Category Archives: Biblical Sites

This feature includes photos of biblical sites and a brief overview of the significance of the site.

Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

In Secrets of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, Leen Ritmeyer reveals the location of the Temple.
In Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Leen Ritmeyer reveals the location of the Temple.

Where exactly was the Temple located on the Temple Mount? There are several popular theories regarding the exact location of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Many believe that it was built in the same area where the present Dome of the Rock now stands. Another popular theory suggests that it stood over the Dome of the Tablets, a small shrine to the northwest of the Dome of the Rock. Still yet, another theory proposes that it was built between the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. Since it is impossible to do any excavation on the Temple Mount (although see the recent article at ritmeyer.com “Illegally Digging Up the Temple Mount”), is it possible to determine the Temple’s location? In Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Leen Ritmeyer, an expert with over 40 years of experience involving excavations and research on the Temple Mount, reveals his understanding of the exact location of the Temples of Solomon and Herod, including the location of the Holy of Holies. From 1973 to 1977 Ritmeyer was chief architect of the Temple Mount excavations directed by Benjamin Mazar. From 1978 to 1983 he was field architect of the Jewish Quarter excavations of the Old City of Jerusalem headed by Professor Nahman Avigad. Since that time Ritmeyer has continued his research on the Temple Mount, even writing his doctoral dissertation on “The Architectural Development of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” These qualifications make him an expert worth listening to.

Secret’s of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Contents

Secrets of Jerusalem's Temple Mount: Updated and Enlarged Edition is available at Amazon USA / UK as well as the Biblical Archaeology Society.
Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Updated and Enlarged Edition is available at Amazon USA / UK as well as the Biblical Archaeology Society.

Ritmeyer bases the conclusions in his book on ancient accounts such as Josephus and especially Middot (a portion of the Mishnah written around 200 A.D.). He also relies on archaeological evidence from recent excavations, as well as the pioneering work of Charles Warren who, in the 1860s, was able to dig various shafts and tunnels around the Temple Mount and explore underground areas no longer accessible due to the modern political situation. Warren and his team left very detailed accounts of their findings as well as some artistic drawings. The Contents of Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount are as follows:

1. “A Tour of the Temple Mount with Herod the Great,” is a fictionalized account written by Kathleen Ritmeyer, Leen’s wife, based on historical information of the period. The purpose is to provide the reader with some historical background in an entertaining way.

2. “Reconstructing Herod’s Temple Mount in Jerusalem.” This chapter gives a detailed description of what Herod’s Temple Mount Complex would have looked like. It includes photos, diagrams, and drawings of various aspects of the Temple Mount, including a drawing of what Ritmeyer believes Herod’s Temple Mount would have looked like.

3. “Quarrying and Transporting Stones for Herod’s Temple Mount,” is a short chapter that looks at the methods which would have been employed in cutting and preparing the stones, as well as how these massive stones were moved into place. One technique of moving the stones overlooked by Ritmeyer is attaching wheels to the stones so that they could be rolled to the site.

This diagram shows the size and position of Solomon's Temple Mount, according to Ritmeyer in his book, Secrets of Jerusalem's Temple Mount. It also shows how it was expanded by the Hasmoneans and Herod.
This diagram shows the size and position of Solomon’s Temple Mount, according to Ritmeyer in his book, Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. It also shows how it was expanded by the Hasmoneans and Herod.

4. “Reconstructing the Triple Gate.” In my times in Israel, I have heard some speculate that the Triple Gate and Double Gate at the top of the southern steps were for exiting and entering the Temple Mount. Ritmeyer, however, argues that the Triple Gate was only used by the priests and led to a large storage area. The Double Gate, on the other hand was used for visitors and had a very broad staircase (210 feet) that would have accommodated people entering and exiting. By contrast, the staircase in the Triple Gate is only 50 feet wide (p. 61).

5. Chapter 5, “Locating the Original Temple Mount,” is an indepth discussion which includes many helpful drawings and diagrams explaining Ritmeyer’s conclusions on where the original platform on which Solomon’s Temple was located. I have included one of those diagrams here which shows the position and dimensions of the original Temple Mount, according to Ritmeyer.

This diagram shows Ritmeyer's understanding of where the walls of the Holy of Holies would have been. The red rectangle marks the depression where the Ark would have set.
This diagram shows Ritmeyer’s understanding of where the walls of the Holy of Holies would have been. The red rectangle marks the depression where the Ark would have set and is right in the center of the Holy of Holies.  (Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, p. 109).

6 & 7. Chapters 6 & 7 go together establishing Ritmeyer’s view on where the Holy of Holies was located and where the Ark of the Covenant rested. They are entitled respectively, “The Ark of the Covenant: Where It Stood in Solomon’s Temple,” and “Mark of the Ark Confirmed by Modern Technology.” Ritmeyer is convinced that the Ark rested in a rectangular depression on the es-Sakhra. The es-Sakhra is the highest point on the Temple Mount and lies exposed in the Dome of the Rock. Muslims believe it is the place where Mohammed ascended into heaven. Although some quarrying was done on this rock when the Crusaders briefly held it and turned the Dome of the Rock into a Christian Church (12th century), Ritmeyer argues that the area where the Ark rested has been preserved. He argues that the rectangular depression is just large enough for the Ark and a copy of the Law to lay before it. The depression is angled so that the longer side of the rectangle faces east-west. At first this puzzled Ritmeyer, but he notes that it agrees with the evidence found in 1 Kings 8:8 and with what the Talmud says about the length of the poles used to carry the Ark (pp. 117-118).

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8. “The Structure of Herod’s Temple: Why We Can Rely on the Description in Middot,” is Ritmeyer’s defense of why this description in the Mishnah is the most reliable source. This chapter also goes into detail regarding the various sections of the Temple complex in the time of Herod such as the Women’s Court, the Court of the Israelites and Court of the Priests, etc., and includes another nice diagram of this area. Page 144 also includes a 3-D cut-away drawing of Herod’s Temple.

9. “What Did Solomon’s Temple Look Like,” is the final chapter in Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Ritmeyer states, “It is not difficult to draw a plan of Solomon’s Temple from its description in 1 Kings 6 and 7; it is much more difficult to draw a section through the building–to envision, in other words, what the building would have looked like if we sliced through it like a cake and looked at the inside” (p. 153). Ritmeyer says that the two biggest obstacles he faced in understanding the design of Solomon’s Temple was the difference in size between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (30 cubits high as compared to 20), and the relationship of the two bronze pillars (named Jachin and Boaz) to the Temple itself. Regarding the height difference, many have suggested that there was an upper chamber of 10 cubits above the Holy of Holies or that the Holy of Holies stood 10 cubits higher than the Holy Place. However, Ritmeyer notes that if es-Sakhra is the location of the Holy of Holies, it stands 5 cubits higher than its surroundings. Given this information, Ritmeyer believes that there was a natural rock ramp that led up into the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place and that the roof of the Holy of Holies was 5 cubits lower than that of the Holy Place (p. 155). Concerning the bronze pillars, Ritmeyer notes that there is no evidence that they were freestanding, apart from the porch of the Temple, as found in some reconstructions. In every case in the ancient world, the pillars of a temple supported the porch. While conducting this research, Ritmeyer was requested to construct a model of Solomon’s Temple. He states that this request caused him to scrutinize the text of 1 Kings 6-7 even more carefully and led to a deeper understanding of Solomon’s building. His model can be seen below.

Ritmeyer's model of Solomon's Temple.
Ritmeyer’s model of Solomon’s Temple.

Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: Evaluation

I have always leaned toward believing that the Temple originally stood on the site of the Dome of the Rock. First, temples were usually constructed on the highest point of a mountain. Second, once a place was considered holy in the ancient world, it usually stayed holy unless somehow desecrated. Since es-Sakhra is the highest point on the mountain, it makes sense this is where Solomon would have built the Temple. It also makes sense that Zerubbabel, and later Herod would have rebuilt the Second Temple on the same spot. It’s hard to imagine that Jews would have accepted moving the Holy of Holies to a different location, or any other part of the sacred structure. This is one reason I have never favored any of the other theories that have been proposed. Ritmeyer’s experience and study of the Temple Mount, and his indepth arguments have only served to strengthen my belief. Furthermore, Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, taught me many other details that I had no knowledge of. Even though this book is written for a general audience it is very detailed and technical and therefore it may not appeal to everyone. But for those who are interested in the Temples of Solomon and Herod, their significance, where they stood, and what they looked like, Secrets of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is a goldmine of information. I highly recommend it!

For further information on the Temple Mount, including video presentations, go to http://templemount.org/

Seeing the City of David: Part II

Seeing the City of David

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Seeing the City of David has become a more pleasant and informative experience over the years. Here is a view of the entrance.

The first time I travelled to Israel was in 2005 on a tour with my church from Calvary Chapel York. I had anticipated coming to Israel all my life. When I was younger I wanted to study at the Hebrew University. Unfortunately, those plans never materialized. In 2000 my home church in the states planned a trip and Gloria and I were going, but the Intifada cancelled our plans. Needless to say, by 2005 (our next opportunity to go) I was chomping at the bit, and tops on my list was seeing the City of David. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that a tour of the City of David wasn’t even on our list of sites to see! Seeing the City of David would have to wait until my next visit in 2006. As evidenced by my first tour in 2005, the City of David has not always been considered a “must see” site. But things have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Archaeological excavations have continued to uncover dramatic finds, such as what some believe to be David’s palace (known as the “Large Stone Strucuture”), and the Canaanite tower that protected Jerusalem’s main water supply–the Gihon Spring.

On my recent visit (2015), I was impressed how seeing the City of David is becoming a more enjoyable and tourist-friendly experience. I was fortunate enough to visit Israel in 2005, twice in 2006 and again in 2007, 2008, and 2009. However, my current visit in February-March of 2015 was my first time back in 6 years. As everyone who is interested in Israel and the Bible knows, new discoveries are constantly being made. But one of the things that impresses me is how Israel continues to develop many of its sites, like the City of David, and make it a more informative and pleasant experience. This post is about the changes I have noticed between my earlier visits to the City of David, and my recent visit in 2015, as well as things you can expect to see and experience at the City of David.

Seeing the City of David: The Large Stone Structure

Seeing the City of David in 2006, once could look down through some boards to see the excavation of the Large Stone Structure in progress.
When seeing the City of David in 2006, one could look down through some boards to see the excavation of the Large Stone Structure in progress.

When I first visited the City of David in March 2006, Eilat Mazar was only a year into excavating what she, and others, now believe to be David’s palace. Today as you enter the City of David, you descend a few stairs to a platform that houses a ticket office, gift shop, bathrooms, and a small store. Underneath the platform are the results of Mazar’s excavation which can be accessed by a stairway that takes you down to the “Large Stone Structure.” Obviously, none of this was there when I first visited the City of David in 2006. Above is a photo I took of the excavation that was then in progress.

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A reproduction of the Proto-Aeolic capital discovered by Kenyon. Such capitals are known to have adorned palaces and governmental buildings of the 1st Temple Period.

Today, not only can you descend the stairs to see the Large Stone Structure (which was also possible in some of my earlier trips), but there is a display of a few other significant findings. One of the most significant is an ornate Proto-Aeolic capital (The one at the site is a reproduction. The original is in the Israel Museum.). This capital was not found by Mazar, but by Kathleen Kenyon years earlier. However, it was one of the pieces of evidence that led Mazar to believe there was an Israelite palace in the area she ended up excavating. The result, of course, was the uncovering of the Large Stone Structure. Archaeologists are still debating whether this building dates to 1200 B.C. and, thus, to the Jebusite occupation, or to 1000 B.C. to the time of David. Either way it is clearly an old building and an important one.

Clay bullae discovered in the Large Stone Structure with names of individuals mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.
Clay bullae discovered in the Large Stone Structure with names of individuals mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.

Further confirmation of the significance of this building occurred with the discovery of two bullae that are from ministers in the court of King Zedekiah (the last King of Judah). Horovitz (City of David: The Story of Ancient Jerusalem) gives the following details: “The ‘Large Stone Structure’ remained standing until the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E., as proven by pottery from the sixth century B.C.E. discovered at the site. A surprising find amidst the structure’s large stones delineated the time-frame in which the structure was destroyed. This was a bulla, a clay seal impression used for sealing scrolled documents written on parchment or papyrus, belonging to a high-ranking minister of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah. The minister’s name was Jehucal the son of Shelemiah…” (p. 117). Jehucal is mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3. Another bulla was subsequently discovered with the name Gedaliahu the son of Pashhur, another individual in the court of Zedekiah who is also mentioned in the book of Jeremiah (Jer. 38:1).

Seeing the City of David: The Canaanite Tower

Artist's conception of the Spring Tower.
Seeing the City of David in ancient times would ahve involved seeing this protective structure around the Gihon Spring. This is an artist’s conception of the Spring Tower.

The newest, and most dramatically altered, area in the City of David since my last visit, is the presentation of the ancient Canaanite walls and tower that protected the Gihon Spring. Archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have been excavating this area (near the bottom of the eastern hill where the Gihon Spring bubbles to the surface) since 1995. Over the years, as I observed this excavation I was excited about what would be learned. The Gihon was the main water source of ancient Jerusalem, but it is situated in a difficult place for an ancient city. For the protection of the city, the walls had to be built higher up the slope, but this meant the Gihon was exposed. This is fine during peaceful times, but during times of siege, this was a great problem. Along with tunnels carved out of the rock, the Canaanites built a large tower that came out from the city walls and enclosed the Gihon. This tower is usually called the “Spring Tower,” or “Pool Tower.” The drawing in the upper right is one artist’s conception of what the Spring Tower may have looked like.

The Spring Tower area. My visit in 2006.
The Spring Tower area. My visit in 2006.

What impressed me the most on my recent visit was how the vicinity around the Spring Tower has been transformed into a tourist friendly, and more informative area, than in my past visits. There are now two movies that run offering explanations of the area in Canaanite times and later, as well as offering visuals of what the Tower would have looked like.

ir david foundation
This photo from the Ir David Foundation shows a stairway in the back, as well as a walkway that takes you around the ruins of the ancient Canaanite walls.
Here is another view (courtesy of bibleplace.com) of the way it looks today.
Here is another view (courtesy of bibleplaces.com) of the way it looks today.

For more information on the Spring Tower, or Pool Tower as it is also known. Click on the following link: https://lukechandler.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/15-year-excavation-completed-at-jerusalem-gihon-spring-video/ Also, see the video link at the bottom of this article.

Seeing the City of David: Other Attractions

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This tunnel was the ancient drainage system that led from the Temple Mount down to the Pool of Siloam. Many Jews tried escaping through this tunnel when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. That’s my wife Gloria bravely leading the way!

Of course a must on anyone’s list when seeing the City of David is Hezekiah’s tunnel. Hezekiah’s tunnel is the next stop after the Canaanite Tower. Exiting the tunnel brings one out at the steps of the ancient Pool of Siloam (John 9:7). One of the other new attractions that was not available on my last trip in 2009 is the tunnel that can be followed underneath the City of David, leading one all the way up to the base of the Temple Mount. There are actually two tunnels. The entrance to both is just outside Hezekiah’s tunnel. One tunnel shows the ancient street that existed in the time of Jesus that led from the Siloam Pool all the way to the Temple Mount. However, only a small portion of this street has been excavated. If you want to go all the way to the Temple Mount, you must enter the second tunnel which is actually a drainage system that goes underneath the ancient street. Our guide jokingly referred to it as the “sewer tour,” which is, in fact, what its purpose was in the 1st century.

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These tombs are believed to be the tombs of the Judean Kings, with the one on the left being identified by some as the possible tomb of David.

Besides exiting through Hezekiah’s tunnel, one can also opt to take the “dry” tunnel (which is an ancient Canaanite tunnel–I know, yet another tunnel!). The exit from the Canaanite tunnel actually brings you out in the middle of the ancient city near some of the ancient walls on the eastern slope of Jerusalem. A little further down the slope you can see the remains of what is believed to be the tombs of the Judean kings. One is even speculated to be King David’s tomb.

If you’ve never been to the City of David, hopefully this brief post will whet your appetite for seeing its many interesting discoveries. If you’ve been to the City of David, but it has been a few years, I think you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was about the continuing progress being made regarding both new discoveries and the tourist-friendly environment.

(For those who would like more information on the City of David, I have included a few links below that I have found helpful.)

Here is a brief video introducing the City of David: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KShWyvHYyvM

To watch a short video on the excavation of the ancient Canaanite Fortress: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDRDjOxFSuc

Link to the City of David: http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/en/tours/city-david/city-david-tours-biblical-jerusalem

Tel Beersheba: My Impressions

The following post is based on my visit to Tel Beersheba on March 2, 2015.

Tel Beersheba: Location

This map shows the Negev region in Israel. Tel Beersheba can be found at the center of the map.
This map shows the Negev region in Israel. Tel Beersheba can be found near the center of the map.

Tel-Beersheba is located in the northern Negev (“Negev” meaning “South,” so the southern area of Israel) east of the modern city of Beersheba. Tel Beersheba is situated in the heart of the Beersheba Valley, an area with rich soil for cultivation. However, the valley sits near the edge of the desert and receives little rainfall. Beersheba is, of course, famous in the Bible as one of the places where Abraham and Isaac stayed (Gen. 21:22-34; 26:15-33), although Tel-Beersheba did not exist in their day. There are many other ancient sites in the area, even some buried beneath the modern city of Beersheba, and it is probably one or more of these sites that would have existed in the time of Abraham and Isaac (some scholars think that a site known as Bir es-Saba’ may be the site of the patriarchs).

The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. There are currently 5 vols. available.
The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. There are currently 5 vols. available.

The Negev region around Tel Beersheba is more hilly than I expected, and I learned that the Tel sits on a hill that overlooks the Beersheba and Hebron valleys. “The city that developed at Tel Beersheba is located at an important crossroad: Mount Hebron in the north; to the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea in the east; to the Coastal Plain in the west; and to the Negev hills, Kadesh-Barnea and Elath in the south” (Ze’ev Herzog, The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 1, ed. Ephraim Stern, 1993, pp. 167-173–some of the information from this post comes from this source, see photo on the left). In biblical times, Beersheba, which was alloted to the tribe of Simeon (Josh. 19:1-2), was known for being the southern boundary of Israel. “From Dan to Beersheba,” is a well-known expression in the Old Testament (e.g., Judg. 20:1; 1 Sam. 3:20; 2 Sam. 3:10) describing the entire land from north to south.

Tel Beersheba: History

An aerial view of Tel Beersheba
An aerial view of Tel Beersheba borrowed from http://shalomisraeltours.com/

Tel Beersheba consists of 9 different layers (or strata). It was originally inhabited in the 4th millenium B.C., but was then abandoned for 2,000 years and only resettled during the beginning of the Iron Age (for Old Testament readers, this is the period of the Judges and dates from 1200-1000 B.C.). The city was continuously inhabited for about 500 years and experienced a violent destruction, probably at the hands of the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 B.C. Sennacherib boasts to have destroyed 46 fortified cities in Judah and left Judah’s King Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage” inside Jerusalem. The first four strata (IX-VI) date to the Judges era. The city was not fortified early on and consisted of simple dwellings with houses gradually appearing in later layers. Stratum VIII shows evidence of the first houses and it is suggested that these houses mark the progress toward a permanent settlement and may reflect the time period of Joel and Abijah, the sons of Samuel, who were appointed judges in Beersheba (1 Sam. 8:1-2).

This photo shows a storage room to the right of the main gate of the city upon entering. Notice the line that separates the original walls from the reconstruction.
This photo shows a storage room to the right of the main gate of the city upon entering. Notice the line (center wall) that separates the original walls from the reconstruction.

The time period most clearly reflected at Tel Beersheba is what is known as Iron Age II–specifically, 1000-700 B.C., the time of the united kingdom (David and Solomon), through the time of Hezekiah (the Judean monarchy). This consists of Stratum V-II, but it is particularly Stratum II (which represents the final destruction stage) that is most apparent. The city was clearly laid out according to a plan and I was struck by the fact that Tel Beersheba allows you to picture what a small fortified city in Judah would have looked like. The gate, houses, governmental buildings, and the streets have all been uncovered. In fact, the original excavation (led by the well-known Israeli archaeologist Y. Aharoni from 1969-1975) took great care to not only preserve the original walls, but also to rebuild part of the walls with the original material. The reconstructed area can be seen today by a line that marks the original from the reconstruction (see my photo at right).

 A modern tower has been constructed at Tel Beersheba that allows one a wonderful view of the layout of the city. The following photos show the city from left to right from the vantage point of the tower.

Tel Beersheba
Tel Beersheba
Tel Beersheba
This view of Tel Beersheba shows the city square ( upper middle to right of the photo). The “governor’s palace is just to the left of the city square.
Tel Beersheba
This view of Tel Beersheba shows the city gate (upper middle) and the storage room to the left of the gate.

Tel Beersheba: Important Discoveries

The 4-horned altar from Tel Beersheba which is now located in the Israel Museum.
The 4-horned altar from Tel Beersheba which is now located in the Israel Museum.

One of the interesting discoveries at Tel Beersheba was of a four-horned altar. This altar helps to confirm that Beersheba had a “high place.” Aharoni (the original excavator) believed that it provided proof of a temple in the city (similar to Arad, click here to read my article on the temple at Arad). The parts of the altar were found incorporated into one of the storehouse walls (see photo of storehouse above), which suggests it was dismantled during the cultic reform carried out by Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1-6). The prophet Amos denounces those who worship at Beersheba (Amos 8:14). He compares it to the “sin of Samaria” and the false temple at Dan (see my article on Tel Dan here), which may suggest that Aharoni was right about an actual temple existing in Beersheba.

I am standing in a typical Israelite 4-room house at Tel Beersheba.
I am standing in a typical Israelite 4-room house at Tel Beersheba.

Although 4-room houses are not an unusual discovery–they were the common Israelite house of the First Temple period–I was surprised how many were uncovered at Tel-Beersheba. The photo at the right shows me standing in a typical 4-room house. These houses consisted of 3 parallel rooms with one long room against the back of the house. Based on the housing available, estimates of the population of Tel Beersheba are small. The inhabitants appear to have numbered no more than 300-400. The reason for this, however, is because it was a special admistrative and defensive city. Therefore, the city consisted of officials, soldiers, and their families.

My friend and host in Beersheba, Howard Bass, standing in the governor's palace.
My friend and host in Beersheba, Howard Bass, standing in the governor’s palace.

The most impressive building at Tel Beersheba is what is referred to as “the governor’s palace.” This is the building that was used by the commanders of the city and (as noted in the photo above) it is situated near the city square. This building consisted of 3 large reception halls, plus two dwelling units, and a kitchen and storeroom. Down the street is another large structure called the “Basement House.” The special characteristics of this building caused Aharoni to suggest that this was the area where the temple in Beersheba had originally stood. All of the rooms of this building had their foundations dug down to bedrock and the space between the rooms was filled with earth. This could have been the result of Hezekiah’s destruction of the temple at Tel Beersheba.

Bible Walks has helpfully provided a plan of the city, showing it's significant structures. For more info go to http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/TelBeerSheba.html
Bible Walks has helpfully provided a plan of the city, showing it’s significant structures. The basement house can be found in the upper corner in blue, while the governor’s palace is in yellow at the bottom left. For more info go to http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/TelBeerSheba.html
This photo also from biblewalks.com provides a nice overview of some of the important places at Tel Beersheba.
This photo also from biblewalks.com provides a nice overview of some of the important places at Tel Beersheba.

The water system at Tel Beersheba is also very impressive. Besides the ancient well that sits in front of the city gate (dated to about 1200 B.C.), there is a huge reservoir than can be accessed by going down a long stairway and into a tunnel that has been carved out of the rock. This water system was excavated by Ze’ev Herzog between 1993-1995, who formerly worked with Aharoni and took over the excavation in 1976 after Aharoni died. The system, as is the case in other cities as well, was built to access the water supply during times of siege. It consists of three parts: 1) A shaft 17 meters deep with a flight of steps; 2) a reservoir hewn into the chalk rock and thickly plastered, divided into five spaces, with a total capacity of about 700 cubic meters; 3) a winding channel that led flood waters from the Hebron streambed into the reservoir (this information is taken from the brochure at Tel Beersheba). Below are a few photographs I have taken of this impressive system.

The shaft leading to the reservoir at Tel Beersheba
The shaft leading to the reservoir at Tel Beersheba
The entrance to the tunnel at the bottom of the shaft at Tel Beersheba
The entrance to the tunnel at the bottom of the shaft at Tel Beersheba
One of the reservoir compartments inside the tunnel at Tel Beersheba.
One of the reservoir compartments inside the tunnel at Tel Beersheba.

Finally, I’ll end my tour of Tel Beersheba where I probably should have started–at the gate of the city! The first photo shows the gate and the second shows the old well that sits out in front of the gate.

The city gate at Tel Beersheba
The city gate at Tel Beersheba
The old well near the gate at Tel Beersheba.
The old well near the gate at Tel Beersheba.

Tel Beersheba isn’t usually on the list of top spots to see in Israel. For one thing, it’s a bit out of the way, and for another, it can’t be identified with Abraham or Isaac. However, if you can sqeeze in a visit while you’re in Israel, I definitely believe it’s worth the time and the 15 shekel entry fee. It will give you one of the best views (if not the best) of the layout of an ancient Israelite fortress city. After all, Elijah stopped here (1 Kings 19:3), why shouldn’t you?

(All photos are my own unless otherwise noted. They may not be sold or used for commercial purposes, but they may be freely used for educational purposes)

The City of David: Lost to History

The City of David: Lost?

Entrance to the City of David
Modern Entrance to the City of David

Did you know that the City of David was actually lost to history? Because of my love for 1&2 Samuel, and the Old Testament in general, the City of David has always been a favorite place of mine. Hard to believe that for more than 2000 years it was totally forgotten about! If this surprises you, allow me to explain. By the 1st century, the City of David was being identified with the wealthier neighborhood of the Upper City of Jerusalem. This same area today includes the Zion Gate, the traditional site of the Upper Room, the traditional site of David’s tomb, and further to the south, Saint Peter in Gallicantu (click on the link to also see a nice map of this area), one of the possible sites of the house of Caiaphus. This hill is actually to the west of the ancient City of David. In his book City of David: The Story of Ancient Jerusalem, Ahron Horovitz refers to this hill (called Mount Zion today) as the “Western Hill.” It appears that the location of Mount Zion in David’s time, was the smaller hill south of the Temple Mount. 2 Samuel 5:7 states, “Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David). Here the Scripture identifies Zion with the City of David. So how did such a misindentification occur, and how was the original location of the City of David forgotten? Horovitz explains, “To a certain extent this can be attributed to the forgetfulness that plagues every city which at various stages of development moves away from its original core” (p. 16). By the time of the first century, the (real) City of David was composed of the poorer people. No one would have thought of it as the place where Jerusalem began. Thus, as previously mentioned, David’s City was thought to be in the Upper City where the wealthy resided.

Centuries of History Bury the Memory of the Location of the City of David

City of David by Ahron Horovitz available at Amazon USA / UK or come buy it at the City of David for less than half price!
City of David by Ahron Horovitz available at Amazon USA / UK or come buy it at the City of David for less than half price!

The first Jewish revolt against Rome (66-73 AD) resulted in the destruction of the City of Jerusalem. Following the Second Jewish Revolt (132-135 AD), the Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city and greatly altered its layout. He even renamed it “Aelia Capitolina” seeking to erase all traces of its Jewish history and identity. Horovitz points out that by the Byzantine Period “Jerusalem’s biblical name, ‘Zion’, shifted to the southern portion of the Western Hill which is called ‘Mount Zion’ to this day” (p. 16). This misidentification was further complicated by an earthquake in 1033 which caused the walls of Jerusalem to collapse. When the walls were restored under the Fatimid rulers, they did not include the old City of David. Thus, the most ancient part of the city, the very site where Jerusalem began, was forgotton by all the subsequent inhabitants of Jerusalem (Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamluks and Ottomans).

The City of David Accidentally Rediscovered

The ancient Canaanite tunnel in the City of David leading to Warren's Shaft.
The ancient Canaanite tunnel in the City of David leading to Warren’s Shaft.

By the mid-19th century, archaeology of the biblical lands was becoming a major interest of Christians in Europe. One of the early explorers was a man by the name of Charles Warren. Warren, and others, wanted to find the ancient city of Jerusalem. Their natural inclination was to begin looking in what is today called the “Old City of Jerusalem.” Warren wanted to focus on the Temple Mount. But because he wasn’t Muslim, he was not given permission. Therefore Warren decided to sink some deep shafts south of the Temple Mount and to tunnel toward the walls! However, in the process of digging these shafts he discovered the remains of ancient fortifications. Further to the south, he uncovered a shaft that has famously retained his name “Warren’s shaft.” These discoveries created a lot of interest. A few years later, a young boy was walking through a tunnel (now known as Hezekiah’s tunnel–click on link to see a short video) and discovered a Hebrew inscription dating to the reign of King Hezekiah. As Horovitz states, “It was becoming more and more clear that all earlier theories placing the City of David on the Western Hill were wrong” (p. 17).

Today we know the true location of the City of David. There are many interesting finds besides those mentioned above. In my next post, I will talk about some of these discoveries and give some impressions on my most recent visit to the City of David.

Top 10 Biblical Archaeology Discoveries in 2014

Top 10 Biblical Archaeology Discoveries in 2014

Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) has just released its top 10 biblical archaeology discoveries for this past year. For those of you who do not subscribe to BAR but are interested in biblical archaeology, I thought I’d share those top 10 discoveries. I will list them in the order they appear in the BAR article, although it doesn’t appear that the order has anything to do with their significance. I have included many links throughout this post that lead to further information on each discovery, including some video links that I think you’ll find interesting. While all of the discoveries are not directly related to biblical archaeology (i.e., some do not relate to a particular text or event), they do concern the biblical period and give us a broader understanding of the biblical world.

The translation of the "Ark Tablet" no larger than a mobile phone is one of biblical archaeology's great discoveries in 2014.
The translation of the “Ark Tablet” no larger than a mobile phone is one of biblical archaeology’s great discoveries in 2014.

1. The Ark Tablet–This small mobile phone-sized object has been known about for years, but has only recently been translated by Dr. Irving Finkel who is the curator in charge of cunieform (ancient Babylonian script) clay tablets at the British Museum (you can read his own story about it here in The Telegraph). This tablet dates somewhere between the years 1900-1700 B.C. and describes in detail the building of an ark. Students of Genesis are probably familiar with the fact that there are several ancient versions of a flood that include a hero buidling an ark. Among these are the Gilgamesh Epic and the Atrahasis Epic. These accounts have interesting similarities with the biblical story of Noah, as well as important differences. The Ark Tablet is apparently related to the Atrahasis Epic and describes the ark as a circular vessel, similar to a vessel known as a coracle still used today in some places. Of course, the ark is described as being much larger. One other interesting feature of the Ark Tablet is that it mentions the animals on the boat in pairs (two each, or two by two). For more information you can read Finke’s article in The Telegraph (see link above). Articles are also available at Mail Online, and at BAR’s Bible History Daily (if you’re are a subscriber).

Phylacteries containing Dead Sea Scroll texts. Another biblical archaeology discovery in 2014! Photo: The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library.
Phylacteries containing Dead Sea Scroll texts. Another biblical archaeology discovery in 2014! Photo: The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library.

2. Qumran phylacteries revealing 9 new Dead Sea Scrolls–Just to be sure everyone understands what this discovery entails, allow me to provide a few definitions. The Dead Sea Scrolls are, of course, the world-famous discovery from the 1950s that gave us copies of the Old Testament text 1,000 years older than any we had previously. Qumran is the archaeological site believed by most scholars to be the community that produced and/or preserved these scrolls which were discovered in 11 different caves throughout Dead Sea area. Phylacteries (or teffelin–the Jewish word) are small leather boxes containing texts from the Jewish law worn on the forehead or arm by Jews as they recite certain prayers. When a CT scan was performed on a phylactery uncovered at Qumran, it was found to contain a text. This led to a further investigation of other phylacteries at the Dead Sea Scroll lab at the Israel Museum. In total 9 new texts were discovered. It is a delicate process to remove and unroll these texts, so they have yet to be deciphered. When examined, however, they should contribute yet another witness to the ancient text of the Hebrew Bible. For further information on this discovery click on this article in The Times of Israel.

The Spring Citadel, a 3800 year old Canaanite fortress recently unearthed.
The Spring Citadel, a 3800 year old Canaanite fortress recently unearthed.

3. Canaanite Fortress in the City of David–Archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have been excavating in the ancient City of David for the last 19 years. In 2014 a monumental Canaanite fortress dating to the 18th century B.C. (1700-1800 B.C,) was uncovered. This fortress, called the “Spring Citadel” by archaeologists because it protects the Gihon Spring (link = youtube video), is believed to be the fortress referred to in 1 Samuel 5:6-7 that David conquered. It is also the location where Solomon was anointed king (1 Kgs. 1:32-34). The walls are 23 feet thick and consist of stone blocks up to 10 feet wide! This means it is the largest Canaanite fortress ever discovered. The significance of this discovery demonstrates that Jerusalem was an important city in Canaanite times, contrary to the theory of some more liberal scholars who insist that it was no more than a tiny insignificant city in David’s time. For more information see this article at jewishpress.com or this article at the Jerusalem post. You can also view a video at this link.

A possible image of Alexander the Great in the Jewish synagogue in Huqoq.
A possible image of Alexander the Great in the Jewish synagogue in Huqoq.

4. Mosaic at Huqoq–Huqoq is a small village in Lower Eastern Galilee, 3 miles west of Magdala (Mary Magdalene’s home). This discovery is not directly related to biblical archaeology, but concerns a possible incident in Jewish history. The Jewish historian Josephus reports that when Alexander the Great was conquering the Persian empire that he stopped near Jerusalem to pay homage to the Jewish high priest and the God of Israel. Scholars are not certain how factual this account is, but recently at Huqoq a mosaic floor has been uncovered in a 5th century A.D. Jewish synagogue that appears to depict this meeting related by Josephus. For more information on the excavation at Huqoq click on this link.

The entryway recently uncovered at Herodium.
The entryway recently uncovered at Herodium.

5. Monumental Entryway to Herod’s Palace at Herodium–Herod the Great had many palaces and fortresses throughout his kingdom. Herodium was one of them and is located 7.5 miles south of Jerusalem and roughly 2 miles from Bethlehem. Based on information from Josephus, Herod is believed to have been buried at Herodium. It is also possible that the soldiers that Herod dispatched to slaughter the children of Bethlehem came from Herodium (Matt. 2:16). The entryway which was discovered consists of a series of arches measuring 65 feet high, 65 feet long, and 20 feet wide. According to the BAR article, “The excavators believe the corridor was backfilled in the process of turning the entire hilltop complex into a massive royal burial mound when Herod became aware of his imminent death.” For further information, click on this link from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Coins dated to the First Jewish Revolt against Rome.
Coins dated to the First Jewish Revolt against Rome.

6. Coins from the First Jewish Revolt–Excavations along a main highway between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv revealed a house built in the 1st century B.C. and later destroyed in the revolt against Rome in 69/70 A.D. In the ground underneath the house a ceramic box was found containing 114 coins each containing the words, “To the Redemption of Zion,” and dated “Year 4” (meaning the 4th year of the revolt = 69/70 A.D.). The money box was apparently hidden by the owner in hopes of recovering it later. For further information of this discovery see this link on the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) Press release.

7000 year old copper awl.
7000 year old copper awl.

7. 7,000 year-old copper awl–The discovery of a small 4 cm (1.6 inch) awl may not seem significant to some, but actually it has important ramifications. The awl was found in the grave of a wealthy woman who lived in the Jordan Valley around the 5th-6th millenium B.C. The site is known as Tel-Tsaf, and this discovery demonstrates that metal was available in this area hundreds of years earlier than previously thought. The importance of this discovery, the Canaanite fortress mentioned above (see #3), and the Canaanite Temple mentioned below (see #8), is that all these discoveries suggest much more advanced conditions in ancient Canaan than archaeologists and scholars previously thought. This understanding supports the biblical portrayal of an advanced culture in Canaan very well. Some scholars have attacked the biblical account believing that authors who lived much later (e.g., the exilic period) projected their own culture back on the time of the patriarchs and early Israelite period. In other words, the argument by these scholars is that the biblical writers wrote anachronistically. But the discoveries that continue to be made seem to support the idea that the biblical authors knew what they were talking about! For more information on the discovery of this awl click on the following link from sci-news.

The great temple complex at Megiddo reveals a more complex society than previously thought.
The great temple complex at Megiddo reveals a more complex society than previously thought.

8. The Great Temple at Megiddo–The discovery of a very large Early Bronze Age I (3500-3300 B.C.) temple at Megiddo, six times the size of an average temple of its type, was a complete surprise to archaeologists. A temple of this size requires a complex social and political structure that was not believed to exist in the Levant (the geographical area comprised of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan) during this time. The temple is the most monumental structure so far uncovered in the Levant during this time period.  Archaeologists have also been excavating an area to the east of Megiddo known as “Tel Megiddo East,” which provides further confirmation that during the Early Bronze Age I a prosperous and complex society existed at this location. This challenges the view which saw this area and time period as consisting of only small village societies. See my comments in #7 above for the significance of this new evidence. More information is available at this link and especially at this link at ASOR. For general information on the biblical significance of Megiddo, see my article here.

Animal bones offer new insights on social status
Animal bones offer new insights on social status

9. Social status and the Copper mines at Timna–The Timna referred to here is not the Philistine city known from the Samson story (spelled Timnah–Judg. 14:1), but the Timna of ancient Edom located south of the Dead Sea. This area was famous in the ancient world for its copper mining. Being forced to mine copper was one of the most terrible fates a person in the ancient world could imagine. It was reserved for the lowest of slaves, usually criminals. Until recently it was assumed that those involved with copper production were all slaves. But a recent study of animal bones suggests that the industrial workers had it better than the slaves in the mines. Researchers contend that the animal bones in the industrial area demonstates that they received better cuts of meat than the slaves in the mines. Examination of ancient peoples’ diets by examining animal bones, plants, and grains that remain in ancient bowls are just some of the more interesting ways that archaeology is helping to present a more nuanced view of ancient society. For a more indepth treatment of this topic click here.

6500 year old skeleton from Ur.
6500 year old skeleton from Ur.

10. 6500 year old skeleton from Ur–This last discovery was originally made in an excavation that took place in 1929/30 at the ancient site of Ur in Mesopotamia. The story sounds more like an “Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark” movie plot. The skeleton dug up in 1929/30 was put in a box in the basement of the Penn museum and contained no identifying information. When the Penn Museum and British Museum decided to do a joint exhibition entitled, “Ur of the Chaldees: A Virtual Vision of Wooley’s Excavations” (Wooley being the archaeologist from the 1929/30 excavation), the unaccounted for skeleton was matched up with the data from Wooley’s excavation records. After 85 years in the Penn Museum basement, the skeleton has finally returned to the land of the living! You could say, “he once was lost, but now is found!”

So this is BAR’s top 10 biblical archaeology discoveries for 2014. Some, like the phylacteries and our skeleton friend from Ur, might be more properly termed “rediscoveries.” Others, it could be argued, have little to do with “biblical archaeology,” but nonetheless they are interesting and they help to paint the bigger picture of the ancient Near Eastern world.

Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea Maritima

Caesarea is located on the north western coast.
Caesarea is located on the north western coast. (It can be found left of center in the above picture inside the rectangular box.

Caesarea Maritima, located about 65 miles northwest of Jerusalem on the coast, was one of Herod the Great’s most impressive building accomplishments. The name Caesarea Maritima is used to distinguish it from the well-known Caesarea Philippi, located northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Originally, Caesarea Maritima was the site of an old dilapidated town known as Strato’s Tower, but Herod transformed it between the years of 21 B.C. to 9 B.C. into a magnificent harbor city and renamed it in honor of Caesar Augustus. Before the creation of Caesarea, the area ruled by Herod had no harbour. The only natural harbour in the area was at Haifa, farther to the north and outside of his domain. It is difficult to overstate the enormity of Herod’s accomplishment. “Caesarea was the first artificial harbor constructed in the ancient world” (IVP Dictionary of New Testament Background, p. 176). The success of this man-made harbor depended on the new invention of hydraulic concrete, used for the first time at Caesarea.

Israel Aerial View
The man-made harbor at Caesarea Maritima

Pontius Pilate, Jews and Gentiles at Caesarea

This inscription found in the theatre at Caesarea includes the name of Pontius Pilate
This inscription found in the theatre at Caesarea includes the name of Pontius Pilate

Although Caesarea Maritima had a mixed population, it was created as a gentile city. This is most evident from the Temple to Augustus and Roma that was built “centrally located and adjacent to the inner harbour area” (IVP Dictionary of NT Backgrounds, 176). This means that as a ship sailed into the harbor, the first sight would have been of this imposing temple; no doubt a site that would have inspired a sense of awe in a gentile, while creating a sense of consternation and repulsion to a faithful Jew. This mixture of populations with very different viewpoints would cause constant problems in Caesarea.  Josephus relates one such incident, when after recently arriving as governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate marched his army into Jerusalem with the Roman standards proudly displayed and posted them in front of the Temple. The Roman standards were offensive to the Jews because of the animal imagery they contained. The Romans knew this and normally avoided such a display. Many Jews came to Caesarea and complained to Pilate that the standards be removed. On the sixth day, Pilate stationed his soldiers in the crowd with their weapons hidden. As he sat on the judgment seat and the Jews brought their complaint once again, Pilate had the soldiers draw their swords and threaten the Jews with death. The Jews bared their necks and said they would rather die than allow their law to be profaned. As a result, Pilate backed down (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3.1). Considering this story involving Pilate, it is interesting that Caesarea has yielded the only physical evidence for his existence. During archaeological excavations an inscription was uncovered from the theatre dedicating the theatre to the emperor Tiberius, while also mentioning Pilate as the governor of Judea (see the photo at the right).

Later problems between Jews and Gentiles in Caesarea would result in the slaughter of 20,000 Jews and lead to the outbreak of the Jewish War against Rome. This war, which began in 66 A.D., eventually resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple.

Caesarea: Capital of Roman Judea

Herod's swimming pool at the backside of his palace in Caesarea
Herod’s swimming pool at the backside of his palace in Caesarea

Caesarea became a source of wealth for Herod because it opened up the shipping trade, and thus became a major supply of revenue for his kingdom. Herod built a luxurious palace, including a swimming pool that jutted out into the ocean, the remnants of which can still be seen today. After Herod’s son Archelaus was deposed (6 A.D.), Judea became a Roman province ruled by a governor and the capital was located at Caesarea. Thus Herod’s palace became the residence of the Roman governor, who normally travelled to Jerusalem only during important occasions such as the Jewish feasts (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, etc.) . The city contained many lavish buildings all in the Hellenistic (Greek) style. This included a bathhouse, theatre, various temples and governmental buildings. The city was laid out according to other major Roman cities and included paved streets and sophisticated water and sewer systems.

Just outside of Caesarea are the remants of the ancient aqueduct that Herod built to supply the city with water. The aqueduct stretched 13 miles from Mount Carmel to Caesarea.
Just outside of Caesarea are the remants of the ancient aqueduct that Herod built to supply the city with water. The aqueduct stretched 13 miles from Mount Carmel to Caesarea.
A bathhouse in Caesarea.
A bathhouse in Caesarea.

Caesarea in the New Testament

Caesarea is frequently mentioned in the Book of Acts. Peter was sent by the Lord to share the gospel with a centurion named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea (Acts 10). This event opened the door for the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:18). How interesting that a city known for ethnic struggles between Jews and Gentiles would be the place that God chose to send the Jewish apostle Peter to proclaim the gospel to the Gentile Cornelius! According to the story, Peter had many reservations and had to be convinced by the Lord to go to the house of Cornelius. Could it be that some of the ethnic tension that Caesarea was known for contributed to his hesitation?

It is possible that Philip, known as “The Evangelist” planted the first church in Caesarea. After teaching and baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch, Philip is said to have preached in many of the cities along the coast, ending up in Caesarea (Acts 8:40). When Paul visited Caesarea later, on his way to Jerusalem, he stayed in Philip’s house where we are also told that Philip had “four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9).

The theatre in Caesarea where Herod Agrippa I was struck by God (Acts 12:19-23)
The theatre in Caesarea where Herod Agrippa I was struck by God (Acts 12:19-23)
Where Gloria and I are sitting is believed to be the place where kings and governors would have sat in the theatre.
Where Gloria and I are sitting is believed to be the place where kings and governors would have sat in the theatre.

One of the most famous stories in Acts involving the city of Caesarea concerns the very popular monarch, at least among the Jews, Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great). Agrippa appeared in the theatre in radiant royal clothing and gave an oration to the crowd. Following his speech the multitudes shouted, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” Because he did not give the glory to God, Herod Agrippa I was struck immediately with a fatal illness (Acts 12:19-23). Josephus’s account corroborates the story in Acts by rendering a very similar version of events.

Looking at the area where Herod's palace was located.
Looking at the area where Herod’s palace was located.
Some believe that this part of the palace (where everyone is standing) is the area where Paul would have appeared for his trial.
Some believe that this part of the palace (where everyone is standing) is the area where Paul would have appeared for his trial.

Caesarea appears a final time in the Book of Acts as the city of Paul’s imprisonment. After being arrested on the Temple Mount due to false charges of having brought a Gentile with him, Paul was put in prison in Jerusalem (Acts 22:23-30). When a plot was uncovered that certain Jews had planned to kill Paul, he was sent with a Roman escort to Caesarea to appear before the Roman governor, Felix (Acts 23:20-35). Paul ended up staying in prison for 2 years in Caesarea. During that time, he not only appeared before Felix, but also before the new governor, Festus. Festus, who did not understand Jewish law, invited King Herod Agrippa II (son of Herod Agrippa I) to hear Paul’s case (Acts 25-26). Paul’s stay in Caesarea ended when he appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome.

The Later History of Caesarea

Caesarea continued to grow and expand after the first century. In the time of the emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) a second aqueduct was built. A hippodrome was also built (see photo below). It was one of the larger hippodromes of the Roman empire and could seat over 30,000 people (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible Supplementary Vol., p. 120). Christians continued to live in Caesarea and two of its more famous residents were the great theologian and Bible scholar Origen, and Eusebius who created the first history of the Church. Caesarea continued to thrive until 614 A.D. when it was captured by the Persians. Shortly afterward in 639 A.D. it was destroyed by the Arabs.

Standing on the racecourse of the hippodrome, looking back toward Herod's palace
Standing on the racecourse of the hippodrome, looking back toward Herod’s palace
Looking down at the hippodrome built in the time of the emperor Hadrian.
Looking down at the hippodrome built in the time of the emperor Hadrian.

 

(All photos, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken and may be used for educational purposes only).

The Jehoash Inscription

The Jehoash Inscription

The Jehoash Inscription
The Jehoash Inscription

Did you know that a number of prominent scholars believe that the Jehoash Inscription is authentic? Some of you might be saying, “Back up, I don’t even know what the Jehoash Inscription is!” Jehoash (also referred to as “Joash”) was king of Judah from 835-796 B.C. He is perhaps best known for being the king who initiated repairs on Solomon’s temple (2 Kgs. 12; 2 Chron. 24). The Jehoash Inscription (JI) is reputedly a royal inscription from the time of King Jehoash detailing the repairs that were carried out on the temple. It consists of 15 lines engraved on a black stone plaque. The inscription has similarities with the descriptions given in the biblical texts cited above, especially 2 Chronicles 24:8-14. A copy of the translation is given below.

Translation of the Jehoash Inscription
Translation of the Jehoash Inscription

For a clearer picture of this translation, go to the following site from Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) and click on the photo to enlarge it. If this inscription is authentic, it would be a discovery of momentous proportions!

The Jehoash Inscription: No Stranger to Controversy

Unfortunately, the Jehoash Inscription is shrouded in controversy. Among other problems, it was not found “in situ.” That is, it was not found in an official archaeological excavation, but in the collection of an antiquities collector named Oded Golan. Because antiquities are “big money,” scholars are always suspicious of objects that come from the antiquities market. Are they forgeries, or are they authentic relics of the past? The problem has become more complicated as criminals become more adept at making a forgery look like the real thing. If an artifact is not found in its ancient archaeological context, then it is open to suspicion.

The James Ossuary which reads, "James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus."
The James Ossuary which reads, “James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus.”

The Jehoash Inscription was only one of several objects included in Oded Golan’s collection accused of being modern forgeries. The most famous object of this collection was the James Ossuary which included the provocative inscription, “James the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus.” An ossuary is simply a “bone box” where the bones of the deceased were placed after the desiccation of the flesh. Such bone boxes were only used for a limited time in Israel’s history (1st century B.C. through the 1st century A.D.), which happens to correspond with the time of Jesus and the early church. As a result, this ossuary and its inscription caused quite a stir. Charges of forgery also began to circulate. All of this came to a head with the indictment of Oded Golan and 3 others on December 29, 2004, and the confiscation of the supposed forgeries. The long trial finally concluded on March 14, 2012 with Golan’s acquittal. An account of the court’s decision, as well as details on the supposed forgeries (which many were convinced were authentic) can be found at BAR’s website at this location. Even though Golen had not been convicted, the Israel Antiquity Authority (IAA) demanded that the contested objects be kept and not returned to Golan. However, this demand was overruled and all of the objects, including the Jehoash Inscription, were returned to Golan who plans to put them on public display. More information of the possible authenticity of these items and the decision to return them to Golan can be found at the following site: Return the Jehoash Inscription.

Is the Jehoash Inscription Authentic?

This is a question that I am not qualified to answer, but the response of many of those who are qualified seems to be leaning in the direction that the Jehoash Inscription is indeed authentic. Besides the BAR articles sited above, the interested reader may also consult the following articles: for a detailed account of authenticity see: Archaeometric evidence for the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription Tablet. Hershel Shanks, the editor of BAR has recently written another article supporting the authenticity of the Jehoash Inscription. It can be found in the July/August issue of BAR, 2014. For a summary of Shanks article you can click on the following site: Generation Word Bible Teaching.

It is unfortunate that questions of authenticity surround the Jehoash Inscription and, perhaps, always will. If it is authentic then it is the only royal Israelite inscription ever discovered. Moreover, it would be further evidence for the temple of Solomon, and it would confirm the biblical accounts of this event. Although we may never be certain of its provenance, the Jehoash Inscription is reported to have been discovered near the eastern wall of the Temple Mount in what is an old Muslim cemetery. This would certainly be the vicinity in which such an item would be expected to be found. If this is accurate there is a certain irony to the discovery of the Jehoash Inscription. It is said that in recent years the Muslim cemetery has been used for the burial of several Palestinians who were killed in suicide attacks on Israelis. It was during one such burial that the Jehoash Inscription was reported to have been discovered. Therefore, it appears that the burial of a Palestinian militant led to the discovery of an artifact that further testifies to Israel’s historic claim to the land. God certainly works in strange ways!

 

Temple of Human Sacrifice: Amman Jordan

Temple of Human Sacrifice: Amman Jordan

Jephthah sacrifices his daughter
Jephthah sacrifices his daughter

In a recent post on my series “Violence in the Old Testament” I refer to the story of Jephthah from Judges 11 (The Moral Failure of Biblical Characters Part 7). In this article I noted that the stories of moral failure are not written for us to emulate, but are written as warnings when we stray from God’s Word. Jephthah is famous for sacrificing his daughter due to a foolish vow that he made (Judg. 11:30-40). In the article I suggested that Jephthah imitates his enemy, the Ammonites, (and Moabites as well), by offering a human sacrifice. Confirmation of this view may come in the most recent issue of BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review, vol 40, No. 5, 2014, pp. 6, 57), where editor Hershel Shanks speaks about what is believed by many to be the discovery of a temple of human sacrifice. This temple is situated in the city of Amman, Jordan near the airport. The city of Amman has retained the ancient name of the people that once occupied this area, the Ammonites.

This temple was first excavated in 1955 by Australian archaeologist John Basil Hennessy (a diagram of the temple, drawn by Hennessy, can be found in the BAR article mentioned above). He discovered an altar (stone pile), and most surprisingly, he discovered small bone fragments of which 90% were human! In 1976 Larry G. Herr carried out further excavation at the site and discovered many more human bone fragments. Herr concluded that the stone pile (altar) functioned as a pyre since the bones showed evidence of burning. Scholarly opinion is divided as to whether this site was an ancient crematorium or a temple of human sacrifice. Archaeologist Ami Mazar says that it is difficult to accept the suggestion that it was a crematorium since no such buildings have ever been discovered in the ancient Near East. However it must also be admitted that no temple of human sacrifice has ever been discovered either.

Artist's depiction of offering a child to Molech
Artist’s depiction of offering a child to Molech

Interestingly, the temple dates to roughly the same time as Jephthah (13th century BC–most consider Jephthah to have lived in the 12th century BC). Considering both the biblical evidence (Lev. 18:21; 1 Kgs. 11:7; Jer. 32:35), as well as Phoenician evidence (IVP Bible Background Commentary on the OT, pp. 132-133), there is no doubt that child sacrifice to Milcom (or, Molech), the god of the Ammonites, was practiced. Therefore, in my opinion, if one includes this written evidence, the scale is tipped in favour of this being a temple of human sacrifice. If it is, it would add further weight to the argument that Jephthah was influenced by the Ammonites’ practice of child sacrifice.

The Philistines and Their Cities

The Philistines Early History

Invasion of the Sea Peoples. For further information see http://wysinger.homestead.com/seapeople.html
Invasion of the Sea Peoples. For further information see http://www.wysinger.homestead.com/seapeople.html

Did you know that there is a lot happening in the excavation of ancient Philistine sites? The Philistines were one of the famous foes of ancient Israel. They arrived in Canaan some time around 1200-1150 B.C. and are part of the migration of the so-called Sea Peoples. The Sea Peoples consisted of various groups from the eastern Mediterranean (the Aegean region) who invaded Asia Minor (Turkey), Canaan, and Egypt during the 12th century B.C. (see map on the right). The Philistines are first mentioned in inscriptions by Ramasses III (c. 1184-1163 B.C.) who claims to have defeated them (and a coalition of Sea Peoples) after they had already overrun Canaan. The Philistines settled on the southern coastal plain of Canaan establishing five capital cities (Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza, Ekron, and Gath–see 1 Sam. 5-6).

This map shows the coastal area controlled by the Philistines and some of the battles they engaged in with Israel. The map is taken from http://www.bible-history.com/geography/maps/map_philistine_cities_expansion.html
This map shows the coastal area controlled by the Philistines and some of the battles they engaged in with Israel. The map is taken from http://www.bible-history.com/geography/maps/map_philistine_cities_expansion.html

The Philistines were a major threat to Israel during the later period of the Judges and into the united monarchy period. 1 Samuel 13:19-22 reveals the Philistines’ had a monopoly on iron, giving them an edge (pun intended) in weapon superiority. They first appear as a foe during the time of Samson (Judg. 13:5). Rather than rejoice in Samson’s acts of deliverance, the men of Judah insist that the Philistines rule over them (Judg. 15:11), and see him as a threat to the status-quo. During the high priesthood of Eli (while Samuel was a young man), the Philistines inflicted a major defeat on Israel, taking the ark and destroying the sanctuary in Shiloh (1 Sam. 4; Jer. 7:12). Although Samuel experienced some military success against them (1 Sam. 7:13), the Philistines inflicted another major defeat on Israel during Saul’s reign, killing Saul and several of his sons (1 Sam. 31). These incursions into Israelite territory resulted in severing the northern area of Galilee from the rest of the nation. This put Israel’s survival as a nation in jeopardy. For a short period of time David lived among the Philistines while he was running from Saul. He was given the city of Ziklag (see map on the left) in exchange for his service to Achish, King of Gath (1 Sam. 27:5-6). Once David became king of Israel, he inflicted several severe defeats on the Philistines and, from that time on, they were never again a major threat to Israel (2 Sam. 5:17-25).

Philistine Cities

Tel-Qasile

In the summers of 2008 and 2009 I had the opportunity of visiting each of the sites of the major Philistine cities except for Gaza. Archaeologists have learned much about Philistine culture and have uncovered a vast amount of Philistine artifacts. The object of the rest of this article is to introduce others to these various Philistine cities by providing some basic facts and photos. My first visit to a Philistine site was actually one that I was unfamiliar with. It is known today as Tel-Qasile and is located to the north of modern Tel-Aviv (you can locate it on the map at the top just above Joppa). The ancient name of this city is not known, but many Philistine artifacts and buildings were discovered here, including a temple.

Buildings and streets at Tel-Qasile, an ancient Philistine city
Remains at Tel-Qasile, an ancient Philistine city
Temple at Tel-Qasile
Philistine Temple at Tel-Qasile

Ashkelon

Archaeological excavations have been taking place at Ashkelon ever since 1985. At its largest extent, Ashkelon covered an area of 150 acres, one of the largest in Israel! Ashkelon is the oldest and largest seaport known in Israel and it also boasts the oldest arched city gate in the world. This gate (pictured below) dates from the Canaanite era and is roughly contemporary with the gate from Tel-Dan shown in one of my previous articles. Archaeologists have learned much about the commercial activity of this thriving seaport city. For a brief description of Ashkelon’s economics click on the following link: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/the-philistine-marketplace-at-ashkelon/ For a current look at what is happening at Tel-Ashkelon see the following site: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/digs-2014/excavating-ashkelon-in-2014/

Me at the Canaanite gate in Ashkelon, the oldest arched gate ever discovered.
Me at the Canaanite gate in Ashkelon, the oldest arched gate ever discovered.
More of the ruins at ancient Ashkelon
More of the ruins at ancient Ashkelon

Ashdod

Among the finds at Ashdod are a 6-chambered gate, similar to those found in Israel (e.g., Megiddo, see my article), and some mycenaean (ancestors of Greek culture) pottery, characteristic of the Philistines (see photo below under Ekron for some examples). One of the interesting features of Ashdod is the museum which houses many Philistine artifacts.

Models of ancient Philistines mixed with some modern Philistines found fooling around at the Ashdod museum!
Models of ancient Philistines mixed with some modern Philistines found fooling around at the Ashdod museum! The feathered headress was a characteristic feature of Philistine military dress.
Ancient figurines used in Philistine worship from the Ashdod museum
Ancient figurines used in Philistine worship from the Ashdod museum

Ekron (Tel-Miqne)

Ancient Ekron actually yielded an inscription identifying it by name. The inscription, which dates to the early 7th century, mentions the name of Ekron’s king at that time: “Achish son of Padi.” For those who know the story of David, it will be recalled that this was the name of the king of Gath that David served under during his fugitive days from Saul (1 Sam. 27–see comments above). For a picture of the inscription and its translation see the following link: http://cojs.org/cojswiki/index.php/Ekron_Inscription,_early_7th_century_BCE. At the ancient site of Ekron, I experienced a Philistine museum of a different type. This one was an outdoor museum.

IMG_4288
Outdoor museum at Ekron (Tel-Miqne). The object right of the center of the picture is an ancient Philistine loom, reminiscent of the Samson and Delilah story (Judg. 16:13-14).
Examples of classic Philistine pottery (mycenaean influence) at Tel-Miqne
Examples of classic Philistine pottery (mycenaean influence) at Tel-Miqne
This cart might be similar to the one used by the Philistines to transport the ark of the covenant back to Israel (1 Sam. 6:7-12).
This cart might be similar to the one used by the Philistines to transport the ark of the covenant back to Israel (1 Sam. 6:7-12).

Gath (Tel es-Safi)

Gath is also an extremely large site and has been undergoing excavation since 1996. In fact, one of my former students participated in an excavation there in the summer of 2009. A number of exciting discoveries have been made, including an ostracon with a name that is similar to “Goliath” (see the photo below). A large storage jar that includes the word “Rapha” (translated “giant” in 2 Sam. 21:16-22) has also been found, along with other interesting artifacts (e.g., a horned altar). For more information on the ongoing excavations at Gath click the following link: https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~maeira/

Hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath). The mound in the background is the Tel, of which only a part is visible.
Hanging out with Philistines at Tel es-Safi (Gath). The mound in the background is the Tel, of which only a part is visible.
The goliath ostracon. Photo from: comment
The goliath ostracon. Photo from: http://gath.wordpress.com/2006/02/16/comment-on-the-news-item-in-bar-on-the-goliath-inscription/
Excavations at Tel es-Safi (Gath). This photo was taken the summer of 2008. Gath has seen 6 more seasons of excavation since then!
One area of excavations at Tel es-Safi (Gath). This photo was taken the summer of 2008. Gath has seen 6 more seasons of excavation since then!

The Philistine cities remain a rich resource for understanding their culture and biblical history. With excavations ongoing at some of these sites we will continue to increase our knowledge and understanding of one of Israel’s most dreaded foes in the ancient world. For more information on the Philistines see the websites included in this article, as well as any good Bible dictionary.

(All photos, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken and are to be used for educational purposes only.)

Tel-Arad: The Home of Judah’s Other Temple

Tel-Arad: The Home of Judah’s Other Temple

Tel_arad_all
Aerial view of Tel-Arad

Did you know that Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem was not the only temple that existed in Judah during the divided monarchy period? In a discussion of top biblical sites, Tel-Arad is unlikely to make the list with most people. In fact, some of you may be saying, “Tel-what? I’ve never heard of it. Where is it?” This is probably because it is not frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, and it is not connected with any particularly memorable story.  In spite of that, it is a mistake to sell Tel-Arad short as it has some of the most interesting archaeological finds in Israel, including another temple!

Tel-Arad is 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea
Tel-Arad is 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea

Tel-Arad is located in the southeastern area of Israel known as the Negev, 22 miles east-northeast of Beersheba and 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea. Although this area experiences little rainfall, Arad is situated in a strategic geographical location by ancient trade routes coming from the south and southeast. The Canaanites were the original settlers of this area and established a large city here between 3000-2300 B.C. Numbers 21:1-3 says that the King of Arad attacked Israel while they were making their way toward Canaan. The Israelites achieved an overwhelming victory and named the place “Hormah” which means “utter destruction.” Joshua 12:14 also mentions the defeat of a king of Arad. According to Joshua 19:1-8 this area was given to the tribe of Simeon (Arad appears in v. 4 as “Hormah”). Judges 1:16 tells us that the Kenites (the relatives of Moses’ father-in-law) also settled in this area, as did the infamous Amalekites (1 Sam. 27:8-10).

The Fortress at Tel-Arad

The fortress at Tel-Arad
The fortress at Tel-Arad

Although there was a small settlement during the time of Solomon, it was during the divided monarchy period that a fortress was established at Tel-Arad. The fortress would have served to protect Judah’s southern border against its enemies, in particular, the Edomites. That this was a dangerous area is evidenced in the fact that the fortress was destroyed 6 times during the divided monarchy period! One of those destructions may have been the result of the great earthquake of 760 B.C. (see Amos 1:1 for a mention of this earthquake).  Three of the destructions of the fortress came during the eighth century B.C. According to the Bible, the Edomites were a constant problem during this time (2 Kgs. 15:7; 16:6). It is likely that one of the destructions of the fortress occurred during Hezekiah of Judah’s rebellion against the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 B.C., who is said to have destroyed all the fortified cities of Judah (2 Kgs. 18:13). However, the fortress was rebuilt, but was finally destroyed as a result of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah in 586 B.C. Inscriptions from Arad (which we will talk about below) indicate that the Edomites may have been responsible for the destruction, as it is well known that they assisted Babylon at this time (see the Book of Obadiah).

The Temple at Tel-Arad

The temple complex at Tel-Arad. Photo from http://www.bibleplaces.com
The temple complex at Tel-Arad. The altar of sacrifice appears in the center of the picture with the temple in the background on the left. Photo from http://www.bibleplaces.com/arad.htm

Although Bible students are aware of the temples erected in northern Israel by Jeroboam I (see my articles on Tel-Dan), and that Judah continued to have problems with the “high places” (e.g., 2 Kgs. 14:1-4), most, are not aware that Tel-Arad sported a complete temple that included all of the ingredients of Solomon’s temple. I had the opportunity to visit Arad in the summer of 2008 and walk through this temple complex. Since it is not possible to excavate the ruins of Solomon’s (or Herod’s) temple, it is fascinating to get a first hand view of what an ancient Israelite temple looked like. The altar of burnt offering in the courtyard is made of unhewn stones and follows the specifications laid down in Exodus 27:1. The temple itself consists of two rooms, as described in Scripture. The first, (the holy place) is a broad room resembling the same layout as Jeroboam’s temple in Tel-Dan. In contrast, the holy place in Solomon’s temple consisted of a long room. After entering the broad room one can then approach and enter a square room which would have been the holy of holies. It was fascinating to stand in this room and think about what would have taken place here. Who would have entered this room and when? Since there was no Ark of the Covenant here, what was done in this room? Was the Day of Atonement ritual practiced here? Did the high priest come down from Jerusalem, or did another appointed priest have access to the holy of holies in Arad? Many questions, but not many answers!

This is a close-up of the altar of sacrifice at Tel-Arad with our friend Lilah pretending to be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2)!
This is a close-up of the altar of sacrifice at Tel-Arad with our friend Lilah pretending to be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2)!

There are a couple of other fascinating things about entering the holy of holies at Tel-Arad. One is the altars of incense placed on either side of the entrance, and the other is the two “standing stones” (masseboth in Hebrew) inside. These stones (which I am crouching between in the photo below) supposedly represent Yahweh and his Asherah, or wife! This is an excellent example of the corruption of true Yahweh worship and why the Scripture insists that God was only to be worshipped at the place which He chose (Deut. 12:1-8). This sanctuary was covered over before Sennacherib’s destruction in 701 B.C. and never reused. It is thought that this is probably due to the reforms of King Hezekiah mentioned in 2 Kings 18:1-6.

Me in the holy of holies at Tel-Arad sitting between the 2 standing stones representing Yahweh and his Asherah
Me in the holy of holies at Tel-Arad sitting between the 2 standing stones representing Yahweh and his Asherah

The Tel-Arad Ostraca

One of the Arad ostraca discovered at Tel-Arad
One of the Arad ostraca discovered at Tel-Arad. Photo from Mnamon Ancient Writing Systems

Ostraca are pieces of broken pottery that were often used in ancient times as writing material. Archaeologists have discovered 88 Hebrew ostraca at Tel-Arad. This is an amazingly large quantity and, along with the temple complex, is evidence that Arad was a regional administrative and perhaps religious center. Among the 88 pieces, 15 are whole. The inscriptions date from the eighth to sixth centuries B.C., with the possibility of some being as old as the tenth century B.C. No other archaeological site has ever yielded ostraca that date from different periods in Israelite history. These ostraca not only provide insight into various stages of Judah’s history, but they help biblical scholars note the development and change of the ancient Hebrew language. A few of the ostraca mention the Edomites as enemies. It is this evidence that suggests the Edomites played an important part in the final destruction of Arad. Another ostracon (sg.) seems to be a “royal” inscription. It only exists in part, but it appears to be a letter from the king of Judah announcing his accession to the throne, with a reference to the “King of Egypt” as well. If this is correct, then this letter may be from Judah’s new king Jehoahaz who became king after the Pharaoh of Egypt (Necho II) killed his father Josiah at the battle of Megiddo in 609 B.C. (2 Kgs. 23:31). Another important ostracon mentions a priestly family (the family of Keros) who are referred to in Ezra 2:44 and Nehemiah 7:47. This same ostracon mentions “the house of Yahweh” which is the only nonbiblical reference to any preexilic temple to Yahweh (unless it is one day proven that the Jehoash inscription is authentic–for more info see the following link at bibleplaces.com). Tel-Arad is indeed a fascinating site with a lot to offer those who are interested in the history of ancient Israel. Ask your tour guide to add it to your itinerary the next time you go to Israel! For more information on ancient Arad, and examples of translations of some of the ostraca go to the following link: jewishvirtuallibrary.

All photos, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken and are only to be used for educational purposes.

Note: Some of the information from this article was taken from Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, eds. Bill T. Arnold & H. G. M. Williamson (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), pp. 39-41, 372-373. You can order a copy of this dictionary at:

Amazon USA / UK51o-OY-pC3L._SY445_