Category Archives: Bible Places

Articles on Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus

Recent readers may not have noticed our header having a link on Indexes (Indices). If you go there you will find an Index of articles on Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus. At this time of the year when many are thinking about the birth of Jesus and it’s meaning for all mankind I thought it would be good to call attention to these articles and photos. There have been several good comments and discussions about the date of the birth of Jesus.

I have many photos of shepherds and sheep, but not one of shepherds watching their sheep by night in the vicinity of Bethlehem. I do have some photos of shepherds with their sheep in the sheepfold at Heshbon in Jordan. I had been at Heshbon one afternoon visiting with the shepherds and making photos. When I saw their makeshift sheepfold I asked if I could come back in the evening and make some photos. The photo here is one made a dusk after the sheep had been gathered into the sheepfold. The shepherd and his family live in the tent. Heshbon was a former Moabite town given to the tribe of Reuben after the Israelites captured the Trans-Jordan tableland (Numbers 32:37).

Shepherds watching their sheep by night at Heshbon in Jordan.
Shepherds at Heshbon watching their flock at night.

To access the articles on Bethlehem click through here.

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.

King Tutankhamun’s Tomb opened 100 years ago today

King Tut was opened and the treasures from the 14th century B.C. were The popular press reminds us here that 100 years ago today the tomb of revealed.

In the early years of leading tours, beginning in 1967, we visited Egypt on every tour. The treasures of the young king were displayed in the Cairo Museum. I, and those traveling with me, were always amazed by the large number of treasures displayed. Much gold and other materials of value are on display.

I don’t recall the first visit to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings where so many of the ancient Egyptian kings are buried. The photo that I am sharing with you today was made about 1978. Whatever the year the tomb was open to visitors. Later the tomb was closed to visitors in order to protect the ancient sarcophagus and the gold coffin of the king.

My slide was scanned by Imagers in Atlanta sometime between 1999 and 2004. I think it would be closer to the beginning date.

Granite sarcophagus of Egyptian king Tut. Photo by FerrellJenkins.blog.

The granite sarcophagus of King Tut in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. This scan made by Imagers between 1999 and 2004. Photo slide made by Ferrell Jenkins, probably about 1978.

Here is the largest wall painting showing servants of the king serving him in the afterlife. This motif is prominent in many of the tombs.

Wall in King Tut's tomb showing servants caring for his needs in the afterlife.

Slide converted by Imagers between 1999 and 2004/
Photo made by Ferrell Jenkins about 1978.

Bible students recall that Abraham, and later the family of Jacob, spent time in Egypt. This brings us to Moses. He lived more than a century before King Tut and could have become the son of a Pharaoh. Here is the way the writer of Hebrews describes his refusal to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Heb. 11:24-26 ESV)

The gold face mask of King Tut has been on display in the Cairo Museum every time I have visited.

Face mask of King Tut in the Cairo Museum.

The Face Mask of King Tut displayed in Cairo Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

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.

Like Almond Blossoms

There is emphasis in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament that the biblical tabernacle and its furniture were made according to the pattern given by God (Exodus 25:9;

“And on the lampstand itself were four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes [bulbs, knops, cups] and flowers,” (Exodus 37:20; Hebrews 8:5 ESV).

Earlier this year I made some pictures of almond trees in bloom at a site overlooking the Lebonah valley, on the north side of Shiloh. It is, in my judgment, a thing of beauty.

An almond blossom at a site overlooking the Lebonah Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
An almond blossom at a site overlooking the Lebonah Valley north of Shiloh.

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).

The Appian Way

During his preaching journeys, the apostle Paul used several of the famous Roman roads. On the way to Rome as a prisoner he traveled the Appian Way (Latin Via Appia).

The Appian Way on the south side of Rome.

There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him. (Acts 28:14-16 ESV)

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.