Category Archives: Bible Lands

Traditions about Abraham at Şanliurfa, Turkey – Part 1

It might be best to begin by saying that Şanlıurfa (Glorious Urfa), often shortened to Urfa, is located in southeastern Turkey about 25 miles north of Haran, the home of Abraham before he went to the land of Canaan (Genesis 11:31). Some writers associate Urfa with Ur, the original home of Abraham. Prior to the 19th century scholars generally were unsure of the location of Ur, whether in the north or south of Mesopotamia.

Since Leonard Wooley identified a site in southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in the 20th century with Ur of the Chaldeans, that site generally been accepted by most scholars. There have been those, however, who argue that the Biblical Ur should be identified with Urfa, or the general area in northern Mesopotamia. This is a site in modern Turkey, and a region we know as biblical Paddan-Aram (Genesis 25:30, et al. Cyrus H. Gordon argued for this position, and Barry Beitzel places Ur in the north in The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands. Others, such as Rasmussen in Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, acknowledge that some place Ur in the north. I leave this discussion for your further study.

Muslim tradition reveres Urfa as the birthplace and early home of Abraham. Abraham is identified prominently among the 28 prophets of the Muslim faith. Much of what is said in the Quran (Koran) about various Old Testament-period characters of the Bible (including Jesus, John the Baptist, and Mary) is taken from the Jewish Talmud and Christian apocrypha — books not accepted as part of the biblical canon. Geisler and Saleeb cite W. St. Clair-Tisdall’s The Sources of Islam to show the direct dependence of some of these stories.

The influence of the Jewish  apocrypha can be seen on the Qur’anic stories of Cain and Abel, Abraham and the idols, and the Queen of Sheba. [see pages 11-30 and 39-45] The direct influence of Christian apocrypha can be seen in the story of seven sleepers and the childhood miracles of Jesus. (Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.)

Clair-Tisdall’s book is available at Google books. The story of Abraham and the idols is found in Sura 21 of the Quran, but it does not include the legendary story about the fish that we will recount below.

The Lonely Planet volume on Turkey (13th edition) succinctly explains the story. [For a number of years I have recommended the Lonely Planet guide books to my tour members. I find them very helpful, especially for the independent traveler.]

Legend had it that Abraham (Ibrahim), a great Islamic prophet, was in old Urfa destroying pagan gods one day when Nimrod, the local Assyrian king, took offence at this rash behaviour. Nimrod had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre, but God turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish. Abraham himself was hurled into the air from the hill where the fortress stands, but landed safely in a bed of roses.

The picturesque Gölbaşhi area of Urfa is a symbolic re-creation of this story. Two rectangular pools of water (Bahkll Göl and Ayn-i Zeliha) are filled with supposedly sacred carp, while the area west of the Hasan Padisah Camii is a gorgeous rose garden. Local legend has it that anyone catching the carp will go blind. Consequently, these appear to be the most pampered, portly fish in Turkey. (p. 565).

As with many “Jewish” and  “Christian” sites we speak of the traditional location of this or that. Sometimes, when there is little evidence to suggest the historical nature of such, we refer to something as a legendary account. Such would be the case with this story of Abraham and Nimrod.

Şanlıurfa is a beautiful small city and a pleasure to visit. I have had the opportunity to do so three times. The Gölbaşhi park in the historic area is easy to visit. Our photo below shows a plan of the area on one side and the aforementioned story of Abraham on the other.

The legend of Abraham's association with Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The legend of Abraham’s association with Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pool in the Gölbaşhi area of Urfa. My friend Gene, wearing the Florida State shirt and holding the camera at ready, bought extra bowls of food for the little boy so we could get photos of him feeding the fish.

Children enjoy feeding the sacred carp in the pool. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Children enjoy feeding the sacred carp in the pool. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A look at some of these fish illustrate why the Lonely Planet writer said they appear to be “the most pampered, portly fish in Turkey.”

The sacred carp of Urfa rush to get the food. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sacred carp of Urfa rush to get the food. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A word of explanation is in order. I had never met a Muslim until my first trip to the Bible lands in 1967. In Cairo, Egypt, we sat on the floor of the Mohammad Ali mosque and listened as our guide explained about the mosque and the Muslim religion. He then answered as many questions as we wanted to ask. Through the past half century I have made many friends among the Muslims, including visiting in some homes, and I have had the opportunity to travel widely in the Middle East. I have good Muslim neighbors.

In Part 2 we will visit the cave identified as the birthplace of Abraham.

Biblical History Center – LaGrange, Georgia

The Explorations in Antiquity Center, in LaGrange, Georgia, now in its tenth year, has changed the name to Biblical History Center. The new website with detailed information is available here.

New Logo for the Biblical History Center, LaGrange, Georgia.

New Logo for the Biblical History Center, LaGrange, Georgia.

The Biblical History Center is the brainchild of Dr. James (Jim) Fleming, well-known for his teaching in Israel.

Dr. Fleming established Biblical Resources in 1975, for the purpose of producing educational materials and aids for teaching the historical, geographical, and archaeological background of the Bible.

It was wonderful to have these resources together at one place in Israel, but it is beneficial to many more to have the resources available in the Southeastern United States.

We have mentioned the Center prominently here, here, and here.

My wife and I had the opportunity to stop by the Biblical History Center last November. Several significant changes have taken places since our earlier reports. The BHC now has a Biblical Life Artifacts Gallery displaying 250 artifacts from the National Treasures of Israel. Instead of having these items displayed in cases with a sign telling what they are, they are exhibited in life-like settings.

Genuine artifacts from a shipwreck off the coast of Israel displayed in a life-like setting. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Genuine artifacts from a shipwreck off the coast of Israel displayed in a life-like setting. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The new Biblical Life Artifacts Gallery is housed underneath the seating of the Roman theater.

Roman theater at Biblical History Center.

Roman theater at the Biblical History Center. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Of course, there are other important things at BHC. The photo below might remind one of the Middle Bronze Age gate at Tel Dan, and the canopy to the left of the gate recalls the Iron Age gate at the same city. This is where the king or judge sat in the gate to receive the people (2 Samuel 19:8). Other features of housing from biblical times are also shown in this structure.

The gate at the Biblical History Center. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The gate at the Biblical History Center. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Other artifact pertains to farming, shepherding, fishing, the process of dying and weaving cloth, storage, glass production, coins, foods, games – to name a few.

The Biblical History Center is a family place with guided tours. They even have a place where kids can participate in an archaeological dig. And you can arrange for a biblical meal and learn what it means to “recline at table” (Matthew 26:7).

Kids learning about archaeology at the Biblical History Center.

Kids learning about archaeology at the Biblical History Center.

Check the BHC web site for complete information about the various exhibits and hours of operation. If you live close enough, this is a wonderful place to take an entire Bible class or church group. The teachers of the children’s Bible classes at one church I know about went as a group to learn more about Bible times and customs.

Want to see the types of altars mentioned in the Bible? What about crosses or tombs, wine presses or threshing floors? It’s all there.

When I walked into the BHC ticket office I handed my card to Mrs. Crenshaw. She said, “You have written about our Center.” I explained that I had recommended the Center because I knew of the work of Dr. Fleming in Israel. I had met him there and at Professional meetings, but had never been to the Center. In the earlier reviews I used photos made by David Padfield and Jane Britnell. She sold me a ticket for my wife and said, “There will be no charge for you.” Later we had an opportunity to speak with Jim Fleming for a few minutes.

This is a great facility that I highly recommend.

Tristram’s Grackle and other Grackles

Today’s The New York Times has an article in the Science section about “The Grackle’s Secret to Success” here, including a short video of the experiments. It seems that many parts of earth have their own variety of Grackle. And some of them are causing lots of problems for cattle and dairy farms.  The particular bird causing problems for the USA is the great-tailed bird, native to Central America.

Over the past century or so the bird has spread north and its range is still expanding, particularly in the West, where it haunts cattle feed lots and big dairy farms.

Looks like we need a bird wall. Anyway, the article says the birds look smart, but the experiments that were conducted with the birds seemed to prove otherwise.

In the desert areas of Israel and Jordan the Grackle is known as Tristram’s Grackle, named for Henry B. Tristram who wrote The Natural History of the Bible in 1868, and numerous other books about the Bible Lands. I am intrigued by the bird every time I visit Masada, along the shore of the Dead Sea. This black bird with some distinctive orange feathers is known as Tristram’s Grackle, or Tristram’s Starling, and is easy to photograph. They like to pose.

Tristram's Grackle at Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tristram’s Grackle at Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Other photos of the bird may be seen here and here. The photo in the last entry reminds me of the experiments mentioned in the NYTimes article.

“It is the Land of Honey” – Tel Rehov discoveries on display at Eretz Israel Museum

Tel Rehov is located about three miles south of Beth-Shean (Beth-Shan) on the east side of Highway 90. Rehov is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but it is known from Pharaoh Shishak’s city list on the wall of the temple of Amun in the Karnak Temple at Luxor, Egypt. This campaign is also mentioned in the pages of the Bible (1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chronicles 12:2-9).

Tel Rehov was occupied during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The city may be one of those not captured by Israel when they entered the Land under the leadership of Joshua.

The men of Manasseh did not conquer Beth Shan, Taanach, or their surrounding towns. Nor did they conquer the people living in Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo or their surrounding towns. The Canaanites managed to remain in those areas. Whenever Israel was strong militarily, they forced the Canaanites to do hard labor, but they never totally conquered them. (Judges 1:27-28 NET; cf. Joshua 17:12)

The city was destroyed by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C. as they made their steady trek south.

Archaeological excavations were conducted at Tel Rehov from 1997 to 2012 under the direction of Prof. Amihai Mazar and Dr. Nava Panitz-Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For information and photos see the excavation website here.

View east of Tel Rehov in the Beth Shean Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tel Rehov in the Beth-Shean Valley to the east of Highway 90. The mountains of Gilead are visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next view takes us to the top of the mound. From there we see the Jordan Valley and a nice view of the Gilead mountains in modern Jordan.

View east from atop Tel Rehov. We see the Jordan Valley and the Gilead mountains. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View east from atop the north end of Tel Rehov. We see the Jordan Valley and the Gilead mountains in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Many artifacts, including numerous household and cult objects, were uncovered at Tel Rehov. Perhaps the most unusual find was an industrial apiary. The small photo below from the excavation web site shows some of the beehives made of clay.

 Apiary at Tel Rehov, the eastern row of hives © Copyright - The Beth-Valley Archaeological Project, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

Apiary at Tel Rehov, the eastern row of hives. © Copyright – The Beth-Shean Valley Archaeological Project, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

From January 12 to October 31, 2016, items from Tel Rehov are exhibited at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv under the title It Is the Land of Honey. I had the opportunity to visit this exhibition in April. The Museum website provides detailed information about the exhibition and a few small photos here.

The houses at Tel Rehov during Iron Age IIA differed from the typical houses found in known Israelite cities. According to the Museum website,

A salient feature of the Iron Age IIA city was the exclusive use of mudbrick to construct all buildings, incorporating wooden beams in walls and floors. Each building was unique in its architectural plan, and did not resemble any of the common blueprints of the Iron Age II, such as four-room houses or pillared buildings.

The photo below shows one of the clay beehives. A reconstruction of a honeycomb is visible on the right. Some of the bees found in the hives were determined to be from Anatolia, modern central Turkey. This adds one more piece of evidence showing how interconnected the nations of the ancient Middle East were. Some of the bees found in charred honeycombs are in the petri dishes in the front right of the photo. The lid of the beehive, with a hole in the center, is to the left of the hive. Click on the photo for a larger image.

One of the beehives from the Tel Rehov apiary. Eretz Israel exhibit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the beehives from the Tel Rehov apiary. Eretz Israel exhibition. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The exhibition includes a large display of items from Tel Rehov. I will list just a few.

  • Several four horned altars made of clay.
  • A wide variety of household pottery, including an oven of the period.
  • One of the mud bricks of which the houses were constructed.
  • A reconstructed loom with weights found during the dig. Several others items from the “House of Elisha” are on display. The ostracon with the name of Elisha written on it in red ink is not displayed, but there is information about it in the exhibition book. There were several altars in this house.
  • A storage jar had the name Nimshi inscribed on it – the name identical to that of King Jehu’s grandfather (1 Kings 19:16; 2 Kings 9:2).
  • Some iron blades, arrow heads, and possibly a sickle.
  • Some typical Canaanite clay fertility goddesses.
  • Stamped jar handles unique to Tel Rehov.
Horned altar and chalices from Tel Rehov. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tower shaped horned altar and chalices from Tel Rehov found in the area of the apiary. This altar is listed as being on loan from the Israel Museum in the exhibition book. If you miss the exhibition in Tel Aviv, perhaps you can see it later in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Museum has produced a nice 256-page book in Hebrew and English about Tel Rehov and the exhibition. I don’t see it listed at Amazon, but if you visit the exhibition you will probably wish to purchase a copy at the Museum shop.

Mazar and Panitz-Cohen published a brief article, with several photos of Tel Rehov artifacts, under the title “To What God? Altars and a House Shrine from Tel Rehov Puzzle Archaeologists” in the July/August 2008 Biblical Archaeology Review.

“A land flowing with milk and honey”

The promise made to the descendants of Abraham that they would receive “A land flowing with milk and honey” was made to them while they were in bondage in Egypt (Exodus 3:8; 13:5) and during the forty years of wilderness wandering (Leviticus 20:24; Deuteronomy 11:9).

Joshua and the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel affirmed that the LORD gave Israel a land flowing with milk and honey (Joshua 5:6; Jeremiah 32:22; Ezekiel 20:15).

You kept the promise that you swore on oath to their ancestors. You gave them a land flowing with milk and honey. (Jeremiah 32:22 NET)

The term honey (debash) is used in the Old Testament Scriptures 53 times. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament 17 of these are in the “land flowing with milk and honey.” The BDB lexicon says the term is used of “honey both of fruits and of bees.”

“Honey was among the products Jacob sent to Egypt for grain (Gen 43:11). It was even more prized then than today because, since they had no sugar, it was their chief sweetener” (TWOT).

The manna in the wilderness tasted like “wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31).

In a battle with the Philistines, Jonathan found honey dripping from the trees of the forest, ate some of it, and “had renewed energy” (1 Samuel 14:26-27 CSB).

The records we have in the Old Testament indicate that the bees of the land made their honey in the trees and rocks (Psalm 81:16).

Today, we see beehives throughout Israel. On one of our tours Rebekah Reeder Dutton asked if we could stop for a photo of some beehives. Her father maintains an apiary and she wanted some photos to show him. Since this was off the main highway we had plenty of space to stop for the photo. Rebekah kindly granted me permission to use one of her photos.

Bee hives in the Jordan River Park near Tel Bethsaida. Photo by Rebekah Dutton.

Beehives in the Jordan River Park near Tel Bethsaida. Photo by Rebekah Dutton.

The Ron Beach Hotel on the north side of Tiberias, at certain times of the year, has a honeycomb each morning for breakfast. Delicious.

Honey comb at the Ron Beach Hotel breakfast bar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Honeycomb at the Ron Beach Hotel breakfast bar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This honeycomb brings to mind several Biblical references. David describes the judgments of the LORD:

They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold; they bring greater delight than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb.  (Psalm 19:10 NET)

The wise man urged the young man to eat honey, making the application that wisdom is sweet.

Eat honey, my child, for it is good, and honey from the honeycomb is sweet to your taste.  Likewise, know that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, you will have a future, and your hope will not be cut off. (Pro 24:13-14 NET)

xxxxx

Sinuhe takes a trip through Canaan

The earliest description of Canaan comes from an Egyptian literary text. In The Story of Sinuhe (see-NUU-hay) written in the 20th century B.C., a traveler tells of his pleasant stay in northern Canaan (possibly the Beka Valley of Lebanon). He describes the land as follows:

Figs were in it, and grapes. It had more wine than water. Plentiful was its honey, abundant its olives. Every (kind of) fruit was on its trees. Barley was there, and emmer. There was no limit to any (kind of) cattle. (qtd. in Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 19)

This description reminds one of the promise God made to the Israelites to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8). A copy of The Story of Sinuhe written on stone is on display in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England. The stone below, now in the British Museum, contains the final stanza of the Story or Tale.

A portion of the Tale of Sinuhe. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A portion of the Tale of Sinuhe. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo of grapes from Lachish reminds us of the abundance of the land through which Sinuhe traveled.

Ripe grapes near Lachish in the Shephelah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Grapes on the vine near Lachish in the Shephelah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Measuring the Nile and your taxes

We have often heard the adaptation of Herodotus’ statement that Egypt is the gift of the Nile. The flooding of the Nile in ancient times was the key to the prosperity of the Nile Valley.

All along the Nile there are still examples of the Nile-o-meters that were used to measure the flooding. The higher the flood water, the more taxes that would be paid into the temple coffers.

In the photo below we see the meter on the Nile at Elephantine Island at Aswan. Notice the water lines along the rock structure. Entrance to the Nile-o-meter is from above, or from the opening to the right of center.

Elephantine Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Nile-o-meter on Elephantine Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo below provides a better view of the Nile-o-meter.

Nile-o-meter and steps on Elephantine Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Nile-o-meter and steps on Elephantine Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The principle is the same today. We pay taxes based on the amount we have earned within a year.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:5-7 ESV)