Some (Brief) Features of Italian Geography

February 25, 2012

A resource I have found beneficial is The Cultural Atlas of the World series. There are several volumes in the series; one I’ve recently been gleaning is The Roman World, by Tim Cornell and John Matthews. The opening chapter, “A City Destined to Grow Great,” is obviously dealing with the city of Rome. But first an overview of the geography of Italy is given, including some reasons why the location was chosen for the foundation of this ancient city (ca. 753 BC).

The most important feature of the historical geography of Italy is the close interaction of plain, hill and mountain. Only about 1/5 of the total land surface of Italy is officially classified as plain (that is, land below 300 meters), and of this lowland area more than 70% is accounted for by the valley of the Po [north Italy, runs east-west, LM]. Of the rest, about 2/5 is classified as mountain (land over 1000 meters) and the remaining 2/5 as hill (land between 300 and 1000 meters). The alternation of these types of relief and their distribution throughout the country create a great diversity of climatic conditions and sharp contrasts in the physical appearance of the landscape from one region to another.

Italy is separated from central Europe by the great barrier of the Alps. In spite of their altitude these mountains have not kept Italy isolated from the rest of the continent. Although the winter snows make them impenetrable for more than half the year, most of the passes have been known since the earliest times; movements of people across the Alps have taken place throughout history, sometimes on a very large scale, for example during the incursions of the Celts and the Cimbri in the republican period and the barbarian invasions in the 5th and 6th centuries of our era.

In general the Tyrrhenian side [western side, LM] enjoys certain natural advantages over the Adriatic side . . . These differences relate largely to climate and to the nature of the soil . . . The Tyrrhenian coast is moreover fortunate in being served by relatively large rivers, at least two of which, the Tiber and the Arno, were navigable waterways in classical antiquity. The streams which flow into the Adriatic on the other hand are mostly dried up in the summer, and in winter become raging torrents which erode the thin soil from the upland slopes. The Adriatic coast is at a further disadvantage in having no good harbors.

The consequence of this natural imbalance has been that the western side of Italy has played a more prominent part in the history of civilization than the east, ever since the earliest Greek colonists rejected the desolate Adriatic coast and chose to make their homes on the Ionian and Tyrrhenian shores.

. . . Along the Tyrrhenian coast is a series of small alluvial plains, while the interior of the region is traversed by an interconnected chain of elevated basins which borders the eastern side; the most important of these alluvial valleys are the upper Arno between Florence and Arezzo, The Val di Chiana, the middle Tiber, and the Liri, Sacco and Volturno valleys which connect Latium and Campania.

These river valleys are also natural corridors of communication, and together they form the main longitudinal route along the western side of Italy which is followed today by the main railroad track and the Autostrada del Sole between Florence and Naples. The chief natural lines of communication from the coast to the interior also run along the river valleys, and above all along the Tiber. The lower Tiber valley is the nodal point of the network of natural communications of central Italy, and it was inevitable that the lowest available crossing of the Tiber, which occurs at Rome, should become an important center (emp. mine, LM). A defensible position with a good supply of fresh water, it dominated the crossing point at the Tiber island, where the first bridge, the Pons Sublicius, was constructed in the reign of King Ancus Marcius. In historical times, this part of the city comprised the commercial harbor (the Portus) and the cattle marker (the Forum Boarium). It was also the site of the “Great Altar” of Hercules. . . (pgs. 11-14).

Map of Italy, by Wikipedia

The highest point of elevation in Italy is Mont Blanc, in Aosta Valley.

Mont Blanc. Photo: Wikipedia Commons.

Italy is mentioned 4 times in the New Testament:

Acts 18:2 “And he [Paul] found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.”

Acts 27:1 “When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, they proceeded to deliver Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius.”

Acts 27:6 “There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it.”

Hebrews 13:24 “Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.”

There are several scriptural references to Rome, which we plan to consider at a later time.

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Beth Shean

February 20, 2012

The current issue of BAR features an article entitled, “Was King Saul Impaled on the Wall of Beth Shean?” The author, Amihai Mazar, conducted nine excavation seasons in 1989-1996.

Beth Shean. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

There were some interesting signs on the top of the tel that commemorate Saul’s death at nearby Mt. Gilboa, and the fastening of his body to the walls of Beth Shean (1 Sam. 31).

Info atop tel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Illustrations of humiliation to Saul's body. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Biblical record is in 1 Sam. 31. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The BAR article explains that excavations have revealed many layers of occupation, including Egyptian.

Statue of Ramesses III. Egyptians occupied Beth Shean prior to Saul's death. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This statue of Ramesses III (replica) marked the Egyptian victory over the “sea peoples” who invaded the land in the 12 century BC. The statue was made locally, in Egyptian monumental style. Original is in the Israel Museum.

I have previously written on Beth Shean and its strategic significance here.

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More on Azazel

February 18, 2012

Our previous entry was on Azazel, the Scapegoat. See here. I wanted to follow-up with a bit more information on the word Azazel from The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Eds. Harris, Archer, and Waltke):

The actual use and meaning of this word in Lev 16 is at best uncertain. However, regardless of its precise meaning, the significant dimension is the removal of the sins of the nation by the imposition of them on the goat. In this passage sin seems to be hypostatized [to treat or represent as concrete reality] and therefore readily transferable to the goat. Indeed vss 21 and 22 state that this goat is to bear away the sin of the people. Such a ritual would illustrate vividly the physical removal of defilement from the camp to a solitary place where it would no longer infest the nation.

A parallel to the scapegoat can be seen in the ritual for a recovered leper. Two birds were selected. One was to be killed and both the leper and the living bird were to be touched with its blood. Then the living bird was released. This bird carried away the evil, the leprosy itself, into the open field and then the leper was pronounced clean (Lev 14:1–9). . .

This concept of the removal of guilt can be seen in Ps 103:12 where God “removes” our transgressions from us.

In the NT John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29, 36). This language is sacrificial, yet nowhere in the Law is a lamb spoken of as a bearer of the people’s sins. The paschal lamb is not a sin offering. The description of the Savior as a lamb is unknown to late Judaism. Furthermore, the phrase “the lamb of God” is an unparalleled genitive combination. John may have had in mind that Christ as the paschal lamb bespeaks our great deliverance from the bondage of sin. However, what seems more likely is that he had a complex of ideas in mind. Some words of Isa 53 are discernible here: “as a sheep led to the slaughter, and a lamb dumb before his shearers … whose soul was made a guilt offering … and who bore the sin of many.” But also discernible here is an allusion to the scapegoat. This fact is clearly seen in the words “taketh away” (cf. I Jn 3:5). In Christ are consummated all the atonement concepts of the OT (pp.657-658).

The instructions of Leviticus 16 were given while Israel was encamped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. In our photo here you can see traditional Mt. Sinai, Jebel Musa, as you look to upper right in photo.

Mt. Sinai, Jebel Musa, upper right of photo. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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Azazel, the Scapegoat

February 13, 2012

Leviticus 16 gives the instructions for the annual Day of Atonement. This was the one and only day during the year in which the High Priest would enter Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle, and later the temple. He would enter with sacrificial blood (a bull) first for himself and his family, and then next (a goat) on behalf of all the people of Israel.

Additionally, there was to be a second goat which was not killed; the High Priest would lay his hands on its head and confess over it all the sins of Israel (v.21). Then it would be released in the wilderness.

Lev. 16:10 states, ” But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat” (NIV).

The NET Bible renders the Hebrew text with a transliteration: “but the goat which has been designated by lot for Azazel is to be stood alive before the LORD to make atonement on it by sending it away to Azazel into the wilderness.”

Strong defines the Hebrew word azazel as meaning “entire removal.” The NIV marginal note has “goat of removal.” “The English word scapegoat was apparently invented by William Tyndale as an attempt to translate what literally says ‘for Azazel'” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, p. 763).

This “visual aid” depicted God’s mercy and forgiveness as sin was removed from the camp and community of Israel. Of course this foreshadowed the vicarious suffering and death of Jesus, which made possible the remission of sins (Heb. 10:1-18; John 1:29; Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:24).

While in the Sinaitic Peninsula in 2003 I saw a couple of goats in the wilderness which help illustrate the text.

Goat in the Wilderness of Sinai. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

“As the goat goes into the wilderness, it will carry all the people’s sins upon itself into a desolate land” (v.22).

Goats in the Desert of Sinai. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This photo below helps us to see some of the desolate country in which Israel traveled, and into which Azazel would have been released.

Wilderness of Sinai, in the south. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Now you know the origin of the word “scapegoat,” which in modern usage denotes “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings or mistakes of others” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary).

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Florida College Lectures

February 8, 2012

My wife and I are enjoying the annual lectureship at Florida College, in Temple Terrace Florida.

A resource I would like to recommend is now in the making in Logos 4, that is The Florida College Annual Lectures (1974-2011).

At you can find the following info:

The Florida College Annual Lectures (1974–2011) brings you thirty-eight years of the college’s annual lectures series in complete written form. Prior to the first published lecture series in 1974, only content outlines were available.

Each volume includes fifteen or more lectures from contributors from various biblical fields, and focus on a specific theme. These themes deal with modern issues and are supported by recent scholarship. Learn what true worship entails. Discover how God can restore your life. Challenge yourself to share the gospel message. The Florida College Annual Lectures (1974–2011) (38 vols.) contains both informative and stimulating topics that allow you to apply the biblical principles found in its lectures to your daily walk with Christ.

With Logos, every word is essentially a link! Scripture references are linked directly to the Bibles in your library—both the original language texts and English translations. Logos Bible Software allows you to quickly move from the table of contents to your desired content and search entire volumes and collections by topic, title, or Scripture reference, making Logos the perfect software to expand your understanding of the Word.

You can read more by clicking here. The pre-order  price is a bargain: $74.95.

Today was the reunion of class of ’72. We invited Mr. & Mrs. Melvin Curry, and Mr. & Mrs. Ferrell Jenkins to attend. Most every one at the class reunion had been in classes  taught by Mr. Curry and Mr. Jenkins. They have been a great influence for good in our lives.

Mr. & Mrs. Melvin Curry, and Mr. & Mrs. Ferrell Jenkins. Photo by Beulah Tifton.

Earlier this week we’ve had rain, but today was a beautiful day in Temple Terrace.

Leon Mauldin & Ferrell Jenkins. Photo by Beulah Tifton.

I’ve referenced Ferrell Jenkin’s blog many times in this site.

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Jerusalem, the Kidron, and Mt. of Olives

February 3, 2012

Yesterday’s post featured a photo of a hen with her chicks, imagery used by Jesus Himself in His lamentation over Jerusalem, as He wanted to gather the people unto Himself but they refused. Immediately he left the temple courts, crossed the Kidron with His disciples, and went to the Mount of Olives where He gave what has become known as the “Olivet Discourse” (Matthew 24).

Our photo provides an overview of the setting for these events. You can easily recognize the temple mount. Below that is the Kidron Valley. Next, at bottom of photo is the Mt. of Olives.

Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Kidron, and Mt. of Olives. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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As a Hen Gathers Her Chicks

February 2, 2012

On the last day of Jesus’ public ministry, the Tuesday before He was betrayed on Thursday night, when Jesus left the temple courts He said,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” (Matthew 23:37-39).

The imagery of a mother hen shielding her chicks may need explaining to those (city dwellers) who have not seen this display of instinctive protection. It is not “learned behavior;” it is God-given and natural. When danger is perceived, the chicks run to the hen for safety and security.

I could not help but think of the above passage when I saw this scene in Galilee.

Chicks going to the mother hen. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

When I initially approached to take the photo the chicks were a bit scattered. But as I advanced closer, they all went right to the mother hen.

Jesus wanted the inhabitants of Jerusalem to come to Him, for safety, security and for salvation. But sadly, they were not willing. Man is unique to creation. We don’t merely act instinctively. God has given us freedom of choice. He appeals to our heart, He beckons through the Gospel, but He will not force.

For a related post, “Not One Stone Upon Another,” see here.

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