Category Archives: Bible Study

The Desert in Egypt

The Sahara, an Arabic word for desert stretches all the way across northern Africa. I have been able to visit deep into Morocco and in most parts of Egypt. The desert is impressive, but it is not a place one would wish to get lost.

Camels are suited to desert travel because they can drink large amounts of water and travel long distances between watering holes of one sort or another.

Along the Nile River one may see a few areas of greenery but much of the area is desert. Portions of it are covered by sand.

The story of Gideon and his 300 men includes information about the Midianites and Amalekites who had entered the promised land from the East.

And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance (Judges 7:12 ESV).

My first photo for today was made along the Nile River at the point of the first cataract near Aswan.

This photo was made along the Nile River at the first cataract of the Nile near Aswan.
Part of a camel caravan in the eastern Sinai peninsula.
A shy young camel takes a peak at the bigger world under the protection of Mom. In this area the desert is more rocky than sandy.

I rode a camel on very few occasions during my fifty-plus years of traveling in the Middle East. Having been brought up in the rural south in the 40s and 50s of the last century I heard and read the expression “I would walk a mile for a camel” I developed my own saying: “I would walk a mile to avoid a camel.”

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.

Leading sheep beside quiet waters

David is known as a shepherd in the Bible. We are informed that he made regular trips back and forth from the Elah Valley where his older brothers were engaged in a battle with the Philistines to Bethlehem to feed his father’s sheep (1 Samuel 17). Later, the LORD called David to shepherd His people. It is a fact that shepherds were and are honored people in the villages of the Bible world.

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh.
2 In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the LORD said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.'”
3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel.
4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.
5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.
6 And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”– thinking, “David cannot come in here.”
7 Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. (2 Samuel 5:1-7 ESV)

Traveling in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and other countries of the Bible world we see numerous examples that illustrate the Bible teaching and examples.

The photo below has been scanned from a slide made in 1982 in the Wadi Farah (or Faria) near the Biblical site of Tirza (now known as Tel Farah North).

A shepherd guides his sheep in green pastures beside still  waters. This image is scanned from a slide I made in May 1982.
Sheep grazing beside still or quiet water.

Streams in the Negev (Negeb; South)

Nelson Glueck (pronounced Glick), wrote Rivers in the Desert, a History of the Negev, in 1959. This book is still fascinating to read. You may find a few words in the following quotation that are rarely heard in our daily conversations. A wadi is a dry river (Nahal) or creek bed that is filled with water during the rain seasons in Israel.

Read Glueck’s description of the…

Terraces built across wadi beds to brake and exact tribute from the occasional winter and spring freshets, cisterns and reservoirs dug and plastered watertight to be filled from their meed [a now-archaic word meaning deserved share or reward] against the certainty of many a rainless day, and all the other devices perfected or invented by the Nabataeans and utilized and even expanded in instances by their immediate successors, could never accomplish for the countryside at large the miracles of rebirth that: a single rainfall over a wide area was able to perform. The grass and flowers fairly spring up after the first shower or storm, and the grim desert becomes a colorful garden overnight. It is as if a magic wand had been passed over the face of the earth. Flocks of birds suddenly make their appearance then, to sing and to swoop about in happy flight, and bands of gazelles and ibexes graze and cavort through the lush green. Camels and goats and sheep and their young wax fat. They drink their fill at pools of water collected in hollows, making it unnecessary for months on end to find other supplies for them. Springs flow more strongly, wells rise to their highest levels and the underground water is replenished in the wadi beds, there to remain long after the flowers have faded and the grass has withered and gone. Sturdy shrubs remain green all summer long because their roots tap the subsurface moisture. This is particularly true where the wadis are wide and shallow and terraced, with the result that the rain waters tend to sink into the ground. Otherwise, if unhindered, they race down narrow gullies and dry stream beds, stripping off the covering soil and gouging out for themselves ever deeper canyons. (Nelson Glueck. Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev.  Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev. New York: Norton, 1968; 92-93.)

I can’t begin to show you photos of every element mentioned by Glueck in this paragraph, but I will show you a couple of photos from the Wadi Zin in the Negev. First, here is a map from the from the wonderful collection on David P. Barrett’s Bible Mapper Blog.

Our first photo is a view of Wadi Zin a few miles south of Avdat in the Negev of Israel.

Wadi Zin in the Negev of Israel.

You will see evidence here of water having been at high levels. Various shrubs grow where the water remains the longest.

The next photo shows how the swift water cuts it way through the rocks.

The Wadi Zin.

Renewed excavations at Ebla, a pre-patriarchal site

A recent report here says that after years of devastation during the war in Syria the site of Ebla will once again be excavated.

My only visit to Ebla was in 2002 when my fellow-professor David McClister and I spent three weeks in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. This means I do not have hi-res photos, except for a few slides that I have had digitized, but I am delighted to have any photos. At the site I picked up a small booklet, Tell Mardikh — Ebla, written by Faja Haj Muhammad that gives a short presentation of the history and remains of the kingdom of ancient Ebla. I will share a couple of photos with some brief info from that book.

The first photo provides a view of the archaeological mound or tell.

Scanned slide made of the tell at Ebla in May, 2002.

The Royal Archives. In 1975 the excavators discovered a square room west of the Administrative Wing, on the wall, filled with 17,000 clay tablets. The large square tablets had been on shelves. The small round ones were found in baskets on the floor.

This photo was made May 11, 2002 as a slide. It has been digitized and now enhanced a little.

… the texts were placed according to their subject, and different subjects corresponded to different shapes of tablet.

… There are administrative, economical, historical, judicial, religious texts. The writing is cuneiform. The language is a local language, now called by scholars (Eblaite), which belongs to the same family as Akkadian of Mesopotamia.

The Western Palace and the Archive are dated to the first golden age of Ebla, 2400–2250 B.C. This is long before the time of Abraham who lived north of Ebla at Haran in Padan Aram for a time. Haran is about 150 miles north of Ebla.

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.  (Genesis 12:4 ESV)

Isaac took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram to be his wife (Genesis 25:20). Jacob spent more than two decades in the same area. Most of the children of Jacob (= Israel) were born in the region.

God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. (Genesis 35:9 ESV)

Shearing Sheep in Bible Times

An Illustration from the life of David

The wool from one sheep at shearing time. This photo was made in Syria near the ancient site of Kadesh where the famous battle between the Egyptians and the Hittites took place.

David is well known as a shepherd. An interesting episode from his life is recorded in 1 Samuel 25.

4 David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep.
5 So David sent ten young men. And David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name.
6 And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.
7 I hear that you have shearers. Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing all the time they were in Carmel. (1 Sam. 25:4-7 ESV)

A common expression among the Jews was that goats were kept for milk, hens for eggs, and sheep for wool. The wool could be converted into clothing for the family. I have seen Bedouin milking sheep.

Shepherd family living in tents in northwest Syria. Note the woman milking the sheep from the rear.

The wool was converted to yarn, primarily by the women of the village, to be used in the making of clothing for the family.

This yarn has been dyed to be used for making clothing by the women at Nazareth Village.

The good shepherd

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2 ESV). Shepherds bring their sheep to green pastures at Azekah. Photo made March 10, 2022.

The Stadium at Laodicea

Hurriyet Daily News, a Turkish newspaper, reported a few years ago here on plans to reconstruct the ancient stadium in Laodicea. Laodicea is known to Bible students from the book of Revelation (1:11; 3:14-22), and from Paul’s epistle to the Colossians.

For I bear him [Epaphras] witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:13-16 ESV)

Laodicea is located about 100 miles east of Ephesus, five miles from the modern Turkish town of Denizli, and near the popular resort of Pamukkale.

When I first began traveling to visit the sites of the Seven Churches of the book of Revelation, all we could see at Laodicea was the form of the stadium and ruins of a nymphaeum (a fountain house). If we walked across the mound to the north we could see the location of two theaters. That was about it.

In recent years tourists have seen many new excavations and reconstructions on the north side of the tell, but few walked through the weeds to get to the stadium.

Originally the stadium was an enclosed structure used for gladiatorial games. An inscription tells that a wealthy family dedicated it to Emperor Vespasian (A.D. 69-79) and Emperor Titus (A.D. 79-81). It is said to be the biggest stadium in Anatolia.

Vespasian and Titus are known for their war with the Jews beginning in A.D. 66, and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

The stadium at Laodicea in May, 2008. The view is to the east with Mount Cadmus in sight. Colossae is located in that area.

In August of 2021 there is no green left in the area. The view here is to the southwest.

Through the years of leading tours to the Bible lands I have observed that some travelers see the land at a particular time of the year and conclude that the land looks like that all years. Big mistake.

The Stadium in New Testament Times

Aphrodisias, located in southwest Turkey, was an ancient city of Caria in Asia Minor. It is not mentioned in the Bible, but is close to the cities of Laodicea, Hierapolis and Colossae. Robert F. Tannenbaum, an ancient historian, describes the location of the city this way:

A quiet, fertile valley folded into the Mediterranean hills, clear streams, tall poplars, ancient ruins more than 1,400 years old—a picture of pastoral quiet. (Biblical Archaeology Review, Sept/Oct 1986)

BibleMapper_Aphrodisiash

The map above is cropped from the set of BibleMapper maps now available at
https://biblemapper.com/blog//. Aphrodisias is clearly marked.

The site has been excavated since 1966, beginning under the direction of Kenan Erim of New York University. Marble was readily available at a nearby quarry and the excavation has brought to light a multitude of marble inscriptions and statues from the Roman period including a statue of the Emperor Domitian. Buildings include a theater, an agora, a bath, temples, and a well-preserved stadium.

Louw-Nida describes a stadium as an “open, oval area (frequently including a racetrack) around which was built an enclosed series of tiers of seats for those who came to watch the spectacles – arena, stadium.” When Paul spoke of running the race in 1 Corinthians 9:24, he used the Greek term stadion. The term was also used as a measure of distance and is found in John 6:19. It was about one-eighth of a Roman mile. Most large Greek and Roman cities had a stadium. The figure of the stadium is in mind in Hebrews 12:1-2, where a host of witnesses watch as we run the race.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

The stadium at Aphrodisias is the best preserved I have seen and I wanted to share with you the photo I made in 2012. Picture yourself in the stadium.

Aphrodisias

The Beauty of the Bible Land

Israel, and the other lands of the Bible, have a unique beauty at any time of the year. The transitional period we call Spring is especially beautiful in Israel. Our recent trip in March illustrates this. Most of the year the Judean wilderness is barren, but after the winter rains it is covered in light green vegetation. This photo shows the Wadi Og a few miles east of the Mount of Olives.

Wadi Og in the Wilderness of Judea.

At En-Gedi (or Engedi) we saw one of the Ibex roaming for a bite of grass here and there. King Saul learned that David was in the wilderness of En-Gedi and tried to capture him there (1 Samuel 24:1).

Wild goats (Hebrew ya’el) are mentioned in a few Old Testament passages (1 Samuel 24:2; Job 39:1; Psalm 104:18; Prov. 5:19). This animal is often identified with the Ibex.

At Engedi we also saw this beautiful scene of a broom tree on the shore of the Dead Sea. The Broom tree is a shrub that grows large enough to provide shade for the traveler as it did for Elijah when he fled from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:4-5).

A small, lonely broom tree on the shores of the Dead Sea at the time of a stormy sunset. The mountains of Moab, in Jordan, are visible across the sea. After water, shade is the most important thing for the traveler in the desert.

In the Spring of the year, after the winter rains, beautiful flowers of the field are to be seen throughout the land. Jesus made reference to these flowers: “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Matthew 6:28-29 ESV)

While we may never be certain about a particular flower the Anemone certainly provides a wonderful illustration. The photo below was made on Mount Gilboa, but I made numerous photos of the flowers of the field throughout the land.

Anemones growing on Mount Gilboa.