Category Archives: Church History

Billy Graham and Temple Terrace, Florida

Word comes this morning about the death of renowned evangelist Billy Graham at the age of 99.

During the years when I actively participated in the annual professional meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature I was frequently asked if Florida College, Temple Terrace, FL, where I taught, was where Billy Graham went to college.

The answer was “Yes” and “No.” Graham attended Florida Bible Institute which was founded in 1940. The campus was already a historic location. In the pre-Depression years it had been the home of a well-known resort, including a hotel associated with the Palmer family of Chicago, and a beautiful golf course. I don’t know why, but Florida Bible Institute soon moved to New Port Richey, FL, and became known as Trinity College of Florida.

For a few years the property in Temple Terrace was unoccupied. During the War years the buildings were used to house soldiers from a nearby air base (where Busch Garden, Tampa, is now located). Florida Christian College (now Florida College) was founded as a private liberal arts college in 1946 on the same campus.

A few years ago several agencies interested in claiming an association with Billy Graham dedicated a little park on the banks of the Hillsborough River a few steps from Florida College in Temple Terrace. I thought some readers would enjoy seeing these photographs of the park. The marker is in the center of the photo.

Billy Graham Historical Marker in a small park on the Hillsborough River, Temple Terrace, FL. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Billy Graham Historical Marker in a small park on the Hillsborough River, Temple Terrace, FL. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our next photo shows the marker and the Hillsborough River where, or near where, Graham is said to have practiced his early sermons.

The Graham historical marker on the banks of the Hillsborough River.

The Graham historical marker on the banks of the Hillsborough River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For those who wish to read the marker I have included this close up. You may click on the photo for a larger image.

Billy Graham Historical marker in Temple Terrace, F. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Billy Graham Historical marker in Temple Terrace, F. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Even if one does not agree with Graham’s religious views, he/she must acknowledge the role he played in American religious life over the past four score years.

Myra, home of Saint Nicholas

The town Myra is known to students of the New Testament as a place where Paul transferred ships while he was being taken to Rome for trial before Caesar (Acts 27:5).

In the centuries following, Myra became the home of a (Greek Orthodox) bishop known as Nicholas. Born in Patara, Nicholas died December 6, 343. Several legends arose around Nicholas who was noted for giving gifts to the poor and raising the dead.

Highly revered in Greece and Russia, St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, and scholars. From his life of piety, kindness, and generosity arose the legendary figure celebrated today as St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, or Santa Claus. (Fant & Reddish, A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, 256)

The ancient Myra is associated with the modern Turkish town Demre (or Kale). I thought you might enjoy seeing a few pictures related to Saint Nicholas. In the town square is a recent statue showing St. Nicholas with children. The statue was a gift of the Russian government in 2000. Many Russian tourists were visiting the day I was there.

Modern statue of Saint Nicholas at Myra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Modern statue of Saint Nicholas at Myra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A few decades ago I saw an older statue near the entrance to the church. It now has a fresh coat of black paint.

Older statue of St. Nicholas near the entrance of the Byzantine church ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Older statue of St. Nicholas near the entrance of the Byzantine church ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Byzantine church dates to the 6th century A.D. Several writers point out that the sarcophagus of Nicholas was broken into by Italian merchants in 1087 A.D., and his bones were taken to Bari, Italy.

This is said to be the sarcophagus of St. Nicholas. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is said to be the sarcophagus of St. Nicholas. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wilson says the church is built like a basilica “in the shape of an orthodox cross” (Biblical Turkey 88).

Older statue of St. Nicholas near the entrance of the Byzantine church ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Older statue of St. Nicholas near the entrance of the Byzantine church ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On the left side of the apse there is a fresco of St. Nicholas. On a previous posting about Myra reader Al Sandalow sent me a few photos he made in the area including one of the fresco. I now have some photos, but I think Al’s is better and I post it here with thanks.

Fresco of Saint Nicholas in the church at Myra. Photo by Al Sandalow.

Fresco in the church of Saint Nicholas at Myra. Photo by Al Sandalow.

Tourism seems to be thriving at Myra even though the town is off the beaten track. Whether there are any Christians living in the town is doubtful.

For an earlier post about Myra and St. Nicholas, see here.

This is an edited re-post, with additional photos, from December 22, 2012

The Reformation after 500 years

Five hundred years ago a monk by the name of Martin Luther (1483-1546) is said to have posted 95 Theses, propositions for discussion or debate, on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. From that time the Reformation grew and experienced many divisions.

Our little album of some of the leaders of the Reformation is just a reminder of the work done by these individuals. Many of them did not see clearly the teaching of the New Testament scriptures, but they knew that changes were necessary in the Roman Catholic Church which had dominated both the religious and political thinking of Europe for many centuries.

The first photo is of a statue of Luther in Wittenberg.

Statue of Marin Luther in the Wittenberg Church. It was here that Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Statue of Martin Luther in the Wittenberg, Germany, Church. It was here that Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was a leader in the Reformation in eastern Switzerland. He took a more conservative stance than Luther on a number of issues.

Statue of Ulrich Zwingli, Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Statue of Ulrich Zwingli, Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

John Knox (c. 1514-1572) is known as a leader in the founding of the Presbyterian Church. In this statue Knox is portrayed as pointing to the Bible as the message of the Reformation.

Early leaders of the American Restoration Movement, such as Barton W. Stone, Thomas Campbell, and Alexander Campbell, were Presbyterians. Through their study of the Scripture they came to differ with Knox and other Reformers on the doctrine of Predestination, sprinkling as a mode of baptism, and the use of creeds.

Statue of John Knox in St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Statue of John Knox in St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I have seen the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland, but it has been many years ag0. The reformers who are shown on this monument are left to right: Guillaume Farel, Johannes Calvin, Theodore de Beze, and John Knox.

The Reformation Wall, Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Ruth Nguyen.

The Reformation Wall, Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Ruth Nguyen (Vietnamese Wikipedia)..

There were earlier leaders of what some call Forerunners of the Reformation. These include such men as Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, John Hus, and Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). Savonarola was known as a Dominican scholar in Florence, Italy. His opposition seemed to be less doctrinal and more pointed at the moral failings of the Church. A marker indicated the place where he was burned at the stake in Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy.

Tourists in Florence, Italy, seem to walk around the plaque marking the site where Savonarola was martyred. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tourists in Florence, Italy, seem to walk around the plaque marking the site where Savonarola was martyred. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Eye Witness Travel Guide of Italy (DK) says,

The piazza’s statues … commemorate the city’s historical events, but its most famous episode is celebrated by a simple pavement plaque near the loggia, the execution of the religious leader Girolamo Savonarola, who was burned at the stake.

Savonarola marker in Florence, Italy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Plaque marking the martyrdom of Savonarola in Florence, Italy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the earliest Pre-Reformers was Jan Hus in Prague, now part of the Czech Republic.

The Hus Monument in the Town Square of Prague. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Hus Monument in the Town Square of Prague. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Martin Muller gives this little sketch about Hus and the movement associated with him.

The large monument in the middle of the Old Town Square in Prague is the statue of the reformer Jan Hus (John Huss), one of the most important personalities in Czech history. A hundred years before the Protestant Reformation was started by Martin Luther, Jan Hus was burnt as a heretic for reformist ideas.

Master Jan Hus (c. 1373-1415), the dean of the Charles University in Prague, criticized church practices such as selling indulgence. He used to preach in the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague and he was excommunicated by the pope for his ideas in 1410. Despite that, he continued in preaching and he had many followers in Prague, that´s why the pope interdicted the whole city of Prague in 1414. Finally, Jan Hus was invited to the Council in Constance and he was asked to renounce his ideas. He refused, and he was burnt at the stake as a heretic on 6 th July 1415.

The influence of these men is felt far and wide even by those who can not recite their names or locations.

Note: I intended this post to be several weeks earlier, but have had a computer drive failure. Who knows what the article would have been like had I been able to complete it earlier?

Sea of Galilee now 703 feet below sea level

A headline in a recent The Times of Israel reads,

“Thirsty Sea of Galilee sinking toward lowest level ever recorded.”

The article by Melanie Lidman reports that…

Northern Israel is experiencing one of the worst droughts in 100 years, leaving the country’s water tables with a deficit of 2.5 billion cubic liters of water, compared to non-drought years, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor announced on Monday.

Lidman says,

The Sea of Galilee is currently at 214.13 meters (703 feet) below sea level, or 1.10 meters (3.6 feet) below the lower red line.

She adds that the Sea of Galilee reached a similar level in 2001 and 2008. When I first studied Bible Geography back in 1953 we learned from popular Bible atlases that the Sea of Galilee was 596 feet below sea level.

This gauge at Tiberias measures the level of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This gauge at Tiberias measures the level of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The article discusses the social and climatic problems Israel is facing today, and is well-worth the read.

The late Mendel Nun, of En Gev, discovered no less than 16 bustling ports from the time of Jesus. When the harbors and anchorages were originally built the water level was about 695 feet below sea level, considerably lower than in recent time. (See “Ports of Galilee.” BAR 25:04, July/Aug 1999).

Droughts in recent years have brought about changing water levels. We know that the famous Roman boat now displayed at Nof Ginosar was found when the water level was low in 1986. This also allowed the discovery of additional ports.

During the time I have been visiting Israel (since 1967), I have seen these changes in the water level of the lake and have mentioned it in several posts. Here I wish to use Tabgha (Heptapegon = the place of seven springs) as an illustration.

The Church of the Primacy of Peter was built in 1933. A good case can be made for this being the location where Jesus called some of His disciples to become fishers of men (Luke 5:1-11), and where Jesus met His disciples after the resurrection (John 21). The issue of the primacy of Peter over the other apostles is a matter for theological and exegetical study which I think comes up short.

The chapel is built on a large rock called the Mensi Domini (the Lord’s Table) where it is said Jesus prepared breakfast for the disciples.

In this 1980 photo you see the water reaching the building.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The rock-cut steps were mentioned by Egeria (about AD 383), but we do not know when they were cut. Now take a look at the same location in December of 2009 when the water was low.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

These 2009 photos were made during a personal study trip with Leon Mauldin. While we were enjoying the quietness of the experience a group of tourists came to hunt for a special souvenir rock or shell to take home. I made the next picture from the edge of the water to illustrate how far the water had receded.

These photos were made during a personal study trip that Leon Mauldin and I made in 2009. While we were enjoying the quietness of the experience a group of tourists came to hunt for a special souvenir rock or shell to take home. I made the next picture from the edge of the water to illustrate how far the water had receded.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hopefully this illustration from Tabgha will allow us to see how the harbors that had become lost in time could become known in the past few years.

Dr. James Turner Barclay remembered in the Cathedral of St. George, Jerusalem

A little more than two years ago I wrote two posts about the discovery of Solomon’s Quarries (also called Zedekiah’s Cave) here and here. I will reproduce only a few comments from those articles in hope that you will check them and the many photos I have included there.

Portrait of Dr. James Turner Barclay from about 1848.

Portrait of Dr. James Turner Barclay engraved by John Sartain. This image may also be found on the Scottsville Museum (Virginia) web page here. The photo is from Barclay’s book, The City of the Great King (1858).

Dr. James Turner Barclay was sent to Jerusalem by the American Christian Missionary Society in 1851 as a medical and evangelistic missionary. During his first trip he stayed until 1854 and returned for a second stint from 1858 to 1861. Barclay was active in medical work, treating more than 2,000 cases of malaria during his first year in the city.

Barclay is known not only for the aforementioned discovery but for the discovery of an ancient gate in the Western Wall now known as Barclay’s Gate. I gathered all of my sources to write about that when I wrote the previous articles, but eventually had to put the books away to make room for something else. Perhaps someday.

While admitting mistakes that Barclay made in those early days, Dr. Jack P. Lewis says,

The significant steps that Barclay took toward the scientific study of Jerusalem will keep his contribution to scholarship from being forgotten. (Biblical Archaeologist, 1988).

A few decades ago a church in Atlanta, Georgia, provided two stained glass windows for the Cathedral of St. George to honor and maintain the memory of Dr. Barclay. The Cathedral is the seat of the Episcopal Church bishop of Jerusalem. Our first picture shows the courtyard and entrance along Nablus (formerly Damascus) Road. It is near the famous American Colony Hotel and other well-known tourist hotels (e.g., the Grand Court Hotel where many of my groups have stayed).

The courtyard and entrance to St. George Cathedral in east Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The courtyard and entrance to St. George Cathedral in east Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our next photo shows the interior of the building. The stained class windows, not visible in this photo are on the left and near the front of the building. The building seems to be open for visits at most times.

The interior of the St. George Cathedral. The stained glass windows are on the left side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The interior of the St. George Cathedral. The stained glass windows are on the left side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are two other windows depicting the naming of John the Baptist and the preaching by John of “a baptism of repentance.” The ones we show below are the ones honoring Dr. Barclay. The window on the left bears the title “Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan” and the one on the right has “John heard in prison about the deeds of Jesus” as a title. John is holding a manuscript with a portion of the text of Matthew 11:4-6.

And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:4-6 ESV)

The windows honoring Dr. Barclay. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The windows honoring Dr. Barclay. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The dedication reads across both windows:

These windows were presented in 1966 by members of the Peachtree Christian Church, Atlanta, Georgia, to preserve the heroic memory of Dr. James T. Barclay, Medical Missionary in Jerusalem 1851–1861, and of his wife Julia S. Barclay, both faithful missionaries from the Christian Churches of the United States of America. (Disciples of Christ).

I have made mention of the Restoration Movement, sometimes called the Stone-Campbell Movement, at other times. Just as a matter of record, my life’s work has been among more conservative Churches of Christ, rather than among Christian Churches or Disciples of Christ. The introduction of the American Christian Missionary Society was one of the things that precipitated the division.

It is good to see the work of men like Barclay honored by whomever wishes to do so.

As a courtesy to those who would like to use these photos in teaching, you may click on them for an image suitable for PowerPoint presentations.

Did Philip baptize the Ethiopian at ’Ain ed-Dirweh?

Note: This post replaces one from June 22 which was taken down when I learned that I had incorrectly equated two obscure places that should not have been. You will need to read this entire post to get the correct story.

Though the Bible does not specify a place, scholars and religious leaders like to point out possible places where significant events transpired. Such has been true of the place where Philip baptized the government official from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39).

One reader asked if this really matters. Those of us who believe in the accuracy of the Bible look for the land and the Book to agree. I think in this instance we have several possible places where the baptism could have taken place.

Ain el-Haniyeh (see here) in the Rephaim Valley is not the only place suggested as the location of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. In fact, Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria, 4th ed., 1906, says,

The tradition that Ain el-Haniyeh was the spring in which Philip baptized the Eunuch of Ethiopia (Acts viii. 36) dates from 1483, before which the scene of that event was placed near Hebron.

The place near Hebron is known as ’Ain ed-Dirweh. My only visit there was in 1979, but it has been associated with Philip’s work since the early Christian centuries. After visiting Bethlehem, The Bordeaux Pilgrim (A.D. 333) went to “Bethasora” (footnote: Bethzur, Beit Sur) where, he says,

There is the fountain in which Philip baptized the eunuch

Baedeker says,

… we reach the spring of ‘Ain ed-Dirweh, above which are a Mohammedan house and a praying-place. In the time of Eusebius [of Caesarea; c. 265 – c. 339] the spring in which Philip baptized the eunuch was pointed out here (comp. p. 93), and it is so marked on the mosaic map of Madeba. The traces of an ancient Christian church were formerly visible.

The Madaba Map (also spelled Madeba or Medeba), dated between about A.D. 560 and 565, provides a glimpse into the understanding of the Christians of that time about the location of certain biblical events.

Here I cite the information from the Franciscan Cyberspot’s The Madaba Mosaic Map web site. The map shows “a conventional church” and a “disk circled in black with a yellow centre. It is the basin related to the inscription.”

The inscription, above the letters OYDA (ouda, in Iouda = Judah), is translated as follows:

The (church) of Saint Philip, where they say that the eunuch Candaces was baptized.

Go to the Discussion page here and read the comments by various scholars who have examined the matter. I note that some (e.g. Avi-Yonah) suggest that the makers of the map are expressing doubt about the place of the event in the 6th century A.D. by writing “where they say.”

The portion of the Madaba Map (late 6th century A.D.) showing Bethsora [Bethzur) in Judah). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The portion of the Madaba Map (late 6th century A.D.) showing Bethsora and the place where it was said that Philip baptized the eunuch of Candace. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

To the left of the church building you will see the Greek for the word BETHSURA. This site is often identified with the Beth-zur of Joshua 15:58. Eusebius referred to it as Bethsoro. The Survey of Western Palestine has Bt. Sur. These two places, Bethsura and ’Ain edh-Dhirweh, are essentially the same.

Portion of Survey of Western Palestine map. Courtesty of BiblePlaces.com.

Portion of Survey of Western Palestine map showing Bt. Sur and ‘Ain edh Dhirweh. Courtesty of BiblePlaces.com.

The famous Matson Photograph Collection includes at least two photos of Ein el-Dirweh. The first one was made between 1934 and 1939.

Ein el-Dirweh, Philips Fountain at it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection now in the Library of Congress.

Ein el-Dirweh, Philips Fountain as it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection now in the Library of Congress.

In the next photo we see those who have brought containers to get water for their homes. Notice on the top step where containers are placed there are two water skins being used to collect water. These photos can be enlarged by clicking on them, and even larger images are available on the web site. Go to https://www.loc.gov/ and search for Philips fountain.

Ein el-Direh, Philips Fountain, at it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection, now in the Library of Congress.

Ein el-Dirweh, Philips Fountain, at it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection, now in the Library of Congress.

And finally, here is a photo I made in 1979. At the time there was very little water in the pool, but it seemed to be a good place for boys to stop on their way home. The site was so unimpressive to me that I never returned.

Philips Fountain between Bethlehem and Hebron in 1979. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Philips Fountain between Bethlehem and Hebron in 1979. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We still do not know the answer to the question, “Where did Philip baptize the Ethiopian Eunuch?,” but this is an older tradition than the site at Ain el-Haniyeh.

Rasmussen, in his Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, says,

The site of this event is difficult to locate precisely, but since the Ethiopian was riding in a chariot it seems that he must have been traveling on a developed road. It may be that he was traveling on the road that led from Bethlehem to the Valley of Elah, the route that David had taken when he carried supplies to his brothers (1 Sam 17) and the one that the Romans eventually paved and marked with milestones. This road led south from the Valley of Elah through the low rolling hills of the Shephelah to Betogabris and continued from there west to Gaza. (p. 217)

On a modern Israeli road from Bethlehem to the Valley of Elah this would be highway 375.

Notley cites Eusebius, but thinks it is unlikely that Philip continued as far south as Beth-zur. He says,

Southwest of Bethlehem the ancient route divides. The watershed route continues to Beth-zur and Hebron, while a western spur follows the Hushah ridge and descends into the Elah Valley (Wadi es-Samt). The Romans paved this descent and evidence of these efforts can still be seen in steps cut into the Judean hills. (Rainey and Notley. The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World, p. 371).

The photo here shows the steps along the road cut into the rock near the Elah Valley. Just a personal thought. I think one might prefer to get out of a chariot and walk down the steps instead of remaining in the chariot.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notley thinks the baptism may have taken place at one of the numerous springs in the Elah Valley before Philip and the Ethiopian separated to take different routes, Philip to Azotus and the Ethiopian to Gaza and beyond.

And there are other suggestions, but I will leave those for your own study.

A note about spelling. One difficulty in searching for information about some of these ancient places is the various spellings we find. Even in this article I have used ’Ayn ed-Dirweh and Ein el-Dirweh. The Franciscan website uses ’Ayn al-Dhirwah and ’Ain Dhirwe. Hachetts’s The Middle East uses Ain Dirweh. Vilnay uses Ein Dirwa. The Survey of Western Palestine uses ’Ain edh Dhirweh. And on and on it goes.

Sources. There are helpful ways you can access the old, detailed maps included in the Survey of Western Palestine. (1) Buy your own digitized set from Life in the Holy Land. (2) Use the information collected on Ancient Locations here.

Thanks to Tom Powers for many helpful hints in the production of this post. Some of his work may be accessed at his View From Jerusalem website. I keep a link to it at the site listed below under Blogs.

At the BiblicalStudies.info Scholarly page, under Map of Bible Lands, I keep a list of various maps that are helpful.

Where had Mary and Joseph stopped when they missed Jesus?

After his presentation in the Temple, there is no record of Jesus returning to Jerusalem until he is 12 years of age.

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.  (Luke 2:41-42 ESV)

When the Feast of the Passover ended, his parents began the return to Nazareth. We can easily imagine that a large caravan of people were traveling together on this trip that would take several days. Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem spending time among the teachers, “listening to them and asking them questions.” Because Mary and Joseph had relatives and acquaintances in the caravan they assumed that Jesus was among them until the end of the first day.

Keener provides some background on caravan travel.

Caravans, which afforded protection from robbers, were common on pilgrimages for the feasts in Jerusalem. Traveling with a caravan, in which neighbors from their town would watch the community children together, Mary and Joseph might assume that the near-adult Jesus was with companions, especially if by now they had younger children to attend to. If we assume a pace of twenty miles per day (though perhaps slower, depending on transportation and the children), Nazareth would be a little over three days’ journey along the shortest route. (Keener, C. S., The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament)

Where did Mary and Joseph stop at the end of that first day of travel? We can not be certain of the route taken from Jerusalem to Nazareth. Travel from Galilee to Jerusalem was often through Perea on the eastern side of the Jordan Valley. We later find Jesus traveling north along the central mountain range through Samaria (John 4).

Ruins of medieval church beneath a Mosque in El Bireh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of medieval church beneath a Mosque in El Bireh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tradition identifies the stop at el-Bireh (El Bira). Tradition has it that the first day’s stop after leaving Jerusalem was at a place now known as El Bira (or Bireh) east of Ramallah. El Bira is an Arab town. There is a spring and ruins of a medieval church. The Hachette World Guides: The Middle East (1966) says that the tradition associating this event with El Bireh dates to the 16th century. Eugene Hoade says it is probable that this church was built in 1146 “in memory of” the event mentioned in Luke 2. (Guide to the Holy Land). The apse of the church is visible in the photo below. The Hachette World Guide says the building was destroyed in 1915 and the stones were used for building bridges along the mountain route.

Ruins of medieval church beneath a Mosque in El Bireh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of medieval church beneath a Mosque in El Bireh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This site is only about 8 miles north of Jerusalem, but with a large caravan including women and children it is possible that a short distance was covered the first day. It was necessary to stop where water and various food supplies were available (John 4:6-8; Luke 9:51-53).

View of the ruins of the church at El Bireh. The apse is visible in the foreground. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the ruins of the church at El Bireh. The apse is visible in the foreground. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Is this Beeroth? Since the time of explorer Edward Robinson (1867), some scholars have identified El Bireh with the Old Testament Gibeonite city of Beeroth. The word Beeroth indicates the presence of a well. Biblical references include Joshua 9:17, 18:25, Ezra 2:25, and Nehemiah 7:29. Beeroth was considered part of the tribe of Benjamin (2 Samuel 4:2).

The late David Dorsey, after surveying the scholarship on the matter, says,

At present, therefore, the site of biblical Beeroth remains a matter of dispute. The most likely candidate would still seem to be the one originally proposed by Robinson, i.e., el-Bireh. (The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary)