Category Archives: Bible Places

Weather Forecasting Olive

Two months ago tonight my wife and I returned from leading a tour of Alpine Europe and spending 10 days in Israel on a personal excursion. We knew before we arrived that our house had been flooded as the result of a break in the water line leading to the refrigerator. We now have new flooring. The kitchen cabinets are installed, but we must wait about two more weeks for the counter top and putting the cabinets into full use. Just this little misfortune has terribly disrupted our life; perhaps this has been reflected in the number of blogs we have posted. Breakfast of cereal and coffee is about the only meal we have been able to have consistently, and that required moving from room to room to locate the needed items. Lately we have also been able to have a sandwich and fruit in the evening. We have spent at least a dozen nights in local hotels when we have been unable to get in our bedroom or when the dirtiest work was going on. It might sound like a vacation, but it’s not.

The Tampa, Florida area where I live has made the national news in the past few days because of the rains and flooding. I was just watching some of the late evening news a few minutes ago. We are barely in August, but the weatherman said we have already had more rain than the yearly average. During the first three days in August we had 8.42 inches. This is more than the monthly average. Some neighborhoods, especially those near the Gulf, the bay, or along rivers, are still under water. I feel for those folks and the length of time it will take them to get back to normal.

When we made our first tour to the Bible lands in 1967, the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank were still part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. We crossed from Jordan into Israel through the Mandelbaum Gate. Today the Grand Court Hotel, the Olive Tree Hotel, and another hotel stand in that area.

In May I walked past the Olive Tree Hotel and noticed the sign outside the hotel with the title “Weather Forecasting Olive.” I grabbed a shot with my cell phone and thought you might enjoy it.

Weather forecasting olive at the Olive Tree Hotel, Jerusalem

Weather forecasting olive at the Olive Tree Hotel, Jerusalem.

Actually I have noticed that the shrubs in my yard provide the same forecast. Well, except for the snow. We have had one dusting in the fifty+ years we have lived here.

Iron Age fortification and possible gate discovered at Gath

This is a view of the remains of the Iron Age city wall of Philistine Gath. Credit: Prof. Aren Maeir, Director, Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath

A sign welcoming visitors to Tel Safi, now identified as Gath. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Gath was a significant city during much of Old Testament history. Here are a few of the interesting things we know about Gath from the Bible:

  • Gath was one of the five major cities of the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:17).
  • The ark of the covenant was brought here by the Philistines after being capture in battle with the Israelites (1 Samuel 5:8).
  • Goliath was from Gath (1 Samuel 17).
  • David once sought refuge from Achish king of Gath (1 Samuel 21).
  • When Saul and Jonathan died, David did not want it to be published among the Philistines. He said, “Tell it not in Gath, Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, Or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, The daughters of the uncircumcised will exult” (2 Samuel 1:20).
  • King Uzziah broke down the wall of Gath, and other Philistine cities, and built Judean cities (2 Chronicles 26:6).

Gath is now identified with Tel es-Safi (or Tel Safi). The archaeological excavation known as The Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition is under the direction of Prof. Aren Maeir. The recent season has been an exciting one with the announcement Monday of the discovery of  “fortifications and apparent gate of the lower city.” Maeir provides a list here of some of the news sources making the announcement.

The Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, headed by Prof. Aren Maeir, has discovered the fortifications and entrance gate of the biblical city of Gath of the Philistines, home of Goliath and the largest city in the land during the 10th-9th century BCE, about the time of the “United Kingdom” of Israel and King Ahab of Israel. The excavations are being conducted in the Tel Zafit National Park, located in the Judean Foothills, about halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon in central Israel.

Prof. Maeir, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, said that the city gate is among the largest ever found in Israel and is evidence of the status and influence of the city of Gath during this period. In addition to the monumental gate, an impressive fortification wall was discovered, as well as various building in its vicinity, such as a temple and an iron production facility. These features, and the city itself were destroyed by Hazael King of Aram Damascus, who besieged and destroyed the site at around 830 BCE.

The city gate of Philistine Gath is referred to in the Bible (in I Samuel 21) in the story of David’s escape from King Saul to Achish, King of Gath.

Now in its 20th year, the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, is a long-term investigation aimed at studying the archaeology and history of one of the most important sites in Israel. Tell es-Safi/Gath is one of the largest tells (ancient ruin mounds) in Israel and was settled almost continuously from the 5th millennium BCE until modern times.

The archaeological dig is led by Prof. Maeir, along with groups from the University of Melbourne, University of Manitoba, Brigham Young University, Yeshiva University, University of Kansas, Grand Valley State University of Michigan, several Korean universities and additional institutions throughout the world.

Among the most significant findings to date at the site: Philistine Temples dating to the 11th through 9th century BCE, evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century BCE possibly connected to the earthquake mentioned in the Book of Amos 1:1, the earliest decipherable Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, which contains two names similar to the name Goliath; a large assortment of objects of various types linked to Philistine culture; remains relating to the earliest siege system in the world, constructed by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus around 830 BCE, along with extensive evidence of the subsequent capture and destruction of the city by Hazael, as mentioned in Second Kings 12:18; evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan (around 1200 BCE); different levels of the earlier Canaanite city of Gath; and remains of the Crusader castle “Blanche Garde” at which Richard the Lion-Hearted is known to have been.

This photograph of the lower city fortifications is included with the news release.

This is a view of the remains of the Iron Age city wall of Philistine Gath. Credit: Prof. Aren Maeir, Director, Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath

This is a view of the remains of the Iron Age city wall of Philistine Gath. Credit: Prof. Aren Maeir, Director, Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath

My aerial photos of Tel Safi were made in December, 2009. I want to point out that Gath is on the edge of the Shephelah and the beginning of the southern coastal plain which can be seen in this photo. The brook of Elah runs on the north side of the mound, then curves south and west. I have marked some of it in red.

Aerial view of Tel es-Safi/Gath. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Tel es-Safi/Gath. Photo and markings by Ferrell Jenkins.

The best I can tell from the limited photos provided, the new discovery is in the area marked by the yellow oval.

Maeir has been dropping hints about this discovery on his blog for the past few weeks. On July 28th he provided an aerial photo of the “fortifications and possible city gate.” He says that “more than 30 meters of the city wall” has been traced on the surface.

July 11th Maeir posted in both Hebrew and English “just for fun…what the biblical text has to say about the city gate of Gath (I Sam 21:11/10-15/14).” More about that later.

I follow the Tel es-Safi/Gath expedition and have posted several articles about the site over the past few years. Today, I also give a tip of the hat to Joseph I. Lauer for the links to some of the news releases.

A closer view of the other Aphek – of Asher

Early in the year I posted an article here about “The other Aphek – of Asher” in which I included some aerial views of the site and explained the difference between this site and the better known Aphek in Sharon. Earlier this year I made a visit to the northern site (locally spelled Afek).

I will repeat one of the photos to provide some perspective.This view shows the tel, the nature reserve and the plain of Acre. The biblical tel is marked by the red oval.

Aphek of Asher. View north-northeast toward the Ladder of Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aphek of Asher. View N-NE toward the Ladder of Tyre.  Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is a close view of the tel.

Tel Aphek of Asher. View northeast toward the border with Lebanon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tel Aphek of Asher. View NE toward the border with Lebanon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has a nice PDF English brochure about the Afeq Nature Reserve here. The brochure provides a brief history of the tel.

A number of archaeological surveys have been carried out on Tel Afeq. They have revealed finds going back to the Canaanite period, beginning around 5,000 years ago. A row of large field stones discovered here is apparently a remnant of the most ancient city wall, dating from the Middle Bronze age (the tenth to sixth centuries BCE). During the Canaanite period a purple dye industry developed here, based on excretions from snails harvested from the sea. Glass was also produced here using sand from the beach at Acre and the surrounding area. Both these industries made the area very important economically.
In a salvage dig in May 1998 at the northern edge of the tell, human remains were found, along with pottery vessels and tombs from the Middle and Late Bronze ages (19th-13th centuries BCE).

Bible Walks has many photos, historical references, and a Google earth map with identifications here.

If you choose to enjoy the whole area you will need a few hours.

Maresha of the Shephelah

Tel Maresha (= Tell Sandahanna) is a large mound located south of Highway 35 between Bet Guvrin and Lachish.

View of the north side of Tel Maresha. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the north side of Tel Maresha. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Maresha [Mareshah in most English translations; Marisha] is listed among cities of the Shephelah (lowland) (Joshua 15:33, 44). See also 2 Chronicles 20:37 and Micah 1:15. Rehoboam, king of Judah (931/30 – 913 B.C.), fortified Maresha and several other cities of the Shephelah (2 Chron. 11:5-10). Asa, king of Judah (911/10 – 870/69 B.C.), fought Zerah the Ethiopian at Maresha (2 Chronicles 14:9-10).

The Assyrian king Sennacherib destroyed Maresha in 701 B.C., something the prophet Micah warned about.

Residents of Mareshah, a conqueror will attack you, the leaders of Israel shall flee to Adullam. (Micah 1:15 NET)

He says the leaders will flee to Adullam. Adullam is noted for its caves, and specifically as the place where David hid when he was fleeing from Achish, king of Gath (1 Samuel 22:1). His mighty men went to David at the cave of Adullam during a war with the Philistines (2 Samuel 23:13).

During the Hellenistic and early Roman periods, the Nabatean Arabs moved into the ancient territory of Edom. They were living in the region centered at Petra as early as 312 B.C. Much of their income was derived from the control of the spice trade.

The earlier inhabitants of Edom moved west into the territory south of Judah and north of the Negev. The term Idumea may be derived from Edom. Hubner says,

“The Edomites probably began emigrating increasingly into the S portions of the Judean territory following the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary).

Hebron and Maresha became two of their most important cities. The Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus (135–104 B.C.) compelled the Idumeans to be circumcised and become Jews.

A view southeast of Maresha toward the central mountain range. Notice the shepherd with sheep. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view southeast of Maresha toward the central mountain range. Notice the shepherd with sheep. Click on the photo for a larger image. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Antipater, a wealthy and powerful Idumean leader (63–43 BC), gained the favor of several Roman rulers. After the death of Antipater in 43 B.C., his son Herod was declared the King of the Jews. Some scholars suggest that Maresha was Herod’s birthplace.

The vicinity is noted for it underground chambers.

“The rock is Eocene chalk (kirton), which is very easy to work. Where the chalk was exposed to the air a hard crust (nari) formed, which provided a solid roof” (Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land).

After the Parthians destroyed Maresha (40 B.C.), the city moved to a nearby village known as Bet Guvrin. By A.D. 200, Bet Guvrin became a significant city known as Eleutheropolis. Murphy-O’Connor says, “The prosperity of the city at this period is underlined by an oval amphitheatre.”

Babylonian and Roman destruction of the Temple

Many of the Jewish people recently observed Tisha B’Av. This phrase, strange to Christians, means the Fast of the Ninth. The observance “is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people” (Judaism 101). According to this source, five terrible events took place on or near the ninth day of the month Av, the fifth month of the Jewish calendar.

The most significant of these events are the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-9; Jeremiah 52:12-13), and the destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70.

In the past half century a considerable amount of evidence has come to light concerning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The temple destroyed in 586 B.C. had been constructed by King Solomon in about 966 B.C. It was rebuilt by those who returned from the Babylonian Exile (530-516 B.C.).

Herod the Great began about 19/20 B.C. to rebuild the temple. This work was still in progress during the ministry of Jesus.

Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20 NET)

Christians take seriously the prophecy of Jesus.

Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away, his disciples came to show him the temple buildings. And he said to them, “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” (Matthew 24:1-2 NET)

There is no archaeological evidence of the temple building itself. The site where the temple once stood is now covered with paving stones and the Dome of the Rock which was constructed by the followers of Mohammed in the 7th century A.D.

The Dome of the Rock stands where Solomon's Temple was built. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Dome of the Rock stands where Solomon’s Temple was built. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Vivid evidence of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem was discovered at the SW corner of the temple area in the Tyropean Valley. Some of the rubble can still be seen on the street which was probably built by Agrippa II in the 60s of the first century.

Stones that fell from the Temple Mount to the street below in A.D. 70. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Stones that fell, or were pushed, from the Temple Mount to the street below in A.D. 70 at the time of the destruction by the Romans. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wayne Stiles recently wrote an article here on this topic with several excellent photos from the Burnt House in Jerusalem, a house burned during the Roman destruction in A.D. 70.

Chickens in Israel commercialized during Hellenistic Period

For the first few decades of my preaching I ate fried chicken in lots of homes. There were numerous jokes about preachers and chicken. One was that the family of five were told by the head of the house to bow their heads while thanks was being given. Just as he was about to say Amen there was a loud cry of pain. When they looked, the preacher had five forks in his hand.

In the days before frozen meat, or even refrigeration, it was easy enough to make a last-minute decision to invite the visiting minister home without having anything prepared to eat. The woman of the house would send one of the kids to the yard to select a plump fryer. It did not take very long to get that chicken plucked, cut, rolled in flour and fried. It was good.

When I opened the digital headlines from The Jerusalem Post (here) this morning I read an article reporting that chickens were first commercialized in Israel 2,300 years ago. A little later in the day I received reports from Joseph Lauer. First the NPR report (here), and then other sources.

To summarize. Researchers at the University of Haifa have been studying more than a thousand chicken bones excavated at Maresha (= Mareshah), a site in the Shephelah of Israel, from the Hellenistic period (400 to 200 B.C.). Lee Perry-Gal is quoted by NPR:

“The site is located on a trade route between Jerusalem and Egypt,” says Lee Perry-Gal, a doctoral student in the department of archaeology at the University of Haifa. As a result, it was a meeting place of cultures, “like New York City.”

Lee Perry-Gal examining chicken bones from Hellenistic Maresha.

Lee Perry-Gal examining chicken bones from Hellenistic Maresha.

Another photo provided by the folks at Haifa shows chicken bones in an ancient cooking pot.

Cooking pot with chicken wing bones from the excavation.

Cooking pot with chicken wing bones from the excavation.

If you have more technical interest in this story you should see the abstract on the PNAS website here. The article may be downloaded for a fee.

When I began to look at Biblical references to chickens, I was a little surprised at the paucity of references in the Old Testament

There is only one reference to the rooster in the Old Testament (Proverbs 30:31), but the New Testament contains at least a dozen references. Most of them are about Peter’s denial of Jesus.

A rooster at the Greek Orthodox property at Capernaum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A rooster at the Greek Orthodox property at Capernaum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jesus says He wanted to gather the children (used of all the people) of Jerusalem together “the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37; cf. Luke 13:34 NAU).

If there was no widespread production of chickens in Israel until the Hellenistic period, what did the prophets eat?

Hastings five volume Dictionary of the Bible

A few weeks (months?) back, after a long wait, I received the 5-volume A Dictionary of the Bible, ed. by James Hastings, in Logos format. I have mentioned earlier that this is an old set that is not a substitute for owning newer materials. The fifth volume is an Extra Volume that includes some special studies. William M. Ramsay wrote sections on Roads and Travel in the New Testament. This material was published in 1911 and 1912.

Ramsay also wrote the Dictionary entry on Troas. Here I will share a few excerpts from that material that I think will illustrate the value of such material.

TROAS (Τρῳάς, or more correctly Ἀλεξάνδρεια ἡ Τρῳάς [Alexandria Troas]) was a city on the Ægean coast of Asia Minor, opposite the small island of Tenedos. The district in which it was situated was sometimes called as a whole Troas, and is in modern times generally called the Troad; it was the northwestern part of the land of Mysia….

It became one of the greatest and largest cities of the north-west of Asia. In the coasting voyage system of ancient navigation, it was the harbour to and from which the communication between Asia and Macedonia was directed (cf. Ac 16:8, 20:5, 2 Co 2:12). Owing to the greatness of Troas and its legendary connexion with the foundation of Rome, the idea was actually entertained by Julius Cæsar of transferring thither the centre of government from Rome (Suet. Jul. 79); and some similar scheme was still not wholly forgotten when Horace protested against it in Od. iii. 3. Hadrian probably visited Troas and it was perhaps his interest in it that led the wealthy and politic Herodes Atticus to build there an aqueduct (the ruins of which were imposing in very recent times) and baths….

The route followed by St. Paul, with Silas and Timothy, from the Bithynian frontier near Dorylaion or Kotiaion, brought the party to the coast at Troas (Ac 16:6–8). There can be little doubt that this road led down the Rhyndacus valley past the hot springs Artemaia, sacred to Artemis, on the river Aisepos.

Don’t dismiss the “old guys” in your studies, but don’t limit your studies to them.

Ruins of the Bath of Herodes Atticus at Troas. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of the Bath of Herodes Atticus at Troas. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Don’t confuse the Herodes Atticus mentioned here with the Herod’s of the New Testament. Herodes Atticus was a wealthy Greek from Athens who later became a Roman senator. The dates for his life are given in several sources as about A.D. 101–177. Those who have visited Athens may recall seeing the Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the slopes of the Acropolis.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the slope of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the slope of the Acropolis. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.