Category Archives: Jordan

Arabah – Is Eilat the Ezion-Geber of the Bible?

Arriving at Eilat, Leon and I had traveled from the foothills of Mount Hermon to the eastern arm of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Eilat (or Aqabah, depending on whether we are in Israel or Jordan).

Eilat is a popular resort town today, and it has grown tremendously since my first visit in 1973.

The resort hotels of Eilat are brightly lit at night. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The resort hotels of Eilat are brightly lit at night. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Is Eilat the Ezion-Geber of the Bible? Ezion-geber is said to be near Eloth (Elat, Elath, in some English versions). This area is significant in biblical history.

  • Israel camped at Ezion-geber. They journeyed from Ezion-geber and camped in the wilderness of  Zin at Kadesh (Numbers 33:35-36).
  • Ezion-geber and Elath (or Eloth) are linked together in some references (Deuteronomy 2:8; 1 Kings 9:26).
  • King Solomon built a fleet of ships in Ezion-geber. The Bible says it is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. (1 Kings 9:26)

In 1938, Nelson Glueck, reported that he had found a copper-refining plant at Tell el-Kheleifeh, which he identified as Ezion-geber, on the north shore of the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah. This site is now within Jordanian territory. Glueck identified the copper-refining plant as King Solomon’s copper mines, and explained that the apertures in the buildings served as flue holes. Through them, he thought, “the strong winds from the north-northwest entered into the furnace rooms of this structure,” which he called a “smelter, to furnish a natural draft to fan the flames.”

It is true that copper smelting was done in the Arabah in the time of Solomon, but Glueck later changed his mind about the building he had formerly identified as the refining plant. In 1962 Beno Rothenberg demonstrated that the installation at Tell el-Kheleifeh could not have been for copper smelting. Glueck was convinced by his findings that the apertures in the building “resulted from the decay and or burning of wooden beams laid across the width of the walls for bonding or anchoring purposes.” This does not affect any statement of the Bible, but it does mean that the old argument about the copper refining plant found in the Arabah is no longer valid. Glueck’s identification of Tell el-Kheleifeh with Ezion-geber is no longer accepted.

Eilat and Aqabah could be one town in better political times, but today they are separated by an almost invisible line drawn in the sand. I have never been as far south in Jordan as Aqabah, but on a clear day we can see it from Eilat, as the late afternoon photo illustrates.

The north end of the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah. The view is to the east and the city of Aqabah, Jordan. Tell el-Kheleifeh is only a short distance north of the shore in Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The north end of the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah. The view is to the east and the city of Aqabah, Jordan. Tell el-Kheleifeh is only a short distance north of the shore in Jordan. This photo was made in January, 2011, at a time when Aqabah could be more clearly seen than late March when we recently visited. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Alexander Flinder says the coastline at Tell el-Kheleifeh is a “sandy beach, with shallow water – totally unsuitable for small craft, let alone for a substantial merchant fleet” (“Is This Solomon’s Seaport?” BAR, July/August 1989, p. 38). Flinder has suggested that Ezion-geber may have been on a small island in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah called Jezirat Faraun (Pharaoh’s Island). It is located about seven miles south of modern Eilat, but now under Egyptian control. Flinder’s study shows that there has been an artificial harbor at this location in several historical periods and that it was characteristic of other known Phoenician ports. See the complete article for more details and photos.

Pharaoh’s Island in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah from the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pharaoh’s Island in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah from the west. The island is currently under Egyptian control.Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Meir Lubetski, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, says,

Unique were the underwater archaeological findings which established the existence of an artificial enclosed harbor bordering a sizable natural anchorage, with jetties built out into the water to influence currents opposite the island on the shore of the mainland.

I can only point to a suggestion regarding the identity of Ezion-geber with Eloth (Elath). Kenneth A. Kitchen (New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., 1996, p. 305). says the two places were,

  • Separate stations during the Israelite wandering (Numbers 33:35-36; Deuteronomy 2:8).
  • Ezion-geber appears to be mentioned alone in the 10th-9th centuries, and is the point from which Solomon sent ships.
  • Jehoshaphat’s planned expedition from Ezion-geber was wrecked (1 King 22:48; 2 Chronicles 20:36-37).
  • King Uzziah of Judah captured Elath/Eloth from Edom and rebuilt it in the 8th century (2 Kings 14:22).
  • Ahaz lost the port to the Edomites (2 Kings 16:6).

The map at BibleAtlas.org shows the places we have discussed in this post. Notice the location of Ezion-geber is indicating, with a question mark, the location of Pharaoh’s Island.

Map of Ezion-geber, Elath, and Timnah, and a portion of the Arabah. Biblos.com.

Map of Ezion-geber, Elath, and Timnah, and a portion of the Arabah. BibleAtlas.com.

We plan next to visit Timna and learn about the copper mining in the area.

The Arabah: Has Tamar, Solomon’s desert fortress, been located?

The Tamar Biblical Park is located about 20 miles south of the southern end of the Dead Sea. We can suggest several reasons why the site was settled in many biblical periods. The spring at the site made it immediately attractive to travelers, and in fact the site was “the central gateway from Edom and Arabia enroute to Beershebe and Ashkelon for incense and copper trade” (Bowman, Biblical Tamar, Bible and Interpretation).

Road sign on Hwy 90 at the junction with Hwy 227. The site is at Hazeva. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Road sign on Hwy 90 at the junction with Hwy 227. The Biblical Tamar Park is at En (spring) Hazeva. In earlier years there was a now-defunct kibbutz named Ir Ovat because the founders thought this was the site of biblical Oboth, one of the places the Israelites camped when they wandered in the wilderness (Numbers 21:10). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I have a Promote GPS device which I sometimes use with my camera. If I am patient and take time for it to connect to satellites I can usually be assured of about one out of four shots showing the location as well as the elevation. The elevation here is 137 meters (about 450 feet) below sea level.

The GPS location of Tamar Biblical Park.

The GPS location of Tamar Biblical Park.The red pointer is at the Iron Age gate. Enter 29 58.0659’N, 35 3.599 9’E in Google Earth.

The Biblical Tamar Park is curated by a private Christian group called Blossoming Rose, but excavations were carried out under the direction of the Israel Antiquities Authority. A source tells me that the IAA did not show much interest in the site even though they acknowledge the importance of the discoveries. One can understand why a site like this which is not on the main tourist routes would be of less interest than those that are.

The Blossoming Rose organization has placed nice signs to identify the various periods under consideration. Instead of just referring to the Bronze Age or the Iron Age, Blossoming Rose mentions the seven historic periods that are identifiable here. (1) Abrahamic Period; (2) Moses Period; (3) Israelite Period; (4) Roman-Christian Period; (5) Islamic Period; (6) British Period; (7) Israeli Period.

The Bible says that Solomon built Tamar in the wilderness.

so Solomon rebuilt Gezer) and Lower Beth-horonand Baalath and Tamar in the wilderness, in the land of Judah, (1 Kings 9:17-18 ESV)

Could this be that site? It is possible. I must be selective in the photos I present. Here goes. The first one is of a Roman period wall. There is also a large cistern dating to this period. And, yes, the Romans built a bath at Tamar.

A Roman Wall at Tamar Biblical Park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Portion of a Roman wall at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows the ruins of what is called the Hazeva Fort, a structure said to date to the 10th century B.C., the time of King Solomon.

An Iron Age fortress at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fortress dating to the time of King Solomon at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This sign shows the footprint of the fortress during various periods as well a drawing of an Edomite stone seal from the first Temple Period with Edomite writing and an incense burning scene.

Sign at Tamar showing layout of the Iron Age fortress. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign at Tamar showing layout of the Iron Age fortress and some artifacts belonging to the Edomites. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On the right side of the sign above there is a drawing of “an incense burning utensil.” The Edomite shrine is displayed in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. The Chronicles of the Land: Archaeology in The Israel Museum Jerusalem says,

Tangible evidence for foreign cults has been revealed at Hazeva in the Arava, where a pit containing ritual objects from an Edomite shrine was discovered. The objects, offerings brought to the shrine, had been deliberately smashed after they could no longer be used and buried in the pit. Among them were human shaped ritual stands, which may have represented the worshipers themselves. These objects highlight one of the sharp contrasts between Edomite and Judahite public worship, the latter avoiding the human image. (p.77)

Many see this destruction in the light of the reforms of King Josiah of Judah (2 Kings 23).

The ritual stands found here date to the late 7th – early 6th century B.C. Our next photo shows the display in the Israel Museum.

Edomite shrine assemblage from Hazeva (Tamar) in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Edomite shrine assemblage from Hazeva (Tamar) in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo may show the prize of Tamar, a four chamber gate which is labeled as the Israelite Fortress Gate.

Iron Age gate, possibly Solomonic, at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Iron Age gate, possibly Solomonic, at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I was impressed with the four-room house. Avraham Faust describes the four-room house.

The term four-room house is a generic term which refers to a new type of house which became extremely popular and dominant during the Iron Age. The “ideal type” of this structure is a long house with four main spaces or areas: a broad room at the back, and three long spaces stemming forward from it. These long rooms were typically (though not always) divided by a combination of stone pillars and walls. The entrance was usually located in the central (long) room. Not all houses, however, follow precisely this “ideal” plan, and there is some variation, mainly in the number of long rooms. One can therefore refer to three-, four-, and five-room houses (though all subtypes are usually referred to by the name “four-room house”). Variation also exists in the form of inner division(s) of the rooms, due probably to the lifecycle of the family. Apart from this, the basic plan is quite rigid and easy to identify. (Encyclopedia of the Bible, p. 564).

Four room house at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Four room house at Tamar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Next to water, shade is one of the most important things for settlers and travelers. There is a large Jujube tree, better known by  it’s technical name Ziziphus spina-christi, Christ’s thorn Jujube. Ami Tamir includes a photo and description of this tree in his Sacred Flowers: Holy Trees & Blessed Thorns (pp. 89-92). We reviewed this Carta Guide Book here. Tamir explains how the thorns develop on the tree.

A Jujube tree at Tamar, said by some to be the oldest tree in Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A Jujube tree (Ziziphus spina christi) at Tamar, said by some to be the oldest tree in Israel. The popular name for this tree is Thorn of the Messiah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands includes several good photos of Tamar in the volume on Negev and the Wilderness. See details here.

BibleWalks.com includes several good drone aerial photos in their discussion of Tamar.

I trust you have enjoyed our lengthy visit to Tamar Biblical Park. Our next stop is planned for Keturah where we will see the ancient palm named Methuselah.

Along the Great Rift

As I began to think about a series of articles on the Arabah (or Aravah) in Israel I realized that I should begin with a general discussion of the rift valley or, as it is sometimes called, the Great Rift.

View south from the Amanus mountains in modern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View south from the Amanus mountains in modern Turkey. In this general area Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If we begin in the north, the great rift begins south of the Amanus Mountains in southern Turkey, near modern Antakya (biblical Antioch of Syria, Acts 11). Antioch was built on the Orontes River, a river that flows north from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley finally turning west and flowing into the Mediterranean. As it flows northward from its source into Syria it passes the site of Riblah (2 Kings 23:33; 25:6, et al.), and through Lebo-hamath (or the entrance of Hamath, as many English version read; 2 Kings 14:25). Hamath is located at the site of modern Hama, Syria. From there the Orontes flows north in the rift valley of Syria till it approaches the Amanus Mountains.

Going back to the Bekaa Valley between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains, we look to the south. The rift enters Israel near Dan. Abel-beth-Maacah  (1 Kings 15) overlooks the rift from the west. Those who have traveled north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel likely have some idea about the great depression or rift in that region.

This aerial view of the Jordan valley north of the Sea of Galilee illustrates perfectly the Great Rift. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This aerial view of the Jordan valley north of the Sea of Galilee illustrates perfectly the Great Rift. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Running south from Israel’s northern border with Lebanon continues to the Hulah Valley, then through the Sea of Galilee where it is about 700 feet below sea level. From there it continues south in the Jordan Valley until it reaches the Dead Sea at  more than 1300 feet below sea level.

I plan to begin a series of articles dealing with the portion of the Great Rift that runs from the south end of the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Eilat (or Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan). In Israel, the rift runs from Dan to Eilat (or Elath). From Eilat the depression continues south through the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba to the Red Sea and into eastern Africa. On our recent study trip Leon Mauldin and I traveled the entire length of the rift from Dan to Eilat.

One can easily find articles and maps explaining the great rift on the Internet, as well as explanations in many good Bible atlases. Describing the Rift Valley in Israel, Carl Rasmussen says,

This depression is part of the Rift Valley system that extends for 3,700 miles from southern Turkey into Africa. North of Israel the system continues in a northeasterly direction into the Lebanese Beqa; to the south it runs through the Red Sea and down into Africa.

In Israel proper, this depression runs from Dan in the north to the southern tip of the Dead Sea, a distance of 150 miles, and then continues south-southwest as far as Elath, a distance of 110 miles. The various sections of the Rift Valley are diverse in character; a considerable amount of rain falls in the northern section (24 in. at Dan), whereas in the south the rainfall is negligible (2 in. at the south end of the Dead Sea). The valley receives runoff water from the mountains to the west and east along its entire length. (Rasmussen, Carl G. Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. Revised Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. Print.)

The Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba enters the Red Sea proper at Sharm el Shekh near the tip of the Sinai. Back when the Sinai was under Israeli control I had the opportunity to visit the site. At the time Sharm el Shekh was only a place with a few cabins and a place for the adventurous to park their small trailers. It later became a popular Egyptian resort with expensive hotels. In recent years tourism has suffered due to terrorism in the vicinity.

Rusted-out gun left from the Israeli-Egyptian war in 1967. Photo made in 1973 by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rusted-out gun left from the Egyptian closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in 1967. Tiran island can be seen about three or four miles to the east. Photo made in 1973 by Ferrell Jenkins.

In 1967 Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to ships delivering goods to Israel. This is generally thought to be the act that precipitated the June War of 1967.

As I began to study about the Great Rift  for the past several days I realized that I have visited all of the major area from north to south along this rift from the Amanus Mountains of Turkey through Syria, Lebanon, and Israel until it reaches the Red Sea at the tip of the Sinai peninsula.

An understanding of this rift helps the Bible student better understand many events of the Scripture.

Some recommended resources

Sale Deadline on The Book of Ruth collection

If you received the BiblePlaces Newsletter for April  a few days ago you already know about the new volume in the Photo Companion of the Bible series. This one is on The Book of Ruth. I received a complimentary advance copy and found some of this material to be helpful on the recent study trip to Jordan. I am confident that anyone studying or teaching the book of Ruth will find the material helpful. You can download the recent BiblePlaces Newsletter filled with much helpful information here.

Available through April 22 for $20.

There are 350 images in PowerPoint to illustrate the four chapters of the Book of Ruth. The collection is on sale until midnight April 22 for $20. Bolen says, “Shipping is free in the US and satisfaction is guaranteed.” Go here for ordering information. Take a look at the four volume set on the Gospels.

Appian Media Producing New Series

Our friends at Appian Media have already produced a wonderful set of high-quality videos entitled Following the Messiah. They will soon be returning to Israel to film a new series dealing what many of us call the Biblical period of the United Kingdom. The series will be called Searching for a King.

Appian Media Searching for a King

Filming for this series begins very soon.

Appian Media provides membership access to their material, and they are seeking donations to assist in the work. See details here. Some videos are available for viewing on the website.

A New Video on Lachish

Lachish: The Epic Unearthed, a 48 minute video about the history and excavations of the biblical city of Lachish has been produced by Dr. Robert Henry and Rachel Martin. Henry summarizes the film:

This documentary brings you into the exciting world of Biblical Archaeology as it reveals the history of one of the largest Old Testament cities and tells the story of the volunteers who dig it up. This epic story reveals the turbulent warfare of the first temple period of Biblical history, the discoveries that expand the Biblical narrative and the impact this experience had on the people who came to Israel to dig. Watch as these determined volunteers unearth a Biblical land mark that hasn’t been touched in over two thousand five hundred years.

The video features comments by Prof. Yosef Garfinkle and Prof. Michael Hasel, directors of the fourth excavation at Lachish, as well as interviews with some of those working on the dig including my friend Luke Chandler.

Some viewers will be unfamiliar with the pronunciation of such sites as Lachish and Azekah. Instead of Lake-ish and ah-ZECK-ah, you will hear LAH-KISH and AZ-e-kah, pronunciations more common in Israel.

I am thankful to have provided a few of my aerial photographs for the video. Henry and Martin encourage you to use this video in your teaching and for personal study free of charge.

Walking the Bible Lands with Dr. Wayne Stiles

Wayne Stiles, whose web site we have mentioned several times, is now developing a video series called Walking the Bible Lands. This is old hat for Wayne who had been traveling to the Bible lands, teaching and writing about them for many years.

Wayne’s new material is available on a membership arrangement. Detailed information is available at his Walking the Bible Lands website here. You will find some samples there.

Traveling through the Wilderness of Zin

Yesterday we traveled from Eilat to Jerusalem with stops at Mitzpe Ramon, Avedat, and Ein Avedat.

The ancient Israelites wandered in the wilderness of Zin (Numbers 33:36), an area that included Kadesh Barnea and was the southern boundary for the tribe of Judah.

The land allotted to the tribe of Judah by its clans reached to the border of Edom, to the Wilderness of Zin in the Negev far to the south. (Joshua 15:1 NET)

We enjoyed a burger at the McDonald’s at Avedat, an important town along the Nabatean spice route between Petra and Gaza. Having been at Petra a few days earlier made this stop especially interesting.

We walked to the cold water pool at Ein Avedat. As we drove to that area we stopped to make some photos of the wadi. Most wadis have less greenery, but this one receives some water from the spring. During the rainy season water would be rushing through it in abundance.

This photo shows a wadi in the wilderness of Zin at Ein Avedat. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows a wadi in the wilderness of Zin at Ein Avedat. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Scenes such as this must have been especially refreshing to the ancient Israelites.

 

Traveling in Jordan again

For the past week I have been traveling in Jordan with long-time traveling friend Leon Mauldin on a personal study trip. We enjoy these trips going to places that  we miss during regular tours. That is because some of the places are difficult to reach and would have little interest to the first-time traveler to the Bible Lands. It sometimes takes us half a day to locate a place and visit it.

The tourist folks in Jordan like to call their country “the other Holy Land.” Not only did Jesus visit this area but it was often the area of travel for the patriarchs, prophets, and kings of ancient Israel.

Today we visited the Jabbok River a few miles east of the Valley Road (Roman Perea) and Deir Allah. This is thought by some to be the place where Jacob met his brother Esau on the return from Padan Aram. See Genesis 32 for the full story). This photo will give you some idea of the terrain and the small river, now called the Zarka.

The Jabbok River east of the River Jordan. Near here Jacob a life-changing encounter with the LORD. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Jabbok River east of the River Jordan. Near here Jacob had a life-changing encounter with the LORD. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Clearing the landmines at Qasr al-Yahud baptism site

My first visit to the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus and the work of John the Baptist was in 1967 (see photo of the group here). After the Six Days War in June, 1967, it was not possible to visit the site until about 2011. My next visit to the site in Israel was in May, 2011. In the meanwhile I had already taken three groups to Jordan so we could visit the site, traditionally known there as Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

In May, 2011, we had to stop at this gate and wait for someone from the military to come and open the gate for the bus to enter. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In May, 2011, we had to stop at this gate and wait for someone from the military to come and open the gate for the bus to enter. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The expression “beyond the Jordan” in John 1:28 distinguishes this Bethany from the Bethany on the east slopes of the Mount of Olives, the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (cf. John 11:1). Jesus was with John “beyond the Jordan” (3:26), and went away to this region prior to his final work in Judea (10:40). The Greek word for beyond is peran, from which comes the geographical term Perea. Perea was on the east side of the Jordan River.

The NKJV follows late manuscripts in the reading Bethabara. There are textual variants on this point, but the earliest and best reading is Bethany in John 1:28.

One reason for the long delay in opening the site in Israel was that it was in a military area. Much of the area had been filled with landmines and anti-tank mines after the 1967 war to prevent Jordanian tanks from crossing it.

Seven churches had been constructed in the area during the British Mandate period in the 1930s. A drone video included in the The Times of Israel article (link below) shows ruins of the Franciscan Compound, the Ethiopian Church, the Syrian Church, and the Romanian Church. Greek Orthodox pilgrims were already allowed to visit the baptism site to celebrate Epiphany.

Now, the HALO Trust fund has begun raising money to rid the area of mines. The TOI article says the Israel Defense Ministry contributed funds as well.

I call the Jordan a shy river that seldom shows itself. One can drive through the Jordan Valley from Tiberias to the Dead Sea and rarely get a glimpse of this famous River. That is because of the depth of the Jordan Valley and the growth along the banks of the River.

The River no longer floods the valley as it once did, and it is no longer as wide as it once was. This is because the water is now being used by both Israel and Jordan for agriculture and to provide drinking water for the growing population.

A view to the north of the Jordan River at Qasr al-Yahud. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view of the Jordan River to the north at Qasr al-Yahud. At this point the river is about 405 meters (1330 feet) below sea level. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

As we leave the River we stop to look back across the Ghor (depression) to the Zor (the thicket, shown as the green line) where the River flows. This is the view slightly north of the baptism site.

This photo shows the east side of the Jordan River in the foreground, the Ghor (depression) of the Jordan River, the Zor (thicket), the land of Perea on the east side of the Jordan and the mountains of Ammon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows the west side of the Jordan River in the foreground, the Ghor (depression) of the Jordan River, the Zor (thicket), the land of Perea on the east side of the Jordan, and the mountains of Transjordan in the haze. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Barb wire and signs warn the adventurous from wandering off the dirt road leading back to Highway 90.

This is one of the signs warning of the landmines. We also see these in certain area of the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is one of the signs warning of the landmines. We also see these in certain areas of the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here are links to two recent articles from Israeli papers that I have enjoyed.

  • “Christian Pilgrims From Across the World Come to Israel to Visit This Site. There’s Just one Problem: It’s Sitting in a Minefield” (Haaretz).
  • “Israel will soon clear 4,000 landmines at Qasr al-Yahud baptism site” (Times of Israel).

In spite of many environmental warnings about the impurity of the water in the Jordan River at this site many groups continue to baptize there.