Monthly Archives: April 2012

Grinding grain in Bible times

The grinding of grain was an important part of the life of people in Bible times. After the grain was gathered from the fields it had to be threshed. This was done by running a threshing sledge over the stalks of grain on the threshing floor (2 Samuel 24:22). The stalks, now cut into small pieces, was then winnowed with “shovel and fork” to separate the chaff from the good grain (Isaiah 41:16; Ruth 3:2; Luke 3:17; Psalm 1:4). Next came the sifting of the grain to further removed small pieces of debris. Jesus makes reference to this practice when he predicts Peter’s denial:

“Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, (Luke 22:31 NET)

After that, there was still hard work to be done. The grain had to be ground between two millstones. The photo, below taken at The Museum for Bedouin Culture at Kibbutz Lahav in the Negev, shows the process.

Grinding grain. Exhibit at Museum of Bedouin Culture at Kibbutz Lahav. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Grinding grain. Exhibit at The Museum of Bedouin Culture at Kibbutz Lahav in the Negev. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There will be two women grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left. (Luke 17:35 NET)

There was still the necessary kneading before the bread could be baked and eaten.

I am worn out. I think I will run down to the store and get a loaf of bread.

Mummies of the World at MOSI in Tampa

Mummies of the World Exhibition opens at MOSI in Tampa, Florida, today. Details here. The exhibition includes mummified humans and animals from several places around the world in addition to those from Egypt.

According to local television reports, the exhibit runs through September 9, 2012.

In the photo below we see a mummified Ibis and a mummified Crocodile from the Roman period of Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians considered various animals as gods and mummified them when they died.

Mummiried Ibis and Crocodile from Egypt. Roman Period. Brooklyn Museum.

Mummified Ibis and Crocodile from Egypt. Roman Period. Brooklyn Museum.

The Apostle Paul describes the condition of the Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in these words:

Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:22-23 ESV)

Two Biblical characters  from the Patriarchal period were mummified in Egypt.

Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father [Jacob]. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.  (Genesis 50:1-3 ESV)

So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. (Genesis 50:26 ESV)

More camel humor

In The Humor of Christ (1964), the late Evangelical philosopher Elton Trueblood discusses “The Preposterous” in the teaching of Christ. He says we should,

recognize that Christ used deliberately preposterous statements to get His point across.

Trueblood comments on the rich man and the needle’s eye (see yesterday’s post).

Taken literally, of course, the necessary conclusion is that no one who is not in absolute poverty can enter the Kingdom, because most people have some riches, and it is impossible for a body as large as that of a camel, hump and all, to go through an aperture as small as the eye of a needle. For humorous purposes this is evidently the same camel swallowed by the Pharisee when he carefully rejected the gnat. That the listeners failed to see the epigram about the needle’s eye as a violent metaphor is shown by their question, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). (47)

Camel at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Camel at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Had you thought about the humor of this statement?

You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matthew 23:24 ESV)

There are the self righteous leaders straining their wine through a cloth. They eliminate every gnat, but then swallow the whole camel — head first, then front legs, then hump (and even second hump). After that, I suppose the rest would be easy.

Of camels and needles

Jesus warned His disciples about the danger of riches. On one occasion He said,

In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  Those who heard this said, “Then who can be saved?”  He replied, “What is impossible for mere humans is possible for God.”  (Luke 18:25-27 NET; cf. Matthew 19:24-26; Mark 10:25-27)

I suppose in the time of Jesus almost everyone had seen a camel and understand what Jesus was talking about. And most of them also had seen a needle.

Camels and rider in the Sinai Peninsula. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Camels and rider in the Sinai Peninsula. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The bronze needle below is displayed in the British Museum. The camel above is greatly reduced, and the needle below is greatly enlarged.

Bronze needle from the Roman period. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bronze needle from the Roman period. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

What did Jesus mean? There is a popular theory that there was a gate in Jerusalem with a smaller gate called the eye of the needle. It is said that the camel could go through the small gate when the burden was unloaded.

Sounds good doesn’t it? But it destroys the teaching of Jesus. Jesus spoke of something that was impossible for mere humans, but possible for God.

Many of the medieval gates we know of in ancient cities had a small gate within the larger gate. There was no need to open a huge gate just for any individual to pass.

Authors of Hard Sayings of the Bible, after mentioning this legend, say,

But this charming explanation is of relatively recent date; there is no evidence that such a subsidiary entrance was called the eye of a needle in biblical times. (438)

They also warn of the temptation to tone down the teaching of Jesus.

There is probably no saying of Jesus which is harder in the Western mind today than the saying about the camel and the needle’s eye, none which carries with it such a strong temptation to tone it down. (439).

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament comments on the eye of the needle at Mark 10:25.

This image reflects a Jewish figure of speech for doing something impossible (a large animal going through a needle’s eye). The saying, a hyperbole, refers to a literal needle. (Those who think Jesus refers here to a gate in Jerusalem called the “eye of a needle” are mistaken, because that gate was built in medieval times.) A wealthy person could relinquish wealth only by God’s grace (10:26–27).

Scribes kept important records

The picture below shows a scribe from ancient Egypt. The statue from Saqqara dates to the 4th or 5th dynasty — about 2600 to 2350 B.C. The limestone statue is painted with encrusted eyes of rock crystal. The statue is on display in the Louvre.

Scribe from Saqqara displayed in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Scribe from Saqqara displayed in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We do not have a great number of examples of writing from ancient Israel, but the Bible is abundant with references to writing and record keeping. The entry on the Hebrew word katab in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says,

katab is the only general word for “write” and it is widely used. Curiously, it is not used in Genesis. Moses wrote on a scroll God’s curse on the Amalekites (Exo 17:14 ). God himself wrote the Ten Commandments (Exo 31:18). Moses also is specifically said to have written the Book of the Covenant (Exo 24:4), the Sinai legislation (Exo 34:27), the names of the leaders of the tribes (Num 17:2-3), the wilderness itinerary (Num 33:2), the law “from beginning to end” (Deut 31:9, 24) and Moses’ final song (Deut 31:22, 24). It is quite possible that the general references of Deut 31:9  and Deut 24 refer to the whole of the Pentateuch (cf. Deut 28:58-61; Deut 29:20-21) although critical scholars refer it only to Deut and question even that.

I think the reference to Moses writing the wilderness itinerary of the Israelites is interesting.

Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places. (Numbers 33:2 ESV)

Preliminary report on Khirbet Qeiyafa for 2010-2011

A preliminary report for the 2010-2011 archaeological seasons has been published by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Hadashot Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Israel. The report is written by  Yossi Garfinkel, Sa‘ar  Ganor  and Michael Hasel.

My photo shows the Iron Age, four-chamber, gate with a view toward Tel Azekah.

Iron Age Gate view a view toward Azekah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins. May, 2011.

Iron Age Gate with a view toward Azekah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins. May, 2011.

The full report with 11 photographs (or plans) is available here. The report concludes,

The excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa clearly reveal an urban society that existed in Judah already in the late eleventh century BCE. It can no longer be argued that the Kingdom of Judah developed only in the late eighth century BCE or at some other later date.

The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (May/June 2012) carries two article relating to the Qeiyafa ostracon. One is by Christopher A. Rollston who asks the question, “What’s the Oldest Hebrew Inscripton?” He responds that each of four inscriptions he considers (Qeiyafa, Gezer calendar, Tel Zayit, and Izbet Shartah) predate Old Hebrew.

The other article is by Gerard Leval. In “Ancient Inscription Refers to Birth of Israelite Monarchy” he summaries the French-language article by “Emile Puech, the senior epigrapher of the prestigious École Biblique et Archaéologique Française in Jerusalem.” Puech draws the following conclusion:

Moreover, the inscription seems to memorialize (or, in Puech’s words, is “a witness to”18) the transition not from one king to another (from Saul to David), but rather from the period of the judges to the monarchy—thus from Samuel and his sons to Saul.19

If Puech is correct, the Qeiyafa Ostracon is the only archaeological artifact referring to Israel’s first king. And it is the earliest non-Biblical confirmation of the establishment of the Israelite monarchy.

Leval’s article is available online at BAR here.

This information is sure to create a lot of discussion.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer; Bible Places Blog.

Millstones work better than concrete shoes

Jesus used the common millstone in one of his teaching illustrations.

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:1-2; cf. Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42 ESV)

The photo below shows a collection of millstones at the Roman ruins of Bosra in southern Syria, a few miles north of the border with Jordan, in a region known as Hauran. The area has seen much volcanic action in the past. These dark millstones are made of basalt. The region is described by Ulrich Hübner this way.

Bozrah lies on one of the fruitful and water-rich plains of S Haurān at the important intersection of the N–S route, which leads from Damascus through the Transjordan to the Hejaz, with the E–W route, on which one could travel from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia. (The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary)

Mill stones at the Roman town of Bosra, Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mill stones at the Roman town of Bosra, Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This Bosra is not to be confused with Bozrah in Edom (Genesis 36:33) or Bozrah in Moab (Jeremiah 48:21-24).

Millstones were significant in Bible times.

  • Used for grinding grain (even manna) (Numbers 11:8; Isaiah 47:2).
  • The work might be done by a slave girl (Exodus 11:5), or two women working together (Matthew 24:41).
  • Taking a person’s upper millstone as a pledge would deprive the person of his livelihood (Deuteronomy 24:6).
  • A woman at Shechem “threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull” (Judges 9:53; 2 Samuel 11:21).
  • In the LORD’S challenge to Job, He describes Leviathan with a heart as hard as stone, “Even as hard as a lower millstone” (Job 41:24).
  • The sinking of a great millstone is used in the Apocalypse to describe the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18:21).