Category Archives: Bible Study

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.

Jonah’s encounter with the great fish

Recently we called attention to significant biblical events that took place at Joppa. One of these was the account of Jonah taking a ship for Tarshish from Joppa to avoid going to Nineveh (Jonah 1:3).

The folks at Joppa (Jaffa; Yafo) have not forgotten what happened to Jonah.

Visitors to Joppa (Jaffa; Yafo) are minded of the story of Jonah and the great fish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Visitors to Joppa (Jaffa; Yafo) are reminded of the story of Jonah and the great fish.

The biblical account says,

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17 ESV)

The NET Bible uses the phrase huge fish.

The New Testament accounts of Jesus’ reference to this event use the phrase “great fish” or “sea monster” in Matthew 12:40 and Luke 11:29-30. Of the commonly used English versions, only the King James Version makes reference to a whale.

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40 ESV)

The 2016 excavations at Gath

Tell es-Safi/Gath. Prof. Aren Maeir continues to report almost daily about progress in the excavation at Tell es-Safi/Gath. Staff and volunteers are working in at least five areas and Maeir continues to give a brief summary of finds of the dig with multiple photos here. The photos are not labeled, but if you know something about the site you may be able to determine which area is pictured.

Since the announcement at the close of last season (2015) about a possible Iron Age gate, and the teaser post with 1 Samuel 21:13 as a title, I have been following this. I am not expecting they will find David’s spittle or a hair from his beard, but as a believer of the Biblical account I do draw a connection between the text and the factual reality that seems to be coming to light on the tell.

Below is an aerial photo published last year showing the gate area of Gath. For a larger photo go to the Gath website here.

Aerial general view of area D fortifications at Gath.

Aerial general view of area D fortifications at Gath.

Area D, with the gate and fortifications, is located below the parking area visible in the lower right quarter of the photo.

Aerial view of Gath showing the area where the gate has been uncovered. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Gath showing the area where the gate has been uncovered. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Earlier this year when my group visited the site in April, some of the tour members enjoyed examining the stone walls. I am looking forward to seeing new photos at the end of this season (in about a week). It only takes a short time after the rains for new growth to begin to cover the excavations.

Members of my group looking at the walls uncovered in 2015. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Members of my group looking at the walls uncovered in 2015. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

David’s relationship with the Philistines is fascinating. At the Valley of Elah, a few miles away, he killed the giant Goliath who was from Gath (1 Samuel 17), but later, when fleeing from King Saul he sought refuge from Achish king of Gath. It was at that time that David “pretended to be insane” at the gate of Gath.

 10 And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath.  11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”  12 And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath.  13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard.  14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me?  15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:10-15 ESV).

Read here for my more detailed post about Gath and the possible gate from last year.

Thanks to Aren Maeir for the good updates and photos from Gath. Follow his blog to read more about it.

Ark of the Covenant at Kiriath-jearim

The first reference to Kiriath-jearim is in Joshua 9:17 where it is listed as one of the cities of the Hivites along with Gibeon, Chephirah, and Beeroth. These cities were located on the western side of the Judean hill country.

The name, Kiriath-jearim, means “city of forests” or wood, and is identified with Deir el-Azar. The Arab village at the site today is called Abu Ghosh and can be seen about nine miles west of Jerusalem to the right of the main highway to Tel Aviv. Several other names are given for the place. It is called Kiriath-baal (Joshua 15:60; 18:14), Baalah (Joshua 15:9), possibly Baalath (1 Kings 9:18), and Baale-judah (2 Samuel 6:2). Perhaps the simplest and correct explanation is that the Israelites changed the name from a place that honored Baal to a geographical one, the city of forests.

The hill towering above Abu Ghosh is the site of Kiriath-jearim. View west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The hill towering above Abu Ghosh is the site of Kiriath-jearim. View west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

When the Danites moved from their allotted territory to the north they camped a little to the west of Kiriath-jearim at a place they called Mahaneh-dan (Camp of Dan; Judges 18:11-12).

Kiriath-jearim’s highest honor is in the association with the ark of the covenant. The Israelites took the ark from the tabernacle at Shiloh to the battle field at Ebenezer when they were fighting with the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). The ark was captured by the Philistines and taken to Ashdod, then to Gath, and finally to Ekron before they decided to get rid of it. The ark was returned to Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 4-6).

The men of Beth-shemesh sent messengers to the residents of Kiriath-jearim asking them to come and take the ark to their town. The ark was brought into the house of Abinadad on the hill. His son, Eleazar, was consecrated by the men of the city to keep the ark of the LORD. The ark remained there for many years until David had it brought to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 6:21-7:2; 2 Samuel 6).

Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant Church was built in 1911 on the ruins of a fifth century Byzantine church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant Church was built in 1911 on the ruins of a fifth century Byzantine church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A prophet named Uriah, a contemporary of Jeremiah, lived at Kiriath-jearim. He preached a message similar to that of Jeremiah regarding Jerusalem in the days of the Babylonian threat. When he was threatened by King Jehoiakim he fled to Egypt, but was captured and brought back to Jerusalem and put to death (Jeremiah 26:20-24).

Philistine cemetery uncovered at Ashkelon

Friends Trent and Rebekah Dutton alerted me last evening that there would be a significant press release today about the excavation of a Philistine cemetery at Ashkelon over the past three years. All of this information has been kept secret until today with an announcement to coincide with the opening of a permanent Ashkelon exhibit at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. Trent and Rebekah have been working with the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon during this time in connection with others from Wheaton College, Harvard, and other educational institutions. They both have earned the Master’s degree in Archaeology from Wheaton.

Sign at Ashkelon reminding visitors that the Philistines once lived here.

Sign at Ashkelon reminding visitors that the Philistines once lived here.

Certain news outlets have been given an advance notice of this discovery and have already broken the news. I am directing you to some of the better reports thus far. What you learn may surprise you.

Trust you will enjoy some of these reports this afternoon.

Some repair photos at the Holy Sepulcher

In the last post we mentioned the long-needed repair of the shrine (edicule) in the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of the tomb in which Jesus was placed after the crucifixion.

One of my traveling friends, Steven Braman, just returned from the excavation at Lachish. He offered to send some photos he made within the Holy Sepulcher on June 24th. I am sharing two of these with our readers.

Shrine of the Holy Sepulcher under repair June 24, 2016.

Shrine of the Holy Sepulcher under repair June 24, 2016.

Repair of the shrine of the Holy Sepulcher, June 24, 2016.

Repair of the shrine of the Holy Sepulcher, June 24, 2016.

Tim Blamer, one of our readers, left this comment.

I was there last week. The scaffolding and construction is quite extensive now. Any peace and tranquility that was in the church is now overwhelmed by the sound of construction and heavy equipment moving around. People could still go in to view the tomb, but it’s clear something major is being done.

Thanks to Steven and Tim. I never observed much “peace and tranquility” in the church.

Repair of the Shrine in the Holy Sepulcher

The dome of the Holy Sepulcher (Sepulchre) is easily recognizable to all visitors of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is the larger of two gray domes seen in the photo below. The smaller dome marks the traditional site of Calvary, the place where Jesus was crucified. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine after his mother Helena visited Jerusalem. Murphy-O’Connor dates the dedication of the building to September 17, 335.

The gray domes of the Holy Sepulchre (left) and the site of Calvary (right) from the roof of the Citadel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The gray domes of the Holy Sepulcher (left) and the site of Calvary (right) from the roof of the Citadel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An edicule or small building within the church is said to cover the tomb in which Jesus was laid after the crucifixion, that is, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-60). The photo below shows some of the metal used to secure the structure in recent years.

For years it was known that the structure needed to be repaired. Finally, someone donated $1.3 million dollars to be sure the work could begin. Widespread reports indicate the work in now underway to remove the structure and then replace it.

The Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Edicule of the Holy Sepulcher. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

At this time the original tomb is covered by stone. The Franciscan Museum in the Old City of Jerusalem has a model to show what the original tomb looked like.

Model of the tomb at the Holy Sepulchre. Franciscian Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cross section model of the tomb at the Holy Sepulchre in the Franciscan Museum, Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor asks the question, “Is this the place where Christ died and was buried?” He answers, “Yes, very probably.”

But Murphy-O’Connor also describes vividly the situation one finds today.

One expects the central shrine of Christendom to stand out in majestic isolation, but anonymous buildings cling to it like barnacles. One looks for numinous light, but it is dark and cramped. One hopes for peace, but the ear is assailed by a cacophony of warring chants. One desires holiness, only to encounter a jealous possessiveness: the six groups of occupants—Latin Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrians, Copts, Ethiopians—watch one another suspiciously for any infringement of rights. The frailty of humanity is nowhere more apparent than here; it epitomizes the human condition. The empty who come to be filled will leave desolate, those who permit the church to question them may begin to understand why hundreds of thousands thought it worthwhile to risk death or slavery in order to pray here. (The Holy Land, 5th Ed., p. 49).

Whether most of us will ever see the remains of the actual tomb is unknown. Our faith in the resurrected Christ does not depend on the actual tomb in which He was placed after being taken down from the cross. It depends rather on the testimony of those reliable witnesses who saw Him after the resurrection. Luke reports that eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:1-4). Here is what he says the women who went to the tomb on the first day of the week were told when they found the empty tomb.

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Lukw 24:6-7 ESV)

When Todd Bolen reported (here) the plans to dismantle and rebuilt the shrine he said,

Maybe one of these days they’ll get around to moving the ladder.

This ladder is said by some to have been leaning against the facade above the entry to the church since the 18th century because the various religious groups can not agree who should remove it. The ladder has become a symbol of division. An interesting article about the Immovable Ladder may be found in Wikipedia here.

The ladder above the entrance to the church of the Holy Sepulcher. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The immovable ladder above the entrance to the church of the Holy Sepulcher. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.