Category Archives: Culture

Jesus went among the villages teaching

Jesus left the shores of the Sea of Galilee and Capernaum to return to Nazareth to teach the people there.

 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  (Matthew 13:53-54 ESV)

When he left Nazareth He “went about among the villages teaching” (Mark 6:6).

When I see the scene depicted at Nazareth Village of the stone house, the olive trees, and the dusty path, I recall the visits Jesus and His disciples made throughout Galilee.

A dirt path and one of the houses at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A dirt path and one of the houses at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lois Tverberg, in her excellent book Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, has written a helpful work about Jesus and His teaching drawing on the Jewish concept of the rabbi and his disciples.

The way Jesus taught his first disciples was not unique but part of a wider tradition in Judaism that began a few centuries before his time. Jesus didn’t hand his disciples a textbook or give them a course syllabus. He asked each one of them to follow him— literally, to “walk after” him. He invited them to trek the byways at his side, living life beside him to learn from him as they journeyed. His disciples would engage in life’s activities along with him, observing his responses and imitating how he lived by God’s Word.

Out of this unusual teaching method arose a well-known saying: you should learn from a rabbi by “covering yourself in his dust.” You should follow so closely behind him as he traveled from town to town teaching that billows of sandy granules would cling to your clothes. As you walked after your rabbi, your heart would change. This will be our task in this book, to stroll through Jesus’ ancient world at his side, listening to his words with the ears of a disciple. (Walking in the Dust of the Rabbi Jesus, Zondervan, p. 28)

There must have been a buzz of excitement when Jesus and His disciples walked the dusty paths of Nazareth, and indeed, of all Galilee.

When Jesus came to Nazareth He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and participated in the study.

Synagogue reconstruction at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Synagogue reconstruction at Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lee Levine of Hebrew University summarizes the archaeological evidence for known first century synagogues.

Solid archaeological evidence for the first-century synagogue is attested at eight sites in Judea: Masada, Herodium, Jerusalem (the Theodotos inscription from the City of David), Qiryat Sefer, and Modi’in (both in western Judea), with a possible additional site at Horvat ‘Etri, south of Bet Shemesh. In the Galilee, it is found at Gamla, Migdal, and quite probably Khirbet Qana, with considerably less certain remains from Capernaum, Chorazin, and at a second site in Migdal. (Lee I. Levine, “The Synagogues of Galilee” in Fiensy and Strange, Galilee in the late second temple and mishnaic periods, Vol. I. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014. 129-150.)

The New Testament writers mention other synagogues such as the one at Nazareth.

It is unfortunate that the residents of Nazareth did not want to get dusty. Are you dusty from following Jesus?

Timnah – where Samson met his first love

Perhaps the most memorable event of Timnah recorded in the Bible is that of the affair between Samson and a Philistine woman.

Samson went down to Timnah, where a Philistine girl caught his eye. (Judges 14:1 NET)

Delilah, the most famous of Samson’s three wives, is said to have lived in the Sorek Valley, but Timnah is not specifically named (Judges 16:4).

The LORD had commanded Israel not to become involved in mixed marriages with the people of the land (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3). But Samson had the misfortune of living too close to the border of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. And he lacked the determination to abide by the commands of the LORD.

There were other significant events associated with Timnah. Here is a brief list.

  • Judah went up to Timnah to his sheep shearers, at which time he mistook Tamar, his own widowed daughter-in-law, for a prostitute. She conceived and bore twin sons (Genesis 38:12-30).
  • Timnah is mentioned as being a town of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:10, 57).
  • A little later the territory had transferred to the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:40-46).
  • By the time of King Ahaz (735-715 B.C., McKinny), Timnah was in the hands of the Philistines (2 Chronicles 28:18).

Timnah is identified with Tel Batash in the Sorek Valley, about 4 miles northwest of Beth-Shemesh. Ekron (Tel Miqne) is about 3½ miles west of Timnah. The Sorek River flows past both cities on its way to the Mediterranean.

Tel Batash was excavated by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for three seasons (1977-79). Between 1981-89, the site was excavated under the direction of George L. Kelm of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University. The site was occupied from the Middle Bronze IIB (18th or 17th centuries B.C.), through the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. In Iron Age I, Timnah was a Philistine city.

Kelm and Mazar wrote Timnah A Biblical City in the Sorek Valley (Eisenbrauns 1995) to provide a report of their excavations.

Map showing Timnah. Credit: BibleHub.com.

Map showing Timnah. Credit: BibleHub.com.

Timnah is off the beaten track and very few people visit it. Easy routes to the site have been blocked by the farmers in the Valley. Leon Mauldin and I searched for, and eventually located, Timnah in the rich alluvial Sorek Valley in 2011. Unlike Lachish, Mareshah, Gath, or Azekah the tel is unimpressive.

Timnah, beyond the brook Sorek, in August, 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Timnah, on the southern bank of the Sorek, in August, 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In 2013 our friends Trent and Rebekah Dutton were trying to locate Timnah when they saw two shade tents and the Israel Antiquities Authority flag on a small rise in the fields. The IAA was doing some work at the site and explained to them the restoration work they were doing. Here is a photo the Dutton’s shared of the reconstructed Oil Press from the 7th century B.C. See Kelm and Mazar, pp. 150-152, for the way this looked at the time of the dig. An architect’s (Leen Ritmeyer) drawing of the installation is found on page 87. Some finds are intentionally covered by the excavators at the end of a season or the completion of a dig. This appears to be one such example.

The Oil Press installation at Timnah. Photo by Trent & Rebekah Dutton.

The Oil Press installation at Timnah. Photo by Trent & Rebekah Dutton.

Earlier this month Leon and I had the opportunity to fly over the Sorek Valley. I don’t think our pilot had ever seen the site before, but our previous experience on the ground, Google earth, and the excavation report allowed us to locate it from the air.

Aerial view of Timnah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Timnah and the Sorek (April, 2016). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I think the little white building covers the Oil Press installation. After a quarter of a century the excavated areas are now covered with natural growth.

It is a long story, but this is where Samson met his first Philistine wife, and maybe another. There is always a danger when one lives too close to the border.

If you do not already have Brad Gray’s Make Your Mark: Getting Right What Samson Got Wrong, now might be time to take a look at our earlier review.

My late friend and colleague, James Hodges, served as an Area Supervisor at Timnah in 1977.

Only one example of Roman crucifixion discovered

The Romans were adept at crucifixion, according to many historical sources. The first archaeological evidence of crucifixion was uncovered in 1968 when, during a controlled archaeological dig under the direction of the late Vasillios Tzaferis, an ossuary (bone box, or receptacle) was found north of Jerusalem containing the bones of a man who had been crucified. His name was “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.” He is thought to have been between 24 and 28 years of age, and was about 5 feet 6 inches in height.

Ossuary of Yehohanan, son of Hagkol. Dates to first century A.D., and is made of soft limestone. Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuary of Yehohanan, son of Hagkol. Dates to first century A.D., and is made of soft limestone. Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Both the ossuary and a replica of the heel bone are displayed in the Israel Museum. When Yehohanan was removed from the cross the nail pulled away from the wood. He was buried with the nail in his heel.

Ankle bone of a man crucified outside Jerusalem in Roman times. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ankle bone replica of  Yehohanan, son of Hagkol, who was crucified outside Jerusalem in Roman times. Display in Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus. He said,

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23 NIV)

No ossuary or bones belonging to Jesus have been found. I am aware of the speculation that a tomb in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem contained the family of Jesus, and possibly even the ossuary of Jesus. One summary of this speculation was published by Bible Places Blog here.

The angel at the empty tomb of Jesus announced to the women who had gone to complete the burial,

He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying. (Matthew 28:6 NET)

Rock tomb with rolling stone near Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman period rock tomb with rolling stone near Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

SourceFlix has posted a nice brief video of Passion Week Archaeology here.

Post updated from March, 2013.

Bringing in the sheaves

From the time I was a child I recall the song “Bringing in the Sheaves” by Knowles Shaw. I see it was written in 1874, already an old song when I first sang it. I really miss the old songs. Some song leaders seem to forget that it is the repetition of songs that allows the children to learn them – just like they recall all of the TV jingles. Here are the words, now in public domain.

  1. Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
    Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
    Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

    • Refrain:
      Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
      We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves;
      Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
      We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
  2. Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
    Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
    By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.
  3. Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
    Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
    When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
    We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

The meaning is clear. We continue to do kind deeds when times are good and when they are bad. Eventually “we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”

What are sheaves, and what is the basis of this encouraging song?

Perhaps the author recalled young Joseph’s dream of binding sheaves in the field when his sheaf stood upright and the sheaves of the brothers gathered around it and bowed down (Genesis 37:7).

Or, maybe it was the experience of Ruth gathering the left over grain among the sheaves in the field of Boaz at Bethlehem (Ruth 2:7, 15).

It seems that Shaw knew the words of Psalm 126:6.

He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:6 ESV)

Toward the end of May last year, in the vicinity of Samaria, we saw sheaves in the field ready to be brought in for storage and use for the remainder of the year.

Sheaves in the field near ancient Samaria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sheaves in the field near ancient Samaria. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If you click on this photo and look carefully at the larger image you will see that the sheaves have been bound to hold them together.

Sheaves bound in the field, ready to be taken from the fields. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sheaves bound in the field, ready to be taken from the fields. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I fear that many of our folks today just dismiss the older songs that have themes they don’t readily understand. If we use this as an excuse, it is a reflection on our knowledge of the Bible. Perhaps its time to learn.

Bertha Spafford Vester explains how the early American Colony residents of Jerusalem made a living by engaging in various projects from weaving cloth to growing wheat. She recounts an interesting story about cutting grain and binding sheaves.

Our Swedish and American farmers had tilled these bits of ground so well that there was evidence of excellent crops. Some Orthodox Jews came to inspect the wheat and offered us a higher than usual price for it to make matzoth (unleavened bread) for their Feast of the Passover on condition that we harvested it under their supervision. We agreed.

We had no machinery; it was harvested by hand. One stipulation they made was that we should not begin work until the sun had risen and dried any moisture from dew fallen during the night. After breakfast we all went out to work in the field, our Jewish overseers keeping watch. As our custom was when working, washing dishes, or over the washtub, or at any other task, we sang hymns. So now we started in the harvest field. Singing helped the work, which went with a swing. But we were not allowed to sing by these Orthodox Jews. Peradventure a bit of moisture might fall from our mouths and cause fermentation. It would no longer be unleavened. So we gathered the sheaves silently. (Our Jerusalem, 190-191)

Are you sowing seeds of kindness?

HT: Timeless Truths for lyrics info.

Turning from idols to serve the living God

Recently I was browsing through photos made in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (Salonica, Thessalonica), Greece, in 2008. I was impressed with the images of various gods and goddesses that were known in the city in the first century A.D. There were statues and busts of Egyptian gods such as Isis, Serapis, and Harpokrates/Horus. Greek gods and goddesses such as Dionysus, Hades, Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, and the mother of the gods often associated with Kybele (Cybele) were known. And there were others.

Athena. Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Athena. Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Immediately my mind was drawn to Paul’s commendation of the saints at Thessalonica in the middle of the first century A.D.

 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 ESV)

But there were other “gods” known to the Thessalonians. The deified Alexander, considered a son of Zeus, was represented in the museum. Another significant form of idolatry was the Cult of the Emperor of Rome. A sign associated with one display says,

The cult of the emperor was both an instrument of imperial policy propaganda and a means for the transmission of Roman culture. The image of the emperor gives a concrete form to the abstract idea of the Empire. Whether a full-length statue or a bust, it makes his presence felt everywhere: in outdoor and indoor spaces, in fora, in villas, and in libraries.

Here is a statue of Octavian Augustus, the first emperor of Rome (27 B.C. – A.D. 14). Augustus was emperor at the time of the birth of Christ (Luke 2:1).

Statue of Augustus, Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Statue of Augustus, Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Claudius, Vespasian, Titus, and other emperors were represented in the museum displays.

An interesting temporary exhibition was about the discovery of an important archaeological site known as Kalindoia. The site is located about 48 km (30 miles) southeast of Thessalonica. Paul traveled a few miles north of Kalindoia when he went from Philippi, via Amphipolis and Apollonia, to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1). Below is the drawing of the chamber of the imperial cult. A temple for imperial worship was located here from the 1st century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D.

Artist conception of the chamber of the Imperial Cult. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Artist conception of the chamber of the Imperial Cult. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign associated with this drawing states that there were pedestals for statues here. “One of them was the statue of Emperor Octavian Augustus.” The Cult of the Emperor was especially pervasive in the eastern part of the Roman Empire and may have some bearing on understanding the man of lawlessness (sin) in 2 Thessalonians 2. It is certainly helpful in understanding the background of the book of Revelation.

But that’s not all. Another sign mentions the eponymous local heroes such as war heroes, deified mythological figures, or the heroized dead “were also worshipped.”

The gospel of Christ has power to touch the hearts of men and inform them about the difference between idols made of “gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man,” and the God who does not dwell in temples made by man (Acts 17:29 ESV).

Canaanite citadel exposed in Nahariya

Announcement was made this week of the discovery of a Canaanite citadel in the middle of the Israeli northern coastal town of Nahariya. The Israel Antiquities Authority and the University of Haifa announced an agreement that would allow construction on a high-rise apartment building to continue with the inclusion of the Canaanite ruins to remain in the basement.

An aerial photograph of the excavation. Photographic credit: Guy Fitoussi, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

An aerial photograph of the excavation. Photographic credit: Guy Fitoussi, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The IAA announcement reads,

In an agreement reached between the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Mr. Israel Hasson, and the director of the Kochav Company, Ltd., Mr. Danny Kochav, remains of a 3,400 year old citadel that were recently uncovered in an archaeological excavation will be integrated in an apartment high-rise that the Kochav Company is building on Balfour Street in Nahariya, close to the beach.

The large excavation, which the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted together with youth groups, including students from the Shchakim High School in Nahariya, was carried out as part of a project by the Kochav Company to build a residential high-rise with underground parking. Given the extraordinary nature and quality of the finds, the Israel Antiquities Authority sought a solution that would allow the conservation of some of the remains for the benefit of the public. Thus, with the assistance of Architect Alex Shpol, planner for the Interior Ministry’s regional committee for planning and construction, it was decided that part of the citadel would be preserved in the building’s basement level where it will be displayed for the enjoyment of the residents and visitors.

According to Nimrod Getzov, Yair Amitzur and Dr. Ron Be’eri, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “It seems that the citadel which we uncovered was used as an administrative center that served the mariners who sailed along the Mediterranean coast 3,400 years ago. There was probably a dock alongside the citadel. Numerous artifacts were discovered in its rooms, including ceramic figurines in form of humans and animals, bronze weapons and imported pottery vessels that attest to the extensive commercial and cultural relations that existed at that time with Cyprus and the rest of the lands in the Mediterranean basin”.

The fortress was destroyed at least four times by an intense conflagration, and each time it was rebuilt. An abundance of cereal, legumes and grape seeds were found in the burnt layers, which are indicative of the provisions the sailors would purchase.

Nahariya is not mentioned in the Bible by name. The city is located along the Mediterranean coast of the Plain of Acco about 5 or 6 miles north of Acco (Acre). This territory was allotted to the Israelite tribe of Asher, but they were not able to maintain control over the Canaanites in the region.

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, (Judges 1:31 ESV)

The book of Judges describes the territory of Asher as being along the seashore.

Asher remained on the seacoast, he stayed by his harbors. (Judges 5:17 NET)

Aerial view of the plain of Acco, territory of the Biblical tribe of Asher ran from Haifa (Mount Carmel) north. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of the plain of Acco, territory of the Biblical tribe of Asher ran from Haifa (Mount Carmel) north. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In the far north of this photo you will see a small horizontal white line extending into the sea. That is known as the Ladder of Tyre. The cluster of buildings between Acco and the Ladder of Tyre is Nahariya.

During earlier excavations at Nahariya a Cannanite temple with a mold for making images of the goddess Asherah had been uncovered. Beginning with Ahab, numerous kings of Israel were responsible for worshiping Asherah. I suggest you use a Bible concordance to locate all the reference to Asherah, Asherim, Asheroth, and Ashtoreth.

Solomon also worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians in Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:5; 2 Kings 23:13).

Female figurines dating to the Late Bronze Age. Photographic credit: Eran Gilvarg, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Female figurines dating to the Late Bronze Age. Photographic credit: Eran Gilvarg, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The IAA news release simply says that the recent discoveries at Nahariya date to 3400 years ago, i.e., about 1400 B.C. This period is known as the Late Bronze Age (about 1550 to 1200 B.C.). Bible students will recognize this as the period of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. The bronze arrowhead is a good reminder of the conflict in the land at that time.

An arrowhead made of bronze. Photographic credit: Eran Gilvarg, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

An arrowhead made of bronze. Photographic credit: Eran Gilvarg, courtesy of the IAA.

I find these photos so fascinating that I want to share more of them with you.

Photograph of the work being conducted at the site. Photo: IAA.

Photograph of the work being conducted at the site. Photo: IAA.

Imported pottery from Cyprus and Greece was found at the site.

Fragments of decorated pottery vessels imported from Cyprus and Greece 3,400 years ago. Photo: IAA.

Fragments of decorated pottery vessels imported from Cyprus and Greece 3,400 years ago. Photo: IAA.

A stamped jar handle is dated to the Middle Bronze Age (about 2100 to 1550 B.C.). I look forward to some insight into the reading of the impression.

A stamped jar handle dating to the Middle Bronze Age. Photo: IAA.

A stamped jar handle dating to the Middle Bronze Age. Photo: IAA.

We never know what may be dug up tomorrow.

HT: Joseph Lauer

Jesus in Jerusalem during Hanukkah

The Gospel of John records more visits to Jerusalem by Jesus than any other of the Gospels. John is the only one to record the visit during the Feast of Dedication.

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter,  and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. (John 10:22-23 ESV)

BDAG translates the Greek term egkainia as “festival of rededication.” The feast is also known as Hanukkah and the Feast of Lights.

What is the Feast of Dedication? This feast, observed on the 25th of Kislev (roughly our December), had its origin in the period between the testaments. The desecration of the temple by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes took place in 168 B.C. The climax of the Maccabean revolt was the removal of all evidences of pagan worship from the temple. An eight-day feast of dedication was observed in 165 B.C., and continued to be observed annually by the Jews.

"Antiokhos IV" by Jniemenmaa (talk) 08:46, 20 July 2009 (UTC), own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antiokhos_IV.jpg#/media/File:Antiokhos_IV.jpg

“Antiokhos IV” by Jniemenmaa (talk) 08:46, 20 July 2009 (UTC), own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antiokhos_IV.jpg#/media/File:Antiokhos_IV.jpg

At Modin, a village north-west of Jerusalem, on the way from Jerusalem to Lod, the Syrians tried to force an old priest by the name of Mattathias to offer a pagan sacrifice. The priest refused but another Jew volunteered to offer the sacrifice. Mattathias killed his fellow Jew and the Syrian officer. As word spread, Mattathias became a national hero. He was of the family of Hasmon (or Asmoneus). Thus began the Hasmoneans.

Archaeologists working  with the Israel Antiquities Authority have been searching for the tomb of the Maccabeans at Modin in recent years. See the report here.