Category Archives: Church History

Index of articles on Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus

Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus.  Our total number of posts has now grown to more than 1700 and this makes it difficult to locate a post you may need. This index is prepared to assist you in your study of the birth of Jesus in ancient Bethlehem. Most, if not all, of the posts include at least one photo illustrating the lesson.

Other places near Bethlehem. Most of the links below are related to Herod the Great and the fortress he built near Bethlehem. I see that I have normally used the spelling Herodium, but sometime Herodion.

Historical Connections to Modern Christmas Celebrations. These post are post-biblical, historical references to customs associated with Christmas.

When other posts on this subject are written I will try to remember to update the list.

Ports of the Sea of Galilee

Mendel Nun contrasts the knowledge of 19th century explorers with what has become known as a result of his work.

Early 19th-century explorers, searching for places where Jesus had walked, attempted to locate the ancient harbors of the Sea of Galilee but failed. Now, after 25 years of searching and researching, we have found them. We have recovered the piers, promenades and breakwaters of the ports. We have also uncovered the ships’ anchors, the mooring stones the sailors tied their ships to, and even the weights fishermen once fastened to their nets. We always knew the harbors must be there, but we had no idea we would find so many remains. (“Ports of Galilee.” BAR 25:04, July/Aug 1999.

In the 1999 article Nun says that we now have only four small ports serving the motorboats, ferries, and fishing boats, but in ancient times there were no less than 16 bustling ports. When the harbors and anchorages were originally built the water level was about 695 feet below sea level. As a result of natural changes about a thousand years ago, the water level gradually rose about 3 feet, but the water level this week is 698 feet below sea level (Kinneret Bot, Dec. 2, 2014).

The first ancient port discovered by Nun was the port of Kursi on the eastern side of the lake in 1970.

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.

Murphy-O’Connor gives this explanation about the heart-shaped stones.

Below the steps, sometimes under water if the lake level is high, are six heart-shaped stones. They are double-column blocks designed for the angle of a colonnade, and never served any practical purpose in their present position. Known as the Twelve Thrones and first mentioned in a text of AD 808, they were probably taken from disused buildings and placed there to commemorate the Twelve Apostles. It takes little insight to appreciate the mental jump from John 21:9 … to ‘You will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Luke 22:30). – Murphy-O’Connor, Holy Land, 5th ed., p. 319

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.

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 will allow us to see how the harbors that had become lost in time have become known in the past few years.

The Miletus Market Gate in the Pergamum Museum

The Pergamum Museum in Berlin is home to three outstanding architectural remains from the ancient world: the Zeus Altar from Pergamum, the Miletus Market Gate, and the Ishtar Gate from Babylon.

The Market Gate of Miletus, constructed about 120-130 A.D. during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, has been reconstructed in the museum. Fant and Reddish say,

This two-story gateway is one of the finest examples of Roman façade architecture in existence” (Lost Treasures of the Bible, p. 349).

German archaeologists excavated the gate and sent it to Germany in the first decade of the 20th century. It was more than 20 years before a suitable room was available for the gate to be reconstructed.

Miletus was already a significant city with outstanding monuments when Paul stopped there on the return from his third journey, but this building would not be built for another 60 or 70 years.

The recently renovated Miletus Market Gate in the Pergamum Museum, Berlin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The recently renovated Miletus Market Gate in the Pergamum Museum, Berlin, Germany. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A seated statue of the Emperor Trajan, seen on the left side of the above photo, comes from a different place. We know from the writings of Pliny that some Christians of Asia Minor were persecuted during the reign of Trajan. See here.

The Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

To illustrate the greatness of this museum, if we go through one exit from the room we see the Zeus Altar, but if we go through the gate we see the Ishtar Gate from Babylon. Notice the colored bricks of the Ishtar Gate in the photo below.

The Ishtar Gate can be seen through the Miletus Market Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Ishtar Gate can be seen through the Miletus Market Gate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Miletus is mentioned only two places in the New Testament. The first is on Paul’s return from the third journey about A.D. 57 (Acts 20:15, 17). The other time is when Paul tells Timothy, in his last letter, that he had left Trophimus “sick at Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20). This indicates that Paul may have stopped at Miletus on the voyage to Rome, but no activity is recorded.

From Miletus, on the first visit, Paul sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus. In those days it would be a lengthy journey for a messenger to go from Miletus to Ephesus. The distance by land would have been about 63 miles. If the couriers went across the Gulf of Latmos (Latmus) the distance would be about 38 miles. The map below shows the location of Miletus on the south of the Gulf of Latmos. Over the centuries the harbor, fed by the Meander River, silted up. Today Miletus is landlocked about five miles away from the Aegean Sea.

Map showing Miletus and Ephesus. Map courtesy BibleAtlas.org.

Map showing Miletus and Ephesus. Map courtesy BibleAtlas.org.

John was “on the island called Patmos”

John, the writer of the book of Revelation, was “on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 1:9). I am convinced that this was the apostle John. He was there because of (Greek dia, on account of) the word of God. Filson says this could mean either banishment, or banishment to hard labor. He points out that the word of God and witness or testimony are used in Revelation 6:9 and 20:4 “in reference to a persecution situation” (Interpreter’s Dictionary Bible III:677).

The Romans used the island as a penal settlement to which they sent political agitators and others who threatened the peace of the empire (Tacitus Annals 3.68; 4.30; 15.71). According to Eusebius, John was banished to Patmos by the Emperor Domitian, A. D. 95, and released 18 months later under Nerva (HE III.18.1; 20.8-9).

View of the port of Skala from Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the port of Skala from the monastery at Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Patmos is a rocky island off the west coast of Asia Minor in the Aegean Sea, about 37 miles southwest of Miletus. The island is one of the Dodecanese (twelve) or of the Southern Sporades. It is about 10 miles long (N–S) and 6 miles wide at the north end, and consists of about 22 square miles of land area. The island is mountainous and of irregular outline. Some visitors to the island have suggested that the natural scenery “determined some features of the imagery of the Apocalypse” (HDB III:693-94).

Patmos has been a part of Greece since 1947, and may be reached by boat from Piraeus, Samos, Kos, or Rhodes. The ferry from Samos takes about 2 1/2 hours, arriving at the port of Skala. Some cruise ships sail from Kusadasi, Turkey, to Patmos.

On the way from Skala to Chora, the only other town on the island, one passes the Monastery and Cave of the Apocalypse. This site is marked as the traditional place where John received the Revelation.

At Chora, the monastery of St. John the Theologian dominates the island. It was built by a monk called Christodulos (slave of Christ) in A. D. 1088. The monastery library is noted for its manuscripts, but especially for its collection of more than 200 icons. The oldest book in the library is part of a 6th century codex of Mark (Codex Purpureus). The second oldest manuscript is an 8th century A. D. copy of Job.

Bell tower on the Monastery of St. John the Theologian at Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bell tower on Monastery of St. John the Theologian at Chora. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hadrian’s Arch in Antalya (Attalia)

Many of the Roman ruins we see in the Bible World belong to the early second century. This illustrates the tremendous power of the Empire throughout the region at that time.

Hadrian ruled from A.D. 117-138. We know that one of the major persecutions against Christians came during his reign. Many arches were constructed to honor him. The most impressive Roman ruin in Antalya (Attalia of Acts 14:25) is Hadrian’s Arch. The three-arch gateway was extensively restored between 1960 and 1963.

Hadrian's Arch in Antalya, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hadrian’s Arch in Antalya, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The area around the arch bustles with tourists.

JERUSALEM in IMAX

Friday morning my wife and I joined three Biblical Studies faculty from Florida College, and a handful of other people, in the MOSI IMAX giant screen theater in Tampa to see the National Geographic Entertainment presentation of JERUSALEM.

The original producers of this film have been promoting it for several years, as you can see from the video that we posted nearly three years ago here. The current production is about 45 minutes in length. The thing that really makes the difference is the IMAX giant screen presentation.

JERUSALEM features three young ladies representing the three religions claiming Jerusalem as the home of their origin: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The girls guide the viewers through the crowded, winding streets of the Old City to the various religious sites of the city. There are a few scenes in other parts of the country: Capernaum, Caesarea Maritima, Joppa, Masada, and the Dead Sea. The only scholar represented in the film is Dr. Jodi Magness. She provides informed commentary about the archaeology of Jerusalem, but it is limited. Views of the Givati garage excavation are shown, but no historical context is provided.

For my part, the hoards of people scurrying through Damascus Gate, or to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or to the Western Wall is overdone. The three young ladies who serve as guides almost come face to face in one scene, but admit that they still know very little about one another.

The best feature of the film (not shown at all in the video below), is taking ruins that remain and building reconstructions of the city in biblical times. One scene begins at the corner of the temple mount at Robinson’s Arch and builds into a model of the the biblical temple.

I don’t know if the film will be shown in Tampa, but it is showing in several cities. A full list, and other info about the film, is available here.

Jerusalem | Filmed in Imax 3D from JerusalemGiantScreen on Vimeo.

Having spent much time walking in the old city and viewing it from above, I knew where I was (in the film), but I am not sure that those who have little or no acquaintance with the city will find it anything but confusing.

The aerial photo below was made from the east. It shows the western slopes of the Mount of Olives, the Kidron Valley, the Temple Mount, and a portion of the Old City buildings.

Aerial view of Jerusalem from the east. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Jerusalem from the east. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

 

Traveling in Turkey

“Turkey? Why would you want to go to Turkey?” That is a question I have been asked a number of times over the years since my first visit in 1968. My response usually goes something like this. If you are interested in Bible history, Turkey is very important both for the Old Testament and the New Testament. Of course, the land was not called Turkey at the time of the Bible, but had various names depending on the historical period and the geographical region.

Think of the Old Testament history.

  • It is possible that the Garden of Eden was located somewhere in the mountains of eastern Turkey near the source of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (Genesis 2:10-14).
  • For sure, Noah’s Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (ancient Urartu) (Genesis 8:4).
  • Haran, and the region known as Padan-aram in Mesopotamia, became the ancestral home of Abraham and his family before he went to the land of Canaan (Genesis 28:2; et al.).
  • Bible kings were involved in battles with world powers at the town of Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2).
  • The Hittites lived in central and eastern Turkey (1 Kings 10:28-29; 2 Kings 7:6). Kue designates Cilicia in Turkey.
  • Both the Assyrians and Babylonians, enemies of Israel, were active in this region (Isaiah 10:9; Jeremiah 46:1-2).
  • The Euphrates and the Tigris, great rivers of Turkey, were important in Bible times (Isaiah 27:12; Genesis 2:14; Daniel 10:4). The Euphrates is often designated simply as the River (Isaiah 11:16).

Think of New Testament history.

  • Paul was a native of Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 21:39). Timothy was a native of Lystra (Acts 16:1).
  • From Acts 11 onward throughout the New Testament, most of the events take place in Roman Asia Minor.
  • The town we know as Antioch in (the Roman province of) Syria is now located in the Hatay province of Turkey (Acts 11; Galatians 2:11).
  • Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark sailed from Seleucia to begin the first missionary journey (Acts 13:4).
  • With the exception of Salamis and Paphos in Cyprus, all of the places associated with the first journey are in Turkey (Acts 13-14).
  • Many of the towns visited on the second and third journey are in Turkey (Acts 15-16).
  • Paul made stops at the coastal town of Myra on the voyage to Rome (Acts 27:5).
  • Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were address to churches or persons in Asia Minor.
  • Peter’s two letters were addressed to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, now in Turkey (1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 3:1). Peter also visited Antioch in Syria (Galatians 2:11).
  • The apostle John spent some of his latter years in Ephesus, and addressed the book of Revelation to seven churches in Asia (Revelation 1:4, 11).
Hot air balloons are moved by the wind over the lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia while the pilots control their altitude. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hot air balloons are moved by the wind over the lunar-like landscape of Cappadocia while the pilots control their altitude. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Post New Testament church history.

  • The Book of Revelation describes events that would affect the saints of Asia (Revelation 1:4). The information we have about the Roman Emperors and the temples erected to their honor throughout Turkey fit perfectly with what we read in Revelation.
  • The Ecumenical Councils met in the place we now call Turkey in the following cities: Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon.
  • Some of the better known early church fathers are associated with places in Turkey.

Good enough reasons to visit Turkey, I’d say.

Note: This is intended only as a suggestive list; not a complete one.