Category Archives: Culture

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.

 

 

 

 

Wealthy Canaanite coffin discovered in Jezreel Valley

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today the discovery of a “3,300 year old coffin” at Tel Shadud on the north side of the Jezreel Valley.

Part of a burial site dating to the Late Bronze Age (thirteenth century BCE) was exposed in an excavation at the foot of Tel Shadud. According to the excavation directors, Dr. Edwin van den Brink, Dan Kirzner and Dr. Ron Be’eri of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “During the excavation we discovered a unique and rare find: a cylindrical clay coffin with an anthropoidal lid (a cover fashioned in the image of a person) surrounded by a variety of pottery consisting mainly of storage vessels for food, tableware, cultic vessels and animal bones. As was the custom, it seems these were used as offerings for the gods, and were also meant to provide the dead with sustenance in the afterlife.” The skeleton of an adult was found inside the clay coffin and next to it were buried pottery, a bronze dagger, bronze bowl and hammered pieces of bronze. “Since the vessels interred with the individual were produced locally”, the researchers say, “We assume the deceased was an official of Canaanite origin who was engaged in the service of the Egyptian government”. Another possibility is that the coffin belonged to a wealthy individual who imitated Egyptian funerary customs. The researchers add that so far only several anthropoidal coffins have been uncovered in the country. The last ones discovered were found at Deir el-Balah some fifty years ago. According to the archaeologists, “An ordinary person could not afford the purchase of such a coffin. It is obvious the deceased was a member of the local elite”.

Coffin lid from Tel Shadud. Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Anthropoid coffin lid from Tel Shadud. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The graves of two men and two women who may have been members of his family were also located near the coffin. The discovery of the coffin at Tel Shadud is evidence of Egyptian control of the Jezreel Valley in the Late Bronze Age (thirteenth century BCE). During the period when the pharaohs governed the country, Egyptian culture greatly influenced the local Canaanite upper class. Signs of Egyptian influence are occasionally discovered in different regions and this time they were revealed at Tel Shadud and in the special tomb of the wealthy Canaanite. A rare artifact that was found next to the skeleton is an Egyptian scarab seal, encased in gold and affixed to a ring. The scarab was used to seal documents and objects. The name of the crown of Pharaoh Seti I, who ruled ancient Egypt in the thirteenth century BCE, appears on the seal. Seti I was the father of Ramses II, identified by some scholars as the pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.§ Already in the first year of his reign (1294 BCE) a revolt broke out against Seti I in the Bet Shean Valley. Seti conquered that region and established Egyptian rule in Canaan. Seti’s name on the seal symbolizes power and protection, or the strength of the god Ra – the Sun God – one of the most important deities in the Egyptian pantheon. The winged Uraeus (cobra), protector of the pharaoh’s name or of the sovereign himself, is clearly visible on the seal. The reference to the pharaoh Seti on the scarab found in the coffin aided the archaeologists in dating the time of the burial to the thirteenth century BCE – similar to the burials that were exposed at Deir el-Balah and Bet She‘an, which were Egyptian administrative centers.

§ Other scholars date the exodus from Egypt about two centuries earlier than Ramses II.

Gold Scarab of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Gold Scarab of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I. Photograph: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Tel Shadud, often called Tel Sarid, is identified with the Biblical site of Sarid included within the territory of Zebulun.

The third lot came up for the people of Zebulun, according to their clans. And the territory of their inheritance reached as far as Sarid. Then their boundary goes up westward and on to Mareal and touches Dabbesheth, then the brook that is east of Jokneam. From Sarid it goes in the other direction eastward toward the sunrise to the boundary of Chisloth-tabor. From there it goes to Daberath, then up to Japhia. (Joshua 19:10-12 ESV)

The offspring of Abraham were given the land of the Canaanite.

You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous. (Nehemiah 9:8 ESV)

The IAA news release, with more photos, is currently available here. See the report in Arutz Sheva, the Israel National News, here.

HT: Joseph Lauer, traveling in Israel.

 

 

Visualizing Isaiah 30: not a shard to take fire from the hearth, or to dip water out of the cistern

There were those in Israel who wanted to rely on Assyria and others who wanted to rely on Egypt. The prophet Isaiah urged that the LORD’S people wait on Him.

Trust in Egypt would be like dependence on a wall that was ready to collapse. The destruction would be as complete as “that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.” (Isaiah 30:12-14 ESV)

The Believer’s Bible Commentary has this comment on our text:

Let it be recorded for posterity that the treaty with Egypt (and all such misplaced trust) is a blatant rejection of the law of the Lord through His prophets. Judah will see that Egypt is a poor wall of defense. In fact the high wall will bulge and crash. It will be smashed as completely as an earthenware vessel, with no fragments big enough to use in minor chores.

During archaeological excavations thousands of broken pottery shards are recovered. The destruction (judgment) of the LORD would be so complete that there would not even be a piece large enough to use to move coals of fire from a hearth, or large enough to dip water from a cistern.

In the photo below, made at Ramat Rachel between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, we see part of a pile of pottery shards recovered during the excavation of the site.

Broken pottery shards at Ramat Rachel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Broken pottery shards at Ramat Rachel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If enough large pieces of a pot or jar are found they may be restored. This can be seen in the photo below that was taken at the En-Dor archaeological museum.

Restored pottery at the En-Dor archaeological museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Restored pottery at the En-Dor archaeological museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jeremiah used a similar illustration during the Babylonian period (19:10-11).

Visualizing Isaiah 29: a book that is sealed

Sealed documents were common in Bible times. Isaiah had already used this figure in chapter 8:16. Here the same illustration is used to show that because of Israel’s blindness of heart, no one was able (or willing) to accept and understand the will of God (see 6:9-10).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”(Isaish 29:11-12 ESV)

The photo below was taken in the archaeological museum in Gaziantep, Turkey. It shows a rolled up document with three strings held by clay seals. It appears that the document is modern with three ancient seals, but it illustrates what Isaiah is writing about.

The illiterate man says, “I cannot read.” The man who is literate says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” The illiterate man does not try to find someone who can read, and the literate man does not find someone with authority to break the seal. Blindness, darkness, and spiritual insensitivity prevent either man from finding out what is in the document. No wonder Jesus cited Isaiah’s statement to explain why he used parables (Matthew 13:13-15).

A sealed document displayed in the Gaziantep Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sealed document displayed in the Gaziantep Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Walton, Matthews & Chavalas) has this explanatory note about sealed documents in Bible times.

Official documents were written on scrolls of papyrus or vellum and then, when stored or dispatched by messenger, were rolled up and sealed with string and an affixed seal (see 1 Kings 21:8; Jer 32:10–11). The seal, either a ring or signet, was impressed into either wax or a lump of clay known as a bulla (Job 38:14). Archaeologists have found many of these clay bullae with the names of Israelite officials.

I am aware of one ancient document with as many as seven seals. It is the Wadi ed-Daliyeh Aramaic papyrus document dating to the 4th century B.C. The seals are currently displayed in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. This document provides an illustration for Revelation 5 and 6.

Visualizing Isaiah 24: the tambourines

In the apocalyptic account of the LORD’S judgment upon the earth, Isaiah says…

The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. (Isaiah 24:7-9 ESV)

The normal activities of life will cease when the judgment of God comes upon Judah.

The photo below shows clay images of women playing tambourines. These items are part of the Bethlehem Group of mostly pillared figurines, now displayed in the British Museum.

Musicians from Bethlehem. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Female musicians from Bethlehem. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cold-Case Christianity, free today

Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace is available free in Kindle format March 10-11. The foreword is written by Lee Strobel. The publisher’s promo information says,


Written by an L. A. County homicide detective and former atheist, Cold-Case Christianity examines the claims of the New Testament using the skills and strategies of a hard-to-convince criminal.
Christianity could be defined as a “cold case”: it makes a claim about an event from the distant past for which there is little forensic evidence. In Cold-Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace uses his nationally recognized skills as a homicide detective to look at the evidence and eyewitnesses behind Christian beliefs. Including gripping stories from his career and the visual techniques he developed in the courtroom, Wallace uses illustration to examine the powerful evidence that validates the claims of Christianity.
A unique apologetic that speaks to readers’ intense interest in detective stories, Cold-Case Christianity inspires readers to have confidence in Christ as it prepares them to articulate the case for Christianity.

Click on the book cover for more information, and to order.

HT: Brooks Cochran; Gospel eBooks.

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.

Visualizing Isaiah 10: “Assyria, the rod of my anger”

The Assyrians are first introduced in Isaiah 7. In chapter 10 we are informed that they are “the rod of [the LORD's] anger.” They will serve the purpose of God to punish His people. Isaiah tells us that the Assyrians did not plan to be doing the will of the LORD; they only wanted to destroy many nations.

Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few; for he says: “Are not my commanders all kings? (Isaiah 10:5-8 ESV)

In the photos below I hope to illustrate a few ways the Assyrians punished the Judeans. Certainly the same was true of the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:5-6).

The Assyrians destroyed northern cities of Israel such as Hazor and the site sometimes identified as Geshur or NT Bethsaida in 732 B.C. By 722/21 Samaria lay in ruins. Assyria continued south into Judah. Sennacherib claims to have destroyed 46 strong cities of Judea in addition to all of the nearby villages (The Taylor Prism).

Assyrian King Sennacherib left reliefs of his war against Lachish on his palace wall at Nineveh. The following photos are portions of that relief now displayed in the British Museum. Many Judeans were taken into captivity. Other begged for mercy in the hilly Shephelah of Judah.

Judeans begging for mercy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Judeans begging for mercy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The plea was unsuccessful for some of them. This portion shows an Assyrian commander killing a Judean.

An Assyrian soldier kills a Judean. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An Assyrian soldier kills a Judean. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This portion of the relief shows heads of the slain being brought together for accounting. Some Egyptian reliefs show hands and other body parts being gathered for the same purpose.

Heads of Judeans being collected to get a count. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Heads of Judeans being collected to get a count. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A 25-minute Discovery Channel video entitled The Assyrians: Masters of War uses Assyrian reliefs to tell the story of their savagery in war. Lachish is emphasized. Click here. (HT: Bible Places Blog).

Visualizing Isaiah 3: a skirt of sackcloth

Isaiah describes the luxurious life of the women of Jerusalem in vivid terms. The prophet was definitely not politically correct.

16 The LORD said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet,
17 therefore the Lord will strike with a scab the heads of the daughters of Zion, and the LORD will lay bare their secret parts.
18 In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents;
19 the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves;
20 the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets;
21 the signet rings and nose rings;
22 the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags;
23 the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils.
24 Instead of perfume there will be rottenness; and instead of a belt, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty. (Isaiah 3:16-24 ESV)

When the Assyrians captured Lachish and other cities of Judea they took some of the people captive. Something similar must have happened when the Babylonians took captive many of the citizens of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

Our photo shows a portion of the relief Sennacherib left on his palace wall after the capture of Lachish. You may recognize that this is not the original now displayed in the British Museum. This replica is in the Israel Museum. Notice especially the women in the center of the bottom panel.

Sennacherib's relief showing the women of Lachish going into captivity. Replica in Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sennacherib’s relief showing the women of Lachish going into captivity. Replica in Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is the original of the same scene as it is displayed in the British Museum. Click the photo for a larger image.

Sennacherib's Relief in British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sennacherib’s Relief in the British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The women of the Shephelah were country women and the attire they are wearing may have been normal. The stylish women of Jerusalem would become like the plain women of the country and don a skirt of sackcloth.

David Ussishkin, excavator of Lachish, describes the scene:

The deportees are distinguishable by their appearance and dress. The women—adults and girls alike—wear a long, simple garment. A long shawl covers their head, shoulders and back, reaching to the bottom of the dress. The heads of both the adult men and boys are wound with scarves whose fringed ends hang down, covering the ears and reaching the level of their shoulders. A thick horizontal line below the belt probably marks the bottom of a sleeveless shirt. The garment has a fringed (?) tassel hanging between the legs, apparently attached to the bottom of the shirt. The men have short beards. Both men and women are barefooted. (The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib, 109).

Visualizing Isaiah: a booth in a vineyard

Because the events of the Bible took place in the Ancient Near East, we expect it to use illustrations from that world. Many of these cultural practices are different from those we know, but others are similar.

The prophet Isaiah describes what will happen to Jerusalem as a result of their sin.

And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. (Isaiah 1:8 ESV)

Almost everyone has seen a fruit or vegetable booth along a highway during the picking season. Months later we may see that same booth in disrepair. In Biblical times, watchtowers and temporary booths were set up in fields to provide a moment of shade for the workers.

Our photo today was made a few miles east of Sardis (Revelation 3:1) in modern Turkey. It is near a vineyard and set amidst another crop. One can easily image it still standing in disarray when the winter rains come.

A booth in the field, east of Sardis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A temporary booth in the field, east of Sardis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Judeans of the 8th century B.C. could easily visualize what Isaiah was describing, and those who were living when the city was destroyed by the Babylonians would see it as a fact.

Jeremiah’s lament over the city after 586 B.C. illustrates the point:

How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. (Lamentations 1:1 ESV)