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.

“I will make your enemies your footstool” – # 2

In the previous post we discussed the common motif found in the Ancient Near East showing a monarch with his foot on the neck of a subdued enemy. We discussed how this helps us visualize certain Biblical texts.

Here I wish to add an illustration from the Roman world shortly after New Testament times. In the statue below we see the Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) with his foot on the neck of an enemy.

Hadrian has his foot on the neck of an enemy. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hadrian has his foot on the neck of an enemy. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This statue is displayed in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. It is made of marble and is said to have come from Hierapitna, Crete.

The photo below is a closeup of the captive with the Emperor’s foot on his neck.

Closeup of Hadrian with his foot on the neck of an enemy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Closeup of Hadrian with his foot on the neck of an enemy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the New Testament, Peter quotes Psalm 110:1 to show that Jesus is now seated on the throne of David at the right hand of God (Acts 2:35).

The apostle Paul understood this. He said of Jesus,

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Corinthians 15:25 ESV)

The last enemy is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The illustrations here and in the previous post are suitable for use in PowerPoint presentations for sermons and Bible classes. We only ask that you leave our credit line intact so others will know how to reach our material.

“I will make your enemies your footstool”

A common motif found in Ancient Near East reliefs shows a monarch placing his foot on his enemy. One illustration of this is the large relief showing the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III (reigned 745-727 B.C.) with his foot on the neck of an enemy. Tiglath-Pileser III is known as Pul in the Bible.

Pul the king of Assyria came against the land, and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that he might help him to confirm his hold on the royal power. (2 Kings 15:19 ESV)

So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day. (1 Chronicles 5:26 ESV)

The Assyrian relief below is displayed in the British Museum.

Tiglath-Pileser III Subjugates an Enemy. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

Tiglath-Pileser III Subjugates an Enemy. Note the spear held above the body of the enemy. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

Here is a closeup of what we are seeking to illustrate.

Tiglath-Pileser III Puts His Foot on the Neck of an Enemy. BM. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tiglath-Pileser III Puts His Foot on the Neck of an Enemy. BM. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Several biblical passages come to mind in this connection.

And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near; put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Then they came near and put their feet on their necks. (Joshua 10:24 ESV)

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110:1 ESV)

Peter quotes Psalm 110:1 to show that Jesus is now seated on the throne of David at the right hand of God (Acts 2:35).

And Paul says,

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Corinthians 15:25 ESV)

The last enemy is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Note: This post is a repeat of one we published October 21, 2011, but we have exchanged the photos for more recent ones.

In the next post we plan to show an illustration from the Roman world.

Bread – from bakery to consumer

From the time of my earliest tours I noticed that the tour members were surprised to see various goods carried on the head. In the Middle East it is common to see women carrying buckets of water on their head without even steadying them by hand. In the Middle East and Europe bread is transported on carts, and sometimes on the head, without any covering.

The photo below was made in the Muristan of the Old City of Jerusalem. These loaves of bread and other bakery goods may be headed to restaurants where they will be turned into sandwiches for hungry patrons.

Man carrying bread on his head in the Muristan area of the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Man carrying bread on his head in the Muristan area of the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bread is an important staple in the diet of many people. And the bread we are speaking of here is not like that “old lite bread” as my late mother in law used to call modern prepackaged loaves of bread. She made the bread for her family in her own kitchen. On my earliest tours in the late 60s and 70s of the last century the bread served was hard and sometimes it was baked in such a ways as to have a hollow center.

The ancient Israelites were dependent on crops of grain for their bread. Wheat and barley were major crops in the Promised Land.

… a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. (Deuteronomy 8:8-9 ESV)

When the prophet Jeremiah was in prison he thinks that he may die. He requested that he not be sent back to the house of Jonathan the secretary lest he die there. King Zedekiah ordered that Jeremiah be committed to the court of the guard and that bread be delivered to him daily from the baker’s street until there was no longer bread in the city.

So King Zedekiah gave orders, and they committed Jeremiah to the court of the guard. And a loaf of bread was given him daily from the bakers’ street, until all the bread of the city was gone. So Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard. (Jeremiah 37:21 ESV)

I am old enough to remember the rationing of World War II. Farmers were in a little better position to have stores of corn from which our bread was made in those days.

During the Wilderness Wandering the Israelites were provided with manna which the Psalmist called the bread of angels.

Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance. (Psalm 78:25 ESV)

The words of Jesus have added significance to those born into humble circumstances.

I am the bread of life. (John 6:48 ESV)

Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11 ESV)

We must remember that we are sustained both physically and spiritually by the bread that the Lord provides.

Seal impression mentioning “governor of the city” discovered near Temple Mount

The Israel Antiquities Authority began the year with a great announcement yesterday. Many tourists to the Western Wall may have seen a covered area on the western side of the Western Wall Plaza. Here the archaeologists uncovered a 7th century B.C. four-room house. In it there was a seal impression which they refer to as a docket (also called a bulla) showing two men and a Hebrew inscription bearing the words translated as “governor of the city.”

Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, excavator of the site located in the northwestern part of the western Wall Plaza, on behalf of the IAA, believes that “the sealing had been attached to an important transport and served as some sort of logo, or as a tiny souvenir, which was sent on behalf of the governor of the city.”

Seal impression showing two men and bearing the inscription "governon of the city." IAA photo by Clara Amit.

Seventh century B.C. seal impression showing two men and bearing the inscription “governor of the city.” IAA photo by Clara Amit.

Prof. Tallay Ornan of the Hebrew University, and Prof. Benjamin Sass of Tel Aviv University, studied the sealing and describe it thus: “above a double line are two standing men, facing each other in a mirror-like manner. Their heads are depicted as large dots, lacking any details. The hands facing outward are dropped down, and the hands facing inward are raised Each of the figures is wearing a striped, knee-length garment. In the register beneath the double line is an inscription in ancient Hebrew: לשרער, with no spacing between the words and no definite article. It denotes לשר העיר, i.e., “belonging to the governor of the city.” Prof. Ornan and Prof. Sass add, that “the title ‘governor of the city’ is known from the Bible and from extra-biblical documents, referring to an official appointed by the king. Governors of Jerusalem are mentioned twice in the Bible: in 2 Kings [23:8], Joshua is the governor of the city in the days of Hezekiah, and in 2 Chronicles [34:8], Maaseiah is the governor of the city in the days of Josiah.

The original seal that made this impression may have belonged to one of these men, or to some other person not named in Scripture.

This discovery is another in a long list of those illustrating the historical setting and accuracy of the Bible.

Todd Bolen reported on this discovery, including a different photo of the seal impression, and several interesting links here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Gadara described as a town “without a soul.”

Ancient Gadara has been described by a former Jordanian villager who once lived there as a town “without a soul.”  The reason for his description is explained by Sunny Fitzgerald in a recent issue of BBC Travel.

In the 1960s, Jordan’s Department of Antiquities declared Gadara an archaeological site; it’s now awaiting consideration for Unesco World Heritage status.

The local citizens were moved from the ancient site, but they still visit it for the beautiful scenes of the Sea of Galilee and the Yarmuk valley below Umm Qais.

View of the Sea of Galilee in the late afternoon from Umm Qais (Gadara). Notice the slight red sky showing through the haze. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Sea of Galilee in the late afternoon from Umm Qais (Gadara). Notice the slight red sky showing through the haze. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fitzgerald’s illustrated article is a fascinating one that I highly recommend that you read it.

Umm Qais (a common spelling; also Umm Qeis and Um Qays) is the site of Gadara, one of the cities of the Greco-Roman Decapolis. The late Mendel Nun discovered 16 ancient ports around the Sea of Galilee, including one for the city of Gadara. The port is located at Tel Samra on the southeast corner of the Sea of Galilee at the modern Ha-on Holiday Village (Mendel Nun. “Ports of Galilee.” Biblical Archaeology Review 25:04; July/Aug 1999).

From Umm Qais (Gadara) one has a great view of the Sea of Galilee and the Yarmuk River valley. We are told that Jesus visited the region of Decapolis.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. (Mark 7:31 ESV)

The Gospel of Matthew informs us about the healing by Jesus of two demon-possessed men in the country of the Gadarenes (Matthew 8:28). Mark puts this event in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20). Luke adds that they “sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee” (Luke 8:26).

Umm Qais is made of the local basalt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman theater at Umm Qais is made of the local basalt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The term Decapolis was used to describe a group of ten cities established by the Greeks. Many of them claimed to have been founded by Alexander the Great. The number of cities may have been ten at some time, but the exact number varies from list to list. The cities include Abila [Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, Luke 3:1], Gadara [Umm Qeis], Gerasa [Jerash], Hippos, Philadelphia [Amman], Scythopolis [Beth-shan], Pella, et al. These cities are located mostly south of the Sea of Galilee, and all except Scythopolis are east of the Jordan River. Damascus is included in some lists. In the first century A.D. they were part of the Roman province of Syria.

HT: Agade

Myra, home of Saint Nicholas

The town Myra is known to students of the New Testament as a place where Paul transferred ships while he was being taken to Rome for trial before Caesar (Acts 27:5).

In the centuries following, Myra became the home of a (Greek Orthodox) bishop known as Nicholas. Born in Patara, Nicholas died December 6, 343. Several legends arose around Nicholas who was noted for giving gifts to the poor and raising the dead.

Highly revered in Greece and Russia, St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, and scholars. From his life of piety, kindness, and generosity arose the legendary figure celebrated today as St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, or Santa Claus. (Fant & Reddish, A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, 256)

The ancient Myra is associated with the modern Turkish town Demre (or Kale). I thought you might enjoy seeing a few pictures related to Saint Nicholas. In the town square is a recent statue showing St. Nicholas with children. The statue was a gift of the Russian government in 2000. Many Russian tourists were visiting the day I was there.

Modern statue of Saint Nicholas at Myra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Modern statue of Saint Nicholas at Myra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A few decades ago I saw an older statue near the entrance to the church. It now has a fresh coat of black paint.

Older statue of St. Nicholas near the entrance of the Byzantine church ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Older statue of St. Nicholas near the entrance of the Byzantine church ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Byzantine church dates to the 6th century A.D. Several writers point out that the sarcophagus of Nicholas was broken into by Italian merchants in 1087 A.D., and his bones were taken to Bari, Italy.

This is said to be the sarcophagus of St. Nicholas. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is said to be the sarcophagus of St. Nicholas. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wilson says the church is built like a basilica “in the shape of an orthodox cross” (Biblical Turkey 88).

Older statue of St. Nicholas near the entrance of the Byzantine church ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Older statue of St. Nicholas near the entrance of the Byzantine church ruins. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On the left side of the apse there is a fresco of St. Nicholas. On a previous posting about Myra reader Al Sandalow sent me a few photos he made in the area including one of the fresco. I now have some photos, but I think Al’s is better and I post it here with thanks.

Fresco of Saint Nicholas in the church at Myra. Photo by Al Sandalow.

Fresco in the church of Saint Nicholas at Myra. Photo by Al Sandalow.

Tourism seems to be thriving at Myra even though the town is off the beaten track. Whether there are any Christians living in the town is doubtful.

For an earlier post about Myra and St. Nicholas, see here.

This is an edited re-post, with additional photos, from December 22, 2012