Category Archives: Jordan

The view from Mount Nebo

Our photo today was made on Mount Nebo in Jordan. The view is west across the northern end of the Dead Sea, the wilderness of Judea, and the central mountain ridge (or water-parting route).

View of the Dead Sea, the wilderness of Judea, and the central mountain range from Mount Nebo in the Transjordanian Plateau. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Dead Sea, the wilderness of Judea, and the central mountain range from Mount Nebo in the Transjordanian Plateau. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Mount Nebo is the place from which Moses viewed the land that the LORD had promised to Abraham’s seed (Deuteronomy 34:1-8).

In the next photo the northern tip of the Dead Sea is visible on the left of the photo. This photo looks NW from Mount Nebo across the Jordan Valley (the plain of Moab) and toward the highlands of the promised land.

View from Mount Nebo NW across the Jordan Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View from Mount Nebo NW across the Jordan Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Moses saw this and much more, and probably more clearly. Both of our photos are sized for use in PowerPoint presentations.

Dead Sea study reveals “epic” droughts

The Dead Sea has received much attention in the past few years due to the fact that it is the lowest body of water on earth, and that body of water is drying up. Melanie Lidman, writer for The Times of Israel, prepared a series of three articles about the Dead Sea drying up last month here, here, and here.

Sinkholes along the shore of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sinkholes along the shore of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Today Lidman writes about a study done by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and published in the past few days. For a period of 40 days and nights in 2010 scientists drilled 1500 feet into the floor of the Dead Sea. What they found was fascinating. Let Lidman tell the story:

Scientists who drilled 450 meters (1,500 feet) into the floor of the Dead Sea announced this week that the region may have been affected by “epic” centuries-long droughts, much worse than researchers previously believed.

The study, led by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and scientists from six countries, examined a geological sample revealing more than 200,000 years of climate history in the Dead Sea region.

The scientists studied the thickness of the salt layers, as well as liquid bubbles trapped in the layers of salt, to determine precipitation and runoff to the Dead Sea, uncovering some alarming trends.

According to the study, the region experienced two major drought periods when rainfall and runoff patterns were at some points less than 20% of the average rainfall for the 20th century.

You must go to the article here to see the photograph of a sample of the geological core from the Dead Sea. A report with the same photograph made be found on the page of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory here.

Last year we called attention here to a fabulous article by Nir Hasson in Haaretz.

Salt on the rocks along the shore of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Salt on the rocks along the shore of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A question about dolmen

A reader who read our report on the dolmen field in the Golan Heights ask on Facebook if these structures could be the high places or altars mentioned in the Old Testament. The simple answer is “No.” They are thought to be tombs.

This photo of a dolmen was made at Gamla in the Golan Heights.

Dolmen at Gamla in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dolmen at Gamla in the Golan Heights. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In an article about the Golan Archaeological Museum at Qatzrin in the Golan Heights, Nemlich and Killebrew make these comments:

Another strange sight on the Golan is fields of dolmens. Throughout the Golan, hundreds of dolmens are visible on the horizon. They are made of huge unworked basalt slabs and resemble giant stone tables. In fact the word dolmen derives from two Old Breton words—dol, meaning table, and men, meaning stone.

Dolmens were built to serve as tombs. Because of the absence of any associated contemporary house remains, we infer that the dolmen builders were nomadic or seminomadic tribesmen.

The Golan dolmens vary in size, ranging from those built of three or four large boulders to the giants measuring over 20 feet wide and rising to heights of over 10 feet. Some dolmens are free-standing, but many others are partially—or completely—covered by stone heaps, or tumuli. Still others are surrounded by circles of stones.

Beneath each table-like structure is a rectangular underground chamber with a paved floor and a roof made with heavy slabs. Apparently, this chamber was used for a secondary burial: About a year after death, when the flesh of the deceased had decayed, the bones were reburied in the chamber beneath the dolmen, together with a few funerary gifts of pottery vessels and weapons, usually of copper. Many dolmen chambers were reused as ready-made tombs, both in ancient and modern times. The earliest artifacts found in them, however, enable us to date them to the period archaeologists call Middle Bronze I—about 2200–2000 B.C. (a little before the most commonly dated period for the patriarchal age). (Nemlich, Shlomit and Ann Killebrew. “Recovering the Ancient Golan—The Golan Archaeological Museum.” Biblical Archaeology Review.  Nov/Dec 1988.)

There are other suggestions about the purpose of the dolmen. David E. Graves left this comment, with photos, on our Facebook page:

In 2009 we excavated an undisturbed dolmen in Jordan at Tall el-Hammam and recovered 16 EB whole vessels. We did not discover any skeletal remains and so hypothesis they were family memorials and used the table top to de-flesh the remains before reburial.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the recently announced discovery reported this past week is the images inscribed on the dome of the dolmen. The recent IAA Press Release says this,

The chamber inside the dolmen where the engravings were found on its ceiling is large, measuring 2 × 3 meters, and the stone covering it is also huge, weighing an estimated fifty tons at least! This is one of the largest stones ever used in the construction of dolmens in the Middle East. The dolmen was enclosed within an enormous stone heap (tumulus) c. 20 meters in diameter, and its stones are estimated to weigh a minimum of 400 tons. At least four smaller dolmens that were positioned at the foot of the decorated dolmen were identified inside the stone heap. In other words, what we have here is a huge monumental structure built hierarchically (with a main cell and secondary cells). This is the first time such a hierarchical dolmen has been identified in the Middle East.

The engravings that were exposed on the inside of the built chamber. Photographic credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The engravings that were exposed on the inside of the built chamber. Photographic credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

There is much more to learn about the dolmen.

Surprising ancient dolmen exposed in the Galilee

The Israel Antiquities Authority, in conjunction with Tel Hai College and Hebrew University of Jerusalem, released the following Press Release March 5, 2017.

The 4,000 year old dolmen.View facing north toward Mount Hermon. Photographic credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The 4,000 year old dolmen.View facing north toward snow-covered Mount Hermon. Photographic credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

— “ —

A rare and mysterious ancient dolmen was  exposed that is more than 4,000 years old and decorated with ancient rock art

According to researchers, “This is the first art ever documented in a dolmen in the Middle East”

Archaeologists from Tel Hai College, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have recently discovered a mysterious dolmen (a large table-like stone structure) over 4,000 years old in a large field of dolmens, adjacent to Kibbutz Shamir in the Upper Galilee. What makes this dolmen so unique is its huge dimensions, the structure surrounding it and most importantly the artistic decorations engraved in its ceiling. The study was published last weekend (2/3) in the scientific journal PLOS One.

Aerial photograph of the dolmen field. Photo: Shmuel Magal, Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

Aerial photograph of the dolmen field. Photo: Shmuel Magal, Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

The dolmen was discovered during a fortuitous visit to the site by Professor Gonen Sharon of the Galilee Studies Program at the Tel Hai College. It is just one of more than 400 huge stone structures dating to the Intermediate Bronze Age (over four thousand years ago) that are located in the dolmen field around Kibbutz Shamir. When Professor Sharon entered the chamber built beneath the largest dolmen he was surprised to discover rock drawings engraved in its ceiling.

From left to right: Professor Gonen Sharon of Tel Hai College and Uri Berger of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photographic credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

From left to right: Professor Gonen Sharon of Tel Hai College and Uri Berger of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photographic credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The discovery of the engravings led to a research project of the dolmen and its environs which produced new revelations concerning the dolmen phenomenon in Israel. “This is the first art ever documented in a dolmen in the Middle East”, said Uri Berger, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority and partner in the study. “The engraved shapes depict a straight line going to the center of an arc. About fifteen such engravings were documented on the ceiling of the dolmen, spread out in a kind of arc along the ceiling. No parallels exist for these shapes in the engraved rock drawings of the Middle East, and their significance remains a mystery. The panel depicting the art was scanned in the field by the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory of the Hebrew University. By means of an innovative technique, a three-dimensional model of the engraving was produced. “The three-dimensional scan enabled us to identify engravings that otherwise could not be seen with the naked eye”, explained Professor Lior Grossman, the laboratory director.

The chamber inside the dolmen where the engravings were found on its ceiling is large, measuring 2 × 3 meters, and the stone covering it is also huge, weighing an estimated fifty tons at least! This is one of the largest stones ever used in the construction of dolmens in the Middle East. The dolmen was enclosed within an enormous stone heap (tumulus) c. 20 meters in diameter, and its stones are estimated to weigh a minimum of 400 tons. At least four smaller dolmens that were positioned at the foot of the decorated dolmen were identified inside the stone heap. In other words, what we have here is a huge monumental structure built hierarchically (with a main cell and secondary cells). This is the first time such a hierarchical dolmen has been identified in the Middle East.

The 4,000 year old dolmen. Credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The 4,000 year old dolmen overlooking the Hula Valley. Credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The 4,000 year old dolmen. Credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The 4,000 year old dolmen. Credit: Gonen Sharon, Tel Hai College.

The huge dolmen at Kibbutz Shamir is just one of hundreds of enormous densely scattered structures in this region. It bears witness to the existence of a significant and established governmental system in the region during the “Middle Ages” of the Bronze Age. Archaeologists tend to interpret the past based on material finds. The absence of cities, large settlements and monumental buildings attests to the collapse of the governmental and economic systems during a “dark period” in history. The dolmens tell a different story about the period – a story about a society that had a complex governmental and economic system that executed monumental engineering projects but did not leave behind any other archaeological evidence.

“The gigantic dolmen at Kibbutz Shamir is without doubt an indication of public construction”, says Professor Sharon, “that required a significant amount of manpower over a considerable period of time. During that time all of those people had to be housed and fed. The building of such a huge construction necessitated knowledge of engineering and architecture that small nomadic groups did not usually possess. And even more importantly, a strong system of government was required here that could assemble a large amount of manpower, provide for the personnel and above all direct the implementation and control of a large and lengthy project”.

Despite all this, the circumstances surrounding the construction of the dolmens, the technology involved in it and the culture of the people who built them are still one of the great mysteries of the archeology of Israel.

Colored beads that were uncovered in the archaeological excavation inside the dolmen. Credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Colored beads that were uncovered in the archaeological excavation inside the dolmen. Credit: Shmuel Magal, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

What is a Dolmen – A dolmen (stone table) is a megalithic structure (mega = large, lithos = stone) thousands of years old that is built of huge stones. The basic shape of the dolmen resembles a table, and most of them are surrounded by a heap of stones. Dolmens are known elsewhere in the world, from Ireland to Korea. Thousands of dolmens are scattered across the Middle East, from Turkey to Yemen. In the Golan Heights thousands of dolmens of different types were identified which are scattered in concentrations (dolmens fields) on the plateau. Although they are very common and stand out quite prominently in the landscape of ancient Israel, the mystery surrounding the dolmens’ age and their purpose have still not been resolved.

The Dolmen Field at Kibbutz Shamir– the field was first surveyed by the late Moshe Kagan in the 1950’s. More than 400 huge structures overlooking the Hula Valley were identified in the field.

— ” —

HT: Israeli newspapers; Joseph Lauer

Roman soldiers in the region of Decapolis

The RACE show at Jerash, Jordan, is a must if you have the opportunity to visit the area. RACE stands for Roman Army and Chariot Experience. You will see actors in authentic dress as armed legionaries, gladiators, and a short chariot race. The show takes place in the Roman hippodrome of Jerash. The view of the city ruins in the vicinity make this a wonderful setting for the performance. Full details may be found here. I have seen the program three times. On the last visit, earlier this year, I thought the performers showed less discipline and the show was not quite as good as on my previous visits.

Jerash was the second largest city of the Decapolis (after Damascus) in New Testament times. People from the Decapolis followed Jesus during His ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:23-25). When Jesus traveled through the Decapolis he possibly visited the area around Jerash (Mark 7:31).

The photo shows the Roman soldiers of the 6th Legion from the time of the Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138). A visit to this show provides several good photographs to illustrate New Testament times.

Roman soldiers at Jerash, Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman soldiers at Jerash, Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Repeat from October 8, 2010.

A wadi along the King’s Highway

The King’s Highway is mentioned by name in Numbers 20:17 and 22. As the Israelites made their slow trek toward the promised land (Genesis 12:7; 15:7) they asked permission to go through the land of Edom.

 17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”
18 But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.”
19 And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.”
20 But he said, a”You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force.
21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him. (Numbers 20:17-21 ESV)

After going around Edom, Israel sent messengers to the Amorites with a request to go through their land.

“Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field or vineyard. We will not drink the water of a well. We will go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.” (Numbers 21:22 ESV)

Rasmussen suggests that the first reference is to the East-West route from Kadesh Barnea to Edom. He says,

The second reference is possibly to a portion of the N-S Transjordanian route that connects Edom/Arabia with points to the N. (Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, p. 290).

Sihon, the king of the Amorites, went out to fight Israel. According the the biblical account Israel was successful and settled in cities of the Amorites. Reference is made to Heshbon and the Arnon, now known as the Arnon Gorge or Wadi el-Mujib. As a point of reference the Arnon is about 35 miles south of modern Amman, Jordan.

Our photo shows a wadi along the King’s Highway between Heshbon and the Arnon.

A wadi between Madaba and the Arnon Gorge along the King's Highway in transjordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A wadi between Heshbon and the Arnon Gorge along the King’s Highway in transjordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo was made in mid-May. The shepherd finds shade for his sheep, and a place where some water remains. I think the overhanging rock gives us some indication how high the stream gets when it rains. (NB: I wonder if perhaps this water has been brought in by truck for the sheep.)

Thomas Levy reminds us that “Nahal, incidentally, is Hebrew for a dry river bed or valley that flows at most a few times a year. In Arabic, the word is wadi. The two words are used interchangeably in Israel today.” The wadi is similar to the arroyo of the American southwest. (Biblical Archaeology Review, 1990).

“You brood of vipers”

When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist for baptism, John said,

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  (Matthew 3:7 ESV)

Jesus used the same language of the Scribes and Pharisees.

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:33 ESV) cf. 12:34)

The photo below shows the Palestinian Viper (behind tough plastic!) at the Hai Bar Animal and Nature Reserve, north of Eilat, Israel.

Palestinian Viper at the HaiBar Reserve near Eilat, Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Palestinian Viper at the HaiBar Reserve near Eilat, Israel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign at the Reserve gives some explanation about this poisonous viper.

Description of the Palestinian Viper at HaiBar Reserve.

Description of the Palestinian Viper at HaiBar Reserve.

A visit to Hai Bar is a wonderful experience.

Update

Dr. David E. Graves left a photo and some comments to this post on Facebook. I wanted to repeat them here so more readers could see.

Palestinian Viper at Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Dr. David E. Graves.

Palestinian Viper at Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Dr. David E. Graves.

David says, “I was sitting on a rock excavating [at Tall el-Hammam in the Jordan Valley] and the snake was hibernating (winter) under it. I stood up to take a picture of a lizard and the snake appeared out of the same hole.

He adds, “The locals call the snake a 5 stepper!! If you get bit you get 5 steps and your down.”