Tirzah (Tell el-Far’ah), Israel’s Ancient Capital

November 30, 2016

On our recent trip to Israel we included one day in the West Bank. On our itinerary among other sites for that day I included Tirzah, Israel’s capital prior to Samaria, during the earlier years of the Divided Kingdom period.

Todd Bolen, of BiblePlaces.com makes this interesting observation:

In my experience, the most important area of the biblical land that people know the least about is the hill country of Samaria. Its importance is reflected in the fact that it is easier for me to list biblical people who were not in this area than it is to name those who were.

Why is this region generally less known? Most tour groups avoid it. Yes, it is possible to come to Israel and not see Shechem, Samaria, Shiloh, and Ai. In fact, I would estimate that 95% of tourists never see these major sites. (April 28, 2014, in BiblePlaces Blog).

What Todd says here would also (and especially) be true of Tirzah! We did not visit Ai, but saw each of the other sites mentioned: Shiloh, Shechem (Tel Balata, and also Jacob’s Well at Nablus), Samaria and also Dothan.

This aerial photo is the view of Tirzah from the north, used by permission of Todd Bolen.

Tirzah, aerial from north. Photo ©Todd Bolen.

Tirzah, aerial from north. Photo ©Todd Bolen.

It is ironic that this important Old Testament city is today an unmarked tel. Not even a sign. Many decades have passed since the excavations here.

Excavations at Tirzah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Excavations at Tirzah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

My son Seth at Tirzah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

My son Seth at Tirzah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

View from Tirzah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

View from Tirzah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Biblical references to this Tirzah include:

1 Kings 14:17 Then Jeroboam‘s wife arose and departed, and came to Tirzah. When she came to the threshold of the house, the child died. Jeroboam was the first king of the Divided Kingdom following the death of Solomon.

1 Kings 15:21 Now it happened, when Baasha heard it, that he stopped building Ramah, and remained in Tirzah. Baasha was the king who destroyed all the family of the King Jeroboam.

1 Kings 15:33 In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha the son of Ahijah became king over all Israel in Tirzah, and reigned twenty-four years. 

1 Kings 16:6 So Baasha rested with his fathers and was buried in Tirzah. Then Elah his son reigned in his place. 

1 Kings 16:9 Now his [Elah’s] servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him as he was in Tirzah drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, steward of his house in Tirzah.

1 Kings 16:15 In the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, Zimri had reigned in Tirzah seven days. And the people were encamped against Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines.

1 Kings 16:17 Then Omri and all Israel with him went up from Gibbethon, and they besieged Tirzah.

1 Kings 16:23 In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became king over Israel, and reigned twelve years. Six years he reigned in Tirzah.

Tirzah is located seven miles NE of Shechem; it is situated near the source of the Wadi Far’ah, which drains down to the Jordan. It was W.F. Albright who identified the site with biblical Tirzah.

Roland de Vaux gives a good summary of Tirzah’s identification and history in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land.

The stratum attributed to the Late Bronze Age shows signs of destruction, which can be regarded as the result of the Israelite conquest [of Canaan]. Tirzah, as the capital of the kingdom of Israel, corresponds to stratum III at Tell el-Far’ah. This level was devastated during the Omrid capture of the town, subsequent to Zimri’s seizure of power (c.885 BCE). The fortress in the northwestern corner may be the king’s castle mentioned in 1 Kings 16:15-18, which Zimri himself set on fire and in which he met his death. Omri was able to rebuild Tirzah and to set up his residence there only at the end of a four-year struggle with his rival, Tibni. The foundations sunk into level III probably belong to his structures. However, after two years, Omri transferred the capital to Samaria (cf. 1 Kg. 16:23-24). This explains why there are buildings in the area that were never completed. The royal household and military and state officials left Tirzah, undoubtedly followed by the artisans and merchants. It is quite possible that the town was completely abandoned for some time. This would explain the paucity of the interim stratum, apparently constructed after a short period of settlement. As the Northern Kingdom flourished under Joash and Jeroboam II, Tirzah, too, enjoyed a measure of prosperity. It is from this town that Menahem launched his attack on Samaria (2 Kg. 15:14). Stratum II represents this era with its magnificent structures and administrative headquarters. As some have suggested, these may have served Menahem, if indeed he held sway at Tirzah. During the Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom (c. 732 BCE), the town was captured. The destruction in stratum II dates from that time.

The École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem conducted nine seasons of excavations at the site, between 1946 and 1960, under the direction of R. de Vaux (Vol.2,p.433).

J.F. Drinkard Jr. notes:

Omri began his reign in Tirzah (1 Kings 16: 23), the capital of the northern kingdom during Baasha’s reign, and then built a new capital, Samaria. At Tirzah, identified as Tell el-Farah north along Wadi Farah about six miles northeast of Shechem, excavators have discovered that the Iron Age strata have a break and gap that match the point when Omri built his new capital. Apparently, he had begun new construction in Tirzah and abruptly stopped. Perhaps Omri began to rebuild Tirzah as his capital during the time of the conflict with Tibni. Once that conflict was resolved, Omri was free to establish his own new capital (IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books).

Click on photos for larger view.

Tel Hazor in Israel

November 18, 2016

Hazor is first mentioned in the Bible in Josh. 11 in the days of the conquest under Joshua. Having conquered the central and then southern regions of Canaan, the victory of Hazor established Israel’s “toehold” in the north, for as Josh. 11:10 explains, “Joshua turned back at that time and took Hazor, and struck its king with the sword; for Hazor was formerly the head of all those kingdoms.” Or, as the NET renders the text, “for Hazor was at that time the leader of all these kingdoms.” As such, it was the head of a confederation of several Canaanite cities in the battle against Joshua & Israel’s forces at the waters of Merom. Nelson’s NIBD says, “Hazor was one of the most important fortresses in the land (Josh. 11:10). This was due to its enormous size, its large population, and its strategic location of the main road between Egypt and Mesopotamia” (p.546).

It is recorded in the next verse, Josh. 11:11, that Joshua burned Hazor down, but not the surrounding cities. Verse 13 continues: “But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, except Hazor only, which Joshua burned.” The standard procedure during the conquest was not to burn down the cities—God was giving them to Israel as their inheritance in which to live. Therefore it should not surprise us when the “critic” says there is not a lot of evidence of destruction, etc., to date Joshua’s conquest of Israel. There is a big difference between destruction and conquest. I.e., cities such as Jericho, Ai, and Hazor were the exceptions and not the rule.

Biblical Hazor. "Formerly the head of all those kingdoms" (Josh. 11:10). Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Biblical Hazor. “Formerly the head of all those kingdoms” (Josh. 11:10). Note the watchtower at upper left. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Between the time of the Conquest and the time of the Judges, Hazor had rallied and was again a very serious threat, as God allowed the armies of Hazor to oppress the Israelites because of Israel’s sinfulness (Judges 4:1-3). These were the days in which God raised up Deborah to be judge and prophetess; Israel’s army was led by Barak (Judges 4-5).

Solomon made Hazor one of his fortified cities, which functioned as a military outpost (1 Kings 9:15). It continued to be an important city until its destruction by Tiglath-Pileser in 732 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29). The Solomonic gates, like those at Megiddo and Gezer, were an important feature of the city.

The city of Hazor occupied some 200 acres, making it the largest city in ancient Israel. Hazor is now the largest archaeological site in Israel. Remains show not only evidence of Israel’s occupation, but also prior Canaanite structures as well.

Extra-biblical references to Hazor: Hazor is previously mentioned in the Egyptian Execration texts from the 19th or 18th century B.C. It is listed in the Mari documents of the 18th century B.C. as one of the major commercial centers in the Fertile Crescent. Hazor is also mentioned in the Egyptian documents of the New Kingdom, such as the city lists of Tutmoses III, as well as Amenhotep II and Seti I.

I’ve previously posted on Hazor here and here.

Pools Around the Temple

November 17, 2016

On our recent trip to Israel, while we were in the area of the Antonia Fortress, our guide Zack showed us some artwork that I found to be a helpful illustration of the area north of the temple in Jerusalem.

Pools of Jerusalem. Shows area north of temple mount. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Pools of Jerusalem. Shows area north of temple mount. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This is useful for showing the location of the Antonia Fortress, which would have housed the Roman soldiers stationed in Jerusalem to keep peace (to the chagrin of the Jewish nation). While many believe that it would have been here that Jesus was put on trial before Pilate, it is more likely that Pilate would have been at Herod’s palace there in Jerusalem. For more on this, see the excellent post by Ferrell Jenkins here.

The Antonia Fortress would have been the location of the barracks where Paul was taken when some Jews in Jerusalem were enraged to the point of seeking to kill him: “the commanding officer ordered Paul to be brought back into the barracks. He told them to interrogate Paul by beating him with a lash so that he could find out the reason the crowd was shouting at Paul in this way (Acts 22:24, NET).

This illustration is also helpful in visualizing the setting of John 5, where Jesus healed the man who had been paralyzed thirty-eight years: “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches” (v.2). Here you can see the location of the sheep gate, as well as the twin pools of Bethesda.

Excavations at the Pool of Bethesda. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Excavations at the Pool of Bethesda. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

My previous posts on Bethesda can be seen by clicking here, here, here and here.

When you study the Bible, you are studying real events, real places, real people!

Visiting the Dead Sea in Israel

November 15, 2016

A few days ago our group was able to see the Dead Sea, among other sites to the south of Jerusalem. The Dead Sea is:

a large lake in southern Israel at the lowest point on earth. In the Old Testament it is called the Salt Sea (Gen. 14:3; Josh. 3:16); the Sea of the Arabah (Deut. 3:17); and the Eastern Sea (Ezek. 47:18; Joel 2:20). Josephus, the Jewish historian, referred to this buoyant body as Lake Asphaltitis. The Arabic name is Bahr Lut, meaning, “Sea of Lot.” But from the second Christian century onward, Dead Sea has been the most common name for this unusual body of water.

The topography of the Middle East is dominated by a geologic fault that extends from Syria south through Palestine, all the way to Nyasa Lake in east-central Africa. The Dead Sea is located at the southern end of the Jordan valley at the deepest depression of this geologic fault. With a water level approximately 390 meters (1,300 feet) below sea level, the surface of the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. At the deepest point of the sea, on the northeast corner at the foot of the Moab mountains, the bottom is 390 meters (1,300 feet) deeper still. (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary).

Dead Sea at Sunset. Looking east to the mountains of Moab. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Dead Sea at Sunset. Looking east to the mountains of Moab. Photo by Leon Mauldin.


The Dead Sea is actually a lake into which the river Jordan flows, but once entering the Sea there is no outlet. Because of its high mineral content (25 percent), and the fact that the water is ten times saltier than the ocean, the Dead Sea does not support marine life. These unusual geographical facts became the basis of a thought-provoking song by Lula Zahn (words are now public domain) that makes spiritual application. It has been my experience that this is not the easiest song (musically speaking) for congregational use, but it’s worth the effort to try!

“There is a Sea”

by Lula Klingman Zahn

There is a sea which day by day
Receives the rippling rills
And streams that spring from wells of God
Or fall from cedared hills
But what it thus receives it gives
With glad unsparing hand
A stream more wide, with deeper tide
Flows on to lower land

There is a sea which day by day
Receives a fuller tide
But all its store it keeps, nor gives
To shore nor sea beside
It’s Jordan stream, now turned to brine
Lies heavy as molten lead
It’s dreadful name doth e’er proclaim
That sea is waste and dead

Which shall it be for you and me
Who God’s good gifts obtain?
Shall we accept for self alone
Or take to give again?
For He who once was rich indeed
Laid all His glory down
That by His grace, our ransomed race
Should share His wealth and crown

Click on image for larger view.

Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem

November 7, 2016

Today was a walking tour of Jerusalem. One of my favorite sites (among others) is the pool of Siloam, referenced in John 9. This site was excavated in late 2004. Jesus anointed with clay the eyes of the man born blind, and told him to go to this pool to wash his eyes. He did so, and he went away seeing. This miracle was evidence to validate Jesus’ claim that He was the light of the world (John 9:5).

At the pool of Siloam, where the blind man received his sight (John 9). Photo by Zachary Shavin.

At the pool of Siloam, where the blind man received his sight (John 9). Photo by Zachary Shavin.

Note the text of John 9:1-7:

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. 7 And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.

This was one of seven miracles recorded in the Gospel of John. John’s stated purpose:

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

We have previously posted on Siloam here and here.

Click on image for larger view. Thanks for following our travels.

Fauna, etc., in Israel

November 6, 2016

Today we made a trip to Masada, the site of the Jewish zealots last stand (AD 73) after the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. Tristram’s Starling, also called Tristram’s Grackle, were in abundance.

Tristram's Starling at Masada. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Tristram’s Starling at Masada. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

This species is named after Henry Baker Tristram.

The males have glossy iridescent black plumage with orange patches on the outer wing, which are particularly noticeable in flight. The bill and legs are black. Females and young birds are similar but duller and with a greyish head, lacking the plumage gloss.
It is gregarious and noisy, with a call that resembles a wolf whistle. They are omnivorous, feeding on fruit and invertebrates, and can also be observed grooming Nubian ibex and domestic livestock for parasites. (Wikipedia)

We also saw En Gedi, the site where David hid from King Saul, who was pursuing David with the intention of killing him (1 Sam. 23:29ff.). Here we photographed an ibex, the biblical “wild goat”of Psa. 104:18: “The high hills are for the wild goats; The cliffs are a refuge for the rock badgers.”

Ibex at En Gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Ibex at En Gedi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Tour member Mike Eison shared this photo he took this past Friday at Nazareth, at the Nazareth Village. The shepherd, his sheep in the fold behind.

Shepherd at Nazareth Village. Photo by Mike Eison.

Shepherd at Nazareth Village. Photo by Mike Eison.

Thanks for following our travels. Tomorrow is a walking tour in Jerusalem.

On the Mount of Olives

November 5, 2016

This morning we began the day with a visit to the Mount of Olives. We then saw Gethsemane where we reflected, read appropriate passages, and sang. We walked through Kidron to the southern end of the temple mount. We ended the day with a visit to Bethlehem.

Group Photo Mt. of Olives. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Group Photo Mt. of Olives. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We paused for a group shot while on the Mount of Olives.

It was on the Mount of Olives that Jesus gathered with His apostles and instructed them a final time before His ascension back into heaven:

4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11 who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. (Acts 1:4-12).

I’m thankful to say that all of our folks here continue to be well. Thanks for following our blog.

Down the Jordan Valley

November 4, 2016

We said “Good-bye” to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee this morning and made our way down (biblically “up” in altitude) to Jerusalem. We made a stop at Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown.

Nazareth in Galilee, Jesus' hometown. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Nazareth in Galilee, Jesus’ hometown. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We also made a stop at the Spring of Harod,where Gideon’s army was reduced to 300 men, by which God gave Israel victory over the Midianites (Judges 7-8).

Spring of Harod. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Spring of Harod. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Colorful flora at the site:

Flora at the Spring of Harod. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Flora at the Spring of Harod. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We also saw Beth-Shean, mentioned in 1 Sam. 31 as the site where the victorious Philistines took the bodies of King Saul and his three sons, fastening them to the walls of the city. This was Scythopolis in New Testament times, one of the cities of the Decapolis.

Beth-shean. OT tel in background; Roman ruins in foreground. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Beth-shean. OT tel in background; Roman ruins in foreground. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Good friend and tour member Lynn Clayton.

Lynn at Beth-shean. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Lynn at Beth-shean. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Click photos for larger image. Thanks for following our travels in the Bible lands.


In Galilee and Environs

November 3, 2016

I never tire of seeing sunrise on the Sea of Galilee.

Via Maris at Arbel Pass. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Sunrise, Sea of Galilee. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

From the Sea we had a view of Mt. Arbel, where the international highway, the Via Maris, passed.

Via Maris at Mt. Arbel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Via Maris at Mt. Arbel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Boats such as these take passengers across the Sea of Galilee.

Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Photo by Leon Mauldin.

We visited Capernaum (“town of Nahum,” New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p.209),  called “the most important city on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 245). Jesus’ home town was Nazareth, but Capernaum was where He lived during the Galilean ministry. Note the wording of the NET in Matt. 4:13: “While in Galilee, he moved from Nazareth to make his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.” To that compare Mark 2:1: “Now after some days, when he returned to Capernaum, the news spread that he was at home,” with its parallel in Mt. 9:1, which says Jesus came “to His own city.”

Here is a view of some of the excavations there.

Excavations at Capernaum, Jesus hometown. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Excavations at Capernaum, Jesus hometown. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Moving north, we saw the Senir, one of the sources of the Jordan River. Some girls were rafting. Tomorrow we are to begin our journey south to Jerusalem. Thanks for following our travels.

Rafting in the Senir River. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Rafting in the Senir River. Photo by Leon Mauldin. 

Caesarea, and on to Galilee

November 2, 2016

This morning upon leaving Natana with its beautiful view of the Mediterranean, we first visited Caesarea, the Roman capitol of Israel during Jesus’ Ministry. We saw lots of wave action.

Waves at Caesarea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Waves at Caesarea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Caesarea is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament. This became the home of Philip the evangelist (Acts 8:40; 21:8). Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, resided here (Acts 10-11). Paul used the port when leaving for Tarsus (Acts 9:30), and when returning from 2nd and 3rd journeys (Acts 18:22; 21:8). Later Paul was imprisoned here for two years (Acts 24:27), during which time he stood before Felix and Drusilla (Acts 24), Festus (Acts 25) and Herod Agrippa II (Acts 26). Paul left for Rome still as a prisoner from here (Acts 27).

Our Israeli guide, Zack, and my son, Seth. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Our Israeli guide, Zack (left), and my son, Seth, at Caesarea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

As we were leaving Caesarea I noticed some pomegranates. I was compelled to drink a glass of a couple of these, freshly squeezed.

Pomegranates at Caesarea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Pomegranates at Caesarea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Later at the strategic city of Megiddo we saw several points of interest, including Solomon’s stables.

Solomon's Stables at Megiddo. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Solomon’s Stables at Megiddo. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

As we headed on the way to Tiberias we stopped briefly for a photo of Nain of Galilee, the village where Jesus raised from the dead a young man, the only son of a widow (Luke 7:11-17).

Nain, of Galilee, where Jesus raised a young man from the dead. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Nain, of Galilee, where Jesus raised a young man from the dead. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Thanks for following our travels. I’m writing this from Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee. More to come!



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