Israel Travel Tip — Jezreel

Many tour groups to Israel will travel north to visit the Sea of Galilee via the Sharon Plain, often stopping at Muhraqa on Mount Carmel (Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal and Asherah; and for a view of the Jezreel Valley) and/or Megiddo before heading to overnight on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

After leaving Megiddo most participants have a good grasp of the Jezreel Valley, but a great addition (especially in the afternoon sun) is to actually visit Tell Jezreel (Tel Yizreel) along route 675 at the west end of the Harod Valley.  From the shaded visitors’ platform there are terrific views of the Hill of Moreh, the Harod Valley, and Mount Gilboa.

From Jezreel looking north northwest at the Hill of Moreh. On its lower left (west) slope the white buildings mark the site of biblical Shunem

From here the group leader and/or guide can discuss:

  1. The important route that leads from Ramoth Gilead in Transjordan to the port of Acco/Ptolemais via Beth Shan, the Harod Valley, and the Jezreel Valley.
  2. Gideon mustering his men at the Spring of Harod  (Judges 7)
  3. The “Spring of Jezreel” (1 Sam 29:1) northeast of the tel

    Saul mustering his troops at the Spring of Jezreel before battling the Philistines (1 Sam 29:1).

  4. Elijah and Ahab (1 Kings 18:45-46).
  5. Naboth’s vineyard and Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 21)
  6. Jehu’s coup and the death of Jezebel (2 Kings 9).
  7. Elisha helping the woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4:8-37).
  8. Etc!

All this will take a bit of time, but the learning experience and the views from the site of Jezreel are terrific.

For additional views from Tel Jezreel Click Here.

Next week — a little known view of Mount Tabor and the home of a famous medium.

The Best Rolling Stone Tomb in Israel — Khirbet Midras

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View Looking East at the Entrance to the First Century A.D. Tomb

View looking east at the entrance to the tomb. The rolling stone was 6 ft. [1.8 m.] in diameter and 1.3 ft [0.4 m.] thick. It was placed between two walls, each built of hewn stone. When discovered, it still rolled in its trough!

The tomb itself was in use during the Roman Period — up until A.D. 135.

In my estimation, it was the best example of a rolling stone tomb in the country of Israel. It seems to illustrate well passages from the Gospels which speak of Jesus’ tomb as being closed by a rolling stone. See especially Matthew 27:57-66; 28:1-2; Mark 15:42–47; 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–2, 10–11; and John 20:1, 11–18.

MidrasMap3Horvat Midras (Hebrew) or Khirbet Durusiya (Arabic) is located 19 mi. [30 km.] southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah. The ancient remains are spread over hundreds of dunams in the area. The site dates to the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

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View of the Courtyard of the “Rolling Stone Tomb” at Khirbet Midras—prior to its destruction

In 1976 part of the cemetery was excavated. Several tombs were uncovered, including, in my estimation, THE BEST ROLLING STONE TOMB in the country. Unfortunately in the late 1990′s the tomb site was totally destroyed by vandals!#%$@!!

BUT it has been reconstructed and is now visible in the Adullam Park!

To view 3 additional image of the tomb Click Here.

For images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher see: Calvary and Tomb.

Click to see images of Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb.

Wild Boar (pigs!) at Caesarea Philippi (Banias, Israel) — with 3 photos

On a recent trip to Israel our student group was preparing our lunch at the picnic grounds on the site of Banias (NT Caesarea Philippi—think Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah—Matthew 16:16 and gospel parallels).  Looking up from our lunch, much to my surprise I saw a herd of about 15 wild boar near another picnic table close to us (adults plus young ones)!!  During my 15 years in Israel I had never seen a wild boar in the wild and here we were IN a Jewish national park and there they were!

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Two Adult Wild Boar near a Picnic Table at Caesarea Philippi Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

When we tried to approach them (bad move) they made aggressive moves towards us—in fact some of the students had to run away!  Their aggressiveness was evidently known to the Psalmist who wrote that God’s people were like a fertile vineyard that had been ravaged by animals, including boars—depicting how foreign nations had ravaged Israel.

Boars from the forest ravage it [the fertile vineyard]
and the creatures of the field feed on it.
(Psalm 80:13 NIV)

In the New Testament there is a reference to not throwing “your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces“!!

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Two Adult Wild Boar and 5 Piglets Foraging in the Picnic Grounds at Banias (= NT Caesarea Philippi) Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Pigs (domesticated boars) and boars are mentioned 22 times in the Bible.  They were unclean, and not to be eaten by the ancient Israelites (Lev 22:7; Deut 14:8).  In the New Testament there is the famous story about Jesus casting demons into “a herd of swine” that rushed down a steep bank into the sea [of Galilee] (Matt 8:28-34; Mark 8:28–34; Luke 8:26–37) and also of the “Prodigal Son” who resorted to eating the pods that the [domesticated] pigs were eating—in a distant country (Luke 15:11–32).

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Two Adult Wild Boar Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.”
(Proverbs 11:22 NIV)

I am told by expert guide Ofer Drori that there are plenty of the creatures in the Golan, Galilee, and Mount Carmel.  Possibly they multiply rapidly because both Jews and Muslims are forbidden to eat them.

Photos courtesy of:  Lorna Davis, Brady Bobbink and Joe Kirkland.

What Did Solomon’s Temple Look Like? Answers from Ain Dara

The exact design of the Solomonic Temple as described in 1 Kings 6 and 2 Chronicles 3 has been illuminated by an important excavation at Ain Dara in northwestern Syria.

View of the Entrance to the Neo-Hittite Temple at Ain Dara

Ain Dara is located 40 mi. northwest of Aleppo

Ain Dara is a large (60! acre [24 ha.]) tell located in northwestern Syria—40 mi. [65 km.] northwest of Aleppo.  It was occupied from the Chalcolithic (fourth millennium B.C.) to the Ottoman period (A.D. 1517–1917).

One of the most interesting group of finds are a series of temples that existed from roughly 1300 to 740 B.C.  John Monson has argued that this temple exhibits over 60 parallels to Solomon’s Temple as described in the biblical text.

One of the Winged Creatures (Cherub?) Guarding the Entrance to the Temple at Ain Dara

For a great article on the parallels between the temple at Ain Dara and Solomon’s Temple see the article by John Monson “The New ‘Ain Dara Temple: Closest Solomonic Parallel.”  Biblical Archaeology Review vol. 26, no. 3 (May/June, 2000): 20–35, 67.

For additional high resolution images of this important temple, provided by Mark Connally,  Click Here.

Colossae in Turkey

Colossae – view from lower city toward citadel

The site of Colossae is located on the southern edge of the Lycus Valley near the larger and more significant sites such as Laodicea, 8 mi. [13 km.] to the west, and

Colossae — Note the locations of nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis as well as Ephesus, Attalia, and Philadelphia

Hierapolis, 13 mi. [21.5 km.] to the northwest. It is approximately 112 mi. [180 km.] due east of Ephesus.

Paul wrote two letters to Colossae, namely Colossians and Philemon. Paul evidently never visited the city (Col 1:9; 2:1), but rather his colleague Epaphras brought the gospel message to the three cities of the Lycus Valley, that is to Colossae, to Laodicea, and to Hierapolis. However, Paul hoped to visit the city, for he requested Philemon to prepare a lodging for him in anticipation of a visit (Phil 1:23).

The mound (Turkish: huyuk) of Colossae has not been excavated. It was said to have been a large city in the fifth century B.C. but for some reason it seems to have lost some of its importance by the first century A.D. The reason for this is unclear, for its location on the major road running from east to west, from Pisidian Antioch to Laodicea and from there to the Aegean Sea remained unchanged. Possibly the new, northwest to southeast route, connecting Philadelphia to Laodicea and Laodicea to Attalia (Antalya) via Cibyra and Termessos, which bypassed Colossae, reduced its importance.

To view more images of Colossae Click Here.

Omrit — The Remains of a Fantastic Roman Temple in Israel

Omrit is a site that was situated in pre–1967 Syrian territory but since then has been in Israeli controlled territory on the western slopes of the Golan—just above the Huleh Valley.  It is situated about 2.5 mi. southwest of Banais/Panias (= NT Caesarea Philippi) on the road that led from the Huleh Valley to Damascus.

Plaza and approach to the Imperial Temple at Omrit (Caesarea Philippi?)

Since 1999 J. Andrew Overman of Macalester College of St. Paul, Minnesota (USA) has been excavating the site.

Earliest “Shrine” — that was later covered by two later temples!

Overman has discovered three successive religious structures—the earliest (a “shrine”) dating to the Early Roman Period.

Southwest corners of the First (upper left) and Second (lower right) Temples

He believes that the first Temple was built by Herod the Great to honor his patron—the emperor Caesar Augustus (ruled 28 B.C. to A.D. 14).  Many believe that his temple was constructed in nearby “Panias” but Overman argues (I think correctly) that it was here at Omrit—”in the vicinity of Panias”—that it was constructed (see the articles listed below).  The second “Temple” was probably constructed during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajian (A.D. 98-117).

For additional images of Omrit Click Here.

Jerusalem: Recent Developments Near the Gihon Spring — With Pictures

2-3 minute read with unique, never-seen-before, pictures.

The Gihon Spring is the natural water source for ancient Jerusalem.  David’s general Joab is said to have gained access to conquer the city via part of this water system (2 Samuel 5:8 and 1 Chronicles 11:6) and Hezekiah built the well-known 1,750 ft. tunnel (2 Chronicles 32:30).

On a recent trip sponsored by the Biblical Archaeological Society and Tutku Tours, led by the expert guide Ofer Drori, we descended into the water system complex.  For years the area excavated by Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron has been barely visible due to all the scaffolding in the area.

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View looking down into the “Rock-cut Pool” that dates to the 18th century B.C.
The opening just above center, where the upper blue light is located, is where Tunnel III brings water from Tunnel II to this large chamber
See the diagram in Shank’s article for details
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

I was delighted to find that the area is now available to the public via sturdy walkways, stairs and lights (with blue lights; hmm).  Completely visible are the Rock-cut Pool, Tunnel III (that brought water from Tunnel II to the Rock-cut Pool) and Tunnel IV that leads to “Hezekiah’s Tunnel.”

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The large 18th century B.C. Rock-cut Pool
Tunnel III enters from the large cut in the center of the image bringing water to the Rock-cut Pool
Tunnel IV exits to the left bring water to “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”–note the door-like exit left of center
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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Artist’s reconstruction of the Gihon Spring, Rock-cut Pool, and associated defensive structures on the east side of the “Old Ancient Core” of Jerusalem — dated to the 18th century B.C.
On display above the Gihon Spring
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the above artists reconstruction the tower on the right (north) was built over and guards the Gihon Spring.  The tower on the left (south) contains and guards the “Rock-cut Pool.”  Note the city wall and the defended pathways that lead to and from the towers.  All of this was evidently built in the 18th century B.C.!

For a complete description of this system see the article by Hershel Shanks, “Will King Hezekiah Be Dislodged from His Tunnel?”  Biblical Archaeology Review, (September/October 2013), pp. 52–61, 73.  In it he notes that Reich and Shukron now believe that what has been called “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” (Hezekiah r. 715–686 B.C.) now should be dated earlier—to the late 9th or early 8th century B.C.!