Tag Archives: John the Baptist

What’s under your living room? Unique find in Ein Karem

Tradition has it that John the Baptist was born in En Karem (or Ain Karim; Ein Kerem) in the hill country of Judea. According to Shimon Gibson, the earliest document linking John to En Karem is a legendary account dated to A.D. 385-395 (The Cave of John the Baptist, 30). In that account En Karem is said to be “in the mountain” and with a “spring of water” (31). From the sixth to the eighth centuries the traditions multiply.

Ein Karem is about 5 miles west of Jerusalem. This photo shows a general view of the hill country of Judea. En Karem is in the valley below.

The vicinity of En Karem in the hill country of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The vicinity of En Karem in the hill country of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The Israel Antiquities Authority  announced today that a family in En Karem discovered a ritual bath under the floor of their house dating to the Second Temple period (meaning Herod’s Temple).

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An ancient ritual bath (miqwe) found during renovations in a living room in ‘En Kerem reinforces the hypothesis there was a Jewish settlement located in the vicinity during the Second Temple period
An ancient, two thousand year old ritual bath (miqwe) was discovered below a living room floor during renovations carried out in a private house in the picturesque neighborhood of ‘Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. Archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority were amazed to discover that a pair of wooden doors beneath a stylized rug in the middle of a pleasant family’s living room concealed an ancient ritual bath.

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug.Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug. Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Wednesday the owners of the place were awarded a certificate of appreciation by the Israel Antiquities Authority for exhibiting good citizenship in that they reported the discovery of the miqwe and thereby contributed to the study of the Land of Israel.

The miqwe, which is complete and quite large (length 3.5 m, width 2.4 m, depth 1.8 m), is rock-hewn and meticulously plastered according to the laws of purity appearing in the halacha. A staircase leads to the bottom of the immersion pool. Pottery vessels dating to the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) and traces of fire that might constitute evidence of the destruction of 66-70 CE were discovered inside the bath. In addition, fragments of stone vessels were found which were common during the Second Temple period because stone cannot be contaminated and remains pure.

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug.Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Steps leading into the ritual bath..Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District Archaeologist, “Such instances of finding antiquities beneath a private home can happen only in Israel and Jerusalem in particular. Beyond the excitement and the unusual story of the discovery of the miqwe, its exposure is of archaeological importance. ‘Ein Kerem is considered a place sacred to Christianity in light of its identification with “a city of Judah” – the place where according to the New Testament [See Above], John the Baptist was born and where his pregnant mother Elisabeth met with Mary, mother of Jesus. Despite these identifications, the archaeological remains in ‘Ein Kerem and the surrounding area, which are related to the time when these events transpired (the Second Temple period), are few and fragmented. The discovery of the ritual bath reinforces the hypothesis there was a Jewish settlement from the time of the Second Temple located in the region of what is today ‘Ein Kerem.”

The owners of the place said, “Initially, we were uncertain regarding the importance of the find revealed below our house and we hesitated contacting the Israel Antiquities Authority because of the consequences we believed would be involved in doing so. At the same time, we had a strong feeling that what was situated beneath the floor of our house is a find of historical value and our sense of civic and public duty clinched it for us. We felt that this find deserves to be seen and properly documented. We contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority at our own initiative in order that they would complete the excavation and the task of documenting the discovery. Representatives of the IAA arrived and together we cleaned the miqwe. To our joy and indeed to our surprise, we found them to be worthy partners in this fascinating journey. The IAA archaeologists demonstrated great professionalism, interest and pleasantness. They were solely concerned with preserving and investigating the finds.

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The issue of purification was a live one during the ministry of John the Baptist.

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. (John 3:25 ESV)

See also Luke 2:22 and John 2:6.

For more information about Ein Karem see this post.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Locusts still plague the Bible lands

References to locusts in the Bible are scattered from the time when the Israelites were in Egyptian bondage to the book of Revelation. Several Hebrew terms are used to describe locusts, perhaps of different species, or because of the various stages through which the locusts grow.

The prophet Joel uses the illustration of a locust invasion upon the land.

What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten. (Joel 1:4 ESV)

Was he speaking of literal locusts, or of the invasion of a foreign enemy?

The prophet Amos speaks of the punishments brought by the LORD upon the northern kingdom of Israel prior to the Assyrian invasion.

“I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,” declares the LORD. (Amos 4:9 ESV)

Notice that Amos makes specific reference to the fig trees and the olive trees. We have examples of this same thing happening during the 1915 locust plague. It was documented for National Geographic magazine by the photographs of Lewis Larson with a descriptive article by John D. Whiting. Here is a fig tree prior to the Locust plague.

Fig tree before the 1915 locust plague.

Fig tree before the 1915 locust plague.

And here is the way the same tree looked after the plague.

Fig tree after the 1915 locust plague.

Fig tree after the 1915 locust plague.

These two images are from the collection of 4,000 high-resolution photographs taken by resident photographers at the American Colony in Jerusalem from 1898 to the 1940s. The full set is available at Life in the Holy Land here. In addition to the photos in the collection, the photos are included in PowerPoint presentations. Descriptive information is included with many of them.

Several articles have appeared in the past week or so about a modern locust plague that affected Egypt and southern Israel. See here for Egypt. Some Jews, especially those from Yemen, gathered the photos [it was late; I meant locusts] for eating (see here). Some rabbis warned that the locusts may not be kosher (see here).

Just a reminder that some species of locusts were acceptable for the Israelites to eat.

Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. (Leviticus 11:22 ESV)

I know you can’t forget the diet of John the Baptist.

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4 ESV)

Seth Rodriquez provides more info about the 1915 plague here.

John wore a garment of camel’s hair

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  (Matthew 3:4 ESV)

Emmerson comments on the type of garment worn by John:

Hair from the back and hump of the camel was woven into a harsh material, and a softer cloth was produced from the finer hair taken from underneath the animal. The natural variations in the color of the hair could be woven into a pattern. (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Revised, 1:584).

Camels in the Sinai Peninsula. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Camels in the Sinai Peninsula. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

John did not wear the soft clothing typical of those who dwell in royal palaces.

What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. (Luke 7:25 ESV)

Bible students immediately remember similarities between John and the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8; cf. Luke 1:7).

John baptized in the river Jordan

John the Baptist proclaimed the coming Messiah in the Wilderness of Judea. The Gospel accounts point out that many people from Jerusalem and all Judea and the region about the Jordan came to be baptized. These were Jews who were being called to repent and confess their sins.

Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,  and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:5-6 ESV)

The photo shows a view of the River Jordan at the traditional site where John was baptizing. This photo was made in the spring of the year when the river shows the flow of mud as a result of the spring rains.

Jordan River (view south) at traditional site where John baptized. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.

Jordan River (view south) where John baptized. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jesus was baptized by John, not because he was a sinner, but because it was part of God’s plan for him “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 ESV)

John was a voice in the wilderness

There may be some question about the location of the wilderness mentioned in Luke 3:2. The term wilderness (eremos) is described by BDAG as “an uninhabited region or locality, desert, grassland, wilderness (in contrast to cultivated and inhabited country).” The same term is translated deserts in Luke 1:80, where it seems to refer to an isolated area of Judah.

When John begins his ministry, it is clear that he was working in the wilderness between Jerusalem and the Jordan River/Dead Sea.

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Luke 3:3-4 ESV)

Matthew’s account names the area of John’s preaching as “the wilderness of Judea” (Matthew 3:1).

This stretch of wilderness is well known as a region of rugged and desolate badlands. Our first photo shows a portion of the wilderness in bright sunlight on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. The view is toward the west. Peter Walker describes the Judean Desert:

It is a place of austere beauty and an almost deafening silence; a place where human beings are acutely conscious of their frailty and utter dependence on water for brute survival. And yet in biblical times it was also a place where people went to find solitude and space, to hear the voice of God addressing them above the cacophony of other competing demands and voices. John the Baptist had begun his ministry here, ‘a voice of one calling in the desert’ (Isaiah 40:3).… (In the Steps of Jesus, Zondervan: 52)

Wilderness of Judea on way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wilderness of Judea on way from Jerusalem to Jericho. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the fascinating things about the wilderness is the constant change of the view, especially as clouds move over it from West to East

Wilderness of Judea. View toward east with rain clouds on mountain range. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wilderness of Judea. View west with clouds on the mountain range. Photo: F. Jenkins.

The road from Jerusalem to Jericho and the Jordan River was used even by pilgrims coming from Galilee for the various feast days in Jerusalem. Luke’s parable of the good Samaritan speaks of a man “going down from Jerusalem to Jericho” (Luke 10:30). Luke also records that Jesus traveled this way in the opposite direction (Luke 19). John records that Jesus traveled this way from Bethany beyond the Jordan to the Bethany near Jerusalem (John 11).

John was a man of history

In recent posts we have called attention to Luke’s account of the events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist. Some readers may treat Zacharias, Elizabeth, John, and even Jesus, as fictional. Luke deals with the characters and events as historical.

Notice especially how Luke deals with the beginning of the ministry of John.

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,  in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.  (Luke 3:1-2 NAU)

Luke treats John as a man of history by placing him at a specific place (“the district around the Jordan” – v. 3), and a specific time, in the reign of specific political and religious leaders.

  • In the 15th year of reign of Tiberius Caesar
  • Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea
  • Herod [Antipas] was tetrarch of Galilee
  • Herod Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis
  • Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene
  • High priesthood of Annas & Caiaphas

In the absence of a calendar such as the one we use, one could hardly be more precise. All of these are historical characters. They are known in other written records, by coins bearing their image, by inscriptions, by statues, and one is know by his ossuary (burial bone box).

There is too much here for us to deal with each of these characters at this time. Let’s look at Pontius Pilate. Pilate is known in written records aside from the New Testament (more than 50 times), and Josephus (more than 20 times). Tacitus, the Roman historian, says that “…Christ, was put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate…” (Annals XV.44.2).

Use our search box to locate other posts we have written about Pilate. Begin with this one. The photo below shows the replica of the inscription bearing Pilate’s name that was found at Caesarea Maritima in 1961. The original is in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Replical of inscription bearing the name of Pontius Pilate.Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Replica of inscription bearing the name of Pontius Pilate.Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For accounts in which Pilate played an important role, read Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 18.

Zacharias asked for a writing tablet

When John was born, the neighbors and relatives thought they would call the child “Zacharias, after his father.” His mother, Elizabeth, said that he should be called John. The guests made signs to the mute Zacharias to have him say what he wanted the child called. Luke says,

He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they were all amazed.  (Luke 1:63 NET)

The Greek word Luke used for tablet is pinakidion. It is used only here in the New Testament. BDAG Lexicon says the term is used of a “little (wooden) tablet esp. of a writing-tablet for notes.”  Louw-Nida says the word describes “a small writing tablet (normally made of wood).” The Study Note in the NET Bible points out that “The writing tablet requested by Zechariah [Zacharias] would have been a wax tablet.”

Four leaves of a wooden writing tablet. Roman period from Hawara, Egypt. British Museum.

Wooden writing tablet (Roman period from Egypt). British Museum. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Ralph Earle comments on the tablet:

It was a wax-coated, small, wooden “writing tablet” (NIV)—something quite different from a “writing table” (KJV). — Word Meanings in the New Testament.

A little insight into the culture of the time makes the Bible come alive.

Origen, c. 185–c. 254, comments on this verse in his Commentary on Matthew Bk. XIII.