Category Archives: Turkey

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.

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.

“It is the Land of Honey” – Tel Rehov discoveries on display at Eretz Israel Museum

Tel Rehov is located about three miles south of Beth-Shean (Beth-Shan) on the east side of Highway 90. Rehov is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but it is known from Pharaoh Shishak’s city list on the wall of the temple of Amun in the Karnak Temple at Luxor, Egypt. This campaign is also mentioned in the pages of the Bible (1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chronicles 12:2-9).

Tel Rehov was occupied during the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The city may be one of those not captured by Israel when they entered the Land under the leadership of Joshua.

The men of Manasseh did not conquer Beth Shan, Taanach, or their surrounding towns. Nor did they conquer the people living in Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo or their surrounding towns. The Canaanites managed to remain in those areas. Whenever Israel was strong militarily, they forced the Canaanites to do hard labor, but they never totally conquered them. (Judges 1:27-28 NET; cf. Joshua 17:12)

The city was destroyed by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C. as they made their steady trek south.

Archaeological excavations were conducted at Tel Rehov from 1997 to 2012 under the direction of Prof. Amihai Mazar and Dr. Nava Panitz-Cohen of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For information and photos see the excavation website here.

View east of Tel Rehov in the Beth Shean Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tel Rehov in the Beth-Shean Valley to the east of Highway 90. The mountains of Gilead are visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next view takes us to the top of the mound. From there we see the Jordan Valley and a nice view of the Gilead mountains in modern Jordan.

View east from atop Tel Rehov. We see the Jordan Valley and the Gilead mountains. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View east from atop the north end of Tel Rehov. We see the Jordan Valley and the Gilead mountains in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Many artifacts, including numerous household and cult objects, were uncovered at Tel Rehov. Perhaps the most unusual find was an industrial apiary. The small photo below from the excavation web site shows some of the beehives made of clay.

 Apiary at Tel Rehov, the eastern row of hives © Copyright - The Beth-Valley Archaeological Project, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

Apiary at Tel Rehov, the eastern row of hives. © Copyright – The Beth-Shean Valley Archaeological Project, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

From January 12 to October 31, 2016, items from Tel Rehov are exhibited at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv under the title It Is the Land of Honey. I had the opportunity to visit this exhibition in April. The Museum website provides detailed information about the exhibition and a few small photos here.

The houses at Tel Rehov during Iron Age IIA differed from the typical houses found in known Israelite cities. According to the Museum website,

A salient feature of the Iron Age IIA city was the exclusive use of mudbrick to construct all buildings, incorporating wooden beams in walls and floors. Each building was unique in its architectural plan, and did not resemble any of the common blueprints of the Iron Age II, such as four-room houses or pillared buildings.

The photo below shows one of the clay beehives. A reconstruction of a honeycomb is visible on the right. Some of the bees found in the hives were determined to be from Anatolia, modern central Turkey. This adds one more piece of evidence showing how interconnected the nations of the ancient Middle East were. Some of the bees found in charred honeycombs are in the petri dishes in the front right of the photo. The lid of the beehive, with a hole in the center, is to the left of the hive. Click on the photo for a larger image.

One of the beehives from the Tel Rehov apiary. Eretz Israel exhibit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the beehives from the Tel Rehov apiary. Eretz Israel exhibition. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The exhibition includes a large display of items from Tel Rehov. I will list just a few.

  • Several four horned altars made of clay.
  • A wide variety of household pottery, including an oven of the period.
  • One of the mud bricks of which the houses were constructed.
  • A reconstructed loom with weights found during the dig. Several others items from the “House of Elisha” are on display. The ostracon with the name of Elisha written on it in red ink is not displayed, but there is information about it in the exhibition book. There were several altars in this house.
  • A storage jar had the name Nimshi inscribed on it – the name identical to that of King Jehu’s grandfather (1 Kings 19:16; 2 Kings 9:2).
  • Some iron blades, arrow heads, and possibly a sickle.
  • Some typical Canaanite clay fertility goddesses.
  • Stamped jar handles unique to Tel Rehov.
Horned altar and chalices from Tel Rehov. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Tower shaped horned altar and chalices from Tel Rehov found in the area of the apiary. This altar is listed as being on loan from the Israel Museum in the exhibition book. If you miss the exhibition in Tel Aviv, perhaps you can see it later in the Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Museum has produced a nice 256-page book in Hebrew and English about Tel Rehov and the exhibition. I don’t see it listed at Amazon, but if you visit the exhibition you will probably wish to purchase a copy at the Museum shop.

Mazar and Panitz-Cohen published a brief article, with several photos of Tel Rehov artifacts, under the title “To What God? Altars and a House Shrine from Tel Rehov Puzzle Archaeologists” in the July/August 2008 Biblical Archaeology Review.

Pigeon Valley and Uçhisar in Cappadocia

Both here and on social media a large number of readers showed an interest in our recent post about the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia here. I thought you might enjoy seeing some pictures in the vicinity of Pigeon Valley. Three well-fed pigeons are standing guard over the entrance to the sign pointing to the trail for those who wish to hike in the valley.

Pigeon Valley sign in Cappadocia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pigeon Valley sign in Cappadocia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hundreds of pigeons make their way through the valley to the delight of the bus loads of tourists and hikers who stop by.

Pigeons flying in Pigeon Valley, Cappadocia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pigeons flying in Pigeon Valley, Cappadocia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

From Pigeon Valley one has a great view of the natural fortress of Uçhisar. Click on the photo for a larger image. You will be able to see the modern houses built among those dug from the natural formations of the area.

Uchisar in Cappadocia from Pigeon Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view of Uchisar in Cappadocia from Pigeon Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The apostle Peter addressed his two epistles to Christians living in Cappadocia (1 Peter 1:1).

The fairy chimneys of Cappadocia

The New Testament mentions Cappadocia only twice.

  1. Devout Jews from Cappadocia were present in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:9).
  2. Peter’s letters were addressed to Christians living in Cappadocia (1 Pet. 1:1).

In the centuries after New Testament times many Christians settled in this volcanic region of perhaps 50,000 cones, now part of Turkey.

John Freely describes Cappadocia in these words:

“Most of this part of Cappadocia is covered with a deep layer of tufa, a soft stone of solidified mud, ash and lava which once poured down from the now extinct volcanoes on Hasan Dagi and Ericiyes Dagi, the two great mountain peaks of Cappadocia. In the eons since then the rivers of the region have scoured canyons, gorges, valleys and gulleys through the soft and porous stone, and the elements have eroded it into fantastic crags, folds, turrets, pyramids, spires, needles, stalagmites, and cones, creating a vast outdoor display of stone sculptures in an incredible variety of shapes and colours” (The Companion Guide to Turkey, 238).

Our first photo today shows an area of Cappadocia known as Pasabagi Valley where the fairy chimneys may be seen in abundance.

Fairy Chimneys in Pasabagi Valley, Cappadocia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fairy Chimneys in Pasabagi Valley, Cappadocia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The second photo is from the same area, but shows cones.

Fairy Chimneys in Pasabagi Valley, Cappadocia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fairy Chimneys in Pasabagi Valley, Cappadocia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.