Some biblical texts are especially illuminated by archaeological finds. For example, Acts 21:28 records the false charge against Paul, “He also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place” (v.28). The next verse shows this they “supposed” (NET “assumed). Ephesians 2:14 speaks of Jesus’ death breaking down “the middle wall of separation” between Jews and Gentiles.
Our photo shows one of the warnings posted marking the boundary within the temple complex beyond which no Gentile could proceed. The inscription read, “NO FOREIGNER IS TO GO BEYOND THE BALUSTRADE AND THE PLAZA OF THE TEMPLE ZONE. WHOEVER IS CAUGHT DOING SO WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO BLAME FOR HIS DEATH WHICH WILL FOLLOW.” I took this photo earlier this month in the Israel Museum.
A complete tablet is housed in the Istanbul Museum, as seen in our photo here:
So the Acts 21 text means that Paul was charged with taking a Gentile beyond the balustrade marked off by signs just like thsee.
The Ephesians 2 text shows that with Jesus’ death on the cross, reconciliation is made possible between men (Jew and Gentile) and God, and those reconciled unto God are reconciled to each other. The reconciled are in one body (the church, Eph. 1:22-23). That distinction epitomized by the wall of separation, and reflected by these warning signs, has been removed!
The best evidence points to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher as marking the location of Jesus’ entombment and resurrection.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD) built a temple devoted to Jupiter over the site venerated as Jesus’ tomb. Later Constantine (r. 306-337 AD) ordered Hadrian’s temple to be destroyed and ordered that a church be built over Jesus’ tomb. Despite the years of destruction and rebuilding, enough remains from earlier structures to provide a plan of Constantine’s buildings.
The site of the crucifixion itself is thought to be very near the place of Jesus’ entombment. Previously Hadrian had erected a Venus statue over Golgotha, ironically marking the spot! Constantine constructed the Martyrium Church over the site of the crucifixion itself.
This Apse at center, in front of dome with gold cross in background, is thought to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
A second site proposed for Jesus’ crucifixion is Gordon’s Calvary, but evidence is lacking. See my post here.
After the Apostle Paul left the younger evangelist Titus at Crete, he wrote, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (Titus 1:5). There were many cities (Greek polis) on the island of Crete, as can be seen from this map by bibleatlas.org:
In each of these cities where congregations of Christians were established, qualified men were to be appointed to serve as elders (bishops, pastors are biblically interchangeable terms). The list of qualifications was given as follows:
if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
The archaeological excavations of Arthur Evans at Knossos got underway in 1900. He is credited with inventing the term “Minoan,” naming the civilization after King Minos, who ruled the island of Crete, according to legend.
A deity worshiped by the Minoans was the bull. In the Biblical Archaeology Society publication (2008), Island Jewels: Understanding Ancient Cyprus and Crete, we read:
Again, we rely on the evidence of frescoes and gems that show how the Minoans practiced an astonishing ritual that consisted of grasping a bull by its horns and leaping over its back. When we add this to the ubiquity of stylized bulls’ horns, so-called “horns of consecration,” as well as the bull’s head rhyta (drinking vessels; singular, rhyton) and vivid portraits of individual beasts, there can be no doubt that the Minoans treated the bull with deep reverence…The bull may well have represented the young male consort of the goddess of love, a pattern that recurs throughout the ancient near east from Tammuz and Ishtar to Venus and Adonis, although if this is the case we cannot even give names to the Cretan versions of the divine couple (pp. 49-59).
In keeping with this information, note our photo of the gigantic bull’s horns below:
It is thought by many that these restored horns symbolized the sacred bull, and that they once adorned the top of the palace at Knossos, Crete.
The palace at Knossos was the largest of the Minoan palaces and served as the home of the legendary king Minos. This palace complex was named and excavated in 1900 by the Englishman Arthur Evans. Arthur Evans is also responsible for naming this sculpture-like object which resembles the horns of a bull, as “”horns of consecration.”” The horns in this slide, which are located outside the South Propylaea at the Knossos complex, are a 20th century reconstruction. Different depictions of horns of consecration can be found throughout Minoan culture, such as on Minoan sarcophagi. Overall, the bull was considered to be a sacred animal in ancient Crete, playing a large role in religious rituals. Since Evans, scholars and archaeologists have debated the true function and meaning of the horns of consecration. One scholar has suggested that these horns were used as seats of honor for nobility or gods. Other scholars have thought that the horns originally served as a pot-support in a hearth. Today, there is still a lack of consensus among scholars as to the function of these horns.
2 Kings 23 records the zealous reforms of good king Josiah (r. 640-609 BC), who had been the object of prophecy some 300 years earlier (1 Kings 13). Josiah destroyed/defiled the sites and objects of idolatry both in Jerusalem as well as throughout the land of Israel. This included the desecration of the site Solomon had constructed for the worship of foreign gods (which had resulted from the influence of the pagan wives he accumulated, cf. 1 Kings 11).
The text states: “Then the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, which were on the south of the Mount of Corruption, which Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the people of Ammon” (2 Kings 23:13).
Here is the location of har hammašḥı̂t (הַר הַמַּשְׁחִית
The “Mount of Corruption” is a “derogatory name for the Mount of Olives, where Solomon had built shrines to Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Molech. Josiah, king of Judah is described as defiling and destroying these temples in 2 Kgs 23:13” (The Lexham Bible Dictionary).
This site also came to be known as the “Mount of Offense” as well as the “Mount of Scandal.”
Our last couple of posts have dealt with Pharaoh Tirhakah, the Cushite (Ethiopian) king of Egypt’s 25th dynasty, and mentioned by name in 2 Kings 19:9, in correction with Judah’s good King Hezekiah, and the Assyrian King Sennacherib. We noted, “In some translations (i.e., NKJV) Tirhakah is said to be king of Ethiopia. “Ethiopia” here refers to southern Egypt, and is rendered Cush in CSB, ESV, NASB (Hebrew is כּוּשׁ, transliterated kûš).” Cush is also called the land of Nubia, with Nubia being the more modern name.
On our recent tour of Egypt (Oct. ’22) we had the opportunity to go south of Aswan (positioned “First Cataract” here on map below), where the ancient border separated Egypt from Cush.
Earlier when our group stopped for a visit at Kitchener Island in the Nile, we saw trees and plants from many locations. It is used as a research station called the Botanical Research Institute. While there we saw a sycamore tree, which is referenced many times in the scripture. Unlike the sycamore tree of my home in Alabama, the biblical sycamore produced figs (see Amos 7:14-17). I was explaining to some of our group nearby as to the significance of the tree, when a gentleman who also was listening (apparently an employee) approached. He picked up a fig, broke it open, to let our folks better see. This was very helpful. He also very emphatically said, “I am Nubian.”
Here is the sycamore tree on site there:
Here is a sycamore tree in Israel at Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel. (Located near Modi’in, midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel).
In our present post we further consider Tirhakah, the Cushite (Ethiopian) Pharaoh mentioned in 2 Kings 19:9: “Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the Cushite king of Egypt, was marching out to fight against him.
It is fascinating (and illuminating) when there are other historical records, inscriptions, and artifacts which coincide with biblical persons and events. The battle between the Assyrians and Egyptians mentioned in our text above was of no great or decisive consequence. The biblical text shows that Assyria’s King Sennacherib was primarily interested in conquering Judah, and Tirhakah lived to fight another day. As was seen in yesterday’s post, Sennacherib conquered many Judean cities, but Yahweh delivered Jerusalem from his hands (701 BC), and Sennacherib fled back to Nineveh.
But there would be further conflict and fighting between Egypt and Assyria. Sennacherib was succeeded by his son Esarhaddon (2 Kings 19:37). The Lexham Bible Dictionary has the following info which references additional contact/conflict with Assyria and Egypt’s Pharaoh Tirhakah:
In 677 BC, Esarhaddon invaded Egypt after settling a revolt in Ashkelon, but was held back and retreated. In 671 BC he invaded again, this time capturing and sacking Memphis. He also took several members of the royal family captive, including Tirhakah’s son, Ushankhuru. Tirhakah fled to the south while Esarhaddon established Necho I as king of Sais. After Esarhaddon left, Tirhakah attempted to destabilize Necho I. On his way back to deal with the trouble Tirhakah was causing, Esarhaddon died. His son Ashurbanipal defeated Tirhakah, causing him to flee to Thebes, where he died in 664 BC.
Nettelhorst, R. P. (2016). Tirhakah. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.
The Victory stele of Esarhaddon commemorated his 671 BC victory over Pharaoh Tirhakah (Taharqa/Taharka). Esarhaddon holds a mace club in his left hand, with a rope that passes through the lips of the two conquered kings, thought to be Pharaoh Tirharkah (lower left) and King Baal of Sidon (lower right). Esarhaddon’s right hand is addressing the gods. The script on the bottom half is in Akkadian Cuneiform.
The photo above was taken at the Semitic Museum in Harvard. The original stele is in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
Tirhakah (Taharqa/Taharka) is mentioned in the context of the mighty Assyrian King Sennacherib’s attempt to take Judah’s capitol city of Jerusalem, 701 BC, during good King Hezekiah’s reign. The biblical text reads, “Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, ‘Behold, he has set out to fight against you.’ So he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying,” (2 Kings 19:9; cf. the parallel in Isa. 37:9).
The background is that Sennacherib (r. 705-681 BC) had already taken “all the fortified cities of Judah” (2 Kings 18:13). In fact, Assyrian records state that he had taken 46 fortified cities, besides unwalled towns and villages. In the context of our passage above that mentions Tirhakah, the fortress city of Lachish had been taken (cf. the displays in Lachish Room in the British Museum), and Assyrian was fighting against Libnah (2 Kings 19:8). It was at that point that Sennacherib “heard concerning Tirhakah.”
In some translations (i.e., NKJV) Tirhakah is said to be king of Ethiopia. “Ethiopia” here refers to southern Egypt, and is rendered Cush in CSB, ESV, NASB (Hebrew is כּוּשׁ, transliterated kûš). At the time of the battle (701 BC), Tirhakah was the commander of the Egyptian forces. He would later become Pharaoh (25th dynasty; r. 690-664 BC). Note: “Ancient Oriental writers, as well as modern, frequently referred to persons by titles acquired later than the period being described (K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1966, pp. 82–84).” (Source: C. F. Pfeiffer, H. F. Vos, & J. Rea (Eds.), The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia. Moody Press.).
Todd Bolen states,
Tirhakah meets the Assyrians in battle at Eltekeh, possibly modern Tell esh-Shallaf, 28 miles (45 kilometers) west of Jerusalem. It is not clear if Judah had sent tribute to Egypt in order to gain assistance or if the Egyptians saw an opportunity in attacking the Assyrian army when numerous battles had weakened it and it was far from home. Isaiah had warned Judah of the futility of trusting Egypt (Isa 31:1-5). (NIV Zondervan Study Bible, p. 696).
Taharqa was the fourth king of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty and also king of his native Kush; located in Northern Sudan. The remains of this huge kiosk, built by 25th Dynasty pharaoh Taharqa (690-664 B.C.) originally consisted of ten twenty-one meter high papyrus columns linked by a low screening wall. Today there is only one great column still standing. It is believed that it was a barque chapel (or Station) although some Egyptologists think it may have been used in ritual activities to join with the sun.
Photo above was taken during our 2022 Fall tour of Egypt. You can see the column of Tirhakah as well as two statues of Rameses II.
Here is a closer look at that column:
Back to the text of 2 Kings 19:9, the Assyrians were only temporally diverted by the Egyptians, though it would be a bit later when Assyrian completed the task of conquering Egypt. The greater point by far as the text continues, is YHWH’s miraculous deliverance of the city of Jerusalem. Sennacherib returned to Assyria after his mighty army was devastated.
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).
More to come re: Tirhakah. Click photos for larger view.
In this post we continue to look at some of the displays of the Egyptian Museum at Cairo, Egypt.
This statue of Anubis is situated on the cover of a casket in the form of a shrine. The shrine was on a litter used to carry the image of the god in processions.
The Anubis Shrine was included in the burial equipment of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, otherwise known as King Tut. His tomb was discovered in the valley of the Kings in 1922 by Howard Carter, in the Treasure Room.
ANU′BIS (Ἄνουβις), an Egyptian divinity, worshipped in the form of a dog, or of a human being with a dog’s head. In the worship of this divinity several phases must be distinguished, as in the case of Ammon. It was in all probability originally a fetish, and the object of the worship of the dog, the representative of that useful species of animals. Subsequently it was mixed up and combined with other religious systems, and Anubis assumed a symbolical or astronomical character, at least in the minds of the learned.
( In W. Smith (Ed.), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (Vol. 1, p. 218). Little, Brown, and Company.)
When this statue was discovered there was a scribe’s ivory tabled that had belonged to Meritaten, one of the six daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.
In Egyptian mythology Anubis, represented with the head of a dog/hyena, often with the body of a man, was considered lord of the necropolis and oversaw embalming rites. He was responsible for guiding the dead in the underworld and presenting them before Osiris for the weighing of the heart.
The idolatrous veneration of the dog by the Egyptians is shown in the worship of their dog-god Anubis, to whom temples and priests were consecrated, and whose image was borne in all religious ceremonies. Cynopolis, the present Minieh, situated in the lower Thebais, was built in honour of Anubis. The priests celebrated his festivals there with great pomp.
(Watson, R. In A Biblical and Theological Dictionary (p. 314). Lane & Scott.).
The book of Exodus begins with the great affliction of Israel in Egypt as the setting. Hebrew male babies born at that time were literally under a death sentence from Pharaoh. Moses’s mother hid him three months– “But when she was no longer able to hide him, she took a papyrus basket for him and sealed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and set it among the reeds along the edge of the Nile” (Ex. 2:3, NET). In God’s good providence Pharaoh’s daughter had compassion on the Hebrew baby, and allowed him to live. She gave him the name Moses (2:10), and secured a Hebrew nurse, Moses’s mother! The New Testament records the faith of Moses’s parents as the motivation for their defiance of the king’s command (Heb. 11:23), as well as the faith that Moses made his own! (Heb. 11:24-28).
These events happened during Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty (Walter C. Kasier, Jr. dates this period, 1570-1320 BC, and dates Moses’ birth at 1526 BC, and the Exodus at 1446 BC). Using Egyptian chronology, this would place Moses’ birth during the last year of Amenhotep I (1546-1526) or the first year of Thutmose I (1526-1512). Many suggest that the princess, Pharaoh’s daughter who rescued baby Moses, was Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I. Though not dogmatic, Kasier states, “There is no doubt, however, that the chronology suggested here would fit nicely with her, and that she was a most unusual person for her times, possessing a strong personality and unusual gift of leadership, which she eventually used to claim the throne for herself” (Kaiser, W. C., Jr. A History of Israel: from the Bronze Age through the Jewish Wars, p. 88. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998.
She reigned as Pharaoh in Egyptc. 1503-1483 BC [Note: scholarly dates on Egyptian chronology vary; this does not impact the historicity of scripture]. In his newly published Origins of the Hebrews, Douglas Petrovich concludes, “All of the evidence points to Hatshepsut as the best candidate for Moses’s stepmother” (Petrovich, Douglas. Origins of the Hebrews, p. 148. Nashville, TN: New Creation, 2021).
This head of Hatshepsut is from one of her Osirian statues from the pillared facade of the portico of the upper terrace of her temple at Deir el-Bahri.
It is possible that she was the pharaoh’s daughter who rescued the baby Moses (Ex. 2:1–10). If Moses was born ca. 1530, the pharaoh who decreed the death of all Hebrew male babies would have been Thutmose I, Hatshepsut’s father. Moses would have grown up during the reigns of Thutmose I and Thutmose II (Hatshepsut’s husband), and with Hatshepsut’s sponsorship he could have attained the prominence that later tradition attributed to him (cf. Acts 7:22; Josephus Ant. ii.10).
(Shea, W. H. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised Vol. 2, p. 233).
Hatshepsut certainly left her imprint, much of which can still be viewed today. Her mortuary temple is located in Thebes (at Deir el-Bahri) on the western bank of the Nile. “The temple at Deir el-Bahri remains Hatshepsut’s most enduring monument. Built of limestone and designed in a series of terraces set against the cliff wall in a bay formed naturally by river and wind action, the temple called ‘Holy of Holies’ (djeser djeseru) was Hatshepsut’s most complete statement in material form about her reign” (Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, p. 232. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000).
The Valley of the Kings, burial site of the Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, is located behind Hatshepsut’s temple and cliff in our photo.
The fall of Egypt’s Old Kingdom occurred towards the end of the reign of Pepi II, during a time of political disruption and famine. Scholars place Pharaoh Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II at the beginning of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. The 11th dynasty is divided into two parts, the first concluding the Old Kingdom, and the second part ushering in the Middle Kingdom, with Mentuhotep II as its first king (r. ca. 2065-2014 BC). (To keep things interesting, Baines & Malek state that Nebhepetre Mentuhotep is “called I or II by different writers.” They date his reign at c. 2016-2010 BC. Source: Ancient Egypt, The Cultural Atlas of the World, p. 35).
With the fall of the Old Kingdom, there was initially a period of disunity, the First Intermediate Period, during which time two rival kingdoms co-existed in a state of mutual hostility. But in the year ca. 2025 BC, under the leadership of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II, the Theban armies were victorious over Lower Egypt. Consequently he was looked upon as the great unifier of the Two Lands (Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt), the great monarch who reunified Egypt.
His statue was found in his funerary chamber under the terrace of his mortuary temple at Thebes, at Deir el-Bahri. The statue retains sculptural traditional traits characteristic of the Old Kingdom.
The statue had been wrapped in a linen cloth and seems to have been painted black just before it was buried. It represents Mentuhotep seated, wearing he red crown and enveloped in the white jubilee mantel which barely reaches to the king’s knees. His black skin and his beard curved at the end like the beards of the gods, as well as the position of his arms crossed on his chest, place him in relation to the god Osiris with whom the king was identified after death.
The Egyptian Museum Cairo, eds Prestel-Verlag and Philipp von Zabern, #67.
Ian Shaw writes:
In addition to the emphasis on his lineage, part of Mentuhotep’s strategy to enhance his reputation with his contemporaries and successors was a programme of self-deification. He is described as “the son of Hathor” on two fragments from Gebelein, while at Dendera and Aswan he usurped the headgear of Amun and Min . . . Evidence from his Deir el-Bahri temple indicates that he intended to be worshipped as a god in his House of Millions of Years, thus pre-dating by hundreds of years ideas that became a central religious preoccupation of the New Kingdom. It is evident that he was reasserting the cult of the ruler.
The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, pgs. 151-152.