Category Archives: Old Testament

After almost 70 years, still searching for scrolls in the Judean Desert Caves

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves along the western shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. In the years that followed, documents from the time of Bar Kochba’s revolt (A.D. 135) were discovered. At least some of the biblical texts and those from the second century A.D. can be seen at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.

Time has not caused robbers to stop searching for materials in the Judean caves – not just at Qumran, but all along the eastern edge of the Judean Desert. Israel has been cracking down on the dealers in antiquities that fill the Old City of Jerusalem and other places. Recently the document below was seized in a joint operation by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Israel Police. It dates to Year Four of the Destruction of the House of Israel (A.D. 139). We think of the Bar Kochba Revolt as reaching it’s culmination in A.D. 135. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary entry by Isaac and Oppenheimer says,

The rebels were united under the leadership of one man: Simeon Bar Kokhba. The revolt resulted in the emergence of a short-lived independent state marked by the organization of local authorities, the issue of coinage, and the leasing of state land.

The ancient text that dates to the Year Four of the Destruction of the House of Israel (139 CE), which was seized in a joint operation by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Israel Police. Photographic credit: Shai Halevi, courtesy of the Leon Levy Digital Library, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The ancient text that dates to the Year Four of the Destruction of the House of Israel (139 CE), which was seized in a joint operation by the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Israel Police. Photographic credit: Shai Halevi, courtesy of the Leon Levy Digital Library, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Israel Hasson, director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, says,

“We plan on saving our most important heritage and cultural assets which have been plundered for years.”

The effort currently underway involves archaeologists and volunteer workers searching for pottery, scrolls, fragments, etc. in caves at Nahal Tse’elim, a site about 1½ miles north of Masada.

I prepared some of the photos provided by the Israel Antiquities Authority last evening, but did not have time to work on the post. This morning I see that Todd Bolen, Bible Places, has posted info. I decided to go ahead with this post for the 5 people who don’t read the Bible Places Blog and include different photos that others might enjoy and find useful.

A general photograph of Nahal Tse’elim. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A general photograph of Nahal Tse’elim. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The climb up (or down) to the cave is difficult.

Access to the cave is complicated and for safety’s sake requires the use of rappelling equipment. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Access to the cave is complicated and for safety’s sake requires the use of rappelling equipment. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Volunteers sift the dusty soil in hopes of finding some little scrap of a document or some other valuable item.

Volunteers at work in the archaeological excavation. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Volunteers at work in the archaeological excavation. Photographic credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The IAA release included a video with the narration in Hebrew. Bolen calls attention to a brief video with English explanation at Arutz Sheva here.

Some archaeological projects keep their best stuff hidden away for decades. A word of thanks to the IAA for making material like this available to a wider audience.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Location, location, location – Shechem valley

“Location, location, location” is a phrase commonly used by realtors to describe the ideal plot or house for the prospective buyer. For some it means being near shopping. For others it means being near work. And for others it may mean being near recreational facilities, good schools, etc.
Last Sunday I was teaching John 4 regarding Jesus’ travel through Samaria and his stop at Jacob’s well. I mentioned that it is difficult now to get a good photo of the valley flanked by Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. I used this photo that I made in 2011 that provides a reasonably good view. I suggest you click on the photo for a larger image.
View west of the valley between Mount Gerizim (left-south) and Mount Ebal (right-north). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View west of the valley between Mount Gerizim (left-south) and Mount Ebal (right-north). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

 This valley was an ideal location for many biblical events. Some of the significant events associated with the area are listed below.
  • Shechem is the first city of Canaan mentioned in the Bible. The land promise to Abraham was restated here (Genesis 12:6-7).
  • Jacob and his family settled at Shechem (Genesis 33:18). Jacob purchased a parcel of ground and erected an altar here.
  • Joseph’s brothers had gone from Bethlehem to near Shechem to graze their flocks (Genesis 37:12-13).
  • After entering Canaan, the Israelites gathered at Shechem on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal to hear Joshua read the blessings and curses of the Law (Joshua 8:30-34; cf. Deuteronomy 28-30).
  • Shechem was within the territory of Ephraim and served as a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7; 21:21).
  • Joseph was buried in a parcel of ground bought by Jacob (Joshua 24:32).
  • The Shechemites supported Abimelech in his bid to be ruler and gave him money from their temple of Baal-berith (Judges 8:33; 9). Jotham’s addressed the people of Shechem from Mount Gerizim with a fable (Judges 9:7ff.).
  • After the Exile, Shechem became a major religious center of the Samaritans. Their temple was built on Mount Gerizim (John 4:20-21).
  • Jesus visited Jacob’s Well near Shechem (John 4).

The general vicinity around Shechem was associated with the northern kingdom of Israel after the death of Solomon.

  • Shechem served as the temporary headquarters for the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:25) beginning about 931 B.C.
  • The capital of Israel was moved to Tirzah during the reign of Baasha (908-886 B.C.; 1 Kings 15:21; 16:16).
  • After six years at Tirzah, king Omri (885-874 B.C.) purchased the hill of Samaria for his capital (1 Kings 16:24). The capital remained there until the city was captured by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.
  • (Dates are those from Mckinny, The Regnal Chronology of the Kings of Judah and Israel: An Illustrated Guide.)

Tirzah is located about 7 miles northeast of Shechem, and Samaria is about 7 miles northwest of Shechem.

Judges 9:37 recounts people “coming down from the center of the land” as they came down from Mount Gerizim. Bernhard W. Anderson uses the term navel says,

In the ancient period it was claimed that Shechem was the center of Canaan. (BA 20:1, 1957)

In introducing the series of articles on Shechem in the same issue of Biblical Archaeologist, G. Ernest Wright used the title “Navel of the Land.” That makes it fairly easy for us to remember it’s location on the map.

Talk about location!

For additional posts on Shechem, Gerizim, Jacob’s Well, or the Samaritans, type one of the terms in the search box.

The Valley of Aijalon (Ayalon) and Joshua’s Long Day

The events of Joshua 9 and 10 are likely well-known to all readers of this page. After the Israelites entered Canaan and captured Jericho and Ai, the inhabitants of Gibeon acted craftily to deceive the Israelites into making an alliance with them. Even though Israel had been deceived they kept their end of the bargain when the Gibeonites were threatened. Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, headed up a group of Amorite kings to fight against Gibeon.

The LORD helped Israel by sending large hailstones upon the enemy. Joshua spoke to the LORD in the presence of Israel: “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon” (Joshua 10:12). Gibeon sits on the central mountain range about 6 miles north, and slightly west, of Jerusalem. As one makes the descent from Gibeon westward toward the coastal plain he goes through the valley of Aijalon.

When we travel on the modern highway from Jerusalem down to the Ben Gurion Airport we cross over the valley of Aijalon. Our photo of the valley is made below traditional Emmaus (Nicopolis) looking northwest. The terrain shows the Shephelah, or as many English versions indicate, the lowland. To the right is the way up to Gibeon. To the left one continues past the towns of Aijalon and Gezer down to the coastal plain.

Aijalon Valley from the Latrun Interchange on Highway 1. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aijalon Valley from the Latrun Interchange on Highway 1. 2005 Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In April I flew over the Aijalon Valley in approximately the same area. This perspective provides a better view of the valley. We were avoiding the afternoon storm clouds on our way from Jerusalem to the Sde Dov Airport at Tel Aviv.

Aerial view of Aijalon (Ayalon) Valley. The view is to the north. The bridge is for the yet-to-open Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Aijalon (Ayalon) Valley. The view is to the north. The bridge is for the yet-to-open Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

Three east-west valleys divide the Shephelah and provide access between the plain and the mountains. To the north is the valley of Aijalon. Further south is the valley of Sorek, and then the valley of Elah. Significant battles took place in the valley of Aijalon and the valley of Elah.

The town of Aijalon which overlooks the valley was allotted to the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:42), but Dan moved to the northern part of the country and Aijalon was considered one of the cities of Judah and Benjamin (2 Chronicles 11:5-12). In the days of King Ahaz the city had fallen under Philistine control (2 Chronicles 28:16-20).

Have scientists discovered Joshua’s long day?

In 1969 an article began to be circulated in church bulletins, and later by Email, claiming that scientists had found evidence of the missing day of Joshua 10. Harry Rimmer had reported a similar story in The Harmony of Science and Scripture in 1936. There is no truth to this claim. I have an article written in response to it available at BibleWorld.com. An article by Dr. Bryant Wood is available at the ABR web site here.

This article is a revised reprint from 2009

Timnah – where Samson met his first love

Perhaps the most memorable event of Timnah recorded in the Bible is that of the affair between Samson and a Philistine woman.

Samson went down to Timnah, where a Philistine girl caught his eye. (Judges 14:1 NET)

Delilah, the most famous of Samson’s three wives, is said to have lived in the Sorek Valley, but Timnah is not specifically named (Judges 16:4).

The LORD had commanded Israel not to become involved in mixed marriages with the people of the land (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3). But Samson had the misfortune of living too close to the border of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines. And he lacked the determination to abide by the commands of the LORD.

There were other significant events associated with Timnah. Here is a brief list.

  • Judah went up to Timnah to his sheep shearers, at which time he mistook Tamar, his own widowed daughter-in-law, for a prostitute. She conceived and bore twin sons (Genesis 38:12-30).
  • Timnah is mentioned as being a town of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:10, 57).
  • A little later the territory had transferred to the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:40-46).
  • By the time of King Ahaz (735-715 B.C., McKinny), Timnah was in the hands of the Philistines (2 Chronicles 28:18).

Timnah is identified with Tel Batash in the Sorek Valley, about 4 miles northwest of Beth-Shemesh. Ekron (Tel Miqne) is about 3½ miles west of Timnah. The Sorek River flows past both cities on its way to the Mediterranean.

Tel Batash was excavated by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for three seasons (1977-79). Between 1981-89, the site was excavated under the direction of George L. Kelm of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University. The site was occupied from the Middle Bronze IIB (18th or 17th centuries B.C.), through the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. In Iron Age I, Timnah was a Philistine city.

Kelm and Mazar wrote Timnah A Biblical City in the Sorek Valley (Eisenbrauns 1995) to provide a report of their excavations.

Map showing Timnah. Credit: BibleHub.com.

Map showing Timnah. Credit: BibleHub.com.

Timnah is off the beaten track and very few people visit it. Easy routes to the site have been blocked by the farmers in the Valley. Leon Mauldin and I searched for, and eventually located, Timnah in the rich alluvial Sorek Valley in 2011. Unlike Lachish, Mareshah, Gath, or Azekah the tel is unimpressive.

Timnah, beyond the brook Sorek, in August, 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Timnah, on the southern bank of the Sorek, in August, 2011. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In 2013 our friends Trent and Rebekah Dutton were trying to locate Timnah when they saw two shade tents and the Israel Antiquities Authority flag on a small rise in the fields. The IAA was doing some work at the site and explained to them the restoration work they were doing. Here is a photo the Dutton’s shared of the reconstructed Oil Press from the 7th century B.C. See Kelm and Mazar, pp. 150-152, for the way this looked at the time of the dig. An architect’s (Leen Ritmeyer) drawing of the installation is found on page 87. Some finds are intentionally covered by the excavators at the end of a season or the completion of a dig. This appears to be one such example.

The Oil Press installation at Timnah. Photo by Trent & Rebekah Dutton.

The Oil Press installation at Timnah. Photo by Trent & Rebekah Dutton.

Earlier this month Leon and I had the opportunity to fly over the Sorek Valley. I don’t think our pilot had ever seen the site before, but our previous experience on the ground, Google earth, and the excavation report allowed us to locate it from the air.

Aerial view of Timnah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Timnah and the Sorek (April, 2016). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I think the little white building covers the Oil Press installation. After a quarter of a century the excavated areas are now covered with natural growth.

It is a long story, but this is where Samson met his first Philistine wife, and maybe another. There is always a danger when one lives too close to the border.

If you do not already have Brad Gray’s Make Your Mark: Getting Right What Samson Got Wrong, now might be time to take a look at our earlier review.

My late friend and colleague, James Hodges, served as an Area Supervisor at Timnah in 1977.

The shepherd and his sheep

When my traveling friend Leon and I left Jerusalem last Saturday the temperature reached a high of about 82 degrees. On the way to Tiberias we began to notice that the sky was hazy; it was filled with sand coming up from the south. This wind is known as the hamsin. The sand could be seen on the cars.

This morning we noticed that the sunrise would not be visible over the Sea of Galilee. When I checked the weather online, I found that a slow-moving storm was bringing flash floods (from the west) throughout the Mid-East. The weather yesterday in Galilee was hot, but this morning it was chilly – in the low 50s.

As we drove south through the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem we had periods of rain, and periods of beautiful sky and brilliant colors. As we approached Jericho we even had rain falling in the wilderness. This is a rare event.

The light rain settled the dust and made the landscape more photogenic. Here is a photo I made of a shepherd leading his sheep in the wilderness. Notice the heavy clouds to the East.

When we arrived in Jerusalem about 5 p.m. the temperature was 58 degrees.

A shepherd leads his sheep in the wilderness. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A shepherd leads his sheep in the wilderness. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The analogy of shepherd and sheep is used throughout the Bible. Psalm 23 is familiar even to many non-religious people.

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:1-4 ESV)

A glimpse of the River Jordan

The Jordan River is shy, rarely revealing very much of itself. As we travel in the Jordan Valley from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea we only see the river on a few occasions. Even then we only see short distances.

The photo below is one I made yesterday about 12 km. south of the Sea of Galilee. You can see the dirt road on the Israeli side of the border and the River in Jordan.

The Jordan River flowing into Jordan for a short distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Jordan River flowing into Jordan for a short distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bible students enjoy visiting the Jordan River for several reasons.

  • The ancient Israelites crossed the Jordan to enter the land that had been promised to the seed of Abraham (Joshua 3).
  • Elijah and Elisha crossed the river (2 Kings 2).
  • John baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:6ff.; Mark 1:5-9; John 1:28; 10:40).
  • Jesus was baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:13).
  • Naaman, the Aramean [Syrian] military commander, dipped in the Jordan at a site further south (2 Kings 5).

I have been unable to post very much while traveling in Israel, but the mother of my favorite grandson said I should be posting more. She knows how to get things done.

Roman road from Elah valley to Bethlehem

Portions of roads from the Roman period are found throughout Israel, and we have posted about several of them.

One interesting Roman road is the stepped road leading from the Valley of Elah up to Bethlehem. This photo was made 4.2 km west of Mata on Highway 375. I am not sure of the date of this unusual stretch of Roman Road, but I think most of the Roman roads date to the late first century or the second century A.D.

These steps would have made the trip up into, and down from, the mountains of Judea easier for both man and beast. This is likely the same route, centuries before the Romans controlled the area, taken by David as he went from Bethlehem to take some special provisions to his brothers on the firing line in the Valley of Elah (1 Samuel 17:15-22). Note especially verse 15:

… but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. (1 Samuel 17:15 ESV)

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.

When David was in the cave at Adullam he wished for a drink of water from “the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate.”  The Biblical text records that three of his mighty men, without the knowledge of David, made their way to Bethlehem to bring him some of that water (2 Samuel 23:15-17). David refused to drink the water and poured it out to the LORD. I think the three mighty men would have used this same route.