Category Archives: Archaeology

Damascus Gate in Jerusalem

After dinner this evening we went to Damascus Gate to try our hand at some night shots of the Gate. Here is one of my resultant photos.

Damascus Gate at Night. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Damascus Gate at Night. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Damascus Gate is the main one of three gates on the north side of the Old City wall in Jerusalem. The gate we see was built over a gate from the early second century when the city was rebuilt by the Romans, and likely over the earlier gate from New Testament times.

The gate is called Damascus because this formerly was the way one would depart Jerusalem to head for the city of Damascus. Paul may have used an earlier gate when he made his way to Damascus to locate and bind followers of Christ and bring them to Jerusalem for trial (Acts 9, 22, 26).

The weather was pleasantly cool this evening. Earlier in the week in Tiberias we found the 104° to be uncomfortable.

Jesus visited His hometown

Early in His ministry Jesus left Nazareth and made Capernaum his base of operation. From there He went all over Galilee and as far away as Tyre and Sidon and the Decapolis.

In the course of time Jesus returned to His hometown. Here is the  account of the events associated with that visit as recorded in the Gospel of Mark.

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.  (Mark 6:1-6)

We often hear the expression, “You can never go home again.” We see this played out in many ways. The college student who has enjoyed the freedom of being away from home seldom feels comfortable back in the family basement.

Jesus’ expression is also  commonly repeated.  “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

The familiarity with Jesus in His pre-ministry years, knowledge of his work as a carpenter, and his family, caused the residents of Nazareth to reject Him.

Our photo shows the interior of the synagogue at Nazareth Village. Perhaps the synagogue of Jesus’ time looked somewhat like this.

The Synagogue at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Synagogue at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

While we may not be able to return to the place where we grew up, we are always welcomed into the presence of the heavenly father.

Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum

The gospel of Mark mentions Jesus teaching and performing miracles in the synagogue at Capernaum.

  • He taught in the synagogue and performed a miracle there (Mark 1:21-29)
  • He healed a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-5)
  • Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue, implored Jesus to make his daughter well. Jesus raised the young girl from the dead (Mark 5:22-43)

A synagogue has been partially reconstructed from the archaeological ruins at Capernaum. Scholars differ on the age of the synagogue with opinions ranging from the late second century to the fifth century. Italian archaeologists who excavated the site in 1981 say the synagogue dates to the Byzantine period (late fourth or early fifth century). Israeli scholars tend to place the synagogue in the second/third century.

The Italians think they have found the basalt ruins of the first century synagogue under the floor of the fourth/fifth century one. You can see part of that black basalt foundation to the left of the steps. They believe that this earlier synagogue is the one built by the Roman centurion (Luke 5:1-5).

The reconstructed synagogue at Capernaum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The reconstructed synagogue at Capernaum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our photo below shows a closer view of the basalt foundation.

The black basalt foundation is visible under the white limestone building. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The black basalt foundation is visible under the white limestone building. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Several articles about the Capernaum synagogue are available in Biblical Archaeology Review (1982 and 1983).

Russian archaeologists say enclosure wall uncovered at Memphis, Egypt

Not much is left at the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis. This is not surprising to those who believe the Bible includes prophecy about various ancient nations.
The prophet Ezekiel has this to say about Memphis.

This is what the sovereign LORD says: I will destroy the idols, and put an end to the gods of Memphis. There will no longer be a prince from the land of Egypt; so I will make the land of Egypt fearful.  (Ezekiel 30:13)

The alabaster sphinx of Rameses II  (13th century B.C.) is one of the nicest pieces on display at the open air museum. It is also one of the few artifacts to be seen. The prophecy has surely come to pass.

Alabaster sphinx of Rameses II at Memphis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Alabaster sphinx of Rameses II at Memphis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A recent article in The Cairo Post here reports that an archaeology team of the Russian Institute of Egyptology has uncovered ruins of the enclosure wall that surrounded Memphis about 3200 B.C.

The article includes a note saying the new Grand Egyptian Museum, being built near the Giza Pyramids, is scheduled to open in 2018. The uprising in Egypt that occurred in 2011 has caused the delayed opening of the Museum.

HT: Agade List

They removed the roof and let down the bed

During the ministry of Jesus at Capernaum four men brought a paralyzed man to see Jesus, likely seeking healing, but there were so many people in the house that it was not possible to get in to see Jesus.

And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. (Mark 2:4 ESV)

Reconstructed house at Nazareth Village showing roof construction. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Reconstructed house at Nazareth Village showing roof construction. Notice the few weeds growing on the roof. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Craig S. Keener describes the way the roofs of these houses were constructed.

The roof was approached by an outside staircase, so they could reach it unimpeded. The roof of single-story homes was sturdy enough for walking but was normally made of branches and rushes laid over the roof’s beams and covered with dried mud; thus one could dig through it. (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament)

M. J. Selman says,

Roofs were constructed from beams covered with branches and a thick layer of mud plaster, though the rafters were sometimes supported by a row of pillars along the middle of the room. Cylindrical stone rollers about 60 cm. [23.6 inches] long were used to keep the roofs flat and waterproof, though roofs needed to be re-plastered annually prior to the rainy season to seal cracks which had developed during the summer heat. (New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed.)

The picture below shows a reconstructed house at Nazareth Village with a roof like the one mentioned above. Notice the beams made from small trees, the mud on the top, and some grass and weeds growing in it.

Reconstructed house at Nazareth Village showing roof construction. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Reconstructed house at Nazareth Village showing roof construction. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows a portion of a roof made from wood and mud. You will also notice a roof roller on the roof. After the winter rains it was necessary to pack the roof with a roof roller. Roof rollers are commonly discovered during archaeological excavations.

Typical roof from NT times with roof roller. Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Typical roof from NT times with roof roller. Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The account of Luke, a gentile physician, adds an interesting point that creates a small problem in interpretation.

But since they found no way to carry him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down on the stretcher through the roof tiles right in front of Jesus. (Luke 5:19 NET)

Did you notice the reference to roof tiles? One of the Translator’s Notes in the NET Bible discusses this problem.

There is a translational problem at this point in the text. The term Luke uses is keramos. It can in certain contexts mean “clay,” but usually this is in reference to pottery (see BDAG 540 s.v. 1). The most natural definition in this instance is “roof tile” (used in the translation above). However, tiles were generally not found in Galilee. Recent archaeological research has suggested that this house, which would have probably been typical for the area, could not have supported “a second story, nor could the original roof have been masonry; no doubt it was made from beams and branches of trees covered with a mixture of earth and straw” (J. F. Strange and H. Shanks, “Has the House Where Jesus Stayed in Capernaum Been Found?” BAR 8, no. 6 [Nov/Dec 1982]: 34). Luke may simply have spoken of building materials that would be familiar to his readers.

There are other possible interpretations, but I hope this information with the photos will help you better understand the biblical text.

Pay your taxes and do not fear the authorities

While reading Romans 13 I came to Paul’s admonition to the saints at Rome, “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good.” My mind immediately turned to the mosaic which was discovered during the excavation of the Byzantine public area at Caesarea Maritima.

The context in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans reads this way.

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:3-4 ESV)

The sign at the site describes the building where the mosaic was found as a Tax Archive. The original is said to be on display at the Kibbutz Sdot Yam Museum. The edifice is identified as “Byzantine government offices where clerks recorded tax revenues.”

Mosaic Treasury at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mosaic Treasury at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I suppose they did not understand that this is politically incorrect!

Passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath

All three Synoptic Gospels record the incident of Jesus and His disciples passing through the grainfields on a Sabbath.

On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” (Luke 6:1-2 ESV; See also Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28)

I thought I would put together some photos to help you visualize what happened here. First, we have a photo of a wheat field below Mount Tabor. The photo is made looking north west from near the site of ancient En-dor. The area is famous as the home of the medium visited by King Saul (1 Samuel 28:7).

Wheat field with view NW to Mount Tabor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wheat field with view NW to Mount Tabor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Now, imagine the disciples taking ripe grain in their hands.

Picking heads of grain. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Picking heads of grain. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

And then rubbing the heads to separate the grain from the chaff.

Rubbing grain to separate the grain from the chaff. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rubbing grain to separate the grain from the chaff. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Mosaic law allows for plucking standing grain with the hand, but not using a sickle.

If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:25 ESV)

The sickle pictured below was excavated at Tell Beit Mirsim and dates to the Iron Age sometime between 925-701 B.C. It is displayed in the James L. Kelso Bible Lands Museum at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Sickle from the Iron Age at Tell Beit Mirsim. Kelso Bible Lands Museum, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sickle from the Iron Age at Tell Beit Mirsim. Kelso Bible Lands Museum, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Pharisees were claiming that what the disciples were doing was work prohibited on the Sabbath, but Jesus used the event to teach two important facts.

  • The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  • The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.

The last two photos were made in the vicinity of Mount Nemrut in eastern Turkey. Larger images, suitable for use in teaching, are available by clicking on the photos.