Category Archives: Bible Lands

Visualizing Isaiah 35: the desert shall rejoice

Isaiah prophesies the return of the redeemed to Zion, a promise that would be fulfilled with the return from the Babylonian exile. The illustration is one that would be vivid to those who lived on the ridge above the wilderness of Judah.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. (Isaiah 35:1-2 ESV)

Our aerial view  was made toward the east from a location a few miles south of Jerusalem. In the distance you will see the Dead Sea and the Transjordan plateau. At this point it is the Biblical land of Moab.

Aerial view east across the wilderness of Judah and the Dead Sea to the Transjordan Plateau. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view east across the wilderness of Judah and the Dead Sea to the Transjordan Plateau. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For illustrations of the streams in the desert, see here (Isaiah 35:5-7).

Saffron Crocus. The Illustrated Bible Treasury.

Saffron Crocus. The Illustrated Bible Treasury.

When I first began to travel, during the early days of the State of Israel, it was rather common for tour operators to include a phrase such as “See the desert blossom as a rose” in the tour brochure. The word rose came from the King James Version of Isaiah 35:1. The Hebrew term here is chabatstseleth. BDB defines it as a “meadow-saffron or crocus.”

Identifying plants and animals of Bible times is not easy. One common mistake is to find a plant of a certain name in our local language and identify it with one we read about in the Bible.

The point is rather simple. Places that were dry and barren would become watered and beautiful with the return of the redeemed.

 

Visualizing Isaiah 34: Judgment upon Edom

The judgment upon Edom is mentioned prominently in chapter 34 (verses 5, 6, 9; cf. the city of Bozrah, v. 6).

The most prominent place today within the ancient territory of Edom is Petra. Most people visit Petra to see the sculpted structures of the Nabateans. But the Nabateans came much later. The area was originally settled by the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob (Israel).

Our first photo, showing the desolate nature of the area, was made from a higher spot where several tourist hotels are located. To the right of center you will be able to see the parking lot and some of the buildings associated with the operation of the national park of Petra.

Petra is located within this ancient territory of Edom. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Petra is located within this ancient territory of Edom. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our next photo was made inside Petra, but our attention is drawn to the large, high, steep-sided, flattop mountain named Umm el-Biyarah. From this vantage the ancient Edomites felt impregnable.

Umm el-Biyarah, the ancient stronghold of Esau. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Umm el-Biyarah, the ancient stronghold of Esau. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For those who wish to see a more comprehensive discussion about Edom, I call your attention to the succinct discussion by J. Alec Motyer in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries.

Edom is presented as a case in point. Even though Esau himself had no capacity for sustained animosity (Gen. 33:4–16), it was with him that relations with Jacob were soured (Gen. 27:41) and by the time of Numbers 20:14–21 hostility had become an established pattern. Saul made war on Edom (1 Sam. 14:47). David became the only king to subdue and annex Edom (2 Sam. 8:14; cf. 1 Kgs 11:15–16). Edom rebelled against Solomon (1 Kgs 11:1–17, 23–25) and was still rebelling a century later (2 Kgs 8:20). Fifty years further on, there was still fighting (2 Kgs 14:7, 10), and at the fall of Jerusalem the bitter hostility of Edom became notorious (Ps. 137:7; Obad. 10–14). Consequently Amos’ accusation (1:11) of perpetual hatred is well founded. Jeremiah 49:7–22 shows that, even prior to Edom’s behaviour at Jerusalem’s fall, the idea of judgment on Edom was part of the prophetic worldview. Obadiah saw Edom as both a place and a symbol: meriting judgment in its own right but also picturing the judgment which would mark the Day of the Lord. He was not innovating: in Psalms 60:8; 83:6, Edom had already a symbolic place in the theme of hostility to Zion. Two factors make Edom specially fit to stand as a motif for the whole world in the final judgment: first, its ceaseless hostility to the Lord’s people, and secondly the fact that it was only to David that it ever really succumbed. Thus Ezekiel, foreseeing the coming David (34:23), moves immediately to the conquest of Edom (35:1–15). Isaiah stands in this same tradition by following his forecast of the King (ch. 33) with the rout of Edom in the final judgment (cf. 11:14; 63:1–6). Recollecting 29:22 and the establishing of the family of Jacob, the overthrow of Edom/Esau makes the End the exact fulfilment of the beginning (Gen. 25:23). The purposes of God according to election stand.

Visualizing Isaiah 33: Lebanon, Sharon, Bashan and Golan

The fruitful land, the Lebanon range, the plain of Sharon, and the regions of Bashan and Carmel are used by Isaiah to describe what happens in Israel due to the Assyrian invasion.

Behold, their heroes cry in the streets; the envoys of peace weep bitterly. The highways lie waste; the traveler ceases. Covenants are broken; cities are despised; there is no regard for man. The land mourns and languishes; Lebanon is confounded and withers away; Sharon is like a desert, and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves. (Isaiah 33:7-9 ESV; see similar language in 2:13)

Oaks in Bashan (Golan Heights). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Oaks in Bashan (Golan Heights). There is a nice stand of oaks east of Highway 98, south of Mas’ada near the border with Syria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Homer Hailey comments on this text,

The language is figurative, suggesting that the land reflects the spirit of the people whom the invaders are overrunning and devastating. Four ordinarily flourishing sections of the country are described: Lebanon, the mountain range to the north, noted for its majestic beauty and mighty cedar and fir trees, is confounded and withereth away; Sharon, the verdant and flower-rich plain extending south from Carmel until it melts into the Shephelah of western Judea, is like a desert; and Bashan, extending northwest from the Sea of Galilee, noted for its oak groves and rich grazing land, and Carmel, the verdant mountains or hill that juts into the Mediterranean Sea, shake off their leaves, so that the trees are bare. The picture is one of dejection, of both people and land (A Commentary on Isaiah With Emphasis on the Messianic Hope, 280).

When the redeemed return to Zion these once glorious and verdant regions shall once again be majestic.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. (Isaiah 35:1-2 ESV)

Mount Carmel near Murakah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mount Carmel near Murakah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

For our most recent comments on the Cedars of Lebanon, see here.

Good reading for the weekend

Noah

There has been much discussion in the past few weeks about the Noah movie. In last Saturday’s roundup, Todd Bolen called attention to the blog of Dr. Brian Mattson. In a post entitled “Sympathy for the Devil” Mattson comments about the movie. He reminds us of the following important point: The Bible is not the text for this movie. Several writers, and speakers, have pointed out that about the only things in common between the Noah movie and the Noah/Flood story of the Bible are a man named Noah, an ark, and water.

Mattson claims and documents the philosophical background of the director of the movie in Gnosticism and Kabbalah. I am certain that many people will see the movie and have no awareness of that, just as many ready Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, and John’s epistles without understanding how they are responding to early Gnostic doctrines.

Here is the link to Mattson’s articles:

The Wife of Jesus, again.

It is almost Easter, so we can expect a rerun on various strange views about Jesus. I first called attention to this speculation about the wife of Jesus back in September, 2012, here. Todd Bolen recently commented on the same material that is now getting new attention. Here, he provides links to the article in the New York Times, and the Harvard Theological Review article by Dr. Karen King (available for download). The Times of Israel article is available here.

Papyrus fragment possibly claiming that Jesus has a wife. Photo: Harvard University, Dr. Karen L. King.

The GJW (Gospel of Jesus Wife) papyrus fragment possibly claiming that Jesus had a wife. Photo: Harvard University, Dr. Karen L. King.

Bolen summarizes the pertinent material, showing that the document tells us nothing about 1st century events:

An initial radiocarbon analysis dated the fragment to 404–209 BC; a second analysis gave a mean date of AD 741. King concludes with a date in the 7th or 8th centuries AD. As far as being a reliable witness to 1st century events, it is not. The author notes that the fragment should be studied in light of the Muslim view that prophets were usually married.

In King’s reading, “The main point of the GJW (Gospel of Jesus Wife) fragment is simply to affirm that women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.”

Larry Hurtado has written three posts about the papyrus document. Begin here and then scroll back for the other two.

Wild Boar at Caesarea Philippi

Carl Rasmussen’s recent Israel student group encountered a herd of about 15 wild boar at Caesarea Philippi. He provides some nice photos to back up his claim, and discusses the various Biblical references about swine. Access the HolyLandPhotos’ Blog here.

Using Google Books

Rob Bradshaw is making many books and journals available in PDF format. I check his BiblicalStudies.org.uk site regularly for materials that might be helpful in my study. Recently he called attention to a short video by Tim Bulkeley on how to access Bible commentaries without a library. The helpful, brief video is here.

 

 

 

 

Visualizing Isaiah 28: the threshing sledge

Toward the end of Isaiah 28 several agricultural illustrations are used. Notice the references to the threshing sledge in verses 27 and 28.

Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin, but dill is beaten out with a stick, and cumin with a rod. Does one crush grain for bread? No, he does not thresh it forever; when he drives his cart wheel over it with his horses, he does not crush it. (Isaiah 28:27-28 ESV)

A threshing sledge was made of wood with sharp stones placed in the bottom. The sledge was pulled around and around over stalks of wheat or barley to cut the stalks into small pieces. The sledge was pulled by oxen or another animal. A young man, with perhaps some weights would be placed on top of the sledge to make it more efficient. The photo below shows an antique threshing sledge at Aphrodisias, Turkey.

Threshing sledge with most of cutting stones gone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Threshing sledge with most of cutting stones gone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows another sledge with many of the stones still in place. Every time the sledge went over the grain the pieces became smaller.

A threshing sledge with most of the cutting stones gone. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A threshing sledge with many of the cutting stones in place. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The entire process of threshing, winnowing, and sifting, is shown in the art by Balage at Archaeology Illustrated.

Araunah's threshing floor. Art by Balage, Archaeology Illustrated.

Araunah’s threshing floor. Art by Balage, Archaeology Illustrated.

 

Visualizing Isaiah 27: women make a fire of dry boughs

The judgment upon Israel will become severe before the redemption comes. Here is one illustration of the bad conditions.

For the fortified city is solitary, a habitation deserted and forsaken, like the wilderness; there the calf grazes; there it lies down and strips its branches. When its boughs are dry, they are broken; women come and make a fire of them. For this is a people without discernment; therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them; he who formed them will show them no favor. (Isaiah 27:10-11 ESV)

Our photos were made at Haran, the home of Abraham and his family before they departed for the promised land (Genesis 11:31 – 12:5). Haran is a few miles north of the Syrian border in Southeastern Turkey. The beehive mud houses have been in use here for several hundred years. The first photo shows a woman bringing in dry branches to her house to use for building fires.

Woman carrying dry boughs at Haran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Woman carrying dry boughs at Haran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

And the photo here shows a large supply of dried boughs and a large stack of dung cakes which will be used to make fires for cooking and heating.

Dry boughs gathered for fire at Haran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dry boughs gathered for fire at Haran. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

 

Visualizing Isaiah 25: “on this mountain”

Isaiah continues the apocalyptic description of the judgment of the LORD and the return from captivity. The city that will be destroyed by the Babylonians will become a place of great feasting for all nations.

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.(Isaiah 25:6 ESV)

Early in the book Isaiah has informed us that “the mountain of the LORD” would become a place for blessing all men through the word which would go forth from Jerusalem.

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV)

Jerusalem is not directly on the top of the central mountain range that runs from the north to the south in the land of Canaan/Israel. It is situated on the eastern slope of the mountain ridge. Even then there are mountains that are higher. In the photo below you see the Old City of Jerusalem, where the Temple of Solomon once stood. But you see that Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives are higher than Jerusalem. In God’s plan Jerusalem would become the highest of all. We see the fulfillment of this in Acts 2.

Notice Jerusalem in the mountains. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notice Jerusalem in the mountains. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo above was taken from the Haas Promenade south of Jerusalem. Click on the photo for a larger image and a better view of the city.

Reading the Blogs # 4

Do you rob temples?

You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (Romans 2:22 ESV)

Charles Savelle has a helpful chart at BibleX on Romans 2:22. What does the text mean? The chart allows the student to see various interpretations at a glance, with observations to enhance understanding.

Ruins of the temple of Apollo at Corinth. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of the temple of Apollo at Corinth. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

— • —

God’s fellow-workers. Daniel B. Wallace responds, on his blog, to the question, “What Does ‘We are God’s fellow-workers’ in 1 Corinthians 3:9 Really Mean”. Dr. Wallace says,

The King James Version in 1 Cor 3.9 reads, “we are labourers together with God…” This unambiguously suggests that Paul and Apollos were considered in some sense on the same level with God. Of course, ‘in some sense’ covers a multitude of possibilities, but there nevertheless seems to be an underlying tone of synergism and mutual credit.

After discussing 38 works (translations and commentaries), Wallace provides a “Table of Interpretations and Translations of 1 Cor 3:9.” The three views of the meaning of this verse are,

  1. Paul and Apollos are co-workers with God.
  2. The statement is ambiguous, tending toward the first view.
  3. Paul and Apollos are co-workers with each other in the service of God.

Then Greek-language illustrations from writers such as Josephus, Philo, and Justin Martyr are provided along with other Biblical references that might shed light on the subject.

Wallace concludes that the “co-workers” are the ministers who belong to God.

Too many Bible classes overlook the difficult passages of Scripture without any explanation. Dr. Wallace provides a good illustration of how to deal with these verses. Tables and charts usually help the teacher and the student.

— • —

“The Authenticity of the James Ossuary” is a technical article on the archaeometric analysis of the James Ossuary from the Open Journal of Geology. The article by Rosenfeld, Feldman, and Krumbein is scholarly and technical, but may be of interest to some readers.  Download the PDF here.

— • —

Wadi Zin comes to life. “The  river doesn’t flow every year, and it has been several years since it last came to life.” The Times of Israel includes a short video showing the wadi (nahal, brook) coming to life in a powerful way. See it here. See the same video at examiner.com.

A dry wadi in the wilderness of Zin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A dry wadi in the wilderness of Zin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Israelites wandered in the Wilderness of Zin (Deuteronomy 32:51). See more here.

Places to look out over Jerusalem

The Times of Israel has a nice illustrated article today entitled “Five Glorious places from which to look out over Jerusalem.” Aviva and Shmuel Bar-Am show photographs from the following five places. Click here for the complete article.

  1. Haas-Sherover Promenade
  2. Confederation House Overlook
  3. Mount Zion Promenade and Overlooks
  4. Mount Scopus Observation Decks
  5. Gandhi Overlook (many will recall this as the lookout from the Mount of Olives)

Our photo below slows the modern view of Jerusalem from the Mount Scopus overlook.

View of Jerusalem from the Mount Scopus Overlook. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of Jerusalem from the Mount Scopus Overlook. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

 

Visualizing Isaiah 21: a watchtower

Isaiah 21 contains oracles concerning Babylon, Edom, and Arabia. The watchman is to describe what he sees. From his watchtower where he stood day and night he was able to announce the fall of Babylon.

For thus the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman; let him announce what he sees. When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs, riders on donkeys, riders on camels, let him listen diligently, very diligently.” Then he who saw cried out: “Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord, continually by day, and at my post I am stationed whole nights. (Isa 21:6-8 ESV)

More information about the role of the watchman may be found in Ezekiel 3 and 33. The photo below shows a watchtower reminiscent of Biblical times.

Watchtower at the Ibex Garden, Yad Hashmona. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Watchtower at the Ibex Garden, Yad Hashmona. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.