Monthly Archives: June 2008

Sunset over Edom

I ran across this beautiful sunset photo that I made from a hotel above Petra, Jordan, in 2006.

The oracle concerning Edom. One keeps calling to me from Seir, “Watchman, how far gone is the night? Watchman, how far gone is the night?” The watchman says, “Morning comes but also night. If you would inquire, inquire; Come back again.” (Isaiah 21:11-12)

There are some text critical issues with the term Edom in this verse, but I will leave that for you to work on. Keil and Delitzsch call attention to a comment by Luther that illustrates the certain judgment that would come upon ancient Edom, the descendants of Esau.

But what is the meaning? Luther seems to me to have hit upon it: “When the morning comes, it will still be night.”

The decline and fall of any nation ought to cause one to take a pause and think about it.

U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

Anyone interested in reaching citizens of America with the gospel of Christ should be interested in the Pew Forum report on the Religious Landscape Study. You may read a summary of the key findings here. You may download the 18 page report and/or the full report of 268 in PDF.

According to the report, among Evangelical churches 57% believe many religions can lead to eternal life. Eighty seven percent of mainline Protestant churches believe that. Not far behind 89% of Buddhists. The same view is held by 56% of Muslims in America.

Imagine Jesus saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). “At least that’s what I think 57% of the time.”

One interesting aspect of the report is the percent who see a conflict between religion and modern society. The total of all Americans is 40%. And 42% of these say their values are threatened by Hollywood. You might find the views on abortion and homosexuality surprising, too.

The summary concludes with two paragraphs on the effect of secularization.

The U.S. has largely avoided the secularizing trends that have reshaped the religious scene in recent decades in European and other economically developed nations – but not entirely. The
Landscape Survey documents, for example, that the number of Americans who are not affiliated with a religion has grown significantly in recent decades, with the number of people who today say they are unaffiliated with a religious tradition (16% of U.S. adults) more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with a religion as children (7%).

It remains to be seen how this trend toward secularization will ultimately impact religion in the U.S. But what is clear is that religion remains a powerful force in the private and public lives of most Americans, a fact amply illustrated by the findings of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey discussed in this report.

Will the buildings in which we meet one day stand in ruins (physically or spiritually) like this 550 A.D. building, called Basillica B, at Philippi? Read Acts 16 and Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.

Go read, and learn.

The Fascination of Egypt

Egypt has a grip on the imagination of each of us. We probably first learned something about it in our elementary school studies. We have seen it portrayed in movies and television programs.

Every Bible student has studied about Egypt in numerous contexts. Not only did the tribes of Israel grow into a nation while in Egyptian bondage, but we know of the following characters who visited Egypt: Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The prophets spoke much about the land of Egypt. Egypt is mentioned more than 600 times in the Bible.

This is a panoramic photo I made of the Pyramids of Giza in 2005. The pyramids, from left to right, are Mycerinus, Chephren, and Cheops. These structures were built about 2500 B.C. Some people have the mistaken idea that the Israelites in Egyptian bondage built the pyramids. You can see from the date that these pyramids were built about 1000 years before the Israelites did their building (Exodus 1:11).

LMLK jar handles

During the time of the Divided Kingdom, pottery jars with handles bearing the Hebrew letters LMLK seem to have been in common use. T. C. Mitchell comments briefly on these handles:

These handles of pottery jars which had been stamped before baking, with seals show symbols, either a four-winged scarab or a two-winged disc, with lmlk, ‘belonging to the king’ written above it in Hebrew script and a place-name below it. Over eight hundred of these stamped handles have been found at over twenty excavated sites in Palestine, nearly all in the territory to which Judah was confined by about 700 BC. (The Bible in the British Museum, page 55).

Tourists who have an interest in archaeology often pick up shards of pottery as they walk across various tells. It is not uncommon to locate a jar handle or the rim of a bowl. Recently a college student found a LMLK handle at Ramat Rahel, a site between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Several blogs have commented on it. Todd Bolen has a nice photo of the handle here. A newspaper article about the chance find is here.The LMLK web site has a report here.

This is a photo of a LMLK jar handle that I made in the British Museum. The handle was found at Lachish. The LMLK handles have the phrase LMLK (“belonging to the king”) and the name of one of the cities that served as a distribution center: HBRN (Hebron), ZP (Ziph), SWKH (Socoh), or MMST. This one has SWKH.

King Hezekiah built “storehouses…for the produce of grain, wine and oil” (2 Chronicles 32:28). Mitchell says that the LMLK vessels “would have been suitable for any of the three staples derived from the land, grain, wine or oil.”

A New, Smaller Bible Atlas

Carta's New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible

Carta’s New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible
Abridgment of The Sacred Bridge

by Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley
Carta, Jerusalem, 2007
280 pages + full color illustrations and maps, English. Cloth, 9 x 12 inches
ISBN: 9789652207036
List Price: $50.00. Your Price: $45.00

Several times we have mentioned the important of the Bible student having a good atlas. Check here. Two years ago Carta brought out The Sacred Bridge, by Rainey and Notley. The book is large, and the content is more than most students want or need. And the price was $100. In response to a request from many professors, the same authors have prepared Carta’s New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible. I have not seen this book, but I have been using the larger atlas, and I plan to get a copy of the abridged edition. Fortunately I was able to get The Sacred Bridge autographed by Rainey and Notley.

Eisenbrauns is the US distributor of Carta books and maps. A click on the title at the top will take you to their web page.

Ramoth in Gilead

Ramoth in Gilead (or Ramoth-gilead) was a town in Gilead that was included in the territory of the Israelite tribe of Gad in Transjordan (Joshua 20:8). It was one of the Levitical cities of refuge for the Israelites (Joshua 21:38). The most memorable associated with Ramoth-gilead recorded in the Bible is the battle with Aram (Syria) in which Ahab was killed (1 Kings 22). Elijah sent one of the sons of the prophets to Ramoth-gilead to anoint Jehu as king of Israel (2 Kings 9:1).

The identity of Ramoth-gilead is uncertain. Two sites are frequently mentioned by scholars: Tall ar-Rumeith and Ar-Ramtha.

Burton MacDonald, in East of the Jordan, says,

There is also archaeological support for choosing Tall ar-Rumeith, situated in the fertile plain area just to the southeast of the junction of the ‘Amman-Damascus and Irbid-Mafraq highways, as the location for Ramothgilead. (page 200)

Paul Lapp excavated at Tall ar-Rumeith in 1967. Little archaeological work has been done at Ar-Ramtha. I have not gone into the Jordanian city of Ramtha, but understand that the mound is covered by the town, thus making it difficult to conduct an excavation.

Here is a photo I made at Tall ar-Rumeith in 2002. It is not surprising to see camels here because the desert is near (to the east). From the top of the tell there is a great view looking north across a fertile plain to the border with Syria.

Earlier this year I went back to the site, but found that some modern housing has been built adjacent to the east side of the tell. It appears to be serving as housing for Indian students. I speculate that they attend a nearby university.

This photo shows a modern trench made to make a road to part of the construction site.

We found some pottery in the road, but can not be certain that it came from the damage to the tell. I did not see any shards along the edge of the cut.

This illustrates a real problem associated with ancient sites in isolated places. In a place like Jordan there are so many sites that it is impossible to excavate, preserve, and guard all of them.

A note on spelling. You may note different spellings of the word describing an archaeological mound. In Israel the term Tel is used. Earlier the term Tell was used throughout the Middle East. In Jordan the term Tall has come into common use.

There is also much variation in the spelling of some of the compound biblical names in scholarly sources, and even in English translation of the Bible. This is illustrated in this post and the previous one on Bethshan.

Bethshan – Bet She’an

Bethshan is mentioned only a few times in the Old Testament. The New American Standard Bible uses the following spellings for this town: Beth-shean; Beth-shan; Bethshan. Today the modern town and ancient site go by the name Bet-She’an. The site was important because of its location at a major junction of two valleys, the Jordan valley with the Jezreel valley. The tell, called Tell el-Husn or Tel Bet She’an, commands an impressive view of the area, including a great view of the land of Gilead.

Today I am preparing a class dealing with the account of the eastern tribes building an altar “in the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan” (Joshua 22:10). While looking for some photos to illustrate this episode in the history of Israel I thought of the view from the tell of Bethshan. We do not know the exact location, but this view provides a wonderful view of the land of Gilead (now in Jordan) which was given to Gad and Manasseh. You will observe trees below the tell. This is the where the River Harod flows, continuing down to the Jordan. You will notice ruins of a bridge that once crossed the river.