Monthly Archives: April 2009

Shebna – Presumptuous Steward

The May/June issue of Biblical Archaeology Review carries an article by Robert Deutsch about how an artifact bought on the antiquities market helped to solve a 42-year-old excavation puzzle.

Back in 1870 Charles Clermont-Ganneau excavated a tomb on a cliff overlooking the Kidron Valley in Silwan, but he was unable to read the inscription over the tomb. He cut the inscription from the rock and sent it to the British Museum.

In 1953 Nahman Avigad translated the inscription:

This is [the sepulcher of...] -yahu who is over the house. There is no silver and gold here but [his bones] and the bones of his slave-wife with him. Cursed be the man who will open this.

Numerous scholars have identified this Shebna with the person by the same name who was the secretary and head steward of King Hezekiah. This was the view taken by Avigad in 1953.

Inscription from the tomb of Shebna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the British Museum.

Inscription from the tomb of Shebna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the British Museum.

The LORD spoke out against the arrogance of Shebna through the prophet Isaiah.

Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: What have you to do here, and whom have you here, that you have cut out here a tomb for yourself, you who cut out a tomb on the height and carve a dwelling for yourself in the rock? (Isaiah 22:15-16 ESV)

Avigad says that Shebna’s sepulcher “stands in the midst of the necropolis where persons of rank and high distinction were laid to rest” (Israel Exploration Journal 3 (1953): 152)

Deutsch picks up on this discovery and continues with the saga of a bulla [impression of a seal] found at Lachish in the 1960s. One of the small pieces of clay had the name of Shebnayahu on it. The bulla was broken and the archaeologists were uncertain whether one of the words read son of the king or servant of the king.

Deutsch says,

The puzzle remained unsolved for 42 years. Aharoni has long since passed away. Then in 2007, another bulla stamped with the same seal surfaced on the Jerusalem antiquities market. A simple examination leaves no doubt that it is an impression of the same seal as the Lachish bulla. It, too, is broken off at the right edge. But on this bulla, part of an additional letter to the right of ha-melekh, “the king,” has survived: a dalet! The word before ha-melekh ended in a dalet. The word was eved, “servant.” The seal that made this impression belonged to “the servant of the king”!

You may read Deutsch’s full article with photos and drawings online here.

Churning produces butter

One of the new things I noticed in a visit to Petra last year was the Bedouin actors demonstrating various aspects of daily life. Many of these customs are similar to those we read about in the Bible. This photo shows a man using an animal skin as a churn.

Using an animal skin for producing butter. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Using an animal skin for producing butter. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The writer of Proverbs speaks of churning in giving advice about those who stir up strife.

If you have been foolish in exalting yourself Or if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth. For the churning of milk produces butter, And pressing the nose brings forth blood; So the churning of anger produces strife. (Proverbs 30:32-33 NAS)

When the three men came to the Patriarch Abraham to announce the birth of Isaac, Abraham showed hospitality to them. He provided water so they could wash their feet. He told Sarah to prepare bread. He took a young calf from the herd and had the servants prepare it. Then the text says,

He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate. (Genesis 18:8 NAS)

Read Genesis 18 for the complete account.

The carpenter in New Testament times

Jesus is called a carpenter in Mark 6:3. In Matthew’s account He is called the carpenter’s son. The study note in the NET Bible suggests that this was probably a derogatory term. Those who used the term thought of Him as “a common laborer like themselves.”

Lane says the term carpenter (Greek tekton) “commonly designates a worker in any hard material: wood, metal or stone, and so comes to mean a builder.”

Louw-Nida says,

There is every reason to believe that in biblical times one who was regarded as a tekton would be skilled in the use of wood and stone and possibly even metal.

A carpenter’s shop is exhibited at Nazareth Village. It is correct in showing tools for stone cutting as well as wood working.

Carpenter shop at The Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Carpenter shop at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A place called Fair Havens

Last year I wrote here about a visit to Fair Havens on the island of Crete. I have been thinking about the rugged beauty of that place and decided to share a different photo with you. This one emphasizes the mountains surrounding the harbor of Fair Havens. The white Greek Orthodox chapel adds to the beauty of the area today.

Mountains surrounding Fair Havens in Crete. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mountains surrounding Fair Havens in Crete. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Crete is associated with Paul’s voyage to Rome. The biblical account is found in Acts 27:7-15. Note verses 7 and 8.

When we had sailed slowly for a good many days, and with difficulty had arrived off Cnidus, since the wind did not permit us to go farther, we sailed under the shelter of Crete, off Salmone; and with difficulty sailing past it we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

The ship sailed under the shelter of Crete and came to Kali Limenes (Fair Havens) near the city of Lasea. Because Fair Havens was not a suitable harbor for wintering, the pilot and captain of the ship decided to sail on in hopes of reaching “Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest,” and spend the winter there. Because of a severe wind, called Euraquilo, which came down from the land, they were driven by the wind and eventually wrecked on the island of Malta.

The Nile canals

The prophet Ezekiel  foretold the fall of Egypt at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Ezekiel 30:10). Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Neco at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C.

The prophet said,

“Moreover, I will make the Nile canals dry And sell the land into the hands of evil men. And I will make the land desolate And all that is in it, By the hand of strangers; I the LORD have spoken.” (Ezekiel 30:12 NAS)

Over a period of time the branches of the Nile in Lower Egypt (the Nile Delta) dried up. The course of the Pelusiac branch is known, but much of it is replaced by a canal running northeast from the area of Cairo to the Suez Canal.

This photo shows a man fishing with a net in the Pelusiac branch which runs through the biblical land of Goshen (Genesis 45:10).

Fishing in the Pelusiac Branch of the Nile. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fishing in the Pelusiac Branch of the Nile. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A land of fig trees

The land promised to the descendants of Abraham is described in Deuteronomy 8:8 as,

a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey.

Figs at the Temple Mount excavation. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Figs at the Temple Mount excavation. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Figs were important because they could be eaten when ripe, or prepared as fig cakes and eaten later. In the account of David avenging the destruction of Ziklag, an Egyptian was found in the field and brought to David. He was given bread and water. The text says,

They gave him a piece of fig cake and two clusters of raisins, and he ate; then his spirit revived. For he had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights. (1 Samuel 30:12 NAS)

I am not sure how the fig cakes were prepared and preserved. Today it is common to see dried figs in Israel. The photo shows dried figs purchased in the Palestinian Authority territory at Jericho.

Dried figs from Jericho. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dried figs from Jericho. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

They were fishermen

The first disciples called by Jesus were fishermen. In the previous post we indicated the significance of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. The best time to see fishermen on the Sea is early in the morning. The photo below was made early one morning where the Jordan River exits from the Sea of Galilee. These fishermen have been fishing with nets and have brought in a nice catch.

Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee bringing in the catch. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fishermen on the Sea of Galilee bringing in the catch. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This reminds us of the call Jesus gave to the disciples one day in ancient Galilee.

Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:18-20 NAS)

Taxes the easy way

Working on tax return preparation for the past two days got me to thinking about this episode from the ministry of Jesus:

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:24-27 ESV).

Fishing is still important on the Sea of Galilee. Our groups usually have at least one meal of the famous St. Peter’s Fish when we are in the Galilee.

A fish from the Sea of Galilee with a coin in its mouth. Photo by F.Jenkins.

A fish from the Sea of Galilee with a coin in its mouth. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mendel Nun spent more than 50 years fishing the Sea of Galilee. He became an expert in the history of fishing on the Sea.  His article, “Cast Your Net Upon the Waters: Fish and fishermen in Jesus’ Time” (Biblical Archaeology Review, 19:06), includes information on this episode. Because this is a lengthy quotation I will leave it full width for easier reading.

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The musht is the only large fish in the lake that moves in shoals, which of course is a key to the identification of the fish in the story in Luke, although not the only one.

The flat shape of the musht makes it especially suitable for frying. The skeleton consists of an easily detachable backbone and relatively few small bones, and thus it is easy to eat. It has long been known as St. Peter’s fish. Recently, it has even been exported under this name. But, alas, the name is a misnomer.

Presumably the fish got its name because of an incident recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 17:24–27). In this episode, the tax collectors come to Capernaum to collect the half-shekel Temple tax that each Jew was required to pay annually. Jesus tells Peter, “Go to the sea and cast a hook, and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel; take that and give it to them for me and yourself.”

The musht was probably given the name St. Peter’s fish because of this miracle. However, this cannot have been the fish Peter caught with a hook and line. The reason is simple: Musht feeds on plankton and is not attracted by other food. It is therefore caught with nets, and not with hook and line. The fishermen on the lake have, since time immemorial, used a hook baited with sardine to fish for barbels, which are predators and bottom feeders. Peter almost surely caught a barbel. There can be only one explanation for the confusing change of name. It was good for tourism! The Sea of Galilee has always attracted pilgrims; musht (today raised mostly in ponds) is part of the unique local cuisine. It is delicious, especially when freshly fried. In ancient times, just as today, the fishing boats delivered their catch to the eating places on shore. Indeed, the proverbial metaphor for speed in the Talmud is “as from the sea into the frying pan.” This expression was part of daily speech in Tiberias and clearly refers to musht and not barbels; the latter are best when boiled.

The first Christians were local people and were therefore familiar with the various fish. They of course knew that the fish Peter caught could only have been a barbel and not a musht. However, as pilgrims began to come from distant regions, it no doubt seemed good for business to give the name “St. Peter’s fish” to the musht being served by the early lakeside eating houses. The most popular and easily prepared fish acquired the most marketable name! But even if Peter did not catch a musht, he deserves to have his name associated with the best fish in the lake.

The empty tomb

The women who came to the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week found the stone rolled away from the tomb. When they entered the tomb the body was not there (Luke 24:1-3).

The two men (Matthew says angel) said,

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:6-7 ESV)

Several tombs of the type in which Jesus was buried have survived the centuries. This one was discovered during road construction a few years ago near Mount Carmel.

A Roman Period tomb with a rolling stone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A Roman Period tomb with a rolling stone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The women told the apostles what happened when they went to the tomb.

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:1-2 ESV)

The Gospel of John records the reaction of Peter and the other disciple [John]:

3 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4 Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes. (John 20:1-10 ESV)

I asked Frank and Norm, two living disciples, to stoop and look into an empty tomb much the way Peter and John did on that first day of the week.

Two disciples look into an empty tomb. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Two disciples look into an empty tomb. Photo by F. Jenkins.

The tomb of Jesus

The New Testament describes the tomb and burial of Jesus:

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61 ESV)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre likely contains the empty tomb of Jesus. Since 1810 the tomb has been covered by a monument that hides the original appearance of the tomb. In fact, even in the 4th century Constantine changed the natural appearance of the area by cutting away some of the natural stone.

The tomb is similar to other tombs from the first century. This one is small, but that would be consistent with the fact that it was the personal tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The museum of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in the Old City has a model of the tomb showing a side view. From right to left one enters the tomb when the rolling stone is moved away. The first room serves as a vestibule. The second room contains a bench or shelf cut into the rock. This was called the arcosolium. The wrapped body would be placed on this bench.

Model of the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Model of the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Believers appreciate the loving care Joseph gave the body of Jesus.