Mondays on the Mount of Olives

Since 1973 I have been working with academic groups in Israel.  Often the first 4 or 5 days in Israel are spent in and around the city of Jerusalem visiting sites associated with biblical events and the whole gamut of the history of Jerusalem and its surroundings.  At the end of this sequence I like to visit the top of the Mount of Olives—early, before the tourist buses arrive.  This gives us a chance to sit and enjoy the early sunlight as it illumines “Jerusalem of Gold.”  At this time the students review and identify what they know about Jerusalem and its surrounds—sweeping from Nebi Samwil in the northwest, south through the Old City to Har Gilo in the southwest (see partially the photo in the header above!).  Pride of place certainly goes to the walls of the Old City, the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and now(!) the Hurva Synagogue—not to mention the Dormition Abbey and Mount Zion.

After reviewing the “stones” and the history of Jerusalem I like to take about 20(!) minutes to reflect on the “theology of Jerusalem” as it is presented in the Bible (my favorite deaf mute vendor patiently waits until I am finished—and I promote his wares!).  I begin in Genesis 2:15 and end in Revelation 22—yes, all of it 2o minutes!  This reflection is based upon a summary of a class that I taught to university students for 15+ years entitled “Jerusalem: Earthly City Heavenly Symbol.”  It was one of the most popular classes that I taught.  I have been amazed at how much of the Bible can be tied into the City of Jerusalem!

At one point I had hoped to write a book on this topic but I have never had the time to do all of the relevant scholarly research for such a project.  And indeed over the years others have approached this topic in somewhat similar but different ways.

Because of the importance of a “a biblical theology of Jerusalem,” and its usefulness to those I have shared it with in the past, I invite you to join me every Monday for “Mondays on the Mount of Olives.”

Emperor Worship In “Israel” in Jesus’ Day

When Christian tour/academic groups visit the area of Galilee it is natural to ask “what was Galilee like in Jesus’ time?”  This is actually a tricky question to answer for what is meant by “Galilee?”  I think it is best to let Josephus define it (War iii.3.1-2 [35–43]) and if this is the case then it was very limited in size and actually surrounded by Gentile populations! (see for example the map on p. 212 of The Zondervan Atlas of the Bible)

Foundation of the Temple to Augustus that Herod the Great built in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi—at Omrit
The southwest corner
Note the delicately carved molding and the remnants of fresco on the wall

Archaeological excavations in Galilee — Galilee as defined by Josephus, and pre- 70 CE — show that it was  Jewish in nature and was not yet greatly influenced by Greco- Roman culture (except for some frescos at Yodfat and Herod Antipas’ new city of Tiberias).  Indeed, the archaeological remains (ritual baths, stone vessels, lack of pig bones, shaft graves) at most sites in Josephus’ Galilee seem to indicate that Jews were living in small villages that were rural in nature.  Most tour leaders/guides will rightfully expound on the Jewish context of Jesus’ upbringing and focus of ministry, and will also reference the close proximity of Greco- Roman culture via the caravan routes that ran around and through Lower Galilee.

In two previous posts I have commented on the archaeological finds at Omrit and the Imperial Cult (worshiping the Roman Emperor) in Asia Minor.  IMHO we also need to give emphasis to the fact that Herod the Great had built  three Imperial Cult Temples — all less than 40 miles from Nazareth/Capernaum.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry these Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  had been in existence for over 40 years!

When tour leaders/guides expound upon “Peter’s Great Confession” at/near Caesarea Philippi — “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16; etc.) — usually the emphasis is upon “Christ” as the Greek word for Hebrew Messiah/Mashiach and Jesus as the fulfillment of the divine promise that had been made to David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7).  In addition, often reference is made to failed messiahs and rebel leaders that lived before, during, and/or after the days of Jesus — and that Jesus’ “kingdom” was of a different nature than the typical expectation of these folk.

But when Peter’s confession is made within 5 miles (or less) of  one of the three Imperial Cult Temples that had been dedicated to Roman Emperor Augustus — who was to be worshiped as a god, or at least the “son of god”  — the confession takes on all kinds of additional overtones!  And one of the first thoughts of many of the hearers of the Gospels (living in a Greco- Roman context in Asia Minor, Greece, North Africa, and Italy) had to have been, how could anyone ever think that  a crucified Galilean Jew named Jesus could be “the Son of the Living God?”   There already was a “son of god!”  Namely the reigning Roman Emperor who was worshiped as a “son of god” by (almost) all his subjects at Imperial Cult Temples scattered throughout his kingdom—not to mention previously deceased emperors (and some family members) who had ascended to heaven and were worshiped “as gods!”

The above just hints at some of the topics that could be thought through and expanded upon, and what better place to do this than at Omrit—where the foundations and some artifacts of the Herodian Imperial Cult Temple are still there in all their glory!

Directions to Omrit
Left is north in the image.
The road running from left (north) to right (south) in the bottom of the image is Hwy 918

It is easy to travel to Omrit by driving south on Hwy 918 (from the junction of Hwys 99 and 918) and turning east on the paved road just before (north) of the Bezek antenna.  To visit this unique site you need to budget about 90 minutes or so once you turn off  highway 918, but IMHO it is well worth the time!

Paul: From Asia Minor to Europe — From the Port of Alexandria Troas

Acts 16:11  ¶  From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis.

It was at Alexandria Troas (see map below), on Paul’s second missionary journey, that in a vision he received a call to proceed to Macedonia (Acts 16:8–11). Because of the use of “us” it seems that Luke joined Paul and Silas on this portion of the journey.

Troas is a site that is not often visited by visitors to Turkey—yet it is huge — about 1,000(!) acres [405 ha.] in size. It is situated 31.2 mi. [50 km.] northwest of Assos — via the ancient road system. It is 15.5 mi. [25 km.] south of Troy and is largely unexcavated.

There are three parts to the harbor of Troas—from which Paul set sail—the breakwater/quay?, Outer Harbor, and Inner Harbor (see below for pictures of all).

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Breakwater/Quay of Troas — It is very probable that Paul and his companions set sail for Samothrace/Neapolis (Europe) from this point (Acts 16:11) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Protruding into the Aegean Sea are the remains of a Breakwater or Quay that protected the entrance of the harbor.

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View looking west at the entrance to the Outer and Inner Harbors of Alexandria Troas. Part of the “Outer Harbor” is visible on the left side of the image. The entrance to the “Outer Harbor” is silted up with sand. The white waves outline where the sea breakwater, or possibly a quay was located.  On the right side of the images the tops of columns that were ready for shipment are poking up out of the water.

For the few who visit the harbor area of Troas they usually stop where a few discarded columns tops protrude from the Aegean Sea.  But if they were to walk 100 yards farther south they would be able to see the stones of the breakwater/quay that protected the entrance to the two bays of the harbor.

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View looking west at the relatively well-preserved line of hewn stones that were once part of the quay or breakwater of Troas. The line runs from lower left up to the upper middle portion of the image. The white breaking waves indicate the now-underwater continuation of this quay/breakwater out into the Aegean Sea. Note how it “hooks” to the right, protecting the entrance to the harbor.

To the left of the line of hewn stones note the numerous small stones that were evidently part of the superstructure of the quay.  Note the “bosses” and the “margins” on the hewn stones.

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Looking west at the “Outer Harbor” of Troas (filled with water) with the Aegean Sea in the Background — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

View looking south at the large "Inner Harbor" of Troas — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Downlaod

View looking south at the large “Inner Harbor” of Troas — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Downlaod

 For additional high resolution images of Troas (including harbor, temple, and bath)  Click Here.

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Astounding Neolithic Site — Göbekli Tepe

Ferrell Jenkins has an extended blog on the untimely death of the excavator of Göblekli Tepe, Klaus Schmidt, at the age of 61.

For those interested, I have posted 17 images of Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”)—a Neolithic site located about 9 mi. north of Sanliurfa in south–central Turkey before the “protective covering” was constructed over the site.  This 22 acre site was functional from roughly 9,600 BC to 8,200 BC was excavated by Klaus Schmidt.

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View of the major excavated area at Göbekli Tepe
Click on image to Enlarge

It was a religious center constructed by and used by foragers (not farmers!).  The excavated portions consist mainly of rings of well-carved standing limestone pillars—the tallest 18 ft. high.

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Detail of one of the rings of standing stones
Click on image to Enlarge

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Note the variety of animals on the carved stone
Click on image to Enlarge

Images of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and boars are carved on them in low bas-relief.  In posting my images I was amazed to think about how during the Neolithic Period (ca. 9,000 B.C.) these people, using only flints and stone tools(!!), were able to quarry stones that were 18 ft. high and weighed 16 tons!  How did they transported these stones to the site of Göbekli Tepe?  How did they carve and smooth the surfaces of these stones and leave images in bas-relief(!) on them??

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One of the large (almost 18 ft. tall) standing stones —note the carving on its side and base
Click on image to Enlarge

How these pillars were carved, transported, and erected—in 9,600 BC—is very mysterious!

Schmidt believes that it was a worship center for foragers, for he has not found any walls, houses, hearths, or signs of agriculture.

The finds at the site are beginning to revolutionize the understanding of the transition from Natufian culture to the Neolithic age.

The worship center is actually almost 1,600 earlier than Kathleen Kenyon’s famous Neolithic Tower at Jericho.

Unique Tombs from 2200–2000 BC

Dhahr Mirzbaneh is a site located about 16 mi. northeast of Jerusalem. The hillsides in the area are covered with tombs from the Middle Bronze I Age (2200-2000 B.C.).

Cut Away of MB I Tombs During Construction of the “Alon Road”

View looking northwest. When the “Alon Road” was being constructed in the 1970’s, the construction workers cut through the hillside of Dhahr Mirzbaneh exposing a side, “cut-away,” view of a number of Middle Bronze I (2200-2000 B.C.) tombs.

A perfect “cut-away” view of such a tomb is visible on the left side of the image. The shaded semi-circular area is a tomb chamber, and to its left the “cut-away” outline of a vertical shaft (partially filled with rubble) is visible.

On the right side of the image more exposed tomb chambers are visible.

Detail of MB I (2200–2000 BC) Tomb

View of a MB I (2200-2000 B.C.) tomb which was sliced in half by road building activity.

A typical MB I tomb consisted of a vertical shaft, 4 to 9 ft. [1.2 to 3 m.] deep, cut into the rock. At the bottom of the shaft one or more chambers radiated from it. Usually only one person was placed in each chamber.

To the left of the leg of the man, the shaded arched outline of a burial chamber is clearly visible – it had an arched top and a flat horizontal floor. To the left of the chamber, partly shaded, is the outline of the vertical shaft, which led down from the surface to the burial chamber. This shaft is partly filled with rubble.

To view more images of Dhahr Mirzbaneh, and a map, Click Here.

Why not visit a cave at Qumran?

Almost all tour groups will visit Qumran along the northwestern corner of the Dead Sea.  While Cave 4 is outstanding to see, photograph, and talk about–but it seems a bit commercialized given the character of the site as a whole (ice cream, coffee, huge overpriced gift shop, etc., etc.).

Descending From Cave 11

If you have an extra 45 minutes (a realistic time estimate), why not take your group to actually visit one of the caves?  The climb up to Cave 11 is exciting without being too difficult.  It was here that over 21 texts were found, including the Temple Scroll—the longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls (26.7 ft. long)!

To get to Cave 11, from the junction of Highway 90 and the entrance to the site of Qumran, head north on the paved road in the direction of Kalya , instead of going into Qumran.  At the entrance to Kalya continue straight north—the asphalt changes to dirt, but it is a good road.  As you drive north, on your right (east) there is a fence.  At the north end of the fence stop the bus and “debus” (there is room there for the bus to turn around).

View to the Northwest from Bus Park
Cave 11 and the path to it are on the right side of the image

Look to the north northwest and you will see two huge openings in cliff—left side of above image).  Cave 11 is to the right of these large openings and there is a path that leads directly to it.

The opening just to the right of center is the Entrance to Cave 11

It is about a 10-15 minute walk from where you have parked the bus and is a relatively easy climb (I strongly suggest taking water and a hat, along with your camera).

View to the South from Cave 11 — The Green Oasis is that of the site of Qumran — The Dead Sea is in the distance

From the entrance to Cave 11 there is a great view south towards Qumran and the Dead Sea.  It is a wonderful place to relive the trill of the discoveries of the scrolls!  It is also a good place to visit if you arrive too early or too late at the site of Qumran (!#$@!).

To view additional images of Qumran and Caves 1, 4, and 11  Click Here.

Dogs Eating the Crumbs – Matt 15:27 and Mark 7:28

In Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-31 there is the story of a “Canaanite woman” from the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon who said:

“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”  . . .  The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Matt 15:22–25 and compare Mark 7:26ff.

It seems that Jesus’ response was somewhat “off-putting” for the subsequent “conversation” went as follows:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”   Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
(Matt 15:26-28)

Dogs are not highly thought of in some of the Middle Eastern Cultures today but evidently in New Testament times they were kept as household pets.

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Note the dog under the couch “feasting” on the crumbs that have fallen on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a votive relief (5th century BC.) found in the Asclepion of Piraeus (port of Athens).  It represents a funerary banquet.  The heroized dead person reclines on a couch with a seated woman on the right and a naked youth on the left side of the image—drawing wine from a large krater.  Note especially the dog under the couch feasting on the food that has dropped on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28).

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Note the dog under the couch “feasting” on the food that has fallen on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28) — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above votive relief  also represents a funerary banquet.  The heroized dead person reclines on a couch with a seated woman on the left and a naked youth on the far left side of the image—drawing wine from a large krater.  Note especially the dog under the couch feasting on the food that has dropped on the floor (Matt 15:27; Mark 7:28).

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Note the dog under the couch waiting for crumbs from the meal — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above is a votive relief (4th century BC.) found at Argos in southern Greece.  The god or hero is reclining on a couch with a woman on the left holding a tray with food.  On the far left is a nude boy drawing wine from a large krater.  Note the dog under the couch, waiting for crumbs!