Category Archives: Archaeology

Timnah – where Samson met his first love

Perhaps the most memorable event of Timnah recorded in the Bible is that of the affair between Samson and a Philistine woman.

Samson went down to Timnah, where a Philistine girl caught his eye. (Judges 14:1 NET)

Delilah, the most famous of Samson’s three wives, is said to have lived in the Sorek Valley, but Timnah is not specifically named (Judges 16:4).

The LORD had commanded Israel not to become involved in mixed marriages with the people of the land (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3). But Samson had the misfortune of living too close to the border of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. And he lacked the determination to abide by the commands of the LORD.

There were other significant events associated with Timnah. Here is a brief list.

  • Judah went up to Timnah to his sheep shearers, at which time he mistook Tamar, his own widowed daughter-in-law, for a prostitute. She conceived and bore twin sons (Genesis 38:12-30).
  • Timnah is mentioned as being a town of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:10, 57).
  • A little later the territory had transferred to the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:40-46).
  • By the time of King Ahaz (735-715 B.C., McKinny), Timnah was in the hands of the Philistines (2 Chronicles 28:18).

Timnah is identified with Tel Batash in the Sorek Valley, about 4 miles northwest of Beth-Shemesh. Ekron (Tel Miqne) is about 3½ miles west of Timnah. The Sorek River flows past both cities on its way to the Mediterranean.

Tel Batash was excavated by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for three seasons (1977-79). Between 1981-89, the site was excavated under the direction of George L. Kelm of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University. The site was occupied from the Middle Bronze IIB (18th or 17th centuries B.C.), through the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. In Iron Age I, Timnah was a Philistine city.

Kelm and Mazar wrote Timnah A Biblical City in the Sorek Valley (Eisenbrauns 1995) to provide a report of their excavations.

Map showing Timnah. Credit: BibleHub.com.

Map showing Timnah. Credit: BibleHub.com.

Timnah is off the beaten track and very few people visit it. Easy routes to the site have been blocked by the farmers in the Valley. Leon Mauldin and I searched for, and eventually located, Timnah in the rich alluvial Sorek Valley in 2011. Unlike Lachish, Mareshah, Gath, or Azekah the tel is unimpressive.

Timnah, beyond the brook Sorek, in August, 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Timnah, on the southern bank of the Sorek, in August, 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In 2013 our friends Trent and Rebekah Dutton were trying to locate Timnah when they saw two shade tents and the Israel Antiquities Authority flag on a small rise in the fields. The IAA was doing some work at the site and explained to them the restoration work they were doing. Here is a photo the Dutton’s shared of the reconstructed Oil Press from the 7th century B.C. See Kelm and Mazar, pp. 150-152, for the way this looked at the time of the dig. An architect’s (Leen Ritmeyer) drawing of the installation is found on page 87. Some finds are intentionally covered by the excavators at the end of a season or the completion of a dig. This appears to be one such example.

The Oil Press installation at Timnah. Photo by Trent & Rebekah Dutton.

The Oil Press installation at Timnah. Photo by Trent & Rebekah Dutton.

Earlier this month Leon and I had the opportunity to fly over the Sorek Valley. I don’t think our pilot had ever seen the site before, but our previous experience on the ground, Google earth, and the excavation report allowed us to locate it from the air.

Aerial view of Timnah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Timnah and the Sorek (April, 2016). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I think the little white building covers the Oil Press installation. After a quarter of a century the excavated areas are now covered with natural growth.

It is a long story, but this is where Samson met his first Philistine wife, and maybe another. There is always a danger when one lives too close to the border.

If you do not already have Brad Gray’s Make Your Mark: Getting Right What Samson Got Wrong, now might be time to take a look at our earlier review.

My late friend and colleague, James Hodges, served as an Area Supervisor at Timnah in 1977.

Only one example of Roman crucifixion discovered

The Romans were adept at crucifixion, according to many historical sources. The first archaeological evidence of crucifixion was uncovered in 1968 when, during a controlled archaeological dig under the direction of the late Vasillios Tzaferis, an ossuary (bone box, or receptacle) was found north of Jerusalem containing the bones of a man who had been crucified. His name was “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.” He is thought to have been between 24 and 28 years of age, and was about 5 feet 6 inches in height.

Ossuary of Yehohanan, son of Hagkol. Dates to first century A.D., and is made of soft limestone. Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuary of Yehohanan, son of Hagkol. Dates to first century A.D., and is made of soft limestone. Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Both the ossuary and a replica of the heel bone are displayed in the Israel Museum. When Yehohanan was removed from the cross the nail pulled away from the wood. He was buried with the nail in his heel.

Ankle bone of a man crucified outside Jerusalem in Roman times. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ankle bone replica of  Yehohanan, son of Hagkol, who was crucified outside Jerusalem in Roman times. Display in Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus. He said,

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23 NIV)

No ossuary or bones belonging to Jesus have been found. I am aware of the speculation that a tomb in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem contained the family of Jesus, and possibly even the ossuary of Jesus. One summary of this speculation was published by Bible Places Blog here.

The angel at the empty tomb of Jesus announced to the women who had gone to complete the burial,

He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying. (Matthew 28:6 NET)

Rock tomb with rolling stone near Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman period rock tomb with rolling stone near Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

SourceFlix has posted a nice brief video of Passion Week Archaeology here.

Post updated from March, 2013.

Jerusalem is older than we thought

The first time the word Jerusalem appears in the Bible is in Joshua 10:1, about 1400 B.C., but we understand that the reference to Salem in Genesis 14:18 is an early reference to Jerusalem. Abraham paid tithes to the priest-king Melchizedek.

New archaeological discoveries in the Jerusalem area attest to a well-established settlement as early as the 5th millennium BC, according to a news release Wednesday from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavation director Ronit Lupo of the Israel Antiquities Authority next to the remains of the ancient house. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Excavation director Ronit Lupo of the Israel Antiquities Authority next to the remains of the ancient house. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Here is the news release:

An important discovery was recently unearthed in north Jerusalem when archaeological excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority prior to the laying of a road in the Shuʻfat neighborhood [Shuʻfat is a short distance south of the site of Gibeah] – initiated and financed by Moriah, the Jerusalem Development Company – revealed the remains of an ancient settlement from the Chalcolithic period, approximately 7,000 years ago (fifth millennium BCE).

During the Chalcolithic period, man started using tools made of copper (chalcos in Greek) for the first time while continuing to use tools made of stone (lithos), hence the name given to the period. According to Dr. Omri Barzilai, Head of the IAA’s Prehistory Branch, “The Chalcolithic period is known in the Negev, the coastal plain, the Galilee and the Golan, but is almost completely absent in the Judean Hills and Jerusalem. Although in recent years we have discovered a few traces of Chalcolithic settlements, such as those at Abu Gosh, Motza Junction, and the Holyland compound in Jerusalem, they have been extremely sparse. Now, for the first time, we have discovered significant remains from 7,000 years ago.”

Basalt bowl. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Basalt bowl. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavation exposed two dwelling houses with well-preserved remains and floors containing various installations as well as pottery vessels, flint tools, and a basalt bowl, all typical of the period. The construction phases and signs of their maintenance show that the buildings were used for a considerable time.

According to Ronit Lupo, director of excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority: “On completion of the excavations at Shuʻfat, it is quite evident that there was a thriving settlement in the Jerusalem area in ancient times. Thousands of years later, the buildings uncovered are of a standard that would not fall short of Jerusalem’s architecture. This discovery represents a highly significant addition to our research of the city and the vicinity. Apart from the pottery, the fascinating flint finds attest to the livelihood of the local population in prehistoric times: Small sickle blades for harvesting cereal crops, chisels and polished axes for building, borers and awls, and even a bead made of carnelian (a gemstone), indicating that jewelry was either made or imported. The grinding tools, mortars and pestles, like the basalt bowl, attest to technological skills as well as to the kinds of crafts practiced in the local community. We also recovered a few bones of sheep/goat and possibly cattle; these will be analyzed further in the Israel Antiquities Authority laboratories, permitting us to recreate the dietary habits of the people who lived here 7,000 years ago and enhancing our understanding of the settlement’s economy.”

7,000-year-old bead. Photo credit: Ronit Lupo, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

7,000-year-old bead. Photo credit: Ronit Lupo, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

HT: Joseph Lauer; the major Israeli newspapers.

The aqueducts at Caesarea Maritima

At Caesarea Maritima, visitors may see the high-level aqueduct at the point where it comes to an end likely due to erosion from the waves of the sea. According to Murphy-O’Connor the eastern channel (on the right) was “built by a Roman Procurator about the middle of the C1 AD.” The western channel was built by Hadrian. Some attribute the eastern channel to Herod the Great.

The high level aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The high level aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next image is an aerial photo showing a long stretch of the high level aqueduct at Caesarea. You can also see the low level aqueduct a few yards inland (east). The low level aqueduct was built in the late 4th or early 5th century A.D.

Aerial view of the aqueduct north of the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of the aqueduct north of the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Caesarea Maritima was a first century Roman capital and seaport. The gospel was first preached to the Gentiles here when Peter came from Joppa to Caesarea to tell Cornelius words by which he could be saved (Acts 10, 11).

The Apostle Paul used the harbor at Caesarea several times. He was imprisoned in the city for two years before departing for Rome (Acts 24:27; 27:1).

Turning from idols to serve the living God

Recently I was browsing through photos made in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (Salonica, Thessalonica), Greece, in 2008. I was impressed with the images of various gods and goddesses that were known in the city in the first century A.D. There were statues and busts of Egyptian gods such as Isis, Serapis, and Harpokrates/Horus. Greek gods and goddesses such as Dionysus, Hades, Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, and the mother of the gods often associated with Kybele (Cybele) were known. And there were others.

Athena. Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Athena. Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Immediately my mind was drawn to Paul’s commendation of the saints at Thessalonica in the middle of the first century A.D.

 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 ESV)

But there were other “gods” known to the Thessalonians. The deified Alexander, considered a son of Zeus, was represented in the museum. Another significant form of idolatry was the Cult of the Emperor of Rome. A sign associated with one display says,

The cult of the emperor was both an instrument of imperial policy propaganda and a means for the transmission of Roman culture. The image of the emperor gives a concrete form to the abstract idea of the Empire. Whether a full-length statue or a bust, it makes his presence felt everywhere: in outdoor and indoor spaces, in fora, in villas, and in libraries.

Here is a statue of Octavian Augustus, the first emperor of Rome (27 B.C. – A.D. 14). Augustus was emperor at the time of the birth of Christ (Luke 2:1).

Statue of Augustus, Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Statue of Augustus, Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Claudius, Vespasian, Titus, and other emperors were represented in the museum displays.

An interesting temporary exhibition was about the discovery of an important archaeological site known as Kalindoia. The site is located about 48 km (30 miles) southeast of Thessalonica. Paul traveled a few miles north of Kalindoia when he went from Philippi, via Amphipolis and Apollonia, to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1). Below is the drawing of the chamber of the imperial cult. A temple for imperial worship was located here from the 1st century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D.

Artist conception of the chamber of the Imperial Cult. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Artist conception of the chamber of the Imperial Cult. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign associated with this drawing states that there were pedestals for statues here. “One of them was the statue of Emperor Octavian Augustus.” The Cult of the Emperor was especially pervasive in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and may have some bearing on understanding the man of lawlessness (sin) in 2 Thessalonians 2. It is certainly helpful in understanding the background of the book of Revelation.

But that’s not all. Another sign mentions the eponymous local heroes such as war heroes, deified mythological figures, or the heroized dead “were also worshipped.”

The gospel of Christ has power to touch the hearts of men and inform them about the difference between idols made of “gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man,” and the God who does not dwell in temples made by man (Acts 17:29 ESV).

Unique Hadrian exhibit at the Israel Museum

The Roman Emperor Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus) ruled the Empire from A.D. 117 to 138. Numerous statues of him are displayed in museums spread across the region. Most of them are made of stone, but there are three unique bronze statues of the Emperor. These are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem until June. They come from the Israel Museum, the Louvre, and the British Museum.

Ilan Ben Zion says that Hadrian,

…was venerated by contemporary Roman historians as one of the Five Good Emperors: a just ruler, a peacemaker and great architect of the empire. The wall he famously constructed along the border with Scotland bears his name to this day. But in Jewish memory, Hadrian is best known as a brutal dictator who crushed the Bar Kochba revolt in 135, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Jews, rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city, banned circumcision, and changed the name of Judaea to Palaestina. (The Times of Israel, Dec. 22, 2015)

I have seen all three of these pieces, but look forward to seeing them displayed together in the spring.

The most magnificent statue is the one of Hadrian discovered at Tel Shalem (Shalim) a few miles south of the Beth Shean (Beit She’an) in the Jordan Valley. Tel Shalem is thought to be the Salim mentioned in John 3:23.

Bronze statue of Hadrian discovered in a Roman army camp of the Sixth Roman Legion. He is portrayed as the supreme military commander. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bronze statue of Hadrian discovered in a Roman army camp of the Sixth Roman Legion at Tel Shalem. He is portrayed as the supreme military commander. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Only the head remains of the other two statues. The first of these was acquired by the Louvre in 1984.

Bust of Hadrian thought to have come from Egypt. Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bust of Hadrian thought to have come from Egypt. Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next bronze head comes from a larger than life-size statue that is thought to have stood in a public area of Roman London. It commemorates Hadrian’s visit to Britain in A.D. 122. It was found in the River Thames near London Bridge in 1834. This head is displayed in a room of Roman statues in the British Museum, but I have never known it to be open. I arranged to visit the room one time and have a photo but it is not as sharp as I prefer. This photo comes from Following Hadrian here. I refer you to that blog and Twitter feed for everything Hadrian.

Bronze Head of Hadrian. Following Hadrian.

Bronze head from a statue of the Emperor Hadrian, Romain Britain, British Museum
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Richard Batey writes about Hadrian’s relation to Jerusalem:

Hadrian visited Jerusalem in A.D. 129–130 and rebuilt the city on the plan of a Roman military camp. On the Temple Mount he erected a temple dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus and nearby a second temple honoring the goddess Aphrodite. Hadrian renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina, a designation that combined one of his names with Rome’s Capitoline triad: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Hadrian’s actions and policies provoked a second revolt by the Jews in A.D. 132. Led by Bar Kokhba, the Jewish troops succeeded in taking control of Jerusalem briefly but were soon (A.D. 135) crushed by the superior Roman army. After this decisive defeat it became a capital offense for a Jew to set foot in Jerusalem. (Batey, R. A. “Jerusalem.” Ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter. Dictionary of New Testament background: a compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship 2000 : 561. Print.)

Shmuel Browns, Israel Tour Guide, includes a beautiful photo of the Tel Shalem bust currently on display (outside the case?), and he presents another opinion about the rebuilding of the city. He also includes a list of some other things related to Hadrian that can be seen in and around Jerusalem. See his post here.

Information about the exhibit at the Israel Museum may be found here.

Canaanite citadel exposed in Nahariya

Announcement was made this week of the discovery of a Canaanite citadel in the middle of the Israeli northern coastal town of Nahariya. The Israel Antiquities Authority and the University of Haifa announced an agreement that would allow construction on a high-rise apartment building to continue with the inclusion of the Canaanite ruins to remain in the basement.

An aerial photograph of the excavation. Photographic credit: Guy Fitoussi, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

An aerial photograph of the excavation. Photographic credit: Guy Fitoussi, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The IAA announcement reads,

In an agreement reached between the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Mr. Israel Hasson, and the director of the Kochav Company, Ltd., Mr. Danny Kochav, remains of a 3,400 year old citadel that were recently uncovered in an archaeological excavation will be integrated in an apartment high-rise that the Kochav Company is building on Balfour Street in Nahariya, close to the beach.

The large excavation, which the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted together with youth groups, including students from the Shchakim High School in Nahariya, was carried out as part of a project by the Kochav Company to build a residential high-rise with underground parking. Given the extraordinary nature and quality of the finds, the Israel Antiquities Authority sought a solution that would allow the conservation of some of the remains for the benefit of the public. Thus, with the assistance of Architect Alex Shpol, planner for the Interior Ministry’s regional committee for planning and construction, it was decided that part of the citadel would be preserved in the building’s basement level where it will be displayed for the enjoyment of the residents and visitors.

According to Nimrod Getzov, Yair Amitzur and Dr. Ron Be’eri, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “It seems that the citadel which we uncovered was used as an administrative center that served the mariners who sailed along the Mediterranean coast 3,400 years ago. There was probably a dock alongside the citadel. Numerous artifacts were discovered in its rooms, including ceramic figurines in form of humans and animals, bronze weapons and imported pottery vessels that attest to the extensive commercial and cultural relations that existed at that time with Cyprus and the rest of the lands in the Mediterranean basin”.

The fortress was destroyed at least four times by an intense conflagration, and each time it was rebuilt. An abundance of cereal, legumes and grape seeds were found in the burnt layers, which are indicative of the provisions the sailors would purchase.

Nahariya is not mentioned in the Bible by name. The city is located along the Mediterranean coast of the Plain of Acco about 5 or 6 miles north of Acco (Acre). This territory was allotted to the Israelite tribe of Asher, but they were not able to maintain control over the Canaanites in the region.

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, (Judges 1:31 ESV)

The book of Judges describes the territory of Asher as being along the seashore.

Asher remained on the seacoast, he stayed by his harbors. (Judges 5:17 NET)

Aerial view of the plain of Acco, territory of the Biblical tribe of Asher ran from Haifa (Mount Carmel) north. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of the plain of Acco, territory of the Biblical tribe of Asher ran from Haifa (Mount Carmel) north. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the far north of this photo you will see a small horizontal white line extending into the sea. That is known as the Ladder of Tyre. The cluster of buildings between Acco and the Ladder of Tyre is Nahariya.

During earlier excavations at Nahariya a Cannanite temple with a mold for making images of the goddess Asherah had been uncovered. Beginning with Ahab, numerous kings of Israel were responsible for worshiping Asherah. I suggest you use a Bible concordance to locate all the reference to Asherah, Asherim, Asheroth, and Ashtoreth.

Solomon also worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians in Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:13).

Female figurines dating to the Late Bronze Age. Photographic credit: Eran Gilvarg, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Female figurines dating to the Late Bronze Age. Photographic credit: Eran Gilvarg, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The IAA news release simply says that the recent discoveries at Nahariya date to 3400 years ago, i.e., about 1400 B.C. This period is known as the Late Bronze Age (about 1550 to 1200 B.C.). Bible students will recognize this as the period of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. The bronze arrowhead is a good reminder of the conflict in the land at that time.

An arrowhead made of bronze. Photographic credit: Eran Gilvarg, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

An arrowhead made of bronze. Photographic credit: Eran Gilvarg, courtesy of the IAA.

I find these photos so fascinating that I want to share more of them with you.

Photograph of the work being conducted at the site. Photo: IAA.

Photograph of the work being conducted at the site. Photo: IAA.

Imported pottery from Cyprus and Greece was found at the site.

Fragments of decorated pottery vessels imported from Cyprus and Greece 3,400 years ago. Photo: IAA.

Fragments of decorated pottery vessels imported from Cyprus and Greece 3,400 years ago. Photo: IAA.

A stamped jar handle is dated to the Middle Bronze Age (about 2100 to 1550 B.C.). I look forward to some insight into the reading of the impression.

A stamped jar handle dating to the Middle Bronze Age. Photo: IAA.

A stamped jar handle dating to the Middle Bronze Age. Photo: IAA.

We never know what may be dug up tomorrow.

HT: Joseph Lauer