Category Archives: Places in Israel

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.

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.!

Pilate’s Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima

Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of Judea that condemned Jesus to death (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18 and 19). He is mentioned 61 times in the New Testament.  He governed Judea from A.D. 26 to 36.

In 1961 by an Italian expedition that was excavating the theater at Caesarea Maritima discovered a Latin inscription that actually mentions him.

The “Pilate” Inscription from Caesarea Maritima

When people comment on this inscription they usually emphasize that now there is actual archaeological evidence for Pilate’s activity in Judea and that his title was “Prefect.”  This is fine,  BUT what about the word “Tiberieum” in the first line?  To what does “Tiberieum” refer?

This stone was used at least three ways.  First, it was probably a dedicatory inscription in a temple called a “Tiberieum.”  Pilate built this temple to honor the Roman Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14–37)!  This was then the second imperial cult temple in Caesarea—the first was the (probably much larger) Imperial Cult Temple that had been built by Herod the Great (37– 4 BC) for the worship of Augustus and deified Roma!

Thus it should be noted that at Caesarea Maritima the imperial cult founded by Herod the Great was still being practiced AND that Pilate as a good governor was also promoting the Imperial Cult—adding a structure for the worship of the ruling Roman emperor, Tiberius (14–37).  All of this going on during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (ca. 26–30)!

Secondly, the stone was taken from the temple and used as part of a well–head—note the half-circle on the right hand side.  Finally, it was used as a step in the fourth century Byzantine theater (where it was discovered).

Four lines of the Latin inscription are visible.

[_ _ _]S TIBERIÉUM
[_ _ PO]NTIUS PILATUS
[PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E
[_ _ _ _ _ ] É [_ _ _ _ _ _ _] (Taylor, p. 564)

[. . .] Tiberieum
[. Po]ntius Pilate
[Pref]ect of Judaea
[. . .]e[. . .] (p. 565)

Joan E. Taylor translates the inscription as:   “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, [made and d]e[dicated] the Tiberieum for the (Augustan) gods” (p. 570).

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 564–65.

Jerusalem — The Neighborhood of Silwan — The Royal Steward’s Tomb

One of the least visited places in Jerusalem is the portion of the village of Silwan that is located on the lower western slope of the Mount of Olives—opposite the “City of David.”

The village itself is built over 50 tombs from the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. This necropolis – “city of the dead”  – was investigated by David Ussishkin and Gabriel Barkay between 1968 and 1971. Travel to this area is very difficult (= impossible) for the inhabitants of Silwan are normally very hostile to outsiders.

The two most famous tombs from this necropolis are “the Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter” and the “Tomb of the Royal Steward.”

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Tomb of the “Royal Steward” located in the Village of Silwan
The two inscriptions have been carved out and taken to the British Museum
Note the door on the left — this important tomb was used as a storage room at the time that this picture was taken

Unfortunately the second most important tomb from the First Temple Period is located in this village.  This tomb was discovered by Clermont-Ganneau in 1870. It had two Hebrew inscriptions – one above the door and the other to the right of it. Both were carved out and sent to the British Museum where they are still housed.  The largest inscription was over the door (note the large “gash” there).

IJOTIT07 Nahman Avigad translated the larger inscription as “This is [the sepulcher of . . . ] yahu who is over the house. There is no silver and no gold here but [his bones] and the bones of his amah with him. Cursed be the man who will open this!”

In the text the phrase “who is over the house” refers to a very important personage in the Judean government (about second to the king). His name, according to the inscription, was “. . . yahu.” Unfortunately the first part of his name is missing but many believe that the person who was buried here was none other than Shebna [yahu], the Royal Steward, whom Isaiah condemned for ‘hewing a tomb for himself on high’ – SEE Isaiah 22:15-17!

The amah (a female) mentioned in the inscription may also have been a very high functionary in the Judean government.

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Tomb of the “Royal Steward” located in the Village of Silwan
The main inscription was above the “modern” door
The two inscriptions have been carved out and taken to the British Museum
This important tomb was used as a storage room at the time that this picture was taken 

For a popular description of this necropolis see: Shanks, Hershel. “The Tombs of Silwan.” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 20, no. 3 (May/June, 1994):38-51

You also may be interested in viewing the First Temple Tombs found on the grounds of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem – Click Here.

Jason’s Tomb (2nd Temple Period)

Jason’s tomb is a beautiful funeral monument from the late Hellenistic – early Roman period. It was the tomb of a high priestly family that was forced out of Jerusalem in 172 B.C. (2 Maccabees 5:5-10) by their rival, Menelaus. It was constructed in the second century B.C. and was in use until A.D. 30 (about the time of the crucifixion of Jesus).  This tomb was discovered in 1956 and is located in west Jerusalem—in Rehavia. It consists of several courtyards and a “pyramid-shaped” roof.

Entrance to Jason’s Tomb

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Beth Shemesh

Beth Shemesh is an Israelite site located 12 mi. west of Jerusalem in the Sorek Valley where it exits from the Hill Country of Judah into the Shephelah.

The tribe of Dan settled in this area and the main activities of Samson took place here (Judges 13–16).

Sorek Valley looking west from Beth Shemesh

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3 Christmases in Bethlehem

On December 25 Protestants and Roman Catholics will celebrate Christmas.  The festivities in Manger Square in Bethlehem will be broadcast worldwide—and some Protestants and Roman Catholics will be celebrating in “Shepherds’ Field” east of Bethlehem (now filled with homes and shops of the village Beit Sahur).

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Grotto/Cave at the Roman Catholic Site of Shepherds’ Field
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

On January 7, the Greek, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox Churches will celebrate Christmas.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
Said to be the very spot where Jesus was born
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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A Greek Orthodox Priest Celebrating the Eucharist
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

On January 6 the Armenian Orthodox Church will celebrate Christmas.

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An Armenian Service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Armenians Celebrate Christmas on 19 January
Click On Image to Enlarge/Download

For additional images of Bethlehem Click Here.

Our friends a “Israel’s History – a Picture a Day” have posted 6 photographic images of Bethlehem at Christmas around 1900 under Turkish Rule: grotto, processions, etc.  Very interesting!

-   -    -    Personal Story Follows    -    -   -

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Grotto of the Manger — Only 15 feet from the “star”
Said to be the place where the “manger” was
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the early 1970′s, when we were living in Israel, Mary and I and John (our two-year old barely–able–to–walk son) were visiting the grotto of the Nativity, Mary and I were looking at a variety of things.  When we turned around, looking for our son John, there he was, blowing out the candles that the faithful had placed by this site—sorry about that!