priest hid Tobiah in a large room where frankincense and other sacrificial items were stored (Nehemiah 13:5, 9).

Gold is mentioned with frankincense in Isaiah 60:6 and Matthew 2:11. Both are mentioned among the goods the merchants could no longer sell because of the fall of Babylon (Revelation 118:11-13).

The illustration showing the frankincense tree comes from 1000 Bible Images (Logos digital edition).

Frankincense Tree. 1000 Bible Images.

Frankincense Tree. 1000 Bible Images.

Our current header photo was made at Avdat, and indicates the importance of the city as an important stop on the Incense Route.

Frankincense and Myrrh

Frankincense and myrrh are mentioned together in the Song of Solomon and in the account of the visit of the magi from the east to see Jesus. Several significant things can be learned from these Biblical verses.

Look first at Song of Solomon 3:6.

“What is this coming up from the wilderness Like columns of smoke, Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, With all scented powders of the merchant? (Song of Solomon 3:6 NAU)

  • Myrrh and frankincense are associated with the wilderness (desert; Hebrew, midbar).
  • Perhaps incense used in sacrifice or offering, “like columns of smoke.”
  • Associated with perfume and scented or fragrant powders.
  • Something traveling merchants would bring from the wilderness.

Song of Solomon 4:13-14 provides more insights.

“Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates With choice fruits, henna with nard plants,  Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, With all the trees of frankincense, Myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices. (Song of Solomon 4:13-14 NAU)

  • Associated with trees, and classified with spices.

The reference in the New Testament is in the account of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:1-11).

  • Frankincense and myrrh are in the category with gold, and offered as gifts to one who is considered a king and is being worshiped.
  • The magi have come from east of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
  • Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are considered treasures.

All of these tips harmonize with what is known about frankincense and myrrh. The plants or trees from which these come are known to grow in the desert regions. They are not native to Biblical Israel. Traveling merchants from Arabia traveled long distances across the desert, making stops at Petra, Avdat, and other places on their way to Gaza and other Mediterranean ports where the products could be shipped throughout the Mediterranean world.

The photo below was made at Avdat, a Nabatean site in the Negev. The city was especially significant in the first century B.C. and the first century A.D. Avdat was stop number 62 on the famous Incense Route. It is now part of Israel’s National Park system, and a World Heritage Site. A display at the ticket office and shop explains about the Incense Route and shows some of the goods that were transported across the desert. This photo shows little packets of frankincense and myrrh that may be bought as souvenirs of your visit. Gold is still costly, but the market for frankincense and myrrh has fallen drastically since Bible times. The price in New Israeli Shekels is less than $4.

Frankincense and myrrh on the Incense Route at Avdat. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Frankincense and myrrh on the Incense Route at Avdat. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

More to follow, hopefully.

Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Times Square, New York

Are you traveling to New York in the next few months? The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times exhibition at the Discovery Times Square building in New York City is worth a visit.

Gordon Franz, a Bible teacher and archaeologist, has written about the exhibition on his Life and Land blog here. Gordon is known to the regular readers of this blog. We have called attention to several of his articles, especially those about “cracked pot archaeology.”

In addition to giving the details about the exhibition and how to get a $5 discount on your ticket, Franz tells you how to access his 39-page guide which he has written specifically from a Christian perspective. Actually, it should be helpful for any serious student of the Bible.

War Scroll displayed at the Discovery Times Square in New York City.

War Scroll displayed at the Discovery Times Square in New York City.

This exhibition is much more than a few fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Artifacts, ossuaries, pottery, lamps, seals, and a stone from the wall build around the Temple Mount are included among the 500 items on display. The exhibition is on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority. The exhibition runs until April 15, 2012. After that it moves to Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute for a few months beginning in May.

Dead Sea Scrolls - Life and Faith in Biblical Times display

Dead Sea Scrolls - Life and Faith in Biblical Times display.

If you have the opportunity to visit this exhibition, you should read Gordon’s guide written from a Christian perspective. His guide will be helpful to anyone interested in Bible life and times, even if you don’t get to visit the exhibition. The link to the guide is located at his Life and Land website here.

Thanks to Gordon Franz for giving me a heads-up on his guide.

Paul quotes hometown poet in Athens speech

As Paul taught the Areopagus about the God that could be known, he cited two Greek poets who had indicated belief in a supreme being.

for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’  “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.  (Acts 17:28-29 NAU)

The first quotation is attributed to the Cretan poet Epimenides. The second quotation is attributed to Aratus of Cilicia, which was also Paul’s home (Acts 21:39). These poets certainly did not have in mind the same God that Paul was preaching, but they acknowledged that there was a supreme power back of the universe.

The photo below shows a bust of Aratus displayed in the British Museum.

The Cilician poet Aratus. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cilician poet Aratus. British Museum. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.