Category Archives: Bible Lands

After almost 70 years, still searching for scrolls in the Judean Desert Caves

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves along the western shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. In the years that followed, documents from the time of Bar Kochba’s revolt (A.D. 135) were discovered. At least some of the biblical texts and those from the second century A.D. can be seen at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.

Time has not caused robbers to stop searching for materials in the Judean caves – not just at Qumran, but all along the eastern edge of the Judean Desert. Israel has been cracking down on the dealers in antiquities that fill the Old City of Jerusalem and other places. Recently the document below was seized in a joint operation by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Israel Police. It dates to Year Four of the Destruction of the House of Israel (A.D. 139). We think of the Bar Kochba Revolt as reaching it’s culmination in A.D. 135. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary entry by Isaac and Oppenheimer says,

The rebels were united under the leadership of one man: Simeon Bar Kokhba. The revolt resulted in the emergence of a short-lived independent state marked by the organization of local authorities, the issue of coinage, and the leasing of state land.

The ancient text that dates to the Year Four of the Destruction of the House of Israel (139 CE), which was seized in a joint operation by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Israel Police. Photographic credit: Shai Halevi, courtesy of the Leon Levy Digital Library, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The ancient text that dates to the Year Four of the Destruction of the House of Israel (139 CE), which was seized in a joint operation by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Israel Police. Photographic credit: Shai Halevi, courtesy of the Leon Levy Digital Library, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Israel Hasson, director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, says,

“We plan on saving our most important heritage and cultural assets which have been plundered for years.”

The effort currently underway involves archaeologists and volunteer workers searching for pottery, scrolls, fragments, etc. in caves at Nahal Tse’elim, a site about 1½ miles north of Masada.

I prepared some of the photos provided by the Israel Antiquities Authority last evening, but did not have time to work on the post. This morning I see that Todd Bolen, Bible Places, has posted info. I decided to go ahead with this post for the 5 people who don’t read the Bible Places Blog and include different photos that others might enjoy and find useful.

A general photograph of Nahal Tse’elim. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A general photograph of Nahal Tse’elim. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The climb up (or down) to the cave is difficult.

Access to the cave is complicated and for safety’s sake requires the use of rappelling equipment. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Access to the cave is complicated and for safety’s sake requires the use of rappelling equipment. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Volunteers sift the dusty soil in hopes of finding some little scrap of a document or some other valuable item.

Volunteers at work in the archaeological excavation. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Volunteers at work in the archaeological excavation. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The IAA release included a video with the narration in Hebrew. Bolen calls attention to a brief video with English explanation at Arutz Sheva here.

Some archaeological projects keep their best stuff hidden away for decades. A word of thanks to the IAA for making material like this available to a wider audience.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Location, location, location – Shechem valley

“Location, location, location” is a phrase commonly used by realtors to describe the ideal plot or house for the prospective buyer. For some it means being near shopping. For others it means being near work. And for others it may mean being near recreational facilities, good schools, etc.
Last Sunday I was teaching John 4 regarding Jesus’ travel through Samaria and his stop at Jacob’s well. I mentioned that it is difficult now to get a good photo of the valley flanked by Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. I used this photo that I made in 2011 that provides a reasonably good view. I suggest you click on the photo for a larger image.
View west of the valley between Mount Gerizim (left-south) and Mount Ebal (right-north). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View west of the valley between Mount Gerizim (left-south) and Mount Ebal (right-north). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

 This valley was an ideal location for many biblical events. Some of the significant events associated with the area are listed below.
  • Shechem is the first city of Canaan mentioned in the Bible. The land promise to Abraham was restated here (Genesis 12:6-7).
  • Jacob and his family settled at Shechem (Genesis 33:18). Jacob purchased a parcel of ground and erected an altar here.
  • Joseph’s brothers had gone from Bethlehem to near Shechem to graze their flocks (Genesis 37:12-13).
  • After entering Canaan, the Israelites gathered at Shechem on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal to hear Joshua read the blessings and curses of the Law (Joshua 8:30-34; cf. Deuteronomy 28-30).
  • Shechem was within the territory of Ephraim and served as a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7; 21:21).
  • Joseph was buried in a parcel of ground bought by Jacob (Joshua 24:32).
  • The Shechemites supported Abimelech in his bid to be ruler and gave him money from their temple of Baal-berith (Judges 8:33; 9). Jotham’s addressed the people of Shechem from Mount Gerizim with a fable (Judges 9:7ff.).
  • After the Exile, Shechem became a major religious center of the Samaritans. Their temple was built on Mount Gerizim (John 4:20-21).
  • Jesus visited Jacob’s Well near Shechem (John 4).

The general vicinity around Shechem was associated with the northern kingdom of Israel after the death of Solomon.

  • Shechem served as the temporary headquarters for the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:25) beginning about 931 B.C.
  • The capital of Israel was moved to Tirzah during the reign of Baasha (908-886 B.C.; 1 Kings 15:21; 16:16).
  • After six years at Tirzah, king Omri (885-874 B.C.) purchased the hill of Samaria for his capital (1 Kings 16:24). The capital remained there until the city was captured by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.
  • (Dates are those from Mckinny, The Regnal Chronology of the Kings of Judah and Israel: An Illustrated Guide.)

Tirzah is located about 7 miles northeast of Shechem, and Samaria is about 7 miles northwest of Shechem.

Judges 9:37 recounts people “coming down from the center of the land” as they came down from Mount Gerizim. Bernhard W. Anderson uses the term navel says,

In the ancient period it was claimed that Shechem was the center of Canaan. (BA 20:1, 1957)

In introducing the series of articles on Shechem in the same issue of Biblical Archaeologist, G. Ernest Wright used the title “Navel of the Land.” That makes it fairly easy for us to remember it’s location on the map.

Talk about location!

For additional posts on Shechem, Gerizim, Jacob’s Well, or the Samaritans, type one of the terms in the search box.

Birket Ram on the road to Trachonitis

Birket Ram is located north of Mas’ada in the Golan Heights (now Northeastern Israel; formerly Syria). Using two 18mm images I was able to make this panorama. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Panorama of Birket Ram. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Panorama (view south) of Birket Ram. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Birket Ram is not mentioned in the Bible, but there is some related historical information.

Azaria Alon devotes only a single paragraph to Birket Ram, or Ram Pool.

Birket Ram is a natural water formation which measures 600 x 900 meters [1,968 x 2,952 ft.], reaches a depth of 6 to 10 meters [20 to 30 ft.], and holds about 3 million cubic meters of water. The pool has the appearance of a crater and is at an elevation of 940 meters [3,083 ft.]. It contains sweet water fed by underground springs and rain. Geologists believe that the pool was formed by volcanic activity in which the peak of the mountain blew off leaving a crater. (Israel National Parks & Nature Reserves, 2008. p. 39).

Josephus states that Panium [Paneas or Banias = Caesarea Philippi] is thought to be the source of the Jordan River. He claims, however, the source is Phiale (Birket Ram).

509 Now Panium is thought to be the source of the Jordan, but in reality it is carried there after a hidden manner from the place called Phiale:
510 this place lies as you go up to Trachonitis, and is fifteen miles from Caesarea, and is not far out of the road on the right hand;
511 and indeed it has its name of Phiale [vial or bowl] very justly, from the roundness of its circumference, as being round like a wheel: its water continues always up to its edges, without either sinking or running over;
512 and as this origin of Jordan was formerly not known, it was discovered when Philip was tetrarch of Trachonitis [Luke 3:1];
513 for he had chaff thrown into Phiale, and it was found at Panium, where the ancients thought the source of the river was, where it had been therefore carried [by the waters]. (Jewish Wars 3:509-513)

In 1865 Edward Robinson questioned the claim of Josephus saying,

This story helps to confirm the identity of Phiala with Birket er-Râm; but the supply of such a fountain as that of Bâniâs would exhaust this lake in a single day. (Physical Geography of the Holy Land)

Contrary to Alon’s claim that the water of Birket Ram is sweet, Robinson and other older sources say that the water is stagnant and slimy. I got no closer than the photo shows and can not testify about the quality of the water.

The shepherd and his sheep

When my traveling friend Leon and I left Jerusalem last Saturday the temperature reached a high of about 82 degrees. On the way to Tiberias we began to notice that the sky was hazy; it was filled with sand coming up from the south. This wind is known as the hamsin. The sand could be seen on the cars.

This morning we noticed that the sunrise would not be visible over the Sea of Galilee. When I checked the weather online, I found that a slow-moving storm was bringing flash floods (from the west) throughout the Mid-East. The weather yesterday in Galilee was hot, but this morning it was chilly – in the low 50s.

As we drove south through the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem we had periods of rain, and periods of beautiful sky and brilliant colors. As we approached Jericho we even had rain falling in the wilderness. This is a rare event.

The light rain settled the dust and made the landscape more photogenic. Here is a photo I made of a shepherd leading his sheep in the wilderness. Notice the heavy clouds to the East.

When we arrived in Jerusalem about 5 p.m. the temperature was 58 degrees.

A shepherd leads his sheep in the wilderness. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A shepherd leads his sheep in the wilderness. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The analogy of shepherd and sheep is used throughout the Bible. Psalm 23 is familiar even to many non-religious people.

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:1-4 ESV)

A glimpse of the River Jordan

The Jordan River is shy, rarely revealing very much of itself. As we travel in the Jordan Valley from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea we only see the river on a few occasions. Even then we only see short distances.

The photo below is one I made yesterday about 12 km. south of the Sea of Galilee. You can see the dirt road on the Israeli side of the border and the River in Jordan.

The Jordan River flowing into Jordan for a short distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Jordan River flowing into Jordan for a short distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bible students enjoy visiting the Jordan River for several reasons.

  • The ancient Israelites crossed the Jordan to enter the land that had been promised to the seed of Abraham (Joshua 3).
  • Elijah and Elisha crossed the river (2 Kings 2).
  • John baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:6ff.; Mark 1:5-9; John 1:28; 10:40).
  • Jesus was baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13).
  • Naaman, the Aramean [Syrian] military commander, dipped in the Jordan at a site further south (2 Kings 5).

I have been unable to post very much while traveling in Israel, but the mother of my favorite grandson said I should be posting more. She knows how to get things done.

Photo of 50th Anniversary tour group

Our journey is Israel is now beginning the second half. We enjoyed a beautiful day in Jerusalem visiting sites related to the Bible. This is an especially significant tour for me. It is my 50th Anniversary tour. The first one  that included Israel was in 1967. Overall it is the 84th tour that I have directed.

Our group this year comes from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Guatemala. I think eleven of us have traveled together before.

50th Anniversary Tour Group led by Ferrell Jenkins.

50th Anniversary Tour Group led by Ferrell Jenkins.

Nothing compares to studying the Bible in the land where it was written and where the events described in it took place. I am thankful to have shared this experience with so many over this half century.

The Dead Sea: what is deader than dead?

Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, has a fabulous article about the Dead Sea which they call “Israel’s endangered natural wonder.” This report consists of an article, photographs, aerial footage, and an animated map showing how the Dead Sea is drying up. The article is by Nir Hasson. Use this link to access all of the material.

In 1972 the Dead Sea was about 1301 feet below sea level. This year it is more than 1407 feet below sea level. Water that once flowed all the way from Mount Hermon and the streams of both Cis-Jordan and Trans-Jordan is now being used to provide water for the population and agricultural interests.

In my photo below you will see a few of the sinkholes that have been formed in recent years. According to Hasson there were 220 sinkholes along the shore in 1996, but in 2015 the count had risen to 5,548. The water of the Sea once covered all of the area below where I was standing to make the photo.

Sinkholes along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sinkholes along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Previously we have called attention to the photos of the sinkholes by Shmuel Browns, Israel Tour Guide. This would be a good time to take a look at them if you have not done so before. Go here.

The Dead Sea is called the Salt Sea in the Old Testament (Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:3, 12; Deuteronomy 3:17, et al.