Category Archives: Bible Places

The Wilderness of Judea – a Hard Way to Go

A portion of the Judean Wilderness is displayed in Green on this map, but it is a very dry area of the country. The walking trip from Jericho to Jerusalem takes at least 7 hours and 30 minutes. Made with BibleMapper.

John the Baptist preached in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:3), and Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1). Jesus spoke to the crowds about John this way:

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? (Luke 7:24 ESV)

This is a fairly typical view of the Wilderness of Judea at sea level. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The wilderness (Greek eremos) of Judea is described this way in Bauer (BDAG):

Of the Judean wilderness, the stony, barren eastern declivity of the Judean mountains toward the Dead Sea and lower Jordan Valley.

Wilderness of Judea. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

The wilderness of Judea a short distance west of Jericho. The shadows constantly change the appearance of the wilderness. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Hebrew word for this wilderness is midbar. Charles F. Pfeiffer said the wilderness of Judea,

is the region of rugged gorges and bad lands in the eastern part of Judah where the land slopes off toward the Jordan Valley. In ancient times this area was infested with wild animals. Except for a brief time during the spring rains the wilderness is arid. (Baker’s Bible Atlas, 201)

The Saint George monastery hangs along a cleft in the wilderness of Judea where the Wadi Kelt runs from near Jerusalem past Jericho. Notice the beautiful color shades here. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Many people who read the Bible in English, without checking into the matter, think of the wilderness as being a place filled with wild growth and underbrush. Jesus’ question to the crowds indicates that no reeds are to be found in the wilderness. In this case a picture really is worth a thousand words. This shows one of the many changing views one might see in the wilderness. This one was made in the month of November and shows a view west toward Jerusalem.

The wilderness of Judea stretches from the eastern slope of the central mountain range to the Jordan River. Of course, it extends much farther south along the Dead Sea.

Carchemish and the Rise of Babylon as a World Power

It was a day of high excitement at Carchemish in 605 B.C. when Pharaoh Neco came all the way from Egypt to this city now on the border between Syria and Turkey. On an earlier excursion from Egypt to Carchemish in 609 B.C., Neco killed Josiah, king of Judah, at Megiddo.

The map illustrating Pharaoh Neco’s trip to Carchemish is included in Bible Mapper v. 5. Click on the map to see a larger, more easily read, map.

Pharaoh Neco came to assist the Assyrians as they fought the Babylonians. But the emerging world power from the southern Euphrates city of Babylon overpowered the Assyrians and the Egyptians and sent Neco running back to Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, chased Neco to the border of Egypt.

It is still exciting at Carchemish. I have been within sight of Carchemish a few times. Military installations are clearly visible on top of the tell. The first time I was near Carchemish was in 1995. The tour operator handling my tour in Turkey advised me not to go to Carchemish (Karkamis) because it is “zero on the border” of Turkey and Syria. You may see other photos of Carchemish by using the search box with that word.

This photo was made in Turkey. The site of ancient Carchemish can be seen in the distance to the left of center. The River Euphrates makes a left turn before the mound and continues to flow into Syria and Iraq before flowing into the Persian Gulf. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jerash (Gerasa) in Jordan

Jerash is also called Gerasa and Jarash. It was founded by Alexander the Great about 332 B.C., but declined as an important city about 300 B.C. The ruins are seen today are principally from the second century A.D. Roman city. We can imagine what the city of the time of Jesus looked like.

Gerasa/Jerash

This map shows the relationship of Gerasa/Jerash to Galilee, the principal area of Jesus’ ministry. Photo prepared with BibleMapper v.5. ferrelljenkins.blog.

Jerash is located in a well-watered valley in the mountains of Gilead. The modern village is inhabited mostly by Circassians, who were brought there by the Turks in the last part of the 19th century.

Hadrian's Arch, Jerash, Jordan. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

The Triumphal Arch was constructed at the time of the visit of the Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 129. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A German traveler named Seetzen rediscovered Gerash for the Western world in 1806. Excavations were begun in the 1920s. The main points of interest include the following: Triumphal Arch (built in 129 A.D. to celebrate Hadrian’s visit; Oval-shaped Forum (only one of its kind from the Roman period, from 1st century); Temple of Artemis (columns are 45 feet high with Corinthian capitals); Cathedral Church (ca. A.D. 350-375). Thirteen Byzantine churches have been excavated at Jerash.

Cardo from Roman city Jerash, Jordan. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

A view of the cardo of Jerash in Jordan. Jerash was one of the cities of the Decapolis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

People from the Decapolis followed Jesus during His ministry in Galilee. Jerash was the second largest city of the Decapolis, after Damascus (Matthew 4:23-25). When Jesus traveled through the Decapolis he possibly visited the area around Jerash (Mark 7:31).

Ferrell’s Favorite Foto #38 – a thistle

Our favorite foto today was made near Tel Goded, also known as Tell el-Judeideh. This mound has been suggested as the site of Moresheth-gath, the home of the prophet Micah (1:14; see The Sacred Bridge, 170). This site is located on the Israel National Trail.

Tel Goded, also known as Tell el-Judeideh, may be the location of Moresheth-gath, the home of the prophet Micah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our photo was made near an underground spring, or possibly a cistern, just outside the lower right corner of the photo.

This map was created using BibleMapper 5. Moresheth-gath is located 5.9 miles from Lachish. The suggest site for Libnah is known today as Tel Burna.

Thorns and thistles are mentioned as a plant more or less worthless. As a result of man’s sin, the earth was to bring forth thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18-19). Jesus said that false prophets could be recognized by their fruits. He said, “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:15-16, ESV).

A large variety of thorns and thistles grow throughout the bible lands. During the rainy season many of them produce beautiful flowers, but later on they become a real problems to those who wish to walk through the fields. Peter may be drawing on this figure when he says, “Therefore, gird your minds for action”  (1 Peter 1:13 NAS). Just as a person of that time would gird up their flowing garment to keep it from hanging on the encroaching thistles along the path they were walking. We miss the imagery with our newer versions that say something like, “preparing your minds for action” (ESV).

William Barclay says,

He tells them to gird up the loins of their mind. This is a deliberately vivid phrase. In the east men wore long flowing robes which hindered fast progress or strenuous action. Round the waist they wore a broad belt or girdle; and when strenuous action was necessary they shortened the long robe by pulling it up within the belt in order to give them freedom of movement. The English equivalent of the phrase would be to roll up one’s sleeves or to take off one’s jacket. Peter is telling his people that they must be ready for the most strenuous mental endeavour. They must never be content with a flabby and unexamined faith; they must set to and think things out and think them through. It may be that they will have to discard some things. It may be that they will make mistakes. But what they are left with will be theirs in such a way that nothing and nobody can ever take it away from them. (Barclay, William, ed. The Letters of James and Peter. Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976. Print. The Daily Study Bible Series.)

I looked through several books showing the plants of the bible lands as well as the Thorns and Thistles photos in the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. I think this is the Holy Milk Thistle, sometimes called Mary’s thistle.

Butterfly, thistle, insect near Tel Goded. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

A beautiful butterfly on a thistle near Tel Goded (T. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

What makes this photo a favorite is not only that it is a thistle but that it also has a beautiful butterfly on it. If you look closely you may also see an insect, but you can’t miss the sharp thorns.

The comment by G. E. Post in the old Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible, is interesting – even colorful.

There is probably no country on earth of the same extent which has so many plants with prickles and thorns as the Holy Land. One would be tempted to believe that this is a providential provision to protect them from the ravages of goats, asses, and camels, were it not that the mouths of these creatures are provided with a mucous membrane so tough that it seems impervious to thorns.

Illustrating Isaiah 1:18

In preparation of an article about Tel Sharuhen in the Negev of Israel I ran across several photos of sheep grazing in the area. I see this photo as a good illustration of Isaiah 1:18.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18 ESV)

Recently born lambs "as white as snow" (Isaiah 1:18). FerrellJenkins.blog.

Recently born lambs provide a stark contrast to the older sheep. See Isaiah 1:18. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Beautiful mound covers the site of ancient Lystra

The mound of Lystra, now called Zordula, is located about 18 miles south of Konya (biblical Iconium), Turkey, near the village of Hatunsaray.

Lystra was visited by Paul and Barnabas on the First Missionary or Preaching Journey (Acts 14). Lystra and Derbe were towns of Lycaonia (Acts 14:6). The locals spoke the Lycaonian language. They called Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes (14:12). Inscriptions have been found that identify these particular gods with Lycaonia.

This was the home of young Timothy, “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1). Timothy accepted the invitation of Paul to join him on the second journey. Two of Paul’s epistles were written to Timothy.

The mound of Lystra, 18 miles south of modern Konya. View to the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Gibeah of Saul

Gibeah in 1980-81. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Gibeah of Saul. Scanned from a 1980 or 1981 slide. View from the east. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Gibeah from the east. The town in the foreground is the Israeli town of Pisgat Ze'ev Mizrah. Photo: ferrelljenkns.blog.

This is a modern view of Tall al Ful (formerly called Tell el-Ful) from the west side town of Pisgat Ze’ev Mizrah. Notice the structure on top of the mound. Explanation below.

It is not uncommon in the Palestinian territory for houses to be built along the slopes of a tell if not the top. See this next picture as an example of the encroachment.

Construction in progress on the mound of ancient Gibeah. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Construction underway that encroaches on the mound of ancient Gibeah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Israel’s first king was a man of the tribe of Benjamin named Saul. The Bible records that he was from Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:26). More than once the text refers to the town as “Gibeah of Saul” (1 Samuel 11:4; Isaiah 10:29).

Location of Gibeah of Saul

Gibeah of Saul in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. Made with BibleMapper 5.

Gibeah was located about three miles north of Jerusalem on a main road leading north at an elevation of more than 2700 feet, about 300 feet higher than Jerusalem. It was a city of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 14:16) and is presently called Tal al-Ful (hill of beans) by the Arabs. William F. Albright excavated Gibeah during 1922 and 1933. From the time of King Saul, in the second half of the 11th century B.C., Albright found “a corner tower and part of the adjacent wall” (Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine, p. 120). The southwest tower of the fortress had three rooms and the indication was that the whole structure was at least two stories high. Some modern scholars have called this identification in question.

Reconstructed citadel excavated by Albright at Tall al-Ful.

King Hussein of Jordan was in the process of building a palace on top of this impressive mound when Israel occupied the territory in June, 1967. The unfinished structure can still be seen.

The unfinished summer royal palace of King Hussein of Jordan. Photo: Todd Bolen, Pictorial Library of Bible Places.

And finally, here is another view made from Pisgat Ze’ev.

Gibeah of Saul. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Gibeah (Tall al-Ful) View from Pisgat Ze’ev to the east of the mound. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Saul at Bethshan (Beth-shan, Beit She’an)

The Israelis call it Beit She’an, but English Bible readers will know it as Bethshan or Beth-shan. The town is mentioned only a few times in the Old Testament. The English Standard Version uses both Beth-shan and Beth-shean to identify this town. Other English versions use a variety of spellings including Bethshan.

From atop the ancient tell, called Tell el-Husn or Tel Beth She’an, one has an impressive view of the area. Occupational levels date back at least to 3000 B.C. Artifacts from Canaan, Egypt, Anatolia, north Syria, and Mesopotamia have been uncovered from the mound.

The photo below was made from the air with a view north. The Nahal (River) Harod flows to the north of the tel hidden by the line of trees. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Tel Husn/Bethshan and Roman Theater and Byzantine city. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Tel Husn (Bethshan) and the Byzantine and Roman city of Bethshan/Sychopolis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For many Bible students the first event that comes to mind is the defeat of King Saul at the hands of the Philistines. After his death on nearby Mount Gilboa, Saul’s body was taken to Bethshan and fastened to the wall of the city (1 Samuel 31).

View of Mount Gilboa from atop Tel Husn (Bethshan). Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

From atop Tel Husn (Bethshan) we have a wonderful view of Mount Gilboa where Saul and Jonathan died. From this elevation and position we do not see the excavated ruins of Bethshan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When we first began touring Israel only the Roman theater and the ancient tel were visible. The area between the two was covered by grass. After much excavation we now see an outline of the Byzantine city.

Some flowers of Mount Gilboa

Mount Gilboa figures prominently in the death of Saul and Jonathan. At this time in the appropriate season there are many beautiful flowers scattered here and there among the rocks.

The most famous flower of Mount Gilboa is the Gilboa Iris (Iris haynei). When a guide friend saw me at the hotel and asked where I had been he asked if I had seen the black Iris. My answer is still no, but I would like to. The photo below is available on Wikipedia. It is one of those flowers I wish I had made.

The Gilboa Iris. udi Steinwell / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)

Here I am treading on floral landmines and I will gladly defer to several people I know who are much better informed about the flora of Israel. But I wanted to share a couple of photos that I made on Mount Gilboa.

Spring flower on Mount Gilboa. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Spring flower, possibly a Crown Anemone, on Mount Gilboa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

Spring flower on Mount Gilboa. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Perhaps a Hollyhock on Mount Gilboa in the spring. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Spring flowers on Mount Gilboa. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

White spring flowers, possibly in the Ainsworthia group, growing on Mount Gilboa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Kind comments are now open.

The death of Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa

Many significant battles have taken place along the Jezreel Valley corridor. See here for more details. One of them was the death of Saul by his own choice in the battle against the Philistines. I have chosen a few phrases about Gilboa used by Zev Vilnay, Israel Guide. Vilnay’s guide was the one to have when I first began touring and I still check it frequently.

“Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!… “You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor fields of offerings! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.… “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided;…“How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! “Jonathan lies slain on your high places.…“How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” (selections from 2 Samuel 1:19-27 ESV)

So far as I know there is not a way to know the precise spot where Saul and Jonathan died, but this spot which provides a good lookout over the eastern Jezreel Valley is sometimes called Ketif Shaul or the Shoulder of Saul.

Mount Gilboa – Ketif Shaul = shoulder of Saul. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins. For this image I used Landscape Pro filter in Topaz AI.

Click on the photo for a larger image. I am sure there are preachers who could “wax elephant” with the help of this photo. You are welcome to use it.