Category Archives: Israel

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.

The Jordan River at Qasr el Yahud

From the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is a distance of 65 miles but the Jordan river twists and turns for about 200 miles. The fall is about 590 feet (about 9 feet per mile). Nelson Glueck began his 1945 book, The River Jordan, by describing the river in beautiful terms.

THE JORDAN is a weird stream. It twists and tears its way swiftly downward in an almost incredibly sinuous manner from the sweet waters of the Lake of Galilee to the bitter wastes of the Sea of Salt or Dead Sea. Squirming frantically, burrowing madly, seeking wildly to escape its fate, the Jordan’s course from its crystal-clear beginnings to its literally dark and bitter end is a helpless race to a hopeless goal. Like Lot’s wife, it looks backward, but only inevitably to perish in the perdition of Bahr Lut, the “Sea of Lot,” as the Dead Sea is called by the Arabs. (p. 3)

At the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, a place called Qasr el Yahud, a few miles north of the Dead Sea, only very short stretches of the river are visible (Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:28). The photo below shows one of the many curves in the river. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Jordan River at the site of the baptism of Jesus. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This photo was made at Qasr el Yahud, the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The prophet Jeremiah describes the heavy growth on the banks of the Jordan as the thicket of the Jordan (Jeremiah 12:5; 50:44). Perhaps the reading in the Net Bible, “the thick undergrowth along the Jordan River,” provides a clearer understanding. “Lions could suddenly appear from the bushes” (Jeremiah 49:19; Lalleman, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries).

Rolling stone tombs #6 – a tomb near Megiddo

Several tombs of the type in which Jesus was buried have survived the centuries. This one was discovered during road construction a few years ago near the Jezreel Valley, not very far from Megiddo. This is my favorite photo of rolling stone tombs.

Rolling stone tomb near the Jezreel Valley and Megiddo. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This rolling stone tomb was discovered during road work. It is a beautiful example of a tomb of this type. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

To locate this tomb in Google Earth Pro or Google Maps these these coordinates: 32 36 43.31 N, 35 08 17.01 E. It also worked on my Android phone to locate the site on the map and provide a photo of the tomb along the highway.

Rolling stone tombs #5 – the site of the Holy Sepulchre

Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem (John 19:20), probably not far from a gate (Hebrews 13:12), near a road (Mark 15:29; Matthew 27:39), and near a garden with a new tomb in it (John 19:41). Nothing about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre reminds one of the actual setting where Christ was crucified and buried. One must remember, that Jerusalem has been continuously inhabited for many centuries. Strong evidence suggests that the site now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was outside the wall of Jerusalem at the time of Christ.

Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Crowds wait to enter the edicule covering the tomb of Jesus after examination and cleaning in 2017. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Kathleen Kenyon found evidence in the 1970s that the wall which now encompasses the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the foundation which was constructed about A.D. 41 by Herod Agrippa. In A.D.
30 [or 33, depending on how one reads the evidence], when Jesus stood before Pilate, the site of the Holy Sepulchre would have been outside the wall.

Some columns in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre date from the fourth century church built by Constantine. Excavators exposed part of the foundations of Hadrian’s Roman Forum, dating from A.D. 135, in which the Temple of Aphrodite was built.

A portion of the Herodian wall was discovered in the 1970s by M. Broshi within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This showed that Golgotha was just outside the city wall.

D. Katsimibinis, in the late 1970s, showed that the rock of Calvary still rises nearly 40 feet above bedrock. The rock bears the mark of ancient quarrying. Some scholars believe that this remnant of stone was a rejected quarry stone (Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, 124). “And moreover, there are no competing places for Calvary or Golgotha prior to the last century” (Charlesworth, 123). See also André Parrot, Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Jesus would have been placed in this tomb sometime before sun down on Friday, and raised sometime before sun up on the first day of the week (our Sunday). See Luke 24:1, 13, 21.

The tomb of Jesus. Parrot, Land of Christ.

Drawing showing the tomb of Jesus according to the data of the gospels. From Parrot, Land of Christ, 131.

We share the sentiment of the late F. F. Bruce that “interesting as the problem must be to every Christian, it is not of the first importance; wherever our Lord’s sepulchre is to be located, ‘he is not here, for he has risen’” (“Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament,” Revelation and the Bible, ed. Henry, 330).

Model of the tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. From the Franciscian Museum, Jerusalem.

This model from the Franciscan Museum, Jerusalem, show the tomb at the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rolling stone tombs #4 – the Midras ruins

The Midras Ruins (Horvat Midras) in Israel are part of the Adulam Grove Nature Reserve east of Hwy 38 between the Elah Valley and Beit Guvrin. According to the Parks department sign at the site, the ruins are part of an ancient settlement including caves, pits, and other installations. The Carta touring atlas says the area was continuously inhabited from the time of the Kings of Judah to the Roman period.

For a more complete discussion of the Midras Ruins tomb, along with links to photos before the tomb was vandalized, read here.

This photo was made in the late afternoon several years after the tomb was defaced by vandals. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign at the cave indicates that it was in use from the first century B.C. until the Bar Kochba revolt (about A.D. 135).

The large rolling stone now at the entrance to the cave is a remnant of the grand burial cave once located here.

Beyond the entrance, two chambers were discovered, containing burial niches 1.80 meters [almost 6 feet] long. The inner chamber contains decorated arches, arcosolia, in which ossuaries were placed, containing the bones of the deceased in secondary burial.

The sherds discovered in the cave indicate that it was in use from the end of the first century CE [AD] until the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE).

Browsing through my photos I rediscovered the next photo from a visit to the site in 2011. It shows a more natural look except for the destroyed area above the rolling stone.

This photo shows the setting of the tomb with a rolling stone after it was defaced by vandals and then reconstructed. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rolling stone tombs #1 – the Tomb of the Kings

During this week many will have their mind on the events leading to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. With this post I propose to begin a short series of blogs in which I will post pictures of some of the rock-cut tombs from Israel and Jordan that have rolling stones.

Why is it important to notice rock-cut tombs with rolling stones? It is because these illustrate the type of tomb in which Jesus was buried.

And Joseph [from Arimathea] took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. (Matthew 27:59-60 ESV)

Here is the entrance to the rock-cut tomb at what we call the Tomb of the Kings. Notice that the rolling stone is set in a grove that more or less holds it in place. Perhaps tourist of past centuries have chiseled a souvenir to take back home with them.

Rolling stone at the Tomb of the Kings, Jerusalem. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

The rolling stone at the tomb of the kings. Treasure hunters have chiseled off pieces in centuries past. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

J. A. Thompson describes the large tombs where several people might be buried as well as the smaller tombs like the one where Jesus was buried.

These larger tombs provided for the burial of a number of people. They were entered by a comparatively small opening which could be closed by rolling a stone in a groove across the entrance. After each burial the large stone was rolled across the door and the tomb sealed up until the next burial. Some of these stones, which are still to be seen in parts of Palestine, were so big as to require the effort of more than one man to move them. Such a discovery explains the concern of the women who came to the sepulcher where our Lord was buried. Joseph of Arimathaea “rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre” (Matt. 27:60), and later the angel came and “rolled back the stone from the door” (Matt. 28:2). Other passages in the Gospels which refer to the rolling of the great stone from the door are Mark 15:46; 16:3f.; Luke 24:2; John 11:38, 39, 41; 20:1. Even comparatively small tombs had this rolling stone, but angle graves were normally carved out in the rocky hillside and the body interred there. (Thompson, J. A. The Bible and Archaeology. 3rdrd ed., W. B. Eerdmans, 1982, p. 334.)

A sarcophagus from the Tomb of the Kings

One of the things we must learn when studying antiquities is that names (designations) may not be correct. To illustrate:

  • The Tomb of the Kings is not the tomb of the kings David and Solomon or any other of the kings of Israel.
  • The pools of Solomon were built long after the time of Solomon.
  • The pool of Hezekiah was not built by Hezekiah. (Be sure to see Tom Powers comment below. I will not go against Tom’s reasoning on this).

The tomb of the kings in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, near the American Colony Hotel and other newer hotels such as the Grand Court and the Olive Tree, belonged to Queen Mother Helena of Adiabene.

Here is how the facade of the tomb looked in 2008. The tomb was not open to the public but I made arrangements for our tour operator for my group to make a visit.

Tomb of the Kings, Jerusalem

The Tomb of the Kings at it appeared in 2008. The tomb has been closed most of the time since then. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A few photos have appeared in newspapers from various cities. Compare this one with the photo I made in 2008 and you will see some significant repairs. The indication is that this is now open to the public (when Covid-19 conditions permit).

Repaired Tomb of the Kings reopened in 2019.

Daily Hayom reports the reopening of the Tomb of the Kings. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The tomb belonged to Queen Mother Helena of Adiabene. She came to Jerusalem with her son, King Izates, as a convert to Judaism in A.D. 46. Adiabene was located in northern Mesopotamia east of the Tigris River. During the famine in Judea, mentioned in Acts 11:28-30, the queen sent to Egypt for grain and to Cyprus for dried figs (Josephus, Ant. 20.51). For more from Josephus check this post.

A large burial complex was dug north of Jerusalem for the burial of the Queen and her family. This is the tomb referred to in modern times as the Tomb of the Kings. It is a good place to see a rolling stone and a tomb hewn from solid rock. The property is under French control and was closed for many years in need of repairs to the facade.

The tomb was reopened in 2019 but I have not been able to visit since that time. When the tomb was originally excavated by Louis Felicien de Saulcy various artifacts including sarcophagi were taken back to Paris and are now displayed in the Louvre.

The following sarcophagus was identified by Saulcey as a princess of the lineage of David, the Queen Helena of Adiabene.

Possible sarcophagus of Queen Helena of Adiabene. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This sarcophagus, now displayed in the Louvre, was thought by Saulcey to belong to Queen Helena of Adiabene. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Gaza in the 1960s – postcards and phone calls

Over the years we have had an opportunity to read about Gaza many times. Currently there is concern by Israel over how to respond if the Corona virus outbreak becomes serious there.

Last August I read an interesting, well illustrated article about Gaza. It was published by PNR with the title “Here’s What Tourists Might See If They Were Allowed To Visit Gaza.” You may be able to access the article here.

One of the images was the reproduction of a vintage post card published by the Israeli publisher Phalpot.

Vintage postcard of sites in Gaza. Published in 1967 by Phalpot in Israel.

Vintage postcard of sites in Gaza. Published in 1967 by Phalpot in Israel.

What impressed me about this postcard from 1967 is how similar the lower right photo was to a photo I made in 1968.

Gaza on the Mediterranean Sea in May, 1968. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For more information about Gaza I suggest you read my longer article about “The Significance of Gaza” here.

I have been close to the border of the Gaza Strip a few times but that was my only visit to Gaza. When I told my guide that I wanted to take the group to Gaza he insisted that there was not much to see. I told him that we would be happy to see the sand and the sea. We did.

Long before digital cameras and cell phones tourists bought postcards similar to the one above and wrote home to tell their friends what a great tour they were enjoying. It took about a week for a card to make it back to the United States. Sometimes we made it back before the cards arrived. Phone calls were so expensive that most folks did not make a call. I would usually call my wife from the first stop just to quickly say that we had arrived safely. And the tours were longer in those days–usually about two weeks in length.

Those were in “good old days.”