Category Archives: Old Testament

Visiting Iznik (Nicea, Nicaea), Turkey – Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about Nicea, the site of the first and seventh ecumenical councils.

My travels in Turkey – A brief survey

A couple of years ago I wrote a little piece here about why a Bible student should want to visit Turkey. In a category entitled Post New Testament church history I said,

The Ecumenical Councils met in the place we now call Turkey in the following cities: Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon.

My first trip to Turkey was in 1968 when I visited the area of the seven churches of the book of Revelation and the city of Istanbul. It was not until 1984 that I went back to the area with Melvin Curry and Phil Roberts, a couple of teaching colleagues, for a more detailed study. We also visited several of the Greek islands mentioned in the Bible. Then in 1985 I put together a tour I called, from that time forward, Steps of Paul and John. This tour included biblical sites in Greece and Turkey. At the end of that tour Raymond Harris, a fellow preacher, and I visited all of the sites associated with Paul’s first journey with the exception of Cyprus – a place I had already visited.

Melvin Curry, Ferrell Jenkins, Phil Roberts in Heraklion, Crete.

In Heraklion, Crete, we stayed with a former student and her family during the 1984 trip. My recollection is that she made this photo as we left for the airport to go to Athens. Left to right: Melvin Curry, Ferrell Jenkins, Phil Roberts.

In 1987 I conducted my first Ancient Crossroads tour to include the Hittite territory of Anatolia, Cappadocia, and the sites associated with Paul’s first journey. In 1995 the Steps of Paul and John tour included a cruise of the Greek islands. This cruise, touching at places like Patmos, Rhodes, and Crete, would be repeated several times over the years.

I had been able to visit most New Testament sites in Turkey, but certain Old Testament sites had eluded me because they were far away in eastern Turkey near the borders of Syria, Iraq, Iran and the Soviet Union (now Armenia). In 1995 I was joined by Curtis Pope with whom I taught, and his brother Kyle, for a visit in eastern Turkey. We picked up a car in Adana, visited sites associated with Abraham and the Patriarchs, and went through the region of Urartu as far as the traditional Mount Ararat.

That is an excursion I would repeat in more detail in 2007 with Leon Mauldin, David Padfield, and Gene Taylor. Leon and I went back to the region of Paddan-Aram in 2014. In 2007, we had visited the Black Sea region of Turkey to explore the cities that might have been visited by the messenger who delivered the Epistles of Peter. See this Index of Articles dealing with this subject. This included the Roman provinces of Pontus and Bithynia.

Eastern Turkey tour by Padfield, Mauldin, Jenkins, and Taylor (left to right). Carchemish in the background.

Eastern Turkey tour by Padfield, Mauldin, Jenkins, and Taylor (left to right). Carchemish is in the background center. We joked that we were out, standing in our field.

Now it was time to visit the site of two of the Ecumenical Councils in Bithynia. Leon and I arranged to do this in 2014. From Istanbul it is possible to rent a car and travel to Iznik (Nicaea, Nicea) across one of the bridges connecting Europe with Asia. That would take a lot of time. We decided to hire a guide/driver to pick us up at our hotel in Istanbul in Europe, take a ferry across the Sea of Mamara to the Asian side into ancient Bithynia, and visit Iznik in one day. This excursion would cost us almost $900.

The return ferry from Nicea to Istanbul. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The return ferry from Nicea to Istanbul. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is where I hope to pick up in the next article and begin to tell you about the visit to Iznik. There will probably be about seven articles in the series, with lots of photos. I trust you will find them interesting and profitable.

Getting as close as possible – “zero on the border”

Saturday afternoon I was reading an article about the Turkish military moving across the Euphrates River at Karkamiş (Carchemish) into the Syrian town of Jarabulus. In modern times it is not possible to follow a line of travel that one might wish—for example, following the travels of Abraham, or the movement of the Babylonians and the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish.

We do our best to get as close as possible. In Syria I have visited the Euphrates river about 25 miles south of Jarabulus/Carchemish, but in Turkey I have been to the base of the Tell of the ancient city of Carchemish, and seen the bridge crossing the river to Jarabulus. A travel expert in Istanbul once described Carchemish to me as being “Zero on the border.”

The mound of ancient Carchemish overlooking the Euphrates River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.The mound of ancient Carchemish overlooking the Euphrates River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The mound of ancient Carchemish overlooking the Euphrates River. To the left of the tell you may get a glimpse of a blue structure above the trees. That is the bridge crossing the Euphrates River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next picture shows the bridge that crosses the Euphrates. Click on the photo for a larger image. A small portion of the ancient city of Carchemish is in Syria.

Tell Carchemish is mostly hidden behind the trees. The bridge crossing the Euphrates River is clearly visible. Syrian hills are visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.Tell Carchemish is mostly hidden behind the trees. The bridge crossing the Euphrates River is clearly visible. Syrian hills are visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tell Carchemish is mostly hidden behind the trees. The bridge crossing the Euphrates River is clearly visible. Syrian hills are visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The ancient site of Carchemish (modern Karkamiş in Turkey) was identified by George Smith in 1876, and later excavated by the British Museum beginning in 1911. The various directors included Hogarth, Thompson, Wooley, and Lawrence (of Arabia). Many remains of Assyrian and Neo-Hittite periods were uncovered.

Carchemish is mentioned only a few times in the Bible, but it was one of the most significant cities in the ancient Bible world.

  • Isaiah made a reference to Carchemish (Isaiah 10:9). The city had been sacked by Sargon II in 717 B.C.
  • Pharaoh Necho of Egypt went up to Carchemish on the Euphrates to assist the Assyrians against the Babylonians in 609 B.C. (2 Chronicles 35:20; Jeremiah 46:2). King Josiah of Judah tried to stop him, but was killed.

One of the Babylonian Chronicles says that Nebuchadnezzar “crossed the river to go against the Egyptian army which lay in Carchemish.”

As we left Carchemish on our way to Gaziantep we saw a local Kurdish shepherd tending a few sheep. Shepherds like to take the sheep to the wheat fields after they have been cut. Times do change. Another photo I have shows clearly that this shepherd is using a piece of PVC pipe as a staff. He is wearing the baggy pants typical of older Kurdish men.

Shepherd with sheep near Carchemish, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Shepherd with sheep near Carchemish, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Some other interesting things happened that afternoon at Carchemish, but I will save them for another post.

Traditions about Abraham at Şanliurfa, Turkey – Part 2

Without deciding the issue of the location of the Ur of the Chaldeans of Genesis 11:28 and 31 (also Genesis 15:7 and Nehemiah 9:7), we understand from the Old Testament that Abraham lived for a time at Haran about 25 miles south of Şanliurfa in southeastern Anatolia (modern Turkey).

Local Muslim tradition in Urfa claims that Abraham was born in a cave in the city, and legend says he was hidden by his mother in the cave for 15 months.

In the first photograph you see the Mosque associated with the cave of Abraham and the Citadel (Kale) which is thought to date to the Hellenistic period.

To the left of the courtyard is an entrance to the cave in which it is claimed that Abraham was born.

Citadel, mosque, cave. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Citadel, mosque, and cave in Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Men and women have separate entrances to the cave.

Men and women lined up to enter through separate doors. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Men and women enter through separate doors. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There appears to be a spring in the cave. Men are able to see further into the cave and have the opportunity to drink from the water using one of the cups that are provided. I do not know about the arrangement for the women.

Men worship in the Cave of Abraham at Urfa. Photo by Ferrell

Men worship in the Cave of Abraham at Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sign at the cave explains the tradition. It seems not to have been written by native English speakers, but I think you will be able to make out the meaning.

Sign at the cave of Abraham. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign at the cave of Abraham. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is my copy of the sign without corrections.

Mevlid means “holly nativity/birth”. It’s believed that Abraham was born in this cave, there fore it is named as Mevlid-i Halil Cave. According to the legend, when the oracles of King Nimrud told him that there would be born a son who would destroy and end his dynasty and his religion, Nimrud ordered that all the sons would be born that year should be killed strictly. Within the year, Nuna, who was the mother of Abraham, noticed that she was pregnant. For a while she hid her pregnancy. When the date of birth arrived, she sheltered in this cave and gave birth to Abraham inside here. After the birth, she came here every day secretly and nursed her son. Meanwhile according to the legend, it’s believed that Abraham was also miracally nursed by a gazelle by the order of God and within the 15 months he passed in the cave, it’s believed that he grew up to the age of 15.

I understand the last sentence to say that Abraham grew to age 15 in just 15 months! The legend seems to mix a bit of the story of the birth and infancy of Moses who was hidden among the reeds along the Nile River for three months by his parents (Exodus 2:2-4; Hebrews 11:23) with the murder of the innocents by the hands of Herod the Great in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16).

Like Christians and Jews, Muslims have a multitude of traditions and legends that have grown up around Biblical and Quranic characters.

Read Part 1 about Abraham and Şanliurfa here.

Traditions about Abraham at Şanliurfa, Turkey – Part 1

It might be best to begin by saying that Şanlıurfa (Glorious Urfa), often shortened to Urfa, is located in southeastern Turkey about 25 miles north of Haran, the home of Abraham before he went to the land of Canaan (Genesis 11:31). Some writers associate Urfa with Ur, the original home of Abraham. Prior to the 19th century scholars generally were unsure of the location of Ur, whether in the north or south of Mesopotamia.

Since Leonard Wooley identified a site in southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in the 20th century with Ur of the Chaldeans, that site generally been accepted by most scholars. There have been those, however, who argue that the Biblical Ur should be identified with Urfa, or the general area in northern Mesopotamia. This is a site in modern Turkey, and a region we know as biblical Paddan-Aram (Genesis 25:30, et al. Cyrus H. Gordon argued for this position, and Barry Beitzel places Ur in the north in The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands. Others, such as Rasmussen in Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, acknowledge that some place Ur in the north. I leave this discussion for your further study.

Muslim tradition reveres Urfa as the birthplace and early home of Abraham. Abraham is identified prominently among the 28 prophets of the Muslim faith. Much of what is said in the Quran (Koran) about various Old Testament-period characters of the Bible (including Jesus, John the Baptist, and Mary) is taken from the Jewish Talmud and Christian apocrypha — books not accepted as part of the biblical canon. Geisler and Saleeb cite W. St. Clair-Tisdall’s The Sources of Islam to show the direct dependence of some of these stories.

The influence of the Jewish  apocrypha can be seen on the Qur’anic stories of Cain and Abel, Abraham and the idols, and the Queen of Sheba. [see pages 11-30 and 39-45] The direct influence of Christian apocrypha can be seen in the story of seven sleepers and the childhood miracles of Jesus. (Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.)

Clair-Tisdall’s book is available at Google books. The story of Abraham and the idols is found in Sura 21 of the Quran, but it does not include the legendary story about the fish that we will recount below.

The Lonely Planet volume on Turkey (13th edition) succinctly explains the story. [For a number of years I have recommended the Lonely Planet guide books to my tour members. I find them very helpful, especially for the independent traveler.]

Legend had it that Abraham (Ibrahim), a great Islamic prophet, was in old Urfa destroying pagan gods one day when Nimrod, the local Assyrian king, took offence at this rash behaviour. Nimrod had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre, but God turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish. Abraham himself was hurled into the air from the hill where the fortress stands, but landed safely in a bed of roses.

The picturesque Gölbaşhi area of Urfa is a symbolic re-creation of this story. Two rectangular pools of water (Bahkll Göl and Ayn-i Zeliha) are filled with supposedly sacred carp, while the area west of the Hasan Padisah Camii is a gorgeous rose garden. Local legend has it that anyone catching the carp will go blind. Consequently, these appear to be the most pampered, portly fish in Turkey. (p. 565).

As with many “Jewish” and  “Christian” sites we speak of the traditional location of this or that. Sometimes, when there is little evidence to suggest the historical nature of such, we refer to something as a legendary account. Such would be the case with this story of Abraham and Nimrod.

Şanlıurfa is a beautiful small city and a pleasure to visit. I have had the opportunity to do so three times. The Gölbaşhi park in the historic area is easy to visit. Our photo below shows a plan of the area on one side and the aforementioned story of Abraham on the other.

The legend of Abraham's association with Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The legend of Abraham’s association with Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pool in the Gölbaşhi area of Urfa. My friend Gene, wearing the Florida State shirt and holding the camera at ready, bought extra bowls of food for the little boy so we could get photos of him feeding the fish.

Children enjoy feeding the sacred carp in the pool. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Children enjoy feeding the sacred carp in the pool. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A look at some of these fish illustrate why the Lonely Planet writer said they appear to be “the most pampered, portly fish in Turkey.”

The sacred carp of Urfa rush to get the food. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sacred carp of Urfa rush to get the food. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A word of explanation is in order. I had never met a Muslim until my first trip to the Bible lands in 1967. In Cairo, Egypt, we sat on the floor of the Mohammad Ali mosque and listened as our guide explained about the mosque and the Muslim religion. He then answered as many questions as we wanted to ask. Through the past half century I have made many friends among the Muslims, including visiting in some homes, and I have had the opportunity to travel widely in the Middle East. I have good Muslim neighbors.

In Part 2 we will visit the cave identified as the birthplace of Abraham.

Statue of an Egyptian official found at Hazor

Hebrew University announces this morning the discovery of a statue of an Egyptian official at Tel Hazor.

— “ —

Jerusalem, July 25, 2016 — In a historic find, a large fragment of an Egyptian statue measuring 45 X 40 centimeters [about 18 x 16 inches], made of lime-stone, was discovered in the course of the current season of excavations at Tel-Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Only the lower part of the statue survived, depicting the crouching feet of a male figure, seated on a square base on which a few lines in the Egyptian hieroglyphic script are inscribed.

The archaeologists estimate that the complete statue would equal the size of a fully-grown man. At present only a preliminary reading of the inscriptions has been attempted, and the title and name of the Egyptian official who originally owned the statue, are not yet entirely clear.

The statue was originally placed either in the official’s tomb or in a temple – most probably a temple of the Egyptian god Ptah – and most of the texts inscribed on the statue’s base include words of praise to the official who may have served and most probably practiced his duties in the region of Memphis, the primary cult center of the god Ptah. They also include the customary Egyptian funerary formula ensuring eternal supply of offerings for the statue’s owner.

The monumental Egyptian statute of a high official from the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, found in the administrative palace at Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. (Photo credit: Shlomit Bechar)

The monumental Egyptian statute of a high official from the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, found in the administrative palace at Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. (Photo credit: Shlomit Bechar)

This statue, found this year, together with the sphinx fragment of the Egyptian king Mycerinus (who ruled Egypt in the 25th century B.C.E.) discovered at the site by the research team three years ago, are the only monumental Egyptian statues found so far in second millennium contexts in the entire Levant.

The discovery of these two statues in the same building currently being excavated by the research team, indicates the special importance of the building (probably the administrative palace of the ruler of the city), as well as that of the entire city of Hazor.

The three volunteer excavators who found the statue, from left to right: Valentin Sama-Rojo from Spain, Bryan Kovach from the United States, and Elanji Swart from South Africa. (Photo credit: Shlomit Bechar)

The three volunteer excavators who found the statue, from left to right: Valentin Sama-Rojo from Spain, Bryan Kovach from the United States, and Elanji Swart from South Africa. (Photo credit: Shlomit Bechar)

According to Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has been conducting excavations at Tel-Hazor for over 27 years, Hazor is the most important site from the Biblical period. Shlomit Bechar, a doctoral student at the Institute of Archaeology who has been excavating at Hazor for a decade, is co-director of the Hazor excavations and director of the main excavation area.

In the course of close to 30 years of excavation, fragments of 18 different Egyptian statues, both royal and private, dedicated to Egyptian kings and officials, including two sphinxes, were discovered at Hazor. Most of these statues were found in layers dated to the Late Bronze Age (15th-13th centuries B.C.E.) – corresponding to the New Kingdom in Egypt. This is the largest number of Egyptian statues found so far in any site in the Land of Israel, although there is no indication that Hazor was one of the Egyptian strongholds in Southern Canaan nor of the presence of an Egyptian official at Hazor during the Late Bronze Age.

Interestingly, most Egyptian statues found at Hazor so far date to Egypt’s “Middle Kingdom” (19th-18th centuries B.C.E), a time when Hazor did not yet exist. It thus seems that the statues were sent by an Egyptian king in the “New Kingdom” as official gifts to the king of Hazor, or as dedications to a local temple (regardless of their being already “antiques”). This is not surprising considering the special status of the king of Hazor who was the most important king in Southern Canaan at the time. The extraordinary importance of Hazor in the 15th-13th centuries B.C.E. is indicated also by the Biblical reference to Hazor as “the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10).

All the statues at the site were found broken to pieces and scattered over a large area. Clear signs of mutilation indicate that most of them were deliberately and violently smashed, most probably in the course of the city’s final conquest and destruction sometime in the 13th century B.C.E. The deliberate mutilation of statues of kings and dignitaries accompanying the conquest of towns, is a well-known practice in ancient times (I Samuel 5:1-4; Isaiah 11:9) as well as in our time.

The Hazor excavations, which began in the mid 1950 (under the direction of the late Prof. Yigael Yadin), are carried out on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The excavations were resumed in 1990 – still on behalf of the Hebrew University, and the Israel Exploration Society, and are named “The Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin”. The excavation takes place within the Hazor National Park, in full support and cooperation with the National Parks Authority.

Hazor is the largest biblical-era site in Israel, covering some 200 acres, and has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The population of Hazor in the second millennium BCE is estimated to have been about 20,000, making it the largest and most important city in the entire region. Its size and strategic location on the route connecting Egypt and Babylon made it “the head of all those kingdoms” according to the biblical book of Joshua (Joshua 11:10). Hazor’s conquest by the Israelites opened the way to the conquest and settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. The city was rebuilt and fortified by King Solomon and prospered in the days of Ahab and Jeroboam II, until its final destruction by the Assyrians in 732 BCE.

Documents discovered at Hazor and at sites in Egypt and Iraq attest that Hazor maintained cultural and trade relations with both Egypt and Babylon. Artistic artifacts, including those imported to Hazor from near and far, have been unearthed at the site. Hazor is currently one of Israel’s national parks.

—”—

The archaeological season for the major excavations is closing down and interesting reports are coming in almost daily.

Tel Hazor (upper mound) from the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tel Hazor (upper mound) from the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jonah’s encounter with the great fish

Recently we called attention to significant biblical events that took place at Joppa. One of these was the account of Jonah taking a ship for Tarshish from Joppa to avoid going to Nineveh (Jonah 1:3).

The folks at Joppa (Jaffa; Yafo) have not forgotten what happened to Jonah.

Visitors to Joppa (Jaffa; Yafo) are minded of the story of Jonah and the great fish. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Visitors to Joppa (Jaffa; Yafo) are reminded of the story of Jonah and the great fish.

The biblical account says,

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17 ESV)

The NET Bible uses the phrase huge fish.

The New Testament accounts of Jesus’ reference to this event use the phrase “great fish” or “sea monster” in Matthew 12:40 and Luke 11:29-30. Of the commonly used English versions, only the King James Version makes reference to a whale.

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40 ESV)

The 2016 excavations at Gath

Tell es-Safi/Gath. Prof. Aren Maeir continues to report almost daily about progress in the excavation at Tell es-Safi/Gath. Staff and volunteers are working in at least five areas and Maeir continues to give a brief summary of finds of the dig with multiple photos here. The photos are not labeled, but if you know something about the site you may be able to determine which area is pictured.

Since the announcement at the close of last season (2015) about a possible Iron Age gate, and the teaser post with 1 Samuel 21:13 as a title, I have been following this. I am not expecting they will find David’s spittle or a hair from his beard, but as a believer of the Biblical account I do draw a connection between the text and the factual reality that seems to be coming to light on the tell.

Below is an aerial photo published last year showing the gate area of Gath. For a larger photo go to the Gath website here.

Aerial general view of area D fortifications at Gath.

Aerial general view of area D fortifications at Gath.

Area D, with the gate and fortifications, is located below the parking area visible in the lower right quarter of the photo.

Aerial view of Gath showing the area where the gate has been uncovered. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Gath showing the area where the gate has been uncovered. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Earlier this year when my group visited the site in April, some of the tour members enjoyed examining the stone walls. I am looking forward to seeing new photos at the end of this season (in about a week). It only takes a short time after the rains for new growth to begin to cover the excavations.

Members of my group looking at the walls uncovered in 2015. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Members of my group looking at the walls uncovered in 2015. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

David’s relationship with the Philistines is fascinating. At the Valley of Elah, a few miles away, he killed the giant Goliath who was from Gath (1 Samuel 17), but later, when fleeing from King Saul he sought refuge from Achish king of Gath. It was at that time that David “pretended to be insane” at the gate of Gath.

 10 And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath.  11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”  12 And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath.  13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard.  14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me?  15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:10-15 ESV).

Read here for my more detailed post about Gath and the possible gate from last year.

Thanks to Aren Maeir for the good updates and photos from Gath. Follow his blog to read more about it.