Monthly Archives: October 2008

A Judean seal in Assyrian style

There is so much archaeological work going on in Jerusalem today that we are not surprised about the announcement of another seal discovery.

An excavation at the Western Wall plaza has uncovered a seal in a building belonging to the seventh century B.C. This is the time when Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah ruled over the House of David in Jerusalem (2 Kings 20:21 – 2 Kings 21).

The seal is made of black stone and shows the image of an archer shooting a bow and arrow. The name in ancient Hebrew script reads LHGB (meaning for Hagab). Perhaps the most interesting thing about the seal is that it is decorated in Assyrian style. Here is what the Israel Antiquities Authority press release says about it.

The seal was sent for expert evaluation to Professor Benjamin Sass of the Tel Aviv University and Dr. Tali Ornan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. According to them the image of the archer was influenced by Assyrian wall reliefs in which archers are portrayed shooting bows and arrows – such as those that are known from the Lachish relief. The image of the archer appears in profile: he is standing in a firing position with his right foot in front of his left. His face is portrayed schematically but his body, his dress and especially the muscles of his arms and legs stand out prominently. He is barefoot. His attire includes a headband and a skirt that is wrapped around his hips. A quiver hangs from his back and its straps are drawn tightly across his exposed chest. He is holding a bow and arrow in his hands. His right hand is extended forward holding the bow while his left is pulled back grasping the arrow. The seal is quite unique since this is the first time that a private seal has been discovered that bears a Hebrew name and is decorated in the Assyrian style. The seal attests to the strong Assyrian influence that existed in Jerusalem in the seventh century BCE. It is usually assumed that the owner of private seals were individuals who held government positions. We can suggest that the owner of the seal – Hagab, who chose to portray himself as a Hebrew archer depicted in the Assyrian style – served in a senior military role in Judah.

The name Hagab is found among the list of Judean exiles who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and Judah in 536 B.C. (Ezra. 2:46). The text says that his sons returned. We have no way of knowing whether there is any connection between the Hagab named in the Bible and the one named on the seal. The actual size of the seal is .04 inches by .55 inches.

Clara Amit, IAA.

Seal of Hagab in Assyrian style.Photo: Clara Amit, IAA.

The photo below is one I made in the British Museum of the reliefs showing the siege of Lachish by the Assyrian King Sennacherib. It shows Assyrian archers behind shields with bows drawn and arrows ready to fly. This gives you an opportunity to see how the image on the seal compares with known images of Assyrian archers.

Assyrian archers at Lachish. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Assyrian archers at Lachish. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

David used the figure of the archers metaphorically to describe the wicked.

For, behold, the wicked bend the bow, They make ready their arrow upon the string To shoot in darkness at the upright in heart. (Psalm 11:2)

Copper smelting in 10th century B.C. Edom

Several sources are reporting the discovery of copper smelting operations in Jordan dating to the 10th century B.C. This is the time of Solomon. The discovery was made at a site called Khirbat en-Nahas about 30 mile south of the Dead Sea on the eastern side of the Arabah. The photo below is by Thomas Levy, UC San Diego.

Industrial copper slag mound at Khirbat en-Nahas. Photo Thomas Levy.

Industrial copper slag mound at Khirbat en-Nahas. Photo Thomas Levy.

This is the ancient territory of Edom. Scholars have known for 30 or more years that there was metalworking there in the 7th century B.C. Researchers, led by Professor Thomas E. Levy of the Department of Anthropology at UC San Diego, and Mohammad Najjar of Jordan’s Friends of Archaeology, dug deeper into the site to find evidence of smelting from the 9th and 10th century.

Naysayers who seem frightened that some modern archaeological discovery might “confirm” the biblical record are already at work. Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University is quoted as saying that the stories of the Old Testament “depict the concerns, theology and background of the time of the writers” which he says belong to the 5th century B.C. They cannot be accepted as factual according to Finkelstein.

From his study in Florida, Ferrell Jenkins said,

Instead of immediately linking a discovery such as this to a biblical character or event, would it not be better to think of the discovery in the terms of shedding light on the biblical record?

An Egyptian scarab from Tanis or the eastern delta and an amulet of the Egyptian goddess Mut caused Levy to suggest that these artifacts might be associated with the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq I. Pharaoh Sheshonq I is known as Shishak in the Bible. Here is a summary of the biblical references to Shishak.

  • Provided refuge to Jeroboam for a few years prior to the death of Solomon (1 Kings 11:40).
  • Invaded Israel (Canaan) in the fifth year of King Rehoboam (926 B.C.) and took away treasures from the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chronicles 12:2-9).

Shishak left a record of his invasion of Canaan on the walls of the temple of Amum at Karnak (modern Luxor, Egypt). Here is a photo of the relief at Karnak showing Shishak holding lines to the 156 Canaanite cities he claims to have captured.

Pharaoh Shishak I of Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pharaoh Shishak I of Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Bible says that Israel would be able to dig copper from the hills of the country to which they were going (Deuteronomy 8:9). See also Job 28:1-2.

We have known for some time that copper was smelted by the Egyptians at Timna, about 25 miles north of Eilat. Here is a photo showing a reconstruction of the process for copper smelting there in the 13-12th century B.C.

Model of copper smelting installation at Timna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Model of copper smelting installation at Timna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

More details about this discovery may be found at the following sites: UC San Diego News Center. At the Los Angeles Times there is a nice 12 minute video about the discovery narrated by Thomas Levy.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Update [later in the day]: Todd Bolen has added three great photos taken at Khirbat en-Nahas at his Bible Places Blog.

A look at two prodigal sons

Every Bible reader knows the story of the prodigal son. He became dissatisfied with things at home, asked his father for his part of the inheritance, and took off for a distant country. There he wasted his estate on wild living. See Luke 15 for details of the story.

I have often wondered if the young prodigal went away to the region of Decapolis. A city like Jerash doesn’t seem that far today, but we must remember that most people likely walked or used donkey transportation in those days. Jerash would provide a wonderful opportunity for a boy away from home for the first time to become involved in loose living. Most of the ruins at Jerash belong to the second century, but it is not difficult to imagine an impressive city there in the first century.

The forum at Jerash. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The forum at Jerash. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Another story worth considering has come to my attention. About 100 years ago Adolf Deissmann wrote Light From the Ancient East. He demonstrated how the Egyptian papyri illustrates New Testament teaching. In fact, he showed that the language of the New Testament was generally the koine (common) Greek of the day.

The papyrus about which Deissmann writes comes from the second century A.D. It tells of a young man named Antonius Longue from the village of Caranis in the Fayum of Egypt. He quarreled with his mother, left home, engaged in loose living, and running up debts.

Eventually Antonius learns that his mother has come to town to search for him. He writes her to plead for reconciliation. One must still question his character, for he hints that his mother might pay his debts. In his letter written to his mother he says,

I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled to me! I know that I have sinned.

Deissmann comments on the value of an account like this in the study of the New Testament.

There can be no doubt that this letter is one of the most interesting human documents that have come to light among the papyri. This priceless fragment, rent like the soul of its writer, comes to us as a remarkably good illustration of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11 ff.).

He also points out that the term reconciled is the same one used in the New Testament in texts like Matthew 5:23-24.

If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (NASB)

The Bosporus

I think on all of my tours to Istanbul we have included and enjoyed a boat ride along the Bosporus (Bosphorus), vital waterway linking the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. The Asian side was known as Bythinia in Roman times. Peter addressed his epistles to the saints in various parts of modern Turkey (1 Peter 1:1).

Today there is an interesting article in The New York Times about a boat ride on the Bosporus. I suggest you check this quickly if you are interested. I don’t know how long these links remain active. Click here.

Here is one of the many beautiful photos I have made during a boat ride on the Bosporus.

A view along the Bosphorus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view along the Bosphorus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mohammed Ali Mosque in Cairo

Mohammed (or Mohammad) Ali Alabaster Mosque in Cairo. No, not the boxer. He took the same name. Mohammed Ali was an Albanian who played a prominent role in the history of Egypt during the 19th century. He brought numerous reforms to Egypt and his influence continued until the middle of the 20th century.

Mohammed Ali Alabaster Mosque in Cairo. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mohammed Ali Alabaster Mosque in Cairo. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

My first visit here was in 1967. I vividly recall sitting on the floor of the mosque with the others of my group listening to our guide, Ahmad, explain about the history of the mosque and answering any questions we had about the Muslim religion. Someone asked him if one was free to be a Christian in Egypt. He said, “Yes, if you are born a Christian you are free to be a Christian.” He went on to say that one would not make a change of religion unless there was some bad motive involved.

In many countries the preaching of the gospel of Christ is not freely allowed. The very nature of the gospel assumes that one must make a change in order to be acceptable to God. Jesus makes this clear in his discussion with the Jewish leader Nicodemus. A spiritual birth is necessary for one to become a Christian.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5 NET)

Temples along the Nile River

The temple of the sun god Horus at Edfu. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The temple of the sun god Horus at Edfu. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Edfu Temple. This is the temple of the sun god Horus who is represented by a falcon. The temple was begun by Ptolemy III in 237 B.C. and completed by 57 B.C. Ptolemy is portrayed repeatedly on the temple walls.

The Ptolemies were generally favorable to the Jews, whereas the Seleucids of Syria treated them unkindly during the period between the testaments. Ptolemy and Seleucus were generals of Alexander the Great who succeeded him in these area.

Interested in ancient Roman history?

I just ran across a website maintained by Jona Lendering that is meant to keep people updated about the websites LacusCurtius (maintained by Bill Thayer in Chicago) and Livius.Org.

The page that caught my attention has links to some photos of ancient Syracuse. Check here.

Paul and Luke stayed in Syracuse, Sicily, for three days on the voyage to Rome.

Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. (Acts 28.12 ESV)

Syracuse is on my want list.