Monthly Archives: October 2011

Saint Catherine’s Monastery

The Monastery of St. Catherine is located at an altitude of about 4925 feet in the Wadi el-Deir at the foot of Gebel Musa. Tradition identifies this as the site where Moses tended the flocks of Jethro and saw the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-4:17). The Monastery was built near the middle of the sixth century A.D. during the reign of the emperor Justinian. It is dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria and is the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the Christian world. Through the centuries many monks have lived there; today it houses fewer than a dozen Greek Orthodox monks. The monastery became a great center of over 3000 old manuscripts and over 2000 icons. Only the Vatican library has more manuscripts.

Here is a new photo of the Monastery that I made in January.

View of St. Catherine's Monastery. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2011.

View of St. Catherine's Monastery. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2011.

The bedouin who work at the Monastery are called Jabaliye (Arabic for People of the Mountain).

“According to their tradition they are descendants of Christian slaves who were brought here by Emperor Justinian from Wallachia, today Rumania [Romania], as builders of the monastery and later its guards. In the course of time, when Sinai came under strict Moslem rule they were compelled to embrace Islam” (Vilnay, The Guide to Israel, 564).

There is a mosque within the monastery walls.

The rock of Van in Eastern Turkey

Paul Zimansky, in an article on Rusa II, the seventh century B.C. king of Urartu, describes the extent of the territory:

“The kingdom that Rusa controlled in the second quarter of the seventh century BCE stretched across the mountainous terrain of eastern Anatolia approximately eight hundred miles from east to west and five hundred from north to south” (“An Urartian Ozymandias,” Biblical Archaeologist, June, 1995, 94).

Dr. Oktay Belli says the name Urartu is not an ethnic term but a geographical one meaning “mountainous terrain” (The Capital of Urartu: Van, 20). Prior to the Urartians, this region was the home of the Hurrians.

There is a small museum in Van (unless enlarged since my last visit). Many inscriptions in the cuneiform language which the Urartians borrowed from the Assyrians are displayed. There were several pieces of gold jewelry and works of bronze on exhibit.

Urartian Ivory. British Museum.

Urartian Ivory. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The British Museum displays some Urartian pottery and ivories. The sign under this ivory piece reads,

Ivory objects were prized luxury items throughout the Near East. Some were made in Urartu and elephant tusks are listed by the Assyrians as booty from Urartian temples and palaces.

The photo below shows the castle or rock of Van. It is the site of Tushpa, an ancient city of the Urartians.

The Rock of Van, ancient Tushpa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Rock of Van, ancient Tushpa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tushpa, the ancient city of the Urartians, was built on this rock, which provides a commanding view over the lake, and at the base of the rock. At the beginning of the 20th century the city of Van was built over the ancient ruins, but was destroyed by the Russians in 1916. The area now is nothing more than a grassy knoll. On the side of the rock and at the top there are inscriptions, the tombs of eighth and ninth century B.C. Urartian kings, and ruins of a temple. A short distance from Van is another site called Toprakkale which marks the Urartian fortress of Rusahinili.

We know that the Assyrians were a threat to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah for about two hundred years. It is impressive to know that they also maintained an active engagement with the kingdom of Urartu closer to home. The distance from Nineveh to Tushpa on Lake Van is about 150 miles in a straight line. Think much further by mountainous road.

Sunset on Lake Van in Eastern Turkey

Lake Van in eastern Turkey is a large inland body of water of about 1400 square miles at an elevation of 5737 feet. The lake is fed by a number of rivers and is highly alkaline. It is said that folks sometimes wash their clothes in the lake. Along the south side of the lake the elevation reaches 7324 feet at one point.

Sunset on Lake Van. Photo made June 5, 2007 by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sunset on Lake Van. Photo made June 5, 2007 by Ferrell Jenkins.

In Assyrian records this area was called Urartu. In the Bible it is called Ararat. The English term Ararat is a transliteration of the Hebrew term. The four references where the term appears are Genesis 8:4, 2 Kings 19:37 = Isaiah 37:38, and Jeremiah 51:27. The King James version uses the term Armenia in 2 Kings 19:37 and Isaiah 37:38 because that is what the territory was later called. The Septuagint uses Armenia only in Isaiah 37:38.

The ark of Noah is said to have “rested upon the mountains of Ararat” (Gen. 8:4). Note that it does not say “Mount Ararat” but the “mountains of Ararat.” The assassins of Sennacherib, after killing the king of Assyria at Nineveh in 681 B.C., escaped into “the land of Ararat” (2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38). Jeremiah called upon the kingdom of Ararat to fight against Babylon (Jeremiah 51:27).

Quake survivors plead for tents

With the death toll approaching 300 in Eastern Turkey, a headline from MSNBC says, “Turkish quake survivors plead for tents.” It is easy to locate photos of tent cities set up in the area of the earthquakes. Such is often true even for those whose houses were not destroyed. The fear of after shocks cause people to leave their houses.

One of the first questions we should ask in Bible study is “What did this text mean to the original readers?” Until we know the answer to that question we should not try making applications of our own. Sometimes we fail to understand a text because we do not understand the customs and conditions of the time in which the text was written.

The letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation are especially filled with local allusions to things common in that time and place. The saints at Philadelphia were told that the one who overcomes (conquers) would be made a pillar in the temple of God. Notice the next phrase: “Never shall he go out of it.”

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (Revelation 3:12 ESV)

Philadelphia was especially noted for volcanoes and earthquakes. We discussed this earlier here. Pillars crumble during earthquakes and people leave their houses to live in tents. The promise in this text is that the one who overcomes will become a pillar in the temple of God and “never shall he go out of it.” This was a wonderful promise to those saints who had suffered from earthquakes on several occasions.

The photo below illustrates the effect of an earthquake on the pillars of temples and other buildings. It was made at Bethshan (Beth-shean) where an earthquake hit the city in 749 A.D.

Columns broken by earthquake at Bethshan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Columns broken by earthquake at Bethshan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Earthquake shakes Eastern Turkey — the Land of Ararat

Early Sunday morning we learned that a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit eastern Turkey around Lake Van. Today this region is occupied mostly by Kurds, but in biblical times it was known as the land of Urartia or Ararat. The region was the area where Noah’s ark is said to have rested after the flood.

and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. (Genesis 8:4 ESV)

After the sons of Assyrian king Sennacherib killed him at Nineveh, they escaped to the land of Ararat (2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38).

The kingdom of Ararat was called to participate in the overthrow of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:27).

Several times we have written about earthquakes in the Bible, and specifically earthquakes in the eastern portion of Turkey. See here and here. We wrote about the planning done by local people for earthquakes here.

Below is another photo made in June, 2007, on the road from Van to Batman. The wooden beams you see in the wall are placed there to help absorb the shock from earthquakes.

Preparing for earthquakes in Eastern Turkey between Van and Batman. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2007.

Preparing for earthquakes in Eastern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 2007.

The only photos of yesterday’s earthquake damage that I have seen has been from the cities where the buildings are made of concrete. I wonder how well these country folk have fared in this earthquake.

Making your enemies your footstool

A common motif found in Ancient Near East reliefs shows a monarch placing his foot on his enemy. One illustration of this is the large relief showing the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III (reigned 745-727 B.C.) with his foot on the neck of an enemy. Tiglath-Pileser III is known as Pul in the Bible.

Pul king of Assyria invaded the land, and Menahem paid him a thousand talents of silver to gain his support and to solidify his control of the kingdom. (2 Kings 15:19 NET)

So the God of Israel stirred up King Pul of Assyria (that is, King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria), and he carried away the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh and took them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river of Gozan, where they remain to this very day. (1 Chronicles 5:26 NET)

The Assyrian relief below is displayed in the British Museum.

Tiglath-Pileser III Subjugates an Enemy. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tiglath-Pileser III Subjugates an Enemy. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is a closeup of what we are seeking to illustrate.

Tiglath-Pileser III Puts His Foot on Neck of Enemy. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tiglath-Pileser III Puts His Foot on the Neck of an Enemy. BM. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Several biblical passages come to mind in this connection.

When they brought the kings out to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the commanders of the troops who accompanied him, “Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.” So they came up and put their feet on their necks. (Joshua 10:24 NET)

Here is the LORD’s proclamation to my lord: “Sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!” (Psalm 110:1 NET)

Peter quotes Psalm 110:1 to show that Jesus is now seated on the throne of David at the right hand of God (Acts 2:35).

And Paul says,

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Corinthians 15:25 NET)

The last enemy is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Not much remains at Capernaum

Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, played a significant role in the ministry of Jesus. The town became the Galilean center for the ministry of Jesus.

And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, (Matthew 4:13 ESV)

The aerial photo below was made on approach to Capernaum from the east. The site most visited by tourists may be seen left of the center of the photo. You may recognize the new church and the ruins of the synagogue. This property is owned by the Franciscans. To the right you will see the Greek Orthodox Church and the property they own. Evidence of some excavations may be seen.

There is not much remaining of ancient Capernaum. This is not surprising in light of the pronouncement of Jesus.

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. (Matthew 11:23 ESV)

Aerial View of Capernaum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial View of Capernaum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.