Category Archives: Culture

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.

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 4

The Seventh Ecumenical Council

The first ecumenical council in the fourth century did not achieve unity among Christians. Oxford theologian Allister McGrath comments about doctrines concerning Jesus in Studies in Doctrine (23).

“Theology is often regarded as idle and pointless speculation about irrelevancies – a harmless, if somewhat pointless, pastime of frustrated academics and bishops with time on their hands. If any area of Christian thought has been characterized by apparently pointless speculation of this sort, it is Christology. Gregory of Nyssa [Nyssa was the ancient name of Nevşehir in Cappadocia.], writing in the fourth century, complained that it was impossible to go out shopping in downtown Constantinople without having to put up with speculation of this sort:”

“Constantinople [modern Istanbul] is full of mechanics and slaves, every one of them profound theologians, who preach in the shops and streets. If you want someone to change a piece of silver, he tells you about how the Son differs from the Father; if you ask the price of a loaf of bread, you are told that the Son is inferior to the Father, if you ask whether the bath is ready, you are told that the Son was created from nothing.”

After five other councils, Nicea would again be host to the seventh and last ecumenical council in A.D. 787. This one would deal with the iconoclastic controversy. Fatih Cimok set forth the question,

“Was it right to make painted or sculpted representations of Jesus and the saints, and direct homage to such images?” (Biblical Anatolia: From Genesis to the Councils, 201)

The conflict remained a matter of doctrinal argument until Leo III enforced iconoclasm (removal of the icons – eikons – or images from the churches) in A.D. 726. Irene, the mother of the infant Constantine VI, wanted to restore the icons. Moving cautiously,

She decided to summon a second council in Nicaea. It was held in the church of St. Sophia, whose restored ruins still survive. Among other things the council declared that icons deserved reverence (Greek proskynesis) but not adoration (Greek latreia) which was due to God alone and condemned the iconoclasts. (Cimok, Biblical Anatolia, 202)

Our photo below show the present state of the building, but it has undergone many changes over the centuries. It is presumed to have been used as a place of Christian worship during the Byzantine period. After damages caused by earthquakes in the 11th century many changes were made in the building. After Orhangazi’s conquest of Iznik in A.D. 1331, the building was converted to a mosque. Notice the top of the minaret to the right of the Turkish flag. The latest remodeling was in 2007. The building now serves as a museum. (Info based on signs at the site.)

Haghia Sophia (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik. It is thought that the 7th Ecumenical Council met in the building at this site. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hagia Sophia (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik. It is thought that the 7th Ecumenical Council met in the building at this site. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is the modern entrance to the building. The names indicate the various historical periods. Ayasofya (= Hagia Sophia or Saint Sofia, the church); Orhan recalls the conquest by Orhan Gazi in 1331 when the building was converted into a mosque (= Camii).

The entrance to the restored Haghia Sofia - Orhan - Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The entrance to the restored Hagia Sofia – Orhan – Mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows the interior of the building. In an enlargement of the apse one can see some faint drawings (icons).

Interior of the Haghia Sophia (Orhan) Mosque in Itnik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Interior of the Hagia Sophia Church (Orhan) Mosque in Iznik. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The information at the site claims that this was seating for (some of?) the bishops attending the 7th Ecumenical Council. Definitely not a plush assignment.

Seats for the bishops attending the 7th Ecumenical Council. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Seats for the bishops attending the 7th Ecumenical Council. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

After the second Nicean Council icons in the form of mosaics, paintings, or statuary became common in both the Eastern and Western Church. The example below shows the Deesis (enthronement, Christ Pantocrator) from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul). The complete 12th century mosaic shows Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptism.

The Deesis from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul shows Jesus enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist on either side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Deesis from Hagia Sophia in Istanbul shows Jesus enthroned with Mary and John the Baptist on either side. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our next article will show you some of the wall and the gates of Iznik/Nicea.

Getting as close as possible – “zero on the border”

Saturday afternoon I was reading an article about the Turkish military moving across the Euphrates River at Karkamiş (Carchemish) into the Syrian town of Jarabulus. In modern times it is not possible to follow a line of travel that one might wish—for example, following the travels of Abraham, or the movement of the Babylonians and the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish.

We do our best to get as close as possible. In Syria I have visited the Euphrates river about 25 miles south of Jarabulus/Carchemish, but in Turkey I have been to the base of the Tell of the ancient city of Carchemish, and seen the bridge crossing the river to Jarabulus. A travel expert in Istanbul once described Carchemish to me as being “Zero on the border.”

The mound of ancient Carchemish overlooking the Euphrates River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.The mound of ancient Carchemish overlooking the Euphrates River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The mound of ancient Carchemish overlooking the Euphrates River. To the left of the tell you may get a glimpse of a blue structure above the trees. That is the bridge crossing the Euphrates River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next picture shows the bridge that crosses the Euphrates. Click on the photo for a larger image. A small portion of the ancient city of Carchemish is in Syria.

Tell Carchemish is mostly hidden behind the trees. The bridge crossing the Euphrates River is clearly visible. Syrian hills are visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.Tell Carchemish is mostly hidden behind the trees. The bridge crossing the Euphrates River is clearly visible. Syrian hills are visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tell Carchemish is mostly hidden behind the trees. The bridge crossing the Euphrates River is clearly visible. Syrian hills are visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The ancient site of Carchemish (modern Karkamiş in Turkey) was identified by George Smith in 1876, and later excavated by the British Museum beginning in 1911. The various directors included Hogarth, Thompson, Wooley, and Lawrence (of Arabia). Many remains of Assyrian and Neo-Hittite periods were uncovered.

Carchemish is mentioned only a few times in the Bible, but it was one of the most significant cities in the ancient Bible world.

  • Isaiah made a reference to Carchemish (Isaiah 10:9). The city had been sacked by Sargon II in 717 B.C.
  • Pharaoh Necho of Egypt went up to Carchemish on the Euphrates to assist the Assyrians against the Babylonians in 609 B.C. (2 Chronicles 35:20; Jeremiah 46:2). King Josiah of Judah tried to stop him, but was killed.

One of the Babylonian Chronicles says that Nebuchadnezzar “crossed the river to go against the Egyptian army which lay in Carchemish.”

As we left Carchemish on our way to Gaziantep we saw a local Kurdish shepherd tending a few sheep. Shepherds like to take the sheep to the wheat fields after they have been cut. Times do change. Another photo I have shows clearly that this shepherd is using a piece of PVC pipe as a staff. He is wearing the baggy pants typical of older Kurdish men.

Shepherd with sheep near Carchemish, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shepherd with sheep near Carchemish, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Some other interesting things happened that afternoon at Carchemish, but I will save them for another post.

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.

Biblical History Center – LaGrange, Georgia

The Explorations in Antiquity Center, in LaGrange, Georgia, now in its tenth year, has changed the name to Biblical History Center. The new website with detailed information is available here.

New Logo for the Biblical History Center, LaGrange, Georgia.

New Logo for the Biblical History Center, LaGrange, Georgia.

The Biblical History Center is the brainchild of Dr. James (Jim) Fleming, well-known for his teaching in Israel.

Dr. Fleming established Biblical Resources in 1975, for the purpose of producing educational materials and aids for teaching the historical, geographical, and archaeological background of the Bible.

It was wonderful to have these resources together at one place in Israel, but it is beneficial to many more to have the resources available in the Southeastern United States.

We have mentioned the Center prominently here, here, and here.

My wife and I had the opportunity to stop by the Biblical History Center last November. Several significant changes have taken places since our earlier reports. The BHC now has a Biblical Life Artifacts Gallery displaying 250 artifacts from the National Treasures of Israel. Instead of having these items displayed in cases with a sign telling what they are, they are exhibited in life-like settings.

Genuine artifacts from a shipwreck off the coast of Israel displayed in a life-like setting. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Genuine artifacts from a shipwreck off the coast of Israel displayed in a life-like setting. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The new Biblical Life Artifacts Gallery is housed underneath the seating of the Roman theater.

Roman theater at Biblical History Center.

Roman theater at the Biblical History Center. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Of course, there are other important things at BHC. The photo below might remind one of the Middle Bronze Age gate at Tel Dan, and the canopy to the left of the gate recalls the Iron Age gate at the same city. This is where the king or judge sat in the gate to receive the people (2 Samuel 19:8). Other features of housing from biblical times are also shown in this structure.

The gate at the Biblical History Center. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The gate at the Biblical History Center. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Other artifact pertains to farming, shepherding, fishing, the process of dying and weaving cloth, storage, glass production, coins, foods, games – to name a few.

The Biblical History Center is a family place with guided tours. They even have a place where kids can participate in an archaeological dig. And you can arrange for a biblical meal and learn what it means to “recline at table” (Matthew 26:7).

Kids learning about archaeology at the Biblical History Center.

Kids learning about archaeology at the Biblical History Center.

Check the BHC web site for complete information about the various exhibits and hours of operation. If you live close enough, this is a wonderful place to take an entire Bible class or church group. The teachers of the children’s Bible classes at one church I know about went as a group to learn more about Bible times and customs.

Want to see the types of altars mentioned in the Bible? What about crosses or tombs, wine presses or threshing floors? It’s all there.

When I walked into the BHC ticket office I handed my card to Mrs. Crenshaw. She said, “You have written about our Center.” I explained that I had recommended the Center because I knew of the work of Dr. Fleming in Israel. I had met him there and at Professional meetings, but had never been to the Center. In the earlier reviews I used photos made by David Padfield and Jane Britnell. She sold me a ticket for my wife and said, “There will be no charge for you.” Later we had an opportunity to speak with Jim Fleming for a few minutes.

This is a great facility that I highly recommend.

“It is the Land of Honey” – Tel Rehov discoveries on display at Eretz Israel Museum

Tel Rehov is located about three miles south of Beth-Shean (Beth-Shan) on the east side of Highway 90. Rehov is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but it is known from Pharaoh Shishak’s city list on the wall of the temple of Amun in the Karnak Temple at Luxor, Egypt. This campaign is also mentioned in the pages of the Bible (1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chronicles 12:2-9).

Tel Rehov was occupied during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The city may be one of those not captured by Israel when they entered the Land under the leadership of Joshua.

The men of Manasseh did not conquer Beth Shan, Taanach, or their surrounding towns. Nor did they conquer the people living in Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo or their surrounding towns. The Canaanites managed to remain in those areas. Whenever Israel was strong militarily, they forced the Canaanites to do hard labor, but they never totally conquered them. (Judges 1:27-28 NET; cf. Joshua 17:12)

The city was destroyed by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C. as they made their steady trek south.

Archaeological excavations were conducted at Tel Rehov from 1997 to 2012 under the direction of Prof. Amihai Mazar and Dr. Nava Panitz-Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For information and photos see the excavation website here.

View east of Tel Rehov in the Beth Shean Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tel Rehov in the Beth-Shean Valley to the east of Highway 90. The mountains of Gilead are visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next view takes us to the top of the mound. From there we see the Jordan Valley and a nice view of the Gilead mountains in modern Jordan.

View east from atop Tel Rehov. We see the Jordan Valley and the Gilead mountains. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View east from atop the north end of Tel Rehov. We see the Jordan Valley and the Gilead mountains in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Many artifacts, including numerous household and cult objects, were uncovered at Tel Rehov. Perhaps the most unusual find was an industrial apiary. The small photo below from the excavation web site shows some of the beehives made of clay.

 Apiary at Tel Rehov, the eastern row of hives © Copyright - The Beth-Valley Archaeological Project, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

Apiary at Tel Rehov, the eastern row of hives. © Copyright – The Beth-Shean Valley Archaeological Project, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

From January 12 to October 31, 2016, items from Tel Rehov are exhibited at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv under the title It Is the Land of Honey. I had the opportunity to visit this exhibition in April. The Museum website provides detailed information about the exhibition and a few small photos here.

The houses at Tel Rehov during Iron Age IIA differed from the typical houses found in known Israelite cities. According to the Museum website,

A salient feature of the Iron Age IIA city was the exclusive use of mudbrick to construct all buildings, incorporating wooden beams in walls and floors. Each building was unique in its architectural plan, and did not resemble any of the common blueprints of the Iron Age II, such as four-room houses or pillared buildings.

The photo below shows one of the clay beehives. A reconstruction of a honeycomb is visible on the right. Some of the bees found in the hives were determined to be from Anatolia, modern central Turkey. This adds one more piece of evidence showing how interconnected the nations of the ancient Middle East were. Some of the bees found in charred honeycombs are in the petri dishes in the front right of the photo. The lid of the beehive, with a hole in the center, is to the left of the hive. Click on the photo for a larger image.

One of the beehives from the Tel Rehov apiary. Eretz Israel exhibit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the beehives from the Tel Rehov apiary. Eretz Israel exhibition. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The exhibition includes a large display of items from Tel Rehov. I will list just a few.

  • Several four horned altars made of clay.
  • A wide variety of household pottery, including an oven of the period.
  • One of the mud bricks of which the houses were constructed.
  • A reconstructed loom with weights found during the dig. Several others items from the “House of Elisha” are on display. The ostracon with the name of Elisha written on it in red ink is not displayed, but there is information about it in the exhibition book. There were several altars in this house.
  • A storage jar had the name Nimshi inscribed on it – the name identical to that of King Jehu’s grandfather (1 Kings 19:16; 2 Kings 9:2).
  • Some iron blades, arrow heads, and possibly a sickle.
  • Some typical Canaanite clay fertility goddesses.
  • Stamped jar handles unique to Tel Rehov.
Horned altar and chalices from Tel Rehov. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tower shaped horned altar and chalices from Tel Rehov found in the area of the apiary. This altar is listed as being on loan from the Israel Museum in the exhibition book. If you miss the exhibition in Tel Aviv, perhaps you can see it later in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Museum has produced a nice 256-page book in Hebrew and English about Tel Rehov and the exhibition. I don’t see it listed at Amazon, but if you visit the exhibition you will probably wish to purchase a copy at the Museum shop.

Mazar and Panitz-Cohen published a brief article, with several photos of Tel Rehov artifacts, under the title “To What God? Altars and a House Shrine from Tel Rehov Puzzle Archaeologists” in the July/August 2008 Biblical Archaeology Review.

Sinuhe takes a trip through Canaan

The earliest description of Canaan comes from an Egyptian literary text. In The Story of Sinuhe (see-NUU-hay) written in the 20th century B.C., a traveler tells of his pleasant stay in northern Canaan (possibly the Beka Valley of Lebanon). He describes the land as follows:

Figs were in it, and grapes. It had more wine than water. Plentiful was its honey, abundant its olives. Every (kind of) fruit was on its trees. Barley was there, and emmer. There was no limit to any (kind of) cattle. (qtd. in Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 19)

This description reminds one of the promise God made to the Israelites to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8). A copy of The Story of Sinuhe written on stone is on display in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England. The stone below, now in the British Museum, contains the final stanza of the Story or Tale.

A portion of the Tale of Sinuhe. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A portion of the Tale of Sinuhe. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo of grapes from Lachish reminds us of the abundance of the land through which Sinuhe traveled.

Ripe grapes near Lachish in the Shephelah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Grapes on the vine near Lachish in the Shephelah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.