Category Archives: Old Testament

Who is this bearded man from Abel Beth Maacah?

This small head was found at Abel Beth Maacah (also Abel-beth-Maacah, and spelled as one word) during the 2017 archaeological excavations. Announcement was made recently after the artifact was put on display in the Israel Museum.

Faience head of a king discovered at Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel. Photo released by Azusa Pacific University.

Glazed ceramic head of a king discovered at Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel. Photo released by Azusa Pacific University.

According to Robert Mullins, Ph.D., lead archaeologist at Abel Beth Maacah and chair and professor in Azusa Pacific’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies, the head measures 2.2 x 2 inches and has carefully executed features, including glossy black tresses combed back from a headband painted in yellow and black and a manicured beard. His almond-shaped eyes and pupils are lined in black and the pursed lips give him a look that is part pensive, part stern. The glazed surface is tinted light green due to the addition of copper to the quartz paste. Its elegant style indicates that the man was a distinguished personage, probably a king. By all appearances, the head appears to have broken off from the body of a figurine that stood 8-10 inches high.

“Despite the head’s small and innocuous appearance, it provides us with a unique opportunity to gaze into the eyes of a famous person from the past; a past enshrined in the Book of Ages,” said Mullins. “Given that the head was found in a city that sat on the border of three different ancient kingdoms, we do not know whether it depicts the likes of King Ahab of Israel, King Hazael of Aram-Damascus, or King Ethbaal of Tyre, rulers known from the Bible and other sources. The head represents a royal enigma.”

The News Release continues,

Details about the figurine head and its discovery were recently presented to the Israeli archaeological community at the 44th Annual Archaeological Congress at Ben Gurion University of the Negev by Dr. Naama Yahalom-Mack of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A more detailed article about the head and the current excavations at Abel Beth Maacah will appear in the June issue of the professional journal, Near Eastern Archaeology. The dig is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

This photo shows the north end of Abel Beth Maacah with Mount Hermon in the distance across the Beka Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows the northern end of Abel Beth Maacah with Mount Hermon in the distance across the Beka Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The biblical references to Abel Beth Maacah include the following episodes.

No sooner had King David put down the rebellion of his son Abaslom when a Benjamite by the name of Sheba led a rebellion against him. The men of Israel rebelled against David and followed Sheba, but the men of Judah remained loyal to the king.

Realizing that Sheba was a greater threat than Absalom had been, David called on Abishai to take servants (warriors) and capture Sheba. Joab’s men went out from Jerusalem to capture Sheba. This pursuit took Joab’s men all the way to the north of the Israelite territory, to a town named Abel-Beth-Maacah. Some English versions use Abel Beth Maacah, or a similar variant. In modern Israel this archaeological mound is almost on the border with Lebanon between Kiryat Shmona and Metulla.

The wise woman reasons with Joab. She tells him that this town formerly was a place where people would ask for advice to end a dispute. She said,

 I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the LORD?” (2 Samuel 20:19 ESV)

Joab agreed that he would not destroy the city if she would hand over Sheba. She agreed to throw the head of Sheba over the wall. She did what she promised and the destruction was averted. Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem.

Abel-beth-Maacah is mentioned in at least two other passages.

  1. The city was conquered by Ben-hadad, king of Aram [Syria] (1 Kings 15:20).
  2. The city was captured by Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, in the days of Pekah of Israel.

A nice photo of the little head on display in the Israel Museum is included with an article by Ilan Ben Zion in The Times of Israel here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Shiloh, “where the Lord’s tabernacle stands”

Joshua 22:19 describes Shiloh as the place “where the LORD’S tabernacle stands.” During the midst of the allocation of the land to the various tribes of Israel, all of them gathered at Shiloh (Shilo) and set up the tent of meeting or tabernacle (Hebrew mishkan) (Joshua 18:1), which is also called the house of God in Joshua 18:31. Here they made the final division of the land (Joshua 18:8-10).

Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them. (Joshua 18:1 ESV)

The area where the tabernacle is thought to have stood on the north side of the tel as it looked in 2013, and about the same when I saw it earlier this year,  is shown in our first photo. Other scholars place the tabernacle on the summit of the tel, and some on the south end of the tel. Dr. Scott Stripling, the current excavator, suggests that it was first on the summit and later relocated to either the north or the south. (See link to his work below.)

A popular view is that the tabernacle, or tent of meeting, stood here for many years. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A popular view is that the tabernacle, or tent of meeting, stood in this area of Shiloh for many years. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Below is a photo of the tabernacle in the wilderness in the park at Timna, a few miles north of Eilat. These photos are not high-resolution but are suitable for use in teaching presentations.

The tabernacle in the wilderness as shown at Timna near Eilat, Israel. Oil adaptation from a photograph. FerrellJenkins.blog.

The tabernacle in the wilderness as shown at Timna near Eilat, Israel. Oil adaptation from a photograph by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our next photo shows a section of the Canaanite wall (1640-1600 B.C.), and below it a portion of the Iron Age wall with a couple of large clay jugs from the Canaanite period. The massive Canaanite walls remind us of the repeated statement of Moses in Deuteronomy.

The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. (Deuteronomy 1:28; cf. 3:5; 9:1, et al.  ESV)

The Canaanites had a glacis on the outside of the wall. The Israelites had to remove part of it to build their wall. Price defines a glacis as “a natural or artificial slope found in ancient fortified cities, usually employed for defensive purposes.” (Price, Randall. Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology, p. 353.)

The wall of large stones at the back of the photo is a Cannanite Wall (Middle Bronze - 1650-1600 B.C. The lower wall in the foreground is from the Iron Age. This would include the time of Eli and Samuel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The wall of large stones at the back of the photo is a Cannanite Wall (Middle Bronze – 1650-1600 B.C. The lower walls in the foreground is from Iron Age I houses from the time of Samuel, but the large clay jars, several of which were found in storage rooms, belong to the Canaanite period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Last Sunday I was listening to a sermon about Hannah as she prayed to the LORD for a son at Shiloh. Eli the priest observed her praying silently, and told her that God would grant her petition. In due time Samuel was born to Hannah and her husband Elkanah. In what many would see as an unusual move, Hannah promised her son to the service of the LORD.

Taking a sacrifice to the tabernacle in Shiloh this couple brought “a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine” (1 Sam. 1:24 ESV), and the son that she had promised to the LORD. She tells Eli that she has lent the son to the LORD for as long as he lived. Elkanah and his wife went home to Ramah, but Samuel stayed at Shiloh and ministered to the LORD in the presence of Eli the priest.

Samuel would become the last of the judges of Israel, and the first of the prophets (Acts 3:24; 13:20). As a prophet he would anoint both Saul and David as kings of Israel. Two books of the Old Testament are named for him.

I wish to close with a notice of the reference in 1 Samuel 2:13-14. The text reads,

The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. (1 Sam. 2:13-14 ESV)

We have archaeological examples of these three-pronged forks used in connection with sacrificial offerings at pagan sites. Notice this example displayed in the Israel Museum.

Trident and tongs from Acco displayed in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Trident (three-pronged fork) and tongs from Akko displayed in the Israel Museum (14-13 century B.C.). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The 2018 excavation at Shiloh, under the sponsorship of the Associates for Biblical Research, and directed by Dr. Scott Stripling, is in its second week. A report on the first week and links to the work from last year may be read here.

Index: Route of the Exodus and the Location of Mount Sinai

This post will be linked to our Indexes (Indices) page that you see listed above our header photo. These articles are fairly easy to locate through use of the Search box, but I receive questions about the subject several times a year.

If you locate another one of our posts that should be on this page please let us know in a comment. We will not add links from other sources here.

An area along the Suez Canal (Red Sea = Sea of Reeds). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An area along the Suez Canal (Red Sea = Sea of Reeds). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Jebel Musa, the traditional Mount Sinai. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Jebel Musa, the traditional Mount Sinai. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Walls Around Jerusalem National Park – # 3

This post is a sort of addendum to the two previous posts on the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park.

David McClister, head of the Biblical Studies department at Florida College, and I have discussed what we called the Shimon Gibson Site several times in the past few years. We corresponded after he was on his way to Israel for a tour. I was aware that I needed better photos for a couple of points of the discussion about the possible location of the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement and in Aramaic Gabbatha. You may want to glance over the two previous posts to understand the importance of these photos.

From Israel, David sent me the photos I needed.

My photos did not show clearly enough the rock formation where Gibson thinks the bema where Jesus stood before Pilate was located. The site was included in my photos, but not as clearly as I wished.

On one of my photos I had marked the place of a pavement that once covered the area. Remember that archaeology is a systematic destruction. In order to reach the level below the pavement, the pavement must be removed. In this case a few paving stones remain to be seen.

This photo shows a section of a pavement area. Photo by David. ferrelljenkins.blog.

This photo shows a section of a pavement area. Photo by David

The next photo more clearly shows the area of the judgment seat or bema. Gibson thinks this matches the descriptions given in the Gospel accounts. A couple of steps remain. The thought is that the Prefect would set up a canopy and judge from this place.

The natural platform where Gibson contents Jesus stood before Pilate. Photo by David McClister.

The natural platform where Gibson contends Jesus stood before Pilate. Photo by David McClister.

To the south (right) of the steps we see in the photo above, there is what looks like a column base that Kramer says was found near where the young lady is standing. This stone does not have a cup in it as we will see at Dan, but it may have held a post of some sort to support a canopy.

A carved stone piece that looks like the base of a column. Photo by David McClister.

A carved stone piece that looks like the base of a column. Photo by David McClister.

In lecturing to his group, Kramer reminds them of the podium at the inner gate of Dan where the king or a judge might sit to hear issues brought by the people .

According to Avraham Biran this is where a judge or king could site under his canopy. The stone base, one of four, was used to hold one of the posts of the canopy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

According to Avraham Biran this is where a judge or king could site under his canopy. The stone base, one of four, was used to hold one of the posts of the canopy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A now-faded display sign at the gate of Dan illustrates what might have happened at this place. In a different incident King David is said to have taken his seat in the gate to receive the people.

Then the king arose and took his seat in the gate. And the people were all told, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate.” And all the people came before the king. Now Israel had fled every man to his own home. (2 Samuel 19:8 ESV)

Sign in the gate of Dan illustrating the purpose of the podium that was uncovered there. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign in the gate of Dan illustrating the purpose of the podium that was uncovered there. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Carl Rasmussen includes a painting by Balage and a photo taken when a canopy was in place over the podium at Dan. See his Holy Land Photos site.

You will notice a difference in the bases where poles to hold the cover over the monarch may have been placed, but we are talking about two different periods – one from the Iron Age of Israel and the other from the Herodian Roman period.

Hopefully these photographs will help us to understand more clearly what happened at this place.

My thanks to David for his extra effort in getting the photos I needed.

The Arabah – Copper mining at Timna

The “promised land” was described to the Israelites as “a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (Deuteronomy 8:9). Copper was mined by Egyptians in the Arabah of Israel as far back as the 13th-12th century B.C. Recent research has demonstrated that copper was also mined there during the Iron Age

Until the the mid 1970s copper was still mined at Timna about 25 miles north of Eilat (close to Ezion-geber). (See the comment by Tom Powers on our introductory post here.)

The Timnah associated with Samson (Judges 14:1) is a different site near Beth-shemesh (Joshua 15:10), and the Sorek Valley (Judges 16:4).

The Bible does not say that Solomon had copper mines at Ezion-geber, but the presence of mining facilities dating to the 10th century B.C. indicates that this may have been one of the reasons why the King built a port and had a navy stationed there (1 Kings 9:26-28). Ezion-geber was more than 220 miles from Jerusalem. The copper provided a good medium of exchange for gold, spices, and other items that Israel needed.

Timnah Park is a beautiful place to visit. Incidentally, it is privately operated and charges an admission fee not covered by one of the tourist cards honored at  the national parks. Since my last visit in 2011, a nice Visitor Center has been erected. Here you can buy tickets, souvenirs, and snacks. There are cases with a few (mostly replica) artifacts from the ancient mining, also beautiful photos, maps and videos. I observed a “ranger” explaining the biking routes to a few travelers.

The Chudnow Visitor Center at the entrance to Timnah Valley which is humbly called "one of the world's most beautiful parks." Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Chudnow Visitor Center at the entrance to Timnah Valley which is humbly called “one of the world’s most beautiful parks.” Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The plaza outside the Visitor Center provides an opportunity to make souvenir photos, as I did. This gives one the sense of the ancient.

Leon Mauldin poses in an Egyptian chariot, but I see he doesn't have much horse power. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Leon Mauldin poses in an Egyptian chariot, but I see he doesn’t have any horse power.

The most famous formation in Timna Park if called Solomon’s Pillars.  We have no way to know if Solomon ever came this area. The leaflet distributed at the Visitor Center seems to not include information about the recent excavations. It says,

These sandstone pillars are a natural part of the cliff wall. They are a typical landscape formation that developed as a result of erosion along cracks in the hard red sandstone. They are named after King Solomon, due to a mistaken early theory that copper-mining and production were part of Solomon’s activities in this area.

Solomon's Pillars, one of the most beautiful formations in the park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Pillars of Solomon. These massive pillars at Timna have been associated with Solomon for a long time.These “pillars”, formed by water, are one of the most beautiful formations in the park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When Egyptians worked at Timnah there was a cultic site associated with the Egyptian goddess Hathor. A sign at the site explains that it contains an Egyptian sacred chamer, a central niche, and cultic basins. According to the archaeologists who worked here there are also some local Semitic elements among the ruins: Cultic basins, rock-hewn altar, and standing stones.

The Hator Temple, named after the Egyptian goddess, was used as a cult site during the Egyptian period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Hator Temple, named after the Egyptian goddess, was used as a cult site during the Egyptian period, and afterward by local Midianites. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In Timna Valley there is one beautiful view after another. The formation below is appropriately called Spiral Hill, so named because it seems to climb to the top like a spiral staircase.

Spiral Hill in Timna Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Spiral Hill in Timna Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We have already seen the Acacia trees in the northern Araba, but there are some beautiful scenes in Timna Valley.

Another Acacia tree growing in one of the wadis of the Timna Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Another Acacia tree growing in one of the wadis of the Timna Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Four times before I have visited Timna. Two of these was since the construction of the life size reconstruction of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. It is now included in the admission fee for Timna Park and evidently is open any time the park is open. It deserves a fuller discussion, but I am including this photo which I have enhanced in Photoshop, removing most of the autos, buses, modern roads, poles, and other obstructions. I hope you will enjoy it and perhaps use it in your teaching. Click on the photo for a larger image.

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness at Timna Park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness at Timna Park. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I am leaving discussion of the Smelting Camp with its illustrations showing how the smelting of copper was done for another time.

Todd Bolen provides a brief summary of the archaeological work indicating that the peak copper production at Timna was in the 10th century B.C. here. Especially important is the link to the report in BASOR.

Leon Mauldin’s blog site is here.

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 – Keturah, the home of Methuselah

Methuselah is the oldest man mentioned in the Bible, but his namesake now lives at Keturah in the Arabah.

Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died. (Genesis 5:27 ESV)

His namesake is a male date palm grown from a seed discovered during the excavations by Prof. Yigal Yadin at Masada in the 1960s.

Getting to Keturah to see the palm is rather easy if you are traveling south (or north) on Highway 90.

This sign on Highway 90 prominently marks the entrance to the Arava Institute. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This sign on Highway 90 prominently marks the entrance to the Arava Institute. Notice the spelling of Ketura with a Q.. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If you are using your phone or other device as a GPS you can just ask for directions to the “Ketura Ancient Palm” and it should direct you to the right place. (Disclaimer: it worked for us.) Note the spelling of Ketura as Qetura.

My GPS on the camera shows 29 58.0659’N, 35 3.5999’E, and here is the location on Google Earth Pro.

The Google Earth Pro location for the Ancient Palm.

The Google Earth Pro location for the Ancient Palm.

But, I am a little ahead of myself. As we drove into the village from Hwy. 90 we noticed a lady dressed in white walking on the left side of the street. We stopped, asked about the ancient palm and were told to continue to a parking lot and the palm would be on our left. Best directions we received the entire trip. Most people just say “go straight and then ask.”

After we arrived at our destination we saw the woman who had given us directions coming our way. She was Dr. Elaine Solowey, director of the Arabah Institute. Leon Mauldin and I were delighted to hear firsthand from her the things we had read about the palm.

Ferrell Jenkins listening to the history of "Methuselah" from Dr. Elaine Solowey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Ferrell Jenkins listening to the history of “Methuselah” from Dr. Elaine Solowey.

A sign attached to the fence around the palm tells the story more succinctly than I can. It is titled “A Date With Time.”

—  “ —

“Methuselah” – a male date palm {Phoenix dactylifera}, grown from a 1,900 year old seed discovered during Prof. YigalYadin’s excavations of Masada in the 1960s.

It is likely that this date seed was from the food supply of the Zealots, a Jewish group who defended the fortress during the war against Rome and finally perished at the end of a prolonged siege In 73 CE.

In 2005, Dr. Sarah Sallon, Director of The Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center at Hadassah Medical Organization, Jerusalem, initiated a unique project to germinate ancient seeds found in archaeological sites in an attempt to reintroduce species that once grew in the Land of Israel.

In conjunction with Dr. Elaine Solowey, Director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES), the attempt was successful. In March of that year the oldest seed ever germinated produced a date seedling, “Methuselah”, named after the oldest person mentioned in the Bible.

“Methuselah” then attracted International attention, with a mention on CNN and in National Geographic Magazine as well as a scientific article published in the journal, “Science”.

In 2011, the seedling was planted on the grounds of Kibbutz Ketura, representing the first time in almost two millennia that the Judean Date Palm, prized in antiquity for the taste, size and medicinal properties of its fruit, has been grown in Israel.

—  ” —

In additional reading, I have picked up a few interesting points that our readers will appreciate.

A 2017 article by Stephanie Buck in Timeline reports that the seed found in the jar at Masada was tested by carbon dating.

Back at the lab, scientists broke off tiny chips of the seeds’ shells; carbon dating estimated their origin between 155 BC and 64 CE.

More interesting facts from the Timeline article:

Solowey got to work. First, she soaked the seeds in hot water to activate absorption. From there, she bathed them in nutrients and fertilizer made from seaweed. She chose the Jewish holiday, New Year for Trees, which in 2005 fell on January 25, as the day to plant. After a few months, she noticed a crack in the soil…then a sprout.”

In 2011 the palm flowered, but because it is male there was no fruit.

Solowey and her team “mated him with modern female date plants. His seed is healthy. ‘We got fruit and some 50% ancient date trees,’ says Solowey.”

Solowey explained to us that shoots from this palm could also be planted. When they are able to mate him with a female, then the fruit will be 100% ancient.

“Both the Bible and the Koran praise the date palm. The tree provided shade, food, and medicine. In the “land of milk and honey,” dates were the honey. The fruit was large, dark, and very sweet, says Solowey. It had good “shelf life” and was in high demand in Rome.”

“Roman emperors wanted Judean dates for their tables,” Solowey told Timeline. “Since they had absolutely nothing else good to say about Jews, Judea, or Judaism, I assume they were very good dates.”

“The ancient fruit made tonics for longevity, laxatives, and aphrodisiacs; lore claims they could cure infections. The date was so important to the region that it featured on ancient coinage, and even on Israel’s 10-shekel coin today. But 800 years ago, crusaders destroyed the last Judean palm and rendered the plant extinct. Dr. Sallon hopes Methuselah is the key to medicinal remedies once lost to history.”

When the Romans captured Judea and destroyed the temple the emperors portrayed the captives siting under a date palm. Earlier, Herod the Tetrarch (Luke 23:7), some of the Roman prefects, including Felix (Acts 23-25),  used the palm on their coins. We also see it on the Israeli 10 New Shekel coin.

Vespasiano_Sesterius_Iudaea_Capta-RIC_0424

Vespasiano_Sesterius_Iudaea_Capta-RIC_0424. From Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Solowey ask if we would like to see some frankincense, balm, and myrrh plants in the hothouse. We were astonished when we entered the hothouse and saw those as well as several young potted palms.

In the hothouse at Ketura we saw these growing young palms. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the hothouse at Ketura we saw these growing young palms. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The names were fascinating. I assumed the one named Eve was the first female plant. Others were labeled Ruthi, Boaz, Jeremiah, and Judah. We will patiently await the mating of Methuselah with one of these girls.

There is more to tell about other plants we saw in the hothouse, but that will need to wait for another time. I will tell you that Dr. Solowey mentioned one of her books to us. Trees of Fragrance and Mystery is available from Kindle. I have enjoyed the portions that I have read, especially about frankincense, balm, and myrrh.

We saw and learned more than we had hoped for at Keturah. I want to go back in a few years in the summer as my wife and I did in 2008 and see Methusaleh’s “wife” like this.

Arabah date palm in August 2008. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Arabah date palm in August 2008. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I wanted to add one more thought about dates being the honey of the Bible. There is little evidence for beekeeping in the promised land, but the discovery of a commercial apiary at Tel Rehov in the Jordan Valley has provided more information. Here is the summary by the excavators, Mazar and Panitz-Cohen.

The term “honey” appears fifty-five times in the Bible, sixteen of which as part of the metaphor of Israel as “the land of milk and honey.” This honey has been always understood as having been produced from fruits, such as dates and figs, with bees’ honey mentioned explicitly only twice, both times in relation to wild bees (Judg 14:8–9 and 1 Sam 14:27). However, careful reading of biblical metaphors mentioning honey led Forti (2006) to suggest that they refer mostly to bee’s honey, through in her view, due to the lack of agriculture in the Bible, the references are to honey collected in nature. Indeed, in no case does the Bible mention bee rearing as a productive industry. The discovery of the beehives at Tel Rehov shows that this was a well developed economic branch during the First Temple period. We can now assume that at least some of the notations of honey in the Bible pertain to bees’ honey. (Mazar, Amihai and Nava Panitz-Cohen. “It is the Land of Honey: Beekeeping at Tel Rehov.” Near Eastern Archaeology 70:4 (2007): 213-214.

Rehov was not an Israelite site.

We are headed to Eilat, the southernmost tip of the Arabah in Israel. I am not sure if our next post will be about Eilat or if we will stop at Timna on the way. Thanks for following the blog.