Category Archives: Biblical Studies

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor – 1935-2013

The École Biblique et Archéologique in Jerusalem announced Monday the death of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (1935-2013).

Fr. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., passed away peacefully on Monday, November 11, 2013. He was 78 years old.

Fr. Murphy-O’Connor taught for more than four decades at the École Biblique et Archéologique. He was a world-renowned biblical scholar and author of numerous books on St. Paul and the Holy Land. Many throughout the world counted him their friend.

The writings of Murphy-O’Connor have been helpful to me. I have especially enjoyed The Holy Land An Oxford Archaeological Guide which is now in its 5th edition. In my recommendations of books for those traveling to Israel I have annotated this book with the words “Excellent. The Best.” I am pleased to say that I have seen several tour members using their copy of the book. I see the book is now available for the Kindle.

Holy Land

St. Paul’s Corinth: Texts and Archaeology (Good News Studies, Vol. 6) has been helpful in studying about Corinth. His article about traveling conditions in the first century in the second issue of (the now defunct) Bible Review has been extremely helpful in studying Paul’s journeys. (Murphy-O’Connor. “On the Road and on the Sea with St. Paul.” Bible Review 1:2 (1985).

HT: Jack Sasson; Bible Places Blog.

Jehoash Tablet must be returned to owner

The Supreme Court of Israel ordered that the Jehoash Tablet, a 9th century inscription about repairs to the temple in the days of King Jehoash of Judah, must be returned to the owner.

The Jerusalem District Court had earlier ruled that he state had not proved that this  inscription was a forged document.

Chiseled in ancient Hebrew and dated to the ninth century BCE, the tablet describes renovations of the First Temple – which is said to have been built by King Solomon – ordered by Jehoash. It corresponds to the account in II Kings 12:1-17, in which the king laments the state of the temple and commands that money the priests collect from the people be used to fix it up.

îùøã äçéðåêThe Jehoash Tablet

Read the account in today’s Haaretz here.

Matthew Kalman has been keeping abreast of this decade-long case and reports at Bible and Interpretation here.

Like the James Ossuary, we will probably never know if this document is authentic.

Solomon’s Seaport at Ezion-geber

The cedar from Lebanon was brought by sea to Joppa for the building of Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 2:16). But that port was not adequate to meet Israel’s needs. Scripture informs us that Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber.

King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber, which is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. And Hiram sent with the fleet his servants, seamen who were familiar with the sea, together with the servants of Solomon. And they went to Ophir and brought from there gold, 420 talents, and they brought it to King Solomon. (1Kings 9:26-28 ESV)

Then Solomon went to Ezion-geber and Eloth on the shore of the sea, in the land of Edom. And Hiram sent to him by the hand of his servants ships and servants familiar with the sea, and they went to Ophir together with the servants of Solomon and brought from there 450 talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. (2 Chronicles 8:17-18 ESV)

Ezion-geber is said to be near Eloth (Elat, Elath, in some English versions). We pointed out in the previous post that Nelson Glueck thought he had located Ezion-geber at Tell el-Kheleifeh and that it was the same as Eloth. In 1962 Beno Rothenberg demonstrated that the installation at Tell el-Kheleifeh could not have been for copper smelting. In 1965 Glueck wrote an article in which he agreed with Rothenberg. This means that Tell el-Kheleifeh may not be Ezion-geber.

The north end of the Gulf of Eilat.Aqabah. The view is to the east and the city of Aqabah, Jordan. Tell el-Kheleifeh is only a few blocks north of the shore. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The north end of the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah. The view is to the east and the city of Aqabah, Jordan. Tell el-Kheleifeh is only a short distance north of the shore in Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Alexander Flinder says the coastline at Tell el-Kheleifeh is a “sandy beach, with shallow water – totally unsuitable for small craft, let alone for a substantial merchant fleet” (“Is This Solomon’s Seaport?” BAR, July/August 1989, p. 38). Flinder has suggested that Ezion-geber may have been on a small island in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah called Jezirat Faraun (Pharaoh’s Island). It is located about seven miles south of modern Eilat, but now under Egyptian control. Flinder’s study shows that there has been an artificial harbor at this location in several historical periods and that it was characteristic of other known Phoenician ports. See the complete article for more details and photos.

Pharaoh's Island in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah from the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pharaoh’s Island in the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah from the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Meir Lubetski, ABD, says,

Unique were the underwater archaeological findings which established the existence of an artificial enclosed harbor bordering a sizable natural anchorage, with jetties built out into the water to influence currents opposite the island on the shore of the mainland.

I can only point to a suggestion regarding the identity of Ezion-geber with Eloth (Elath). Kenneth A. Kitchen (New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed., 1996, p. 305). says the two places were,

  • Separate stations during the Israelite wandering (Numbers 33:35-36; Deuteronomy 2:8).
  • Ezion-geber appears to be mentioned alone in the 10th-9th centuries, and is the point from which Solomon sent ships.
  • Jehoshaphat’s planned expedition from Ezion-geber was wrecked (1 King 22:48; 2 Chronicles 20:36-37).
  • King Uzziah of Judah captured Elath/Eloth from Edom and rebuilt it in the 8th century (2 Kings 14:22).
  • Ahaz lost the port to the Edomites (2 Kings 16:6).
View of Pharaoh's Island from the west. The view looks east across the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah. The land in the distance is Saudi Arabia, the Biblical land of Midian. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of Pharaoh’s Island from the west. The view looks east across the Gulf of Eilat/Aqabah to Saudi Arabia, the Biblical land of Midian. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The map at BibleAtlas.org shows the places we have discussed in this and the previous post. Notice the location of Ezion-geber is indicating, with a question mark, the location of Pharaoh’s Island.

Map of Ezion-geber, Elath, and Timnah. BibleAtlas.org.

Map of Ezion-geber, Elath, and Timnah. BibleAtlas.org.

Chester Beatty papyri digitized by CSNTM

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) announces that they have filmed the Chester Beatty papyri. Here is the press release signed by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, Executive Director of CSNTM:

The Chester Beatty papyri, published in the 1930s and 1950s, are some of the oldest and most important biblical manuscripts known to exist. Housed at the Chester Beatty Library (CBL) in Dublin, they have attracted countless visitors every year. It is safe to say that the only Greek biblical manuscripts that might receive more visitors are Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus, both on display at the British Library.

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is pleased to announce that a six-person team, in a four-week expedition during July–August 2013, digitized all the Greek biblical papyri at the Chester Beatty Library. The CBL has granted permission to CSNTM to post the images on their website (www.csntm.org), which will happen before the end of the year.

The New Testament papyri at the CBL include the oldest manuscript of Paul’s letters (dated c. AD 200), the oldest manuscript of Mark’s Gospel and portions of the other Gospels and Acts (third century), and the oldest manuscript of Revelation (third century). One or two of the Old Testament papyri are as old as the second century AD.

Using state-of-the-art digital equipment, CSNTM photographed each manuscript against white and black backgrounds. The result was stunning. Each image is over 120 megabytes. The photographs reveal some text that has not been seen before.

Besides the papyri, CSNTM also digitized all of the Greek New Testament manuscripts at the CBL as well as several others, including some early apocryphal texts. The total number of images came to more than 5100.

CSNTM is grateful to the CBL for the privilege of digitizing these priceless treasures. The staff were extremely competent and a joy to work with. Kudos to Dr. Fionnuala Croke, Director of CBL, for such a superb staff! This kind of collaboration is needed both for the preservation of biblical manuscripts and their accessibility by scholars.

Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Larry Hurtado tells a little more about the background of this project here. If you wish to see the quality made possible by the CSNTM, see these pages from a 3rd century papyri at the University of Pennsylvania here.

Sargon II, Ashdod, and Isaiah 20:1

Ashdod was located along an international highway known as the Way of the Sea, the Way of Philistia, or the Via Maris. This was the important route connecting Egypt and Assyria. We have already discussed, in the past few posts, that the Assyrian king Sargon II captured Ashdod in 712/11 B.C. The prophet Isaiah makes reference to this event in Isaiah 20:1.

 The LORD revealed the following message during the year in which King Sargon of Assyria sent his commanding general to Ashdod, and he fought against it and captured it. (Isa 20:1 NET)

Sometime discoveries are made, but get little attention. A discovery at Tel Ashdod in 1963 falls into this category. Tel Ashdod was excavated from 1962 to 1972 under the direction of Moshe Dothan. David Noel Freedman wrote an article in Biblical Archaeologist (26:4, 1963)) about “The Second Season at Ancient Ashdod.” He describes the fragments of a stele of Sargon II.

Fragments of another stele, commemorating the victories of Sargon, were found at Ashdod during the current season, thus offering direct confirmation and vivid illustration of the biblical and Assyrian accounts. In all, three pieces of the stele were discovered. Enough can be made of their contents to show that the inscription duplicated in content if not precisely in wording other victory steles of the Assyrian king. By comparing the Ashdod stele with the others it will be possible to reconstruct the missing parts, one of which described the actual conquest of Ashdod. The inscription was carved in cuneiform signs characteristic of Sargon and his period, on all four sides of a slab of basalt which had been imported from a region north of Megiddo. It may have served as a pedestal for an obelisk, or a statue of the emperor. It must have been erected between the year of victory at Ashdod and the death of the king in 705 B.C., perhaps in 707 when a similar stele was set up in Cyprus. With the accession of Sennacherib in 704, most of the vessel countries revolted; Hezekiah of Judah and Sidqa of Ashkelon were the ringleaders in the west. They were able to liberate Ashdod from Assyrian control, and doubtless the event was observed by the destruction of Sargon’s victory stele, symbol of foreign oppression. These fragments of a monumental Assyrian inscription are the first ever found in Palestine.

The photos below were published in an article by Hayam Tadmor (“Philistia Under Assyrian Rule.” Biblical Archaeologist (29:3, 1966). Several years ago I used a digital camera to copy the photo. Sorry it is not better, but at least you can see the pieces. A photo of the piece in the middle below is also published in a BAR article (Jan-Feb, 2007) by H. Shanks on the “Assyrian Palace Discovered in Ashdod,” but the quality is about the same.
Fragment of the Sargon II inscription found at Ashdod.

Fragment of the Sargon II inscription found at Ashdod.

For several years the fragments were displayed in a case across from the replica of the Siege of Lachish in the Israel Museum. For the past years the fragments have not been on display. I made inquiry at the Museum earlier this year without any success. I wonder if the pieces have been moved to the Corine Maman Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod. Can anyone help with this?

This discovery is one of those that complement the biblical record. Sargon II (721–705 B.C.) is mentioned only once in the Bible — Isaiah 20:1. Isaiah says that the commanding general of Sargon II fought against Ashdod and captured it.

The photo below shows Sargon II (right) facing a person who is generally considered to be an Assyrian high dignitary. (See the discussion in Fant & Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible, 133-140.

Sargon II and an attendant. Displayed in Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sargon II and an official. Displayed in Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jack Finegan says of the reference to Sargon II in Isaiah 20:1,

… for a long time this was the only place in extant literature where his name was known.

The palace of Sargon II was discovered by Paul Emile Botta at Khorsabad in 1843. This relief comes from that palace, and is displayed in the Louvre. Other reliefs and artifacts from the palace are exhibited in the British Museum and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Written copies of Isaiah existed in what we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls nearly 2000 years before the discovery of Sargon’s palace and archive. Perhaps we should be slow to think of Isaiah and other biblical writers as being unhistorical. To say this in a positive way, this illustrates the historical trustworthiness of the Bible. That the only reference to Sargon is specifically linked to Ashdod is even more impressive.

A synagogue on the island of Delos

In the previous post we mentioned that there were numerous synagogues used by Jews of the Diaspora. Paul visited synagogues in many of the cities where he preached.

During his Spring travels, Dr. Carl Rasmussen visited the Greek island of Delos. Delos is one of those places that can only be reached with much effort. Carl has graciously granted permission for me to use a couple of his photos here. The first one shows a view to the west, southwest, showing various rooms of the synagogue. Note the “Moses Seat” in the upper right of the photo. The entrance is visible in the lower left.

Delos synagogue. Photo by HolyLandPhotos.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

The second photo shows a close up of the “Moses Seat” and the marble seats on each side. You may click on the photos for larger images provided by Dr. Rasmussen at the HolyLandPhotos’ Blog.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

This large synagogue dates to the mid-second century B.C. Two inscriptions found in 1979-80 indicate that the worshipers here (Israelites) were likely Samaritans who revered Argarizein (Mount Gerizim). (See Kraabel, “New Evidence of the Samaritan Diaspora has been Found on Delos.” BA 47:1; 1984).

The Moses Seat. We commonly identify a special seat like the one in this synagogue as the Seat of Moses. Jesus may have made reference to such a seat (Matthew 23:2-3). For more information about the “Moses Seat” see here. Michael White suggests at least the possibility that this seat may be a “Proedrion, either for the major donor (or patron) or for the leader of the group” (HTR 80:2 (1987). I don’t see that this changes the fact that a reader and teacher of the Law might sit here.

If you have any interest in the synagogues scattered over the Mediterranean world, you will want to visit the HolyLandPhotos’ Blog here.

Tradition has it that Delos is the birthplace of Apollo, the son of Zeus, and his twin sister Artemis.

Marble head of Apolls from Perga. Second century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Marble head of Apolls from Perga. Second century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the Antalya Archaeological Museum.

An article by Gordon Franz a few years ago piqued my interest in Delos. He wrote on “The Synagogue On The Island Of Delos And The Epistle Of James” in Bible and Spade (18:3; 2005). Franz provides the history and geography of the island. He includes a photo of the “Samaritan inscription,” and then proceeds to use the synagogue of Delos to illustrate two passages from the Epistle of James. He discusses James 2:2-4 and selected verses from James 3.

For those who have an interest in visiting Delos, Prof. Rasmussen explains exactly how to reach the synagogue from the Delos Museum. Rasmussen is author of the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, and provides nearly 4000 thousand photos at the Holy Land Photos archive.

Free Ebook for Kindle

How the Bible Came to Be is an Ebook short (about 60 pages) from The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook. It is available free today only (May 25). The link I am including is only good for the United States.

Here is a list of the subjects covered.

  • Inspiration
  • Production and Shaping of the Old Testament Canon
  • Writing, Copying, and Transmitting the New Testament Text
  • The Canon of the New Testament
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls
  • The Septuagint
  • Bible Translation and the English Bible
  • Translations for the World

Use this link.

HT: Brooks Cochran