Category Archives: Places in Israel

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!

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.

Israel – Gaza and the Iron Dome – Inspired by a Toy Car?

I usually don’t comment on modern Middle Eastern themes, but some of the readers of this blog are also interested in recent developments between the Hamas of Gaza and Israel.  It is widely reported that the “Iron Dome” missile defense system that Israel has deployed has been very effective (90% success rate) in dealing with significant missile threats from Gaza.

Israel 21ci has posted an interesting article entitled “15 things you didn’t now about the Iron Dome.”

Iron dome

Among them are tidbits such as:

  • “A toy car sold by Toys R Us inspired developers . . . .”
  • The Iron Dome . . . only intercepts . . .a rocket if it is deemed a critical threat.”

DBIronDome

Go figure.

 

Methuselah – The Palm Tree

View of “Methuselah” the Judean Date Palm tree on the grounds of Kibbutz Ketura in the Rift Valley of Israel—about 30 mi. [50 km.] north of Eilat.

DLPLTRDP10

“Methuselah” the Date Palm — sprouted from a 2,000 year old seed that was found in the excavations of Masada — Photo: March 2014 — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Methuselah sprouted in 2005 from a 2,000 seed that was found in the excavations of Masada.  It was transplanted to the earth in 2008.  This picture was taken in March 2014 and it seems to be doing well.

To view an interesting 8 minute video on this Judean Palm Tree that was sprouted from a 2,000 year old date pit found by Yigal Yadin at Masada Click Here.

Yishai Fleisher interviews, on site, Dr. Elaine Solowey, who supervised the sprouting of the pit and the nurturing of the seedling back to life.  Up until “Methuselah” sprouted and grew, the Judean Palm Trees were extinct!  Good content and good pictures!

Modern Palm Trees growing at the oasis of En Gedi on the western shore of the Dead/Salt Sea

Thanks to Dr. John Monson for the “heads up!”

The Tomb of the High Priest Annas? Part 1 of 2 — The Exterior

One of the most richly decorated tombs from the Second Temple Period is located on the southern slope of the junction of the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys.

Junction of the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys with the Tomb of Annas

This is the area that some have called “Akeldama” or the “field of blood” that is associated with events surrounding the death of Judas.  In 1994 Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer published an article suggesting that this special tomb may have been that of one of the High Priests mentioned in the New Testament and elsewhere.

Exterior of the “Tomb of Annas”
Badly defaced by later quarrying

Entrance to the “Tomb of Annas”

The above images show a view looking south at the exterior of the tomb.  On the right (west) side of the image notice the two semi-circular niches (for mourners/visitors?).  The entrance to the tomb has been heavily quarried/destroyed.  Notice the decorative partial shell conch over the now-almost-destroyed entrance to the tomb.

Detail of west side of tomb with an engaged column (pilaster) and the mourner niches.
When this photo was taken the tomb and forecourt were being used as a cattle pen!

West side of the tomb

In the image above, remnants of an engaged column (pilaster) are visible as are two apses—possibly used by mourners and/or visitors.

Annas was a very influential High Priest (AD 6–15) whose sons, and later son-in-law, Caiaphas, succeeded him in that office.  Annas is mentioned in the New Testament in Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24;  and Acts 4:6.

Standing in front of this tomb, looking north, one has a clear view of the Temple Mount—were Annas and his descendents had served.

For a detailed description of this, and other tombs in the area, as well as the logic that this is the tomb of Annas please seen the article by Leen and Kathleen  Ritmeyer, “Akeldama: Potter’s Field or High Priest’s Tomb?” Biblical Archaeology Review 20 (1994): 23-35, 76, 78.

In the next post — images of the magnificent interior of this tomb!

Mithraeum at Caesarea Maritima

Most tour/study groups will visit Caesarea Maritima as part of their program in the Holy Land.  There they will typically visit the theater, the hippodrome/circus, the Crusader City, and the aqueduct.

The Mithraeum is inside the left (northern) storage vault

Another interesting, but infrequently visited site is the Mithraeum that is located in one of the storage vault areas just to the north of the seaside hippodrome/circus.  There, from the first to the fourth century pagans worshiped the deity Mithra/Mithras.

The worship of Mithra was especially favored by soldiers in the Roman Legions.

Mithra slaying the bull — a statue in the British Museum
To view a full size image with commentary and without markings Click Here

The statue above depicts Mithra dressed in a flowing garment with a Phrygian style hat.  Notice him plunging his knife into the bull while a dog and a snake lap up the blood.  A scorpion is biting the bull’s genitals.

View of the worship area with altar, benches, and a Summer Solstice “window” arranged so that at noon on 20/21 June the sunlight would shine into this area

The above is a view looking at the eastern end of the Mithraeum.  The altar  is visible at the far end and in the upper portion of the image is a “window” in the vault that allowed sunlight to fall on the worship center at noon on 20/21 June—the time of the summer solstice.

Marble Medallion — Mithra slaying the bull — From Caesarea Maritima
To view a full size image of this Medallion Click Here

One very unique find from the Mithraeum is a marble medallion that depicts Mithra slaying the bull.

For additional commentary and to view additional high-resolution images
Click Here.

Detailed Digital Map of Greco-Roman World on Line

Chuck Jones at the Ancient World on Line has drawn our attention to the fact that a marvelous digital map of the Grec0-Roman World, with roads!, is now on line.

This map by Pelagios is based upon the Barrington Atlas.

The Divine Name — YHWH — at Mt. Gerizim

I have posted on my web site some images of the archaeological remains that have been excavated on Mount Gerizim—the Samaritan’s holy mountain.

Mount Gerizim on the left (south) and Mount Ebal on the right (north)
For a higher resolution version of this image Click Here

In addition to the images of the archaeological remains, I have posted three images of inscriptions, among many,  that were found on Mount Gerizim and that are now on display in the Good Samaritan(!) Inn Museum—on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

The Divine Name YHWH carved in stone — from the excavations at Mount Gerizim

One of these stone inscriptions actually contains the divine name Yhwh in Paleo-Hebrew script and might be of interest to some of you.

To view additional images of the remains on Mount Gerizim Click Here.

Pre-1948 Movies of Palestine/Eretz Israel!

The folk over at Israel’s History – a Picture a Day have noted that  85,000 films of the “giant newsreel archive, British Pathé” are now available to the public. These “. . . include newsreels from Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948.”

See for example the 8 minute silent video of a variety of scenes from the land in 1940(!) including a sea plane landing on the Dead Sea (at 4:38 min.) and scaffolding at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher—including the famous “immovable ladder” (at 5:38 min.).