Category Archives: Bible Lands

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.

Digging in the vineyard

Vineyards are mentioned in more than 100 verses of the Bible. When traveling in the Bible lands one still sees many vineyards and the various work activities related to them.

The photo below was made south of Bethlehem. It shows a man digging in the rocky soil within a vineyard.

Man digging in vineyard between Bethlehem and Hebron. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Man digging in vineyard between Bethlehem and Hebron. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One might recall the song of the unfruitful vineyard in Isaiah 5.

He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:2 ESV)

Or the parable of Jesus in Matthew 21.

“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. (Matthew 21:33 ESV)

Bringing in the sheaves

From the time I was a child I recall the song “Bringing in the Sheaves” by Knowles Shaw. I see it was written in 1874, already an old song when I first sang it. I really miss the old songs. Some song leaders seem to forget that it is the repetition of songs that allows the children to learn them – just like they recall all of the TV jingles. Here are the words, now in public domain.

  1. Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
    Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
    Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

    • Refrain:
      Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
      We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
      Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
      We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
  2. Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
    Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
    By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
  3. Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
    Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
    When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

The meaning is clear. We continue to do kind deeds when times are good and when they are bad. Eventually “we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”

What are sheaves, and what is the basis of this encouraging song?

Perhaps the author recalled young Joseph’s dream of binding sheaves in the field when his sheaf stood upright and the sheaves of the brothers gathered around it and bowed down (Genesis 37:7).

Or, maybe it was the experience of Ruth gathering the left over grain among the sheaves in the field of Boaz at Bethlehem (Ruth 2:7, 15).

It seems that Shaw knew the words of Psalm 126:6.

He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:6 ESV)

Toward the end of May last year, in the vicinity of Samaria, we saw sheaves in the field ready to be brought in for storage and use for the remainder of the year.

Sheaves in the field near ancient Samaria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sheaves in the field near ancient Samaria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If you click on this photo and look carefully at the larger image you will see that the sheaves have been bound to hold them together.

Sheaves bound in the field, ready to be taken from the fields. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sheaves bound in the field, ready to be taken from the fields. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I fear that many of our folks today just dismiss the older songs that have themes they don’t readily understand. If we use this as an excuse, it is a reflection on our knowledge of the Bible. Perhaps its time to learn.

Bertha Spafford Vester explains how the early American Colony residents of Jerusalem made a living by engaging in various projects from weaving cloth to growing wheat. She recounts an interesting story about cutting grain and binding sheaves.

Our Swedish and American farmers had tilled these bits of ground so well that there was evidence of excellent crops. Some Orthodox Jews came to inspect the wheat and offered us a higher than usual price for it to make matzoth (unleavened bread) for their Feast of the Passover on condition that we harvested it under their supervision. We agreed.

We had no machinery; it was harvested by hand. One stipulation they made was that we should not begin work until the sun had risen and dried any moisture from dew fallen during the night. After breakfast we all went out to work in the field, our Jewish overseers keeping watch. As our custom was when working, washing dishes, or over the washtub, or at any other task, we sang hymns. So now we started in the harvest field. Singing helped the work, which went with a swing. But we were not allowed to sing by these Orthodox Jews. Peradventure a bit of moisture might fall from our mouths and cause fermentation. It would no longer be unleavened. So we gathered the sheaves silently. (Our Jerusalem, 190-191)

Are you sowing seeds of kindness?

HT: Timeless Truths for lyrics info.