Category Archives: Church History

Sea of Galilee now 703 feet below sea level

A headline in a recent The Times of Israel reads,

“Thirsty Sea of Galilee sinking toward lowest level ever recorded.”

The article by Melanie Lidman reports that…

Northern Israel is experiencing one of the worst droughts in 100 years, leaving the country’s water tables with a deficit of 2.5 billion cubic liters of water, compared to non-drought years, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor announced on Monday.

Lidman says,

The Sea of Galilee is currently at 214.13 meters (703 feet) below sea level, or 1.10 meters (3.6 feet) below the lower red line.

She adds that the Sea of Galilee reached a similar level in 2001 and 2008. When I first studied Bible Geography back in 1953 we learned from popular Bible atlases that the Sea of Galilee was 596 feet below sea level.

This gauge at Tiberias measures the level of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This gauge at Tiberias measures the level of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The article discusses the social and climatic problems Israel is facing today, and is well-worth the read.

The late Mendel Nun, of En Gev, discovered no less than 16 bustling ports from the time of Jesus. When the harbors and anchorages were originally built the water level was about 695 feet below sea level, considerably lower than in recent time. (See “Ports of Galilee.” BAR 25:04, July/Aug 1999).

Droughts in recent years have brought about changing water levels. We know that the famous Roman boat now displayed at Nof Ginosar was found when the water level was low in 1986. This also allowed the discovery of additional ports.

During the time I have been visiting Israel (since 1967), I have seen these changes in the water level of the lake and have mentioned it in several posts. Here I wish to use Tabgha (Heptapegon = the place of seven springs) as an illustration.

The Church of the Primacy of Peter was built in 1933. A good case can be made for this being the location where Jesus called some of His disciples to become fishers of men (Luke 5:1-11), and where Jesus met His disciples after the resurrection (John 21). The issue of the primacy of Peter over the other apostles is a matter for theological and exegetical study which I think comes up short.

The chapel is built on a large rock called the Mensi Domini (the Lord’s Table) where it is said Jesus prepared breakfast for the disciples.

In this 1980 photo you see the water reaching the building.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The rock-cut steps were mentioned by Egeria (about AD 383), but we do not know when they were cut. Now take a look at the same location in December of 2009 when the water was low.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

These 2009 photos were made during a personal study trip with Leon Mauldin. While we were enjoying the quietness of the experience a group of tourists came to hunt for a special souvenir rock or shell to take home. I made the next picture from the edge of the water to illustrate how far the water had receded.

These photos were made during a personal study trip that Leon Mauldin and I made in 2009. While we were enjoying the quietness of the experience a group of tourists came to hunt for a special souvenir rock or shell to take home. I made the next picture from the edge of the water to illustrate how far the water had receded.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hopefully this illustration from Tabgha will allow us to see how the harbors that had become lost in time could become known in the past few years.

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Dr. James Turner Barclay remembered in the Cathedral of St. George, Jerusalem

A little more than two years ago I wrote two posts about the discovery of Solomon’s Quarries (also called Zedekiah’s Cave) here and here. I will reproduce only a few comments from those articles in hope that you will check them and the many photos I have included there.

Portrait of Dr. James Turner Barclay from about 1848.

Portrait of Dr. James Turner Barclay engraved by John Sartain. This image may also be found on the Scottsville Museum (Virginia) web page here. The photo is from Barclay’s book, The City of the Great King (1858).

Dr. James Turner Barclay was sent to Jerusalem by the American Christian Missionary Society in 1851 as a medical and evangelistic missionary. During his first trip he stayed until 1854 and returned for a second stint from 1858 to 1861. Barclay was active in medical work, treating more than 2,000 cases of malaria during his first year in the city.

Barclay is known not only for the aforementioned discovery but for the discovery of an ancient gate in the Western Wall now known as Barclay’s Gate. I gathered all of my sources to write about that when I wrote the previous articles, but eventually had to put the books away to make room for something else. Perhaps someday.

While admitting mistakes that Barclay made in those early days, Dr. Jack P. Lewis says,

The significant steps that Barclay took toward the scientific study of Jerusalem will keep his contribution to scholarship from being forgotten. (Biblical Archaeologist, 1988).

A few decades ago a church in Atlanta, Georgia, provided two stained glass windows for the Cathedral of St. George to honor and maintain the memory of Dr. Barclay. The Cathedral is the seat of the Episcopal Church bishop of Jerusalem. Our first picture shows the courtyard and entrance along Nablus (formerly Damascus) Road. It is near the famous American Colony Hotel and other well-known tourist hotels (e.g., the Grand Court Hotel where many of my groups have stayed).

The courtyard and entrance to St. George Cathedral in east Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The courtyard and entrance to St. George Cathedral in east Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our next photo shows the interior of the building. The stained class windows, not visible in this photo are on the left and near the front of the building. The building seems to be open for visits at most times.

The interior of the St. George Cathedral. The stained glass windows are on the left side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The interior of the St. George Cathedral. The stained glass windows are on the left side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are two other windows depicting the naming of John the Baptist and the preaching by John of “a baptism of repentance.” The ones we show below are the ones honoring Dr. Barclay. The window on the left bears the title “Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan” and the one on the right has “John heard in prison about the deeds of Jesus” as a title. John is holding a manuscript with a portion of the text of Matthew 11:4-6.

And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:4-6 ESV)

The windows honoring Dr. Barclay. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The windows honoring Dr. Barclay. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The dedication reads across both windows:

These windows were presented in 1966 by members of the Peachtree Christian Church, Atlanta, Georgia, to preserve the heroic memory of Dr. James T. Barclay, Medical Missionary in Jerusalem 1851–1861, and of his wife Julia S. Barclay, both faithful missionaries from the Christian Churches of the United States of America. (Disciples of Christ).

I have made mention of the Restoration Movement, sometimes called the Stone-Campbell Movement, at other times. Just as a matter of record, my life’s work has been among more conservative Churches of Christ, rather than among Christian Churches or Disciples of Christ. The introduction of the American Christian Missionary Society was one of the things that precipitated the division.

It is good to see the work of men like Barclay honored by whomever wishes to do so.

As a courtesy to those who would like to use these photos in teaching, you may click on them for an image suitable for PowerPoint presentations.

Did Philip baptize the Ethiopian at ’Ain ed-Dirweh?

Note: This post replaces one from June 22 which was taken down when I learned that I had incorrectly equated two obscure places that should not have been. You will need to read this entire post to get the correct story.

Though the Bible does not specify a place, scholars and religious leaders like to point out possible places where significant events transpired. Such has been true of the place where Philip baptized the government official from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39).

One reader asked if this really matters. Those of us who believe in the accuracy of the Bible look for the land and the Book to agree. I think in this instance we have several possible places where the baptism could have taken place.

Ain el-Haniyeh (see here) in the Rephaim Valley is not the only place suggested as the location of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. In fact, Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria, 4th ed., 1906, says,

The tradition that Ain el-Haniyeh was the spring in which Philip baptized the Eunuch of Ethiopia (Acts viii. 36) dates from 1483, before which the scene of that event was placed near Hebron.

The place near Hebron is known as ’Ain ed-Dirweh. My only visit there was in 1979, but it has been associated with Philip’s work since the early Christian centuries. After visiting Bethlehem, The Bordeaux Pilgrim (A.D. 333) went to “Bethasora” (footnote: Bethzur, Beit Sur) where, he says,

There is the fountain in which Philip baptized the eunuch

Baedeker says,

… we reach the spring of ‘Ain ed-Dirweh, above which are a Mohammedan house and a praying-place. In the time of Eusebius [of Caesarea; c. 265 – c. 339] the spring in which Philip baptized the eunuch was pointed out here (comp. p. 93), and it is so marked on the mosaic map of Madeba. The traces of an ancient Christian church were formerly visible.

The Madaba Map (also spelled Madeba or Medeba), dated between about A.D. 560 and 565, provides a glimpse into the understanding of the Christians of that time about the location of certain biblical events.

Here I cite the information from the Franciscan Cyberspot’s The Madaba Mosaic Map web site. The map shows “a conventional church” and a “disk circled in black with a yellow centre. It is the basin related to the inscription.”

The inscription, above the letters OYDA (ouda, in Iouda = Judah), is translated as follows:

The (church) of Saint Philip, where they say that the eunuch Candaces was baptized.

Go to the Discussion page here and read the comments by various scholars who have examined the matter. I note that some (e.g. Avi-Yonah) suggest that the makers of the map are expressing doubt about the place of the event in the 6th century A.D. by writing “where they say.”

The portion of the Madaba Map (late 6th century A.D.) showing Bethsora [Bethzur) in Judah). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The portion of the Madaba Map (late 6th century A.D.) showing Bethsora and the place where it was said that Philip baptized the eunuch of Candace. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

To the left of the church building you will see the Greek for the word BETHSURA. This site is often identified with the Beth-zur of Joshua 15:58. Eusebius referred to it as Bethsoro. The Survey of Western Palestine has Bt. Sur. These two places, Bethsura and ’Ain edh-Dhirweh, are essentially the same.

Portion of Survey of Western Palestine map. Courtesty of BiblePlaces.com.

Portion of Survey of Western Palestine map showing Bt. Sur and ‘Ain edh Dhirweh. Courtesty of BiblePlaces.com.

The famous Matson Photograph Collection includes at least two photos of Ein el-Dirweh. The first one was made between 1934 and 1939.

Ein el-Dirweh, Philips Fountain at it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection now in the Library of Congress.

Ein el-Dirweh, Philips Fountain as it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection now in the Library of Congress.

In the next photo we see those who have brought containers to get water for their homes. Notice on the top step where containers are placed there are two water skins being used to collect water. These photos can be enlarged by clicking on them, and even larger images are available on the web site. Go to https://www.loc.gov/ and search for Philips fountain.

Ein el-Direh, Philips Fountain, at it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection, now in the Library of Congress.

Ein el-Dirweh, Philips Fountain, at it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection, now in the Library of Congress.

And finally, here is a photo I made in 1979. At the time there was very little water in the pool, but it seemed to be a good place for boys to stop on their way home. The site was so unimpressive to me that I never returned.

Philips Fountain between Bethlehem and Hebron in 1979. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Philips Fountain between Bethlehem and Hebron in 1979. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We still do not know the answer to the question, “Where did Philip baptize the Ethiopian Eunuch?,” but this is an older tradition than the site at Ain el-Haniyeh.

Rasmussen, in his Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, says,

The site of this event is difficult to locate precisely, but since the Ethiopian was riding in a chariot it seems that he must have been traveling on a developed road. It may be that he was traveling on the road that led from Bethlehem to the Valley of Elah, the route that David had taken when he carried supplies to his brothers (1 Sam 17) and the one that the Romans eventually paved and marked with milestones. This road led south from the Valley of Elah through the low rolling hills of the Shephelah to Betogabris and continued from there west to Gaza. (p. 217)

On a modern Israeli road from Bethlehem to the Valley of Elah this would be highway 375.

Notley cites Eusebius, but thinks it is unlikely that Philip continued as far south as Beth-zur. He says,

Southwest of Bethlehem the ancient route divides. The watershed route continues to Beth-zur and Hebron, while a western spur follows the Hushah ridge and descends into the Elah Valley (Wadi es-Samt). The Romans paved this descent and evidence of these efforts can still be seen in steps cut into the Judean hills. (Rainey and Notley. The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World, p. 371).

The photo here shows the steps along the road cut into the rock near the Elah Valley. Just a personal thought. I think one might prefer to get out of a chariot and walk down the steps instead of remaining in the chariot.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notley thinks the baptism may have taken place at one of the numerous springs in the Elah Valley before Philip and the Ethiopian separated to take different routes, Philip to Azotus and the Ethiopian to Gaza and beyond.

And there are other suggestions, but I will leave those for your own study.

A note about spelling. One difficulty in searching for information about some of these ancient places is the various spellings we find. Even in this article I have used ’Ayn ed-Dirweh and Ein el-Dirweh. The Franciscan website uses ’Ayn al-Dhirwah and ’Ain Dhirwe. Hachetts’s The Middle East uses Ain Dirweh. Vilnay uses Ein Dirwa. The Survey of Western Palestine uses ’Ain edh Dhirweh. And on and on it goes.

Sources. There are helpful ways you can access the old, detailed maps included in the Survey of Western Palestine. (1) Buy your own digitized set from Life in the Holy Land. (2) Use the information collected on Ancient Locations here.

Thanks to Tom Powers for many helpful hints in the production of this post. Some of his work may be accessed at his View From Jerusalem website. I keep a link to it at the site listed below under Blogs.

At the BiblicalStudies.info Scholarly page, under Map of Bible Lands, I keep a list of various maps that are helpful.

Where had Mary and Joseph stopped when they missed Jesus?

After his presentation in the Temple, there is no record of Jesus returning to Jerusalem until he is 12 years of age.

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom.  (Luke 2:41-42 ESV)

When the Feast of the Passover ended, his parents began the return to Nazareth. We can easily imagine that a large caravan of people were traveling together on this trip that would take several days. Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem spending time among the teachers, “listening to them and asking them questions.” Because Mary and Joseph had relatives and acquaintances in the caravan they assumed that Jesus was among them until the end of the first day.

Keener provides some background on caravan travel.

Caravans, which afforded protection from robbers, were common on pilgrimages for the feasts in Jerusalem. Traveling with a caravan, in which neighbors from their town would watch the community children together, Mary and Joseph might assume that the near-adult Jesus was with companions, especially if by now they had younger children to attend to. If we assume a pace of twenty miles per day (though perhaps slower, depending on transportation and the children), Nazareth would be a little over three days’ journey along the shortest route. (Keener, C. S., The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament)

Where did Mary and Joseph stop at the end of that first day of travel? We can not be certain of the route taken from Jerusalem to Nazareth. Travel from Galilee to Jerusalem was often through Perea on the eastern side of the Jordan Valley. We later find Jesus traveling north along the central mountain range through Samaria (John 4).

Ruins of medieval church beneath a Mosque in El Bireh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of medieval church beneath a Mosque in El Bireh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tradition identifies the stop at el-Bireh (El Bira). Tradition has it that the first day’s stop after leaving Jerusalem was at a place now known as El Bira (or Bireh) east of Ramallah. El Bira is an Arab town. There is a spring and ruins of a medieval church. The Hachette World Guides: The Middle East (1966) says that the tradition associating this event with El Bireh dates to the 16th century. Eugene Hoade says it is probable that this church was built in 1146 “in memory of” the event mentioned in Luke 2. (Guide to the Holy Land). The apse of the church is visible in the photo below. The Hachette World Guide says the building was destroyed in 1915 and the stones were used for building bridges along the mountain route.

Ruins of medieval church beneath a Mosque in El Bireh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of medieval church beneath a Mosque in El Bireh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This site is only about 8 miles north of Jerusalem, but with a large caravan including women and children it is possible that a short distance was covered the first day. It was necessary to stop where water and various food supplies were available (John 4:6-8; Luke 9:51-53).

View of the ruins of the church at El Bireh. The apse is visible in the foreground. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the ruins of the church at El Bireh. The apse is visible in the foreground. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Is this Beeroth? Since the time of explorer Edward Robinson (1867), some scholars have identified El Bireh with the Old Testament Gibeonite city of Beeroth. The word Beeroth indicates the presence of a well. Biblical references include Joshua 9:17, 18:25, Ezra 2:25, and Nehemiah 7:29. Beeroth was considered part of the tribe of Benjamin (2 Samuel 4:2).

The late David Dorsey, after surveying the scholarship on the matter, says,

At present, therefore, the site of biblical Beeroth remains a matter of dispute. The most likely candidate would still seem to be the one originally proposed by Robinson, i.e., el-Bireh. (The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary)

Hadrian at Caesarea Maritima

We have written several posts about the Roman Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117 – 138). The most recent one was about the unique Hadrian exhibit at the Israel Museum here. Others can easily be found by putting the Emperor’s name in the Search box.

Years ago when I visited Caesarea with my groups I would see a headless statue made of porphyry thought to belong to Hadrian near the entrance to the Crusader Fortress. The statue, which was discovered accidentally in 1954, was displayed with a white marble statue on a later Byzantine street. I had asked a couple of guide friends but they did not know where the statue had been moved. A few weeks ago I spent some time trying to locate the statue in its new location but was unsuccessful.

When I realized that Larry Haverstock would be wandering around the Caesarea area for a few days ahead of joining a group tour I asked him if he would try to locate the statue.

Larry did not give up easily, and finally found the statue. Here is how he vividly describes his experience:

Turns out the elusive king’s imposing presence has been incorporated into the grounds of a large restaurant. According to Google Earth, his regal eminence is only 515 feet from the ticket seller for the Crusader Fortress / Harbor entrance at Caesarea. I just couldn’t believe it, after driving a couple of miles all around the site through banana groves and empty fields (following the museum guide’s instructions), only to discover that his headless visage had been hidden behind a fence which makes it impossible to know he’s there. In the end, I parked for free less than 200 feet from the truly impressive Emperor of Old.

A headless porphyry statue thought to be that of Emperor Hadrian displayed at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

A headless porphyry statue thought to be that of Emperor Hadrian displayed at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

And Larry thought it helpful to pose in front of the statue to give us some idea of the size.

Larry Haverstock and the headless Emperor Hadrian. Photo by L. Haverstock.

Larry Haverstock and the headless Emperor Hadrian. Photo by L. Haverstock.

Is Hadrian important to Caesarea? Certainly. When the city began to need more water than that supplied by the aqueduct built by Herod the Great, Hadrian added another aqueduct.

High level aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima. the portion on the right of the photo (east side) was built by Herod the Great. The portion beside it on the left was added by Hadrian. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

High level aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima. the portion on the right of the photo (east side) was built by Herod the Great. The portion beside it on the left (west side) was added by Hadrian. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Thanks to our intrepid explorer, or as he described himself in an email today, “your antiquities sleuth in the field.”

Caesarea Maritima was a first century Roman capital and seaport. The gospel was first preached to the Gentiles here when Peter came from Joppa to Caesarea to tell Cornelius words by which he could be saved (Acts 10, 11).

The Apostle Paul used the harbor at Caesarea several times. He was imprisoned in the city for two years before departing for Rome (Acts 24:27; 27:1).

Flowers at Nicea (Iznik,Turkey)

This planter of beautiful flowers is one of several that adorn the entry to the Saint Sofia (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik, Turkey. Iznik is the site of Nicea (Nicaea), the location of the famous Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, and the Second Council of Nicea in A.D. 787.

Flowers in front of Iznik Ayasofya Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Flowers in front of Iznik Ayasofya Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Mosque has a long, typical history. Originally the site was the location of a Roman temple. Then in the 4th century A.D. the church of Saint Sofia was erected. In A.D. 1331 the building became a mosque. This is a common occurrence in the Middle East.

Bal’ama is thought to be Biblical Ibleam

We always wanted to travel through the hill country of Samaria (Manasseh and Ephraim) on our tours, but there were many years that this was not possible due to the political situation. When travel was possible we drove (from the north) through Jenin, the plain of Dothan, Samaria, Shechem (Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, Jacob’s Well), and other sites as time permitted. If we could not travel along the central mountain range we drove through the Jordan Valley.

Sometime when traveling through Jenin, our guide would mention that there is a tel (tell, archaeological mound) on the south side of the city, but we never saw it. Traveling in a bus normally provides a better view because one is sitting higher, but I now understand why we did not see this tel. The excavation report explains that the spring entrance at road level became visible only after the 1996-1997 road work. The road runs through the Wadi Bal’ama.

The site on the south side of Jenin is known as Khirbet Bal’ama, or Khirbet Belameh. Several 19th and 20th century archaeologists identified this site with Biblical Ibleam.

Ibleam was a Canaanite town in the territory given to the Israelite tribe of Manasseh. As the Israelites settled in the land, there were Canaanite cities that they failed to capture. One of them was Ibleam (Joshua 17:11). The Biblical text says,

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. (Judges 1:27 ESV)

Thutmose III was the ruler of Egypt (1504-1450 B.C.) during the 18th Dynasty. Some scholars place the beginning of his rule at 1490 and others at 1479.

Thutmose III at the Temple of Amum at Karnak. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Seated statue of Thutmose III at the Karnak Temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Thutmose made a military excursion into Canaan and left a record of it on the walls of the Karnak Temple. Our photo shows a few of the bound rulers of various cities. I don’t have a translation of the cartouches and do not know if Bal’ama is shown in this photo, but it is included somewhere on the walls of Karnak.

Part of the city list left by Thutmose III at Karnak Temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Part of the city list left by Thutmose III at Karnak Temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

My interest in Bal’ama was renewed when I read A.D. Riddle’s article in the Bible Places Blog here. Last April, 2016, I had this site in mind when we were able to drive through the West Bank from Galilee to Jerusalem. As we drove south of Jenin I caught a glimpse of the new sign marking the entrance to Bal’ama Tunnel. Note that the sign is in Arabic and English. I may be wrong, but I don’t think this sign was there in 2015 when I drove through Jenin, but I may have been looking to the east of the highway.

Bal'ama is marked as Bal'ama Tunnel on the west side of the road from Jenin to Dothan, Samaria, and Nablus (Shechem). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bal’ama is marked as Bal’ama Tunnel on the west side of the road from Jenin to Dothan, Samaria, and Nablus (Shechem). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are two information signs posted at the site of Khirbet Bal’ama. The first reads,

Khirbet Bal’ama is a Canaanite fortified city that occupied a strategic position controlling the historic route of Wadi Bal’ama which connects the Arraba Plain with Marj Ibn Amer (“Jarzeel [Jezreel] Valley”). In the ancient record, the site is identified with the name “Ibleam“, and was mentioned in the Egyptian Royal Archive in the 15th century B.C. With reference to the classical records, Bal’ama was known as “Belemoth”, and was mentioned as a major town during the Bronze Age and beginnings of the Iron Age. It was inhabited during the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Early Islamic periods, also during the crusader/Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman periods. Excavations at the site carried out by a Joint Palestinian-Dutch team between 1998 and 2000, revealed the water system and parts of a city walls dating back to the Bronze Age at the western perimeter of the site, ruins for houses dating back to the second Iron Age, a winery from the Roman period and remnants of a tower on top of the hill dating back to the crusader/Ayyubid and Mamluk periods. A cemetery on the southern top of the hill adjacent to Khirbet Bal’ama was discovered as well.

Khirbet Bal’ama is visible to the right of the new building on the slope. There are two entrances to the tunnel; one at street level and another at the level of the platform on the slope.

The site of Khirbet Bal'ama south of Jenin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The site of Khirbet Bal’ama south of Jenin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Riddle includes some nice photos of the site, but we can add one with the entrance to the tunnel system open.

Entrance to the tunnel at Khirbet Bal'ama. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Entrance to the tunnel at Khirbet Bal’ama. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Another sign on the entrance plaza describes the water tunnel system.

The water tunnel is located at the eastern foot of Khirbet Bal’ama. It was first described by Victor Guerin in 1874 and then by G. Schumacher [who had earlier excavated at Megiddo] in 1910. The rock-cut tunnel was dug to give access to the water source at the foot of the hill. It was designed primarily to be used in times of war and siege. The Bal’ama water tunnel system is one of the major systems in Palestine, like other systems found in Jerusalem, Tel el-Muteselim (Megiddo), Tel el-Qadah (Hazor) and Tell el-Jazari (Gezer). The tunnel consists of three parts, namely the archway at the lowest entrance, the rock-cut tunnel going upward to the west, and the upper stone-built narrow passage. The discovered tunnel is 115 metres in length; 105 metres of it is rock-cut and includes 57 stairs. Archaeological objects were found, such as pottery vessels, glass objects, coins, and some inscriptions.

And we can add a photo of the actual lower water tunnel. Riddle says,

The tunnel was apparently constructed in the Iron Age, though this is based largely on inference rather than clear, direct evidence

Beginning of the Bal'ama Tunnel on the east side of the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Beginning of the Bal’ama Tunnel on the eastern (northeast, Riddle) side of the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Due to lunch plans at Samaria and other sites on our schedule for the day we were not able to walk through the tunnel. Always a reason to return.

Riddle cites two excavation reports. He says the first may be difficult to access in the United States, but I am pleased to say that both documents are now available on Academia under the name of Hamdan Taha. This is for those who have a more technical interest in the site.

Taha, Hamdan and Gerrit van der Kooij. The Water Tunnel System at Khirbet Bal’ama. Archaeological Project Report of the 1996–2000 Excavations and Surveys, volume II. Ramallah: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage. 2007.

Taha, Hamdan. “Excavation of the Water Tunnel at Khirbet Belameh, 1996-1997.” in Proceedings of the First International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, Rome, May 18th-23rd 1998. 2000: 1587-1613.