Here is the timeline of events mentioned in class today.
Alexander conquers Palestine, 332 BCE
Ptolemy and Seleucus split the eastern Hellenistic Empire, 301 BCE
Judea under the Ptolemies, 301-200 BCE
Judea under the Seleucids, 200-167 BCE
The Maccabean Revolt, 167 BCE
Retake the Temple, 165 BCE
Hyrcanus conquers Idumea, 112 BCE
Pompey takes Jerusalem, 63 BCE
Herod appointed king of the Jews, 40 BCE
Herod marries Mariamme, 37 BCE
Herod dies, 4 BCE
Grace and peace.
My wife and I are getting close to residency match day. There are a lot of decisions we have to make in the next month. As of March 15th we will know where we will be living for the next 5 years. We are very excited and are learning many new ways to trust God.
Last week our lesson was on the story of Esther. You can listen to it on the Teaching page. Purim is Saturday evening to Sunday evening, February 23-24. Go get some hamantaschen at your local Jewish bakery, or make your own!
Grace and peace.
Grace and peace.
Below is the map for this week's class.
“God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’”
Is there something important about God naming His creation? Of course there is! In the ancient world not having a name was synonymous with nonexistence. An Egyptian text describes the period prior to the creation of the universe as the time
“When no name of anything had yet been named.”
The giving of a name was associated with the creation of, and by extension, power over the thing being named. So in Creation, who names what?
What does God name? Day and night, the sky, the earth and sea, and man are all named by God. What is the picture here? God is sovereign over both heavens and earth.
What does God leave for the man to name? The animals and woman.
Do men and women live in the roles God designed as God designed? As we all know, they often do not. It was the same situation in the apostle Paul's day. He provided some further instruction on how these roles are to be lived out.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.
'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
Below are some of the visuals associated with this week's class.
What is the Genesis Kosmou? You have to read it to find out. How does it begin?
“In the beginning, God created…”
Has it ever occured to you that this is a really strange way to begin a story about the creation of the universe? Maybe not, since today we are not familiar with very many narratives about creation. If you had lived in the days of the Romans, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians and Hebrews you would have recognized that this is a weird way to begin the creation story. Why?
Look at how other creation narratives begin:
Egyptian: In the beginning, Re defeated the Great Serpent...
Babylonian: In the beginning, Ea defeated Apsu…
Persian: In the beginning, Ohrmuzd defeated Ahriman…
Greek: In the beginning, Zeus defeated the Titans...
What is the difference between these narratives and Genesis? Rather than creation beginning with a great contest between supernatural forces, Genesis begins with God being and creating. God, whose name is “I AM”, begins this story by existing. He just was.
In those other narratives how does order come out of chaos? The god who becomes the ruler of all others wins a great victory and through that introduces order.
In Genesis, how did God bring order out of chaos?
“God said…and there was…”
There is no narrative telling how He became God over all others or how He had to win a great battle to bring order out of chaos. He simply spoke and there was order and creation. Then, how is it that God interacts with His creation? Through His word.
In the New Testament, how does John’s Gospel begin?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”
What is John saying? He is making sure we do not miss Jesus' identity. Where does the Word first show up in the Bible? In the beginning, when God spoke. Who is Jesus? God's word.
"I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.
From now on, you do know him and have seen him."
— John 14:6-7
Why a new page? Because it is all audio content! Friends and family have been asking me to record the classes I teach so that they can listen to them again outside of class. So, partly for them and partly because I need to listen to myself to become a better speaker I now have audio recordings and you can listen to them here whenever you wish.
Currently I'm teaching through the Bible in 31 weeks as part of The Story material the church I attend is traveling through. Each week I'll post the next lesson and some of the pictures/maps I used in class.
We're already up to Book of Ruth and are now sweeping into 1st Samuel. This week we're searching for a herd of donkeys and a new kingdom. It won't be long before we're looking for a white horse and beginning of The Kingdom. This story that we are created to be a part of is incredible! I hope you have as much fun learning as I do teaching.
Below are some of the visuals associated with this week's class.
Simon answered, 'Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.'
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, 'Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!' For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, 'Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.' So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”
Have you ever wondered why Peter was astonished by the fish?
Sure, part of it may have been the great number and weight of the fish. But, there is more to it than that.
What has Jesus just revealed?
Apparently Jesus knows where large schools of fish hide during the day in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus knows a secret that can make him incredibly wealthy very quickly. At least, this is what Simon probably thinks.
Simon's entire life has been about finding and catching enough fish to make a living for his family. What Jesus has just revealed to him is something he has only ever dreamed of finding.
So, what is Peter astonished by?
Jesus knows the secret of acquiring massive wealth very quickly. And yet, he lives as a rabbi traveling from town to town teaching his message when he could be the owner of a large estate, paying others to tend his vineyards. Peter is faced by a man who apparently cares more about God and people than he does about acquiring wealth. Jesus' life shook Peter's priorities to their core. How does he respond?
When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today I must stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5)
No one had introduced them. So how does Jesus know?
If you were from Jericho and you discovered the town tax collector who has been robbing you blind via over-collection for your whole life up in a tree, what would you do? Your enemy is up a tree. That's a very undignified place to be. You'd probably laugh at and taunt this enemy. Jesus knows Zacchaeus' name because everyone is taunting and making fun of him.
He shifts the hostility of the crowd from Zacchaeus to himself. How is that? He has just passed through Jericho, not accepting the hospitality of the more reputable residents of town. Now that he is on his way out, he decides to bless the house of the tax collector with the opportunity to provide hospitality to himself and his disciples on their way to Passover in Jerusalem. Showing hospitality is an honor the community gives to the community-member who they feel can best provide it. They would never choose the town tax collector.
By going to Zacchaeus' house, Jesus neither endorses his oppression of the citizens of Jericho, nor does he endorse their loathing of Zacchaeus. Jesus simply shows love.
At dinner Zacchaeus pledges to give 50% of his assets to the poor and to pay back 4 times what he has stolen from anyone. Could he really have fulfilled this pledge. Probably not. If all that he has stolen amounts to 13% of his possessions he will be in negative equity. Why does he say this then? Exaggeration is how sincerity was demonstrated in this time and place. If he had pledged to give some of his possessions to the poor and to pay as much as he could afford back to the people he had cheated, no one would have taken his pledge seriously. Through his exaggeration everyone present knows Zacchaeus is sincerely pledging to clean up his financial act.
Jesus sums up by saying "Salvation has come to this house." Did you notice that Zacchaeus has not done anything except make a pledge at this point. The religious leaders of Judea at this time required actions before forgiveness could be bestowed. Jesus says salvation has come before Zacchaeus has a chance to act on his words. Jesus affirms Zacchaeus' acceptance in the eyes of God regardless of what the community thinks.
What is salvation? It is acceptance. It is much more than a moment of decision. Jesus knows that Zacchaeus' whole life will change, and he accepts him right then as he is. He eats a meal with him. Eating a meal together is a symbol of reconciliation. That's what Passover, the Last Supper and communion are all about. They are meals that focus on reconciliation and freedom with and through Jesus.
What happened in Jericho after Jesus left? No written source tells us. We can assume that through Jesus' demonstration of unexpected love to the town tax collector, not only was Zacchaeus' life changed, but the whole community was changed. Through eating with the town tax collector, Jesus indirectly lifted oppressive tax burdens from the whole community. Jesus was not focusing his love on just one man. He was showing love to the whole community.
As Jesus approaches Jericho the blind man calls out to him to have mercy upon him. Jesus responds by asking "What do you want me to do for you?"
Why did Jesus ask that? Isn't it obvious that this guy is blind? Is Jesus making fun of the blind man? What is going on here?
This man had probably been blind most or all of his life. Being blind means he has no education, no marketable skills, and no way to provide for himself besides begging.
What will happen to him if he is healed? The Bible does not give us the rest of this man's story, but we can easily guess what happens. His entire life changes, but depending on your perspective, it may not be entirely for the better. Yes he can see, but he will also immediately face a dramatic transition from completely relying upon others for his livelihood, to learning a trade and becoming a self-sustaining member of the community. Suddenly, life just grew a whole lot harder!
What is it that Jesus is really asking?
Are you ready to take on all the responsibilities and challenges that you will face if I heal you?
The man's response: "Lord, I want to see."
The blind man is aware that his future will entirely change because of his request. Yet he places his faith in Jesus, whom he recognizes as the Messiah ("Jesus, Son of David" Lk 18:38), and requests his sight.
One early translation of the Bible put his request like this: "Lord, let me receive my sight that I may see you." This is not the translation our English Bibles are based upon, but it makes an profound point for why this blind man makes his request. He recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and wants to see him. He is ready to live dusty.
Later, speaking to Thomas, one of his disciples, Jesus says, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” I wonder if the blind beggar they saw Jesus heal on the way into Jericho a few weeks before crossed the minds of the disciples right then.
How often do we live each day with the courage and faith the blind man had in Jesus before Jesus healed him? What would life be like if we did?
Grace and peace.
The crew from the film is posting occasional updates from their filming on YouTube. This clip was filmed this morning. These are Ethiopian Christians celebrating Easter on the roof of the Holy Sepulcher. The Ethiopians are the poorest of the 6 Christian sects that claim a portion of the Holy Sepulcher as their own. For details on the church check out the post: Tour of the Holy Sepulcher.
Happy Easter. Christ is risen!
"Blessed are You,
Lord our God,
King of the Universe,
who brings forth bread from the earth."
Every Shabbat these words are spoken. Jesus, who grew up in a Jewish home that celebrated Shabbat every week, had heard these words every Friday night of his life prior to the Last Supper. As Christians living in the Western Hemisphere, it is not unusual that we are unfamiliar with the Shabbat blessing of the bread. However, because we are, we miss something fascinating that Jesus says-but-doesn't-say, at the Last Supper.
During supper he took bread, and having said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them with the words: "This is my body which is broken for you."
(Lk 22:18; Mk 14:22)
The Passover began in Egypt (Exodus 12) as a remembrance of God setting His people, the Hebrews, free. It was to be observed every year, on the same day so that the Hebrews would always remember how God had set them free from bondage and slavery.
At the Last Supper, which probably was a Passover meal, Jesus introduced the New Covenant in which he is "the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through [him] (Jn 14:6)." There is a story Jesus tells that helps visualize the New Covenant.
A son leaves his father's house taking his inheritance with him (Lk 15:11-32). In that culture, to do this said to the father, "I wish you were already dead." The son spends his inheritance in ways he knows would break his father's heart. Eventually, the money runs out and he is reduced to slopping hogs. Of course, for a Jewish boy, anything is better than slopping hogs. The son works up the courage to go back to his father and beg for a position as a servant in his household since he is no longer worthy to be a son. When his son returns the father is so overjoyed that his son came home that he dresses him as a son, places the family ring on his finger and has a feast for him.
Why the feast? It was not just a party. In that culture eating a meal with someone was stating that you were reconciled and at peace with that person. Any wrong that they had done to you was forgiven. The meal is a statement. Why is it that the older brother does not come to eat the meal? Not solely because he's upset his father is honoring his brother, but because he is honest. He has not forgiven his brother, so he cannot eat with him or else he would be lying through his actions.
What is the meaning of the communion meal every time you take part in it? It is a meal with God. The Father eats a meal with us. He has forgiven us.
Why do you think the Temple leaders got so upset every time Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners? Now you know the picture and can understand a bit more of what was going on.
We so often feel shame over what we have done when God has already forgiven us. That forgiveness must be accepted and we must forgive ourselves as well. Then we can come to the meal with the Father and rejoice in the spiritual freedom that He has given us!
Have a blessed Easter weekend!
The Rest of the Story will last from this Sunday, February 26, until the middle of May. Because of the longer period we will spend most weeks looking at one site, some of the Bible events associated with it, and what we can learn about those events from the site, its history and the culture of the people who lived there. No text except the Bible is required for this class. There is no homework.
Time: Sundays, 9:00am-10:00am
Place: The Bridge, a campus of Meredith Drive Reformed Church (click for a Google map)
All are welcome! I hope you can come.
Grace and peace.
The Bible's historians, prophets and poets were all intimately familiar with the world in which they lived. They wrote about their world expecting their readers to also be familiar with it.
Living thousands of years and miles away from those biblical writers in an extremely different culture we must take the time to learn about their world so that we might more fully understand their writings. As we understand the Bible in its context, we can better understand our contemporary world and its current struggles.
The materials used in this course will be a Bible and the Introductory Study Package from Biblical Backgrounds. The cost of materials is $29 plus shipping and handling. Please order these as soon as possible to receive before the first class.
Space is limited to the first 25 people who respond to me either in person or via email.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Grace and peace,
JUC with my masters in biblical history and geography at the beginning of May! Yeah! Dr. Paul Wright, the president of the university, is standing with me, holding my diploma in the picture to the left. My time living and studying in Jerusalem and traveling throughout Israel, Jordan and Egypt was life-changing. While I was excited to come home I was sad to leave and will miss living in the Land of the Bible. Hopefully I will be back to visit before very long.
A couple days after my graduation I flew back to Rochester, NY and spent a couple weeks there before packing up everything I own and moving it all to Des Moines, Iowa where I will be living with my bride following our wedding on July 17. Life at the moment is focused on preparing for the wedding and finding a job in Des Moines. I would appreciate your prayers on both of those items.
I meant to post this a long time ago, but was sidetracked by all the events of life. A week and a half before I left Israel I went from Jerusalem to Hebron with Sam Salem, an Arab-Christian tour guide, and 3 other guys from school. Hebron shows up in the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as that of David. It is at Hebron that the three Patriarchs were buried, and it was also there that David was made king. David ruled from Hebron for 7 years before taking Jerusalem from the Jebusites and turning it into his capital city.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs was probably built by Herod the Great, a few years/decades prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. Today the structure contains a synagogue and a mosque. At one time the whole structure was open to the members of both of these religions. However, following the Goldstein Massacre, they have been separated by a wall within the structure.
It is believed that this structure was built by Herod because it has so many characteristics of Herodian architecture. Herod was the architect of the Temple Mount which is seen today. It is believed that around the upper level of the Temple Mount were massive pilasters like those of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Check out the pictures below.
Below the Herodian monumental building is a cave, believed to be the Machpelah Cave, which Abraham bought to bury Sarah in. Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are also believed to have been buried in this cave as well. Today, the building stands over the cave and no one is allowed to enter it. Six giant sarcophagii-like memorials draped in cloth stand within the mosque/synagogue, and are memorials to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah, who are all supposed to have been buried here.
Following our visit to the tomb we drove through the center of town to the ancient tel of Hebron, where the city in the time of Abraham and David would have been. This central area of the modern city is a ghost town. No one lives here and all the shop doors are welded shut. The only people in this area were Israeli soldiers on patrol. You can see this area in the video at the bottom of this post.
The top of the tel of the ancient site has been built over by a military base and an apartment building. So, there is not a lot to see. Beneath the apartment building we were able to view the remains of a 4-room Israelite house from the biblical period. The 4-room style house is a classic Israelite structure.
In this video you can see the inside of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the center of Hebron and the 4-room house on top of the ancient tel of Hebron. The guy doing a lot of the talking is Sam Salem, a Christian-Arab guide. I highly recommend employing him to take you on visits to sites in the West Bank/Palestine. You can contact him to set up a tour at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading! Enjoy the video!
You may not know this, but the Eastern Orthodox Church runs on its own calendar, so the Orthodox Holy Week does not always line up with that observed by Western Christians. This is one of those years when it does line up. Thus, the city is packed with Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians as well as Jews. All of them have made pilgrimage from somewhere far away and there are thousands and thousands of them.
It is the most interesting week of the entire year to go people-watching around the Old City. It's also a great opportunity to see how many languages you can identify.
As you probably know, this last Sunday was Palm Sunday, the day that remembers Jesus' final entrance into Jerusalem prior to his death. The Bible tells us that Jesus came up the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, stopped at Bethphage on the back of the Mt. of Olives and then came over it and into the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19).
Today this event is remembered with a giant procession involving between 7,000 and 10,000 people ever year. I'm not sure how accurate those numbers are. I was given those numbers by a local and they could be accurate. I've never seen 7-10,000 people in a group before though so I don't know what that many people would look like.
These people line up starting at Bethphage and march up and over the Mt. of Olives. Once they reach the bottom they climb to the Lion's Gate (also called Stephen's Gate) and enter through it into the Old City of Jerusalem. Once inside they make their way into the courtyard of St. Anne's Church and have a party. Few among them know it, but they are actually having their party on top of the unexcavated lower Pool of Bethesda. In John 5 Jesus heals a man who had been crippled for 38 years at this spot.
While walking in the procession I made a video. Unfortunately, all the tourists in Jerusalem seem to be causing the internet to act up. This has so far prevented me from uploading my video of Sunday's procession. So, I discovered CNN's brief video of Palm Sunday here in Jerusalem and have embedded it below. CNN doesn't have the internet bandwidth issues I have.
Below is another video about Jerusalem during this week. It is from gloria.tv, which is a Catholic website. Their slogan is "The more Catholic the better." I don't know about that, but in any case, it's an interesting video. A lot of the video is done inside the Holy Sepulcher. Remember that the Catholics are only one of the six churches present within the Holy Sepulcher. Check out this previous blog post to learn more about the Holy Sepulcher.
If you have any questions about Holy Week in Jerusalem, please comment on this post.
Grace and peace!
Because of the amazing change that God brought me through via The Ultimate Journey. I strongly recommend you consider going through it as well. God didn't stop changing life for me after going through the initial process. This journey of growing in Him is an eternal one.
One other way God used The Ultimate Journey to change my life is through the daughter of the current directors of the program. She happens to currently be my fiance! In only 110 more days she'll be my wife!
After checking out The Ultimate Journey go to Follow Me Ministries. This is a site set up by the writer of the The Ultimate Journey materials, John Marquez. He has recently felt God leading him on to a new step in their journey together. You can follow along with John's journey via Follow Me Ministries.
Today, the spring runs out of a rock face into a pool. Unfortunately for us, we didn't get any pictures of the pool in the morning because it was full of 60-something year old men skinny (or perhaps not so skinny) dipping! We scurried on down the trail.
As you can see from the pictures it was a beautiful, though overcast, day. There were flowers and birds everywhere. We saw kingfishers and a golden eagle. Also, we saw two mountain gazelles. One had only one horn. They were too far away for me to get a picture.
After hiking for about four hours we turned around and walked back up the Sorek Wadi to Jerusalem. We were rained on pretty hard on the way back, but it was fun. And, the rain might have been why their were no naked men at the pool of Neftoah upon our return. Thus, I have a picture of the pool included in this post.
Enjoy the pictures. For those of you who have only been here in the summer, fall or winter, this is what the entire hill country from Dan to Beersheba looks like in the spring! It is an amazing transformation.
My grandpa on my Dad's side regularly tells me, "The safest place you can be is in the center of God's will." That is where I believe I am.
So, what can you do about the ongoing violence in this part of the world? Read Psalm 122.
A song of ascents. Of David.
I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
Our feet are standing
in your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD,
to praise the name of the LORD
according to the statute given to Israel.
There the thrones for judgment stand,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
Please also pray for the family of the woman who was killed.
Grace and peace to you.
The cave entrance is just east of the Damascus Gate in the northern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. From that entrance the cave extends beneath the Muslim Quarter of the Old City for around 755 feet. The stone between the roof of the cave and the streets of the Muslim Quarter above measures around 30 feet thick.
Where does the name come from?"Then the city wall was broken through, and the whole army fled. They left the city at night through the gate between the two walls near the king’s garden, though the Babylonians were surrounding the city. They fled toward the Arabah, but the Babylonian army pursued King Zedekiah and overtook him in the plains of Jericho. All his soldiers were separated from him and scattered, and he was captured." —Jeremiah 52:7-9a
The name comes from a Jewish legend of the 11th century CE. A Jewish historian named Rashi wrote "And a cave extends from the house of Zedekiah to the plains of Jericho, and he fled through the cave, and God summoned a hart, which went on the roof of the cave outside of the city. The Babylonians pursued the hart and when it reached the cave opening in the plains of Jericho, Zedekiah came out, and they saw him and captured him."
Thus, even though this cave does not lead to anywhere, Jews have maintained this tradition for centuries and the name has stuck until today.
Less ancient history of the caveAt some point the entrance to the cave was blocked by construction and its location became unknown. No one today is sure when this happened, but many suppose that it was when Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem's Old City in the 1540s. It would have been blocked at that point to keep invaders from undermining the city. It was rediscovered in 1854 by Dr. James Turner Barclay. Check him out on the Early Historical Geographers tab on the Introduction page. He and his son were walking around the Old City of Jerusalem with their dog when it suddenly vanished. They heard its barks and eventually discovered that it had fallen into a hole at the foot of the Old City's northern wall. This hole was the entrance to Zedekiah's Cave.
Not many years after Barclay's dog rediscovered Zedekiah's Cave the Ottomans who ruled this region at that time, forbade anyone to enter the cave to prevent enemies of the government from hiding out there.
Once the Ottomans were driven out and the British Mandate took control the cave was reopened. (See the Timeline on the Introduction page for more information on this transition.) The British constructed a concrete wall at the front of the cave and columns inside the cave to prepare it for use as a shelter in case the Germans and Italians should try to bomb Jerusalem during World War II. After the State of Israel was created in 1948 the cave was under Jordanian control. The Jordanians closed the cave to the public. It was not until the Six Day War (1967) that Israel gained control of the cave and reopened it for tourism. It has remained open until this day.
The Ark of the CovenantTowards the end of the 20th century a guy named Ron Wyatt claimed to have discovered the Ark of the Covenant within Zedekiah's Cave. However, he was unable to remove the Ark from the cave because only he was able to come to the place where it was. According to Wyatt, the chamber of the cave which contains the Ark is directly below Gordon's Calvary, which is just northeast of Damascus Gate and the entrance to Zedekiah's Cave. This worked really nicely for Wyatt because he said that on the Ark he saw blood and this blood had dripped down through a crack in the ceiling above. This crack began at a spot where Wyatt claims he found the hole which Jesus' cross was set in. So, Jesus was crucified directly above the Ark of the Covenant and when he died the earth split and his blood dripped down through the earth, onto the place where God's presence had once resided on the Ark of the Covenant. It is a nice picture, but there is absolutely no evidence to back up any of Wyatt's claims besides his own account of what he saw. While it is possible that Jeremiah or some other person hid Ark in this cave to keep it from the hands of the Babylonians, I do not believe the Ark will ever be found. It was made of wood, plated in gold. By now the wood will have rotted and if it were found, what would happen to Judaism and Christianity? If the Ark were to be discovered it would be the greatest relic in the world. Christians and Jews would do ridiculous things in order to obtain it for themselves.
My visit to Zedekiah's CaveIt is extremely hot and moist inside of this cave. The main passage that the tourist path goes down is interesting, but to really have some fun in this cave you have to jump the chain draped across the entrance to other parts of the cave and go exploring.
We did a lot of crawling and exploring on all fours. There were no lights except our flashlights. It was awesome. Eventually we saw the lights of the main passage of the cave and snuck past another "Do Not Enter" sign and back into the lighted passage without anyone noticing.
If you ever spend a week in Jerusalem and are up for scrambling through some caves and having some fun exploring the way the first Western explorers of Jerusalem did, then I highly recommend visiting Zedekiah's Cave. Just be careful, bring a good flashlight with fully charged batteries, clothes that can get really dirty, and be in good physical shape.
Have you ever wondered what Jerusalem looked like when Jesus was here? This last weekend I went to the Israel Museum with Dr. Gabriel Barkay, my archaeology professor, and received an overview of the model of Jerusalem from the 2nd Temple period. This is the period of time that stretches from Nehemiah, the return of the Exiles, and the rebuilding of the Temple, up until the destruction of the Temple by the Romans following the 1st Jewish Revolt. Jesus died, rose again and ascended to heaven about 40 years before the end of this period.
The image on the left shows you the view of 2nd Temple Jerusalem looking down from the top of the Hill of Evil Council, which wraps around the southern and western edge of Jerusalem. Extending to the left (west) is the Hinnom Valley. To the northeast goes the Kidron Valley and the base of the Mt. of Olives. Also in the left part of this picture is the Upper City, where the wealthy, including Herod the Great, lived. The poorer class are shown in this model to have lived on the slopes of the Western Hill, dropping into the Central Valley. Down the center of the picture runs this Central Valley, also known as the Tyropean or Cheese-maker's Valley. To its right, between two walls is the City of David. The buildings of the City of David in this model are probably not at all accurate to what would have been between in this area. Above the City of David you can see the southern wall of the Temple Platform. The platform walls, as they are constructed here, are about a third higher than the walls of the Temple Mount are today!
The picture to the right is a close up of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. This includes the Shushan Gate, which is also called the Golden Gate or the Gate of Mercy. On the left (south) stands the Royal Stoa, which was built by Herod and until the invention of the skyscraper was the largest structure ever built in this region of the world. In the center stands the Temple built by Herod. This and most of the rest of the model was created based on written descriptions in the writings of Josephus. (See the Resources page for a recommended translation of Josephus' works.)
You can click on the pictures to get a better view of the model.
Tonight at church I heard that today the Egyptian army started rebuilding a Christian church that was recently destroyed somewhere in Egypt! A Nazarene pastor in Egypt had let the speaker at my church here know about it earlier today. This is amazing that the Egyptian military would do such a thing as this in a country where the persecution of Christians has been commonplace. There are many things, both good and evil taking place in the world right now. I am excited that I get to be alive during this time in history.
Have you been keeping up with the news of this region? Once again I am recommending CNN's Unrest in the Middle East and Africa —country by country article. CNN is keeping this article up to date with new developments making it an excellent resource for a quick overview of recent events in this part of the world.
The historical context of Isaiah 19You may have recently heard someone mention Isaiah 19 in context with current events in Egypt. If you have not read Isaiah 19 recently, you can read it here.
What is it that Isaiah 19 is talking about? The book of Isaiah can be a complicated and confusing book to read whether or not you know the historical context in which it was written. Knowing that historical context certainly does help.
Isaiah was God's prophet to King Hezekiah and the people Judah in the 7th century BCE. Isaiah 19 takes place at a time when a man named Shabaka had just ascended to the throne in Ethiopian Upper Egypt (what is today considered Nubia or northern Sudan). Shabaka was preparing for conquests to the north to assert his rule over Lower Egypt (the Nile Delta) as well. In preparation for that conquest Shabaka tried to ally himself with Assyria and Judah (Isaiah 18:2)
The 25th Dynasty was ruling Egypt during the time of Isaiah. This Dynasty was not the powerful kingdom with a dominant pharaoh like the dynasties of the Old Kingdom of Egypt had been. The power of the ruling family of Egypt had waned until there was an independent lord or petty king in every city of the Delta (History of Egypt, 536)! Struggles among those independent rulers eventually led to the fall of Egypt and its subjugation to the foreign Ethiopian king, Shabaka (The Third Intermediate Period, 125). This all lines up very well with the events described in 19:2-4.
Verses 19:5-10 describe an economic nightmare for the Egyptians. These verses draw upon 19:1, illustrating God's power over the weather and nature. These natural economic disasters combined with the external and internal political pressures to bring Egypt to its knees. This is somewhat reminiscent of the disastrous plagues that befell Egypt prior to the Exodus. It is no wonder the leaders of Egypt were confused and helpless (19:11-15).
In the remainder of Isaiah 19 the phrase "in that day", or sometimes translated "In such a day", appears 5 times. This phrase communicates the potential results that will follow if the people of Judah, whom Isaiah is speaking to, comply with God's plan.
5 potential results1) The Egyptians will be terrified at what God is doing (vv 16-17). 2) The Hebrew language will be spoken and worship of God will be performed in 5 Egyptian cities (v 18). 3) God will be worshipped throughout Egypt and God will rescue the Egyptians (vv19-22). 4) A highway will be opened between Egypt and Assyria and peace, trade and worship of God will take place. 5) Israel will be a third member of this group. Egypt, Assyria and Israel will all be blessed by God (vv 24-25)
The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance." (19:25)
This is God's will and plan for this region. This helps us understand Isaiah's presentation of Assyria as God's tool (chapter 10) and Cyrus, the king of Persia, as God's servant (chapters 45-46).
SummaryIf God had people in this region doing exactly what He wanted, what would happen? This is the question asked and answered in Isaiah chapters 18-19. Sargon, king of Assyria, is consolidating a fractured empire. Judah has a new king. Egypt is nearing the end of a period of chaos. Shabaka is seeking aid, or at least neutrality, on Egypt's northern border while he subjugates the rebellious cities of Lower Egypt. His messengers to Jerusalem are referred on to Assyria, which is the real power in the region (18:1-2). God waits and watches and is ready to act when the time comes (18:4-6).
To this day, this plan of God's has not come to completion. Results 1 and 2 in the list probably took place with the migration of Jews into Egypt during the Persian and Hellenistic periods. There are clear ancient textual references to Jewish temples existing in cities in Egypt. It is number 3 that we still wait upon today. God is not recognized and worshipped throughout Egypt. The same is true of Israel and the region that used to be Assyria (Syria-Iraq). Can you imagine if these modern nations and peoples worshipped God? That would be incredible and seems impossible at this time. But, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
Notice the titles given to each of the three nations in Isaiah 19:25.
Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance
These are all titles normally given to Israel! These blessings assure Egypt and Assyria of God's blessing and claims them as a means of blessing others, particularly Israel. Isaiah 19 demonstrates that God's plan and blessings do not just incorporate Israel but the entire known world!
Is peace in the Middle East possible?YES! Isaiah 19 outlines God's plan to bring peace to these lands. As Christians living in the United States what can you do? Be an example of Christ and His love and justice for all people where you are in your community today. Pray for your Christian brothers and sisters living in the Middle East to have the strength and confidence to live as Christ's disciples. And, pray for all of those who do not know God and His love, grace and peace.
May you constantly experience the love, grace and peace of your Heavenly Father who "works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28).
If you watch it, please let me know what you thought of it. Just don't give away the plot! I won't be able to watch it until I get back to the States.
Grace and peace,
What's up? Everything!Anywhere you stand within the City of David you are always looking up at a tight horizon-line. The City of David was built on a hill in the middle of a topographical bowl. This was not unusual for ancient capitals. Tall hills/mountains surrounding your capital gives a feeling of being hidden or protected from whatever lies beyond.
Jerusalem was unique because unlike the other capitals of ancient kingdoms, such as Ammon, Moab and Edom, the hills surrounding Jerusalem are close enough for an attacking army to stand on one of these hills and shoot arrows into the city. Though surrounded by deep valleys on three sides, Jerusalem was still in a vulnerable place. Its enemies could stand on the hills around it, look into the city and see what was going on. Not the defensive situation anyone ever wants to be in.
So, when the Psalmist said, "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come (121:1)?," he is literally looking UP at these mountains that surround him and threaten the safety of his city. The Psalmist is completely aware of the precarious situation of Jerusalem. He knows that little or no aid will be coming from these mountains that are closely pressed around his city.
Even though he is aware of the precarious situation, the Psalmist is aware of God's protection and provision. "My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth" (121:2).
This trust in God's protection shows up 4 chapters later: "Jerusalem—the mountains surround her. And the LORD surrounds His people, both now and forever" (125:2). God surrounds his people just as the mountains surround Jerusalem. I think that if you can draw a picture illustrating God's protection and provision utilizing the very thing that endangers you, then you must be completely trusting God!
Through whose eyes do I see the world around me? Those of my self or those of God's Spirit living in me (Romans 7-8).
Remember that if you are in Christ, your protection and provision do not come from mountains or men. Your provider, protector and sustainer is the Maker of heaven and earth!
Also, I've recommended this before, but it is worth recommending again. Check out the blog of Lynne Hybels. Throughout February she has been making excellent posts on the events going on in Egypt, focusing on her Christian friends living in Egypt and the Muslims they have been interacting with throughout these last few weeks of revolution.
I am blessed that I had the honor of being one of his students and of completing some of my graduate thesis work with him. Thank you to those of you who have kept him in your prayers.
Thank you to those of you who acted by signing the petition and raising awareness of this crime.
The big stone building that is the first thing you see in the video is the Dormition Abbey. I took this first part of the video from the rooftop of the building that houses the room of the Last Supper and the tomb of King David. It is also the center of a Jewish school and silence was required because it was shabbat and some rabbis were praying on the roof where I was. I hope you enjoy the video!
Shabbat shalom ("peaceful Sabbath")!
The website accepts donations but does not require them. The information provided in the lectures on this site is equivalent to two semesters of university-level Biblical Hebrew, and it's free! Check it out! animatedhebrew.com
The first video of the series is shown below.
Day 5, Wednesday, December 8
Stop #1: The Valley of the KingsThis is a large valley where the pharaohs of the Egyptian New Kingdom had themselves and their families buried. Here I visited the tombs of Rameses III, Tausert/Setnakht, Thutmose III, and Tutankhamun.
Tausert was one of the few queens who ever ruled Egypt. She was the last ruler of the 19th Dynasty. She probably only ruled for a couple of years but was honored with a burial in the Valley of the Kings by her husband, Seti II. Her tomb was later taken over by Rameses III who used it as a tomb for his father, Setnakht.
Rameses III was the second king of the 20th Dynasty and was the last great king of the New Kingdom. He repelled an attempted invasion by the Sea Peoples (probably Philistines) and made successful conquests into Canaan.
Thutmose III was possibly the greatest military leader in all of human history. He conducted at least 17 campaigns during his reign and expanded the Egyptian empire to its greatest extent ever.
Tutankhamun is well known because his tomb is the only tomb of a pharaoh that has ever been found untouched by grave robbers. Based upon the massive amount of riches found within the tomb of this boy-king who only ruled a handful of years, we can only imagine what riches pharaoh's like Rameses II and Thutmose III must have had in their tombs.
I was not allowed to take any photographs in the Valley of the Kings. The Egyptian government originally allowed people to take pictures inside the tombs but only without the camera flash. Lots of people still used the flash so the government revised the rule to only allow pictures outside the tombs in the Valley. However, people would sneak their cameras into the tombs and take pictures. Now, the law is that no pictures are allowed in the Valley and if you are caught with a camera it will be confiscated. So, sadly I have no pictures. You will have to check out Wikipedia a documentary or the video below to see images of the tombs. The video is not well done, it looks like the guy was probably hiding a camera in his pocket as much as the frame bounces around. In this video's favor, it does give you an opportunity to see what the climb down into three of these tombs (Thutmose III, Rameses III, and Merneptah) is like. For that reason, I recommend watching it.
Stop #2: The Mortuary Temple Complex of Hatshepsut
Hatshepsut was the mother of Thutmose III and was the longest reigning female in Egyptian history.
Stop #3: Deir el-Medina and some reflectonsThis was the village of the workmen who built the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. It was set up by the pharaohs as a place where the workmen could easily reach their worksite, be provided for, and be watched closely. The inhabitants of this village could possibly have been slaves like the Hebrews.
When we imagine the Hebrews in slavery in Egypt we imagine slavery as it was in the United States prior to the 20th century. In the ancient world, slaves, unless they were convicted criminals, do not appear to have been treated harshly. Their owners needed dedicated, strong workers and so they provided for their slaves needs. Numbers 11:4-6 says, "The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, 'If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!'" These complaints do not come from a people who were struggling to survive under oppressive slavery. They were being provided for with good food. Why would anyone want to return to Egypt if it was a place where they struggled to survive? Maybe life in Egypt was not so bad for the Hebrews. Perhaps the temptation to return was attractive because working for the pharaoh may not have been great but it was at least decent and reliable. Would that not make leaving Egypt, a place where they are being somewhat provided for by the pharaoh, and heading to a land they did not know except by stories passed down from their forefathers, much more difficult than might be imagined if The Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston, version was correct?
Leaving behind a life that might not have been great, but where needs were being met and setting out into the unknown trusting that the God of their forefathers would lead them someplace better was a big step. Not only that, but when they finally arrived in the Promised Land, what was it? A land flowing with milk and honey? Certainly not by American standards. The Promised Land was a land of rocks, rocks and more rocks. Sure there is the Hill Country where a few crops can be grown, but it isn't very big and if God really wanted to bless the Israelites with a good, bountiful land, then why did He not lead them to Iowa, Illinois or Missouri?
The land He gave the Israelites was a land between empires. It was constantly run over by massive armies from the north going to Egypt or vice versa. This was one of the worst places in the ancient world anyone could try to live and possess. Why did God bring them out of Egypt where things might not have been great, but they were alright? And, why would He bring them to a place as unstable as Canaan and call it the Promised Land? Perhaps because what God sees as good is not the same as what our self-centered minds see as good. God's desire is that we trust Him with 100% of everything we possess. If you are being provided for by a pharaoh, there is no need to trust God to provide for you. Whatever slavery was like in Egypt, whether better or worse than our mental picture of it, the Hebrews were still slaves. Upon exiting Egypt they had to wander around in the desert for forty years, not because they were geographically lost, but because they were spiritually lost. They had to make a decision whether to completely trust God and move forward into the unknown, or to go back to what they had known.
God's Promised Land was a place where there was no way His people could survive unless they trusted Him. He was their one and only option. From Joshua to Malachi the Bible tells the story of the Hebrews/Israelites repeating a cycle of trusting God and being successful in this Promised Land and then turning from him, and being run over by one of the great empires on this land's borders.
We do not comprehend the extent of God's desires and plans for our lives. Only by trusting Him with absolutely every part of life and turning that life over to Him (a very scary thing to do since that act enters us into the greatest unknown we have ever faced) will we ever begin to see the Promised Land, a land flowing with God's love and provision. A safe place where whatever happens, the creator of the universe has your best interest at heart.
Stops #4, 5, and 6We finished the day with visits to the Medinet-Habu Temple where the sacrifice of human beings is mentioned in Egypt for the first time since Prehistory. We also went to the Ramesseum, which was the mortuary temple of Rameses II. Rameses II was possibly the pharaoh of the Exodus. And lastly, we visited the Colossi of Memnon. These two gigantic statues were named after Agamemnon, from the Illiad and Odyssey. The Greeks who came here thought that the wind coming through the stones sounded like the weeping of Agamemnon over his lost wife. These two statues are actually all that remains of a massive temple built by Amenophis III, also known as Amenhotep III. The rest of the temple was destroyed by the annual flooding of the Nile.
If you click on the pictures you will find that they contain captions which often provide interesting information on the contents of the picture.
Later that night…
We returned to Luxor for the evening and I went shopping in the marketplace with a few other JUC students. The experience in the marketplace was very disappointing. The shopkeepers were really aggressive and whined a lot. It is not fun to bargain with people of that sort. We managed to get a couple good deals, but the process of getting those is not one I care to go through again.
At 6:45pm we got on the bus and went to the Luxor train station. The train actually arrived early! Nothing in Egypt ever seems to be on time, much less early. The train left on time and soon after dinner was served. We had rice with some chicken. We also had a roll, some yogurt (which was actually sour! Yogurt in Israel usually isn't sour.) and a honey-filled dessert. In addition to that there was an orange and a packet of Borio's thanks to a fellow JUC grad student. Borio's are the exact same thing as Oreo's. However, one is not affiliated in any way with the other. There are lots of companies over here that are total knockoffs of American companies.
After dinner we discovered that we are supposed to be arriving in Cairo at 4am! Ugh. That means we have a 3:30am wake up visit from the conductor. That also means that I am going to sleep right now.
AccoTechnically, Acco is not in the Coastal Plain. It is in the Acco Plain. The Coastal Plain ends at the Mt. Carmel Range. Just to the north of Mt. Carmel lie Haifa and Acco on either side of one of the only natural ports on the east end of the Mediterranean Sea. Acco shows up throughout ancient history, but the ancient remains you can see there today are primarily those left behind by the Crusaders. It was the chief port and eventually the final stronghold of the Crusaders in this region.
About 500 years after the Crusaders were driven from Acco by the Mamelukes, Napoleon Bonaparte came here and attempted to take the city. His attempt was unsuccessful. The Ottoman Turks who ruled the region were able, with British help, to repel Napoleon and withstand his siege. Below are some pictures from around the Old City of Acco. As you can see from some of the pictures, the city is built up against the Mediterranean Sea.
If you click on the pictures you will find that they contain captions which often provide interesting information on the contents of the picture.
Dor The settlement at Dor began sometime in the Bronze Ages. It shows up in the Biblical text as an ally of Jabin, king of Hazor (Joshua 11:1-2; 12:23). It also appears in Judges 1:27 and 1 Kings 4:11. Though it was probably within the region allotted to the tribe of Asher, it does not appear that this city was controlled by the Israelites until the time of King Solomon in the 10th century BCE.
This city, like Acco, sits on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. This meant that this port city was usually controlled by those peoples who were accustomed to moving about on the sea such as the Phoenicians and the Greeks. Today, Hebrew University is carrying out excavations on the tel. You can view pictures of my visit to Dor below.
Day 3: The south of Egypt | Day 2: Egypt and its earliest pyramids | Day 1: Sinai: Wandering in a land between
Day 4, Tuesday, December 7Today I'll be visiting four temples on the bus ride from Aswan to Luxor. The first is Kom Ombo.
Kom Ombo — The Place of GoldThis temple is actually two symmetrical temples, each built for a different god. The gods of these two temples were Sobek, the crocodile god, and Horus, the falcon god. The temples were constructed by the Ptolemaic dynasty around 280BCE.
This was a major center of medicinal healing during the time when these temples were used. This is known from the heiroglyphs throughout the temples which display all sorts of medical instruments given as offerings to these temples. One of the students from JUC who had done a bit of research on Egyptian medicine told me that these ancient doctors had all sorts of interesting remedies, including using crocodile dung as a contraceptive!
Between the holy of holies of these side-by-side temples was a hidden chamber. Supposedly, a temple priest would hide in the chamber whenever a pharaoh came to ask for the blessing of the god. The priest would respond to the pharaoh's request by pretending to be the voice of the god. The pharaoh, not knowing it was just a priest hiding behind the wall, thought the god was speaking to him. So, when the pharaoh was told to bring this much gold and that much food to the temple so that he might be blessed on his venture, he did it. If that's true, it's no wonder the priests were wealthy and controlled so much property.
Note: If you click on the pictures you will find that they contain captions which often provide interesting information on the contents of the picture.
Edfu was once the capital of Upper Egypt. It was probably from here that the pharaoh, Narmer, set off to conquer Lower Egypt and unify the two lands for the first time in all history. Like the Philae and Kom Ombo temples, this temple was also not built until the Ptolemaic period. It is dedicated to Horus.
This vast temple complex is the largest religious complex in the world. It was begun in the 18th Dynasty and every pharaoh of that dynasty added something to this complex. Mernepthah inscribed the story of his conquering of the Sea Peoples (Philistines) on one wall. Thutmose III and Shishak both inscribed lists of the cities they conquered on conquests through the Land Between and further north. These lists have been very useful as a sort of map giving the order in which the cities lay, moving from south to north through the Land Between.
The Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series is supposed to be completed with a fourth book by Gary Burge sometime this year. The last installment to this series will be entitled Jesus' Final Week. I am looking forward to reading it. These three books make up the rest of the series and are an excellent read for anyone wanting to better appreciate the historical, geographical and cultural references made within the Biblical text. These books are well written and contain lots of great pictures. Click on any of the books to be taken to Amazon.com where you can get more information and purchase them if you like what you see.
Gary Burge studied in Beirut, Lebanon in the 1970s under Dr. Kenneth Bailey, who is the author of another excellent book I recommend and can be found under the Historical Geography tab on the Resources page. Today Dr. Burge is a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.
Day 3, Monday December 6Happy St. Nicholas Day!
The train rideI am riding the train from Cairo to Aswan. I and my class from JUC have been making our way south since about 21:30 last night. That's 9:30pm. Everyone on this side of the world uses military time.
It is now Monday morning, around 9 o'clock. Sleeping on the train was not too bad. I was on the top bunk and there were a few times last night when I woke up feeling as though I was flying out of bed because the engineer had just hit the brakes. Fortunately, I never did. There was a seatbelt holding me into my bed.
I just found out that we are not arriving at the Aswan train station until 11:15am. We are 4 hours behind schedule. Oh well, that's the way things are in Egypt.
As we continue riding south the Nile is on the right. On the left is total desert. Most of the time it seems that the train tracks run right along the line between the fertile land of the Nile and the desert beyond. It is an extremely abrupt transition.
We are going through villages where the people live much the same as they did 100 years ago except for the occasional satellite dish on someone's roof. They still plow their fields with oxen and get around on carts hitched to donkeys.
AswanHere is Aswan! We made it! You can see how far we have come on the map. Cairo is at the base of the Nile Delta in the north. Aswan is at the first cataract of the Nile far to the south, almost to Sudan.
The Unfinished ObeliskOur first stop is the Unfinished Obelisk in one of the granite quarries in this area. If this obelisk had ever been erected it would have been about 137 feet tall. That is significantly higher than any obelisk that was ever successfully erected.
Granite was used by the ancient pharaohs for many of their building projects. The problem they were confronted with was that the granite was all the way down here in the south and the pharaohs lived and died and built temples and pyramids far to the north. How did they move granite blocks of stone all the way to the building sites? They waited for the Nile to flood and then floated the stones north on barges. They also used the flooding of the Nile to break the last connections between large granite blocks which had been mostly chiseled out of the cliff and the cliff itself. They did this by cutting holes through the rocks at the seam where they wanted them to break. Then logs were squeezed into those holes. When the Nile flooded these logs would be under water and the moisture would cause them to expand and crack the remaining connection between the rock and the cliff. These were some smart engineers. (Remember to click the pictures to make them larger.)
Note: If you click on the pictures you will find that they usually contain captions which provide interesting information about what is shown.
The Aswan High Dam
Before the period of British control in Egypt (1882-1922) there was no cotton grown throughout all of Egypt. The British brought cotton to Egypt and built the old Aswan Dam to provide consistent water for the cotton. This was done through controlling the annual flooding of the Nile.
With the construction of the High Dam, which was much larger than the old British dam, Egypt now controlled the water rather than vice versa as it had been since Creation. The Dam also provides 40% of all of Egypt's electricity demands. The High Dam formed a lake behind (south) of it and this is called Lake Nasser. This is the largest man-made lake in the world.
The Philae TempleOut in the middle of Lake Nasser the Philae Temple sits on an island. It had to be taken apart stone by stone and reconstructed in a different location because the island it was originally built on was covered by the waters of the newly created Lake Nasser.
The construction of the Philae Temple was begun by Ptolemy III in 280BCE. It was a temple to Isis, the mother of Horus and wife and sister of Osiris. The temple's construction began with the innermost holy of holies. This was built by Ptolemy III. It was not until Ptolemy IX that the outer hypostyle hall was completed.
The Nubian VillageWe took a boat from Aswan and went around Elephantine Island, where we sadly did not have time to stop (there are remains of a Jewish temple on that island), and pressed on to the west bank of the Nile. There we were met by camels and the bedouin who owned them. They gave us rides up out of the flood plain onto the hills overlooking the plain. On top of the hills at this particular spot was a monastery that we were supposed to visit. By the time we arrived it had already closed. So, we wandered around and took some pictures of the outside of the monastery then hopped back on our camels and went back to the boat.
The boat took us down the Nile and dropped us off at a Nubian village. The Nubians consider themselves to be the only true Egyptians. They are very dark-skinned and they consider the lighter-skinned "Egyptians" to just be Arabs who have moved into land that rightly belongs to the Nubians.
We visited a Nubian household where an old man sang and half-jokingly proposed to several women in our group. It was here that I held a crocodile for the first time! After that little adventure we took the boat back up the Nile to Aswan, where we spent the night.
Tip: In Egypt anyone who does anything for you expects a tip. Locally it is called "bakshish". Often you will probably feel like absolutely nothing has been done that makes this person deserve anything more than what you already agreed to pay them. However, if you do not give them "a little something" (this is all the English many of them seem to know) they will follow you and argue with you (even if you aren't saying anything in reply). The most frustrating thing is at all the public restrooms in Egypt someone sits outside the door to collect tips. If you use the restroom you usually come to the conclusion that this person spends all their time asking for tips and none of it cleaning the restroom. So, if you go to Egypt make up your mind ahead of time whether or not you will tip all the people you encounter. Your visit will be much smoother and more pleasant if you just accept that this is the way things are in Egypt and tip the people. But, if you cannot stand to tip someone who you think (and most likely rightly so) has done absolutely nothing to earn it, then brace yourself for a less expensive but much more abrasive experience. The decision is yours.
Prayer & Fasting for Egypt | A Country at the Crossroads | How to Pray for Egypt | How to Pray for Egypt, Part 2
How did it begin?It started in Tunisia when a college graduate who could not get a job committed suicide by lighting himself on fire in front of a government building. His suicide led to the revolt of the people against the national government and resulted in the president fleeing the country and a new government being put in place.
Trying to oust President MubarakEgyptians saw the successful grassroots rebellion take place in Tunisia and this gave them the courage to come out as a united body of citizens revolting against President Hosni Mubarak. The video below is an account of the first five days of the revolt in Egypt. This began the day after I left Egypt.
If Mubarak is ousted, who will take his place? Here is an article on a few possible successors to Mubarak.
Jordan and SyriaThis revolution against the national governments of the Islamic nations is continuing to spread. A few days ago King Abdullah II of Jordan sacked his country's cabinet in what appears to be an attempt to keep demonstrations in his country from reaching the levels attained in Egypt. Protests continue to take place in Egypt and Jordan. There were also protests scheduled to take place in Damascus, Syria, but those failed to materialize. And of course, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Ayatollah Khamenei had to give his two cents.
Whatever the results of these protests within these neighbors to Israel, this region is going to change. We will have to wait and find out just what sort of change it will be.
Subscribing:There are currently two options for subscribing to the LivingDusty Blog. Both show up in the sidebar and in this post.
Option 1: Subscribe to Email Updates
Clicking on this and providing your email address in the pop-up box will cause an email to be sent to the email address you provide every time a new post is uploaded to the LivingDusty Blog.
Option 2: Follow on Twitter
Please subscribe to whichever option makes the most sense for keeping up-to-date on new material on this site.
Commenting:At the bottom of each post on the main blog page of LivingDusty.com you will find a link that looks like this: . By clicking on this you will be taken to the page which displays only the blog post that this "View Comments" link applies to. If you scroll to the bottom of that post you will find a comments box where you can enter a comment either anonymously or by logging in to one of several social networks. Below the comments box you will see two links, one saying "Subscribe by Email" and the other "RSS". Clicking on these two links will not subscribe you to all the new blog posts on LivingDusty.com as the methods described earlier in this post will. Clicking on either of these will only subscribe you to the comments on the particular blog post you are viewing. You might want to do this if you comment and want to be notified of any replies to your comment, or if you just want to be informed of any new comments which are made on a particular post.
If you have any questions comment on this post or send me an email through the Contact Me page.
Thank you for your interest in LivingDusty!
Grace and peace,
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." —Exodus 20:9-11 (also see Exodus 31:12-17)
When did it originate?
The observance of Sabbath, or Shabbat as it is known in Hebrew, goes all the way back to Exodus, the second book of the Bible. It is one of the ten commands God wrote down on stone tablets as part of the covenant which He made with Moses and the Israelites. This command reaches back to creation of the world.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. —Genesis 2:2-3
What do slavery and freedom have to do with it?
By resting on the seventh day and making it holy (i.e., setting it apart from the others), we remember and acknowledge that God is the creator of all things. By doing so we also emulate His example. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 reiterates the command given in Exodus but includes an instruction for what to do on the Sabbath. "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day." What does slavery in Egypt and God bringing them into freedom have to do with Sabbath? EVERYTHING! Slaves do not get a day off. For that matter, in ancient civilizations there was no such thing as a day of rest. Only the wealthy and ruling classes had that luxury. Therefore, by observing Sabbath the Israelites were reminded that they were now free. As a Christian observing Sabbath I remember that I too am now free from slavery, but not just a slavery to man but slavery to my sinful nature. This freedom came because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:1)
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. —Romans 8:15
Why do Jews begin to observe it on Friday night?
Did you know that for Jews the 24-hour period of a day begins at sundown rather than at midnight? This is why they celebrate Sabbath with a meal on Friday nights rather than on Saturday mornings. For the reason behind this you must look to the first few verses of the Bible.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. —Genesis 1:1-5
Did you catch that? Notice the last line. "And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day." In this account of creation which tradition says was given to Moses by God, the first day of the world has evening first and morning second. It is for that exact reason that to this day Jews observe the beginning of Sabbath at sundown on Friday.
Why did Christians begin to observe Sabbath on Sunday?The early Christians of the 1st century CE (Common Era) were largely converted Jews who continued to attend synagogues and observe Sabbath from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. Following the 2nd Jewish Revolt in 70CE being associated with the Jews became increasingly detrimental as the Jews became known as hot-headed, rebellious zealots. From 115-117CE the Jewish Diasporas around the Roman world revolted and caused a further rift between Christianity and Judaism. This separation between Christianity and Judaism resulted in a widening of the gap between Christians who believed the messiah promised by God through the prophets had already come and the Jews who were still waiting for that messiah. Christians were already worshipping on Sunday which they called the "Lord's Day" because it was on Sunday that Christ Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 23). After the rift between the early Christians and the Jews reached the extent where Christians were no longer welcome in synagogues the Christians ceased to attend services on Saturday with their Jewish neighbors but did continue their own services on the "Lord's Day". Read Justin Martyr's First Apology, Chapter LXVII for a description of the practices of the early Christians.
Rest, Remember and Rejoice!This is what Sabbath is for Christians. Take steps to set apart a day to be free from your job, paying bills, running errands, etc. Spend that day remembering what has been done so that you may receive grace and be set free and rejoice in that freedom. Spend time getting to know your Heavenly Father and His love for you through reading and studying the Bible alone and with others you are are close to. Spend time with your family and close friends doing something that brings you joy and peace. This is the day on which we celebrate all of creation! Enjoy it!
Grace and peace,
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
It is not good to be partial to the wicked
and so deprive the innocent of justice.
Sex trafficking is real and it is happening in the United States today. It is rapidly overtaking drug trafficking as the most lucrative criminal activity in the world. After all, a drug may only be sold once. A human being may be sold day after day and night after night. Trafficking victims live in utter darkness and have no voice. We cannot save them all, but we can rescue some. That is the goal, to defend the defenseless by aiding in the prevention, rescue and restoration of those who are victims of sex trafficking. One step you can take right now is to visit change.org and sign the petition asking the Super Bowl host committee to take a stand against trafficking in the Dallas-Fort Worth area by endorsing the I'm Not Buying It campaign to inform the Dallas-Fort Worth community and Super Bowl fans of sex trafficking at this massive event. To further educate yourself about this crime and what you can do to stop it check out the websites listed below the video clip from the I'm Not Buying It campaign, and click here to view human trafficking statistics compiled by the Polaris Project.
Not for Sale's Chocolate Campaign
Thank you. Grace and peace,
Day 2, December 5, 2010We spent last night at the Shepheard's Hotel right next to the Nile River. Yes, Shepheard is spelled correctly. It is the last name of the Englishman who established the hotel in 1841. This morning we are driving to Dashur. On our way we pass drive the back roads of Cairo and see the sites tourists usually skip. Men and boys driving donkey carts and women selling vegetables line the road. A canal fed by the Nile irrigates this area. As the bloated carcass of a donkey floats down the stagnant water of the canal my appreciation of the warning against consuming Egypt's water, fruit and vegetables reaches a new height.
In the necropolis of Dashur lies the Red Pyramid, our first stop. This was a pyramid built by Pharaoh Sneferu after another pyramid he constructed, the Bent Pyramid, had to be altered due to engineering mistakes. The angled sides of the Red Pyramid match the angles of the top portion of the Bent Pyramid. I was able to go down into the Red Pyramid. The climb down takes about 5 minutes. Inside the treasure chambers the air is stagnant and smells awful. It doesn't matter very much though because I am inside of my first pyramid and that is really awesome!
Note: If you click on the pictures you will find that they usually contain captions which provide interesting information about what is shown.
After resurfacing to the wonderful fresh(er) air outside we head over to the Bent Pyramid. It is unknown which of these two pyramids Sneferu was buried in. The unique thing about this pyramid, beyond its bend, is that its casing is largely intact.
There is a reason the pyramids were built in the pyramid shape. The primary god of the Egyptian pantheon was Re, the sun-god. Large quantities of Egyptian artwork shows the sun's rays extending down toward human beings on earth. The pyramids were an illustration of these descending rays. The sun's rays descended along the angles of the pyramid and represented the arms of Re. Within pyramids the burial room must always be exactly in the center, directly below the peak so that the interred pharaoh was being embraced by the arms of Re.
The third stop of the day was at Memphis. This is where the first pharaoh of the united Egyptian kingdom set up his capital. His name was Narmer. Today, there are no remains of Memphis. This once great city was washed away long ago by the annual flooding of the Nile River. All that remains are statues. There is a gigantic statue of Ramesses II. This statue is smashed on its left side because a later pharaoh knocked it down to demonstrate that he was more powerful than Rameses II. Rameses is depicted as a young, powerful man. Egyptian statues communicate messages clearly. If you wanted to appear powerful you were depicted as young and without wrinkles. If you wanted to appear wise you were shown with wrinkles. Last, if you wanted to appear wealthy you added a tongue hanging out of your mouth. This indicated that you ate well.
Also here is the 2nd largest sphinx in the world. The only larger one is at Giza. This one dates to the 19th Dynasty and its head is either that of Ramesses II or of his son.
Our 4th stop brings us to Saqqara, the location of the first pyramid ever built. It was built for Pharaoh Djoser, by his architect, Imhotep. Prior to the construction of pyramids, pharaohs were buried in mudbrick structures called mastabas. Djoser's stepped-pyramid is a stack of six mastabas, one on top of the other. We left Saqqara and had a brief visit with Old Cairo and some of its sights, visited a papyrus factory to see how the paper was and still is made, then spent the evening on the rooftop of the Four Seasons Hotel. That is a swanky place! After a couple hours of journaling while lounging on a couch next to the Four Seasons' rooftop pool the group set off for the Cairo train station. Tonight we take the sleeper train from Cairo, on the north end of Egypt, all the way to Aswan, which is very near the border of Sudan in the south.
Day 1, December 4, 2010I'm riding along the bumpy road across the Sinai. It was here that the Children of Israel wandered for 40 years. The ground of this central plateau is covered in dark limestone sands and on the edges of the plateau rise desolate white rock formations. This would be an awful place to be lost. UNESCO classifies this region as hyper-arid, which means this is one extremely dry desert!
Numbers 32:13). In that span of time they would have known every mountain and plain on the peninsula better than you or I know our own neighborhood!
Returning to Egypt was an attractive option to some. Yet Moses knew that to do that would be completely rejecting God's promise and plan. Thus returning was not an option. However, they heard that the people inhabiting the Promised Land were powerful and lived in large fortified cities (Numbers 13:26-33) and they allowed themselves to be afraid. The task of conquering the Land seemed insurmountable to those who had grown up in a life of slavery and who saw things with the eyes of a person used to being beaten down and ordered around. They were mentally and spiritually lost. They had to be firmly convinced of their identity as God's chosen people whom He loved and protected before they could confidently enter the Promised Land and face its giants through placing 100% of their trust in Him.
The process of adjusting the mindset of the Israelites from one of bondage to one that trusted God to be in control took 40 years. At that time Joshua and Caleb were finally able to lead the Israelites out of the in-between land of the Sinai into the Promised Land.
These expandable pictures display captions when they are expanded which give interesting information which is not necessarily included in the blog post. Also, hovering the mouse cursor over the expanded image will cause a "Previous" and "Next" button to appear. When clicked on these buttons allow you to browse through the expanded images in that blog post without having to close one image and click on another.
If you have questions about this or if any of these features don't work for you please contact me or comment on this post.
We left the museum and were driven to a papyrus factory where we saw how papyrus paper is made. It is incredible how strong it is. It is almost impossible to tear and whatever is written on it can be easily washed off with water so that it might be used. It is like an ancient Egyptian dry-erase board, except that it requires water. Click here for an overview of how papyrus paper is made.
On to the pyramids! We began with the Great Pyramid at Giza and though we could not go inside of it we were given the exclusive opportunity to go inside the tombs of the architect of the Great Pyramid as well as the small pyramid of the mother of Khufu, whom the Great Pyramid was built for. It was exclusive because normally no one is allowed down inside these. However, our guide is participating in the current archaeological digs at Giza and knows the so-called "Keepers of the Pyramids". That connection got us inside and also allowed us to take pictures! That was exciting.
After seeing the other two pyramids and getting the landscape view we visited the Sphinx, ate lunch, visited an essence factory run by a bedouin family, and then headed back across the Sinai to Eilat. The essence factory supplies the natural essences to the major perfume manufacturers all around the world, such as Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and many others. These perfume manufacturers then dilute the natural essence with alcohol so that when they sell it only between 5-20% of the contents of the perfume bottle are the natural essences/oils. Click here for an overview of the perfume creation process.
This was a fantastic day! We had a great time in Egypt and I highly recommend the tour company we went with. Check them out at www.tourplanisrael.com. Our guide in Cairo was Nasser. If you do this trip you should ask the tour company if he is available.
Grace and peace,
Note: If you click on the pictures you will find that they usually contain captions which provide interesting information about what is shown.
I am leaving bright and early for southern Israel and will be there, without internet, for the next 3 days. I'll report on those adventures when I get back to JUC.
Grace and peace,
Our trip began by meeting Sam Salem, a local Arab Christian, who spent the day taking us to sites that are very difficult to get to without the help of a local. If you come here I highly recommend employing him to take you to various sites in the Palestinian regions as he knows them and their people and speaks English, Arabic and Hebrew very well. If interested contact him at email@example.com.
Mount GerizimThe first stop was the Samaritan community atop Mount Gerizim. Here we were guided through the new Samaritan Museum by one of the Samaritan priests, Husney Cohen. My brother, Michael, and I are in the picture to the left with Husney and one of the Samaritans' two Torah scrolls. Check out their website: www.samaritans-mu.com. If you don't speak Arabic be sure to translate it using Google Translate. Just paste the site's web address into the text box on the Google Translate page and click "Translate".
SebastiyaThis is the modern Arabic name of the Palestinian town next to the ancient ruins of Samaria. It was here that Omri, a king of Israel and the father of Ahab, moved the capital of Israel to around 884BCE. Following the exile of the Israelites by the Assyrians the city of Samaria was inhabited by the Samaritans, a people who were the result of the intermarrying of Israelites who were not exiled and people from other nations who were brought in to replace those who were exiled.
A big reason Omri moved the capital of Israel to Samaria was 'location, location, location'. Samaria provided him with much easier access to the trade routes of the Land Between than either of the earlier capitals at Shechem or Tirzah had done. It was also a much more defensible region with the height of Samaria's acropolis rising far above the surrounding areas. Check this out in the images below.
The horizon line looking north from the acropolis of Samaria/Sebaste
The horizon line looking south from the acropolis of Samaria/Sebaste
Jacob's Well and the Tabernacle at ShilohOur day of traveling in the West Bank with Sam wrapped up with a stop at the Greek Orthodox church in Nablus to see Jacob's well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42). We then headed south to Shiloh, the site where God's Tabernacle was permanently set up once the Israelites entered this land and before Solomon built the Temple. A likely location for the Tabernacle is outlined by the rock rectangle near the center of the image to the right.
This was a great day, primarily because I finally got to see Samaria/Sebaste, which is one of the sites in this region which can be difficult to reach without a local guide. I can take that one off of my checklist now. The next up on my "sites I want to see but probably cannot without a local guide" list are Hebron with the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the inside of the Dome of the Rock, and the inside of the Hulda Gates above the Southern Steps of Herod's Temple. The last two seem like they might never happen. But, we will see. Whenever I get to any of these places you will know about it.
Grace and peace,
Grace and peace,
As I prepare for my final semester of graduate school at Jerusalem University College I have been working on transitioning my blog from simply a blog into a more permanent informational resource. The result is livingdusty.com! Its goal is to serve as a springboard for you to dive as deeply as you want to go into the historical and geographical backgrounds of the Bible. It will continue to expand over the next semester whenever I have time to take a break from school and create some new pages.
Check out the upper right hand corner of any webpage on this site. You should see a small white rectangle. If you do not see it scroll to the top of this page and hover your mouse over that area. A box should drop down showing, from top to bottom, two arrows and two letters of different sizes. Clicking on the arrows will expand the width of the content area of the webpage. By clicking on the two letters of different sizes the size of the text on the page will increase or decrease.
Please send me any questions or comments via the Contact page on this site. If I get the same question or similar ones numerous times I will probably create a Frequently Asked Questions page. Feel free to tell anyone you think would be interested about this site.
This next semester I will be writing my graduate thesis paper as well as comprehensive exams and the remaining classes required for my masters degree. Please pray for me as I begin the push through final portion of this graduate program.
Grace and peace,
The High Holy Days, which I talked about in my last post, have been concluded and the city has begun to empty out its tourist population. Tourists will not come back in force until the beginning of December. First, the Europeans will come to celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day. That is December 6th and is celebrated with parades led by men dressed in the costume of St. Nicholas. Simultaneous with this celebration will be the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, which commemorates the miracle of the menorah which occurred when the Macabbees reclaimed the Temple from the Hellenists in the 2nd century BC. Also at this time, the Islamic New Year will arrive on December 7. That first week of December will certainly be an exciting one.
There in the Shephelah we visited several different sites which are a bit off the beaten path, and are almost never visited (except by JUC’s Regional Exploration class). First up was the ancient town of Zorah (the picture at the beginning of this post is of Zorah). This is the town where Samson, the judge, grew up (Judges 13). Believe it or not, his grave is still there!￼ His name is on one, but the one next to him is unmarked. I think the second one probably belongs to Manoah, Samson’s father. Though, both graves appear to have been built in the last 40 years.
The final site we visited that day was Jarmuth. This site is a treasure trove of archaeological finds from the Bronze Age in this land. Check out Joshua 10 for a Biblical narrative which includes this city.
What is it that all of these cities have in common? Every single one of them lies along the western edge of the Shephelah. From a geographical perspective they seem like they should have been Philistine cities. They are a very long way from Jerusalem and the rest of the cities of Judah. Plus, in order to reach Jerusalem from these cities the route was either short and very difficult or really long and roundabout. Why did the Judahites bother to capture these cities which were so far from their capital in Jerusalem and away from quick access? You cannot easily tell by looking at a map, but each of these cities is one topographical ridge away from falling into the flat coastlands belonging to the Philistines. The Judahites controlled these cities as a way of maintaining an outer defensive wall against Philistine incursions into Judah. If these cities had been placed on the last ridge which descends into the Coastal Plain, the Philistines would have seen them as offensively placed cities from which the Judahites could have descended upon them. However, when placed back one ridge from the Coastal Plain, these cities become a chain of defensive positions and neighborly relations are lessened with that last ridge becoming a fence of sorts. Good fences make good neighbors, or at least, gives some respite in the constant tension and bickering between neighbors. This allows semi-peace allows the Israelites to go down to Philistia in order to have their farming tools sharpened since metallurgy was an undeveloped skill among the Israelites until the Monarchial period.
“For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins” (Lev 16:30).
Last week, Rosh Hashanah began what are known as the High Holy Days. During these holy days Judaism believes that God judges the deeds of mankind. These days of judgment end with the shofar blast at the end of Yom Kippur. At this point, you hope that your name has been sealed in the Book of Life for the coming year.
From the time of Moses, when God appointed Aaron as High Priest, until the destruction of the second Temple in 70CE (with a couple breaks, ex. the Exile) the ritual of atonement occurred every year on Yom Kippur. In the Levitical system, atonement was procured through the sacrifice of animals.
On Yom Kippur, the High Priest would offer a bull as a sacrifice to God to cleanse himself and his family prior to beginning the rituals for the cleansing of the nation. Prior to this sacrifice, the nation of Israel, who would have all gathered at the Tabernacle or Temple for this day, would have brought two male goats to the High Priest as well as a ram.
“Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel” (Lev 7-10).
The High Priest then performed a ritual in which he placed his hands upon the goat, called the Azazel, symbolically laying upon it all the sins of the nation from the past year. The Azazel was then led outside of the camp (or later, out of the city of Jerusalem), into the wilderness by a Gentile. The Gentile would leave the goat in the wilderness to die. It is interesting that later Jewish sources mention that the Gentile who led the Azazel out into the Wilderness would push the goat off of a cliff. It makes you wonder if the Azazel had wandered back into town the year before. Once all the sin of the nation has been placed upon this goat you certainly do not want it showing up in your backyard!
You can read about God’s guidelines for the day in Leviticus 16. Scriptures read on this day include the Leviticus 16, the book of Jonah, various Psalms, and a few other passages.
As a Christian, why is this day important to us? Well, I hope that as you read the paragraphs above some lightbulbs were appearing over your head as you thought, “Hey, that sounds a lot like something from the New Testament!” If you thought that, then you’re absolutely right. Before Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb, God had already laid out the pattern of redemption for us, His beloved children. Jesus took upon Himself the role of both the Azazel who was led out of town to die as well as the goat who was sacrificed on the altar as a sin offering for all the people. Atonement for sin requires blood. I know that sounds morbid, but that is the reality of how serious our sin is to God. Death of a blameless animal was all that could absolve the nation of Israel of its sin. The death of the Son of God, who as a man lived a blameless life here upon the earth, was the only thing which could make possible the saving of all humanity from the death penalty which we all incurred as a result of our own actions.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:6-7)
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:21-25a).
If Christ’s sacrifice is a picture of the ancient ceremony of Yom Kippur, then, as Christians, who is our High Priest?
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:14-16).
“He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Heb 7:25-27).
Jesus’ sacrifice was 100% effective. Through offering himself as an unblemished sacrifice He made it possible for our consciences to be cleansed so that we might serve the living God (Heb 9:14). He obtained eternal redemption (Heb 9:12) and is now capable of saving completely (Heb 7:25) those who choose Him as their covenant representative.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:1-4).
Unlike Judaism, those who have accepted Jesus as their covenant representative do not have to wait for a once a year opportunity to confess their sins to God. We must work out our salvation daily, always becoming more like our covenant representative, Jesus.
“ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).
As Christians, Yom Kippur serves to remind us of the seriousness of sin to God and our need for His grace. It also reminds us of the urgent necessity to seek His forgiveness and cleansing daily. Through the work of our great High priest, this is not an unreal dream. This is a living reality.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).
On this day, we, as Christians, rest from work (the earth will not stop spinning if you take a total day off from work once a week) to remember that our sin has been atoned for once and for all. With Jesus’ sacrifice and the arrival of the Holy Spirit on earth He made it possible for us to live with Him in complete freedom from sin every day of our lives. We no longer have to wait for a single day of the year for our sin to be atoned for and to experience His grace. We may confess to Him daily so that nothing chokes the relationship between our Heavenly Father and us.
Have you ever wondered why it is that the apostle Paul always begins his letters “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” with grace and peace appearing in that order? What must come first so that we may have true, lasting, complete peace? God’s grace! How is it that it is possible for this grace to be bestowed upon us?
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11-12).
This grace is possible for us to receive because our great High Priest is no longer standing, performing priestly duties. His work has been completed! He has sat down! “It is finished” (John 19:30). Through Him alone, true, eternal freedom and peace are now available to all those who choose Jesus as their savior and covenant representative.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned...If, because of one man's [Adam’s] trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:12, 17).
Therefore, may you daily live in freedom knowing the awesome gift which God has bestowed upon you. And, may you be a living example of the love which God our Father, the source of more abundant goodness than we can imagine or contain, is willing, ready and yearning to fill you with every single day.
Grace and peace to you!
Some of you have heard the story, others have not. Now, I have some pictures so that you may see what I’m talking about. My first semester at JUC I stayed in a room upstairs from where I am staying now. In this room there is a cable which comes through the wall and goes out the window. My roommate and I used it as a clothesline. However, it was installed by the Israelis during the War of Independence in 1948, for the purpose of moving supplies and wounded soldiers across the Hinnom Valley to and from their base on the Southeast side. It is 200 meters long and carried a cable car from one side of the valley to the other. At its greatest distance above the Hinnom Valley it is about 50 meters high. A ride along the cable took about 2 minutes in each direction.
One night some of the Israeli soldiers managed to sneak their way up into the school through tunnels that go under the Hinnom and come up within the school grounds. (These tunnels are still there but are now locked up.) They established an outpost here and strung up the cable to receive supplies and send back their wounded. The opposite end of the cable was attached to a crank which was situated in a house across the Hinnom Valley. During the day the Israelis lowered the cable to the floor of the Hinnom so that the Jordanians would not see it. At night they cranked it up to use it for transporting supplies and wounded soldiers across on trolleys. It was from my old bedroom that many of the attacks attempting to free the Jewish Quarter were staged.
That is all for now. I pray all of you have had excellent weeks with less sitting in a car or plane than mine has had.
Grace and peace,
It was led by some guys with flags with writing in Arabic. They were followed by groups of Arab children and teens who were dressed like American boy and girl scouts. I don't know what they were from. Following them came a small marching band. After they passed the crowd fell in behind. It was a sea of yellow tourist hats, matching t-shirts, priests in long robes, and palm branches. We fell into line pretty close to the front, in the midst of a French group being led in singing Shine Jesus Shine, in French, over a loudspeaker. We soon dropped out of their group and joined a Latino group from Venezuela. These guys had brought drums and guitars and were a bit more lively than the French group. So we danced and sang as we climbed up the back of the Mt. of Olives, reached the summit and began to descend the east side, facing Jerusalem. No one knows exactly where Jesus came down the Mt. of Olives. Today, there is only one road down Jerusalem side. Along it are churches memorializing the place where "Jesus wept" in John 11, and possible locations of the Garden of Gethsemane. Thousands of people from all over the world were marching/dancing down this street with me. Once we reached the bottom of the mountain we turned right and zig-zagged up to the Lion's Gate/Stephen's Gate, just north of the Temple Mount. We went in the gate and to St. Anne's church.
Here, there was music playing really loudly. We hung around for around an hour and a half in the courtyard waiting for something to happen. There was an area marked off with an altar in it and it looked as though there would be a service of some sort. After about 1.5 hours the rest of the procession had all arrived. Nothing was happening and we were getting really thirsty and tired so we left. Some hung behind and told me that there was eventually a service, but it was in some other language that they didn't know, and it only lasted about 5 minutes. So, it seems I didn't miss much. Walking back through the Old City to JUC was interesting as always. Up in the Muslim Quarter where St. Anne's church is, the streets were packed with Christians. It felt a bit weird since it usually seems like we're the vast minority around here.
We have entered into a very exciting week here in Jerusalem! It's Holy week! It's particularly big this year because it coincides with Passover. Yesterday was Palm Sunday, next Tuesday is Passover, then Maunday Thursday followed by Good Friday, and finally Easter Sunday. Starting on Palm Sunday, we have a week of ritual processions, reenactments, and all sorts of other interesting, fascinating, and unusual things. We have begun to be deluged by tens of thousands of tourists who will continue to totally clog all the arteries of this city for the next week. But, that's one of the interesting parts of being here. Just yesterday I talked with people from Russia, Finland, Greece, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, and Italy.
The Old City is beginning to feel a bit claustrophobic as traffic within it slows to a crawl. The normally pungent smell of incense is extra overwhelming right now. When you need to cover up the smell of thousands and thousands of sweaty humans packed into the Old City's narrow streets, there is no option other than incense. A Glade Plugin does not cut it around here. Amid the "big" days there are numerous other events. Probably the most famous is the ceremony of the Holy Fire. If you're interested, read more about it here: http://www.holyfire.org/eng/. The author of this site absolutely believes this miracle occurs. For we Western Protestants whose roots are far from Eastern Orthodoxy it seems a bit fantastic. But then, that's the way miracles are. On the eve of Passover, the Samaritan community living on Mt. Gerizim will conduct their yearly sacrifices. Check it out here: http://www.ynet.co.il/english/articles/0,7340,L-3394699,00.html. They still do this in a very once a year in the same fashion, they claim, as it has always been done since God gave them the Torah. They once had their own temple upon Mt. Gerizim. They believe that practically every story credited to the hill upon which Solomon built his temple, actually occurred upon Gerizim. There are also only 700 of them left because they intermarry, and recently have only been having boys and no girls. They are currently paying the families of young women who will convert to Samaritanism and marry their sons. It's a very interesting life that they lead.
One day a boy is praying to God when he is passed by a man that he does not know. The man stops and asks the boy why he is praying. The boy tells the man that he prays because God has performed many miracles, such as leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and helping them to cross the Red Sea. The man says that the Red Sea was only about 10 inches deep when the Hebrews left Egypt, so there was no miracle at all. The man then goes to leave but stops when he sees that the boy is continuing to pray. When the man asks the boy why, he replies that God still performed miracles, since "it's miraculous that he was able to drown an army of Egyptians in only 10 inches of water!"
A little boy once returned from Hebrew school and his father asked, "What did you learn today?" He answered, "The Rabbi told us how Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt." "How?" The boy said "Moses was a big strong man and he beat Pharaoh up. Then while he was down, he got all the people together and ran towards the sea. When he got there, he had the Corps of Engineers build a huge pontoon bridge. Once they got on the other side, they blew up the bridge while the Egyptians were trying to cross." The father was shocked. "Is that what the Rabbi taught you?" The boy replied, "No. But you'd never believe the story he DID tell us!"
Have a blessed week!
Below is information about each of the places I walked through in the video.
The Place of the Invention of the Cross - According to legend, Constantine’s mother, Helena, had a dream in which she saw the cross of Christ in the bottom of a well. This Chapel is the former location of that well. When Helena came to the well, she found not just one cross but three, Christ’s and one for each of the two thieves. To determine which cross was Christ’s a sick man was brought to touch each of the crosses. When he touched that of Christ he was instantly healed. This is the legend. Today you can find pieces of the so-called “true” cross in dozens, maybe even hundreds, of churches around the world.
The St. Helena Chapel - This is a chapel dedicated to Constantine’s mother. There is a seat in the southeast corner of this chapel which is supposedly where Helena sat in 351 CE while she searched for the cross.
The Chapel of the Division of Holy Robes - This is an Armenian chapel commemorating the division of Christ’s robes between the soldiers at the foot of His cross.
The Longinus Chapel - This is a Greek chapel dedicated to the memory of St. Longinus who, according to legend, is the Roman soldier who pierced Christ’s side and then converted.
The Holy Prison - According to a 12th-century tradition this prison housed Christ and the two thieves before their crucifixions.
The Altar of Mary Magdalene - This is the Roman Catholic area of the church and is supposed to be the place where Christ appeared to Mary after his resurrection.
The Jacobite Chapel - This is the Syrian chapel which contains a tomb supposedly owned by Joseph of Arimathea. There have been several fires in the church and this chapel has been severely damaged. However, nothing has been done to repair it.
The Coptic Chapel - This is a structure built on the back of the edicule (the name of the building commemorating the location of Christ’s tomb).
The Anastasis/Rotunda - This large domed building houses the edicule. The dome is painted with 12 stars whose rays symbolize the spreading of Christ’s message by each of the 12 apostles. The painting was designed by a man from South Dakota and was completed in 1997. Some of the columns around the edges of the rotunda are from the original church built here by Constantine in the 4th century.
The Edicule/Christ’s Tomb - This large, box-like structure is supported on the outside by scaffolding due to earthquakes which have caused severe damage to the church in the past. It is not very attractive. Inside the edicule are two rooms. The first is the Chapel of the Angels, which contains a piece of the stone which was rolled away from the tomb entrance by the angels at Christ’s resurrection. The second room is the Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher. This is the actual site of the tomb. Covering the stone where Christ’s body was laid is a slab of marble upon which a vase with candles marks the spot where his head lay.
The Armenian Shrine - It’s just that, an Armenian shrine. I don’t know what it commemorates.
The Stone of the Unction - This is supposed to be the stone upon which Christ’s body was prepared for burial. In actuality, the stone that is now here was placed here in 1808 to replace the stone slab which had been placed there in the 12th century but destroyed.
The Chapel of the Derision - This is a Greek chapel which is also known as the Chapel of the Crowning of Thorns.
The Chapel of Adam - Within this chapel there is a cracked slab of rock behind panes of glass. There was a tradition, mentioned by Origen in the 2nd century, which said Christ was crucified over the place where Adam (the 1st man) was buried. The crack in the rock is supposed to be the result of the earthquake which followed Christ’s death.
Golgotha - This is reached by a steep stairway immediately to the right as you enter the church. On top of Golgotha are two chapels. The one on the right is the Catholic (Franciscan) Chapel of the Nailing of the Cross. The one on the left is a Greek chapel which is built upon the actual rock of Golgotha which the entire church was built around. Through the glass of the altar you can see the top of Golgotha and the three slots cut into the stone to hold the three crosses. One for Christ and the others for the two thieves.
At this point, my camera’s memory card was full. Fortunately, I made it to every location within the church that is reachable by a tourist. You may have noticed, Golgotha doesn’t look very much like the paintings you may have seen, and the tomb certainly doesn’t reside in the midst of a garden. I wish they did, but in the 4th century, when this church was initially built, the way of Constantine commemorated everything was by leveling everything but Golgotha and covering over it all with marble. I wish he hadn’t done that. It would be amazing to see these spots preserved as they were at the time of Christ. We’ll just have to wait for someone to invent a time machine so that we can go back and see how it was.
This last Saturday I was went to Jericho with a class on the history of the Church in the East. We visited five monasteries, each of a different Eastern Orthodox church. You can check out the pictures from this field study here. All these monasteries are located in the area of the Jericho oasis down in the Rift Valley. Some of them are built on or near the ruins of former monasteries and some are brand new.
Since the time of the early church fathers, there have been patristic writings referring to monasteries in the hill country of Judea. Until the last century not a single one of these monasteries had been found. Many articles had been written about the “mythical monasteries” saying that they were just that, myths. Then, one was uncovered, and it was a huge monastery. Since that first one, over four thousand monasteries have been discovered in just the hill country and wilderness of what was once Judea!
The oldest of these was built in the 4th century by a priest named Euthemius. He originally was the only person living there and so there was no monastery. He simply lived in a cave. Over time, many monks congregated with him and prior to the death of Euthemius there are records of there being over one thousand monks living in the monastery they had built! By the time he died a village had even sprung up around the monastery. This is how it happens that a monastery is no longer a place secluded from society. It will often begin that way, however, a community would soon surround the monastery and a village would take root. The monastery would support the village and would also host and provide for any travelers who came along.
One of the disciples of Euthemius was a man named Gerasimos. Gerasimos left Euthemius with his blessings and built a monastery about ten miles away on the outskirts of what is today the modern city of Jericho. You may have heard of Gerasimos before. If you ever read Aesop’s Fables you might remember one of those fables is about a man and a lion. The man walks through the forest when he comes upon a giant lion. At first, he is terrified that the lion will rip him apart. Then he notices that it is limping. He is given the courage to come up to the lion and he discovers that the lion has a thorn in his paw. The man is able to remove it and because he relieves the lion’s pain the lion befriends him. From this point on the lion follows the man around until both are captured and separated. Later the man is thrown into the arena to be eaten by lions. The gates open and out bounds an angry snarling lion ready for lunch. But, when it sees the man it becomes tame and runs up to him. It is the lion the man helped and befriended and because of the help he had given the lion the lion now does not eat him.
This fable is of course only partly true, which is why it’s a fable. In fact, it is possible that none of it is true. Regardless, the man in this story is supposed to be Gerasimos. Today you can see a statue of his lion standing outside the entrance to the monastery which has been rebuilt upon the ruins of the monastery Gerasimos built.
The monastery of Gerasimos of the Jordan (that refers to the Jordan River, which is less than a mile from here) functions still today and is a meeting place for people of all three of the major religions in Israel. In its crypt there are purported to be bones of over five thousand monks who were all massacred during Muslim raids during the 7th and 8th centuries. The chapel of this monastery is built directly over the crypt and this is the pattern in all non-Protestant churches. Though, in America and in some newer European orthodox churches this pattern is no longer always followed.
The Ethiopians are by far the poorest of the orthodox churches. Their compound and chapels were extremely simple. They trace their roots back to the Ethiopian official who met the apostle Philipp and was converted.
The Romanians are the wealthiest church in Jericho, as you can tell from the artwork filling their chapel. It is very beautiful.
The Copts stake their claim on Christianity upon the fact that Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt, the home of the Copts, to escape Herod the Great. There are only two Coptic monks in Jericho and there are two Coptic monasteries. So, it was not surprising that there were no monks at the monastery when we visited. There were five or six Egyptians there who had come from their homes in Egypt for several months to help the monasteries harvest all of the crops that are grown there. They were telling us how much work was left to be done and how there were only five of them to do it. When asked how soon they needed to harvest they said, “Today!”. So, we hung around and harvested bushels of green beans as well as green and red peppers.
Once we finished, back to the bus we went. We went around the North edge of Jericho and up to the cliffs that form the western edge of the Rift Valley. From here it was a ten to fifteen minute hike up switchbacks to the Greek monastery. It is built right into the cliff face several hundred feet above the valley floor. It was at this spot that the Greek church claims Christ was brought by Satan and tempted with all the nations of the world. It is also here that the cave where tradition says Elijah lived when God had the ravens bring him food.
The priest at this monastery would not let us in. It was Saturday and the monastery had closed an hour and a half earlier. So, our professor went to work on him. She begged and pleaded with this man to let our group in, but he told her, “Even if you were friends of God, I would not let you in!”. I thought we were friends of God, but apparently that wouldn’t have changed anything. So, our professor gave up and began to teach us while standing up by the entrance to the monastery. After about five minutes another priest, whom our professor knew, stuck his head out a window and hollered at her. They talked in German for a while and eventually he decided to let us in! I am so glad he did. It was unlike any monastery or church I have ever been in, and what a view it has! If you ever come to Israel, be sure to bring a pair of binoculars. They make an already awesome experience and view even more incredible.
That is a quick summary of the weekend. I hope you are all doing well wherever you are!
Grace and Peace,
I landed in Tel Aviv around three and my sherut (it’s a sort of mini-bus/inexpensive taxi) dropped me off at school around five. From there it was off to unpack, see friends from my last semester here and meet lots of new people. This is going to be an exciting semester and I can’t wait to start studying.
Have a wonderful Sunday wherever you may be!
Grace and Peace,
Our trip continued at Dibon, which was Mesha’s capital. Here we talked about the swinging-door-iness of the Medeba Plateau between Ammon, Moab, and Israel. No one, except Sihon, has ever tried to base a kingdom on the Plateau. And, he did not last long once Moses came after him. It was here at Dibon that Mesha’s Stele was discovered.
Next was the city of Medeba, where we saw the Medeba Map. It was from this map, which is a mosaic on the floor of a Byzantine church, that we know what the land of Israel and its cities looked like in the second century AD.
The last stop of the last field study was at Mt. Nebo. After defeating Og, king of Bashan, The Israelites encamped in the plains of Moab between Mt. Nebo and the Jordan. In this location, they cannot see anything. They are surrounded by mountains. This area looks like the region of Sinai which they had just left. Where is the Promised Land? It is here that Moses must prepare them to enter in. He stands before them and preaches much of the book of Deuteronomy. After that, he climbs Mt. Nebo and God shows him all of the land which He promised to the Patriarchs. Could Moses really see the whole land from atop Mt. Nebo? Only if Nebo has eroded a few hundred feet in the last three thousand years. So what happened? Some suggest God gave Moses a vision of the Land. Another possibility is that Moses had already been able to look across the land from different sites in Transjordan as he moved up and down the east side of the Rift Valley conquering different kings. Whatever the case may be, Moses was not simply imagining things. What he saw was rooted in the past and the future. God brought him up to the mountaintop so that Moses could see time set before him. He saw the land the Patriarchs had lived in, where the story had begun. And, he saw the land where the children of God would live again. The Israelites in the plains below could see none of this. All they knew was what they could see at that moment, which was not very “promising”. We are often in the same place. We cannot see anymore than where we are, and sometimes we cannot even truly see that! Only God can see where we are going. He has rooted us in good soil and given us good seed to plant. It is up to us to plant it. Whatever it is we sow, we will also reap. If we plant good seed, the Gardener will cause it to flourish within us and spill over to those around us. He is good. He will give what He has promised. Even though we cannot see beyond our surroundings, He knows every senonian chalk valley and cenomanian outcropping along the path we must tread so that we might become more one with Him.
The other two stops were at an overlook of the Wadi Dana, and at Bozrah. At Bozrah Dr. Wright discussed the kingdom of Edom. They are a bit mysterious, because all we know of them is from the Israelite account of them. When they are portrayed here, they are only once allies, everywhere else they are enemies to be destroyed. So overall, the portrait that we see at first glance is not an attractive one. However, on closer examination one can pick out details about Edomite life from the Biblical account. These people were descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob. The relationship between the kingdoms of Jacob and Esau was much like that of the two brothers. For the most part they tolerated one another. There were small battles between them in the Negev, but never all-out war. In 2 Kings 3 these two even join forces to put down Mesha, king of Moab, who is rebelling against Israel since Ahab is now dead. All in all, these kingdoms get along, but once Israel is destroyed and taken into exile Edom takes much of Israel’s land for itself. Because of this the prophets Ezekiel, Amos, and Obadiah curse Edom and prophesy its destruction. “I will bring you down!” (Jeremiah 49:7-16) From Isaiah 34 we learn that the Edomites raise bedouin-type animals that are “fat”, i.e., prosperous. In Isaiah 63 the Edomites are people with wine and crimson clothing. The high elevation of Bozrah, which is the capital of Edom, provides a good dew most nights and thereby provides enough moisture to raise grapes. The crimson clothing comes from the red juice of the vine. In Ezekiel 27 we find a list of countries that Edom trades with. This is all we currently have to go on. No stele has been found which was inscribed by a king of the Edomites recording his deeds and the activities in his kingdom. It would be a great discovery if we found one. I looked but did not find it. I suppose I will have to keep working for a living. In any event, if I found it I would not get credit. You have to have a PhD to be recognized in the archaeological community.
When the people groups of the Middle East look to one another what do they see? Is it really more complex than one brother who has gypped the other out of its perceived inheritance? I do not think so. Yes, there are all sorts of dynamics to the conflict that now exists here, but that is what happens when generations pass on their feuds, hatred, and anger rather than dealing with it and reconciling themselves to one another. Hatred and pride become the focus of generations. But, not all members of this family live in this way. Real people live on both sides of this conflict. Real people with real families and real emotions and needs. There are evil people on both sides. But why are they this way? Did they go out one day and decide to be as they are now? Probably not. To get to where we all are today, many things that are a part of our hearts have been passed down by our predecessors. Things both good and bad. No matter what lives in their heart at this time, they were all created by the same Creator. He knows every person on this earth and knows every thought of each one’s heart. He would bless them all in ways too wonderful to imagine if they would only allow Him to.
Jacob did not trust God to fulfill His promise to him. He thought Esau would kill him at their meeting. But, before they met someone jumped Jacob. They wrestled half the night until the stranger told Jacob to let him go. Of course, Jacob who is always out for personal gain, demands a blessing from this stranger. Then the stranger touches Jacob’s hip, dislocating it and incapacitating Jacob. Now it is that the stranger gives Jacob a new name. The one who’s name has meant deceiver, or maybe a better description is “one who struggles against” has his named changed to “one who struggles with” God. God does not simply readjust Jacob’s character so that he is a better man. When God created Jacob, he had placed everything within Jacob that he would ever need to be exactly the man who God desired. No, God changed his name to Israel, and in so doing, changed his identity and his direction.
God has created all people with everything they will ever need to be exactly who he desires. Every single one is his beloved child. Yet throughout the course of life we are influenced by the paradigms and beliefs of our parents, and these become our own. How is the youth raised in Nablus ever to know that life is so much more than a fight for ownership of this tiny strip of land and the victory of a religion. It is not about the victory of a religion, but rather a victory that comes with the pursuit of the heart of the Creator. If Allah were so powerful, why would he continue to allow his holy sites to be desecrated? Why would he expend the lives of his followers to eliminate the infidels? Why does YHWH not send Messiah to free the Jews and rebuild the Temple? Why does He not bring peace to the world so that all of us can live in harmony with one another? Maybe it is because He already has brought peace to the world. Yeshua has come as Messiah and has enabled us to be set free. But, we choose to continue living in bondage to the former patterns and paradigms. Why is it that we often disregard stories of the Bible and treat them simply as stories for children? Why do we act as though they are irrelevant to our “grown up” lives? Perhaps it is because of just how relevant they actually are. God has already told our story. We are a part of it, no matter what we do. So, will we choose to keep up our efforts at being clever or will we trust the Creator with the life He placed within us and allow Him to reconcile our hearts with Himself and one another? God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, sending Him in a brand new direction. He has done the same for us. Messiah provided us with a new covenant-representative and through Him, we have the option of taking on a new name, identity, and direction. His conditions for granting this new identity are stiff. Giving up one’s life is not easy. But, why would we not trust the One who created us and who offers His heart, Spirit, and endless Life in return?
Today began with a drive out of Jerusalem, down the Ascent of Adummim, past Jericho, and across the Israeli-Jordanian border. Once we made it through customs, which was pretty easy, we went to Tel Succoth. It sits in a mouse-hole bay of the Transjordanian mountains and near the head of the Jabbok canyon. A little way up this canyon is Mahanaim, near where Jacob was reunited with Esau. The land surrounding Succoth contains a certain type of clay which may be used for foundries and the smelting of copper. In 1 Kings 7 the articles used in the building of the temple are listed, and in verse 46 it refers to the copper brought from the foundries between Succoth and Zarathon. We do not have definite proof of the location of Zarathon, but it is believed that it is the next tel to north of Succoth.
From Succoth we moved up the Rift Valley to the ancient site of Pehel. The tel of Pehel was the city of the Old Testament period. In the time of Roman occupation the city moved down the tel to the hills surrounding the tel. The city was then renamed Pella. It was one of the ten cities of the Decapolis.
The next visit was to Gedara, which was also a Decapolis city. It lies further to the north on the edge of the Rift Valley. Gedara sits at the edge of a basalt plug and because of this, and the desire to outdo all the other Decapolis cities, Gedara built most of its structures out of basalt. From this city one can look down and see the Sea of Galilee and Tiberias on the other side. There is an octagonal church here at Gedara. Octagonal churches were built by the Byzantines to commemorate locations where Jesus did a miracle or preached a sermon or something else along those lines. I think this church was built to commemorate Jesus driving Legion into the herd of pigs. However, I am not certain. I do not remember ever hearing what the purpose of this church was. I do not think anyone alive today knows for sure. In any case, it seems a bit ridiculous to suppose that this was the site of the driving out of Legion. If it was, then those pigs would have been in either amazing shape or else Legion gave those pigs some un-pig-like abilities. In the story the pigs run into the Sea. It is miles from Gedara to the sea. Plus, the Wadi Yarmuk is just to the north and must be descended in order to access the Sea. If pigs could climb down the steep, rocky cliffs of this wadi, it still would have taken them hours and hours to reach the Sea and throw themselves in. The much more likely location for this miracle is at Gergasa, on the shore of the Sea, which I visited on the last field study. Something interesting about this octagonal church phenomena is that the Dome of the Rock is also an octagon. What does this mean? The purpose of its construction in this shape was to symbolize how Islam was absorbing Christianity into itself. At least, that was the perspective of it’s Islamic builders.
The final site of the day was Ramoth Gilead. We arrived here just as the sun was setting which was okay because all there was to see was a tell and the corner of a stone wall. In 1 Kings 22 Ahab sweeps across the Rift Valley with Jehosaphat in tow with the intent of taking this city for himself. For Ahab this is a very risky move. This city has very easy access from the desert, so it naturally belongs to the Syrians. However, it was part of the inheritance of the Twelve Tribes which had never been held on to. So, ignoring the prophecy of Macaiah, Ahab attacks and is killed at Ramoth Gilead.
Have a wonderful week! I will be going to Jordan for four days this week, so check back Monday or Tuesday and I will hopefully have images from that trip on here.
It is almost afternoon here in Jerusalem, but back home the clock is closing in on 3am. Last night, in between Skype, emails, and studying, I came upon a song in my iTunes library that I had never listened to before. It is called “Anywhere You Are” and was written by Chris Nesbitt. You can download the song and album for free from his website. The words and the music of this song are beautiful. Here are the lyrics:
There is no better place than near to You
To listen for Your voice and follow You
Cause I want to be anywhere You are
Moving ever closer to Your heart
And I want to live with the single goal
Of embracing all that moves Your soul
So pour me out like water
My every breath I offer
Forgive me for the times my eyes are closed
And lead me where Your love is needed most
Cause I want to be anywhere You are
Moving ever closer to Your heart
And I want to live with the single goal
Of embracing all that moves Your soul
So pour me out like water
My every breath I offer
So pour me out like water
My every breath I offer
I desire to embrace and care for the heart of God. Experiencing His heart has been a very difficult part of my time here in Israel. It is much more real and alive than anything I have ever known before. I have learned a lot of unexpected things about who I really am as a child of God. He has broken down walls between my heart and His. He is more than I ever dreamed possible. His heart is a deeper, wider, more beautiful and intricate well of love and life than I ever imagined. He is the King of all the Universe and yet, He is also my incredible Father. His embrace brings joy unlike any other. It is amazing that He will only draw us deeper into Himself. How can there be more? Everything I experience in Him is more than I ever imagined possible! Yet, there will always be more. He is just that indescribably awesome!
Edit (2/3/2011): Originally this was linked to an article on CNN.com, but that article has been removed. Check out this one on scientificamerican.com instead.
Also at Sepphoris is an amazing mosaic in the home of one of the wealthier members of the community. This mosaic is one of the most beautiful ever discovered, or for that matter, created. From a distance all of the stones meld together to form a seamless image with smooth color transitions and accurate human proportions. This mosaic was the floor of the banquet hall of the house. It was the floor of the triclinium. It portrays the myth of Dionysius and at the very bottom-center a woman’s head is set. This is the Mona Lisa of Sepphoris. She is either the home-owner’s wife, his mistress, or what he wished his wife looked like. The tables which were eaten from were set in a U-shape around the central mosaic. The host or most important person at the meal would sit on the right, with his closest companion on his left and his second-in-command on his left. Then people would sit in order of descending rank around the tables until the least important who sat at the top of the U on the left side. In the case of Yeshua and the Last Supper, it would make sense for Peter to be sitting on His right side and John, his kind-of adopted son would be on His left. However, when feet were washed, those of the most important guests were washed first and the least important last. Since Peter’s feet were washed last was he sitting at the top of the U on the left? He may not have been. The Bible is not clear on where Peter’s feet were in the order of washing, but it does not sound as though he was the first one as you would expect. Perhaps Peter had picked up on “the last shall be first” teaching by this time. He still had a lot more to learn before he grew into his name though.
Joseph came to Bethlehem because every man had to return to his home city in order to be counted. Because this was his home city, Joseph would have had family still living there. He and Mary would not have gone to an inn. As far as we know, there was no such thing as an inn in Judea at this point, other than perhaps the brothel sort of inn. Joseph and Mary would have gone to the home of his family. Scripture says that there was no room for them. It is known from extra-biblical sources and present-day traditions that women of this land preferred to give birth with the animals in the “stable” because of the warmth of all of the animals. Also, few people actually had a “stable”. Rather, when the weather was cold the animals were brought inside the front room of the house. This was the guest room. It is very likely that the “stable” Mary gave birth in was actually the best room of the house amidst the warmth of the animals belonging to Joseph’s family. Yes, it still would have been smelly, but life during that time was pretty smelly no matter what strata of society you lived in.
After telling us this story Dr. Wright pointed out the door to the house and told us about Joseph’s role in the community. In our English translations he is referred to as a carpenter, but his real profession was a tekton, a sort of jack-of-all-trades. He was the all-around handyman who could do a little bit of everything. This is what Jesus was raised in and trained to do. The house we were sitting in had a roof made of sticks with dirt and grass on top of that. There is a story where a man is dropped on a stretcher through the roof of the house Jesus is teaching in. Jesus heals the man and after the hubbub subsides you can imagine the house-owner probably cleared his throat as if to say, “We’re not done here yet.” Who do you think fixed his roof? Maybe the all-around handyman? Or, perhaps the man who had been healed said, “Finally, I can do this,” and Jesus said “Let me show you how.”
Following our visit to Dan we went to Caesarea Philippi. This city is also known as Banias. Herod built up the city here and named it after himself. Then, to please Caesar he built a temple to Caesar and tacked Caesar on before his own name. This was a center of the cult of Pan who was the Roman equivalent of the Canaanite god, Baal. Caesarea Philippi was a very comfortable Gentile city, and it was here that Yeshua chose to bring His disciples in Matthew 16:13. This is the episode where Yeshua asks them “Who do people say that I am?” They come back with a load of responses, then Yeshua asks “Who do you say that I am?” Then Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Why did Jesus bring the disciples all the way up here for this conversation? Perhaps here in a place much like Caesarea on the coast, Jesus was pushing the disciples. In this center of paganism, as far from Judaism as you can get, who do you believe that I am? Can you proclaim me here or only back home where life is comfortable? Will you proclaim me and trust me to provide for you? There is an interesting geological connection to this message. The region of Caesarea Philippi is made up entirely of basalt, which erodes into very fertile soil. This creates an agricultural ability that is unmatched in most of the rest of the world. The basalt provides shelter as well as soil for crops. It sustains and provides life. I think Yeshua possibly chose the place for this teaching in part because of the land and the rock it was built upon. Perhaps the “rock” upon which Yeshua will build His church is not Peter as many suppose. Perhaps the “rock” is Himself, the ultimate provider and sustainer of all creation. Following this conversation between Him and His disciples it seems that now everyone knows who everyone else is, so now the real journey may begin. Dr. Wright considers this to be the beginning of a nine month Triumphal March to Jerusalem.
Next stop, the Dead Sea! Swimming there was great, but it sure was strange. You float with nearly half of your body out of the water! Treading water is not necessary. It is just like your sitting in a bean bag filled with water instead of beans (I suppose those are called waterbeds). After that we climbed through the oasis of En Gedi and washed the salt off in the fresh water springs that come up there. It was marvelous!
The last site visited on this three day field study was Qumran. This is the settlement near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. There is no solid consensus on what this settlement actually was. The original excavator, Father Roland De Vaux, claimed that it was the site of a Jewish cult known as the Essenes and that the people who lived there were the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Later excavations and analyses have challenged this hypothesis. Some claim that this was really a Roman villa and others that this was a trade depot. Neither has large amounts of evidence to support it. The article on Qumran on Wikipedia currently does a good job of discussing the differing opinions. Some also believe that the caves of Qumran were used as permanent libraries, storage facilities, and even living quarters of the settlement. I think this is unlikely. The original openings to the caves are extremely small and difficult to pass through. The openings in all of the modern photographs are of the openings that were blown out by de Vaux to make entry and excavation easier. I think that the settlement below probably was one of Essenes and that when they knew the Romans were going to sweep through they hid the scrolls there. The caves might have been used for storage earlier, however, access just seems far too complicated for them to have been in regular, everyday use. We actually were able to climb up and have class in one of the caves! While there we read from Ezekiel 9, focusing on verse 3. In this verse it seems that God, in some way, exiled Himself. Throughout our study of historical geography the theme of territorial gods continues to arise. Our God makes it clear over and over again that He is God of the universe, not just a territory. And, even though He seems to exile Himself in some way, He returns and He brings with Him living water (Ezekiel 47)! This water makes the Dead Sea fresh, i.e., it brings life to Sheol, the abyss. If God can do that, He is more than capable of bringing Life to our dead flesh. We just have to trust Him.
In chapter 21 of Genesis Isaac is born. As soon as Abraham has an heir he becomes a force to be reckoned with. It is almost immediately that Abimelek, King of Gerar, comes to Beersheva and makes a treaty with Abraham. This treaty is useful to Abimelek because it protects access to his city from the East. It is at this point that Abraham is no longer considered simply a desert nomad. He is now a sheik with an heir. As a symbol of their treaty Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheva.
Also at Beersheva is a reconstruction of the altar of Beersheva. I think the real one is in the archaeological museum in Istanbul. Because the animals to be sacrificed were alive until they were slaughtered on the altar there were horns put on the corners of the altar. These were used to tie the animal down. There is a small problem with there being an altar here in Beersheva. If there was a sacrificial altar here in an Israelite town, then there must have been a temple here. There is nothing in the Bible about a temple in Beersheva, but the altar would not have been set up without a temple as well. The problem is that there was only supposed to be one temple in Jerusalem where the Lord dwelt. So what is this doing out here? Read the paragraphs that concern Arad and you will find out.
While on Beersheva we briefly discussed the law as Moses recorded it, and compared it to the law that existed prior to the Torah. Prior to the Torah, and still today, the system of justice in the Middle East is one of revenge. If someone injures you in any way you have the right to exact twice the value of the injury from the offender. What is “twice the value”? That is up for a lot of conjecture. A decade or so ago, one of the bus drivers of the company we use accidentally ran his bus into a flock of sheep that were crossing the highway, killing about thirty sheep. So what was the value of the revenge the shepherd wanted to exact. He wanted to kill the bus driver! This is the exact same situation that existed across the Middle Eastern civilizations at the time of the Patriarchs and Moses. What was the system of law put in place by the Torah? An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. This system exacted a 1-1 type of revenge. Also, under Torah, if anyone killed someone accidentally, they could flee to a city of refuge, cling to the horns of the altar there, and in so doing voluntarily exile themselves and save their life. If they ever returned home, they could be killed in revenge for the accidental death. In the context of the culture, the Torah brought grace into a society plagued with fear and violence. The Law is about grace, not condemnation and death. That certainly is not how it is usually portrayed.
From Beersheva we rode east to the tell of Arad. There is tons of material I could talk about concerning Arad. It has been discussed over and over again in multiple archaeology classes over the last month. But, I will just focus on the synagogue right now because that was the field study’s main focus. This synagogue is actually not a synagogue, but a temple. Guess why! There is an altar and a holy of holies here. Another temple besides the one in Jerusalem? What could be going on here? I’ll get to that. On top of the altar is a large stone upon which the iron grill would rest. This stone is known as the “Ariel” (R-E-L, not the mermaid). There are incense altars at the entrance to the holy of holies, which is supposed to have been the innermost room of the temple where God dwelt. The incense burning on the altar is supposed to symbolize the prayers of the saints. These prayers are a pleasing aroma to God. The incense altars are situated deeper into the temple than the sacrificial altar. You were only worthy to offer prayers to God once you had offered your sacrifice to Him to atone for your sins. Why do we not offer sacrifices any longer before we are able to pray? Are we missing something or treading on God’s toes or what? No! Yeshua sacrificed Himself for us so that we might come to the Father! That is so awesome!
Within the holy of holies there are two standing stones. What is that about? In the Temple of Jerusalem there was one standing stone. Do you know what it was? The Ark of the Covenant was THE standing stone. It was the place God dwelt. So why are there two standing stones at this temple of Arad? There are three known possibilities. Some suggest that this was actually a temple for Baal and Asherah. The problem is that these were northern fertility gods. There was no fertility around Arad. This was purely a town for trade and caravans. It does not make sense to have a god of fertility here. An possible answer was found in an ancient military fortress near Arad. In it an inscription was found which said, “To Yahweh and His Asherah”. Whoa! God has a wife? What is this about? Do not fear. Your faith is not in danger. I will explain in a few more sentences. The second option arises from the excavation of the holy of holies. When they were discovered, both of these standing stones had fallen down. So it is possible that one of them was simply a building block and not a standing stone. The last accepted option is that the two stones represent the male and female natures of God.
So, what is the deal with these other temples and multiple standing stones? All of these were built during the early Monarchical Period. If you remember your monarchical stories you may remember that there are many stories of kings, especially Judean kings, who assume the throne and then travel throughout the kingdom tearing down the high places the people and former kings have set up. That is what the temples at Beersheva and Arad were, high places. These were splinters of the original Yahweh-based religion of Torah.
The day ended with a visit to Avdat, which was a city of the Nabateans. Herod the Great’s mother was a Nabatean. They were people who had been nomads and ran the spice route of the Orient. However, they began drinking wine and after that could no longer be nomads. This is because grapes are not something you can raise and harvest in one year. You must settle and spend at least five years caring for the vines before you have grapes for wine.
Last of all, we watched the sun set over the Rift Valley from Mizpeh Ramon. We then drove back to the modern city of Arad to spend the night in the hostel there.
Along the way down the valley we stopped at a cave which was once the house of a family living during Iron Age II. This was the age when Solomon (Shlomo) was king over the United Monarchy. In 1 Kings 4:22-3 a list of Solomon’s daily provisions is given. The quantity of these provisions is absolutely massive! “Solomon’s daily provisions were thirty cors of the finest flour and sixty cors of meal, ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle and a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl.” A cor is the approximate equivalent of eleven bushels. It is no wonder that after his death the people of the Israel came to Rehoboam pleading “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” (2 Chron.10:4) Solomon had men who he would send throughout his kingdom collecting his “provisions”. The family who lived in this cave in the Sorek valley would have been one of those suffering under Solomon’s demands. One of Solomon’s men could come through any day and take off with the family cow as well as their supply of grain and whatever else they might have. It was a very hard and insecure way of life for the common people under Solomon’s rule.
On the way to our hike down the Sorek valley we passed the crusader fortress of Kastel. This was the site of many battles between the Arabs and Jews following the Partition and the eventual withdrawal of the British. It was interesting to see, especially since I am currently reading the Zion Chronicles, by Bodie Thoene. This series of books is historical fiction that is based on the events surrounding Partition and the formation of the new state of Israel.
Stop number two was down the Husan Ridge Route at the tell of Beth Shemesh. Beth Shemesh sits at the location where the Sorek valley moves from the Hill Country into the Shephelah. As it moves from one geographical/geological area to the other the rock type changes from cenomanian to eocene and because of this the valley becomes much broader and shallower. At this location overlooking the Shephelah we read Judges 1:27-36. In these verses the areas of the Land Israel was not able to take are listed. These areas are many, however, the Israelites still claim possession of the Land. It is still this way today. Phineas, who we met a couple weeks ago in the West Bank settlement town of Alon-Moreh, strongly believes that all of the Land still belongs to Israel and simply needs to be reclaimed from the “modern Canaanites”. This is why there are no walls around Alon-Moreh. In Israel, walls do not only stand as a way to keep invaders out. They also hold the inhabitants of the walled land in. So, if you wall yourself in, you are declaring that what is inside these walls is mine and what is outside is not. Because Phineas believes all of Israel belongs to the Jews he will not build walls around his settlement. If he did so, he would see himself as surrendering to the Palestinians. This leads to questions about the wall between the West Bank and Israel. Is it just keeping Palestinians from the West Bank out or is it also keeping the Jews of Jerusalem penned in? That is a question that gets always gets a fiery and passionate response from those who live in this land.
At Beth Shemesh we also read the story of Samson in Judges 13-16. Samson was born and raised in Mahaneh Dan (13:25). From Beth Shemesh the ruins of this town simply appear as a bald spot on top of a hill covered in trees. Over the course of Samson’s life as he traveled between his home and Philistia, he would have passed along the ridge above Beth Shemesh down into the Shephelah and along the Sorek into the Coastal Plain. It was probably in this valley of Beth Shemesh that Samson caught the three hundred foxes and sent them through the fields of the Philistines with torches on their tails. Though, I do not have any idea where he found three hundred foxes. They were either far more prevalent three and a half thousand years ago, or else the author of Judges exaggerated. Either one is possible. After Samson slaughtered the Philistines for the death of his wife and father he fled to the rock of Etam. This was somewhere to the south of the Husan Ridge Route, and probably near Bethlehem of Judah. Later on, when Samson is staying with a prostitute in Gaza he gets up in the middle of the night and tears the gates of the city from their hinges and carries them clear to Hebron. In removing the gates of the city Samson symbolically single-handedly conquered the city of Gaza. If the gates of a city were destroyed then that city’s defenses were fatally compromised and it was considered conquered. Last weekend I went on a field study to Tell Qasile which was a Philistine city from as early as the 13th century BC. Today this tell sits in the middle of Tel Aviv in the Eretz Israel Museum. In this Philistine a temple was found. This was probably not the temple destroyed by Samson, but it was a temple like this. In the story Samson’s hands are placed on two pillars which support the roof of the temple. In excavations of the temple at Tell Qasile it was found that on either side of the threshold of the temple stood large pillars which held up the roof. It would have been between these that Samson stood to destroy the temple. Also, Samson could be considered to be the first suicide terrorist whom we have a historical record of. This was an amazing man to set up as a judge over Israel. Later in the day, at the tell of Azekah, Dr. Wright explained his opinion that Samson was supposed to have done what David did. Over and over again, Samson had the opportunity to drive the Philistines from the Land, but he repeatedly gave in to woman and rather than living by his Nazarite vow and as one set apart for service to God he continually rebelled. Yet every time God accepted him again! Imagine what it would have been like if it had been Samson who faced off against Goliath instead of David. Dr. Wright likened it to heavyweight boxing back in the time of Ali and Foreman and dubbed what could have been the Samson-Goliath contest the “Quakah at Azekah”. It was not until David that the Philistines were driven out of the heartland of Israel.
Azekah is a large tell built on a giant hill along the Elah valley. From here you can see the tell of Gath, where Goliath was from. There is a lot of disagreement concerning where the site of the battle between David and Goliath was. The tourist site is along a stream where you can pick up your five stones just like David did. In case you ever come here and do the tourist thing, know that the stream ran out of stones a long time ago, and they now truck them in every few weeks and spread them along the stream bed. They are just ensuring that tourists get the experience they are looking for and that the bus companies keep bringing tourists to the shops along the stream. It is all a racket. The actual battle most likely took place across the valley and around the hill from this stream with displaced stones where your tour guide insists it was. The town of Azekah was one of those that Rehoboam fortified for the defense of Judah in 2 Chronicles 11. He fortified many cities but most of them were in the Elah valley because he feared a Philistine invasion.
The last official site of today’s field study was Lachish. Tiglath-Pileser had taken most of the Land. Then his descendant Sargon II died in battle in the Caucuses and his body was lost. This was taken as a bad omen for Assyria and the rest of the world saw the Assyrians as weak because of it. This included Hezekiah. He saw this as an opportunity to build up his own defenses and expand his kingdom. I have talked about his build up of the defenses of Jerusalem before. When Hezekiah completed Lachish it was a terribly imposing fortress. In reality, the Assyrians were not weak. It was not too long before Sennacharib came sweeping through the Land gobbling up city after city. When he came to Lachish he began to build a siege ramp up it using Israelites he had taken into slavery. Those inside the city began to build a counter-siege ramp in an attempt to keep the wall above the siege ramp of the Assyrians. Eventually, the defenders were overwhelmed and Lachish was taken. Sennacharib absolutely decimated the city and destroyed all of its people. Both of these siege ramps still stand.
We unofficially ended the day at historical museum at Ashkelon, which was another Philistine city. Here the oldest arch in the world was discovered. The arch is in the gate. Until this discovery it was thought that the arch was an invention of the Greeks or Romans. However, now arches older than anything in Greece or Italy have been found in Ashkelon and Dan. That was about it for the history at this site. We spent the next hour playing in the Mediterranean. That’s why this was an unofficial site. Supposedly “fun doesn’t happen at official field study sites”. Yeah, right. I guess I won’t let anyone know I have fun at other sites we visit.
Stop number two was at the Zionist settlement town of Elon-Moreh. This settlement is across the Michmathah Valley from Shechem. Because it is a settlement town it has a gate and we had to be escorted by a member of the town wherever we went in the settlement. His name was Phineas though it is pronounced “Pinhoss”. He was very interesting to listen to as long as you could hear him. He was very soft-spoken except for times when he began talking about the rights of Jews to the lands. At those moments he would begin yelling and waving his arms. He was very passionate about everything, and it was fun to listen to him. Phineas was one of the founders of this settlement. Today there is a military base surrounding the summit of one of the hills of the settlement, and it was to the summit of this hill that Phineas took us. He pointed out Joseph’s tomb, near Shechem. This tomb is actually the tomb of a medieval sheik, but if you told Phineas that, he would probably say that was just an example of Arabs trying to take over and discredit Jewish sites. Phineas also pointed out a possible site of the altar Joshua built at Shechem. It was on the north side of Mt. Ebal. Down the slope of Mt. Ebal is the Fariah Valley. This cuts through the Samarian hill country to the Jordan Valley. Phineas claims that Abraham came with Sarah and his whole family through this valley as they traveled into the land from Haran. It is possible, but unlikely as it is a very indirect route. Phineas also believes that Joshua led the Israelites up this valley when they entered the land. Again, this is probably not true, but it makes the hill his settlement stands on important. In the Fariah Valley sits the Tell of Tirzah as well as the city where Alimelek, the son of Gideon, was killed by the woman with the rock.
After leaving Phineas we climbed Mt. Gerizim. From there we looked down into the ancient city of Shechem. It is on the south side of Mt. Ebal, in Wadi Shechem. This wadi cuts between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim to the city of Samaria and out to the coastal plain. In the base of this wadi is the ancient site of Shechem. We were unable to actually visit the ancient site because to get there you must travel through the modern city of Nablus, which was the Roman city of Neapolis. The checkpoints around this town is extremely tight as it is home to two refugee camps which are considered “hotbeds” of terrorism. So, we stood atop Mt. Gerizim, right next to a military base, and looked down on Nablus, Shechem, and the New Testament town of Sychar. The ruins which we saw were from the Shechem of the time period of Abraham (Genesis 12). It is also the site where Joshua pronounced the blessings and curses over the tribes of Israel. It is possible that these blessings and curses are those listed in Deuteronomy 28. Since we were looking down on the site, and were unable to walk around it, the most interesting thing about the site was comparing it to Jerusalem. Shechem was the capitol of the northern kingdom of Israel. It sits on a highway in a semi-protected valley and it is surrounded by large amounts of arable land. On the other hand, Jerusalem is completely surrounded by high hills and wilderness. There is insufficient land there for the city to sustain itself on, and it is a militarily precarious position. It would have made much more sense for David to set up his capitol at Shechem. From here, kingdoms could be launched. Though, because of its location, a kingdom built here would also be constantly in danger of being overrun by empires passing through the area. When the kingdom split this was where Jeroboam set up his kingdom. He later moved it to Tirzah because Shechem was too exposed for his taste. Later on, there was a coup and Omri, who was the general of Israel, became king. He felt that Tirzah was far too secluded, so he moved the kingdom up the Wadi Shechem and built it at Samaria. From here he had easy access both to the heartland as well as to the coastal plain. This was where David’s capitol should have been if simply geography and economics were being taken into consideration. However, if David had set up his capitol in Samaria, his tribe would have considered him a traitor, and he would probably never have been able to unite the tribes and succeed as he did.
The next stop was on the back of Mt. Gerizim at one of the only Samaritan settlements still in existence. The other is at Tel Aviv. Here we were able to meet with the Samaritan high priest, who’s name is Hitamar Cohen. He is the priest because he is descended from Levi, the son of Jacob. When he dies, one of his sons will become the high priest. Today there are only 700 Samaritans left in the world. This is because they only marry within their religion. There is a lot of intermarrying between cousins. According to their tradition, Mt. Gerizim is the only holy site on earth. This is where Adam was made, where Noah’s ark landed, where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac, and where Joshua pronounced the blessings and curses over Israel. They also believe that the next Temple will be built on Mt. Gerizim. Their religious beliefs are (1)that there is only one God. (2) Moses was his prophet. (3)Mt. Gerizim is the only holy place. (4)The five books of Moses are the only books from God. (5)When Messiah comes He will set up His kingdom on Mt. Gerizim. As you can see, the Samaritans are quite a bit different from the Jews. They also only observe the holy days which are recorded in the first five books of Moses. Their understanding of the meaning behind Yom Kippur and Succot was interesting. They believe that at Yom Kippur, you are made into a new, clean person. Then you live in the succot (booths) as a representation of living back in Eden, which (surprise, surprise) they believe was on Mt. Gerizim.
The final destination was Shiloh, where the Tabernacle stood. The exact site where the Tabernacle stood is unknown. Because the Tabernacle was a tent there is nothing left of it to excavate. However, there are three likely sites for the Tabernacle. The first is in an old orchard of almond trees. Today there is an old Turkish building standing in the orchard, which is supposed to mark some holy site. Recent excavations around the building have uncovered beautiful floor mosaics which contain three inscriptions. Here is the one I was able to get written down in my notes before we walked off to the next part of the site: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on Shiloh and its inhabitants.” This mosaic is the floor of a church. Unfortunately, the entire mosaiced floor is currently covered up by garbage bags and about a foot of sand in order to protect them. Within the next couple of years the plan is to cover the mosaic’d floors in glass so that they might be safely viewed. According to Eusebius, the church was built at the site where the altar had been. So, these mosaics are the first possible location of the Tabernacle. The second location is the highest point in Shiloh, and today has an observation tower on top of it. The third location is a rectangle of stone which has perimeter measurements that are the same as those describing the Tabernacle in the Bible. Nearby, there is a wine press. Near this wine press is a storage building which, when discovered, contained far more storage jars than could have been used by a single family. So, it is thought that this was an industrial olive press. Knowing that this was a holy site leads some to believe that this press might have been used for the holy oil. No one can be certain which of these three sites is the original. Perhaps none of them are. But, it is an awesome experience just to be standing and walking on the ground where God once dwelt with the Ark of the Covenant and to know that now He lives with me.
If you remember the story of Eli and Samuel, you probably remember that the Ark was taken into battle by Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phineas. It was captured by the Philistines and after that Eli died and the Tabernacle fell out of use as Samuel became God’s prophet to Israel. When the Ark does come back, it does not return to Shiloh. First it comes to Beth Shemesh and then to Kiriath Jearim where it stays for a “long time”. Why not take it back to Shiloh? I had never wondered about this before now, but now that I am here I am wondering. There are several places in Scripture where an answer is given. Jeremiah 7:12, “Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.” Psalm 78, particularly verse 60 also addresses this, “He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among mortals”. Another reason why the ark was not returned here is because when the Philistines conquered the Israelites and took the Ark, they also came and destroyed Shiloh. There is no Biblical evidence for this, but archaeological excavations have found a burn and rubble layer that corresponds to this period in history. This is the one and only example we possess of Israel going out to attack the Philistines. At all other times they are defending themselves.
Something interesting I learned at this site was from Deuteronomy 8. In verse 10 of the NIV, it says “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” What does that mean, “the apple of his eye”? What the Hebrew literally says is “the little man of his eye”. That’s nice, but that still does not clear things up. What is “the little man of his eye”? The little man of your eye is what you see when you get up close to someone and look into their eyes. What do you see? You see a reflection of yourself! When God looks into my eyes what does he see? He sees himself! I am the “little man of his eye”.
We left the Wadi Qilt and joined up once again with the four lane highway. Soon we reached Jericho. At Jericho, the Hill Country suddenly drops off in hundred foot cliffs into the Jordan Valley. On one of these cliffs above Jericho Herod built a fortress which is still there today. On another, there is a Byzantine church commemorating the site at which tradition says Jesus was tempted. Elisha’s Spring is also here. It was named after him because it is the spring that was poisonous, but was made clean when he scattered salt in it. Read the story in 2 Kings 2:19-22.
Jericho is both the lowest and oldest city on earth. It is so old that pottery was not even invented when it was first settled! This has caused some problems with dating, but the accepted date for the founding of Jericho is between 8300 and 8000 BC, which is in the neolithic age. In part of the excavations done by Kathleen Kenyon, there is a tower from this earliest city of Jericho. In the past, I had been told it was some kind of high place for cultic Canaanite sacrifices. If you see it in its physical setting that does not make much sense. There were a lot of higher places around on which to build an altar. So, it makes a bit more sense that this tower would have been built for defensive purposes.
There are some issues concerning whether or not there actually was a city of Jericho in Joshua’s day. Kathleen Kenyon excavated the city and claimed that there was evidence for a city being in existence before and after the time of Joshua, but not at the time when Scripture records the Israelites as marching around Jericho’s walls. What do we do with this? We could reexamine the evidence. Maybe we have misread the biblical account. Perhaps Jericho was not the Veggie Tale’s version with giant walls. Perhaps it was just a small mud-brick village. How do we know whether the Joshua story really happened or if it was just made up to give the Jews an admirable ancestry as Kenyon claims? For starters, Kenyon is an anti-Semite who has absolutely no interest in utilizing the biblical text as an actual historical document. So, her findings and conclusions must be considered along with her underlying designs and desires in excavating. Since she excavated Jericho, it has come to light that she actually did find some tombs and pottery from Joshua’s time, but she brushed it aside since it did not fit into her ideology. Whether or not these tombs and this pottery exist, does that mean the story never happened? There is another city near Beirut which is most often referred to in texts as the city of Byblos. It appears in the Al-Amarna Letters in a list of powerful Canaanite cities from the 13th century BC. However, excavation at Byblos has found absolutely no archaeological evidence for a city at Byblos during that time. Yet, academia accepts that the city was there at that time, despite the lack of archaeological evidence. Why would we not do the same for events and places that appear in the biblical account?
We left Jericho and because the original routes from Jericho to the Benjamin Plateau are only able to be traveled by 4-wheeler, foot, or camel, we had to backtrack most of the way we had come. Before reaching Jerusalem, we turned north and crossed the Wadi Qilt. After climbing the far side of the wadi we got out and walked to the top of Mitzpe Danny, which is along the ancient Zeboim route to Jericho. This Zeboim route was the most direct route from Jericho to the Benjamin Plateau. It is usually called the “Way to the Wilderness” in the biblical text. It was very near here that Jonathan climbed the cliff of the Suweinit Canyon and routed the Philistines. From where we stood, we could see Geba, Michmash, and Ai, the last of which Joshua conquered after Jericho.
All around the Herodium, to the East and South is the Hill Country. These were the hills where David shepherded. It was a dangerous place. Three thousand years ago, lions from the jungle of the Jordan would roam here and bears from the Galilee would come down looking for easy prey. The only food out there for David to eat would have been salt bushes and lizards. From this height you can also see Tekoa, where the prophet Amos was from.
Following the lesson on Mt. Scopus, we drove across a small saddle to the Mt. of Olives. These two mountains sit next to one another. We left our bus at the front of the Mt. of Olives, which happens to be the East side of the mountain. Naturally, Middle Easterners did not start off considering themselves Middle Easterners. They were settled here long before there was a civilization in the West for them to be East of. In the same way, when they oriented themselves, North was not forward. Rather, East was forward and West was behind. In Hebrew, the words for these two compass orientations are the same as the words for the two directions, forward and behind. Thus, we sat on the forward side of the Mt. of Olives and I was given my first look at the Wilderness and the Senonian chalk which covers it. Here is a brief lesson on the geology of Israel. There are three general categories of rock in Israel: Eocene, Senonian, and Cenomanian. Eocene limestone covers the Shephelah of Carmel as well as central Samaria. It forms a hard nari cust, but also produces semi-productive brown soil. When it is eroded from the hills, also known as anti-synclines, it washes into valleys, synclines, and creates alluvium. The Senonian chalks erode easily, but cover the Judean Wilderness because rain barely ever comes there. It is mostly only useful for growing the scruffy grasses which the sheep and goats graze on. The Cenomanian is hard limestone which erodes into deep V-shaped valleys. Cenomanian limestone is the stone used for building. It is a bedded stone and thus, it erodes in a terraced form. This makes the farmer’s job easier. He simply builds a wall on the edge of each terrace, fills in the space with the terra rosa soil that comes from this stone, and voila! He has an excellent place to grow almonds, olives, and grapes.
Last of all we went to the Herodian. Unfortunately, there were some circumstances which prevented us from stopping there (ie, a rock was hurled through our bus window, hitting two of the ladies in our group - they are okay). But, we still drove by, and I took some pictures of it. We are rescheduling our trip to the Herodian for some time in October. So, when that time comes, I will let you know all about it.
Since the beginning of my preparations for coming to Israel, I have been more and more impressed by how crazy it would be to settle this land and to base a kingdom here. Not only is the land crossed by the main trade routes of the world, but it’s capitol city of Jerusalem is in a valley! Technically the City of David was built on a hill. However, it is surrounded on all sides by much higher hills that are close enough for any besieging army to easily catapult rocks into the city or to shoot arrows over the walls. I do not know God’s reasons for choosing this land for His people. But, one increasingly apparent reason from history and our present time is so that we would know there is no other way for us to survive, but to trust Him completely.
It was amazing to read Psalm 121 in David’s City, and to see what it was referring too. In light of the position of Jerusalem, which, while protected in some ways, is rather precarious in others, this Psalm takes on greater meaning. I do not look to the hills for my help. “My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth!” “The LORD will protect you from all evil; he will keep your soul. The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever.” He is amazing!
We continued our hike down into the City of David and saw what was possibly a retaining wall upon which David built his palace. We also saw Warren’s Shaft and walked down the entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel. There are two tunnels here. Hezekiah’s Tunnel links up with an older tunnel that was carved out during the Iron Age. Today, we followed the Iron Age tunnel. I will have to go back and walk Hezekiah’s tunnel some other time. This Iron Age tunnel was probably the tunnel Joab crept into Jerusalem through, so that he might open the city gates and let the army in to take the city. With all of his armor and weapons on, he must have been much smaller than me to make it through that tunnel. I and my backpack had plenty of trouble squeezing our way through without having to maneuver a sword and spear through as well!
Our day ended at the Pool of Bethesda. It is about a hundred feet deep! When the crippled people got in the pool, they were really in over their heads. If this pool was clear full, they could easily drown. They had a lot of faith in its healing properties. This pool is right next to the Church of St. Anne, which marks the spot where Mary supposedly grew up. Nobody knows, but if it was, then Jesus probably spent some time here as a child, with his mother’s family. He probably would have known the man who had been lying there 38 years. That doesn’t change the story much, it just is interesting and might be true.
A longer post will hopefully be coming soon. This last week, I’ve been absorbed in some things, and haven’t gotten around to finishing my post. But, it’s almost there, I will prevail and get you another thorough update soon!
In the meantime, here’s some other stuff. Tomorrow, I’m going on a field study around the City of Jerusalem. I’m not sure where I’ll be going, but two places on the itinerary are the Mt. of Olives and the Herodian. That will be awesome!
As for facilities, everything is just as it is in the States. Everything that is, except for the toilets. The plumbing here on campus cannot handle anything other than the expected being flushed down the toilets. That doesn’t sound too bad, except that toilet paper is not part of the expected flushables. So, next to every toilet is a garbage pail, and as you can imagine, the bathrooms are a bit smelly around mid-afternoon.
The school itself is situated upon a hill overlooking the Hinnom Valley, which is also known as Gehenna in the New Testament. Yes, I live on the edge of hell! Actually, that valley is now very beautiful. Find out why it was called Gehenna and you’ll know why that is. If you have looked at the JUC website, you might have noticed the address says that we are on Mt. Zion. Well, we sort of are, but that is only because Josephus, and later the Byzantine rulers, confused this hill with the real Mt. Zion. The real Mt. Zion is where the City of David was, and that is one more hill over, between here and the Mt. of Olives. According to the story I heard, which I have not yet researched, when the Greek Orthodox obtained control of the Byzantine holy sites atop this hill, they began calling this hill Mt. Zion. Now pilgrims were able to visit these Byzantine holy sites and knock six or seven sites off their pilgrimage list with barely any walking, plus a small monetary gift to the Byzantine church. The name has stuck for centuries and some tour guides even still call this Mt. Zion. The real Mt. Zion is between the Cheesemaker and Kidron Valleys. It really doesn’t look like a mountain anymore. Partly because it is very low and has two much higher hills on either side of it (the Mt. of Olives on the East and the Western Hill, fake “Mt. Zion”, on the West). I was able to go to the City of David last Sunday. But, I’ll tell you about that in my next post. Right now, I have to go get some sleep. The next two days are going to be adventures from dusk to dawn. I’ll let you know about them soon. Until then, blessings and shabbat shalom from Yerushalayim!
Something else that impressed me was the golden menorah above the Wailing Wall. Though this was not it’s intent I thought it was a great picture of how our lives, as Christians, aught to be lived preparing for life in God’s eternal kingdom. This menorah is to be placed in the temple when it is eventually able to be rebuilt. Hence, I imagine it would be a cause of tension between Jews and Muslims. Often, Christians get caught in a pattern of simply living life from day to day, not expecting anything more than “just another day”. We are called to much more than this. Christ came that we might have life and have it to the full! Why do so many of us assume that there is nothing more to this life, but after death it will be much better? God has so much more for us on this side of death than we can even imagine. But, He limits Himself in our lives by allowing us to decide how much we will trust Him and what we will trust Him with. When we begin to live as though our God is completely trustworthy, then there is no limit that we can fathom to the things that God will do in us and through us.
Those are just a couple of things that I have experienced so far that have set my mind to work. Other things I saw on the tour yesterday were the traditional site of the Last Supper, the Zion Gate, the Hurva Synagogue, the Wailing Wall, and a brief geographical study of the land Jerusalem is built on.
Today is the first day of Ramadan. During this month, Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims will come through the city this month to pray on the Dome of the Rock platform. Friday is the day when all Muslims must go to the mosque. So, I’m planning on going to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at 6AM Friday morning so that I can see the priests and nuns performing their morning rituals and services. Then I am going to hike up to the top of the Mount of Olives. From there I’ll be able to look back and see over half a million Muslims praying around the Dome of the Rock.
This is already an amazing experience and I am so glad I am here. I hope everyone is doing well.