Category Archives: Places in Israel

Ancient Timber on Temple Mount?

In recent years there have been several articles and news items that argue that some of the timbers that were discarded after the remodeling of the el-Aqsa Mosque on the Haram esh-Sharif in Jerusalem are quite ancient—possibly even from the Temple that Herod built (the Second Temple) around 15 B.C.

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Wooden debris—including timbers—stored just west of the Golden Gate on the Haram esh–Sharif/Temple Mount
Photo June 2009 — Click on image to enlarge and/or download

I thought I would share one of my pictures of such debris from a pile that was located just west of the interior of Golden Gate (to view exterior Click Here).  Note especially the notched  beams on the far side of the pile.

On of the more recent articles is that of Peretz Reuven, “Wooden Beams from Herod’s Temple Mount: Do They Still Exist?”Biblical Archaeological Review 39, no. 3 (May/June 2013): 40–47.

Nebi Samwil — Can I see the Dome of the Rock from Here?

Nebi Samwil is the highest and most prominent landmark located 5 mi. [8 km.] northwest of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Although not on the route of typical tours, serious tours may indeed stop there, for the view from there is terrific in all directions.  In the past we have been able to ascend to the roof of the mosque to view the country side, but even without this, the views from the foot of the mosque are still very good.

NebiSamwil01Where else can you get a view of the Central Benjamin Plateau (which is one of the busiest areas in the Historical Books of the Old Testament)?   Besides viewing Gibeon and Ramallah to the north, Gibeah to the east, the modern city of Jerusalem is spread out in all its glory to the south.  To the southeast the three towers on the Mount of Olives are clearly visible in the distance.  But students invariably ask, can we see the Temple Mount from here?

We have peered through binoculars in all kinds of weather trying to find the Gold Dome of the “Dome of the Rock” that now stands where the First and Second Temples stood.  On very very rare occasions someone has said, oh, there it is!  But it has never been that clear!#$@!

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Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Well, sorting though some of my photos taken from Nebi Samwil I thought I would see if the Golden Dome of the Rock appeared in any of them.  Voilà!  It does!  Note that Nebi Samwil is at 2906 ft. above sea level while the Dome of the Rock is at 2437 ft.  And that the City of David (= the Old Ancient Core) is to the south of the Dome and decreases in elevation as one goes south.

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Here is a full image of the above photo — Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

More on the Biblical significance of Nebi Samwil in a future post (next Wednesday?).

Domus Galilaeae — Near Korazin

Visitors to Israel will often stop at the Second Temple/Talmudic site of Korazin (Chorazin: Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13) where an impressive basalt synagogue has been partially reconstructed.  To the west of Korazin, on the south side of route 8277 is beautiful is a Roman Catholic retreat center known as Domus Galilaeae.  It opened in 2000 and was blessed by Pope John Paul II.  It is generally not open to visitors so I thought I would share a few of my images of the place.

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View from the patio of Domus Galilaeae of Jesus teaching his disciples
In the background is the Sea of Galilee — 3 mi. distant

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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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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.