Category Archives: Israel

How would Bet Guvrin look during a pandemic?

After the Parthians destroyed Maresha (40 B.C.), the city moved to a nearby village known as Bet (or Beth, or Beit) Guvrin. In A.D. 200, the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus established a Roman city and named it Eleutheropolis (A. Kloner, The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, I:195). Murphy-O’Connor says, “The prosperity of the city at this period is underlined by an oval amphitheatre.”

Aerial view of Bet Guvrin (Eleutheropolis). The amphitheater is located at the bottom of the left top corner of the photo. Highway 35 is on the right. Some ruins of Eleutheropolis can be seen on the south side (right) of the highway. If you have traveled in this area you may have stopped at the small gas station for a snack or a bite of lunch. The small road in the upper right corner leads to the entry to Maresha and the caves. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in April, 2016.

Stemius Severus, Roman Emperor, AD 193-211. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Marble bust of Emperor Septimius Severus (A.D. 193-211) displayed in Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Before I move to the idea of a pandemic I should say that I really enjoy the artwork used in so many of Israel’s national parks. I even use one from the city of Avedat as the header for this blog.

There were plagues in the Roman Empire. The popular article by Caroline Wazer in The Atlantic discusses “The Plagues That Might Have Brought Down the Roman Empire” (March 16, 2016).

When Leon Mauldin and I visited the excavated ruins at Bet Guvrin in 2017 we enjoyed seeing many of the cutout figures adorning the ancient ruins. There were leaders from the Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, and the Mamluk period welcoming us.

Loosen your mind and let it fly as we enter this Israeli National Park, imagining there is a pandemic. I wanted to be friendly. At first I thought the soldier was welcoming me, but I think now that he may have been saying “stay two meters” from me. If we can’t control this thing we may have to begin wearing masks. None of us want that.”

Ferrell Jenkins greeted by Roman soldier at Bet Guvrin. Photo by Leon Mauldin/Ferrell Jenkins.

Ferrell Jenkins with a Roman Soldier at Bet Guvrin. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

As we approach the Roman amphitheater we observe that those still willing to gather in public are social distancing as they approach the entry.

The amphitheater at Bet Guvrin. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

The Amphitheater at Bet Guvrin has been decorated to remind us of the Roman period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Some fans can not resist giving their opinion to the others around them.

Glatiatorial fans approach the entrance. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

One fan turns to the other and asks if the monkey has been tested. The man behind wonders if he has been washed. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The amphitheater has been reconstructed with seating for various modern performances.

Inside the amphitheater we noticed that almost everyone was social distancing. We felt better about deciding to attend. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The gladiators are fighting viciously but still keeping their distance.

Gladiators at Bet Guvrin keep their distance from each other. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Even the gladiators keep their distance. Getting the virus could be worse than the sword or trident. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In a future post I plan to show you how the pandemic is affecting the archaeological work at the site.

When we are once again allowed to travel to Israel I think you may want to visit Bet Guvrin.

The day after Tisha B’av

The phrase Tisa B’av may be strange to Christians, but it means the Fast of the Ninth. The observance “is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people” (Judaism 101). According to this source, five terrible events took place on or near the ninth day of the month Av, the fifth month of the Jewish calendar.

The most significant of these events are the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-9; Jeremiah 52:12-13), and the destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70.

In the past half century a considerable amount of evidence has come to light concerning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The temple destroyed in 586 B.C. had been constructed by King Solomon in about 966 B.C. It was rebuilt by those who returned from the Babylonian Exile (530-516 B.C.).

Herod the Great began about 19/20 B.C. to rebuild the temple. This work was still in progress during the ministry of Jesus.

The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20 ESV)

Christians take seriously the prophecy of Jesus preserved by the Jewish writer Matthew.

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2 ESV)

Vivid evidence of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem was discovered at the SW corner of the temple area in the Tyropean Valley. Some of the rubble can still be seen on the street which was probably built by Agrippa II in the 60s of the first century.

Evidence of Roman destruction of the Temple precinct in A.D. 70. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Stones that fell, or were pushed, from the Temple Mount platform to the street below in A.D. 70 at the time of the destruction by the Romans. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

As a result of archaeological excavations in Jerusalem since 1967 we have other vivid examples of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Take a look at the ruins of the Burnt House in the Jewish Quarter. These ruins were discovered at a depth of about 20 feet below street level. It is near the Western Wall of the temple and is what is left of a luxurious house belonging to the Kathros family, a family known for the making of incense. A stone weight bearing the phrase “of Bar Kathros” was found in the excavations (Avigad, Discovering Jerusalem, p. 130. The wealth of the family living here is evidenced by the stone table and the stone jars found in the rubble.

Bar Kathros weight in the Burnt House, Jerusalem. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

A stone weight with the inscription “of Bar Kathros.” Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The stone weight was found among the rubble of the basement work room of the Kathros family.

The burnt house after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

The house of the family Kathros, makers of incense for use in the temple, after the destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70. I have used a filter to highlight the result of the burning. Notice the ashes in the lower left corner. Some of the jars have taken on a silver look but they are stone jars. Do you see the arrow? Click on the photo for a larger image. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It happened just as Jesus said it would.

Anathoth – the home of Jeremiah

The prophet Jeremiah was was from the little town of Anathoth northeast of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 1:1). We still lack certainty regarding the specific location of the town, but the name lives on today in the Arab town of Anata.

It is difficult to get a good photo of the hillside town of Anata. I think my photo from several years ago was made from a bus traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho along Highway 1. It was back when some tourist buses still had windows that would let down a few inches at the top. I asked the driver if he could slow down some to give me the opportunity to make a photo.

Jeremiah’s town may be buried somewhere under this village or nearby. The photo is suitable for use in visual presentations.

Anata, an Arab town on the eastern slope of the central mountain range. View to the north. The town of Anata derives it name from the biblical site of Anathoth, the home of the prophet Jeremiah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

“The stork in the heavens knows her time”

The stork is listed among the unclean birds in Leviticus 11:19 and Deuteronomy 14:18. The Psalmist says, “the stork has her home in the fir trees” (Psalm 104:17.

I have not seen a stork nest in a fir tree, but I have often seen them on the top of electric poles, chimneys, and ruined columns.

These storks are building a nest on the top of an old brick column at Kovanlik, Turkey. This photo was made yards away from the beginning of the Via Sebaste or Imperial Road that leads northeast across the mountains from the Pamphylian coastal plain to the Anatolian plateau. The approximate location is 37 10.4234N, 30 35.875E. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The prophet Jeremiah uses the faithfulness of the stork as it moves from one continent to another and then returns as an illustration of the faithfulness not seen in the people of the LORD.

Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the rules of the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:7 ESV)

I have seen this played out repeatedly in my travels in Israel and Turkey. The storks fly from Europe and other northern climes to Africa in the fall of the year. The Great Rift provides the way for them to navigate through Syria and Israel/Jordan.

A stork heading north and a sunrise over the Golan Heights. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This is a composite photo showing a stork in the Jordan Valley and a sunrise over the Golan Heights. Photos by Ferrell Jenkins.

The prophet Zechariah also uses the wingspan of the stork as an illustration. In one of his visions he says,

Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings. They had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven. (Zechariah 5:9 ESV)

The Keren Kayemeth Leisrael JNF website provides good information about storks, and other birds, in the Hulah valley here. Here is another nice site with information about storks and some good photos.

HT: Dr. Mark Wilson, author of Biblical Turkey, who gave the directions of the Via Sebaste mentioned with the first photo to Leon Mauldin and me. An article by Mark R. Fairchild in BAR includes a map showing two possible routes from Perga in Pampylia to Pisidian Antioch. The caption with the map suggests the Via Sebaste as possibly being used by Paul, but Dr. Fairchild does not think Paul would have traveled that way. Nonetheless it is possible that Paul might have used this route in one direction or the other, more likely on the return. (Fairchild, Mark R. “Why Perga?” Biblical Archaeology Review 39.6 (2013): 53–59.)

The Pool of Bethesda

The Pool of Bethesda is mentioned only once in the New Testament. At this pool Jesus healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. (John 5:2 ESV)

The pool consisted of two pool near what we know today as the Lion’s Gate or Saint Stephen’s Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem. The church of Saint Anne faces the east side of the southern pool. The two pools were divided by a barrier wall between them. Citing the 1938 French publication by N. Van Der Vliet , Shimon Gibson says,

The Bethesda Pool was divided into two parts: the “Northern Pool” (53 x 40 m) which served as a reservoir for collected rainwater (with a capacity of some 21,200 cubic metres of water), and the “Southern Pool” (47 x 52 m) which was used for bathing (see below). The two pools would have been surrounded by porticoes (stoai) on four of its sides (with flat, not tiled, roofs), and with an additional portico (open on both sides) ex- tending across the barrier wall separating the two pools. The pools were not symmetrically rectangular, but were trapezoidal in form, (“The Excavations at the Bethesda Pool in Jerusalem: Preliminary Report on a Project of Stratigraphic and Structural Analysis”, pp. 17-44 in F. Bouwen (ed.), Sainte-Anne de Jérusalem. La Piscine Probatiquen de Jésus À Saladin. Proche-Orient Chrétien Numéro Spécial. 2011, Saint Anne: Jerusalem, p. 23).

Photo of the Pool of Bethesda from the Second Temple Model, Israel Museum, Jerusalem. In this model you see the two pools with the five colonnades or porticoes, the Herodian temple, and the Antonia (the building with the four towers build to protect the temple precinct. Notice that the model shows tiled roofs which Gibson says was not the case. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

Gibson says that the archaeological excavations have revealed that Early Roman, Late Roman, two phases of Byzantine, and the Crusader period are known here. That area now looks like this.

The Pool of Bethesda excavations. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

The excavated area of the Pool of Bethesda showing the Crusader and Byzantine ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This nice map from the Bible Mapper Blog shows the relationship of the Pools of Bethesda to the Temple Mount. Those who have visited the Temple Mount in recent years may have exited on the northern side and visited the Pool (or Pools) of Bethesda. As you exit there is a noticeable depression. This is where the Pool of Israel or the Sheep Pool was located.

This map shows the Pools of Bethesda near the top. It comes from the Bible Mapper Blog.

The foreground of the next photo shows ruins of various pools from the Roman period that are known to have been considered a place of healing. Votive offering to Serapis and Asklepius, pagan healing gods, were found in the excavations.

In the foreground, to the east of the church ruins, we have ruins from the Roman period showing a sacred area known to have been considered a place of healing. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Even though the invalid of John 5 had been brought there by friends or neighbors (he could not have come by himself) he remained an invalid. André Parrot says Jesus,

… achieved a victory over the gods of classical paganism which had been introduced into the very heart of Jerusalem, the city of Yahweh (Land of Christ, p. 100).

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.

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.

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.