Monthly Archives: December 2013

2013 in review (according to WordPress)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 260,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 11 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

NOTE: This little summary is something provided (robotly, I suppose) by WordPress. You may count it as your light reading of the day.

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The Lachish letters (ostraca)

The first major archaeological excavation at Tell ed-Duweir (= Tel Lachish) was called the Wellcome-Marston Archaeological Research Expedition, directed by James Leslie Starkey. During that expedition, in 1935 eighteen pieces of broken pottery with writing were found in a room outside the city gate. Three more pieces were found in 1938. J. A. Thompson explains the importance of the letters:

They represent correspondence between the military commander of Lachish, a certain Yoash, and outpost commanders, in the days when Nebuchadnezzar was closing in on Jerusalem. Most of these letters are poorly preserved, but six of them give useful information about the time. (The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology)

The room outside the gate where the "letters" were found. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The room outside the gate where the “letters” were found. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. These letters were written shortly before that time and were in the room at the time of the destruction of Lachish. Take a look at the biblical evidence. The prophet Jeremiah describes a time when only the Judean cities of Lachish and Azekah were left.

when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained. (Jeremiah 34:7 ESV)

Lachish Letter #4 indicates that only Lachish was left at the time of writing.

“And let (my lord) know that we are watching for *[fire] signals of Lachish, according to all the indications which my lord hath given, for we cannot see Azekah” (Pritchard, The Ancient Near East).

Letter #3 mentions a prophet.

And as for the letter of Tobiah, servant of the king, which came to Shallum son of Jaddua through the prophet, saying, ‘Beware!, thy servant hath sent it to my lord. (Pritchard, The Ancient Near East)

D. Winton Thomas says that this is “the first occurrence in non-Biblical texts of the common Hebrew word for prophet (nabi).”

One of the Lachish letters displayed in the British Museum.

Lachish Ostracon II displayed in the British Museum. The word “Yahweh” [yhwh] is used as the first word (on right) of line 2 in this letter.

The prophet Jeremiah may not be the prophet mentioned in Letter #3, but he was a prophet in Judah at the same time, and he wrote about the same situation. Notice Jeremiah 34:6-7 again.

Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained. (Jeremiah 34:6-7 ESV)

This example provides wonderful corroborating evidence for the historical trustworthiness of the writing of Jeremiah.

Visiting the shepherd’s fields near Bethlehem

After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Luke records that an announcement of His birth was made to shepherds in the field at night.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11 ESV)

There was enough distance that the shepherds said, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15 ESV)

We do not know the exact time of the birth of Jesus. We have a reasonable degree of certitude about the place of His birth, but places such as the field of the shepherds are not certain. As a result, traditions have risen about the place. Here I will mention three places that one can visit a short distance east of Bethlehem, near the wilderness of Judea. This area is known as Beit Sahour.

The first place is the Shepherd’s Field of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (a Roman Catholic site). The photo shows the modern church built over a cave.

The Shepherd's Field of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Shepherd’s Field of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. Photo: F. Jenkins,

Under the church there is a large cave. These caves are not uncommon in the central mountain range. A display illustrating the birth of Jesus can be seen in the cave. One little note of interest. It is often pointed out that the manger of Luke 2:7 might be a feeding trough cut from stone. In this display the baby is placed in an ossuary! Notice the lid to the right.

Display in cave at Shepherd's Field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Display in cave at Shepherd’s Field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Outside one sees fields and olive groves.

Shepherd's fields at Beit Sahour. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

Shepherd’s fields at Beit Sahour. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Not far away is the Shepherd’s Field of the YMCA. Some call it the Protestant Shepherd’s Field. There is a large cave on the property overlooking the fields of the region.

Caves at YMCA Shepherd's Field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Caves at YMCA Shepherd’s Field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Greek Orthodox site features ruins of a Byzantine church dating from the 5-7th centuries.

Byzantine church ruins at the Greek Orthodox site of the Shepherd's field. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Byzantine church ruins at the Greek Orthodox site. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Carl Rasmussen wrote about the “3 Christmases in Bethlehem” here, and Mark Ziese wrote about the Milk Grotto here. We have written about the Church of the Nativity several times, including here.

Reading the blogs #2

Michael G. Hasel of Southern Adventist University will join Yosef Garfinkel and Martin G. Klingbeil as co-directors of The Lachish Expedition in 2014. Southern has begun a web site devoted to the dig here. Categories include Project Overview, Goals and Strategy, History of Research, and Staff. We wrote about the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum, at Southern, here.

The Judean fort at Lachish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Judean palace-fort at Lachish is the largest Iron Age structure in Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Associates for Biblical Research announced here the death of ABR founder Dr. David Livingston. An issue of Bible and Spade devoted to the work of Dr. Livingston has been made available in PDF. Dr. Livingston gave much attention to locating Biblical Ai. I am hopeful Ancient Days, the web site devoted to his writings, will be maintained here.

Check ORBIS here. This is the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Lot’s of possibilities here in studying Paul’s journeys.

The BBC reports on how some maps of the modern Middle East were drawn here.

Tom Powers has left Jerusalem for North Carolina. Hopefully he will maintain his View From Jerusalem web site. Now would be a good time to check “My Articles” and download his research material on the ancient aqueduct system, Conrad Schick, American Colony, and some ossuaries.

My friend Steve Wolfgang is trained as a historian and is a minister with a wide range of interests. This is reflected in his blog, ἐκλεκτικός.

I enjoy Larry Hurtado’s Blog. Check “Where did Earliest Christians Meet?” here. If you thought they always met in private homes, you might learn something.

One of my favorite blogs, checked regularly, is Charles Savelle’s Bible X, a blog devoted to all things Bible Exposition. Charles surveys material helpful to teachers and ministers. He recently included a link to online tools for creating Infographics, Self-Editing for Better Writing, and lots of brief book reviews.

I like to check on Dr. Rod Decker’s NT Resources. Rod has been diagnosed with cancer. One of his colleague’s is dealing with TN — “a nonterminal condition that produces some of the most excruciating pain known to medical science, and that on a very frequent basis.” Recently the two of them spoke in chapel before their students on the general theme “When Your World Crashes Down.” Their comments are available for download.

For sure I have mentioned Biblical Studies and technological Tools by Mark Hoffman. This is a great resources. The most recent post evaluates online backup and data syncing options.

For a few years now I have been using Dropbox for syncing material between my study computer and my traveling laptop. If you click here you will get 2.25 gig free, and I will get .25 gig addition. Click here.

Reading the blogs

The majority of the content of this blog deals with biblical studies, archaeology, travel and photography. Concentration is especially on travel in the Bible World. As a result of this I follow several blogs that are extremely helpful. These include:

Bible Places Blog. Todd Bolen’s Weekend Roundup, and Midweek Roundup are extremely helpful, as are his insightful comments on recent archaeological announcements.

HolyLandPhotos’ Blog by Carl Rasmussen covers numerous lesser known places. Recently he has covered some sites visited, or probably visited, by Paul on his journeys through Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

The wilderness of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The wilderness of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I have a few former students  who write about these areas. You might enjoy taking a look at Leon’s Message Board (Leon Mauldin), Exploring Bible Lands (Barry Britnell), Luke Chandler’s Blog. Leon recently posted photos of the gathering of olives at Shechem. Trent and Rebekah, former tour members, have posted some helpful articles during their six months in Israel.

Gordon Franz writes less frequently on his Life and Land Seminars, but most of his material reflects a considerable amount of research. As part of his ongoing Cracked Pot Archaeology series he posted a response to the theory that the Arabia of “Mount Sinai in Arabia” (Galatians 4:25) is in modern Saudi Arabia.

Leen Ritmeyer,  Ritmeyer Archaeological Design, writes about the way the buildings looked in Bible times as well as recent discoveries and developments.

Wayne Stiles seeks to connect the Bible and its Lands to Life. In a recent post he discussed the “Top 5 Gifts for Bible Lands Study.”

Shmuel Browns, Israel-tourguide, has an interesting blog with great photos. A recent post features fascinating photos of Nahal Prat or Wadi Qelt. This may be where Jeremiah was told to go and bury his loincloth (shorts) (Jeremiah 13:4-7). Most English versions use the word Euphrates for the Hebrew term Perath. The NET Bible transliterates the term. Nahal Prat is near Jeremiah’s hometown Anatot (Anathoth). We wrote about a morning with Shmuel here.

Recently I learned of two new blogs dealing with the Bible lands and customs. Mark Ziese writes Bible Lands Explorer. Mark’s most recent post is about the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem. Yep, a place dedicated to Mary feeding baby Jesus. Willis Britt writes on Lessons From The Land. A recent series deals with Preaching and the Land.

Believe me, there is quite an education in reading these blogs.

I keep links to these and other blogs on the Scholarly page at the Biblical Studies Info Page.

My favorite single-volume Bible dictionary

Since I started with a small single-volume Smith’s Bible Dictionary more than 60 years ago, I have collected dozens of dictionary volumes on my library shelf and on the computer. My favorite single-volume Bible dictionary has been the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Premier Reference Series), edited by Merrill C. Tenney. The work has been revised by J. D. Douglas, and is now edited by Moisés Silva. The most recent copyright is 2011.


Amazon has this $39.99 volume today (or, at least this hour) for the Kindle priced at $4.99. Dictionaries are more difficult to use on the Kindle than some books, but it is helpful to have some info available when you are away from your home materials.

The hardcover volume of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Premier Reference Series) is available for $23.18.

Note: Pat, in Kentucky, tells me that this book is available for the Nook also.

HT on the price cut: Brooks Cochran

Elah River flooding at Tell es-Safi/Gath

Several times we have commented on the wonderful photos supplied by Prof. Aren Maeir about the archaeological excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, both during the season and throughout the year.

For the past two days Maeir has posted photos of the Elah River flooding at Safi/Gath. English readers will relate to the word brook. The Hebrew is nahal. This is the same brook we read about in the account of David choosing five smooth stones when he went to fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40). The term used here is equivalent to the Arabic wadi.

A stream like this is dry most of the year, but flows freely during the rainy, winter season.

The photo below is from the Tell es-Safi/Gath blog here. It was made by Uri Yehuda, a student in Prof. Maeir’s department at Bar Ilan University. Those who have visited Gath during the dry season should find it instructive.

Flooding of the Elah River next to Safi. Photo by Uri Yehuda.

Flooding of the Elah River next to Safi. Photo by Uri Yehuda.

You may locate this photo in hi-resolution, and another made by Aren on the blog. The best picture may be in video format with a young lady telling us it is the “flood of December.” The link to all of this material is here.

The Brook of Elah begins below Adulam, flows through the valley bearing its name, around Azekah, past Gath, and into the Mediterranean Sea.

In the aerial photo below you will see Tell es-Safi/Gath just to the left of the center of the photo. The Elah River (Brook) can be seen in the lower right corner of the photo. This photo was made December 15, 2009. The river bed is green because there had been earlier rains, but nothing like the recent storm seen in Israel.

Aerial view of Gath and the Elah Brook. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Gath and the Elah Brook. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.