Esther and the Providence of God

September 12, 2017

In our local congregation (Hanceville AL) we are soon to begin a study of Esther in our Sun AM class. I’m looking forward to this study, which displays the providence of God to continue, against all odds, to fulfill His plan through the Jewish people. The promise made to Abraham to bring salvation through the promised Seed, would be accomplished, in spite of the efforts of wicked Haman to destroy all the Jews of the Persian Empire.

Ladies at Şanlıurfa, or Urfa, Southeastern Turkey. Known in ancient times as Edessa. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The festive apparel of these ladies at Şanlıurfa perhaps help us visualize the dress of that ancient culture described in Esther.

Şanlıurfa, often simply known as Urfa or in Arabic, Al-Ruha, in ancient times was Edessa, located in south-eastern Turkey; it is the capital of Şanlıurfa Province. The city is populated with primarily Arabs, Kurds and Turks. Urfa is situated on a plain about 50 miles east of the Euphrates River.

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Signing the Covenant–Nehemiah 10

August 18, 2017

I love to study the book of Nehemiah. Jerusalem’s walls that had been in ruins since the Babylonian destruction (586 BC) were rebuilt (444 BC) in just 52 days! (Neh. 6:15). The people had a mind to work (4:6); they had a godly and capable leader in Nehemiah, and the good hand of God was upon them. But the remainder of the book (chapters 7ff.) is about the necessary follow-up; the necessary commitment to covenant faithfulness, without which the newly rebuilt walls would be meaningless.

Gezer Calendar. One of the oldest examples of Hebrew script. Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

To that end Israel’s leaders/Levites promised God: “Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests” (Neh. 9:38). What follows is a listing of 84 names (Neh. 10:1-27). Nehemiah’s name appropriately is first.

The Gezer Calendar is one of the oldest examples of Hebrew script. We share it here to illustrate our Nehemiah text. Those men who signed their renewed covenant with God, as well as “the rest of the people” (10:28), were pledging themselves to obey (v.29) in their homes (v.30), their business (v.31) and worship (v.32). In short: “We will not neglect the house of our God” (v.39).

By the way, the Gezer Calendar in our photo is a school-boy’s exercise in learning the months of the year, associated with agricultural events.

Explanation of the Gezer Calendar. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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The Euphrates, at Zeugma/Seleucia

June 20, 2017

We are currently teaching the OT book of Ezra in our local congregation. Ezra 8 mentions Ahava as a place (v.15) and a river (note NET: “canal” and NLT: “Ahava Canal” (vv.21,31).

This [Ahava] has not been identified, though it appears from v 21 that both the canal (lit., “river”) and the locality shared the same name. We must assume from the context that it was a large open space close to Babylon. Babylon itself was built on the Euphrates river from which flowed a number of artificial canals and waterways for defensive purposes (cf. IDB 1, 334–38; Ezek 1:1; Ps 137:1). Ahava was no doubt one of these (Williamson, H. G. M. Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 116).

Our photo shows the Euphrates at Zeugma, named Selucia during the Grecian intertestamental period.

Euphrates River at Zeugma. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

I took this photo in Upper Mesopotamia, near the Birecik Dam, well north of the area referenced in Ezra 8, but it serves well for illustrative purposes. In the foreground are pistachio trees.

Pistachio tree, close-up. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Originally, the ancient city of Zeugma was founded as a Greek settlement by Seleucus I Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander the Great, in 300 BC. The city was called “Zeugma”, because of the bridge across the Euphrates River that was made of pontoons, thus connecting the two banks of the river. In Greek, “zeugma” means “bridge-passage” or “bridge of boats”. The population of the city at its peak was approximately 80,000.

In 64 BC the city was conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire. During Roman rule, the city became one of the attractions in the region, due to its commercial potential originating from its geo-strategic location because the city was on the Silk Road connecting Antioch to China via a bridge of pontoons across the river Euphrates, which defined the border with the Persian Empire until the late 2nd century.

In 256 AD, Zeugma experienced an invasion and was destroyed by the Sassanid king, Shapur I. The damage from the invasion was so drastic that Zeugma was not able to recover for a long time. To make the situation even worse, a violent earthquake buried the city beneath rubble. Indeed, during the rest of its time under Roman rule, the city never regained the prosperity it had once achieved.

Zeugma and environs remained part of the Roman empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries the city was ruled by the Early Byzantium or Eastern Roman Empire. As a result of the ongoing Arab raids the city was abandoned once again. Later on, in the 10th and 12th centuries, a small Abbasid group settled in Zeugma.

Finally a village called Belkis was founded at the site in the 17th century. (Wikipedia).

To see another of my photos of the Euphrates click here. Ferrell Jenkins has several entries on the Euphrates including here and here.

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Antioch of Syria, Modern Antakya

April 11, 2017

This week I am enjoying the opportunity to present a Visualized Survey of the New Testament with the Mt. Olive church of Christ, in Mt. Olive, AL. Included in our studies is the book of Acts, in which we are told how the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch: “and when he [Barnabas] had found him [the Apostle Paul], he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26, ESV).

Antioch of Syria, today’s Antakya. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

It is thrilling to read how that here at Antioch men were “preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). Further, “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (v.21). Then the church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to help: “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” A Christ-centered message, a Christ-centered conversion, and Christ-centered focus and purpose. Such key verses go a long way in helping us to see a biblical definition of a Christian!

Our photo shows Antioch with bridge crossing the Orontes River in foreground. I took this photo in May, 2007.

I have previously written on the biblical site of Antioch here and here. Antioch/Antakya is within Turkey, but is very near the Turkey/Syrian border.


The Threshing Sledge

January 24, 2017

I am currently enjoying teaching 1 Chronicles in our Bible class in our local congregation. The record of David’s ill-advised census and its terrible consequences is found in 1 Chron. 21. An angel and a prophet were used by God to instruct David: “Now the angel of the LORD had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (v.18, ESV). David purchased the threshing floor at the “full price” from Ornan, “And David built there an altar to the LORD and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering” (v.26, ESV).

Ornan had made this offer: “See, I give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for the wood and the wheat for a grain offering; I give it all,” but David insisted that he pay “the full price” (v.24); David would not offer to the Lord “that which costs me nothing.”

Note that reference is made to the “threshing sledges for the wood.” The threshing sledge was pulled across the grain to separate the kernel from the chaff. In Aphrodisias, Turkey, I had the opportunity to photograph several threshing sledges.  This helps us to visualize what David used for wood for the burnt offerings in our Chronicles text.

Threshing Sledge at Aphrodisias, Turkey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Threshing Sledge at Aphrodisias, Turkey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Though the text is challenging, it seems that its placement in Chronicles is to show the usage God made of the event. The property David purchased for offering for atonement for sin would become the site for Solomon’s building the temple! “Then David said, ‘Here shall be the house of the LORD God and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel'” (22:1).

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Odeion at Troy

April 1, 2016

Ancient Troy has been made famous by Homer’s Iliad. Troy is located within the province of Çanakkale, located in extreme western Turkey. Troy’s extensive remains are the most significant and substantial evidence of the first contact between the civilizations of Anatolia and the Mediterranean world. This past Spring, 2015, we were able to visit Troy. Among the fascinating ruins there was the Roman Odeion, a small theater where concerts, lectures and other events took place.

Roman Odeion at Troy, Turkey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Roman Odeion at Troy, Turkey. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The skene, stage building included a larger-than-life statue of the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138). Also, a sculpted head of Augustus was found at the odeion, causing some to surmise that this may have been erected in honor of his visit here in 20 BC. Beyond the odeion at the back you can see a portion of the fortification wall of Troia VI.

The Roman odeion is in Troy’s Level IX. Over the centuries there were nine levels of occupation.

Cross-section of Troy, showing 9 occupation levels. Istanbul Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Cross-section of Troy, showing 9 occupation levels. Istanbul Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin. 

Wikipedia has this helpful chart:

Troy I 3000–2600 BC (Western Anatolian EB 1)
Troy II 2600–2250 BC (Western Anatolian EB 2)
Troy III 2250–2100 BC (Western Anatolian EB 3 [early])
Troy IV 2100–1950 BC (Western Anatolian EB 3 [middle])
Troy V: 20th–18th centuries BC (Western Anatolian EB 3 [late])
Troy VI: 17th–15th centuries BC
Troy VIh: late Bronze Age, 14th century BC
Troy VIIa: c. 1300–1190 BC, most likely setting for Homer’s story
Troy VIIb1: 12th century BC
Troy VIIb2: 11th century BC
Troy VIIb3: until c. 950 BC
Troy VIII: c. 700–85 BC
Troy IX: 85 BC–c. AD 500

Biblical significance: It was here at Troy (Ilium) at the temple of Athena that Xerxes (Ahasuerus) of the book of Esther sacrificed 1,000 head of cattle en route on his march through the Hellespontine region towards Greece. This was 480 BC.

We have previously posted on Troy here.


Disciples Eat Grain on the Sabbath

December 11, 2015

Luke 6 records one of several clashes Jesus had with the Jewish leaders: “Now it happened that He was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath; and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grain. But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?'” (vv.1-2).

Lenski observes, “The time of this occurrence is certainly determined by the condition of the grain, which was ripe enough to be rubbed out ‘with the hands,’ dative of means, Robertson, 533. It was April, shortly after the Passover, a year before Jesus’ death” (The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, p. 321).

What Jesus disciples did was permitted by Scripture: “When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain” (Deut. 23:25). However the Pharisees had erroneously determined that this was working, and therefore in violation of the Sabbath.

Ripened Wheat. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Ripened Wheat. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Besides the fact that Mosaic Law actually permitted the disciples’ actions, Jesus showed the inconsistency of his opponents. They found no fault with David, even though when fleeing from Saul he and his men ate showbread from the tabernacle (Lk. 6:3-4). And yet they condemned the disciples, who were guiltless of wrongdoing.

Further: “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (v.5), and as such He knew what was right and wrong (re: the Sabbath and all things), and would not permit His disciples to violate the Sabbath. What was totally escaping Jesus’ opponents was the fact that “The Lord of the Sabbath” was in their midst and they did not see it! How sad!

Wheat_Carchemish_0447LMauldin

Fields of Wheat near Euphrates. Carchemish is in background. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

 


Assos, In the Steps of Paul

November 18, 2015

On Paul’s return trip on his 3rd Missionary Journey, after departing from Troas, he walked on to Assos and rejoined his traveling companions there. Today at noon (ETS meeting, ATL) Dr. Mark Wilson did a very informative presentation on that segment of Paul’s travel.

11 Now when he [Paul] had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. 12 And they brought the young man [Eutychus] in alive, and they were not a little comforted. 13 Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene (Acts 20:11-14).

At the acropolis of Assos there are some well-preserved ruins of the temple of Athena.

Assos, temple of Athena. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Assos, temple of Athena. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here is a view of the Acropolis:

Acropolis of Assos. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Acropolis of Assos. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

While the distance from Troas to Assos as the crow flies is about 20 miles, Dr. Wilson pointed out that the Roman road on which Paul would have traveled would have been about 31 miles, and would have taken two days.

Map by BibleAtlas.org.

Map by BibleAtlas.org.

Mark said that Assos was one of his top 10 favorite places in Turkey to visit. I have to agree!

I have a previous post on Assos here.


Troas of Biblical Asia Minor

May 12, 2015

In our previous post we referenced Acts 16:11, “So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis.” It was at Troas that Paul saw in a vision a man from Macedonia pleading and urging him to “come over and help us” (16:9). This was on the 2nd Missionary Journey. Today biblical Troas is in western Turkey.

Fant and Reddish have this to say about Troas:

Called Alexandria Troas to distinguish it from other cities named Alexandria, the city is often referred to simply as Troas. (“The Troad” is the name used for the area around the ancient city of Troy.) What was once a large and important city on the western coast of Asia Minor has today been reduced to a few ruins overgrown by trees and shrubs, receiving only a cursory visit from a small number of sightseers. (A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey)

Troas Sign. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Troas Sign. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

While they are correct regarding Troas’ history, Fant and Reddish are not exactly current as to “a few ruins.” When we had opportunity to visit Troas (Mar. 29, 2015), there was cloud cover and not the best lighting, but you can still see some of the recent excavations there.

Troas Excavations. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Troas Excavations. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

When Ferrell Jenkins and I were there in 2006 the Roman road which led down to the harbor was just then being uncovered. More has been excavated since then. It is thought that this is the road that Paul would have walked on to make use of the harbor down below.

Roman Road at Troas. Led down to the harbor below. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Roman Road at Troas. Led down to the harbor below. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Several fragments of Roman columns and other remains have been discovered.

Some of the remains discovered at Troas. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Some of the remains discovered at Troas. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

I love to travel in Turkey. While Fant and Reddish may be right about the “small number of sightseers” who visit here, I will assure you that it is a worthwhile stop for any who wish to enhance their understanding of Bible history and geography!

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Blue Mosque

April 4, 2015

My group arrived safely in Newark this afternoon from our Greece/Turkey study tour; it’s also good when everyone’s luggage also arrives. From there we traveled to our respective homes in Alabama, Missouri, Indiana and Florida.

Yesterday afternoon before returning to our rooms to pack up for our return, we visited  the Hagia Sofia and then the Blue Mosque.

At Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

At Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Blue Mosque is the historic Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Turkish: Sultan Ahmet Camii). It is popularly known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles which adorn the walls of the interior.
It was constructed from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. The complex contains a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice.

Photo looks upward at one of the minarets as we exited.


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