Category Archives: Culture

New wine is for fresh wineskins

When Jesus was questioned by the scribes of the Pharisees about how His practices differed from those of John the Baptist, He gave three similar illustrations to teach the newness of His teaching and practice.

And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins– and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:19-22 ESV)

The third illustration is about putting new wine into old wineskins. As the wine ferments it expands and stretches the wineskin. If an old wineskin is used, the expansion will cause the wineskin to explode.

Our photo below shows an animal skin being use for churning, but it is easy to understand wine being placed in an animal skin like this.

A Bedouin at Petra using an animal skin for churning. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A Bedouin at Petra using an animal skin for churning. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Instead of using stone jars for storing new wine, Klinck says,

More likely, however, they would use wineskins for this purpose. These are the “bottles” of the Bible. A wine bottle was made out of a goatskin, sewn together where it had been cut to remove it from the carcass. This formed a sack that could be tied at the neck and hung up. The resilience of the new rawhide took up whatever expansion might result from the process of fermentation. Of course, no one would think of putting “new wine into old wineskins,” since the old dried and cracked skins from the previous year were unsafe (Matthew 9:17). (Klinck and Kiehl, Everyday Life in Bible Times, p. 54).

The Gibeonites tricked the Israelites with old wineskins that were “worn-out and torn and mended” (Joshua 9:4). They claimed that the wineskins “were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst” (Joshua 9:13 ESV)

Elihu used the same illustration in defense of his much speaking.

I also will answer with my share; I also will declare my opinion. For I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer. (Job 32:17-20 ESV)

They removed the roof and let down the bed

During the ministry of Jesus at Capernaum four men brought a paralyzed man to see Jesus, likely seeking healing, but there were so many people in the house that it was not possible to get in to see Jesus.

And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. (Mark 2:4 ESV)

Reconstructed house at Nazareth Village showing roof construction. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Reconstructed house at Nazareth Village showing roof construction. Notice the few weeds growing on the roof. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Craig S. Keener describes the way the roofs of these houses were constructed.

The roof was approached by an outside staircase, so they could reach it unimpeded. The roof of single-story homes was sturdy enough for walking but was normally made of branches and rushes laid over the roof’s beams and covered with dried mud; thus one could dig through it. (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament)

M. J. Selman says,

Roofs were constructed from beams covered with branches and a thick layer of mud plaster, though the rafters were sometimes supported by a row of pillars along the middle of the room. Cylindrical stone rollers about 60 cm. [23.6 inches] long were used to keep the roofs flat and waterproof, though roofs needed to be re-plastered annually prior to the rainy season to seal cracks which had developed during the summer heat. (New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed.)

The picture below shows a reconstructed house at Nazareth Village with a roof like the one mentioned above. Notice the beams made from small trees, the mud on the top, and some grass and weeds growing in it.

Reconstructed house at Nazareth Village showing roof construction. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Reconstructed house at Nazareth Village showing roof construction. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows a portion of a roof made from wood and mud. You will also notice a roof roller on the roof. After the winter rains it was necessary to pack the roof with a roof roller. Roof rollers are commonly discovered during archaeological excavations.

Typical roof from NT times with roof roller. Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Typical roof from NT times with roof roller. Nazareth Village. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The account of Luke, a gentile physician, adds an interesting point that creates a small problem in interpretation.

But since they found no way to carry him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down on the stretcher through the roof tiles right in front of Jesus. (Luke 5:19 NET)

Did you notice the reference to roof tiles? One of the Translator’s Notes in the NET Bible discusses this problem.

There is a translational problem at this point in the text. The term Luke uses is keramos. It can in certain contexts mean “clay,” but usually this is in reference to pottery (see BDAG 540 s.v. 1). The most natural definition in this instance is “roof tile” (used in the translation above). However, tiles were generally not found in Galilee. Recent archaeological research has suggested that this house, which would have probably been typical for the area, could not have supported “a second story, nor could the original roof have been masonry; no doubt it was made from beams and branches of trees covered with a mixture of earth and straw” (J. F. Strange and H. Shanks, “Has the House Where Jesus Stayed in Capernaum Been Found?” BAR 8, no. 6 [Nov/Dec 1982]: 34). Luke may simply have spoken of building materials that would be familiar to his readers.

There are other possible interpretations, but I hope this information with the photos will help you better understand the biblical text.

Passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath

All three Synoptic Gospels record the incident of Jesus and His disciples passing through the grainfields on a Sabbath.

On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” (Luke 6:1-2 ESV; See also Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28)

I thought I would put together some photos to help you visualize what happened here. First, we have a photo of a wheat field below Mount Tabor. The photo is made looking north west from near the site of ancient En-dor. The area is famous as the home of the medium visited by King Saul (1 Samuel 28:7).

Wheat field with view NW to Mount Tabor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wheat field with view NW to Mount Tabor. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Now, imagine the disciples taking ripe grain in their hands.

Picking heads of grain. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Picking heads of grain. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

And then rubbing the heads to separate the grain from the chaff.

Rubbing grain to separate the grain from the chaff. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rubbing grain to separate the grain from the chaff. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Mosaic law allows for plucking standing grain with the hand, but not using a sickle.

If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:25 ESV)

The sickle pictured below was excavated at Tell Beit Mirsim and dates to the Iron Age sometime between 925-701 B.C. It is displayed in the James L. Kelso Bible Lands Museum at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Sickle from the Iron Age at Tell Beit Mirsim. Kelso Bible Lands Museum, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sickle from the Iron Age at Tell Beit Mirsim. Kelso Bible Lands Museum, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Pharisees were claiming that what the disciples were doing was work prohibited on the Sabbath, but Jesus used the event to teach two important facts.

  • The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  • The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.

The last two photos were made in the vicinity of Mount Nemrut in eastern Turkey. Larger images, suitable for use in teaching, are available by clicking on the photos.

Egyptian culture evident in discovery near Tel Halif

TTel Halif is located between Hebron and Beersheba in the Negev (Negeb, Negev region, South land or South country).

Abram continually journeyed by stages down to the Negev. (Genesis 12:9 NET)

Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. (Genesis 24:62 ESV)

Tel Halif (= Arabic, Tell el-Khuweifeh). In an article about the Biblical identity of Tel Halif, Oded Borowski points out that this was territory allotted “to the tribe of Simeon (Joshua 19:1-9) and later to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:20-32).” He discusses various efforts to equate the site with a site named in the Bible. Borowski narrows his discussion to four main candidates: Sharuhen, Hormah, Ziklag, and Rimmon. He think Rimmon (= En-Rimmon) is the correct choice (Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 51, Issue 1). Rimmon is mentioned five times in the Bible (Joshua 19:7; 1 Chronicles 4:32; Joshua 15:32; Nehemiah 11:29; Zechariah 14:10). I am not in a position to venture even a guess.

The photo below shows the terrain near Tel Halif, north of Beersheba.

Sheep in the Negev near Tel Halif. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sheep in the Negev near Tel Halif. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today the discovery of artifacts excavated from a cave near Tel Halif, in the region of Kibbutz Lahav, in the south of Israel.

The artifacts included “seals, seal rings, figurines and amulets in the image of gods sacred to the Egyptian culture.” The archaeologists say,

The collection indicates “the presence of an administrative center that existed in the region.”

Other artifacts discovered included seal rings made of faience and a wealth of figurines and amulets in the image of gods sacred to the Egyptian culture.

A collection of artifacts with characteristics of the Egyptian culture, which were discovered in the excavation. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A collection of artifacts with characteristics of the Egyptian culture, which were discovered in the excavation. Photographic credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Items dating as late as the Iron Age were also found during the excavation conducted by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the IAA. The excavation followed the discovery that the cave had been plundered.

An oil lamp and a ceramic jar that date to the Iron Age, which were discovered in the cave. Photographic credit: the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

An oil lamp and a ceramic jar that date to the Iron Age, which were discovered in the cave. Photographic credit: the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to Dr. Daphna Ben-Tor, curator of Egyptian archaeology at the Israel Museum,

“Most of the scarab seals found in the excavation date to the fifteenth–fourteenth centuries BCE. During this period Canaan was ruled by Egypt”. Dr. Ben-Tor adds, “The names of kings appeared on some of the seals. Among other things, we can identify a sphinx lying opposite the name of the pharaoh Thutmose who reigned from about 1504–1450 BCE. Another scarab seal bears the name of Amenhotep who reigned from about 1386–1349 BCE. Still another scarab depicts Ptah, the principal god of the city of Memphis.”

The Biblical record indicates Egyptian influence in Israel as late as the Iron Age.

 (Pharaoh, king of Egypt, had attacked and captured Gezer. He burned it and killed the Canaanites who lived in the city. He gave it as a wedding present to his daughter, who had married Solomon.) (1 Kings 9:16 NET)

The prophet Isaiah warned about reliance on Egypt in the 8th century B.C. (Isaiah 30:1-5).

HT: Joseph Lauer

 

 

 

 

Thinking better of Mary Magdalene

A group of Christian women recently convened at the ancient site of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee “to honor International Women’s Day and discuss women’s empowerment.”

Advocates spoke of the issue of legal prostitution in Israel and the struggles of the over 15,000 Israeli women who are drawn into the industry, often against their will. (The Jerusalem Post Newsletter, March 11, 2015).

The meeting at Magdala seemed to discuss some important issues, but the characterization of Mary Magdalene is inaccurate to say the least.

Each speaker related the issues of feminism and women empowerment to the lessons of Mary Magdalene, speaking about how the healing process for women who have suffered such abuse. Consecrated woman, Jennifer Ristine, spoke of how Mary Magdalene inspires hope and healing for victims of abuse.

“Through the transforming experience of love, Mary Magdalene’s dignity was affirmed and she becomes a leader among leaders, inspiring hope and  reconciliation,” Ristine said. “Do we have anything in common with this woman? When a woman is deeply convinced of the truth that she is unconditionally loved, she is set free to be what she is called to be for others. She becomes a catalyst for reconciliation.”

An entire “cult” has risen around Mary Magdalene over the years to the point that some have suggested that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus, and that she “carried the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ” (The DaVinci Code, p. 244, 249).

Some writers assume that Mary Magdalene is to be identified with the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-50. The comments by William Hendriksen are helpful in correcting this misunderstanding.

First among the women here mentioned is Mary called Magdalene; that is, Mary of Magdala (meaning The Tower) located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and south of Capernaum. She figures very prominently in all the four Passion accounts. She was one of the women who later: (a) watched the crucifixion (Matt. 27:55, 56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25); (b) saw where Christ’s body was laid (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55); and (c) very early Sunday morning started out from their homes in order to anoint the body of the Lord (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10). Besides, she was going to be the first person to whom the Risen Christ would appear (John 20:1–18; see also Mark’s disputed ending, 16:9).

The item about the seven demons that had been expelled from Mary Magdalene has led to the wholly unjustifiable conclusion that she was at one time a very bad woman, a terribly immoral person. But there is not even an inkling of proof for the supposition that demon-possession and immorality go hand in hand. Weird and pitiable mental and/or physical behavior are, indeed, often associated with demon-possession (Luke 4:33, 34; 8:27–29; 9:37–43, and parallels), not immorality. (Hendriksen, Baker New Testament Commentary: Luke, comments on Luke 8:2-3)

Our aerial photo was made in 2011. The area of ancient Magdala is seen on the left 40% of the photo along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. On the right side you will see the Plain of Genessaret. Mount Arbel and the Via Maris are seen in the background. The mountains of Upper Galilee are visible in the distance. Click on the photo for an image suitable for use in presentations.

Aerial view of Magdala and the Plain of Genessaret. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Magdala and the Plain of Genessaret. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It is wonderful that any variety of sin can be forgiven, but let’s not turn Mary Magdalene into something she was not. The words of Paul, the apostle of Christ Jesus, are encouraging.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9-11 ESV)

Parrot: It is necessary to see in order to understand

When I began to learn of and appreciate the work of André Parrot, Curator-in-Chief of the French National Museums, Professor at the School of the Louvre, and Director of the Mari Archaeological Expedition, I purchased most of those masterful little books he wrote about Biblical cities. In connection with the recent post about Nineveh I took down my well-marked copy of Nineveh and the Old Testament (1955) and began to read again.

André Parrot writes of his April 1950 arrival at Mosul.

During the twenty years spent in Iraq or in Syria, we had never had an opportunity to cross the ‘Assyrian triangle’ Once again we realized how necessary it is to see in order to understand, and especially to hold in the memory. Knowledge gained from books is certainly not enough, for names which are not attached to any reality are nothing more than ghosts. Ghosts of cities, shadows of men, vague floating shapes, without solidity, though one tries to capture it with the aid of a drawing, a photograph or a vivid description. All students of archaeology know this by experience: nothing can replace actual contact with the object. That is why museums are so important; because there one can recognize the long chain of human history stretching out continuously from its beginning, but in which, instinctively we have a special interest in detecting and observing the first links. But the object is a prisoner in its glass case. Tom from its natural surroundings it has lost its true speech. Nevertheless it exerts a pull, it beckons one to take the road. It is impossible to contemplate the Assyrian reliefs in the Louvre or the British Museum without calling up the image of Nineveh.

Parrot points out that a visit to Nineveh can be disappointing “if one expects to see murals or palaces.” These things, he says, have been destroyed or crumbled away.

No kingdom endures forever, as the prophet Daniel reminded us long ago. Parrot says that he had only four days to visit the Assyrian Triangle (Nineveh, Nimrud, Khorsabad, and Asshur). In the evenings during his visit, he stayed with the Dominican Fathers. He says his memory of Nineveh,

is bound up with that of Mosul and the white cell in the monastery where, every evening of that short stay, we were able to meditate only a few yards from the Assyrian capital, on the vanity of empires and the fate which awaits all of them.

For the same reasons I have spent many years encouraging Bible students to visit the Bible lands.

The British Museum displays many reliefs from Nineveh. Information posted with the relief below says that it dates to about 700-692 BC. It comes from the SW Palace, Rm. 14, panels 13-15. After the capture of Alammu, a town of uncertain location, the prisoners are brough before the Assyrian king. Some carry heads of the dead. The king, Sennacherib, was shown in his chariot, but this part is now lost (WA 124786-7). Click on the photo for a larger image.

This Assyrian relief from Nineveh shows Prisoners from the town of Alammu. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This Assyrian relief from Nineveh shows Prisoners from the town of Alammu. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

 

Pilate used coins to promote the Emperor Cult

After the death of Herod the Great, his son Herod Archaelaus (Archelaus, Matthew 2:22) ruled over Judea until AD 6. His misrule prompted Rome to appoint a series of prefects or governors over Judea. There were 15 governors appointed from Coponius (AD 6-9) to Gessius Florus (AD 64-66).

Pontius Pilate served as Governor of Judea from AD 26-36 (Matthew 22:7; Luke 3:1).

Carl Rasmussen called my attention to an excellent article by Joan E. Taylor in New Testament Studies dealing with the part played by Pilate in promoting the Imperial Cult. Taylor, now Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College in London, says that the coinage of Pilate and the Pilate inscription from Caesarea,

“indicate a prefect determined to promote a form of Roman religion in Judaea” (Taylor, Joan E. “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52. 2006: 555-582.)

Pilate minted two types of coins. The first coin, minted in AD 29, shows three bound ears of barley on the obverse. The inscription reads “Julia, of Caesar.” After the death of Livia, wife of Augustus, and mother of Tiberias, she was given the name Julia. One ear of barley is standing and two are drooping. On the reverse we see a libation ladle (simpulum) used by Roman priests to pour wine over sacrificial animals. The inscription reads, “TIBEPIOY KAICAROC (of Tiberius Caesar) and date LIS” (Hendin).

Coin minted by Pilate in A.D. 29.

Coin minted by Pilate in AD 29.

The second coin, struck in AD 30, shows a lituus, a wooden staff or wand used by Roman augures to signify their authority. The inscription on the obverse reads TIBERIOY KAICAROS (Tiberius, Caesar). The reverse shows a wreath with the date.

Coin minted by Pontius Pilate showing a lituus.

Coin minted by Pontius Pilate in AD 30 showing a lituus.

Taylor describes the coins of Pilate’s predecessors as showing primarily agricultural images. She says,

Pilate’s coins, by contrast, depict two key items of specifically Roman religious spiritual use: the lituus and the simpulum. In depicting these instruments on the Judaean coinage Pilate advertised particular rituals of exclusively Roman cult. These instruments were not generic to all cults in the Empire, which now embraced the Hellenistic world, let alone to Jewish or Samaritan rituals, but had emblematic and ritual uses within Roman rites alone. The ritual instruments themselves are described by terms not used for profane utensils, even when these utensils are quite similar (see Arnobius Adversus Nationes XXTV.1-6). They were entirely sacred implements, and they were cared for and stored in sacred space. (558-559)

Carl Rasmussen discusses Pilate’s coin showing the lituus here.