The Cyrus Cylinder

March 20, 2021

“Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” ‘ (Isa. 44:28)

I often say that every passage has a context; the greater context of our passage here, Isaiah 40-48, addresses the incomparable greatness of  YAHWEH. This is especially seen in these chapters as the true God is contrasted with the idols made by human hands. The gods created in the imaginations of men cannot see anything, or say anything, or do anything (cf. Isa. 44:9-20). But the God of Israel says,  “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them.” (Isa. 44:6-7).

One manifestation of the true God’s great power is that only He can foretell the future. So while the Assyrians were still the world power, God foretold through Isaiah (8th century BC) that it would be Babylon who would take Judah captive (Isa. 39). Then God foretold the return from Babylonian captivity (Isa. 48:20). But through Isaiah (prophetic work spanned 740-ca.690 BC) God called the future deliverer by name: it would be Cyrus, king of the Persians (r. 559-530 BC). Approximately two centuries before Cyrus ascended the throne, God called him by name, and foretold that he would be the one who would allow the Jews to return from captivity and rebuild their temple! 

The Cyrus Cylinder. British Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In addressing the significance of the Cyrus Cylinder, the Lexham Bible Dictionary notes:

The Cyrus Cylinder is an important piece of external evidence for the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Written in Akkadian, the Cylinder is a building inscription celebrating the restoration of Babylon, which Cyrus king of Persia conquered. The Bible records that Cyrus’ conquest brought an end to the Babylonian exile and allowed for the exiled Judahites to return to their homeland (Ezra 1:3; 2:1–67). The Cyrus Cylinder does not explicitly mention the Judahites, but the book of Ezra opens with a decree from Cyrus that allows the Judahites to return from exile and promises Persian patronage for the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

Krijgsman, M. (2016). Cyrus Cylinder. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Note how this ties in with Ezra’s opening verses that tell of the decree of King Cyrus:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.

Ezra 1:1-4

Indeed, the true God proclaimed “the things that are coming and shall come”!


Madeba Map

March 12, 2021

The Madeba Map (also spelled Madaba/Medeba) is made of colored mosaics, located at Madeba east of the Dead Sea, in today’s Jordan. It is not far from Mount Nebo, which Moses ascended to view the Promised Land of Canaan prior to his death (Deut. 34). The map was excavated in 1896 in St. George’s church.

Madeba Map, St. George’s Church, Jordan. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

From the Lexham Bible Dictionary:

One significant archaeological find in Madaba was the accidental discovery in the late 19th century of the sixth-century AD Madaba map, located in St. George’s church. The Madaba Map is a depiction of the Holy Land—with Jerusalem at its center (Donner, The Mosaic Map of Madaba)—and it explains how the Near East was perceived in the Byzantine period (AD 324–640). The map views the Near East from the vantage point of the Mediterranean Sea, and includes both Cisjordan and Transjordan. The Jordan River has often been thought of as a barrier between the territories west and east of the Jordan in both ancient and modern times. However, the Madaba Map was intended to be a record of the contemporary Near East in the sixth century, and it depicted it as a region whose cities—those on both the western and eastern sides of the Jordan River—were part of a shared culture.

Hawkins, R. K. (2016). Medeba. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

In our photo here, I have labeled at center Jerusalem, and above it, the Dead Sea. Jericho can be seen at left. Note the palm trees (cf. Deut. 34:3). The map is oriented east (instead of our usual north).

More info is available from BAR:

Cities, villages and topographical features of the Holy Land—many confirmed by recent archaeological discoveries—appear on this portion of the famous Madaba mosaic map. Discovered in 1884 on the floor of a sixth-century A.D. church in Madaba, Jordan (20 miles southwest of Amman), the fragment in the photograph is about half the extant portion of the map.
Details Outside Jerusalem
The Madaba map is a blend of whimsy, impressionistic rendering and precise attention to detail. Because the map is oriented with east at the top, the Jordan River flows horizontally from left to right into the Dead Sea. In the sea, two boats bearing sailors (only some hands and feet remain from the original mosaic) float high on the turbulent water. Several fish are swimming in the Jordan River. A fish at the southern end of the river seems to swim deliberately away from the sea after having tasted the heavy salt content in the water. Above the Dead Sea, the steep mountains of Moab are depicted in pink and yellow on their lower arid slopes and gray-green on their more fertile upper reaches.
The Madaba map identifies Biblical events and places in its Greek text and also represents and names many of the physical features of the Holy Land during the late Byzantine period. Large red letters designate areas allotted to the tribes of Israel. On the far right is the word “Judah”; the large red letters at the bottom center are part of the phrase “[Lot] of Dan.” Historical notes and quotations from the Septuagint, a third-century B.C. Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, appear in many places on the map (The red letters on the yellow background in the lower left corner of the map [part of the territory of Ephraim] read “Joseph ‘God shall bless thee with the blessing of the deep that lieth under’ and again ‘Blessed of the Lord be his land’” [Genesis 49:25, Deuteronomy 33:13].)
Most of the Biblical site identifications on the map are based on the Onomasticon, a fourth-century Biblical geography written by the Christian scholar Eusebius, but the artist who produced the Madaba map was aware of other traditions as well. For example, Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim appear twice, once near Jericho, where Eusebius placed them, and again in Aramaic, on either side of the Shechem plain, where Samaritan tradition placed them.
Awareness of local details is seen in the representation of a small boat, probably a ferry, attached to a crossing rope extending from one side to the other of the Jordan River (far left), and most notably in the representation of Jerusalem (in the center of the map).


Jerusalem Details
The importance accorded Jerusalem is indicated by its size; although the map was not produced to an exact scale, Jerusalem is portrayed at a scale approximately ten times larger than the scale of the rest of the map. The drawing shows Jerusalem, as though seen from the air, looking toward the east. However, the mosaic artist took liberties and sometimes showed the eastern, northern, or southern facade of various buildings and gates.
On the north side of the city is the main gate (1), opening onto an oval plaza, in the center of which is a column, probably constructed by a Roman emperor, whose statue may once have stood atop the column, but in the sixth century it was long gone. Today the northern gate is popularly called the Damascus Gate, but the memory of the ancient column is preserved in the Arabic name of the gate, which means “Gate of the Column.”
Running north south (horizontally) away from the oval plaza is the main street of sixth-century Jerusalem, the cardo . The colonnades along this street are shown as rows of columns, covered by red roofs, flanking the central roadway.
The depiction of the cardo is interruption in the middle on the western (bottom) side by four white steps leading to the eastern facade of the red-roofed Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (In the Madaba map red-roofed buildings are usually churches or monasteries; yellow- or gray-roofed buildings are palaces or public buildings, and brown areas are public squares.) The Church of the Holy Sepulchre appears to be upside down. Three doors appear in the church’s facade (below the steps). Below the facade is a triangular pediment and below the pediment, the church’s roof. A. row of dark-colored tiles represents the courtyard that separated the basilica of the church from the rotunda (shown on the map by a gold semicircle). The golden dome of the rotunda stood over the traditional site of the tomb of Jesus, with its red roof and double doors facing west.
At the southeastern end of the cardo is another famous church, the Nea, built by the emperor Justinian in the sixth century and dedicated in 542; the Madaba map was probably produced about 20 years later. The large red-roofed building with conspicuous yellow gates south of the cardo is one of the principal sanctuaries in Byzantine Jerusalem, a basilica on Mt. Zion called the “Mother of All the Churches.”
On the western side of the city is the Jaffa Gate. A street, the decumanus, runs due east from the gate and intersects the cardo. A north-south street intersects the decumanus at right angles and parallels the cardo. The Armenian Street in modern Jerusalem follows the line of the street that ran parallel to the cardo.
The curving, colonnaded street in the eastern part of Jerusalem was located where the street known as Tariq el Wad is today. This street runs along the Tyropoean Valley from the Damascus Gate to the Dung Gate. To the east of the Tariq el Wad is the Temple Mount; to the west, the Upper City.
The Temple Mount is difficult to identify on the Madaba map. No buildings were located on the Temple Mount in sixth-century Jerusalem. The black line above the row of columns in the upper right may have been intended to represent the Temple Mount. The three parallel bands to the right of this dark line are interpreted as either the bridge connecting the Upper City with the Temple Mount, incorporating the arch called today “Wilson’s” Arch, or as a portion of the Western or “Wailing” Wall—part of the retaining wall of the Temple Mount platform. Beginning in the fourth century, Jews were allowed to enter Jerusalem once a year on the ninth day of the month of Ab to commemorate the destruction of the Temple. It is likely that the site of their annual mourning service occurred at the wall represented here on the sixth-century Madaba map.
The Golden Gate. which opens onto the Temple Mount, is shown in the eastern wall of the city. The name of the other large gate in the eastern wall is not known; many pilgrims to Jerusalem referred to this other gate simply as “the eastern gate.”

(1983). BAR, 9(6).

Biblical references to Madeba include Numbers 21:30, Joshua 13:9,16, 1 Chronicles 19:7 and Isaiah 15:2.


Sennacherib: a Pagan King vs. יהוה

March 5, 2021

The record of the pagan Assyrian king Sennacherib, who challenged יהוה, the LORD God of Israel, is found in three biblical texts: 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 37. The year was 701 BC. Israel to the north had already fallen to the Assyrians (722 BC). Now (at the time referenced in the above texts) only tiny Judah remained, with its King Hezekiah. At this point Sennacherib had taken forty-six fortified cities of Judah, lastly Lachish, and then came to Jerusalem “with a great army” (Isa. 36:2).

Sennacherib sent the Rabshakeh with the message to Jerusalem, who shouted out in Hebrew, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus says the king, Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Then it got worse: “But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (2 Kings 18:28-30; 32-35).

Hezekiah went to the house of God. He sent for the prophet Isaiah with the request, “Lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left” (2 Kings 19:4). The Lord’s answer: “Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice And haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel!” (Isa. 37:23). Further: “Therefore, thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there; and he will not come before it with a shield, or throw up a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he will not come to this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake. Then the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh” (vv. 33-37).

One of the fascinating artifacts housed in the British Museum is Sennacherib’s Prism, otherwise known as Taylor’s Prism, named after the one who discovered it. This is King Sennacherib’s account of his victories. He specifically mentions Hezekiah, and the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem.

Sennacherib’s Prism, British Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The text is in Akkadian Cuneiform, the international language of the time. The reference to Hezekiah reads, “

As for Hezekiah, the Judean, I besieged forty-six of his fortified walled cities and surrounding smaller towns, which were without number. Using packed-down ramps and applying battering rams, infantry attacks by mines, breeches, and siege machines, I conquered (them). I took out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep, without number, and counted them as spoil. He himself, I locked up within Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage.

(Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (p. 303). Leiden; Boston: Brill).

Sennacherib fails to mention why he did not take Jerusalem. He fails to mentions that 185,000 of his Assyrian soldiers died in one night. Why would he say only that he had Hezekiah locked up “like a bird in a cage,” but then fail to go on to record Jerusalem’s capture and that of its king? There can be only one explanation; he failed to do so, just as the Bible says. It is a case when the silence of the Assyrian record speaks volumes. This is after all, the same king who at his palace in Nineveh memorialized his conquest of Lachish with numerous carved stone wall panels which include graphic portrayals of the ramp and siege machines, also housed in the British Museum. But the pagan king did not fare so well when he challenged the LORD, the God of Israel.


Hezekiah’s Broad Wall

February 27, 2021

Isaiah prophesied during the reign of good King Hezekiah of Judah (r. 715-686 BC). Isaiah states, “Then you counted the houses of Jerusalem, And you tore down houses to fortify the wall” (22:10). This was done in response to the very real threat of Sennacherib of Assyria (r. 705-681 BC). , as he advanced toward Jerusalem. More details are given in 2 Chronicles:

Now when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to make war on Jerusalem, he decided with his officers and his warriors to cut off the supply of water from the springs which were outside the city, and they helped him. So many people assembled and stopped up all the springs and the stream which flowed through the region, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find abundant water?” And he took courage and rebuilt all the wall that had been broken down and erected towers on it, and built another outside wall and strengthened the Millo in the city of David, and made weapons and shields in great number. (2 Chron. 32:2-5, NASB).

A section of Hezekiah’s Wall in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This wall was excavated by Nahman Avigad in 1969. Biblical Archaeological Review has the following info:

This massive wall, which once probably stood 27 feet high, provides the key to dating Jerusalem’s spread from the eastern to the western hill.

Before unearthing a 130-foot section of the wall, Avigad had already discovered remains of houses in the same area containing pottery and other artifacts datable to the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. The wall itself stood partly on bedrock and partly on recently built houses. Avigad reasoned that only a king could have ordered the building of so major a structure, and the fact that new housing had to be destroyed in the process indicates that the wall was erected during a crisis. Two passages in the Bible helped Avigad pinpoint the date and purpose of the wall: King Hezekiah, in 701 B.C.E., “saw that [the Assyrian ruler] Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem.… He [Hezekiah] acted with vigor, rebuilding the whole breached wall, raising towers on it and building another wall outside it” recounts 2 Chronicles 32:2–5 and Isaiah 22:10 states that Hezekiah “pulled houses down to fortify the wall.” Hezekiah, thanks in part to this wall, successfully repulsed Sennacherib’s attack.

From the angle in the wall and from data revealed by other excavations, Avigad argued that the wall enclosed more of the western hill of Jerusalem than previously believed; archaeologist Magen Broshi estimated that 25,000 people had lived within the wall’s boundaries in the eighth century B.C.E.

BAR18:03MJ1992

The Holman Bible Atlas has this interesting information:

Recent archaeological excavations have confirmed a western expansion of Jerusalem dating from the reign of Hezekiah (715–687 B.C). Archaeologists speculate that a population influx, in part of Israelite refugees fleeing the Assyrian invasions, made the expansion necessary. Clear evidence indicates the southwestern hill was now incorporated into Jerusalem’s defenses. A segment of a “broad wall” sixty-five meters long and seven meters wide, south of the Transversal Valley, has been unearthed by Nahman Avigad. Avigad attributed the wall to Hezekiah, who “counted the houses of Jerusalem, and … broke down the houses to fortify the wall” (Isa. 22:10). Indeed, Hezekiah’s wall was built on top of the foundations of houses visible under the outer edge of Avigad’s wall. This massive wall, made to withstand Assyrian siege tactics, enclosed the western hill; its line apparently turned south above the Hinnom Valley and continued eastward, joining the City of David’s fortifications near the juncture of the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys.

The “broad wall” enclosed an additional ninety acres of land, making the total fortified area of Jerusalem approximately one hundred and fifty acres. The area taken in included the mishneh—“Second Quarter,” where the prophet Huldah lived (2 Kgs. 22:14)—and the maktesh (the Mortar), probably a reference to the depression between the western and eastern slope (Zech. 1:11). Population estimates for the city at this time range from fifteen to twenty-five thousand.

Brisco, T. V. (1998). Holman Bible atlas (p. 145).

This photo gives a more detailed look:

Hezekiah’s Wall, detailed view. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Later in the days of Nehemiah, who returned from the captivity to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, it is stated, “. . . and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall” (Neh. 3:8; cf. 12:38). There is general consensus that the “broad wall” here is that built by Hezekiah.

It is fascinating to read of YHWH’s deliverance of Jerusalem against all odds (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32; Isa. 37).

Click images for larger view.


Mary Visits Elizabeth–Traditional En Kerem

October 16, 2020

After the virgin Mary was informed by the angel Gabriel that by “the power of the Highest” she would conceive “and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS” (Luke 1:31,35), she then went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was at that time the 6-months expectant mother of John the Baptist. “Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth” (vv. 39-40).

To be clear, the text does not specify which city of Judah in which Zacharias (the priest) and his wife Elizabeth resided. It was a city in the “hill country” of Judah. However the traditional site is that of En Kerem (spelling varies), located about 5 miles west of Jerusalem.

R. Riesner, in his entry entitled, “The Birthplace of John the Baptist” states,

To visit Elizabeth, Mary went “into the hill country [oreinē], to a city of Judah” (Lk 1:39). The Greek word describes the district around Jerusalem (Pliny Nat. Hist. 5.14). A literary tradition that can be traced back to the sixth century identifies the birthplace with En-Kerem (Arabic Ain Karim), seven kilometers west of Jerusalem (ELS 44ff.). Remains of two fourth-century churches indicate, however, that the tradition stretches back to a still-earlier time (GBL II.776). (Archeology and Geography. In J. B. Green & S. McKnight (Eds.), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (p. 34). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).

Sign indicating our entry into the city: 

En Kerem, Traditional Home of John the Baptism. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

This photo gives you a feel of the surrounding countryside:

Hill country of Judah at En-Kerem. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

The Church of the Visitation commemorates Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

Church of the Visitation at En-Kerem. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

Here is a view of the top of the Church of the Visitation:

Steeple Tower of the Church of the Visitation. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Of course the point not to be lost is that when Mary heard the wonderful news that she would become the mother of the Messiah, she traveled from her home in Nazareth to visit Elizabeth, wife of Zacharias the priest, in a city in the hill country of Judea. There Elizabeth “was filled with the Holy Spirit,” and spoke, significantly, not about her own child (John) but about Mary, and the child she would have: “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

Hopefully some of our photos can help visualize the area in which this important visit took place.

Click images for larger view.


Biblical Hebron

September 25, 2020

Hebron is mentioned more than sixty times in the Bible, the first of which is in Genesis 13:18: “Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the LORD.” Remains have been excavated at Hebron which pre-date the patriarch Abraham.

Hebron Excavations Sign. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Tel-Hebron consists of approximately twelve acres. It is located about twenty miles south of Jerusalem. Excavations have uncovered a stretch of wall that is dated to the Early Bronze Age, as seen at left in photo here. The well-preserved staircase is made of natural stone slabs, well worn by the city’s ancient inhabitants. Scholars suggest the path likely led to one of Hebron’s city gates. At right is an additional wall constructed at a later date than that on your left.

Hebron Walls and staircase. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Another important discovery at Hebron is that of an 8th century BC four room house. Some scholars date the house to the time of Judah’s King Hezekiah (r. 715-686).

Four-room house at Hebron. 8th century BC. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Yet another interesting discovery was several l’melech (“belonging to the king”) seals from pottery urns, which are also dated to Hezekiah’s reign.

Info Sign describing the LMLK (belonging to the king) stamps discovered at Hebron. ©Leon Mauldin.

Jeffery Chadwick notes that Hebron

seems to have settled into the role of regional center. This is demonstrated by the phenomenon of l’melekh handles. The term means “(belonging) to the king” or “property of the king.” The four-letter Hebrew designation (LMLK) was stamped into the wet clay of the handle of a certain type of storage jar at the end of the eighth century B.C.E. The jars were probably produced during the reign of King Hezekiah in preparation for the attack on Judah by Sennacherib’s Assyrian army, which occurred in 701 B.C.E.

L’melekh handles display either a two-winged sun disk or a four-winged scarab, but, more importantly for our purposes, they also include the name of one of four cities of Judah. One of these four cities was Hebron. (BAR 31:5, Sept/Oct 2005).

From Tel-Hebron one can see the Cave of Machpelah which Abraham purchased as a burial site. Herod the Great built the edifice which now covers the cave.

Cave of Machpelah as seen from Tel-Hebron. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I have previous posts on Hebron including here, here and here

Click on photos for larger view.

 


Abel-beth-maacah in Northern Israel

August 8, 2020

In the tumultuous days of the Divided Kingdom, King Baasha (Israel) fortified Ramah, a border city (on the Israel/Judah border) on the main north-south road, as well as a location which controlled the route westward to the sea. King Asa (Judah) retaliated. Here is the story:

And Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.  Then Asa took all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the house of the LORD and the treasuries of the king’s house, and delivered them into the hand of his servants. And King Asa sent them to Ben-Hadad the son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, king of Syria, who dwelt in Damascus, saying,  “Let there be a treaty between you and me, as there was between my father and your father. See, I have sent you a present of silver and gold. Come and break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel, so that he will withdraw from me.”  So Ben-Hadad heeded King Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel. He attacked Ijon, Dan, Abel Beth Maachah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali (1 Kings 15:17-20).

Judah’s King Asa gave a “present” to Ben-Hadad, king of Syria (Aram), that he would attack Baasha. The word for “present is šōḥad, meaning, “Bribe, present, gift, reward, gratuity, inducement” (TWOT, #2359). Related passages would include Exodus 23:8, “You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just” (NASB). Isaiah denounced the leaders of Judah with the words, “Your princes are rebellious, And companions of thieves; Everyone loves bribes, And follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, Nor does the cause of the widow come before them” (Isa. 1:23, NKJV). šōḥad is the word used to describe the bribe money that King Ahaz of Judah sent to Tiglath-pileser in a scheme like that of our present text, as he bribed the Assyrian king to attack Pekah (Israel) and Rezin (Aram/Syria) (2 Kings 16:8).

Syria’s king Ben-Hadad was very willing to take the money from Asa; he was being paid to do something he wanted to do! From his perspective he had everything to gain and nothing to lose. So as our text relates, “He attacked Ijon, Dan, Abel Beth Maachah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtal” (1 Kings 15:20). This gave Syria a great advantage; this gave them a clear route to the Mediterranean Sea.

For Asa, from a military standpoint, his actions were successful; it was good military strategy for the short term. But from Chronicles we learn that God was displeased. He sent the prophet Hanani to Asa and rebuked him because you “have not relied on the LORD your God” (2 Chron. 16:7). The prophet went on to say, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars” (v.9).

Back to our opening text of 1 Kings 15, one of Israel’s northern cities successfully attacked by Ben-Hadad was Abel-beth-maacah.

Abel-beth-maacah, in northern Israel. Map by BibleAtlas.org.

Here is a photo of Abel-beth-maacah. The large tel, at center.

Abel-beth-maacah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Recent excavations have been conducted at Abel-beth-maacah. An interesting artifact housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is the head of a statue depicting a king, discovered in 2017 in a fortress at the summit of the tel. According to the museum info, this head is dated to the 9th century BCE, which would approximate the time of our 1 Kings 15 text (Asa r.911-870 BC; Baasha r.909-886 BC). (By their mention of King Ahab of Israel. r.874-853 BC, the IM is dating this artifact just slightly after the events of 1 Kings 15 re: Asa and Baasha).

Head of a stature depicting a king excavated at Abel-beth-maacah. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The placard states, “Its elegant style leaves no doubt that it portrays a distinguished personage, probably a king, but since it was found of the border of three different ancient kingdoms, we do not know whether it depicts King Ahab of Israel, King Hazael of Aram Damascus, or King Ithobaal of Tyre, rulers known from the Bible and other sources. Additional questions regarding the statues’s material and style only heighten the mystery.”

Click images for larger view.


Still Waters: Ein Avdat in Nahal Zin

July 6, 2020

Nahal Zin was the southern border of Judah when the land was distributed to the twelve tribes of Israel, during the days of the Conquest under Joshua (Num. 34:3-4; Josh. 15:1-3). This wadi is 75 miles in length, cutting through many layers of mostly limestone. The Negev can be a dry and thirsty land, but there are also refreshing springs and pools of water.

When David wrote, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters,” he may have had such scenes as this in mind. The spring, Ein Avdat, emerges at the base of the waterfall in the distant center.

Ein Avdat in Nahal Zin. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

When Ferrell Jenkins and I visited here in March 2018 there were serveral ibexes in the area.

Ibex in Nahal Zin near Ein Avdat. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Click on photos for larger view.

 


The Empty Tomb

April 9, 2020

On Sunday, the 1st day of the week when Jesus was raised from the dead, the text says this about Peter and “the other disciple:”

So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. (John 20:4-8).

Note the record says the disciple stooped down to look in.  The tomb in our photo shows how this would of necessity be true.

Rolling stone Tomb. Stooping to look inside. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This is the not tomb in which Jesus was buried; this tomb in our photo is located between Mt. Carmel and Megiddo in Israel, and dates back to the 1st century. It does however illustrate the type of tomb that would have been used. The Bible says that Joseph of Arimathea had a new tomb (one which had not been previously used, John 19:38-42).  Assisted by Nicodemus, Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body in a clean linen cloth, “and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed” (Mt. 27:59-60). The tomb in our photo was hewn out of the rock, and you can see the large stone positioned to the left of the opening.

For New Testament Christians, each first day of the week is significant.  Christians assemble in the name of Jesus Christ to partake of His memorial feast, the Lord’s Supper.  That Supper points back to His death, His body and His blood.  But we serve a risen Savior!  We proclaim His death till He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).


Baal Worship, a Perpetual Problem in Ancient Israel

February 7, 2020

A primary distinction between Israel and all the other nations was embodied in the first two commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Ex. 20:3,4). Idolatry in its varied forms, with many gods, permeated the ancient world. Even though a nation or region might have its own “special” deity, the belief that there were many other gods was universal. The premise that there is but one true God, and all others are false, surely made Israel unique as a nation.

But unfortunately, the nation of Israel often looked to the nations round about them, and were thereby influenced in many ways instead of holding fast to their relationship with YHWH.

The god Baal. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

In the biblical period of the Judges we read, “and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:12-13). Our photo of Baal seen here was taken at the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa, Israel (as well as the other photos included in this post).

You will notice that our biblical text also includes the “Ashtoreths” which would essentially be the female counterpart to Baal. The New Revised Standard renders, “They abandoned the LORD, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes.” This deity, Astarte, was also displayed at the Hecht Museum.

Astarte, Phoenician Fertility Goddess. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Baal worship that was seen in the period of Judges repeated itself throughout the period known as the Divided Kingdom. In the chapter that tells of the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, the Bible says, “They abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God. They made for themselves molded images– even two calves– and an Asherah pole. They worshiped the whole heavenly host and served Baal” (2 Kings 17:16, CSB).

H. F. Vos has the following basic information about Baal:

Name of the most prominent Canaanite deity. As the god of fertility in the Canaanite pantheon (roster of gods), Baal’s sphere of influence included agriculture, animal husbandry, and human sexuality. The word Baal occurs in the OT in combination with other terms, such as place-names (Baal-peor, Hos 9:10; Baal-hermon, Jgs 3:3), or with other adjuncts as in Baal-berith (Baal of the covenant, Jgs 8:33). Use of the name in connection with a local place-name may indicate a local cult of Baal worship.

Baal worship became prominent in the northern Kingdom of Israel during the days of King Ahab (9th century BC) when he married Jezebel of Tyre, a city in Phoenicia (1 Kgs 16:29–33; 18:19–40). It later infiltrated the Kingdom of Judah when Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, married King Jehoram of Judah (2 Kgs 8:17, 18, 24–26). Places for worship of Baal were often high places in the hills consisting of an altar and a sacred tree, stone, or pillar (2 Kgs 23:5). The predominantly urban Phoenicians built temples to Baal; while Athaliah was queen of Judah, even Jerusalem had one (2 Chr 23:12–17) . . .

the Canaanites engaged in orgiastic worship that included human sacrifice as well as sexual rites (Jer 7:31; 19:4–6). Sacred prostitutes evidently participated in the autumnal religious ritual.  Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 239).

I mentioned the fall of northern kingdom of Israel above in our 2 Kings text. Jeremiah was a prophet in the days of the next biblical period, Judah Alone. From his writings we see that unfortunately, many in Judah did not learn from the example of God’s displeasure of Israel’s worship of Baal. This false system was also perpetuated in Judah, even including the sacrifice of their children (as noted above by Vos): “They have built places here for worship of the god Baal so that they could sacrifice their children as burnt offerings to him in the fire. Such sacrifices are something I never commanded them to make! They are something I never told them to do! Indeed, such a thing never even entered my mind!” (Jer. 19:5, NET).

Not only were there the larger images that would be housed in temples or otherwise displayed for public worship, but smaller, “household” gods and goddesses were common.

Astarte, Household Fertility Goddess, 8th century BC. Hecht Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We have previously posted on Baal worship here and here.

We close with the words of Jesus, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Mt. 4:10).

(Click images for larger view).


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