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)

 


Cities of the Decapolis

July 18, 2018

I’m currently presenting a visualized survey of the Bible, with tonight’s lesson dealing with the Life of Christ. Following Jesus’ Galilean Ministry, He pursued a plan to invest more time alone with the Apostles, preparing them for the great work they were to do. This period is known as the Retirement Ministry, “retiring” from the crowds to be with the apostles. One region Jesus traveled during this time was the Decapolis. “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis” (Mark 7:31). This largely Gentile area was comprised of ten cities (hence the name) which were given autonomy by Rome.

One of the cities of the Decapolis was Jerash (Gerasa).

Hadrian Gate at entrance to Jerash, one of the cities of the Decapolis. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Here is a view down the Cardo of Jerash.

Cardo at Jerash. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Another city of the Decapolis was Hippos. From here you can see the Sea of Galilee.

Hippos of the Decapolis. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We’ve previously written here on Hippos.

Back to our text of Mark 7:31. Here was the site of one of Jesus’ many miracles, which gave proof of His deity:

Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. 32 They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. 33 Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; 34 and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” 35 And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. 36 And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. 37 They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:31-37).

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Paul’s Military Escort: From Jerusalem to Caesarea via Antipatris

June 20, 2018

Acts 23 records how Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander stationed in Jerusalem, upon learning of a Jewish plot to kill his prisoner, the Apostle Paul, provided for a military escort to Caesarea, the Capital. “And he called to him two of the centurions and said, ‘Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.’ 24 They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor” (vv.23-24). These unusual measures were taken because Paul, although a Jew, was also a Roman citizen. It was upon previously learning that fact (Acts 22:25-29), that the Commander provided for Paul’s safe transport to the Governor’s residence, Herod’s Praetorium. Claudius Lysias certainly did not want responsibility for the assassination of a Roman citizen on his watch!

Their route from Jerusalem to Caesarea took them through Antipatris: “So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris” (Acts 23:31).

Antipatris, a stopping point on Paul’s escort to Caesarea. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

This past March, Ferrell Jenkins and I saw the RACE Show (Roman Army and Chariot Experience) in the Roman amphitheater at Jerash of the Decapolis (in today’s Jordan). This helps us visualize the Roman soldiers/spearmen that would have accompanied Paul.

Roman soldiers (actors) at Jerash of the Decapolis. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

From there Paul was taken on to Caesarea: “But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him” (Acts 23:32-33).

Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. Ruins of the Palace. Paul was taken here. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The closing verse of Acts 23 records the Governor’s (Felix) reception of Paul: “‘I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,’ giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium” (v.35). There is on-site at Caesarea some artwork that helps us to visualize the Praetorium.

Artwork showing Herod’s Palace at Caesarea. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

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Bologna’s Sea-god Neptune, and More

June 9, 2018

As we continued our travels in Italy, we left Florence this morning and made a lunch stop at Bologna where we saw a statue of the Roman Sea-god Neptune at the square.

Portion of city square at Bologna, Italy. Sea-god Neptune is seen at far left center. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

As we traveled north we crossed the Po River. The terrain had changed as we left the hills and saw flat, very fertile, farmland.

Po River. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

We reached our destiny of Trieste by late afternoon. Tomorrow our group is meeting with a congregation made up of Christians, many of whom have ties and connections with the folks on our tour. Gianni Berdine is the local evangelist here in Trieste. Several of us went for a walk after dinner.

Trieste Square. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Trieste is located in the extreme northwest of Italy, on the Adriatic Sea, and borders Slovenia. This is one of the great Piazzas of Italy.

 


St. Paul Outside the Walls

June 5, 2018

My group arrived safely Tuesday morning in Rome. We visited the Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, as well as other stops, including the catacombs, as time permitted before dinner. This building was constructed to honor the martyrdom of Paul.

The facade at the quadriportico at the Basilica of st. Paul outside the Walls. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

As a result of the Edict of Milan in the year 313 AD, the official persecution of Christians cease. The Emperor Constantine had a basilica built over the tomb venerated as that of the Apostle Paul.

Group shot at the basilica. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Group shot at colonnade at basilica. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

All of our group is well. More to come!


Thessalonian Politarch Inscription & its Bearing on Acts 17:6,8

February 21, 2018

Acts 17:6,8 mention the “rulers of the city” of Thessalonica, who beat and imprisoned Paul and Silas. Luke, the inspired writer of Acts, is a most careful historian. Different cities/districts used specific words to designate their rulers. Here Luke uses the word “politarch” (πολιτάρχης) which was a “very rare title for magistrates” (see Schaff below). Was Luke correct or was he mistaken?

Last month in London I was able to photograph a very important inscription, the Politarch Inscription of Thessalonica, removed from a Roman gateway of the city.

Inscription from Thessalonica using the word “politarchs” to designate rulers, as found in Acts 17:6,8. Photo ©Leon Mauldin. British Museum.

Church historian Philip Schaff, in a section entitled “The Acts and Secular History,” wrote:

The “politarchs” of Thessalonica, 17:6, 8 (Greek text: τοὺς πολιτάρχας, i.e., τοὺς ἄρχοντας τῶν πολιτῶν, praefectos civitatis, the rulers of the city).

This was a very rare title for magistrates, and might easily be confounded with the more usual designation “poliarchs.” But Luke’s accuracy has been confirmed by an inscription still legible on an archway in Thessalonica, giving the names of seven “politarchs” who governed before the visit of Paul.

The Thessalonian inscription in Greek letters is given by Boeckh. Leake, and Howson (in Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Letters of St. Paul, ch. IX., large Lond. ed., I. 860). Three of the names are identical, with those of Paul’s friends in that region-Sopater of Beraea (Acts 20:4), Gaius of Macedonia (19:29), and Secundus of Thessalonica (20:4). I will only give the first line:

ΠΟΛΕΙΤΑΡΧΟΥΝΤΩΝ ΣΩΣΙΠΑΤΡΟΥ ΤΟΥ ΚΛΕΟ. (Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1910). History of the Christian church (Vol. 1, p. 735). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Inscription in its original setting in Thessalonica. Photo ©Leon Mauldin. British Museum.

Schaff earlier in that section mentioned the significance and importance of such artifacts as pertains to the book of Acts:

Bishop Lightfoot asserts that no ancient work [as that of Acts, L.M.] affords so many tests of veracity, because no other has such numerous points of contact in all directions with contemporary history, politics, and typography, whether Jewish or Greek or Roman. The description of persons introduced in the Acts such as Gamaliel, Herod, Agrippa I., Bernice, Felix, Festus, Gallio, agrees as far as it goes entirely with what we know from contemporary sources. The allusions to countries, cities, islands, in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy are without exception correct and reveal an experienced traveler. Ibid.732)

In other words, time and time again, Luke has been proven to be right! You can trust the Bible!

The British Museum Curator’s comments are interesting:

This large stone was built into a wall at the Vardar Gate of Thessalonica and was removed in 1877. The stone has been assumed to name city officials of the era. The inscription is important to New Testament scholars because it is one of the few stones that attests the existence of the office of politarch, mentioned in the Bible (Acts 17:6 and 8) and in only a few other literary sources. It is also curious because it mentions the mothers as well as the fathers of two of the politarchs. How the number of politarchs in this inscription should be counted varies among the modern editions; the translation here presents the usual interpretation of the inscription (see vom Brocke). (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=398975&partId=1)

I should mention that this inscription is not regularly on display. It took three days to get an appointment to go into the room where is it housed, but it was worth it!

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Jerusalem, SW Temple Mount Panaroma

January 26, 2018

A panoramic view looking toward the SW corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Panorama of Jerusalem, SW corner of Temple Mount. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

At the base of the ancient wall on your left (western side) you can see stones lying in place. These were from the Herodian Temple of Jesus day, falling down to their present position in the 70 AD Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Though seemingly small in our photo, some of these broken stones weight tons.

The view straight across shows southern side of temple mount. The distant view at right center is the Mount of Olives, across from the Kidron Valley (which cannot be seen from this view.

This photo is from Spring, 2017.

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