Category Archives: Jordan

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.

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Camel caravans carry merchandise and people

Traveling in the Sinai Peninsula is an interesting experience. I recall flying into the Sinai twice, and traveling through the Peninsula by bus or car twice. Thoughts immediately turn to the Israelites traversing this wilderness, stopping at Mount Sinai to receive “the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel” gave to them (Ezra 7:6).

The caravan traveling here in the eastern Sinai is not carrying merchandise, but is on its way to the resort area of the Gulf of Eilat (or Aqaba). The camels seem to be ready with their saddles to entice the tourists to ride. The little camels are ready for the kids.

Camel caravan in the Eastern Sinai Peninsula. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Camel caravan in the Eastern Sinai Peninsula. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Several Biblical stories come to mind. Think of Rachel coming from Padan-Aram to southern Canaan to wed Isaac.

And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel (Genesis 24:64 ESV)

Or of the sons of Jacob preparing to sell Joseph to a band of Ismaelites.

Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. (Genesis 37:25 ESV)

At Avedat in the Negev Highlands of Israel there is a display of the types of goods often transported across the Spice Route by the Nabateans.

Frankincense, Myrrh, and other spices were transported by camel caravans across the famous Spice Route. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Frankincense, Myrrh, Pepper, and other spices were transported by camel caravans across the famous Spice Route. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Did Philip baptize the Ethiopian at ’Ain ed-Dirweh?

Note: This post replaces one from June 22 which was taken down when I learned that I had incorrectly equated two obscure places that should not have been. You will need to read this entire post to get the correct story.

Though the Bible does not specify a place, scholars and religious leaders like to point out possible places where significant events transpired. Such has been true of the place where Philip baptized the government official from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39).

One reader asked if this really matters. Those of us who believe in the accuracy of the Bible look for the land and the Book to agree. I think in this instance we have several possible places where the baptism could have taken place.

Ain el-Haniyeh (see here) in the Rephaim Valley is not the only place suggested as the location of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. In fact, Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria, 4th ed., 1906, says,

The tradition that Ain el-Haniyeh was the spring in which Philip baptized the Eunuch of Ethiopia (Acts viii. 36) dates from 1483, before which the scene of that event was placed near Hebron.

The place near Hebron is known as ’Ain ed-Dirweh. My only visit there was in 1979, but it has been associated with Philip’s work since the early Christian centuries. After visiting Bethlehem, The Bordeaux Pilgrim (A.D. 333) went to “Bethasora” (footnote: Bethzur, Beit Sur) where, he says,

There is the fountain in which Philip baptized the eunuch

Baedeker says,

… we reach the spring of ‘Ain ed-Dirweh, above which are a Mohammedan house and a praying-place. In the time of Eusebius [of Caesarea; c. 265 – c. 339] the spring in which Philip baptized the eunuch was pointed out here (comp. p. 93), and it is so marked on the mosaic map of Madeba. The traces of an ancient Christian church were formerly visible.

The Madaba Map (also spelled Madeba or Medeba), dated between about A.D. 560 and 565, provides a glimpse into the understanding of the Christians of that time about the location of certain biblical events.

Here I cite the information from the Franciscan Cyberspot’s The Madaba Mosaic Map web site. The map shows “a conventional church” and a “disk circled in black with a yellow centre. It is the basin related to the inscription.”

The inscription, above the letters OYDA (ouda, in Iouda = Judah), is translated as follows:

The (church) of Saint Philip, where they say that the eunuch Candaces was baptized.

Go to the Discussion page here and read the comments by various scholars who have examined the matter. I note that some (e.g. Avi-Yonah) suggest that the makers of the map are expressing doubt about the place of the event in the 6th century A.D. by writing “where they say.”

The portion of the Madaba Map (late 6th century A.D.) showing Bethsora [Bethzur) in Judah). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The portion of the Madaba Map (late 6th century A.D.) showing Bethsora and the place where it was said that Philip baptized the eunuch of Candace. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

To the left of the church building you will see the Greek for the word BETHSURA. This site is often identified with the Beth-zur of Joshua 15:58. Eusebius referred to it as Bethsoro. The Survey of Western Palestine has Bt. Sur. These two places, Bethsura and ’Ain edh-Dhirweh, are essentially the same.

Portion of Survey of Western Palestine map. Courtesty of BiblePlaces.com.

Portion of Survey of Western Palestine map showing Bt. Sur and ‘Ain edh Dhirweh. Courtesty of BiblePlaces.com.

The famous Matson Photograph Collection includes at least two photos of Ein el-Dirweh. The first one was made between 1934 and 1939.

Ein el-Dirweh, Philips Fountain at it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection now in the Library of Congress.

Ein el-Dirweh, Philips Fountain as it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection now in the Library of Congress.

In the next photo we see those who have brought containers to get water for their homes. Notice on the top step where containers are placed there are two water skins being used to collect water. These photos can be enlarged by clicking on them, and even larger images are available on the web site. Go to https://www.loc.gov/ and search for Philips fountain.

Ein el-Direh, Philips Fountain, at it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection, now in the Library of Congress.

Ein el-Dirweh, Philips Fountain, at it looked between 1934 and 1939. Matson Photographic Collection, now in the Library of Congress.

And finally, here is a photo I made in 1979. At the time there was very little water in the pool, but it seemed to be a good place for boys to stop on their way home. The site was so unimpressive to me that I never returned.

Philips Fountain between Bethlehem and Hebron in 1979. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Philips Fountain between Bethlehem and Hebron in 1979. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We still do not know the answer to the question, “Where did Philip baptize the Ethiopian Eunuch?,” but this is an older tradition than the site at Ain el-Haniyeh.

Rasmussen, in his Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, says,

The site of this event is difficult to locate precisely, but since the Ethiopian was riding in a chariot it seems that he must have been traveling on a developed road. It may be that he was traveling on the road that led from Bethlehem to the Valley of Elah, the route that David had taken when he carried supplies to his brothers (1 Sam 17) and the one that the Romans eventually paved and marked with milestones. This road led south from the Valley of Elah through the low rolling hills of the Shephelah to Betogabris and continued from there west to Gaza. (p. 217)

On a modern Israeli road from Bethlehem to the Valley of Elah this would be highway 375.

Notley cites Eusebius, but thinks it is unlikely that Philip continued as far south as Beth-zur. He says,

Southwest of Bethlehem the ancient route divides. The watershed route continues to Beth-zur and Hebron, while a western spur follows the Hushah ridge and descends into the Elah Valley (Wadi es-Samt). The Romans paved this descent and evidence of these efforts can still be seen in steps cut into the Judean hills. (Rainey and Notley. The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World, p. 371).

The photo here shows the steps along the road cut into the rock near the Elah Valley. Just a personal thought. I think one might prefer to get out of a chariot and walk down the steps instead of remaining in the chariot.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Road 4.2 km W of Mata on Hwy 375. S of Hwy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Notley thinks the baptism may have taken place at one of the numerous springs in the Elah Valley before Philip and the Ethiopian separated to take different routes, Philip to Azotus and the Ethiopian to Gaza and beyond.

And there are other suggestions, but I will leave those for your own study.

A note about spelling. One difficulty in searching for information about some of these ancient places is the various spellings we find. Even in this article I have used ’Ayn ed-Dirweh and Ein el-Dirweh. The Franciscan website uses ’Ayn al-Dhirwah and ’Ain Dhirwe. Hachetts’s The Middle East uses Ain Dirweh. Vilnay uses Ein Dirwa. The Survey of Western Palestine uses ’Ain edh Dhirweh. And on and on it goes.

Sources. There are helpful ways you can access the old, detailed maps included in the Survey of Western Palestine. (1) Buy your own digitized set from Life in the Holy Land. (2) Use the information collected on Ancient Locations here.

Thanks to Tom Powers for many helpful hints in the production of this post. Some of his work may be accessed at his View From Jerusalem website. I keep a link to it at the site listed below under Blogs.

At the BiblicalStudies.info Scholarly page, under Map of Bible Lands, I keep a list of various maps that are helpful.

New discovery at Machaerus where John was imprisoned

All four of the Gospels make some reference to the imprisonment of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3,10; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:20; John 3:24). This must have been a significant and traumatic event for both the disciples of John and the disciples of Jesus.

Mark, the shortest gospel,  gives the most complete account of why Herod Antipas arrested and executed John. See Mark 6:17-32.

Josephus, the late first century Jewish historian, includes a long section about John in Antiquities 18:116-119. Perhaps another time we will take a closer look at all of it. For now, I am concerned with the place of execution.

Accordingly he was sent as prisoner, out of Herod’s [Antipas] suspicious temper, to Machaerus [or spell it Macherus], the citadel I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him. (Antiquities 18:119)

Josephus also records that Herod’s wife, the daughter of Aretas IV, king of Petra (the Nabateans), learned of his plan to divorce her and marry Herodias. Without telling Antipas that she knew, she asked for permission to be sent to Machaerus.I suspect that Herod was glad to get her out-of-town. She was no dummy. She had made arrangements for her father’s army to bring her safely [from Machaerus] to Arabia [perhaps Petra]. This event led to a war between the armies of Aretas and Herod Antipas. Herod’s army was destroyed. See Antiquities 18:109-115 for the full story.

After several years of archaeological work at Machaerus, the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus announces discovery of a large mikveh (ritual bath and immersion pool). The best report that I have seen is by Philippe Bohstrom in Haaretz here. He says,

The bath is the biggest of its kind ever found in Jordan. It boasts 12 steps and a reserve pool containing water to fill the pool when its water ran low.

Beyond its sheer dimensions, the architecture closely resembles mikvehs discovered in Qumran, on the other side of the Dead Sea, in Israel,  that had previously been considered to be unique.

The king-size mikveh was found three meters below the royal courtyard, where it had been hidden under 2,000 years of sand and dust. It had originally been equipped with a vaulted stone ceiling.

Large mikveh in Herod's palace at Machaerus, Jordan. Photo courtesy of Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

Large mikveh in Herod’s palace at Machaerus, Jordan. Photo courtesy of Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

The director of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus is Dr. Győző Vörös.

The location of the fortress is stunning. Herod the Great built it overlooking the Dead Sea from the east, as he had built a palace and fortress at Masada on the west side of the sea.

This photo gives some idea of the terrain. The citadel is located about 2300 feet above sea level. This would make it about 3600 feet above the Dead Sea.

Two columns stand on the top of Machaerus, where once the great palace of Herod the Great was located. Photo courtesty of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

A few columns stand on the top of Machaerus, where once the great palace of Herod the Great was located. Photo courtesy of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

According to an article in The Jordan Times here,

The excavation team is employing theoretical architectural reconstruction as its first step towards the restoration and presentation of the monument. Through this process, archaeologists were able to reach new findings. 

Simulation of Herod's palace-fortress at Machaerus. Photo courtestsy of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

Simulation of Herod’s palace-fortress at Machaerus. Photo courtesy of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

Here is a brief summary about Machaerus.

  • Built by Alexander Jannaeus (102-75 B.C.).
  • Rebuilt by Herod the Great. This fortress is the eastern parallel to Masada.
  • Assigned to Herod Antipas at the death of Herod the Great (4 B.C.).
  • Destroyed by the Romans (A.D. 57).
  • Occupied by Jewish rebels (A.D. 66).
  • Captured by the Romans (A.D. 71).

The photos I have used here have been sized suitable for presentations. These, and others, are found in a higher resolution in the Haaretz article.

If you could use some nice photos of Machaerus to illustrate Bible lessons, I suggest you check out those by David Padfield here. Todd Bolen, at Bible Places Blog, had already posted a photo of the newly excavated Machaerus mikveh last November.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Visiting the Al-Aksa Mosque

The entire Temple Precinct is called the Haram es-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) by Moslems. They claim that the site has been identified with Islam since the religion’s beginning. The Al-Aksa (also El-Aqsa or el-Aksa) mosque is especially important because it is to this place that the Prophet Mohammad came on his night journey.

Our first photo shows the exterior of the mosque. Instead of being built on bedrock like the Dome of the Rock, this building sits on the substructure built by Herod the Great beginning in about 20 B.C. The Royal Stoa of Herod’s temple ran across the southern section of the platform at that time.

Exterior view of the Al-Aksa mosque. The dome of this building is made of lead. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Exterior view of the Al-Aksa mosque. The dome of this building is plated with lead. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murphy-O’Connor describes the impression when one first enters the building.

The first impression on entering is of a forest of glacial marble columns (donated by Mussolini) and a garish painted ceiling (a gift of King Farouk); they belong to the last restoration (1938-42). Virtually nothing (except perhaps the general proportions) remains of the first mosque built by the caliph al-Walid (AD 709-15), and twice destroyed by earthquakes in the first 60 years of its existence. As restored by the caliph al-Mahdi in 780 it had fifteen aisles, but these were reduced to the present seven when the caliph az-Zahir rebuilt it after the earthquake of 1033. (The Holy Land, 4th ed., 94)

Al-Aksa has seven aisles running north-south. This is the central row. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Al-Aksa has seven aisles running north-south. This is the central aisle with a view to the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A special section of the Mosque is reserved for the Hashemite family of Jordan. Before the Six-Day war of 1967 their visits from Amman to Jerusalem must have been much more frequent. The Hashemite family claims descent from Mohammad, the name being derived from the name of the Prophet’s great-grandfather. The family is guardian of the Moslem holy places in Jerusalem.

This view to the east is reserved for the Hashemite family of Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This view to the east is reserved for the Hashemite family of Jordan. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Next, is a view looking west.

This view is toward the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This view is toward the west. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

King Abdullah I was assassinated while entering the mosque in 1951. All of the sources I have read say this happened at the “entrance” to the mosque. Our guide moved aside a stack of books so we could see what he claimed was where one of the bullets lodged. I have placed the arrow to indicate the spot. This column is the first row as one enters the building. I have to leave the story there.

Our guide says that one of the bullets fired at King Abdullah I lodged in this column and was left here (where out arrow is pointing). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Our guide says that one of the bullets fired at King Abdullah I lodged in this column and was left here (where out arrow is pointing). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

At the south end of the Mosque we were able to look down on the recently excavated steps that led to the Double Gate. This was one of the entrances to the Temple in the time of Jesus.

View of the Temple Mount steps from inside Al-Aksa moaque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Temple Mount steps from inside Al-Aksa mosque. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Below is our aerial photo of the Ophel excavations. The dome of the Al-Aksa Mosque is visible in the upper left. Notice the arrow-shaped shadow. Below the point we see what Benjamin Mazar called,

… a gigantic stairway which led from the Lower City (Ophel) to the [Hulda] gates. It is two hundred and fifteen feet wide; the foundation steps were cut into the natural bedrock on the slopes of the Temple Mount. The stairs were constructed of wide, trimmed and smoothed stone paving blocks, fitted together snugly. The stairway comprised thirty steps set alternately in wide and narrow rows. It ascended twenty-two feet to the upper road, also paved with large stones, immediately facing the Hulda Gates. South of it and below lay the wide plaza.” (The Mountain of the Lord, 1975, p. 143)

The window from which our previous photo was made can be seen in the wall, level with the top of the shadow arrow.

Aerial view showing the Al-Aksa dome, the Ophel, including the gigantic stairway that worshipers took to enter the temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view showing the Al-Aksa dome, the Ophel, including the gigantic stairway that worshipers took to enter the temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

And, here is a closer view of the stairway. In this photo the window in the south wall of the Al-Aksa Mosque is visible at the top of the photo. At the time of Herod’s temple, worshipers ascended the steps, then entered through the double gates, taking more steps up to the Temple Mount platform.

The monumental steps that led to the temple in the time of Jesus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The monumental steps that led to the temple in the time of Jesus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There is good reason to believe that both Jesus and the Apostles used this entry to the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Acts 3:1).

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.