Category Archives: Jordan

Gadara described as a town “without a soul.”

Ancient Gadara has been described by a former Jordanian villager who once lived there as a town “without a soul.”  The reason for his description is explained by Sunny Fitzgerald in a recent issue of BBC Travel.

In the 1960s, Jordan’s Department of Antiquities declared Gadara an archaeological site; it’s now awaiting consideration for Unesco World Heritage status.

The local citizens were moved from the ancient site, but they still visit it for the beautiful scenes of the Sea of Galilee and the Yarmuk valley below Umm Qais.

View of the Sea of Galilee in the late afternoon from Umm Qais (Gadara). Notice the slight red sky showing through the haze. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Sea of Galilee in the late afternoon from Umm Qais (Gadara). Notice the slight red sky showing through the haze. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fitzgerald’s illustrated article is a fascinating one that I highly recommend that you read it.

Umm Qais (a common spelling; also Umm Qeis and Um Qays) is the site of Gadara, one of the cities of the Greco-Roman Decapolis. The late Mendel Nun discovered 16 ancient ports around the Sea of Galilee, including one for the city of Gadara. The port is located at Tel Samra on the southeast corner of the Sea of Galilee at the modern Ha-on Holiday Village (Mendel Nun. “Ports of Galilee.” Biblical Archaeology Review 25:04; July/Aug 1999).

From Umm Qais (Gadara) one has a great view of the Sea of Galilee and the Yarmuk River valley. We are told that Jesus visited the region of Decapolis.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. (Mark 7:31 ESV)

The Gospel of Matthew informs us about the healing by Jesus of two demon-possessed men in the country of the Gadarenes (Matthew 8:28). Mark puts this event in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20). Luke adds that they “sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee” (Luke 8:26).

Umm Qais is made of the local basalt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman theater at Umm Qais is made of the local basalt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The term Decapolis was used to describe a group of ten cities established by the Greeks. Many of them claimed to have been founded by Alexander the Great. The number of cities may have been ten at some time, but the exact number varies from list to list. The cities include Abila [Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, Luke 3:1], Gadara [Umm Qeis], Gerasa [Jerash], Hippos, Philadelphia [Amman], Scythopolis [Beth-shan], Pella, et al. These cities are located mostly south of the Sea of Galilee, and all except Scythopolis are east of the Jordan River. Damascus is included in some lists. In the first century A.D. they were part of the Roman province of Syria.

HT: Agade

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Jerusalem from the west

Earlier this week I was browsing through some of my aerial photos of Jerusalem and came across this one that I thought would be informative to good Bible students.

The photo is made while flying over the new (western) city of Jerusalem, some of which is shown in the bottom half of the photo. About mid-way of the photo (from bottom to top) you can see the entire Old (walled) City of Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock, where the biblical Temple once stood, is almost in the center of the photo (sightly left of center).

The Kidron valley is lost at this angle and the new tombs on the Mount of Olive seem to touch the Old City.

Aerial view of Jerusalem from the west. This photo shows the new (west) city of Jerusalem, the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the wilderness of Judea, the Dead Sea, and the mountains of Moab (Transjordan plateau). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Jerusalem from the west. This photo shows the new (west) city of Jerusalem, the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the wilderness of Judea, the Dead Sea, and the mountains of Moab (Transjordan plateau). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Continuing east you will see a portion of the Wilderness of Judea, then the Dead Sea. At the extreme left of the Dead Sea a portion of the Jordan Valley is visible.

Beyond the Dead Sea the mountains of Moab are visible in the Transjordan Plateau.

The same photo labeled to identify the places discussed.

The same photo labeled to identify the places discussed.

— Postscript —

Leon Mauldin and I have made numerous personal study trips to the Bible Lands in addition to the tours we have led. We have included flights to photograph these places from the air. I think you will enjoy Leon’s blog. It was a coincident that just as I finished my article showing Jerusalem to Moab, I received Leon’s blog showing the rooftops of the Old City and the Mount of Olives.

The Nabateans of Petra and their successors

The Nabateans have been described as “one of the most gifted and vigorous peoples in the Near East of Jesus’ time” (Wright, Biblical Archaeology 229). They exacted high tolls from the caravans which passed their way. The greatest king of the Nabateans was Aretas IV (9 B.C. to A.D. 40). His rule extended as far north as Damascus during the last part of his reign; this was at the time Paul escaped from Damascus (2 Corinthians 11:32).

The Nabateans are still remembered for their numerous carvings we see at Petra in Jordan.

The theater at Petra, dating to the first century A.D., is carved from solid rock. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman theater at Petra, dating to the first or early second century A.D., is carved almost entirely from solid rock. Click on the photo for a larger image. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman emperor Trajan conquered Petra in A.D. 106 and converted it into the province of Arabia. The Romans continued the rock sculpturing of the Nabataeans but added a theater, a street with colonnades, etc. Some have speculated, on the basis of Galatians 1:17, that Paul spent time at Petra after his conversion to Christ.

Archaeologists locate Idumean Palace or Temple in the Lachish region

Archaeologists working with the Israel Antiquities Authority and Hebrew University have uncovered an Idumean palace or temple in the Lachish region of the Judean Shephelah. I understand the news release to place this discovery south of the Beit Guvrin/Maresha National Park, and east of Lachish, in a military area. This area was allotted to the tribe of Simeon, but by the second century B.C. it had become part of Idumea, the residence of ancient Edomites who were pushed out of the area of Edom (the location of Petra in Jordan) by the Nabateans.

Herod the Great was an Idumean. Some have suggested Maresha as his hometown. He ruled over the Jews from 47 to 4 B.C., and his dynasty continued throughout most of the first century A.D. Herod was known for his fabulous building program that included the temple, the temple platform and the surrounding wall (John 2:20). He was a cruel ruler who sought to destroy the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16).

The drone photo below shows portions of the large structure recently discovered.

Area of the large structure, possibly a temple or palace, uncovered in the dig – aerial photograph (photo: Dane Christensen)

Area of the large structure, possibly a temple or palace, uncovered in the dig – aerial photograph (photo: Dane Christensen)

The scholars working on the project say this is a 2200-year-old structure that was “apparently dismantled intentionally, perhaps during the Hasmonean conquests of the region.”

The release continues,

— “ —

An impressive 2200-year-old (Hellenistic period) structure, possibly an Idumean palace or temple, was uncovered during Sukkot in archaeological excavations at the site of Horvat ‘Amuda, situated at the heart of a military training area in the Lachish region.

The excavation directors (from right to left): Dr. Oren Gutfeld, Michal Haber, and Pablo Betzer (photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)

The excavation directors (from right to left): Dr. Oren Gutfeld, Michal Haber, and Pablo Betzer (photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)

According to the excavation directors, Dr. Oren Gutfeld of the Hebrew University, and Pablo Betzer and Michal Haber of the Israel Antiquities Authority: “If this was indeed an Idumean palace or temple, it is a rare and exciting find – similar structures in this country can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It seems that the building was intentionally dismantled, possibly during the Hasmonean conquest of the region.”

Two cultic incense altars found in one of the rooms of the structure (photo: Michal Haber, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Two cultic incense altars found in one of the rooms of the structure (photo: Michal Haber, Israel Antiquities Authority). These altars are small enough to be held in one’s hand.

Two stone incense altars were discovered in one of the rooms. One of them, bearing the carved image of a bull, is depicted as standing in what is apparently the façade of a temple adorned with magnificent columns. According to the archaeologists, the altar is “a unique and rare find in terms of its decoration.” The bull, they say, “may have symbolized a deity worshipped by the Idumeans.” In addition to the incense altar, delicate pottery vessels were also uncovered, including painted bowls, juglets and oil lamps.

Also found at the site are numerous underground spaces, used as quarries or to house ritual baths (miqvaot), oil presses and dovecotes. Hiding tunnels from the time of the Jewish revolts against the Romans were also discovered; one of these contained an intact cooking pot from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE).

Uncovering the structure (photo: Michal Haber, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Uncovering the structure (photo: Michal Haber, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The new discovery came to light with the help of camera-equipped drones – technology that has become part of the archaeologists’ tool box in recent years. As part of an extensive archaeological research project of the area between Bet Guvrin and Maresha in the north and Moshav Amatzia in the south, the drone cameras photographed the archaeological remains from high above, subsequently revealing hints of the structure now under excavation. Calling the discovery a research breakthrough, the archaeologists say: “This technology helped us choose where to focus our excavation probes, and, indeed, it very quickly emerged that this was in fact a unique discovery. We hope that our continued excavation of the site in the spring will uncover more of the story told here.”

Remains of the structure indicate that it was intentionally dismantled, possibly by the Hasmoneans (photo: Dane Christensen)

Remains of the structure indicate that it was intentionally dismantled, possibly by the Hasmoneans (photo: Dane Christensen)

The excavation at Horvat ‘Amuda, which was funded by the Beit Lehi Foundation and the Israel Antiquities Authority, was carried out with the participation of archaeology students from the Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University, as well as a group of volunteers from the United States.

During the Hellenistic period Horvat ‘Amuda was apparently one of the agricultural satellite settlements of Maresha, which had by now become the Idumean district capital (today it is part of Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park). Prior to that, in the fifth century BCE (the Persian period), the Idumeans – a Semitic people originating in southern Jordan – settled in the Judean Shephelah (foothills). After the area was conquered by the Hasmoneans in 112 BCE, the Idumeans converted and subsequently blended into the Judean population.

— ” —

HT: Joseph Lauer

A Psalm for thanksgiving

1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3 Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100 ESV)

The psalmist reminds his readers why they should praise the LORD. It is because He is God, the one who made them, and the one to whom they belong.

“We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Perhaps a few photos will help us visualize this Psalm.

A shepherd with his sheep near Heshbon in Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A shepherd with his sheep near Heshbon in Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The ancient Israelites were urged to “enter his gates with thanksgiving. Give thanks to him; bless his name!”

This photo of the second temple model at the Israel Museum shows the south side of the temple precinct. We see gates that led to the temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo of the second temple model at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem shows the south side of the temple mount.. We see steps and gates that led to the temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Enter “his courts with praise!”

In this photo of the temple model we see various courts that were part of the temple precinct. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In this photo of the temple model we see various courts that were part of the temple precinct. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

“For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Shofar announces the Jewish new year

Our Jewish friends are currently celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. The ram’s horn is blown leading up to the celebration.

The ram’s horn was important in the history of Israel. One of the words often used for the horn is shofar (or shophar).

  • A long blast on the ram’s horn was used to alert the Israelites when they could approach Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:13).
  • The ram’s horn was sounded at the beginning of important feast days (Leviticus 25:9). On the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar trumpets were to be blown (Numbers 29:1). This festival was known as the Feast of Trumpets.
  • After Israel marched around Jericho they would hear a long blast on the ram’s horn (Joshua 6:5). The word horn in this verse is qeren, but the word shofar is translated trumpet.

Sometimes in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem one of the shopkeepers will demonstrate the sounding of the shofar in hopes of attracting customers. That beautiful horn was a little above my budget. I do not know the animal from which it came. It may be a Yemenite shofar made from the horn of an African kudu.

Shofar sounded by a shopkeeper in the Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 1993.

Shofar being sounded by a shopkeeper in the Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins 1993.

Silver trumpets were also to be blown on certain occasions (Numbers 10:1).

I have observed that shepherds are proud of the ram of the flock. This photo was made in northern Jordan not very far from Ramoth in Gilead and the border with Syria.

Ram with large horns. Photo made in northern Jordan near ancient Ramoth Gilead, near the Syrian border. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ram with large horns. Photo made in northern Jordan near ancient Ramoth Gilead, near the Syrian border. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Christians of the Apostolic period, even Gentiles, studied the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) as a book like 1 Corinthians illustrates. Paul tells the Corinthians that the sound of a trumpet will signal the coming of the Lord and the resurrection.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV)

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV)

What do you know about Tisha B’Av?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017, many of the Jewish people recently will observe Tisha B’Av. This phrase, strange to Christians, means the Fast of the Ninth. The observance “is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people” (Judaism 101). According to this source, five terrible events took place on or near the ninth day of the month Av, the fifth month of the Jewish calendar.

The most significant of these events are the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-9; Jeremiah 52:12-13), and the destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70.

In the past half century a considerable amount of evidence has come to light concerning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The temple destroyed in 586 B.C. had been constructed by King Solomon in about 966 B.C. It was rebuilt by those who returned from the Babylonian Exile (530-516 B.C.).

In the previous post we published the Israel Antiquities Authority release about additional evidence of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem found in the City of David. Take a look at the additional photos there.

The structure in which shattered jugs were found, attesting to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Picture: Eliyahu Yanai, Courtesy of the City of David Archive.

The structure in which shattered jugs were found, attesting to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The darker area near the center of the photo shows the burn level when the city was destroyed. Picture: Eliyahu Yanai, Courtesy of the City of David Archive.

Herod the Great began about 19/20 B.C. to rebuild the temple. This work was still in progress during the ministry of Jesus.

Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20 NET)

Christians take seriously the prophecy of Jesus.

Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away, his disciples came to show him the temple buildings. And he said to them, “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” (Matthew 24:1-2 NET)

There is no archaeological evidence of the temple building itself. The site where the temple once stood is now covered with paving stones and the Dome of the Rock which was constructed by the followers of Mohamed in the 7th century A.D.

The Dome of the Rock stands where Solomon’s Temple was built. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Dome of the Rock stands where Solomon’s Temple was built. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Vivid evidence of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem was discovered at the SW corner of the temple area in the Tyropean Valley. Some of the rubble can still be seen on the street which was probably built by Agrippa II in the 60s of the first century.

Stones that fell, or were pushed, from the Temple Mount to the street below in A.D. 70 at the time of the destruction by the Romans. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Stones that fell, or were pushed, from the Temple Mount to the street below in A.D. 70 at the time of the destruction by the Romans. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wayne Stiles recently wrote an article here on this topic with several excellent photos from the Burnt House in Jerusalem, a house burned during the Roman destruction in A.D. 70.