Category Archives: Archaeology

Rolling stone tombs #5 – the site of the Holy Sepulchre

Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem (John 19:20), probably not far from a gate (Hebrews 13:12), near a road (Mark 15:29; Matthew 27:39), and near a garden with a new tomb in it (John 19:41). Nothing about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre reminds one of the actual setting where Christ was crucified and buried. One must remember, that Jerusalem has been continuously inhabited for many centuries. Strong evidence suggests that the site now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was outside the wall of Jerusalem at the time of Christ.

Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Crowds wait to enter the edicule covering the tomb of Jesus after examination and cleaning in 2017. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Kathleen Kenyon found evidence in the 1970s that the wall which now encompasses the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the foundation which was constructed about A.D. 41 by Herod Agrippa. In A.D.
30 [or 33, depending on how one reads the evidence], when Jesus stood before Pilate, the site of the Holy Sepulchre would have been outside the wall.

Some columns in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre date from the fourth century church built by Constantine. Excavators exposed part of the foundations of Hadrian’s Roman Forum, dating from A.D. 135, in which the Temple of Aphrodite was built.

A portion of the Herodian wall was discovered in the 1970s by M. Broshi within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This showed that Golgotha was just outside the city wall.

D. Katsimibinis, in the late 1970s, showed that the rock of Calvary still rises nearly 40 feet above bedrock. The rock bears the mark of ancient quarrying. Some scholars believe that this remnant of stone was a rejected quarry stone (Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, 124). “And moreover, there are no competing places for Calvary or Golgotha prior to the last century” (Charlesworth, 123). See also André Parrot, Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Jesus would have been placed in this tomb sometime before sun down on Friday, and raised sometime before sun up on the first day of the week (our Sunday). See Luke 24:1, 13, 21.

The tomb of Jesus. Parrot, Land of Christ.

Drawing showing the tomb of Jesus according to the data of the gospels. From Parrot, Land of Christ, 131.

We share the sentiment of the late F. F. Bruce that “interesting as the problem must be to every Christian, it is not of the first importance; wherever our Lord’s sepulchre is to be located, ‘he is not here, for he has risen’” (“Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament,” Revelation and the Bible, ed. Henry, 330).

Model of the tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. From the Franciscian Museum, Jerusalem.

This model from the Franciscan Museum, Jerusalem, show the tomb at the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rolling stone tombs #4 – the Midras ruins

The Midras Ruins (Horvat Midras) in Israel are part of the Adulam Grove Nature Reserve east of Hwy 38 between the Elah Valley and Beit Guvrin. According to the Parks department sign at the site, the ruins are part of an ancient settlement including caves, pits, and other installations. The Carta touring atlas says the area was continuously inhabited from the time of the Kings of Judah to the Roman period.

For a more complete discussion of the Midras Ruins tomb, along with links to photos before the tomb was vandalized, read here.

This photo was made in the late afternoon several years after the tomb was defaced by vandals. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign at the cave indicates that it was in use from the first century B.C. until the Bar Kochba revolt (about A.D. 135).

The large rolling stone now at the entrance to the cave is a remnant of the grand burial cave once located here.

Beyond the entrance, two chambers were discovered, containing burial niches 1.80 meters [almost 6 feet] long. The inner chamber contains decorated arches, arcosolia, in which ossuaries were placed, containing the bones of the deceased in secondary burial.

The sherds discovered in the cave indicate that it was in use from the end of the first century CE [AD] until the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE).

Browsing through my photos I rediscovered the next photo from a visit to the site in 2011. It shows a more natural look except for the destroyed area above the rolling stone.

This photo shows the setting of the tomb with a rolling stone after it was defaced by vandals and then reconstructed. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rolling stone tombs #2 – the Herodian family tomb

Our photos today show the traditional family tomb of Herod the Great (37 – 4 B.C.) which is located on the west side of the Old City, behind the famous King David Hotel. We know from Josephus that Herod buried certain family members in Jerusalem (Wars 1:581). Herod was buried at the Herodium near Bethlehem.

This first photo shows the general area of the tomb which is cut from solid rock.

Herodian Family Tomb, located in a park behind the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. You can see the top of the rolling stone to the left of center. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo below shows a closeup of the entry and the rolling stone. In more recent time a door has been places at the opening of the tomb. Murphy-O’Connor says the tomb was found empty because robbers got there before the archaeologists (The Holy Land).

Herodian Family Tomb, Jerusalem.

Herodian Family Tomb in the small park behind the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rolling stone tombs #1 – the Tomb of the Kings

During this week many will have their mind on the events leading to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. With this post I propose to begin a short series of blogs in which I will post pictures of some of the rock-cut tombs from Israel and Jordan that have rolling stones.

Why is it important to notice rock-cut tombs with rolling stones? It is because these illustrate the type of tomb in which Jesus was buried.

And Joseph [from Arimathea] took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. (Matthew 27:59-60 ESV)

Here is the entrance to the rock-cut tomb at what we call the Tomb of the Kings. Notice that the rolling stone is set in a grove that more or less holds it in place. Perhaps tourist of past centuries have chiseled a souvenir to take back home with them.

Rolling stone at the Tomb of the Kings, Jerusalem. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

The rolling stone at the tomb of the kings. Treasure hunters have chiseled off pieces in centuries past. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

J. A. Thompson describes the large tombs where several people might be buried as well as the smaller tombs like the one where Jesus was buried.

These larger tombs provided for the burial of a number of people. They were entered by a comparatively small opening which could be closed by rolling a stone in a groove across the entrance. After each burial the large stone was rolled across the door and the tomb sealed up until the next burial. Some of these stones, which are still to be seen in parts of Palestine, were so big as to require the effort of more than one man to move them. Such a discovery explains the concern of the women who came to the sepulcher where our Lord was buried. Joseph of Arimathaea “rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre” (Matt. 27:60), and later the angel came and “rolled back the stone from the door” (Matt. 28:2). Other passages in the Gospels which refer to the rolling of the great stone from the door are Mark 15:46; 16:3f.; Luke 24:2; John 11:38, 39, 41; 20:1. Even comparatively small tombs had this rolling stone, but angle graves were normally carved out in the rocky hillside and the body interred there. (Thompson, J. A. The Bible and Archaeology. 3rdrd ed., W. B. Eerdmans, 1982, p. 334.)

A sarcophagus from the Tomb of the Kings

One of the things we must learn when studying antiquities is that names (designations) may not be correct. To illustrate:

  • The Tomb of the Kings is not the tomb of the kings David and Solomon or any other of the kings of Israel.
  • The pools of Solomon were built long after the time of Solomon.
  • The pool of Hezekiah was not built by Hezekiah. (Be sure to see Tom Powers comment below. I will not go against Tom’s reasoning on this).

The tomb of the kings in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, near the American Colony Hotel and other newer hotels such as the Grand Court and the Olive Tree, belonged to Queen Mother Helena of Adiabene.

Here is how the facade of the tomb looked in 2008. The tomb was not open to the public but I made arrangements for our tour operator for my group to make a visit.

Tomb of the Kings, Jerusalem

The Tomb of the Kings at it appeared in 2008. The tomb has been closed most of the time since then. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A few photos have appeared in newspapers from various cities. Compare this one with the photo I made in 2008 and you will see some significant repairs. The indication is that this is now open to the public (when Covid-19 conditions permit).

Repaired Tomb of the Kings reopened in 2019.

Daily Hayom reports the reopening of the Tomb of the Kings. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The tomb belonged to Queen Mother Helena of Adiabene. She came to Jerusalem with her son, King Izates, as a convert to Judaism in A.D. 46. Adiabene was located in northern Mesopotamia east of the Tigris River. During the famine in Judea, mentioned in Acts 11:28-30, the queen sent to Egypt for grain and to Cyprus for dried figs (Josephus, Ant. 20.51). For more from Josephus check this post.

A large burial complex was dug north of Jerusalem for the burial of the Queen and her family. This is the tomb referred to in modern times as the Tomb of the Kings. It is a good place to see a rolling stone and a tomb hewn from solid rock. The property is under French control and was closed for many years in need of repairs to the facade.

The tomb was reopened in 2019 but I have not been able to visit since that time. When the tomb was originally excavated by Louis Felicien de Saulcy various artifacts including sarcophagi were taken back to Paris and are now displayed in the Louvre.

The following sarcophagus was identified by Saulcey as a princess of the lineage of David, the Queen Helena of Adiabene.

Possible sarcophagus of Queen Helena of Adiabene. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This sarcophagus, now displayed in the Louvre, was thought by Saulcey to belong to Queen Helena of Adiabene. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Resources for days you must be inside

Some folks on social media are writing about being bored because of staying in during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not so with me. I love being in my study, but I do have limited time to do so due to other family considerations.

Yesterday we participated in some church streaming sites. Enjoyed all of Leon Mauldin’s lesson on YouTube from the Hanceville Church of Christ.

Also enjoyed the first of two lessons by Dr. Charles Savelle on Mark 15 under the title But Sunday’s Coming here.

Also enjoyed watching some of Searching for a King from AppianMedia.org. Enjoyed the interview with Dr. Scott Stripling at Shiloh and seeing Barry Britnell and Jeremy DeHut at work. This material may be available to you on Amazon Prime.

The brook of Elah during the dry season. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

I got separated from Elizabeth while exploring the brook of Elah during the dry season in August 2008, but we came up with a plan and have been back together ever since. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We also watched the lesson by Dr. Carl Rasmussen dealing with the United and Divided Kingdom periods in the Encountering the Holy Land series of videos. This morning a newsletter from Carl says that the complete set of these videos are available for 50% off through April 3rd. To access the DVD check Zondervan. To access the streaming resource see here. Atlases are also on sale at Zondervan. If you would like to sign up for Carl’s Holy Land Photos newsletter go here. The deep discount did not show on Amazon when I checked.

We have recently mentioned on Facebook that Dr. Wayne Stiles is offering three videos on The Week That Changed the World free of charge. Go to the Walking the Bible Lands web site here.

Capernaum follow up – from the air

The first photo today shows that Caperanum is located on the [north] shore of the Sea of Galilee. The enclosed area belongs to the Franciscan Fathers who bought the property already thought to be Capernaum in 1894. The site was fenced to prevent removal of the materials.

In our photo you see the property as it has been edited by various archaeological digs. Two structures stand out among the ruins – the synagogue and the new memorial church we wrote about in the previous post. Click on the photo for a larger image suitable for use in teaching.

Capernaum from the air. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Viewing Capernaum from the air. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

With our view to the north, the property on the right of the Franciscan property belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. You will see their little red-domed church near the middle of our image. The property between that church and the Franciscan property was excavated after 1978 under the direction of Vassilios Tzaferis but is not open to the public.

Further east a dock extending into the water provides a place for boats to dock and allow passengers to meet their bus to continue touring.

Capernaum from the air. Fransciscian property on left (west) and the Orthodox property on the right (east). Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Capernaum from the air. Fransciscian property on left (west) and the Orthodox property on the right (east). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Much of the earthly ministry of Jesus was conducted in this little plot of land. Imagine such a small beginning here and in the surrounding towns. By the early 60s of the first century the preaching that Jesus is the Christ had reached the capital of the Roman empire (Acts 28).

Ferrell’s Favorite Foto #37 – Now and Then at Capernaum

In 2015 we posted here about some changes that we noticed when we visited Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. These changes were more like refurbishing the site to make it easier and more pleasant to visit.

Today we will show you a significant change brought about by a new building. Having visited Capernaum many times since 1967 I have been able to see many changes. This church that some have described as looking like a space craft is built over the excavation of a Byzantine church that covered some of the first century houses. One of these house is said to have been designated as a place for Christians to meet. The Franciscans who own the property have designated this as the house of Peter. We know from Scripture that Peter lived here with his wife and mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14).

Capernaum was located on the frontier between the territory of Herod Antipas and that of Herod Philip. The city became important in the earthly ministry of Jesus. Notice just a few events that make it so significant.

  • Jesus settled here, making Capernaum His “own city” (Mark 1:232-34).
  • Many of the miracles of Jesus were performed here (Mark 1:21-28).
  • Matthew worked as a tax collector at Capernaum (Matthew 9:9).
  • Peter lived here (Matthew 8:14).

Capernaum was one of three cities of the area denounced by Jesus  on account of their failure to believe (Matthew 11:20-22 ESV).

If you visit Capernaum you will see the building pictured below that some have described as looking like a space craft. It was built about 1990. The entrance with steps leading up to the glass floor is on the west side of the building (to our left). Our photo shows the south side; we have our back to the Sea of Galilee. The building is located 84 feet south of the synagogue (*Strange).

Capernaum. The modern church erected in 1990 by the Franciscians. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This modern building was erected in 1990. It covers the excavated ruins of the octagonal Byzantine church and what some have said is the house of the apostle Peter. This view is to the north, with the Sea of Galilee to my back.The entrance steps are on the left, and the synagogue is on the other side of this building. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

James F. Strange says,

Friar Orfali had done some work on the octagonal building in the 1920s. His plan showed the building as consisting of three concentric octagons.

When the excavations were renewed by Corbo and Loffreda in 1968 they discovered a baptistry and an apse providing evidence that this was indeed an ancient church (Strange).

Strange says,

It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that this octagonal church at Capernaum was a memorial church. Some scholars believed that the octagonal church was built to memorialize Jesus’s temporary residence in Capernaum and may well have been connected with ancient memories or traditions regarding the location of St. Peter’s house, also called “the house of Simon and Andrew” in Mark 1:29.

Below is today’s Favorite Foto that I made in 1978. The floor of the new “memorial church” has a glass floor so that one can look below at the ancient structure. It is now difficult to make photos with ordinary photographic equipment because of the glare from the glass. Visitors to the site may also walk under the new church, but it is difficult to make sense of what is there.

Capernaum. The octagonal Byzantine church which is said to cover the house of the apostle Peter. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This is the way the excavated area of Capernaum looked in 1978. We see ruins of the octagonal Byzantine church which is said to have been built over the house of the apostle Peter. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Strange says, “According to the excavators, the central hall of this church was originally built as part of a house about the beginning of the Early Roman period, around 63 B.C.”

I will leave it to you to investigate more about this structure and the possibility that Jesus visited this home during His personal ministry in Capernaum.

* Source: When you see the name *Strange in one of my comments it indicates that the information was quoted directly or gleaned from the following source:

Strange, James F., and Hershel Shanks. “Has the House Where Jesus Stayed in Capernaum Been Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 8, no. 6, Oct. 1982. Biblical Archaeology Review. BAR.

If you are interested in a recent scholarly essay on the excavations at Capernaum see he following:

Mattila, Sharon L. Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods. Vol. 2, edited by David A. Fiensy and James R. Strange, First ed., Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2015, 2 vols, pp. 217-57.

Special Note about the Fiensy-Strange Volumes: The two volumes by David A. Fiensy and James R. Strange, Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods…, are currently available in Kindle Format as follows: Vol. 1, 352 pages, for $4.99 (pb is $50.33). Vol. 2, 502 pages, for $6.99 (pb is $26.00). James R. Strange is the son of the late James F. Strange quoted in my post. I am pleased with the quality of the diagram and photos display.

Ferrell’s Favorite Foto # 36 – Egyptian brick making

Normally I make multiple photos of any scene when possible, especially if there is a good chance I will not get a second opportunity. Our photo today is literally one of a kind. It is from the tomb of Rekhmire in the Valley of the Nobles in Egypt. While my group visited the Valley of the Kings our guide arranged transportation for me to visit this unique tomb which shows the process of brick-making in ancient Egypt.

A guard at the tomb allowed me to enter and make ONE photo. I gave him a tip of $5.00. I asked to make another photo, but he showed no interest in a second payment. This is my only photo and I was pleased with it.

Brick Making from the Tomb of Rekhmire in the Valley of the Nobles. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Brick-making scene in the tomb of Rekhmire, Valley of the Nobles in lower Egypt..

In preparation for my tour I had enjoyed studying the Fall 2004 issue of Bible and Spade (Vol. 17 No. 4). Gary A. Byers wrote an article titled “The Bible According to Karnak.” I had become acquainted with Gary at the annual Near East Archaeological Society meetings and appreciated his work. Notice this paragraph which includes a mention of the scene above.

Also on the Nile’s west bank were the tombs of the nobles. Not being royally. they could not be buried within the Valley of Kings, the resting place of the Pharaohs they served. Within these tombs are colorful paintings of significant events in their lives. From Mena’s tomb (ca. 1385 RC) was a grain harvest scene that helps us imagine the seven years of plenty from Joseph’s time (Gn 41:47-49). The Tomb of Userhat (ca. 1280 BC) shows barbers cutting hair, also reminiscent of the Joseph story (Gn 4 1:14). From the Tomb of the Vizier Rekhmire (ca. 1470- 1445 BC) is a brickmaking and building scene depicting Asiatics from the actual period of the Israelites bondage (Ex 1:11 – 14; 5:7- 19).

We are not saying that these are Israelites, but that they are Asiatics from the same period that, according to the Bible, made brick and did other slave labor in Egypt.

These additional photos show more examples of brick making in Egypt.

Egyptian Brick Makers Model in the British Museum. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Model of brick making in ancient Egypt now displayed in the British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The text mentioned in Byers’ article says,

11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.
12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.
13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves
14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. (Exodus 1:11-14 ESV)

Exodus 5:7-19 specifically says that the Israelites were using straw to make brick. Our photo below, also from the British Museum, shows a brick with straw in it.

Brick with straw from ancient Egypt. British Museum. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This brick from ancient Egypt was made with straw. Displayed in the British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Bible and Spade article may be located online here. There you will find a drawing showing the brick making scene as well as other types of labor.

Bible and Spade is published four times a year by Associates for Biblical Research.

Ferrell’s Favorite Foto # 35 – Roman Milestone

In the IVP Bible Background Commentary Craig Keener says,

Roman soldiers had the legal right to impress the labor, work animal or substance of local residents (cf. Mk 15:21). Although impressment may not have happened often in Galilee, it happened elsewhere, and the fact that it could happen would be enough to raise the eyebrows of Jesus’ hearers at this example of nonresistance and even loving service to the oppressor. (Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Print.)

Though the milestone pictured below has been moved to the current location at Bethany Beyond (or across) the Jordan (in Jordan, John 1:28), it provided a beautiful setting. Our picture looks west to the Jordan Valley. The various buildings you see in the left part of the photo are mostly church buildings on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River. On the other side we see the eastern slopes of the Judean Wilderness. Jericho is in that general vicinity.

Milestone at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Roman period milestone at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the sermon recorded in Matthew 5-7 Jesus taught His disciples about the attitude they should have toward the Roman authorities.

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:41 ESV)

New Testament writers gave distances in their descriptions of travel from one city to another. Luke says that Emmaus was about seven miles from Jerusalem (Luke 24:13). John says that Bethany [not Beyond the Jordan] was about two miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18).

Milestones were common in Roman times and numerous ones have been found throughout the land of Israel. Most of them have now been moved to some of the small museums found throughout the land. The same is true of some in Jordan.

Most of the Roman roads for which we have remnants were built in the second half of the first century A.D. and in the second century. Certainly in many cases it is reasonable to think that these roads were built over dirt paths that already existed.

For documentation about the Roman Road System in Galilee see James F. Strange, “The Galilean Road System,” in Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods, vol. 1, Life, Culture, and Society (ed. David A. Fiensy and James Riley Strange; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 263-71 . Maps of the major and minor roads of Galilee are found in the front of the same volume.

David Graves has imposed known Roman roads in the vicinity of Bethany Beyond the Jordan on a Google Earth map here.

See one of our earlier post about Roman Roads and Milestones here.