Beautiful mound covers the site of ancient Lystra

The mound of Lystra, now called Zordula, is located about 18 miles south of Konya (biblical Iconium), Turkey, near the village of Hatunsaray.

Lystra was visited by Paul and Barnabas on the First Missionary or Preaching Journey (Acts 14). Lystra and Derbe were towns of Lycaonia (Acts 14:6). The locals spoke the Lycaonian language. They called Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes (14:12). Inscriptions have been found that identify these particular gods with Lycaonia.

This was the home of young Timothy, “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1). Timothy accepted the invitation of Paul to join him on the second journey. Two of Paul’s epistles were written to Timothy.

The mound of Lystra, 18 miles south of modern Konya. View to the south. 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.

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 #3 – a tomb in Jordan

Our tomb with a rolling stone today is located near Heshbon in Jordan. A number of tombs from the Roman period have been excavated. Tomb No. 5 has a swinging door of limestone with decorated jambs, lintel and sill. In the Spring of 1971 a rolling stone tomb was found. It was the first such “rolling stone” tomb found east of the Jordan. It differs from those known in Palestine/Israel in that there is no trench cut in the bedrock. This stone rolls on a slab courtyard floor between two walls.

The archaeological excavations at Heshbon have been conducted by Andrews University.

Roman tomb with rolling stone. FerrellJenkins.blog.

Rolling stone tomb discovered at Heshbon in the Spring of 1971. Photo (scanned slide) by Ferrell Jenkins.

Eugenia Nitowski excavated the tomb. She says,

I have studied 61 rolling-stone tombs in Palestine/Transjordan, dating from the Early Roman through Byzantine periods (63 B.C. to 640 A.D.). I have studied many other tombs of this period without rolling stones. Based on this study, I have reconstructed the most likely architectural features of Jesus’ tomb. It is clear both from the Gospel evidence (Matthew 27:60; Mark 16:3, 5; Luke 23:53, 24:3) and the archaeological evidence that Jesus’ tomb was located in a burial cave. There was probably a courtyard outside the cave. The entrance to the cave was quite small, approximately two feet by three feet, allowing access by only one person at a time. In Jesus’ burial cave, as we learn from the Gospels (Mark 15:46, 16:3, 4; Luke 24:2) this entrance was controlled by a rolling stone consisting of a large, round stone disc set on edge. Two kinds of rolling-stone tracks have been found: those with slanted tracks, which provide automatic closure if unattended, and level tracks, which on the other hand, enable movement of the stone by one person. In other caves, the entrance was controlled by a square slab, or by a swinging door that could be locked. The closure was never meant to be permanent because of the continual need for reuse: Inside the cave was provision for a number of burials. (Kohlbeck, Joseph, and Eugenia Nitowski. “New Evidence May Explain Image on Shroud of Turin.” Biblical Archaeology Review, July-Aug. 1986, p. 22.)

The Horn Archaeological Museum in Berrien Springs, Michigan, displays a drawing of the tomb, showing the rolling stone and the interior of the tomb.

The Roman tomb at Heshbon. Horn Archaeological Museum.

This drawing displayed at the Horn Archaeological Museum shows the rolling stone and the interior of the tomb. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This rolling-stone tomb is typical of limestone-carved, first-century tombs in Judea and nearby areas, this one from Tell Hesban in Jordan may be very similar to the tomb in which Jesus was buried. The Gospel of Matthew (27:59–60) relates that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, and “rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre.” In such tombs, the round stone rolled freely along a slanted track or was pushed along a level track in order to cover and seal the entrance to the burial cave. (Shown here is a level track.)

Roman tomb with rolling stone. Discovered at Heshbon, Jordan, in 1971. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Roman tomb with rolling stone. Discovered at Heshbon, Jordan, in 1971. Photo (scanned slide) by Ferrell Jenkins.

In 2018 Leon Mauldin and I visited the Hesbon area and located this tomb with considerable difficulty. It is in the middle of a field, grown over, and impossible to see clearly.