Only one example of Roman crucifixion discovered

The Romans were adept at crucifixion, according to many historical sources. The first archaeological evidence of crucifixion was uncovered in 1968 when, during a controlled archaeological dig under the direction of the late Vasillios Tzaferis, an ossuary (bone box, or receptacle) was found north of Jerusalem containing the bones of a man who had been crucified. His name was “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol.” He is thought to have been between 24 and 28 years of age, and was about 5 feet 6 inches in height.

Ossuary of Yehohanan, son of Hagkol. Dates to first century A.D., and is made of soft limestone. Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ossuary of Yehohanan, son of Hagkol. Dates to first century A.D., and is made of soft limestone. Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Both the ossuary and a replica of the heel bone are displayed in the Israel Museum. When Yehohanan was removed from the cross the nail pulled away from the wood. He was buried with the nail in his heel.

Ankle bone of a man crucified outside Jerusalem in Roman times. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ankle bone replica of  Yehohanan, son of Hagkol, who was crucified outside Jerusalem in Roman times. Display in Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

On Pentecost, Peter proclaimed the truth about Jesus. He said,

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23 NIV)

No ossuary or bones belonging to Jesus have been found. I am aware of the speculation that a tomb in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem contained the family of Jesus, and possibly even the ossuary of Jesus. One summary of this speculation was published by Bible Places Blog here.

The angel at the empty tomb of Jesus announced to the women who had gone to complete the burial,

He is not here, for he has been raised, just as he said. Come and see the place where he was lying. (Matthew 28:6 NET)

Rock tomb with rolling stone near Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman period rock tomb with rolling stone near Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

SourceFlix has posted a nice brief video of Passion Week Archaeology here.

Post updated from March, 2013.

The week leading to the crucifixion & resurrection

If we consider the Gospel of John a sort of “Day Planner” for Jesus, we have nearly complete activity recorded for two weeks of the earthly ministry of Jesus. The first is in John 1:19—2:11 where activity for six of the seven days is recorded. I think the omitted day is the Sabbath.

View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Imagine the city as it would have appeared to Jesus when he reached the top of the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next nearly complete week is the last week, leading up to the resurrection. John gives more attention to the last week than any other Gospel. Even here we have activities for only six of eight days. This section begins in John 12:1 and continues into John 20. Here is the way I have reconstructed it. Where John does not record the activity I have omitted the scripture reference.

  • Sunday — The King enters Jerusalem — 12:12-19
  • Monday — Cleansing the Temple —
  • Tuesday — Visit of the Greeks — 12:20-36
  • Tuesday — Jewish rejection — 12:37-50
  • Wednesday — No events recorded in the Gospels
  • Thursday Evening — Passover Meal, including Washing Disciples Feet (only in John) — 13:1-38
  • Thur. Eve — Farewell discourses — 14—16
  • Thur. Eve — Prayer — 17
  • Thur. Eve — Annas (only in John) — 18:12-14
  • Thur. Eve — Caiaphas — 18:24-28
  • Friday — Pilate — 18:28—19:16
  • Friday — Crucifixion — 19:16-42
  • Sabbath —
  • First Day — Resurrection — 20

It should be noted that the appearance before Annas and Caiaphas were the Jewish (Religious) trials. The appearance before Pilate [and Herod Antipas] were the Roman (Civil) trials.

The Second Temple Model at the Israel Museum shows the location of the Palace of Herod Antipas and the Pretorium of Pontius Pilate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Second Temple Model at the Israel Museum shows the location of the Palace of Herod Antipas and the Praetorium of Pontius Pilate. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

John does not record the pronouncement of woes on the religious leaders, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the account of the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

With this sparse attention given to two weeks, no wonder John says,

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)

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Updated from earlier posts

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.

The Dead Sea: what is deader than dead?

Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, has a fabulous article about the Dead Sea which they call “Israel’s endangered natural wonder.” This report consists of an article, photographs, aerial footage, and an animated map showing how the Dead Sea is drying up. The article is by Nir Hasson. Use this link to access all of the material.

In 1972 the Dead Sea was about 1301 feet below sea level. This year it is more than 1407 feet below sea level. Water that once flowed all the way from Mount Hermon and the streams of both Cis-Jordan and Trans-Jordan is now being used to provide water for the population and agricultural interests.

In my photo below you will see a few of the sinkholes that have been formed in recent years. According to Hasson there were 220 sinkholes along the shore in 1996, but in 2015 the count had risen to 5,548. The water of the Sea once covered all of the area below where I was standing to make the photo.

Sinkholes along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sinkholes along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Previously we have called attention to the photos of the sinkholes by Shmuel Browns, Israel Tour Guide. This would be a good time to take a look at them if you have not done so before. Go here.

The Dead Sea is called the Salt Sea in the Old Testament (Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:3, 12; Deuteronomy 3:17, et al.

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).

Jerusalem is older than we thought

The first time the word Jerusalem appears in the Bible is in Joshua 10:1, about 1400 B.C., but we understand that the reference to Salem in Genesis 14:18 is an early reference to Jerusalem. Abraham paid tithes to the priest-king Melchizedek.

New archaeological discoveries in the Jerusalem area attest to a well-established settlement as early as the 5th millennium BC, according to a news release Wednesday from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavation director Ronit Lupo of the Israel Antiquities Authority next to the remains of the ancient house. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Excavation director Ronit Lupo of the Israel Antiquities Authority next to the remains of the ancient house. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Here is the news release:

An important discovery was recently unearthed in north Jerusalem when archaeological excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority prior to the laying of a road in the Shuʻfat neighborhood [Shuʻfat is a short distance south of the site of Gibeah] – initiated and financed by Moriah, the Jerusalem Development Company – revealed the remains of an ancient settlement from the Chalcolithic period, approximately 7,000 years ago (fifth millennium BCE).

During the Chalcolithic period, man started using tools made of copper (chalcos in Greek) for the first time while continuing to use tools made of stone (lithos), hence the name given to the period. According to Dr. Omri Barzilai, Head of the IAA’s Prehistory Branch, “The Chalcolithic period is known in the Negev, the coastal plain, the Galilee and the Golan, but is almost completely absent in the Judean Hills and Jerusalem. Although in recent years we have discovered a few traces of Chalcolithic settlements, such as those at Abu Gosh, Motza Junction, and the Holyland compound in Jerusalem, they have been extremely sparse. Now, for the first time, we have discovered significant remains from 7,000 years ago.”

Basalt bowl. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Basalt bowl. Photo credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavation exposed two dwelling houses with well-preserved remains and floors containing various installations as well as pottery vessels, flint tools, and a basalt bowl, all typical of the period. The construction phases and signs of their maintenance show that the buildings were used for a considerable time.

According to Ronit Lupo, director of excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority: “On completion of the excavations at Shuʻfat, it is quite evident that there was a thriving settlement in the Jerusalem area in ancient times. Thousands of years later, the buildings uncovered are of a standard that would not fall short of Jerusalem’s architecture. This discovery represents a highly significant addition to our research of the city and the vicinity. Apart from the pottery, the fascinating flint finds attest to the livelihood of the local population in prehistoric times: Small sickle blades for harvesting cereal crops, chisels and polished axes for building, borers and awls, and even a bead made of carnelian (a gemstone), indicating that jewelry was either made or imported. The grinding tools, mortars and pestles, like the basalt bowl, attest to technological skills as well as to the kinds of crafts practiced in the local community. We also recovered a few bones of sheep/goat and possibly cattle; these will be analyzed further in the Israel Antiquities Authority laboratories, permitting us to recreate the dietary habits of the people who lived here 7,000 years ago and enhancing our understanding of the settlement’s economy.”

7,000-year-old bead. Photo credit: Ronit Lupo, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

7,000-year-old bead. Photo credit: Ronit Lupo, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

HT: Joseph Lauer; the major Israeli newspapers.

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.