Tag Archives: David

Roman road from Elah valley to Bethlehem

Portions of roads from the Roman period are found throughout Israel, and we have posted about several of them.

One interesting Roman road is the stepped road leading from the Valley of Elah up to Bethlehem. This photo was made 4.2 km west of Mata on Highway 375. I am not sure of the date of this unusual stretch of Roman Road, but I think most of the Roman roads date to the late first century or the second century A.D.

These steps would have made the trip up into, and down from, the mountains of Judea easier for both man and beast. This is likely the same route, centuries before the Romans controlled the area, taken by David as he went from Bethlehem to take some special provisions to his brothers on the firing line in the Valley of Elah (1 Samuel 17:15-22). Note especially verse 15:

… but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. (1 Samuel 17:15 ESV)

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When David was in the cave at Adullam he wished for a drink of water from “the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate.”  The Biblical text records that three of his mighty men, without the knowledge of David, made their way to Bethlehem to bring him some of that water (2 Samuel 23:15-17). David refused to drink the water and poured it out to the LORD. I think the three mighty men would have used this same route.

Sheaves in the field

Joseph had a dream in which he was elevated above his brothers. It involved something common in an agrarian society — binding sheaves in the field.

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Genesis 37:5-8 ESV)

The following photos were made in the region of Samaria, and near the ancient city of Samaria. The first shows sheaves that have been gathered in the field.

Sheaves in the field near Samaria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sheaves in the field near Samaria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo is a cropped closeup in which you can see the strings binding some of the sheaves.

Closeup to show the string around the sheaf of grain. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Closeup to show the string around some of the sheaves. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Possibly the best known instance of sheaves in the Bible is the story of the young Moabite woman named Ruth. She requested permission to pick up what was left after the reapers went through the field of Boaz.

She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.
(Ruth 2:7-8 ESV)

And that’s how the story of King David begins…

Entrepreneurs take advantage of the Biblical stories. This store, which I did not visit, is located in the vicinity of the traditional Shepherd’s fields near Bethlehem. The salesmen are just waiting for the next bus load of tourists.

Boaz Field store in Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Boaz Field souvenir store near Bethlehem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Since childhood I have loved to sing Knowles Shaw’s spiritual song, “Bringing in the Sheaves.” By the time of my childhood we already had a mechanized way of baling the hay, but the lesson was easy to understand.

Absalom, rebel son of king David, caught his head in a great oak tree

While David was at Mahanaim, his son Absalom and those of Israel who were aligned with him camped in the land of Gilead (2 Samuel 17:26-27). David remained at the gate of the city while his men went out to fight the rebels. The Biblical account says,

So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword. And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.  (2 Samuel 18:6-9 ESV)

Even though many trees have been used by various invaders over the centuries, some forests of oaks may still be seen in both Cisjordan (territory west of the Jordan River) and Transjordan (territory east of the Jordan River). The photos below were made in a grove of trees growing the Golan Heights a short distance south of the junction of Highways 98 and 99 south of Mas’ada.

These trees may be much smaller than the “great oak” in which Absalom caught his head, but they could be quite dangerous to a person trying to make a fast getaway on a mule.

Oaks growing in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Oaks growing in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here are the leaves of this variety of tree.

Close view of oaks growing in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The leaves of oaks growing in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

And the large acorns it grows.

Acorns on the oaks of Bashan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Acorns on the oaks of Bashan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The oaks of Bashan are mentioned by the prophets of Israel several times (Isaiah 2:13; Ezekiel 27:6; Zechariah 11:2).

The technical name for the oak shown here is Querqcus ithaburensis, and is known as the Tabor oak. Dr. David Darom, in Beautiful Plants of the Bible, say this about the tree,

The Tabor oak, being a large deciduous tree that dominates its surroundings, was often associated with ritual and religious customs. Tabor oak forests once covered large areas of the northern Coastal Plain, the Lower Galilee, the Hulah Valley and
the slopes of the Golan. Most of the trees were cut down during the ages so their excellent wood could be used in buildings, furniture and boats. (p. 44)

William M. Thomson, back in 1880, described a walk in one of the “grand old forests” near the Crocodile River between Caesarea and Dor.

I had a delightful ramble early the next morning in those grand old forests, and then understood perfectly how Absalom could be caught by the thick branches of an oak. The strong arms of these trees spread out so near the ground that one cannot walk erect beneath them; and on a frightened mule, such a head of hair as that vain but wicked son polled every year would certainly become inextricably entangled: and it is interesting to know that the region east of the Jordan, that “wood of Ephraim” where the battle was fought, is still covered with thick oaks, tangled bushes, and thorny creepers growing over ragged rocks, and ruinous precipices, down which the rebel army plunged in wild dismay, horses and men crushing each other to death in remediless ruin. Thus twenty thousand men perished in that fatal wood, which “devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.” (The Land and the Book or Biblical Illustrations Drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery, of the Holy Land: Southern Palestine and Jerusalem. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880. Print.)

To be precisely Biblical, it was Absalom’s head that caught in the oak, but the excessive hair might have contributed to his misfortune.

Absalom was killed by Joab and his armor-bearers (2 Samuel 18:14-15). Balwin comments on Absalom’s ignominious end:

All that remains is to bury there and then in the forest the body of the rebel, his grave marked only by a huge cairn of field stones, which would in a relatively short time cease to be identifiable. It was an ignominious end. (Baldwin, Joyce G. 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 8. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988. Print. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.)

David at the cave of Adullam

Adullam is significant in several biblical accounts. Here are a few.

Judah stayed with an Adullamite man named Hirah. He married the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua.

At that time Judah left his brothers and stayed with an Adullamite man named Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. Judah acquired her as a wife and had marital relations with her. (Genesis 38:1-2 NET)

The episode of Onan and his failure to fulfill his responsibility to bring up children to his deceased brother (the Levirate marriage; Genesis 38:3-10).

One of the entrances to the cave of Adullam with a view of the area to the southeast. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the entrances to the cave of Adullam (in the foreground) with a view of the area to the east toward the central mountain range. Without detailed maps it is difficult to show this location, but the border road would lead generally to the Jaba border crossing on Highway 367. This road, after many twists and turns, leads to Highway 60 south of Bethlehem near the modern Israeli settlement of Efrat (or Efrata). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Joshua defeated the king of Adullam during the Conquest (Joshua 12:15), and became one of the Shephelah (lowland) cities of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:35).

The cave of Adullam may be best know because of its association with David. When he left Gath he went to Adullam before sending his parents to Moab for safety.

So David left there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and the rest of his father’s family learned about it, they went down there to him. (1 Samuel 22:1 NET)

In fact, David spent much time at Adullam. I suggest you read the entire account in 2 Samuel 23:13ff.

Interior of the cave of Adullam. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the cave of Adullam. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When the prophet Micah warned Judah about the coming Assyrian invasion he said,

…the leaders of Israel shall flee to Adullam (Micah 1:15 NET)

Just like David did about three centuries earlier.

Interior of the cave of Adullam lighted by flash. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the cave of Adullam lighted by flash. During more recent time the cave was used for a olive press installation. One of the crushing stones is visible in the center foreground. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One more point. Jesus was a descendant of David and Judah, both of whom had an association with Adullam (Revelation 5:5).

Note: if you wish to locate the Adullam cave on Google Earth, search for Aderet, Israel, and then look for the cave. A photo of the cave is identified at 31°39’02.33 N, 35°00’08.53 E.

An earlier post, with two different photos, may be read here.

I hope that our material will make this part of the life of David a bit more real for you as you study the Bible.

David stayed at Mahanaim when he fled from Absalom

The name Mahanaim is found 13 times in the Old Testament. The site is where Jacob and Laban met and made a covenant. Mahanaim seems to mean “two camps” (Genesis 32:2). This is where Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with a man (angel, Hosea 12:4). When morning came, Israel crossed over Penuel (Genesis 32:31).

Two large tells face each other and the Jabbok River flows in an S-curve between them. The tells are now named Tall adh-Dhahab East and Tall adh-Dhahab West. These tells are located a few miles east of the Plains of the Jordan and Tell Deir Allah (likely the site of biblical Succoth). Some scholars identify Dhahab West as Mahanaim and Dhahab East as Penuel. Other scholars reverse the identifications.

The Jabbok River near Mahanaim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Jabbok River near Mahanaim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When Transjordan was divided among the tribes, Mahanaim was located in the territory of Gad on the boundary with East Manasseh (Joshua 13:26, 30). It was one of the cities allotted to the Levites (Joshua 21:38; 1 Chronicles 6:80).

Ishbosheth made king over Israel from Mahanaim

After the death of Saul, Abner made Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, king over all Israel from Mahanaim (2 Samuel 2:8, 12, 29).

David fled to Mahanaim

When David fled from his rebellious son Absalom he fled across the Jordan to Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24, 27; cf. 2 Kings 2:8). Absalom met his death in a nearby forest.

A Gileadite by the name of Barzillai took care of King David while he stayed at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 19:32). The city became one of Solomon’s administrative centers (1 Kings 4:14).

Song 6:13 describes gazing upon the Shulammite girl to be like looking on “the dance of the two camps” or “dance of two companies” (CSB, JPS, NAU, NKJ). Other translations use the expression “the dance of Mahanaim” (ASV, NIV, NJPS, TNIV) or “dance of the Mahanaim” (NET).

Recent excavations at Dhahab West, conducted by a German team, have revealed what they believe to be part of a monumental building of Herod the Great. They think this was the Hellenistic and Roman site described by Josephus as Amathus.

Tall adh-Dhahab East (left) and Tall adh-Dhahab West (right). These are thought to be the sites of Mahanaim and Penuel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tall adh-Dhahab East (left) and Tall adh-Dhahab West (right). These are thought to be the sites of Mahanaim and Penuel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our photo shows both tells. (Tall adh-Dhahab East is on the left. Tall adh-Dhahab West is on the right.) There is a pumping station on the Jabbok to provide agricultural irrigation. The Jabbok continues in the valley separating the two hills and tells.

Click on the photo for an image suitable for use in teaching presentations.

Joab and Uriah travel from Jerusalem to Rabbah

Last evening I was looking at the biblical account of David’s battles against the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10-11).

In the spring of the year, at the time when kings normally conduct wars, David sent out Joab with his officers and the entire Israelite army. They defeated the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed behind in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1 NET)

You probably know the rest of the story. David is attracted to Bathsheba, commits adultery, learns Bathsheba is pregnant, calls Uriah home in hope that he will spend the night with Bathsheba. Uriah acted in the true warrior way by not enjoying the benefits of the marriage bed while his companions were camping in the open field. David sent Uriah back to the battle with a letter to Joab to put Uriah in the forefront of the battle.

Have you thought about the journey made by Uriah and the other Israelite soldiers as they traveled from Jerusalem to Rabbah and back? You know where Jerusalem is located. It is situated on the eastern side of the water parting ridge of Israel at an elevation of about 2400 feet above sea level. Numerous times we have discussed the journey from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. See here and here.

The distance from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is not more than 20 miles. The elevation drops from about 2600 feet at the Mount of Olives to (currently) about 1384 feet below sea level at the surface of the Dead Sea. The point of crossing at the Jordan River would be a little higher. From there one must go up into the Transjordan Tableland to reach Rabbah. The general elevation of the Transjordan Tableland is about 3000 feet above sea level. Amman is about 2500 feet above sea level. That makes this a difficult route of travel.

Rabbah (Rabbath), the capital of ancient Ammon, is the site we now know as Amman, capital of Jordan. During the Hellenistic period the city was renamed Philadelphia.

The total distance from Jerusalem to Rabbah is about 40 miles as the crow flies. Men rarely travel like crows. The distance by road is longer and more difficult.

The photo I wish to share today was made in early April. It was made along a road a little east of the Jordan Valley and the Plains of Moab. From here you can see the terrain David’s men, including Joab and Uriah, had to travel on their way from Jerusalem to Rabbah. Modern Amman is located in the mountains we see on the horizon.

View looking east toward Amman. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View looking east toward Amman. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Learning routes of travel is one of the most important values in visiting the Bible lands. I hope this photo will help you with your study of the biblical account.

Reprint from 12/2/10.

“A dry and weary land where there is no water”

The title to Psalm 63 states that it is “a Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.”

David says his soul thirsts for God; his flesh faints for God, “as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1 ESV)

In my experience, most travelers who see the wilderness of Judah for the first time are surprised that it is a dry, barren, rugged wasteland. Perhaps our photos in this post will allow you to see the vividness of David’s illustration.

The first photo was made a few miles east of Jerusalem in the vicinity of Michmash. You can see some dry grass left over from the winter rains. David would have passed through territory like this when he fled from Jerusalem during the rebellion of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15).

A view of the wilderness of Judah from near Michmash. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view of the wilderness of Judah from near Michmash. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo was made much further south between Arad and the southern end of the Dead Sea. It was territory more like this where David hid when he was fleeing from Saul (1 Samuel 23, et al.).

A view in the wilderness between Arad and the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view in the wilderness between Arad and the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is indeed a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Even where there might be some water, such as Wadi Qelt, the wilderness can be foreboding.

The wilderness of Judah with a view of Wadi Qelt visible. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The wilderness of Judah with a view of Wadi Qelt visible. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.


Is Masada mentioned in the Bible?

N.B. This is post number 1500 since our beginning in 2007.

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The Hebrew word masada is generally translated stronghold or fortress in the English Bible. Gordon Franz (lifeandland.org) says King David visited the site of Masada at least three times.

  1. After sending his parents to Moab (1 Samuel 22:1-5). Take a look at the previous post with the photos and map showing the lisan (tongue) of the Dead Sea. I envision this as the place where David could most easily cross to Moab and then return to the stronghold.
  2. After he spared Saul’s life at Engedi (En Gedi) (1 Samuel 24:22).
  3. When the Philistines were searching for him (2 Samuel 5:17).

This photo gives some idea of the fortress-like quality under consideration. Note the Dead Sea, the Lisan, and the mountains of Moab in the distance.

After a cable-car ride, or by walking the snake path for about an hour one reaches the entrance to the rock fortress of Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

After a cable-car ride, or by walking the snake path for about an hour one reaches the entrance to the rock fortress of Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

At least four of David’s psalms mention masada.

  1. Psalm 18:2 (fortress). — “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (ESV)
  2. Psalm 31:2-3 — “Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;”  (ESV)
  3. Psalm 71:1, 3 (fortress). — “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!  2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!  3 Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” (ESV)
  4. Psalm 144:1-2 (fortress). — “Of David. Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;  2 he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.”  (ESV)

We are uncertain about authorship of Psalm 91:1-2 (fortress). Beitzel, in The New Moody Atlas of the Bible, places David at Masada (p. 151; map 58).

Psalm 66:11 uses the word masada (translated net, trap or prison).

This photo was made from the top of Masada toward the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo was made from the top of Masada with a view toward the Dead Sea. The walk below leads to the site of Herod’s palace. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Understand that we are not referring to the Masada built by Herod the Great and later used by Jewish zealots during the period of A.D. 70-72. The stronghold had already been there for millennia.

The article by Gordon Franz is brief, but well documented. Read it here.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project

Prof. Aren Maeir, director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project, asked permission to post my 1969 photo of the tell which we posted here. I was honored to do so. He has given us some directional info that I overlooked. He says that it is “of the northeastern portion” of the tell. He comments on the changes that have taken place since 1969.

Not only is the foto very nice, it is very interesting, since there are quite a few changes that can be seen on the tell since then. In particular, the intense 4X4 vehicle activity has taken a toll on the site, and a current view shows various parts that have been eroded away.

Maeir’s post includes a recent photo showing the northeastern part of the tell from another angle. Take a look here.

Back in 2005, I think, a pottery shard, inscribed with the Semitic letters AWLT and WLT, was found. Maeir says,

BOTH names that appear on the sherd (AWLT and WLT…) are etymologically very close to Goliath. All are quite similar to Indo-European, names such as Lydian Wylattes/Aylattes, which in the past have been etymologically compared to Goliath (way before this find).

I can’t resist posting a tiny photo here.

Goliath Inscription on Pottery from Tell es-Safi/Gath.

There is a wonderful high resolution photo of the shard online with other information. Read here.

The excavation at Tell es-Safi/Gath this year will be July 6-August 1. Click here for some information about the dig if you have interest. This site, near the valley of Elah, provides a wonderful background for the conflict between the Philistines and the Israelites, between David and Goliath.

Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. (1 Samuel 17:4)

More on the Rapaihu seal and Gath

Jim West has published a letter from Robert Deutsch and a page from a published book by Deutsch and Lemaire, Biblical Period Personal Seals in the Shlomo Moussaieff Collection, showing a seal that “probably belonged to the father of Rapayahu from Jerusalem.”

Read the entire letter and see the seal here.

Aren Maeir also notes a Tell es-Safi/Gath connection with the Rephaim here. He says,

Notice the name Rapaihu – basically it means the Rapa of Yahu. How does that connect to Gath and Safi?

Well, here it is: In the late 9th century BCE, Stratum A3, at Tell es-Safi/Gath (the level which we believe was destroyed by Hazael of Aram, a short 3-4 letter post-firing, incised inscription (as yet not fully published), was found on the body of storage jar, which has preliminarily been read as rpa’. This reading is reminiscent of the connection in the biblical narrative between the Rephaim and the Philistines in general, and the association of the enigmatic yldy hrph (roughly, “the offsprings of the rph) to several figures originating from the city of Gath (e.g., II Sam 21: 16-22).

Here is a photo I made of the tell of Gath in 1969 before the area was cluttered with power lines.

Tell Gath in 1969. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Philistine city of Gath provides us with the memorable statement of David when he mourned for Saul and Jonathan.

“Tell it not in Gath, Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, Or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, The daughters of the uncircumcised will exult” (2 Samuel 1:20 NASB).