Category Archives: Bible Study

Where the Romans breached Jerusalem wall

There is abundant evidence of the presence of the Romans in Jerusalem and the land they would later call Palestine. Now comes specific evidence of the place where Titus’ army breached the Third Wall of the city.

The excavation site in the Russian Compound. One can see the sling stones on the floor, which are tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The excavation site in the Russian Compound. One can see the wall and sling stones on the floor, which are tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Israel Antiquities Authority released this information earlier today.

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Impressive and fascinating evidence of the battlefield and the breaching of the Third Wall that surrounded Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period was uncovered last winter in the Russian Compound in the city center. The finds were discovered in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted in the location where the new campus of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is slated to be constructed.  During the course of the excavation archaeologists discovered the remains of a tower jutting from the city wall. Opposite the tower’s western facade were scores of ballista and sling stones that the Romans had fired from catapults towards the Jewish guards defending the wall, who were stationed at the top of the tower.

Kfir Arbib, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, cleans one of the sling stones. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Kfir Arbib, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, cleans one of the sling stones. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Dr. Rina Avner and Kfir Arbib, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is a fascinating testimony of the intensive bombardment by the Roman army, led by Titus, on their way to conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple. The bombardment was intended to attack the sentries guarding the wall and provide cover for the Roman forces so they could approach the wall with battering rams and thereby breach the city’s defenses”. The historian Josephus, an eye witness to the war, provided many details about this wall. According to him, the wall was designed to protect the new quarter of the city that had developed outside its boundaries, north of the two existing city walls. This quarter was named Beit Zeita. The building of the Third Wall was begun by Agrippa I; however, he suspended its construction so as not to incur the wrath of Emperor Claudius and to dispel any doubts regarding his loyalty. The construction of the Third Wall was resumed some two decades later by the defenders of Jerusalem, as part of fortifying the city and the Jewish rebels’ preparations for the Great Revolt against Rome.

. Dr. Rina Avner, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

. Dr. Rina Avner, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Josephus described in detail the route of the wall that began at Hippicus Tower, which is now identified with David’s Citadel. From there the wall continued north to the enormous Psephinus Tower, which defended the northwestern corner of the city wall. At that point the wall turned east and descended toward the Tomb of Queen Helena, which is identified with the place known as the Tombs of the Kings. [Jewish Wars 5:147]

The excavation site in the Russian Compound. One can see the sling stones on the floor, which are tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

One of the sling stones on the floor, tangible evidence of the battle that was waged here 2,000 years ago. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the IAA.

An unresolved debate among researchers has been going from the early twentieth century up until the current excavation as to the identity of the Third Wall and the question concerning Jerusalem’s boundaries on the eve of the Roman onslaught led by Titus. It seems that the new discovery in the Russian Compound is proof of the wall’s existence in this area.

. A spearhead from the battle against Titus’ army. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

. A spearhead from the battle against Titus’ army. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Christians see the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus.

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” (Luke 21:20 ESV; see also Matthew 24 and Mark 13)

Some of the photos can be enlarged by clicking on the image.

HT: Joseph Lauer, several Israeli newspapers.

Why did Abraham go to Hebron?

A reader sent an Email complimenting the blog and asking for help in answering a question.

“When lot and Abraham parted, lot went down to the dead Sea, while Abraham went up to Hebron. Do you know why he went to Hebron? It seems like such a key question I ought to know the answer to, but [so] far it has evaded me!”

Not sure that I will be able to satisfy the curiosity of the reader, but perhaps these comments will help.

Let’s begin with a survey of Abraham’s early time in the land of Canaan. (All of the references are to the book of Genesis unless otherwise indicated.) I suggest that you follow along in your Bible atlas.

View west to the Shechem valley between Mount Gerizim (left) and Mount Ebal (right). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View west to the Shechem valley between Mount Gerizim (left) and Mount Ebal (right). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

  • First stop at Shechem (Genesis 12:6).
  • Later he settled between Bethel and Ai (12:8).
  • Took a trip to Egypt and then returned to the Negev before going back between Bethel and Ai (12:10; 13:1, 3). There was not available land to accommodate the herds of both Abraham and Lot (13:6).
  • Important fact. The Canaanite and Perizites were in the land. Abraham and Lot were strangers and had to move to empty spaces, or perhaps negotiate grazing rights. Lot chose to go to the well-watered Jordan Valley as far as Sodom (13:10).
  • The LORD spoke to Abraham. “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward,  for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted'” (13:14-16 ESV).
  • The LORD instructed Abraham: “Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (13:17 ESV).
  • “So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD” (13:18 ESV).
  • Abram later rescued Lot at Dan, and continued to chase the eastern armies north of Damascus (14:14).
  • A statement of the extent of the promised land is given in 15:18.
  • Abram later lived in Beersheba (21:31).
A beautiful, fertile valley along the central mountain range between Bethlehem and Hebron. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A beautiful, fertile valley along the central mountain range between Bethlehem and Hebron. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Answer. The trip to Hebron was simply part of the overall plan to walk the land that the LORD was to give to Abraham’s descendants.

It is important to notice that the Canaanite towns visited by Abraham lie along the central mountain range. Rasmussen identifies this range,

The second major longitudinal zone is the central mountain range, which runs from Galilee in the north to the Negev Highlands in the south. (Rasmussen, Carl G. Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. Rev. Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. Print.)

The central mountain range is sometimes identified today as the Patriarchs Way or Route.

Patriarchs Route between Bethlehem and Hebron. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Patriarchs Route between Bethlehem and Hebron. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

From time to time I have cited The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament because it provides succinct comments related to the cultural background of biblical events.

The city of Hebron is located in the Judean hill country (c. 3,300 feet above sea level) approximately nineteen miles southeast of Jerusalem and twenty-three miles east of Beersheba. Ancient roadways converge on this site coming east from Lachish and connecting with the road north to Jerusalem, indicating its importance and continuous settlement. Its springs and wells provide ample water for olive and grape production and would have supported a mixed agricultural-pastoral economy such as that described in Genesis 23. Hebron is said to have been founded “seven years before Zoan” (Avaris in Egypt), dating it to the seventeenth century B.C. (see comment on Num 13:22). The construction of an altar here, as at Bethel, transforms this into an important religious site, and its subsequent use as a burial place for the ancestors established its political importance (reflected in the Davidic narrative—2 Sam 2:1–7; 15:7–12). (Matthews, Victor Harold, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000. Print.)

The cave of Machpelah, burial place of Abraham and Sarah, and others from the patriarchal period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The cave of Machpelah, burial place of Abraham and Sarah, and others from the patriarchal period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Understanding the land helps one better understand the biblical text.

What is that building?

Frequently over the years I have had tour members ask me, “What is that building?” as they pointed to the building with golden onion tops. The simple answer is that this is the Russian Garden of Gethsemane. More specifically, the building is known as the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

The Church of All Nations (left) and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Church of All Nations (left) and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Many will recognize the Church of All Nations and its’ Garden of Gethsemane. Murphy-O’Connor says,

No one can be sure of the exact spot at which he prayed, but this limited area was certainly close to the natural route leading from the Temple to the summit of the Mount of Olives and the ridge leading to Bethany. (The Holy Land, 5th ed., p. 147).

The New Testament account explains that the disciples of Jesus went with him to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30), to a placed called Gethsemane.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36 ESV)

The Church of St. Mary Magdalene has received quite a bit of attention in the Israeli newspapers because Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, went there after attending the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. The paternal grandmother of Prince Charles, Princess Alice of Battenberg, died in 1969 but was transferred to the Mount of Olives according to her request in 1988. The Times of Israel explains,

Alice of Battenberg was recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as a “Righteous Among the Nations” and by the British government as a “Hero of the Holocaust.”

Prince Phillip is said to have visited the Church in 1994.

The web site of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem says,

Princess Andrew of Greece (Princess Alice of Battenberg), mother of the Duke of Edinburgh visited the church and stayed in the monastery in the 1930s. Her wish was to be buried near her Aunt ‘Ella’, the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth whose devotion to the church and to nursing and charitable service she strove to emulate. Princess Andrew died at Buckingham Palace in 1969. Her wish to be buried at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane was finally realized in 1988 when her remains were transferred to her final resting place in a crypt below the church.

The church stands in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus spent His last night on earth. Also found on the convent grounds are the remnants of a pre-Roman road, the biblical entry to Jerusalem. Not far from this road is a large stone on to which the Mother of God dropped her cincture to Apostle Thomas on the third day following her Dormition.

A different sunrise on the Sea of Galilee

In looking through some photos from 2011, I noticed that the photos I made one morning were different from most sunrise photos I have taken. I thought some readers might enjoy seeing this. Click on the image for a larger photo.

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee in 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee in 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We know that Jesus utilized the evening cool and the early morning in His ministry.

32 That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.
33 And the whole city was gathered together at the door.
34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.  (Mark 1:32-35 ESV)

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 8

In the vicinity of Iznik

In an earlier article we posted photos of Lake Ascania (Iznik Gölü) at the place where the first Ecumenical Council met. Nearby there is a beautiful view of a small lighthouse with the mountains of Bithynia in the distance.

Lighthouse in Lake Ascania at Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lighthouse in Lake Ascania at Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

About 3 miles north of Iznik where the Roman road to Nicomedia once ran, in an orchard of olive and fruit trees, there is a stone obelisk from the early second century A.D. The Iznik promotional brochure says,

Its inscription in Greek reveals that the obelisk was built by C. Cassius Philiscus in the 1st century. It rises over a rectangular prismatic pedestal, and includes five triangular prismatic stones one over the other.

The inscription on the first of the triangular prismatic stones is in poor condition. The second stone indicates that something was once attached to the obelisk. Some suggest that it was a life-size human figure. Wilson says the obelisk is 39 feet tall.

The stone obelisk on the road from Nicea to Nicomedia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The stone obelisk on the road from Nicea to Nicomedia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sign at the site describes the monument in Turkish and English. I think you may agree with me that the last English sentence doesn’t make much sense.

The sign identifying the obelisk from the Roman period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign identifying the obelisk from the Roman period. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Before closing this series I think a few words on the historical background of Iznik/Nicea are appropriate. We have frequently recommended Biblical Turkey by Mark Wilson as an excellent source for those who travel to Turkey. The following points are summarized from the second edition (pp. 371-2).

  • Antigonus founded the Hellenistic city of Antigonia here in 316 B.C.
  • Lysimachus captured the city in 301 B.C. and re-founded it, naming it after his first wife Nicea.
  • During the Roman period the city vied with Nicomedia for the distinction of being the principal city of Bithynia.
  • Augustus authorized a sanctuary of Roma and the deified Julius Caesar to be built at Nicea.

The bust of Lysimachus was photographed in the Ephesus Museum at Selçuk, Turkey, in 2008.

Bust of Lysimachus in the Selçuk,Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bust of Lysimachus displayed in Ephesus Museum, Selcuk, Turkey.

Wilson is emphatic that Nicea would have been on the route of the messenger carrying the epistle of 1 Peter.

This is the final article in the series on Iznik/Nicea. Hopefully there will be some who will find it useful in the months to come. I think all of the photos are large enough for use in PowerPoint class presentations.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 7

The modern city of Iznik

The museum of Iznik is noted for its collection of Blue Tiles for which the city is famous. In 2014 I found many of the museums in Turkey, or certain exhibits, closed for remodeling. Even with a polite request we were not allowed to visit the various monuments displayed in the yard of the museum.

The museum of Iznik was closed for remodeling in 2014. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The museum of Iznik was closed for remodeling in 2014. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Missing the tile work for which the city is famous was not a great loss. Tile work from Iznik may be seen in the ceiling of the Blue Mosque, in the Topkapi Palace, and other buildings in Istanbul.

In the ceiling of the Blue Mosque is a good example of the tile of Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The ceiling of the Blue Mosque is a good example of the Iznik tile. Photo by F. Jenkins.

One expects to see mosques in any Turkish city. I am including this photo of the Yeşil (Green) Mosque. The promotional tourism information includes this information about the mosque.

Recognised as the symbol of İznik, the Yeşil Mosque takes its name from the turquoise coloured İznik tiles and bricks of its minaret which are a fine reflection
of Seljuk minaret style in Ottoman art. Built by the architect Hacı Musa between 1378 and 1392 upon the request of Halil Hayrettin Pasha, this mosque is
undoubtedly the most magnificent of the single domed mosques of the Ottoman Period. Its unique minaret is on the right corner of the mosque. While its niche displays rich stone work, its body is covered with blue and green coloured tiles in zigzag mosaic style.

The Green Mosque in Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Green Mosque in Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Biblical Connection

The events we have described in this series on Iznik/Nicea are post apostolic, but the general area does have two connections to the New Testament.

  • On the outbound portion of Paul’s third journey he attempted to go into Bithynia, but was not permitted to do so.

And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (Acts 16:7 ESV)

  • We have already pointed out that the epistles of Peter were written to saints in various Roman provinces including Bithynia.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, (1 Peter 1:1 ESV)

I plan to show you one more famous landmark on the outskirts of Iznik as the eighth in this series.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 6

Nicea, now identified with Iznik, Turkey, was in the Roman province of Bythinia in Asia. A Roman lawyer named Pliny served as governor of Bithynia and Pontus (A.D. 111-113) and exchanged a series of letters with the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117).

The theater at Nicea was constructed while Pliny was governor of Bithynia. According to the tourism publication on Iznik the theater,

… was converted into a mass graveyard in the 13th century. The graveyard was later replaced by the ceramic kilns. Only some part of the cavea (audience section) of the ancient theatre have survived to the present day. It appears that its stones were used as construction materials especially in the restoration of the city walls.

The theater is estimated to have seated 15,000 persons.

Ruins of the theater dating to the time of Trajan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of the theater dating to the reign of the Emperor Trajan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

From the letters exchanged between Pliny and the Emperor Trajan we know that Christians were persecuted during his reign. (For more information see our post here.)

Emperor Trajan (A.D. 97-117). Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Emperor Trajan (A.D. 97-117). Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are ruins of a few churches (meaning “meeting places”) in Iznik. No doubt many ruins are under the buildings of the modern city, but the area pictured below marks the site of the Dormitian of the Mother of God (Theotokos = God-bearer). At the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 “Theotokos was approved as a right title for the Virgin Mary” (Peter Toon, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 344). Sources such as Philip Schaff provide much more detailed information for those interested.

Sign at site of Dormitian of the Theotokos, built by Hyakinthos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign at site of Dormitian of the Theotokos, built by Hyakinthos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If you have traveled much in the Middle East you have likely seen several sites associated with the dormitian of Mary, the place where she went to sleep before being assumed into heaven, according to Catholic and Orthodox theology. Our guide for the day to Nicea/Iznik waits for us to make our photo before entering the few remaining ruins of the church.

Guide waiting to take us into ruins of the Dormitian church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Guide waiting to take us into ruins of the Dormitian church. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This church was built by Bishop Hyakinthos in the 7th or 8th century. Only with flash and some work in Photoshop was I able to show this much of the structure. The Blue Guide Turkey “The Lascarid emperor, Theodore 1 (1204-22) was buried here.”

Dark remains of the Dormitian church of the Theotokos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dark remains of the Dormitian church of the Theotokos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In Part 7 we will move to a few of the modern buildings of Iznik.