Category Archives: New Testament

The Ossuaries at Dominus Flevit

Thousands of Jewish graves are visible on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Some of the grave markers are visible in this photo made from the Mount of Olives to the west. The Old City of Jerusalem is visible in the top half of the photo. I don’t know how old these graves are, but some of them are fairly recent.

Jewish graves visible on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jewish graves visible on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

But there are older graves in the area. If you have walked down from the observation plaza on the Mount of Olives, where the peddlers and camel jockeys abound, to the Garden of Gethsemane, you have likely passed the entrance to the Franciscan chapel of Dominus Flevit. Tradition has it that this is where Jesus stopped to weep over Jerusalem.

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it (Luke 19:41 ESV)

Ossuaries in one of the tombs at Dominus Flevit on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuaries in one of the tombs at Dominus Flevit on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Dominus Flevit cemetery complex contains three tombs. Murphy-O’Connor says,

The first two on the right (counting from the entrance gate) are typical kokhim graves of the period 100 BC–AD 135, the dead were buried in narrow horizontal shafts and later their bones were collected in beautifully made stone boxes (ossuaries) in order to make room for others. (The Holy Land, 5th ed. p. 145)

Harold Mare describes the content of the cemeteries,

Beside seven sarcophagi, many ossuary (bone) boxes were excavated at the Dominus Flevit cemetery. The ossuary boxes, made of stone or wood and averaging 25 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 13 inches high, were decorated with inscribed designs on the sides and tops and often had names inscribed on them as well. Examples of these boxes can be seen in site in the excavation area at the Dominus Flevit and at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. These boxes were used to contain the bones of the dead in secondary burials after the disintegration of the flesh. They were evidently used in Jerusalem until A.D. 70 or possibly until 135. (Mare, W. Harold. The Archaeology of the Jerusalem Area. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987. p. 198.)

Mare also points out that several biblical names are found on various ossuaries. This does not mean that the ossuaries belonged to a known biblical character, but that the names were common during the period. John McRay gives a list of names found at this site:

Also found on the ossuaries were forty-three inscriptions. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the inscriptions contain names familiar to readers of the New Testament– Yeshua (Aramaic for Jesus), Miriam (Mary), Martha, Eleazar (Lazarus), Judas, Salome, Matthew, Joseph, Jairus, John, Mattia (Matthias), Sapphira, Menahem (Manaean), Simeon, and Zechariah. (McRay, John. Archaeology and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991. p. 197.)

Both of our photos are sized for PowerPoint use in teaching.

Ossuaries in ancient Jerusalem and Judea

From about 30 B.C. to A.D. 70 (some scholars extend these dates to as late as A.D. 135), ossuaries were used by the Jews in secondary burials. Numerous of these stone receptacles have been discovered. Most of the dead were first buried in caves or rock-cut tombs. After the flesh had decayed, the bones were placed in an ossuary or “bone box.” This provided space for more burials.

The Hecht Museum at Haifa University has a nice display of ossuaries. Six of these have lids on them. The lid is missing on five others.

Display of Jewish Ossuaries in the Hecht Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Display of Jewish Ossuaries in the Hecht Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign with the display states that,

This was a prevalent custom in this period, and one that tied in with the strengthening Jewish belief in the individual, physical resurrection of the deceased from within one’s skeleton (Mishna, Sanhedrin 6:5-6; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 47b).

This is the description of the ossuaries.

The ossuaries are carved of local soft stone (chalk), and most of them lack ornamentation. Ornamentation, if it appears, was executed by carving, incision, or painting. The variety of decorative patterns on the ossuaries includes floral, geometric and architectural patterns. Some have Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek inscriptions stating the name of the deceased.

The top of the sign shows some of the decorations found on ossuaries. Note above, the statement that most ossuaries lacked ornamentation.

Decorations found on Jewish Ossuaries. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Decorations found on Jewish Ossuaries. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rachel Hachlili describes the typical ossuary:

These ossuaries are small limestone boxes approximately 20 inches long, 10 inches wide and 12 inches high. Usually they have a flat, gabled, or rounded lid. All these ossuaries were used for secondary burials; approximately a year after the original burial, when the body had decomposed, the bones of the deceased were collected and placed in the ossuary. (BAR, July/Aug. 1979).

Stone cutting was one of the main occupations of ancient Israel, and some stone cutters evidently specialized in made-to-order ossuaries.

In a future post I plan to show a cemetery filled with ossuaries.

Index of articles – the Romans and the ministry of Jesus

The Romans had occupied the land they later called Palestine for nearly a century when Jesus began His ministry. This means that there was no one alive at that time who remembered when the Romans were not in control.
The writings of Josephus cover this period and New Testament writers called attention to the Roman rulers.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. (Luke 2:1 ESV)

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, (Luke 3:1 ESV)

Roman soldiers roamed the country and eventually destroyed the Holy City Jerusalem. The culture of Rome can still be seen in the ruins of various cities.

Roman Centurion and a Charioteer at Jerash (the RACE show at Jerash). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I am not sure that this list of posts about the Roman empire in Palestine is a complete one, but I think it will be helpful as you study the impact of Rome and its culture on the ministry of Jesus and His apostles. We could compile another list specifically from the book of Acts, the New Testament Epistles, and the book of Revelation. Use the Search Box to locate other subjects you may be looking for.

The Kangal sheep dog of Anatolia

Shepherds in every part of the world have problems they must contend with as they care for their sheep. The Bible uses the analogy of the sheep and the wolves in several places. Jesus warned about the “hired hand” who would abandon the sheep.

He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. (John 10:12 ESV)

Within the past few years I have come across an interesting practice used by shepherds in Anatolia (Central Turkey), and only recently came across an article in a 2003 issue of Saudi Aramco World about the same shepherds. It begins this way,

There are grey wolves in Turkey, thousands of them. There are also bears, jackals, and—recorded just last year for the first time in a quarter century—Anatolian leopards. All are the enemies of sheep and goats. As predators, they live at the expense of the prey animals, the meat-eaters against the grass-eaters. But on Turkey’s Anatolian plateau, the prey have a strong friend, more than a match for any predator: the kangal dog.

On our last visit to the ancient Hittite city of Hattusas (modern Boghazkale) we saw a large number of sheep grazing over the ruins of the ancient city. Our guide said that the dogs we saw with the shepherds were a special breed of dog that were common in Anatolia, but he could not recall the name of the dogs. In fact, he said might be a slightly different breed from the one he was thinking about.

Shepherd at hattusas with his sheepdog. Notice the collar that is specially prepared to protect these dogs from wolves and other wild animals. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shepherd at Hattusas with his sheepdog. Notice the collar that is specially prepared to protect these dogs from wolves and other wild animals. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The shepherds were pleased to show us the spiked collar. A wolf, or other wild animal, would go at the throat of the dog, but the spikes would be a strong deterrent. Notice also that the ears of this dog have been cropped. This, according to the article, is “intended to deprive wolves of a tooth-hold.” The author says,

Shepherds frequently dock their dogs’ ears, saving them the trouble of doctoring wounds when they tangle with a wolf. But the heavy spiked collar they wear, called a çengel, or hook, seems enough to keep even the most determined enemy from biting their heads.

Here is a close-up, and you may click on it for an even larger image, showing the spikes or hook.

A close up showing the spikes on the collar of the dog. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A close up showing the spikes on the collar of the dog. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shepherds of biblical times carried a rod and a staff (Psalm 23:4). The rod could be used to ward off an attacking animal. The staff was used by the shepherd as he made his way up and down the hillsides, and to separate the sheep.

Source: Werner, Louis. “Shepherd’s Best Friend.” Saudi Aramco World July/Aug. 2003: 38-43.

The Horns of Hattin and the battle of 1187

The Horns of Hattin is the name given to a saddle-shaped (or horn-shaped) extinct volcano located about five miles west of the Sea of Galilee. Several older writers, including Jesse L. Hurlbut, referred to this formation as the traditional Mount of the Beatitudes (A Bible Atlas [1910], 15). The hill is about 1200 feet above sea level. Few scholars hold this view today.

A view of the Horns of Hattin northwest of Highway 77. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view of the Horns of Hattin northwest of Highway 77. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Below Hattin, on the edge of the Arbel Pass, there is a building believed by the Druze to be the burial site of Nebi Shu’eib (Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses; Exodus 3:1). The Druze gather here every spring for a festival.

One of the most important battles of history was fought at the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187. The Moslems, headed by Saladin, overpowered the Crusaders and captured most of Palestine including Jerusalem. Perhaps the most significant reason the Crusaders took their stand here was that they thought the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) was spoken by Jesus on this hill.

I have never stood atop Hattin, but a friend of mine walked the Jesus Trail after our tour in 2011. Larry Haverstock shared some of his photos of the fascinating formation as he crossed it on his five-day trip from Nazareth to Capernaum.

This first photo shows ruins of a Roman road between Golani Junction and Magdala on the Sea of Galilee. The Jesus Trail followed this road. Larry’s friends will recognize his shadow  in the photo.

The Jesus Trail follows ruins of the Roman road from Golani Junction to Magdala. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

The Jesus Trail follows ruins of the Roman road from Golani Junction to Magdala. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

Following the road from the west one approaches the Horns of Hattin knowing that from the top there will be a wonderful view of the Sea of Galilee and the area of the Galilean ministry of Jesus.

The Horns of Hattin from the west. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

The Horns of Hattin from the west. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

Approaching the top of the formation you will see the southern hump and some of the volcanic rubble from ages past.

View to the east, while walking the Jesus Trail from Nazareth. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

View to the east, while walking the Jesus Trail from Nazareth. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

The next photo made from Hattin shows Mount Arbel and portions of the Sea of Galilee. Larry writes and speaks vividly. I notified him that I would be posting this article today. He replied,

Can’t wait to see your Hattin article. I was up there all alone, not one other person in sight as far as the eyes could see from that amazing height. Could almost hear the echoing sounds of war reverberating across the centuries.

View of the Sea of Galilee from the Horns of Hattin. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

View of the Sea of Galilee from the Horns of Hattin. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

This photo provides a clear view of the depression to the north (left) of Mount Arbel through which the ancient road ran. The valley leading from the Horns of Hattin to the Sea of Galilee is known as Wadi Hamam. It is more commonly called the Arbel Pass, the Valley of the Robbers, or the Valley of the Pigeons. Some scholars say that the main trunk road from the Coastal Plain to Damascus came through this valley. It is common to hear this spoken of as the Via Maris (the way to the sea). This means that the main road from Nazareth, Sepphoris, and Cana to Capernaum ran through this valley. This is the way Jesus and His disciples traveled (Matthew 4:13; John 4:11-12). Other scholars suggest that the route from Capernaum to Nazareth ran to the north of the wadi and the rugged cliffs to the north.

From the Horns of Hattin one sees Mount Arbel, the Arbel Valley, the plain of Gennesaret and the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

From the Horns of Hattin one sees Mount Arbel, the Arbel Valley, the plain of Gennesaret and the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Larry Haverstock.

I have read several articles about the modern reenactment of the decisive 1187 battle between the Crusaders of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the followers of Saladin. Here are a few links for those who would like to read more.

  • Times of Israel 2016 article by Ilan Ben Zion here.
  • Times of Israel 2015 article by Oded Balilty here.
  • Daily Mail article with photos here.

Alon describes the day of the battle in 1187.

The engagement took place on a blistering-hot day and the Crusader soldiers encumbered by their heavy and clumsy armor in face of the light cavalry of their enemy. After a day-long battle, not one Crusader soldier remained alive on the battlefield. (Azaria Alon, Israel National Parks & Nature Reserves, 168.)

Numerous persons have included photos here and there on the Internet. I was impressed with some photos by Ruslana Goldberg-Kanin Teishov and requested permission to share two or three of them with our readers. Ruslana graciously granted permission. The next three photos are by her. The first shows Crusader soldiers readying for battle. You can see other of her photos here.

History buffs reenact the crusaders as they ready to defend the formation known as the Horns of Hattin. Photo by Ruslana Goldberg-Kanin Teishov.

History buffs reenact the crusaders as they ready to defend the formation known as the Horns of Hattin. Photo by Ruslana Goldberg-Kanin Teishov.

This photo shows the heavy armor worn by some of the soldiers.

One of the soldier actors had his armor laid out to show what the Crusaders had to wear. History buffs reenact the crusaders as they ready to defend the formation known as the Horns of Hattin. Photo by Ruslana Goldberg-Kanin Teishov.

One of the soldier actors had his armor laid out to show what the Crusaders had to wear. History buffs reenact the crusaders as they ready to defend the formation known as the Horns of Hattin. Photo by Ruslana Goldberg-Kanin Teishov.

This photo shows soldiers as they approached the western slope of the Horns of Hattin.

This photo shows soldiers as they approached the western slope of the Horns of Hattin. Photo by Ruslana Goldberg-Kanin Teishov.

This photo shows soldiers as they approached the western slope of the Horns of Hattin. Photo by Ruslana Goldberg-Kanin Teishov.

The official web page for the Horns of Hattin project is here.

Did Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount here? Probably not.

Many thanks to Larry Haverstock and Ruslana Goldberg-Kanin Teishov for making this post much more interesting than it would have been without their photos. If you wish to follow Larry on the Jesus Trail you may begin here and then use his blog archive to locate the other posts.

Donation for Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem

Last April I had the opportunity to visit the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa. The archaeological artifact I wish to share today is an inscription from Jerusalem describing a donation by a “Paris son of Akeson of Rhodes” for Herod’s Temple.

Herod Temple Donation. Displayed in Hecht Museum, Haifa.

Herod Temple Donation. Displayed in Hecht Museum, Haifa.

The sign with the artifact provides this English translation of the fragment:

year 20 (Herod reign) during the time of the High
Priest (Simon son of Boethus)
Paris son of Akeson
of Rhodes
pavement (of the southern Temple Court?)
drachmas …

The following information is provided with the inscription:

This inscription was discovered among the debris in a palace pool of the Herodian period about 70 meters south of the plaza that runs along the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The inscription mentions the donation of Paris, son of Akeson, of Rhodes, probably toward the cost of paving the Temple’s open southern court (Azara). According to Josephus, this court was paved with a variety of stones. This pavement was constructed, as the inscription notes, during the period of the Temple’s reconstruction, in the twentieth year of Herod’s reign (21 BCE), at the time of the High Priest Simon, son of Boethus.

Herod the Great ruled as King of Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 2:1-19; Luke 1:5). Sources I use typically show the reign of Herod as king of Judea from 37 to 4 B.C. He served as Governor of Galilee as early as 47 B.C.

The inscription is displayed in the Hecht Museum by courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Aleppo National Museum – #2

See our previous post on Aleppo here. Our #1 on the Aleppo National Museum is here.

In the first post on Aleppo I posted a photo of the Hittite Storm god Teshub standing on the back of a bull. I should have mentioned at the time that a large temple of the storm god from the Late Bronze and Early Iron ages has been excavated underneath Islamic buildings at the Aleppo Citadel. A well illustrated article by Kay Kohlmeyer states,

The storm god, first venerated as Hadda, then as Addu, Teshub, Tarhunta, and Hadad, played a supra-regional role in the ancient Near East, which explains the enormous size of his temple at Aleppo and the brilliance of its relief decoration. (Near Eastern Archaeology 72;4 (2009).

A statue of Hadad of poor quality is also displayed in the museum.

Statue of Hadad displayed in the Aleppo National Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Statue of Hadad displayed in the Aleppo National Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are several other Neo-Hittite artifacts in the Aleppo National Museum. This first I am showing is a basalt lion with a slight wing relief. This is likely part of a pair that stood along an entrance to some building. Here you will notice that the lion is represented as having five legs. This allows the passerby to see at least four legs from almost any direction. We have become familiar with the huge winged bulls from Assyria that are made in the same fashion. I do not have the original source of the lion, but there are numerous Neo-Hittite sites  to the north of Aleppo in Syria and Turkey.

Lion from the Neo-Hittite Period in the Aleppo National Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Lion from the Neo-Hittite Period in the Aleppo National Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next image is a fascinating one from the palace of Karara at Tell Halaf. It shows a composite creature of basalt consisting of the head of a man with the feet and wings of a bird, and the tail of a scorpion.

Composite creatures were common during the Hittite, Assyrian, and Babylonian periods of Old Testament history, and many of them have been found in the extended region. They provide us some insight into the background of apocalyptic literature. We find these creatures especially in the Old Testament books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, and in the New Testament book of Revelation (the Apocalypse). See a previous post, “Apocalyptic imagery is not strange,” here.

The composite creature here brought to my mind the events of the sounding of the fifth trumpet in Revelation 9:1-11.

Composite creature showing the head of a man, body and feet of a bird, and the tail of a scorpion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Composite creature showing the head of a man, body and feet of a bird, and the tail of a scorpion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I am adding an additional image that I was able to enhance to show a little better sharpness.

aleppo-museum-composite-creature-fjenkins051302_09en

 1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.
2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft.
3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.
4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone.
6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7 In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces,
8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth;
9 they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle.
10 They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails.
11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. (Revelation 9:1-11 ESV)

Knowing that such imagery was common in the ancient Near East should assist us in our understanding of the nature of apocalyptic literature of the Bible.