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.


Board Games: Royal Game of Ur

March 9, 2021

According to the British Museum:

The Royal Game of Ur is the oldest playable boardgame in the world, originating around 4,600 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia.

The game’s rules were written on a cuneiform tablet by a Babylonian astronomer in 177 BC. From this, curator Irving Finkel was able to decipher the rules – two players compete to race their pieces from one end of the board to the other. The central squares were also used for fortune telling.

https://blog.britishmuseum.org/top-10-historical-board-games/

This game-piece is dated to 2600 BC, consisting of inlaid shell and lapis lazuli, and is among the many artifacts excavated by Sir Leonard Wooley, in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, located in today’s southern Iraq. It is said to be similar to backgammon. The British Museum even provides a YouTube video on how to play. Click here.

The Royal Game of Ur, British Museum. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Status Symbol? An article in BAS article suggests the following:

In the ancient world, board games, one of the world’s oldest hobbies, were played not only to pass the time, but also to signify the wealth and status of the players, according to a new study. Mark Hall, an historian with the Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland, believes the process by which board games spread across the ancient world suggests they were passed along as elite gifts. “Many of the first board games appear to have been diplomatic gifts to signify status,” said Hall. “We have early examples of quite splendid playing pieces belonging to elite, privileged people.” Hall notes that many of the earliest board games from the ancient Near East, including the Mesopotamian game of Twenty Squares (similar to today’s backgammon) and the Egyptian game of Senet (which used a grid of 30 squares), were discovered as offerings or gifts in royal burials, such as the Royal Tombs of Ur and the tomb of King Tutankhamen.

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/board-games-were-status-symbols-in-the-ancient-world/

Sir Leonard Woolley directed 12 seasons of excavations at the site of ancient Ur (Tell el-Mukay-yar) on behalf of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania.

Students of the Bible have an interest in Ur of the Chaldees as the home of the patriarch Abraham (Gen. 11:28,31; Neh. 9:6). Not all agree that Woolley was correct in his identification, but his excavations there are informative and fascinating, to say the least.


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.


Diogenes of Sinope, Biblical Pontus

November 4, 2020

The Roman province of Pontus is mentioned three times in the New Testament in the following passages:

There were residents of Pontus (among many other) present for the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the day on which the Gospel message of salvation through the resurrected Christ was preached for the first time: “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia” (Acts 2:9).

Paul’s dear friend and fellow-tentmaker Aquila, was from Pontus: “And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:2).

The Apostle Peter wrote the letter of 1 Peter to Christians in Pontus (and other Roman provinces): “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. . .” (1 Pet. 1:1).

The coast of Pontus was colonized by the Greeks ca. 700 BC. Sinope was a major port city of Pontus located on the Black Sea. This is in Turkey’s territory today.

Map showing Sinope on the coast of the Black Sea. In biblical times in the Roman province of Pontus. Today in Turkey.

Diogenes, the Cynic philosopher (ca. 412 BC – 323 BC), was a famous resident of Sinope. He was notorious for carrying a lamp during the daytime in Athens, claiming to be looking for an honest man.

Statue of Diogenes in Sinope holding a lantern. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

At the base of this statue is a plaque relating another legend about Diogenes and Alexander the Great.

Diogenes’s famous statement to Alexander the Great. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Plutarch relates the story of what happened when Alexander sought out Diogenes at Corinth:

[14] [1] And now a general assembly of the Greeks was held at the Isthmus, where a vote was passed to make an expedition against Persia with Alexander, and he was proclaimed their leader. Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to him with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. [2] But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many persons coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, ‘Yes,’ said Diogenes, “stand a little out of my sun.” [3] It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, “But verily, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.” (Plutarch’s Lives, Alexander, 14:1-3).


Landing at Syracuse (Acts 28:12)

November 3, 2020

The city of Syracuse, located on the southeast coast of Sicily, was founded in 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth. Some names associated with Syracuse include Aeschylus, considered the father of the Greek tragedy. The philosopher Plato was in Syracuse. Syracuse was the birthplace of Archimedes, the famous mathematician and most influential scientist of the ancient world.

But to the Bible student, it is its mention in connection with Paul’s journey (as a prisoner, among 276 passengers) to Rome that gives this ancient site special interest. Of that point in the sea voyage portion of the trip Luke writes, “And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days” (Acts 28:12). Here is a photo of the harbor.

Harbor at Syracuse. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

Syracuse is rich in archaeological remains, including Roman and Grecian.

The Roman amphitheater was built in/on a natural rocky outcrop. The building would have been crowned with a portico. The inscriptions on the marble parts of the balustrade designate the seats of the dignitaries from Siracusa. There were eight entrances from the crypta onto the arena.

Roman Amphitheater at Syracuse. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

Fodor’s Italy has this info:

The well-preserved and striking Anfiteatro Romano (Roman Amphitheater) reveals much about the differences between the Greek and Roman personalities. Where drama in the Greek theater was a kind of religious ritual, the Roman amphitheater emphasized the spectacle of combative sports and the circus. This arena is one of the largest of its kind and was built around the 2nd century AD. The corridor where gladiators and beasts entered the ring is still intact, and the seats (some of which still bear the occupants’ names) were hauled in and constructed on the site from huge slabs of limestone. (Fodor’s Italy 2014 Kindle Locations 21621-21622).

Another important site at Syracuse is the Altar of Hieron (perhaps dedicated to Zeus) built in the Hellenistic period by King Hiero II. It is the largest altar known from antiquity.

Grand Altar of Hieron II (275-216 BC), Syracuse. Photo ©Leon Mauldin

The Lexham Bible Dictionary has info on this Grecian period of ancient Syracuse, including references to Hieron I & II.

Syracuse became prominent in the affairs of Sicily under the rule of Gelon from 485–478 BC and his brother Hieron I from 478–467 BC. It flourished after the establishment of a popular government in 466 BC (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, Hist. 11.68–72). The Syracusans successfully withstood the siege by the Athenians in 414 BC (Thucydides, Hist. 6, 7).

The most famous of the later rulers was Hieron II (275–216 BC). Perhaps the most famous resident of Syracuse, the mathematician and inventor Archimedes, flourished during Hieron’s rule. Under Hieron’s grandson and successor Hieronymus, the Romans under Marcellus conquered the city and it fell in 212 BC (Livy, History of Rome 24.21–33). After that, Syracuse was the capital of the Roman province of Sicily. Wentz, L. Syracuse. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary).

Click images for larger view.


The Greek Island of Samos

October 30, 2020

We are very sorry to learn of today’s earthquake in the Aegean which has resulted in multiple deaths, 12 in Izmir, on the western coast of Turkey, and 2 (teenagers) on the Greek island of Samos, as well as 400+ injuries. Our thoughts and prayers go out on behalf of those impacted by this tragedy.

The island of Samos is of interest to Bible students because of its mention in Acts 20:15, in the context of Paul’s return on his 3rd Missionary Journey, making his way back to Jerusalem.

Acts 20:14-15. Only biblical mention of Samos.
Acts 20:14-15. Only biblical mention of Samos.

Samos is a

Place-name meaning “height.” Small island (only 27 miles long) located in the Aegean Sea about a mile off the coast of Asia Minor near the peninsula of Trogyllium. In the strait between Samos and the mainland, the Greeks defeated the Persian fleet about 479 B.C. and turned the tide of power in the ancient Near East. Traveling from Jerusalem to Rome, Paul’s ship either put in at Samos or anchored just offshore (Acts 20:15). (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p.1438).

The rendering of the ESV on Acts 20:15 is: “And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched [emp. mine, L.M.] at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus.” They could have just stayed overnight in the ship in the harbor, departing the next morning, or they could have deboarded the ship to actually be on the island itself (briefly of course). The text does not say.

Though the biblical text only mentions Samos this once (Acts 20:15), I welcome the opportunity to visit such sites, and to be able to share photos and use such in teaching.

I had occasion to make a brief visit to Samos in 2006, along with friend Ferrell Jenkins, when we were en route to Kuşadasi. See his article here. Samos is just off the western coast of Asia Minor. There are impressive remains of a temple devoted to the goddess Hera at Samos (see Fant & Reddish, pp. 118-125), but our limited time at Samos that day did not permit our seeing this.

Location of Samos. Map by BibleAtlas.Org.
Location of Samos. Map by BibleAtlas.Org.
Samos, at modern harbor. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Samos, at modern harbor. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Mountains of Samos as seen from the Aegean Sea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Mountains of Samos as seen from the Aegean Sea. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

On that trip we had flown from Athens, Greece to Samos, then we took the ferry from Samos to Kuşadasi, Turkey, which would serve as our “base” while we visited nearby Ephesus and other biblical sites.

Sunset at Kuşadasi. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
Sunset at Kuşadasi. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Click on 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

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Rahotep and Nofret

September 18, 2020

This statue of Rahotep and Nofret was found in a mastaba (early Egyptian tomb, rectangular in shape) near the pyramid of Meidum, Egypt (south of Cairo), and is dated to Egypt’s early 4th Dynasty (ca. 2680-2544 BC). Cemeteries consisting of large brick-built mastabas (about a dozen) are located to the north and east of the pyramid. The pyramid was probably begun by Huni, the last ruler of the 3rd Dynasty, but it believed to have been completed by Snofru (Sneferu).

Rahotep and Nofret. Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The Sept/Oct 1989 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (15:5) has this information:

Eerily lifelike, the superbly preserved, painted limestone statues of Rahotep and Nofret (see photograph) illustrate a pitfall in the use of artworks to assess racial characteristics. Rahotep’s reddish brown skin and Nofret’s yellowish white color, rather than being realistic portrayals, reflect artistic conventions of the Old Kingdom period (c. 2755–2230 B.C.E.). At that time, these were the usual colors used respectively for representations of men and women. Despite their skin colors, Rahotep and Nofret’s features are typically Egyptian.

Found in a private tomb near the pyramid of Pharaoh Sneferu (c. 2680–2640 B.C.E.), the sculptures depict a couple of the king’s courtiers. Prince Rahotep, probably a son of Sneferu, wears a wig and sports a thin moustache; his name and titles—High Priest of Re at Heliopolis, Director of Expeditions and Chief of Construction—appear in the painted hieroglyphs. Rahotep’s wife, Nofret, also wears a wig, and the hieroglyphs on her statue call her “one known to the king.”

I have several posts on Egypt. Go to search box on upper right and enter “Egypt.”

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