Category Archives: Bible Places

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.

The Temple Mount – a Carta Guide Book

The writings and drawings of Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer have brought to life many of the archaeological sites of the Bible Lands. They may know more about the Temple Mount that anyone else I know.

Now they have put that knowledge, accented by their fabulous drawings, in Jerusalem -The Temple Mount, a guide to the Temple Mount published by Carta in Israel.

One never knows in advance whether the Temple Mount will be open to visitors. Whether you see it or not, this book of 160 pages provides helpful information for the Bible student in his/her studies.

Jerusalem - The Temple Mount

Jerusalem – The Temple Mount

This book sells for $25. That is the Amazon price, but if you have Prime the shipping will be free. You will find Jerusalem -The Temple Mount a helpful resource.

I have not received a review copy of this book, but I receive a very small commission from Amazon if you order through my site.

We keep a link to Ritmeyer Archaeological Design here.

World Heritage sites in Israel

The Sunday issue of The Jerusalem Post reports here that the Beit She’arim tombs in Western Galilee have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Beit She’arim, located in the Western Galilee about 20 km. southeast of Haifa, contains a necropolis filled with a series of catacombs built as early as the 2nd century C.E. The site served as the primary burial place outside Jerusalem following the failed second Jewish revolt against the Romans and boast “a treasury of artworks and inscriptions in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew,” the World Heritage Committee said.

“Beit She’arim bears unique testimony to ancient Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, who is credited with Jewish renewal after 135 C.E.,” the committee added.

Beit She’arim is not a biblical site, but it illustrates the strength of Judaism in Galilee following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, and the failed Bar Kochba revolt in A.D. 135.

Facade of the "Sarcophagi Cave" at Beit She'arim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Facade of the “Sarcophagi Cave” at Beit She’arim. Excavators recovered 135 sarcophagi from this cave, according to Azaria Alon in Israel National Parks & Nature Reserves. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Nine Israeli cities are now included on the World Heritage List.

…Masada; the Old City of Acre; the White City of Tel Aviv; the biblical tels of Megiddo, Hatzor [Hazor], and Beersheba; the incense route of desert cities in the Negev; Baha’i holy places in Haifa and the Western Galilee; and mostly recently, Beit Guvrin National Park

Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Al-Maghtas), the traditional place where John the Baptist worked, was also added to the World Heritage List this year.

These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:28 ESV)

I have visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan four times since 2002, and have seen the various church buildings multiply. In May, when we visited the Jordan River on the Israeli side, we were traveling by car and were able to stop for photos almost anywhere we wished. As we left Qasr el-Yahud and began to ascend from the Jordan River valley (the Zor), we turned to see a nice photo of the Jordanian side and a glimpse of most of the new religious buildings. The buses are parked on the Israeli side and the river is not visible. The two prominent buildings seen near the middle of the photo are near the bank of the Jordan River on the Jordanian side.

Baptism site on the Jordan River. View east to Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Baptism site on the Jordan River. View east to Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The last photo will provide some perspective. It was made from the Israeli side of the River with a view east toward the Jordanian side. You can see the two prominent religious building mention in the photo above.

View from Israeli side of the River to the Jordanian side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

View from Israeli side of the River to the Jordanian side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Petra is also on the World Heritage Site list in Jordan.

How many of these sites in Israel and Jordan have you visited?

What’s under your living room? Unique find in Ein Karem

Tradition has it that John the Baptist was born in En Karem (or Ain Karim; Ein Kerem) in the hill country of Judea. According to Shimon Gibson, the earliest document linking John to En Karem is a legendary account dated to A.D. 385-395 (The Cave of John the Baptist, 30). In that account En Karem is said to be “in the mountain” and with a “spring of water” (31). From the sixth to the eighth centuries the traditions multiply.

Ein Karem is about 5 miles west of Jerusalem. This photo shows a general view of the hill country of Judea. En Karem is in the valley below.

The vicinity of En Karem in the hill country of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The vicinity of En Karem in the hill country of Judea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The Israel Antiquities Authority  announced today that a family in En Karem discovered a ritual bath under the floor of their house dating to the Second Temple period (meaning Herod’s Temple).

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An ancient ritual bath (miqwe) found during renovations in a living room in ‘En Kerem reinforces the hypothesis there was a Jewish settlement located in the vicinity during the Second Temple period
An ancient, two thousand year old ritual bath (miqwe) was discovered below a living room floor during renovations carried out in a private house in the picturesque neighborhood of ‘Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. Archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority were amazed to discover that a pair of wooden doors beneath a stylized rug in the middle of a pleasant family’s living room concealed an ancient ritual bath.

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug.Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug. Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Wednesday the owners of the place were awarded a certificate of appreciation by the Israel Antiquities Authority for exhibiting good citizenship in that they reported the discovery of the miqwe and thereby contributed to the study of the Land of Israel.

The miqwe, which is complete and quite large (length 3.5 m, width 2.4 m, depth 1.8 m), is rock-hewn and meticulously plastered according to the laws of purity appearing in the halacha. A staircase leads to the bottom of the immersion pool. Pottery vessels dating to the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) and traces of fire that might constitute evidence of the destruction of 66-70 CE were discovered inside the bath. In addition, fragments of stone vessels were found which were common during the Second Temple period because stone cannot be contaminated and remains pure.

The ritual bath is in this corner below the rug.Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Steps leading into the ritual bath..Photo Assaf Peretz, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District Archaeologist, “Such instances of finding antiquities beneath a private home can happen only in Israel and Jerusalem in particular. Beyond the excitement and the unusual story of the discovery of the miqwe, its exposure is of archaeological importance. ‘Ein Kerem is considered a place sacred to Christianity in light of its identification with “a city of Judah” – the place where according to the New Testament [See Above], John the Baptist was born and where his pregnant mother Elisabeth met with Mary, mother of Jesus. Despite these identifications, the archaeological remains in ‘Ein Kerem and the surrounding area, which are related to the time when these events transpired (the Second Temple period), are few and fragmented. The discovery of the ritual bath reinforces the hypothesis there was a Jewish settlement from the time of the Second Temple located in the region of what is today ‘Ein Kerem.”

The owners of the place said, “Initially, we were uncertain regarding the importance of the find revealed below our house and we hesitated contacting the Israel Antiquities Authority because of the consequences we believed would be involved in doing so. At the same time, we had a strong feeling that what was situated beneath the floor of our house is a find of historical value and our sense of civic and public duty clinched it for us. We felt that this find deserves to be seen and properly documented. We contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority at our own initiative in order that they would complete the excavation and the task of documenting the discovery. Representatives of the IAA arrived and together we cleaned the miqwe. To our joy and indeed to our surprise, we found them to be worthy partners in this fascinating journey. The IAA archaeologists demonstrated great professionalism, interest and pleasantness. They were solely concerned with preserving and investigating the finds.

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The issue of purification was a live one during the ministry of John the Baptist.

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. (John 3:25 ESV)

See also Luke 2:22 and John 2:6.

For more information about Ein Karem see this post.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer