Category Archives: Culture

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.

Measuring the Nile and your taxes

We have often heard the adaptation of Herodotus’ statement that Egypt is the gift of the Nile. The flooding of the Nile in ancient times was the key to the prosperity of the Nile Valley.

All along the Nile there are still examples of the Nile-o-meters that were used to measure the flooding. The higher the flood water, the more taxes that would be paid into the temple coffers.

In the photo below we see the meter on the Nile at Elephantine Island at Aswan. Notice the water lines along the rock structure. Entrance to the Nile-o-meter is from above, or from the opening to the right of center.

Elephantine Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Nile-o-meter on Elephantine Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo below provides a better view of the Nile-o-meter.

Nile-o-meter and steps on Elephantine Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Nile-o-meter and steps on Elephantine Island at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The principle is the same today. We pay taxes based on the amount we have earned within a year.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:5-7 ESV)

Two sparrows for a small copper coin

To illustrate His lessons, Jesus used illustrations about the grass and flowers of the field, and sparrows to teach God’s care for us.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31 ESV)

The penny, cent, or copper coin mentioned here is used for the Greek term assarion. The King James farthing represents a coin of the United Kingdom common in the 17th century, but withdrawn from circulation in 1961.

Two sparrows at En Avedat in Israel's Negev. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Two sparrows at En Avedat in Israel’s Negev. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This Roman copper assarion was worth 1/16 denarius. Some numismatists say this was a quadran, but others say it was larger than the quadran and usually bore the picture of the emperor. This is the term translated farthing in the KJV. The denarius was a Roman silver coin equivalent to the day’s wage for a common laborer (Matthew 20:1-16). Because our currency values vary by the day it is difficult to translate the terms describing coins of Jesus’ time.

One could buy two sparrows for a cent (assarion) (Matthew 10:29) or five sparrows for two cents (Luke 12:6). Citing a document from the time of Diocletian (ruled A.D. 284-305), Deissmann says if we analyze this account as an economic document of the Roman Imperial period we learn three things:

  1. Sparrows were a very cheap article sold in the market as food for the poor.
  2. They were sold by the pair or in fives.
  3. The market price was two sparrows for an assarion.

Deissmann comments about Jesus,

“Even in small things Jesus is great. The unerring eye for actualities that asserts itself so repeatedly in the gospel parables comes out also in the saying about the sparrows… Jesus was in his true element in the market-place, watching a poor woman counting her coppers to see if she could still take five or ten sparrows home with her. Poor, miserable little creatures, fluttering there, such numbers of them, in the vendors’ cages! A great many can be had for a very small sum, so trifling is their value. And yet each one of them was loved by the Heavenly Father. How much more will God care for man, whose soul is worth more than the world!” (Light From the Ancient East 272-5).

If the Lord cares for the sparrow, he certainly cares for youand me.

Over the years I have eaten my share of fried chicken while visiting with my brethren (and I love it), but I would need to be real hungry to eat the pulley bone (it’s a southern thing) of a little sparrow.

If you have never seen a farthing, just search the Internet for farthing images and you will locate many. Instead of a sparrow, they carry the image of a wren on the reverse side. The one here is from the web page of wybrit.com, a source from which one may buy farthings.

Reverse of a UK farthing minted in 1952. The obverse carries the image of King George VI. Photo: wybrit.com

Reverse of a United Kingdom farthing minted in 1952. The obverse carries the image of King George VI. Photo from wybrit.com.

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?