Category Archives: Bible Study

New “water law” inscription from Laodicea

Hurriyet Daily News reports here the discovery at Laodicea of a marble slab containing a code of laws pertaining to the water supply of the city during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan in 114 A.D. The article says,

The rules were prepared by Anatolian State Governor Aulus Vicirius Matrialis.

This marble slab discovered at Laodicea contains a code of laws protecting the water supply of the city of Laodicea in the early second century A.D. (Photo credit: AA photo)

This marble slab discovered at Laodicea contains a code of laws protecting the water supply of the city of Laodicea in the early second century A.D. (Photo credit: AA photo)

Here is some further information about the discovery.

The excavation works, led by Pamukkale University and supported by Denizli Municipality, have continued on Stadium Street in the ancient site. Excavations head Professor Celal Şimşek of Pamukkale University, said, “The Laodicea Assembly made this law in 114 A.D. and presented it to a pro council in Ephesus for approval.

The pro council approved the law on behalf of the empire. Water was vital for the city. This is why there were heavy penalties against those who polluted the water, damaged the water channels or reopening the sealed water pipes. Breaking the law was subject to a penalty of about 12,500 denarius – 125,000 Turkish Liras.”

One hundred twenty-five thousand Turkish Liras amount to approximately $42,700. Fairly stiff fine.

The full article is accompanied by several nice photos and will be well worth your time. Another article about the discovery appears in Ancient Origins here.

Last year my fellow-traveler Leon Mauldin and I made a personal study tour in Turkey. We had the opportunity to make a return visit to Laodicea and see the continuing excavations at the site. I think the city is destined to become one of the most popular sites in the country.

Leon Mauldin on Syria Street in Laodicea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Leon Mauldin on Syria Street in Laodicea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Laodicea is known to us from the book of Revelation (1:11; 3:14-22), and from Paul’s epistle to the Colossians.

For I testify for him that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greetings, and also Demas. Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea. (Col 4:13-16 NAU)

One might easily connect this discovery to what we already knew about the water system at Laodicea. I was rather sure that I had written about the source of water and the water distribution tower, but I find only the photo of the tower here. I have written about the subject in material distributed to my tour members. Perhaps I will be able to reprint some of that material in another post. Meanwhile, I call attention to the recent good post by Carl Rasmussen about this same discovery. He includes comments about the “lukewarm” water at the Holy Land Photos’ Blog here.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Discovery of first century ritual bath with inscriptions and drawings

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday the discovery of a ritual bath (mikveh, miqwe) dating to the second temple period in the Arnona quarter of Jerusalem during the construction of a nursery school. Arnona is east of the Hebron Road and north of Ramat Rahel.

In the excavation an impressive ritual bath (miqwe) dating to the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) was exposed inside an underground cave. An anteroom, flanked by benches, led to the bath. A winepress was excavated alongside the ritual bath.

The walls of the miqwe were treated with ancient plaster and were adorned with numerous wall paintings and inscriptions, written in mud, soot and incising. The inscriptions are Aramaic and written in cursive Hebrew script, which was customary at the end of the Second Temple period. Among the symbols that are drawn are a boat, palm trees and various plant species, and possibly even a menorah.

The entrance to the cave when discovered during an inspection by the Israel Antiquities Authority, prior to the construction of a neighborhood nursery school. Photo by Shai Halevy, courtesy of the IAA.

The entrance to the cave when discovered during an inspection by the Israel Antiquities Authority, prior to the construction of a neighborhood nursery school. Photo by Shai Halevy, courtesy of the IAA.

The IAA English press release with a link to 11 photos and a short raw video may be downloaded here. I will post just one more of the photos showing some drawings and inscriptions on the walls of the mikveh. [Added note: I have been informed that the news release I mentioned above does not have the photos and video. Here is a link to that material on Dropbox. I have no control over this material on other sites. If you would like to get 2.25 gig of Dropbox free, click here.]

Inscription on the wall of the ritual bath. Photo Shai Halevy, courtesy IAA.

Inscriptions on the walls of the ritual bath. Photo Shai Halevy, courtesy IAA.

Arutz Sheva includes all of the photos provided by the IAA and their own video of the mikveh. They point out that the claim that this mikveh dates to the end of the second temple period (by A.D. 70?) is indicated by the script, pottery, and coins.

Something I noticed in the IAA video that I did not see mentioned is that there are two characters depicted on the wall. In my knowledge this is not otherwise known as early as the end of the second temple period. In later centuries it became common to have humans depicted. Is it because this is not a synagogue? Comments by knowledgeable persons welcomed.

Two significant New Testament references mention the Jewish rites of purification.

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. (John 2:6 ESV)

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

Leen Ritmeyer reports on this discovery here and includes a couple of his drawings to help illustrate the find.

Many fascinating discoveries are made as a result of various types of construction work. Keep up the good work.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer and several Israeli papers.

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?