Category Archives: Bible Study

Subscribe to the BiblePlaces Newsletter

Perhaps many of our readers already follow Todd Bolen’s BiblePlaces Blog and receive his BiblePlaces Newsletter. But there may be a few who do not receive the Newsletter.

The most recent BiblePlaces Newsletter was distributed Tuesday. It includes some featured BiblePlaces Photos under the title “Never Been There Before!” One would think that Dr. Bolen, who lived and taught ten years or more in Israel, and visited the country other times, would have already visited all of the places where Bible events took place. It doesn’t work that way. In the current BiblePlaces Newsletter he takes us to some places he had never been to…

  • Kerioth, possible hometown of Judas Iscariot
  • …see a Canaanite Wall in Hebron
  • the location of the Praetorium entrance in Jerusalem
  • Ramah, the hometown of the prophet Samuel
  • the tomb of Joseph
  • the Wadi Farah

After fifty years of traveling to Israel half of these are now on my bucket list. With each Newsletter you receive free high resolution photos and a free PowerPoint presentation.

Not on the list to receive the Newsletter, and missed this valuable one? Todd has given me permission to share the link to this Newsletter. Click here. At the bottom of the page you will have an opportunity to sign up to receive it whenever it is published (usually several times a year).

I don’t recall when I first began to use the Pictorial Library of Biblical Lands (PLBL), but I do recall the first time I met Todd Bolen. It was in Jerusalem in 2005. Leon Mauldin and I had made our way from the City of David to Gihon Spring. Todd and his students from the Master’s College IBEX program in Israel were helping clean out some of the area and working on the pottery. We had made prior arrangement to meet. It was about lunch time so Todd took his students on a tour of the area known as the tombs of the kings, down to the place where the Kidron and Hinnom valleys join, and to the site of En Rogel. He invited us to go along and visit as we walked.

Ferrell Jenkins and Todd Bolen at the plaza in front of Gihon Spring. The "Pinnacle" of the Tempe (the south east corner) may be seen in the distance.

Ferrell Jenkins and Todd Bolen at the plaza in front of Gihon Spring. The “Pinnacle” of the Tempe (the south east corner) may be seen in the distance. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Leon snapped this photo of us. I see that Todd has aged a bit since then. We have had several occasions for short visits since that time, and I am delighted to say that BiblePlaces licenses my photos for publication.

If you teach the Bible you need the PLBL. You may buy the entire set, or begin with a few volumes covering areas you are now teaching. For complete information visit BiblePlaces.com.

“You brood of vipers”

When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist for baptism, John said,

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  (Matthew 3:7 ESV)

Jesus used the same language of the Scribes and Pharisees.

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:33 ESV) cf. 12:34)

The photo below shows the Palestinian Viper (behind tough plastic!) at the Hai Bar Animal and Nature Reserve, north of Eilat, Israel.

Palestinian Viper at the HaiBar Reserve near Eilat, Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Palestinian Viper at the HaiBar Reserve near Eilat, Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign at the Reserve gives some explanation about this poisonous viper.

Description of the Palestinian Viper at HaiBar Reserve.

Description of the Palestinian Viper at HaiBar Reserve.

A visit to Hai Bar is a wonderful experience.

Update

Dr. David E. Graves left a photo and some comments to this post on Facebook. I wanted to repeat them here so more readers could see.

Palestinian Viper at Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Dr. David E. Graves.

Palestinian Viper at Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Dr. David E. Graves.

David says, “I was sitting on a rock excavating [at Tall el-Hammam in the Jordan Valley] and the snake was hibernating (winter) under it. I stood up to take a picture of a lizard and the snake appeared out of the same hole.

He adds, “The locals call the snake a 5 stepper!! If you get bit you get 5 steps and your down.”

Traditions about Abraham at Şanliurfa, Turkey – Part 2

Without deciding the issue of the location of the Ur of the Chaldeans of Genesis 11:28 and 31 (also Genesis 15:7 and Nehemiah 9:7), we understand from the Old Testament that Abraham lived for a time at Haran about 25 miles south of Şanliurfa in southeastern Anatolia (modern Turkey).

Local Muslim tradition in Urfa claims that Abraham was born in a cave in the city, and legend says he was hidden by his mother in the cave for 15 months.

In the first photograph you see the Mosque associated with the cave of Abraham and the Citadel (Kale) which is thought to date to the Hellenistic period.

To the left of the courtyard is an entrance to the cave in which it is claimed that Abraham was born.

Citadel, mosque, cave. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Citadel, mosque, and cave in Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Men and women have separate entrances to the cave.

Men and women lined up to enter through separate doors. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Men and women enter through separate doors. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There appears to be a spring in the cave. Men are able to see further into the cave and have the opportunity to drink from the water using one of the cups that are provided. I do not know about the arrangement for the women.

Men worship in the Cave of Abraham at Urfa. Photo by Ferrell

Men worship in the Cave of Abraham at Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sign at the cave explains the tradition. It seems not to have been written by native English speakers, but I think you will be able to make out the meaning.

Sign at the cave of Abraham. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign at the cave of Abraham. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is my copy of the sign without corrections.

Mevlid means “holly nativity/birth”. It’s believed that Abraham was born in this cave, there fore it is named as Mevlid-i Halil Cave. According to the legend, when the oracles of King Nimrud told him that there would be born a son who would destroy and end his dynasty and his religion, Nimrud ordered that all the sons would be born that year should be killed strictly. Within the year, Nuna, who was the mother of Abraham, noticed that she was pregnant. For a while she hid her pregnancy. When the date of birth arrived, she sheltered in this cave and gave birth to Abraham inside here. After the birth, she came here every day secretly and nursed her son. Meanwhile according to the legend, it’s believed that Abraham was also miracally nursed by a gazelle by the order of God and within the 15 months he passed in the cave, it’s believed that he grew up to the age of 15.

I understand the last sentence to say that Abraham grew to age 15 in just 15 months! The legend seems to mix a bit of the story of the birth and infancy of Moses who was hidden among the reeds along the Nile River for three months by his parents (Exodus 2:2-4; Hebrews 11:23) with the murder of the innocents by the hands of Herod the Great in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16).

Like Christians and Jews, Muslims have a multitude of traditions and legends that have grown up around Biblical and Quranic characters.

Read Part 1 about Abraham and Şanliurfa here.

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.

Statue of an Egyptian official found at Hazor

Hebrew University announces this morning the discovery of a statue of an Egyptian official at Tel Hazor.

— “ —

Jerusalem, July 25, 2016 — In a historic find, a large fragment of an Egyptian statue measuring 45 X 40 centimeters [about 18 x 16 inches], made of lime-stone, was discovered in the course of the current season of excavations at Tel-Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Only the lower part of the statue survived, depicting the crouching feet of a male figure, seated on a square base on which a few lines in the Egyptian hieroglyphic script are inscribed.

The archaeologists estimate that the complete statue would equal the size of a fully-grown man. At present only a preliminary reading of the inscriptions has been attempted, and the title and name of the Egyptian official who originally owned the statue, are not yet entirely clear.

The statue was originally placed either in the official’s tomb or in a temple – most probably a temple of the Egyptian god Ptah – and most of the texts inscribed on the statue’s base include words of praise to the official who may have served and most probably practiced his duties in the region of Memphis, the primary cult center of the god Ptah. They also include the customary Egyptian funerary formula ensuring eternal supply of offerings for the statue’s owner.

The monumental Egyptian statute of a high official from the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, found in the administrative palace at Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. (Photo credit: Shlomit Bechar)

The monumental Egyptian statute of a high official from the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, found in the administrative palace at Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. (Photo credit: Shlomit Bechar)

This statue, found this year, together with the sphinx fragment of the Egyptian king Mycerinus (who ruled Egypt in the 25th century B.C.E.) discovered at the site by the research team three years ago, are the only monumental Egyptian statues found so far in second millennium contexts in the entire Levant.

The discovery of these two statues in the same building currently being excavated by the research team, indicates the special importance of the building (probably the administrative palace of the ruler of the city), as well as that of the entire city of Hazor.

The three volunteer excavators who found the statue, from left to right: Valentin Sama-Rojo from Spain, Bryan Kovach from the United States, and Elanji Swart from South Africa. (Photo credit: Shlomit Bechar)

The three volunteer excavators who found the statue, from left to right: Valentin Sama-Rojo from Spain, Bryan Kovach from the United States, and Elanji Swart from South Africa. (Photo credit: Shlomit Bechar)

According to Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has been conducting excavations at Tel-Hazor for over 27 years, Hazor is the most important site from the Biblical period. Shlomit Bechar, a doctoral student at the Institute of Archaeology who has been excavating at Hazor for a decade, is co-director of the Hazor excavations and director of the main excavation area.

In the course of close to 30 years of excavation, fragments of 18 different Egyptian statues, both royal and private, dedicated to Egyptian kings and officials, including two sphinxes, were discovered at Hazor. Most of these statues were found in layers dated to the Late Bronze Age (15th-13th centuries B.C.E.) – corresponding to the New Kingdom in Egypt. This is the largest number of Egyptian statues found so far in any site in the Land of Israel, although there is no indication that Hazor was one of the Egyptian strongholds in Southern Canaan nor of the presence of an Egyptian official at Hazor during the Late Bronze Age.

Interestingly, most Egyptian statues found at Hazor so far date to Egypt’s “Middle Kingdom” (19th-18th centuries B.C.E), a time when Hazor did not yet exist. It thus seems that the statues were sent by an Egyptian king in the “New Kingdom” as official gifts to the king of Hazor, or as dedications to a local temple (regardless of their being already “antiques”). This is not surprising considering the special status of the king of Hazor who was the most important king in Southern Canaan at the time. The extraordinary importance of Hazor in the 15th-13th centuries B.C.E. is indicated also by the Biblical reference to Hazor as “the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10).

All the statues at the site were found broken to pieces and scattered over a large area. Clear signs of mutilation indicate that most of them were deliberately and violently smashed, most probably in the course of the city’s final conquest and destruction sometime in the 13th century B.C.E. The deliberate mutilation of statues of kings and dignitaries accompanying the conquest of towns, is a well-known practice in ancient times (I Samuel 5:1-4; Isaiah 11:9) as well as in our time.

The Hazor excavations, which began in the mid 1950 (under the direction of the late Prof. Yigael Yadin), are carried out on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The excavations were resumed in 1990 – still on behalf of the Hebrew University, and the Israel Exploration Society, and are named “The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin”. The excavation takes place within the Hazor National Park, in full support and cooperation with the National Parks Authority.

Hazor is the largest biblical-era site in Israel, covering some 200 acres, and has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The population of Hazor in the second millennium BCE is estimated to have been about 20,000, making it the largest and most important city in the entire region. Its size and strategic location on the route connecting Egypt and Babylon made it “the head of all those kingdoms” according to the biblical book of Joshua (Joshua 11:10). Hazor’s conquest by the Israelites opened the way to the conquest and settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. The city was rebuilt and fortified by King Solomon and prospered in the days of Ahab and Jeroboam II, until its final destruction by the Assyrians in 732 BCE.

Documents discovered at Hazor and at sites in Egypt and Iraq attest that Hazor maintained cultural and trade relations with both Egypt and Babylon. Artistic artifacts, including those imported to Hazor from near and far, have been unearthed at the site. Hazor is currently one of Israel’s national parks.

—”—

The archaeological season for the major excavations is closing down and interesting reports are coming in almost daily.

Tel Hazor (upper mound) from the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tel Hazor (upper mound) from the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Meeting Professor Carl Rasmussen in Jerusalem

holylandphotos, aka Prof. Carl Rasmussen, left a helpful comment on our recent post, “A crown of thorns and a reed.”

Great article! Some of your readers might be interested in the “crown of thorns” that I have posted on my web site.

He left a link to a beautiful example of a crown of thorns posted at holylandphotos here. This photo, along with those we posted, will certainly enrich any lesson on the subject.

And this gives me the opportunity of share a Jerusalem experience from this spring.

Our group had just finished a visit to the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall. We exited through Dung Gate on the south-east corner of the Old City to meet our bus. I got on the bus and sat down as a good example to my tour members who are sometimes distracted by peddlers. A man stuck his head in the front door of the bus and said, “I’m Carl Rasmussen.”

It was the first time Carl and I had met in person, but we had exchanged several emails and assisted each other in locating some significant places in the Bible world over the past few years. Carl was on his first outing with a new class of students at the Jerusalem University College. We didn’t have much time to talk, but enough to pose for a photo beside the south wall of the Old City.

Carl Rasmussen and Ferrell Jenkins in Jerusalem. April 5, 2016.

Carl Rasmussen and Ferrell Jenkins in Jerusalem. April 5, 2016.

Prof. Carl Rasmussen is known for his academic teaching, his tours, and his Bible atlas, his Holy Land Photos’ blog, and his large collection of photos at holylandphotos.

We have called attention to the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible several times. I recommend this book for home study, and the Zondervan Essential Atlas of the Bible to use when traveling to Bible lands, or to take to Bible class. I see that Kindle currently has this book for $12.96.

The Holy Land Photos site now has a database of more than 4700 photos available for use by teachers.

I have developed friendships with several individuals who are recognized for their interest and knowledge in Bible lands as a result of this blog. A wonderful side benefit to this work.

A crown of thorns and a reed

Sunday I was reading this text from Matthew prior to the Communion/Lord’s Supper.

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. (Matthew 27:28-30 ESV)

Immediately I thought about sharing photos of the “thorns” his tormentors put on the head of Jesus and the “reed” they put in his right hand.

There are several possible plants growing in Israel that would be suitable for a crown of thorns. The United Bible Societies Fauna and Flora of the Bible has this comment.

Bible readers and commentators have naturally always been eager to identify the plant from which the crown of thorns was plaited by the soldiers. Zizyphus has been suggested from the time of Linnaeus, who added the name ‘spina Christi’ to it. The difficulty, however, is that this does not grow in the region where the event took place. Modern botanists sometimes suggest Poterium spinosum, which forms a mass of vegetation all over the country. It grows leaves twice a year, and has small red flowers. The thorns are numerous and cover the bush completely. (p. 185)

The photo below shows the ziziphus spina-christi growing at Gamla in Galilee.

The thorn (ziziphus spina-christi) growing at Gamla. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The thorn (ziziphus spina-christi) growing at Gamla. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I think the following photo made at Neot Kedumim shows the Thorny burnet (Poterium spinosum).  You can see several examples, some in bloom, in the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, Vol. 16 (Trees, Plants and Flowers).

Thorns crowing at Neot Kedumim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Thorns growing at Neot Kedumim. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is a drawing from UBS’s 1000 Bible Images. I have observed several thorn plants with long spikes such as these.

Thorny burnet. 1000 Bible Images.

Thorny burnet. 1000 Bible Images.

Reeds grow commonly around streams and in marshy areas. Reeds can be seen in abundance along the banks of the Jordan River at Qasr el-Yahud, the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17).

Reeds growing on the banks of the Jordan River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Reeds growing on the banks of the Jordan River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The final photo is a close-up of reeds growing in a marshy area near Omrit in the northern Hula Valley.

Reeds growing in a marshy area at the foot of Omrit in northern Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Reeds growing in a marshy area near Omrit in northern Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The reed was first used as an instrument of mockery, as if it were a scepter, and then as an instrument of punishment with which to beat Him.