Category Archives: Archaeology

Aerial view of Tel Ashkelon

Aerial view of Tel Ashkelon along the Mediterranean coast in southern Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Aerial view of Tel Ashkelon along the Mediterranean coast in southern Israel. Ashkelon was one of the Philistine cities (Joshua 13:2-3.) Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Cupbearer in Bible Times

Cupbearers were important servants in the ancient Near East. In the Bible we read about the cupbearer in Egypt in the time of Joseph (Genesis 40-41). Some English translations use the term butler.

The only person mentioned by name in the Bible as a cupbearer is Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:11).

“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. “Now I was cupbearer to the king.” (Nehemiah 1:11 ESV)”O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. “Now I was cupbearer to the king.” (Nehemiah 1:11 ESV)

A source that I enjoy and use frequently is the IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. The comment about the cupbearer is brief but full of significant facts.

“The cupbearer in the ancient Near Eastern court held a very important position. He had direct access to the king and thus had great influence. Texts and reliefs describe cupbearers in Assyrian and Persian courts. The cupbearer was in close proximity to the king’s harem and thus was often a eunuch, although there is no evidence that this was the case with Nehemiah. Later sources identify the cupbearer as the wine taster. In addition he was the bearer of the signet ring and was chief financial officer.”

Have you visited the Bible Land Museum in Jerusalem? The museum is located across the parking lot from the Israel Museum. There is a separate entry fee for this smaller museum. It contains many artifact from a private collection. It is a good place to make photos that are useful in teaching the Bible. This rhyton or cup from the Persian Empire is one good example. This is likely the type of cup used by Nehemiah in his function as cupbearer to the king.

Phyton or cup from ancient Persia.
Inscribed just within the rim in cuneiform is “Ampirish, king of Samati, son of Dabala” Silver, gilt bitumen. From Iran, Early 6th century BCE, On loan from Cindy and David Sofer. From the Bible Land Museum, Jerusalem.

The Israelites encamped at Ebenezer

This story must begin about 21 miles east of Ebenezer at Shiloh. After Joshua and the children of Israel conquered most of the land that had been promised to Abraham and his seed, the Biblical text says, “Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting [tabernacle] there. The land lay subdued before them.” (Joshua 18:1 ESV).

Later, in the biblical periods of the judges and kings the Philistines who were settled mostly on or near the southern coastal plain of the land made attempts to reach the central mountain range through the valleys. Think of Elah, Rephaim, and Jezreel. There are also other main routes connecting the coastal plain and the mountains such as the road from Ebenezer to Shiloh (see the map in the previous post).

Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, p. 188: One of the little forward Israelite settlements may still be seen to the north of Rosh Ha- Ain at Izbet Sarta, which is on the little wooded hill to the right of the Trans-Samaria Highway (route 5/505) at 2.7 km east of the Qesem Junction. The site is plausibly identified with Eben-ezer. In this aerial photo the tel of Isbet Sartah is located below the word Jenkins.

At one point the Israelites decided to bring the ark of the covenant from Shiloh to the battlefield in the vicinity of Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4). Israel was defeated and the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant with them first to one of their towns and then another. Eventually the Ark was returned to the Israelites. In the time of King David, it was bought to Jerusalem to what would become the temple mount and placed in a tent (2 Samuel 6:15ff.).

On the trail to the top of the hill of an Israeli national park where Izbet Sartah is located. Leon Mauldin snapped this photo of the author.

The term Ebenezer is used in the Bible to identify a place, and also to refer to a stone monument indicating that God has helped us to this point. This is the sense in which the term is used in the song “Here I Raise My Ebenezer.”

The four-room house discover during excavations at Izbet Sartah.
The four-room house is the only structure discovered at Isbet Sartah. There are several large pits or silos around the structure.

There is still some question about the location of Ebenezer. Excavations were carried out at Isbet Sartah by M. Kochavi in the 1970s. During these excavations a four-room house surrounded by several pits or silos was uncovered. The dig director and some other scholars identified the site with Ebenezer. It seems that there was never a settled village at the site.

Getting to the site is not easy. If you use Google Earth Pro search for Izbet Sartah to locate the site. I found that following one of the eastern-most streets from south to north will take you to the foot of the hill on which the site is located. From there, enjoy the hike.

Paul spent a night at Antipatris

The New Testament    site of Antipatris was known as Aphek in Old Testament times. It is the place where the Philistines were encamped when they took the ark of the covenant from the Israelites who had camped at nearby Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4:1).

Antipatris was built by Herod the Great and named in honor of his father Antipater.

Because Aphek/Antipatris sat on a major south-north and west-east routes, it was dominated by many nations. The dominant feature of the site today is the Turkish fort. Inside are the excavated ruins of buildings from Canaanite to Herodian/Roman times.

The 16th century Turkish fortress at Antipatris.
The 16th century Turkish fortress at Aphek-Antipatris, now an Israeli National Park.

Aphek/Antipatris is known by the modern name Ras el-Ain because it is located at the source of the Yarkon River which flows a few miles into the Mediterranean.

Ras al ein, the source of the Yarkon River at Aphek-Antipatris. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Ras al ein, the source of the Yarkon River at Aphek-Antipatris.

When a plot was raised against Paul while he was in the Fortress of Antonia in Jerusalem, he was sent by night to Antipatris. The next day he was escorted to Caesarea Maritima. Luke records the event,

So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.  And on the next day they returned to the barracks, letting the horsemen go on with him.  When they had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. (Acts 23:31-33 ESV)

A small portion of the Roman cardo, the main East-West road has been uncovered.

From Jerusalem to Antipatris is about 30 miles. From there to Caesarea Maritima is an additional 27 miles.

Paul would remain in custody at Caesarea Maritima for two years. We probably realize that the wheels of power often turn slowly.

The map below is used courtesy of BibleMapper blog.

Map courtesy of BibleMapper.

Courtesy of BibleMapper blog.

The Importance of the Cornerstone

Many of us think of the cornerstone of a building as a marble or bronze plaque somewhere near the outside corner of a building. It will contain the name of the organization using the building and perhaps a note about the donor, engineer, etc. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery describes the cornerstone this way:
The cornerstone is the principal stone around which construction in antiquity was achieved. In the lexicon of biblical images of architecture, no image is more evocative than the cornerstone, the focal point of a building, the thing on which it most depends for structural integrity. Thus early in the catalog of God’s acts of creation in Job 38:6, the divine voice from the whirlwind asks regarding the world, “Who laid its cornerstone?” (Ryken, Leland et al. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. 2000: 166. Print).
There are repeated references to Jesus as the cornerstone rejected by the builders. Paul explains that Christ Jesus is the chief cornerstone of the church which is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). This concept is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (1 Peter 2:6; Psalm 118.22; Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11, et al. The Louw-Nida Lexicon says the Greek word used in these texts refers to “The cornerstone or capstone of a building, essential to its construction – ‘cornerstone, important stone.” I notice that several sources use the term capstone. I have seen these capstones at the top center of an arch used in the construction of an entry arch to a large building. Without the capstone the arch would soon fall.

One of the largest cornerstones of the Temple Mount enclosure wall. This is the area of Robinson’s Arch.

Wiemers describes the large cornerstone pictured above:
A very large corner stone with margin and boss, located on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. This southwest corner has some of the largest ashlar stones of the entire Temple Mount complex, measuring 39 feet 4 inches long by 7 feet 10 inches wide and 43 inches high. The large stone shown here is called the master course stone and weighs about 80 tons. All these stones form a strong corner as they alternate back and forth as headers and stretchers all the way up. The larger stones helped stabilize the smaller stones stacked below. (Wiemers, Galyn. Jerusalem History, Archaeology and Apologetic Proof of Scripture. Waukee, Iowa, Last Hope Books and Publications, 2010, p. 105.)
We noted earlier that several sources suggest the Greek word for cornerstone could also describe a capstone. I have seen several of these capstones used in arches. The next photo shows an example from Patara (Acts 21:1; now in Turkey). It is a triple-arched gate. For more information see Wilson, Biblical Turkey. The capstone may be seen above each of the arches, but is especially noticeable above the center arch. These capstones are not just for beauty; they are essential to hold the arch together.

The gate was built “around AD 100 during the reign of Trajan” (Wilson, Biblical Turkey).

Corinth and Neighboring Cities

After Jerusalem, Corinth is one of the best-known cities mentioned in the New Testament. The apostle Paul visited Corinth on his second preaching tour (Acts 18). At the “judgment seat” (Greek, bema) in the agora Paul stood before the proconsul Gallio. Based on the inscription now exhibited in the museum at Delphi we think that Paul entered Corinth in the fall of A.D. 51, and left in the spring of A.D. 53.

The map is cropped from a larger map of the area around Corinth on the Bible Mapper Blog here.

Since my last visit to Corinth some reconstruction has been made on the Bema and our photo below is published courtesy of Charles Savelle of BibleX.

The Bema at Corinth with the Acrocorinth in the background.
The Bema where Paul stood before proconsul Gallio. The Acrocorinth looms over the city. Photo courtesy of Charles Savelle.

Corinth is located about two miles south of the narrow isthmus which forms the land bridge, and controlled access, between the main land mass of Greece and the Peloponnese. The isthmus is less than five miles wide. Small ships were dragged across the isthmus on the paved road now called the diolkos; larger ships unloaded their cargo which was carried across and reloaded. This avoided the long 200-mile journey around the Peloponnese. Nero abandoned his attempts to dig a canal across the isthmus (A. D. 67). Some scholars think the road only allowed the “occasional movement of military ships, conveyance of building materials from the southern to northern Corinthia, small-scale portaging of luxury goods, and [served as] the principal road from the Corinthian Gulf to the pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia” (Pettegrew, CorinthianMatters.com blog). The canal one sees today was constructed in 1881–1893.

Corinth “was situated on a plateau overlooking the Isthmus of Corinth about two miles from the Gulf. It lay at the foot of Acrocorinth, an acropolis which rises precipitously to 1,886 ft.…” and was easily defended in ancient times (Rupprecht 960).

Corinth had two good ports. Lechaion, to the west, on the Gulf of Corinth (an arm of the Ionian Sea), and Cenchrea, to the east, on the Saronic Gulf (an arm of the Aegean Sea).

The harbor of Cenchrea, home of Phoebe. From here Paul set sail for Judea.
The harbor of Cenchrea where Paul had his hair cut before departing for Jerusalem. Cenchrea was the home of Phoebe (Romans 16:1).

Another important community near Corinth was Isthmia. The biennial Isthmian games, second in importance to the Olympic games, were held there in honor of Poseidon at the isthmus of Corinth. Some scholars think Paul may have been present for one of these events while he was at Corinth. He frequently used athletic illustrations in his letters. See 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 as an example.

The location of the ancient Isthmian games of Greece.
Ruins of the ancient site of Isthmia. The Corinth canal is to the right of this image. View is to the North West.

Over the years since the beginning of this blog I have posted several articles about Corinth. I suggest you put the name Corinth in the Search Box for a list of these posts. I think of this blog as a mini-dictionary of Bible lands and customs. I hope you will find it useful in your study of the Bible. Share it with you friends and suggest that they join our mailing list.

Hierapolis – the Sacred Pool

Hierapolis is mentioned only once in the New Testament. The apostle Paul mentions Epaphras as a brother who has worked hard for the saints of the Lycus River valley.

For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. (Col. 4:13 ESV)

Hierapolis is noted for its warm springs which attract visitors due to their beauty and healing benefits.

The places where one may walk on the limestone cascades, or wade, or swim in the warm water is limited. But there is one public pool. Most of the time it is crowded with tourists, but I caught a time when very few were in it.

Fant and Reddish explain the significance of the pool.

The pool has attracted visitors throughout its history. During the Roman period, columned porticoes surrounded the pool. As a result of earthquake damage, several of the columns and other architectural pieces tumbled into the pool, where they can still be seen today. (A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, p. 212).

One of the springs at Hierapolis now flows over the ruins of an ancient temple.

Visitors generally disregard the signs which ask them to stay off the newly formed hillsides.

In modern times the warm water is channeled to turn the hillsides into cotton castles. The town is now known as Pamukkale, a word meaning cotton castle or cotton fortress.

Looking south you may be able to see some of the ruins of Laodicea about six miles away. Colossae is located about ten miles southeast (to the left of this image).

Tirzah, Israel’s second capital

Tirzah is used in the Bible as the name of one of the daughters of Zelopehad. She and her sisters were married into the clans of the people of Manasseh the son of Joseph (Numbers 36:11; Joshua 12:24). The man in Song of Songs (or Solomon) tells his lady “You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners” (6:4 ESV). The context, including Jerusalem, indicates he is comparing her to a beautiful city.

Tel el Farah north in March, 2022. A few stones from the excavations are visible among the weeds. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
This photo shows a few of the excavated ruins of Tel el Farah, thought to be the site of Tirzah.

In today’s post we consider the name Tirzah as the name of a place.

  • Joshua captured the king of Tirzah during the conquest of the promised land (Joshua 12:24; 17:3).
  • Earlier when Abraham was at Shechem, the LORD promised him and his descendants the land of Canaan (modern Nablus) (Genesis 12:1-9).
  • About 931 BC after the death of Solomon Jeroboam rebelled and became king over Israel (the northern kingdom) at Shechem (1 Kings 11). Later the capital was moved to Tirzah (1 Kings 14:17).
  • R. K. Harrison describes the importance of Tirzah in the kingdom of Israel: “perhaps as the result of increasing political and economic relationships with Syria. Tirzah was the capital of Israel during the time of Baasha (1 Kings 15:21,33) and Elah (1 Kings 16:8-9). The seven-day reign of Zimri ended when he burned the palace over himself at Tirzah was being besieged by Omri (1 Kings 16:17-18). After ruling from Tirzah for six years, Omri moved the capital of Israel to Samaria (1 Kings 16:23-24) , probably because of his economic and political alignment with Phoenicia. Menahem, a resident of Tirzah, was able to overthrow Shallum (752 B.C.) toward the close of the northern kingdom’s existence and to usurp the throne, ruling for almost eleven years.
Caretaker at Tel el Farah (Tirzah) in 1982. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
In 1982 I first visited Tel el Farah with the late Jimmy Cravens, a photographer friend from Tampa, Florida. The site still showed evidence of excavation. The gentlemen in the photo lived in a little house on the tel and served as the caretaker. I recall that he is showing us some of the walls that indicated a divider between the poor and those better off. He said he had worked with De Vaux during all of the excavations. The image is scanned from a slide that is still in good condition after 40 years.

The location of Tirzah is not certain. W. F. Albright identified it with Tel el Farah, a mound located about seven miles NE of Shechem (at modern Nablus). Roland De Vaux was associated with the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem and conducted nine seasons of archaeological excavations at Tel el Farah between 1946 and 1960. Most of the tel is currently covered by an orchard.

Shrine model from Tel el Farah north from the excavations. Now in the Louvre.
Several archaeological artifacts from Tel el Farah are displayed in the Louvre. This is a shrine or temple model from the site.

Tel el Farah north (likely Tirzah) should not be confused with Tel el-Farah south (likely Besor). See our article about a visit there a few years ago here. Google Earth Pro includes one photo from the south site with the information about the north site. It is easy to make this mistake.

If you wish to look up the site on Google Earth Pro or the maps you will need to search for Tel Fara North. Remember also that the site is in Palestine.

Personal Study in Israel

Once again, Leon Mauldin and I made one of our personal study trips to Israel in March this year. It was cooler than we typically expect for the time of year. We saw some beautiful scenery and spent a considerable amount of time studying the weather. We had rain, snow and hail. It was much cooler that typical for the time of year.

When we make these personal trips we do not visit the sites that need to be on the itinerary of every first-time visitor. We try to visit places we have never been, or it has been a long time since a visit, or we know that there have been some changes at the site. Many of these sites are not accessible by tour buses.

One of the places Leon had not visited, and it had been about half a century since I was there, was Taanach (or Tanach). There are only seven references to the city in the Bible (Joshua 12:21; 17:11; 21:25; Judges 1:27; 5:19; 1 Kings 4:12; 1 Chronicles 7:29).

Deborah and Barak led the Israelites in victory in the vicinity of Taanach (Judges 5:19).

“The kings came, they fought; then fought the kings of Canaan, at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; they got no spoils of silver.” (Judges 5:19 ESV).

Taanach is on the south side of the Jezreel Valley and is about five miles southeast of Megiddo.

View of Tel Tanaach looking north in March, 2022. If you were standing on top of the tel you would have a wonderful view of the Jezreel Valley.

A major archaeological excavation took place here between 1902 and 1904 under the direction of E. Sellin. He was assisted by G. Schumacher. A second excavation was conducted by Paul Lapp in 1963 and 1966.

My previous visit was in May, 1973. At that time my photo was made from the opposite side of the tel with my back to the Jezreel Valley. At that time it was very easy to reach Tanaach, but today the suburbs of Jenin reach almost all the way there. Tel Tanaach is within the Palestinian territory and this makes it more difficult for many to visit the site. We hired a driver for the day but he had never been to any of the places we wanted to visit. That’s the way it is for personal study trips.

This slide was made in June, 1973. I have many slides that have been in a slide file chest and stored in an air conditioned room since they were made. I am sometimes impressed by the quality. The wheat had been cut shortly before my photo was made.

Many of the artifacts, including an impressive incense altar, dug by the first expedition are now in the Archeological Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. They are stored in the Palestine Room, a room that is rarely open to the public.

Some of the artifacts from Tanaach now displayed in the Palestine Room of the Archaeological Museum, Istanbul, Turkey.

Source for some details: Stern, Ephraim, editor. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Vol. 4, Israel Exploration Society & Carta, Jerusalem, 1993, pp. 1428-33, 5 vols.

The Death of Archaeologist Eilat Mazar

This afternoon I received an Email from Tali Aronsky, International Media Director, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, about the death of Dr. Eilat Mazar. His brief report reads as follows:

(Jerusalem, May 25, 2021)—Dr. Eilat Mazar, a pioneering archaeology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology died today, she was 64.  Mazar was a third-generation Israeli archaeologist who participated in digs from a young age, as the granddaughter of Benjamin Mazar who excavated the Land of Israel during the British Mandate period.  Eilat Mazar specialized in the Phoenician culture of Israel’s northern coastal plain and directed excavations in the City of David and the Temple Mount’s southern wall. 

During her tenure, Mazar discovered the possible remnants of King David’s palace and a portion of an ancient city wall presumed to be built by King Solomon.   In 2013, Mazar unearthed a trove of gold coins and a rare Byzantine medallion with a menorah (candelabra) etched into it.  Most recently, Mazar made headlines when she unearthed clay seals “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, King of Judah” and later, seals that may have belonged to Isaiah the Prophet. 

Mazar is survived by a daughter and three sons.


Dr. Mazar’s name will be found several times on this blog. I appreciated the opportunity to meet her in 2019 when Luke Chandler and I were visiting with Dr. Yosef Garfinkle in the archaeology lab at Hebrew University. She was very pleasant and graciously posed for a photo with us.

From left to right, Luke Chandler, Dr. Yosef Garfinkle, Dr. Eilat Mazar, and Ferrell Jenkins in the archaeology lab at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.