Touring Israel, up the coast and on to Tiberias

March 15, 2019

My Israel/Jordan tour got off to a great start Wednesday, making stops at Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, Megiddo, Nain and Tiberias. We have some young folks on this tour. That is a good thing; good for them and good for the rest of us to have them along. For tonight I’ll briefly post a couple of photos.

Theater at Caesarea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This monument stands at Mt. Carmel as testimony of Elijah’s victory over the Baal prophets during the days of Ahab and Jezebel.

Elijah’s monument at Mt. Carmel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Click on photos for larger view. More later.


In Moab Land

March 5, 2019

In March 2018 Ferrell Jenkins & I spent several days in Jordan on a personal study tour, including several sites in what historically was biblical Moab. As was the origin of Ammon, the sad story of the Moab’s descent from Lot’s incestuous union with his daughter (oldest) is narrated in Genesis 19:30-38. The territory of Moab was located east of the Dead Sea between the wadis Arnon and Zered.

Physical features of the land. Note the Arnon and Zered, and the land of Moab. Map by Scott Richardson.

One of the sites we visited was Madaba, which today is best known for its large Byzantine-era mosaic map of the Holy Land, located in the St. George Church. A short distance away we found a spot for lunch.

Dining in Moab. Note sign in upper left: “Moab Land Hotel.” Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Madaba is mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:6 (biblical spelling is Medeba).

The Moabites “normally inhabited the area on the Transjordan plateau between Wadi Arnon on the north and Wadi Zered on the south, though they often pushed north of Wadi Arnon.” (Alexander, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ezekiel, 6:866).

I wanted to share a few photos of the Wadi Arnon mentioned above. The Arnon was a natural boundary. In the days of the Conquest, when the land was allotted to the tribes of Israel, the southern border of the tribe of Reuben was the Arnon.

The Arnon Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Arnon Valley as we look west.

Arnon Valley looking westward. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Arnon Valley looking east. I think you will agree that a flat map does not do it justice!

Arnon Valley looking East. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Click on photos for larger view.


Insect Industry (Proverbs 6:6-9)

February 22, 2019

Homer Hailey, one of my former professors of biblical studies, often said that “Solomon didn’t have much use for the sluggard.”

Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, 7 Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, 8 Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest. 9 How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10 “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest “– 11 Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man (Proverbs 6:6-9). 

What is being addressed here is the “theme of self-inflicted economic impoverishment” Waltke, B. K. (2004) The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15, p. 335). Sloth has its consequences. The sluggard neglects his opportunities, refuses to face reality; his life is characterized by disorder and chaos. To show the industry and work ethic that a man should have, Solomon uses the illustration of the ant. “The activity expected of leaders over a workforce is now detailed and applied to the ant” (Ibid.). As the KJV says, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”

I thought of this text some years ago when Ferrell Jenkins and I had the opportunity to visit Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel, located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I happened to notice some ants busy at work.

Ants at Neot Kedumim in Israel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This 625 acre park had much more to offer than ants — flora and fauna of the biblical world, as well as mill stones, oil presses, etc.


Paul Traveled through Troas

October 26, 2018

Troas is referenced several times in Scripture, beginning in Acts 16:8, where Paul (2nd Missionary Journey) received a vision of a man pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (v.9). Paul would make use of the harbor at Troas on several occasions in his travels in preaching the gospel message.

It is hard to overstate the pervasiveness of idolatry in the biblical world. It was literally everywhere. The ruins of a Roman temple, thought to be constructed during the reign of Augustus, may be seen at the agora. A head of the wine god Dionysos was found at the site. The info sign (written in Turkish and German) indicates that the remains uncovered here bear witness to the glorious temple facilities. A Roman aqueduct flows under the temple.

Pagan temple at Troas. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Paul used the harbor here at Troas going and coming on his 3rd Journey (2 Cor. 2:12; Acts 20:6).

Paul made reference to Troas in his final letter, shortly before his death, writing to Timothy, “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.” (2 Tim. 4:13).


Gamla in the Galilee

October 23, 2018

Gamla was a Jewish village in the time of Jesus, though not mentioned in the Bible. It was located on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, in the southern Golan Heights. Archaeologists have determined that the date of occupation of this settlement goes back to the Early Bronze Age, pre-dating Abraham by some centuries. Our photo here shows Gamla at center. In distance, far right you can see the Sea of Galilee.

Gamla, looking west. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Three years before the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem, Gamla was the site of a grisly battle during the time of the first Jewish Revolt; Gamla fell to the Romans on October 20, AD 67, with Roman forces led by Vespasian (soon to become emperor) and his son Titus (who also succeeded his father as emperor). Josephus gives the number of Jewish casualties at Gamla as totaling 9,000. 4,000 were killed by the Romans, while 5,000 jumped to their death–“while the Romans slew but four thousand, whereas the number of those that had thrown themselves down was found to be five thousand” (Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged, p. 668).

At center of our photo here you can see the ancient synagogue. Additionally, excavations have uncovered four mikva’ot for the ritual baths.

Synagogue at Gamla. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Gamla was known for its production of olive oil.

Olive press at Gamla. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Danny Syon gives the following information in Biblical Archaeology Review:

To understand the battle at Gamla, we must first understand the topography that provides its breathtaking setting. Gamla is located on the Golan Heights, on a narrow, pointy spur high above the Sea of Galilee. It is enclosed on all sides by steep ravines, except to the east, where it is connected by a slim saddle to the plateau above. Huge boulders on top of the hill make the spur resemble a gigantic reclining camel with a hump, which doubtless led early settlers in about 150 B.C.E. to name the site Gamla—“camel” in Aramaic.

The early houses of these settlers stood on top of the hill, where the inhabitants could easily look to the east—the only direction from which friend or foe would approach. All other directions were well protected by nature.

It was important for the Romans to destroy Gamla because it was the central Zealot stronghold east of the Sea of Galilee. The Zealots were among the most radical of the Jewish groups supporting the revolt. Moreover, since Gamla was near the main road connecting Israel to the great Jewish centers in Babylon, it was the natural entry point for any help the Zealots hoped for from their brethren in Mesopotamia. For this reason, too, it was important for the Romans to destroy Gamla at the outset.

The Jewish revolt was no small matter for Rome. If the Jews could revolt, the allegiance of no province could be counted on. The Romans sent some of their best legions to Palestine to quell the rebellion. Leading the Roman troops were Vespasian and his son Titus, both of whom would later become emperors—in large part on the basis of their victories over the Jews. The Roman legions landed at the seaport of Acco. Vespasian decided that the best way to break the resistance would be to take the rear first—the Galilee and the Golan—and only then to proceed on to the heart of the rebellion—Judea and its capital, Jerusalem. The Romans marched through the Galilee, systematically taking city after city and village after village, continuing on toward Gamla. . .

Gamla is one of very few places in the Roman empire where a battle site was abandoned and never resettled. This enables us to gather unprecedented information on strategy, tactics and troop deployment, of both Roman and Jewish forces. So far over 1,000 basalt ballista stones and 1,600 iron arrowheads have been found, an incredible number in comparison with other sites. The number of arrowheads is especially surprising because after the battle the Romans would have collected spent arrows for reuse. The concentration of ballista stones and arrowheads was especially great in and around the breach in the wall. Clearly an artillery barrage took place here. (BAR 18:01 Jan/Feb 1992)

 


Joash Repairs the Temple, 2 Chronicles 24

September 28, 2018

When Judah’s King Ahaziah was killed (841 BC, Theile), his mother, described as “the wicked Athaliah” (2 Chron. 24:7) usurped the throne and reigned 6 years. She did the unthinkable: she killed all of Ahaziah’s sons–her own grandchildren! Of course, she was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, and she certainly and consistently played the part.

Little known to her, the High Priest Jehoiada and his wife Jehoshabeath (Ahaziah’s sister) saved the one-year-old baby Joash, and kept him hidden for six years (2 Chron 22:10-12).

2 Chronicles 23 tells how Jehoiada led the priests, Levites, and people of Judah in crowning Joash as the rightful heir to the throne of David. At the same time, Athaliah was executed.

Joash reigned 40 years (835-796 BC). The historian says, “And Joash did what was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chron. 24:1-2). The Priest Jehoiada was no doubt a great mentor to the young Joash. Faithfulness on the part of Joash was seen during the rest of Jehoiada the Priest’s life.

Great emphasis is given on the work of restoring the temple in Jerusalem (v.4), the house of God, “to repair the house of the LORD” (v.12).

Painting of Solomon’s Temple. Semitic Museum, Boston. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The text goes on to say, “So the workmen labored, and the repair work progressed in their hands, and they restored the house of God according to its specifications and strengthened it” (v.13, NASB). The NIV translates, “The men in charge of the work were diligent, and the repairs progressed under them. They rebuilt the temple of God according to its original design and reinforced it.” All of this sounds so encouraging.

But as Martin Selman states,

Joash’s story is one of the saddest in Chronicles. It describes a king who deliberately turned his back on God after he had received personal experience of God’s mercy and had initiated a religious reformation. (2 Chronicles, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Kindle Locations 3609-3610).

Here is what happened as soon as Jehoiada died:

But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them. 18 They abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols; so wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt. 19 Yet He sent prophets to them to bring them back to the LORD; though they testified against them, they would not listen. 20 Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you.'” 21 So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the LORD. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him, but he murdered his son. And as he died he said, “May the LORD see and avenge! (2 Chron. 24:17-22).

What becomes apparent is that whereas King Joash did so much good, and seemed to be so strong, that when his real source of strength, Jehoiada, was removed, then what appeared to be faith and strength crumbled, showing his goodness to be only outward and superficial. Lesson: each one has to make the faith his own! (2 Tim. 1:5). 


The Theodotos Synagogue Inscription in Jerusalem

September 18, 2018

An interesting artifact displayed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is the dedicatory inscription, written in Greek, from the synagogue of Theodotos in Jerusalem. This inscription, made of limestone, was discovered in 1913 by Raymond Weill during excavations in the City of David.  Fant and Reddish note: “If its pre-70 C.E. dating is accurate, then this discovery provides solid evidence of a synagogue building in Jerusalem that was built during the end of the first century B.C.E. or early part of the first century C.E. (Lost Treasures of the Bible, Kindle Locations 4613-4614).

Theodotus built the synagogue “for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments.”

Hundreds of synagogues stood in ancient Jerusalem before their destruction by Titus’s Roman forces in 70 A.D.; in one of them hung the following Greek inscription, carved prominently into the 25-by-17-inch limestone slab shown above: “Theodotus son of Vettenus, priest and synagogue leader, son of a synagogue leader, grandson of a synagogue leader, rebuilt this synagogue for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments, and the hostelry, rooms and baths, for the lodging of those who have need from abroad. It was established by his forefathers, the elders and Simonides.” The fact that the language of the inscription is Greek, not Hebrew, and its allusion to “those who have need from abroad,” suggest that this synagogue was used by Jews from the Diaspora, and that it housed large numbers of visiting pilgrims. Some scholars have identified it with the Synagogue of the Freedmen (former slaves in the Roman Empire), mentioned in Acts 6:9 (Shanks, BAR 29:4 July/Aug 2003).

The Theodotus Synagogue Inscription. Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The term archisynagogos, “ruler of the synagogue,” is significant. Regarding this title held by Theodotus  and his grandfather, Fant & Reddish note:

Not only did Theodotus hold this office in the synagogue, but according to the inscription so did his father and his grandfather. If the traditional dating of the inscription is correct, then Theodotus’s grandfather would have been archisynagogos sometime during the first century B.C.E. This is the earliest known use of this title for the person who served as the leader of the Jewish synagogue, pre-dating by approximately fifty years other examples of a similar use of this term. (Treasures 4615-4616).

This term archisunagogos is found in the following passages in Acts:

  • ESV Acts 13:15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.”
  • Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
  • Acts 18:17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

Click image for larger view.