The REAL Saint Nicholas! December 6

On December 6 the feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated and so I thought I would bring back this oldie but goodie.

On the outskirts of the Turkish town of Demre is a church that is associated with Saint Nicholas—Father Christmas, a.k.a. in northern Europe as Santa Claus!

Saint Nicholas StatueSt. Nicholas was born in nearby Patara about A.D. 300 and served as the bishop of Myra later in his life.  A number of miracles are attributed to this revered bishop, including his providing a dowry to the three daughters of a local baker.  Thus he is associated with “gift giving!”  He was also the patron saint of sailors and was prayed to for protection at sea—note that Myra is very near the Mediterranean Sea.  He died about A.D. 345.

It is said that he was buried in this church, but that his relics (bones) were taken to Bari, Italy, about A.D. 1088, although other claims are made that the Venetians took them.

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View looking down at the altar area from the top of the synthronon
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Every 6 December, the feast day of St. Nicholas, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy here.

To view (or download) additional images of the Church of Saint Nicholas Click Here.

A Visit to the “real” Bethsaida — el-Araj

On a recent trip to Israel, I decided to try to visit the site of el-Araj that is located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just east of the Jordan River.  This site has been much in the news recently because it is a much better candidate for the Bethsaida mentioned in the New Testament, Josephus and other sources than “et-Tell.”

The Jordan River and Lagoon by el-Araj (Bethsaida/Julias).

According to the New Testament the disciples Philip, Andrew, and Peter were from the town (John 1:44; 12:21). In addition, Jesus performed mighty works there (e.g., healed a blind man [Mark 8:22], and fed 5,000 in the vicinity [Matt 14:13; Mark 6:30ff]) yet the town was cursed by him because of unbelief (Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13).

Steven Notley and Mordechai Aviam have conducted four seasons of excavations at the site and have found a bathhouse and a residence from the Roman Period.  In addition, they have found the remains of a large Byzantine Church that they believe was The Church of the Apostles that was mention by Willibald in A.D. 725 as having been built over the house of Peter and Andrew.

My first visit to the site was with a group of adult learners from the Jerusalem University College.  We turned off the main road east of the Arik Bridge at dusk and our bus took us partway in.  We “debussed” quickly and set off at a brisk pace to try to reach the site before we lost all our daylight.  We were surprised to find that there were already THREE tourist busses at the site—those of a large group led by Jonathan Cahn (of “Harbinger” fame).  I have no idea why they were interested in the site, but we did hear them finish their “devotional” with the blowing of the shofar.  Hmm . . . .

My second visit, a few days later, was with a group from the Biblical Archaeological Society that was being led by Ofir Dror and myself.

Our BAS Group hiking into el-Araj.

The tricky part in accessing the site was due to the fact that the Israelis were busy clearing minefields in the area.  It was about a 12 minute walk in from where our bus parked.

Heavy equipment clearing minefields west of el-Araj.

Once we arrived at that excavations, we had a great time looking at the main place of excavation—Area A.

Area A of el-Araj—looking east.

I also had a chance to peek at Area C, about 100 yards to the north of Area A, where they have begun to uncover remains of a residence that dates to the Roman Period.

Area C — the area where a Roman residence has been partially excavated.

Finds from the house date from the first to the third centuries CE and include pottery, coins, fishing net weights, and a cooking oven.

For additional images of el-Araj you are invited to check out HolyLandPhotos.org.

The official website for the el-Araj excavations can be found Here.  And there you will find numerous links to related newspaper articles.  There are also a number of good videos of the site that have been posted on YouTube see Here for example.

 

What Did the Ancient Israelites Look Like?

About 13 years ago the brilliant Anson Rainey suggested that Shasu pastoralists were depicted on a well-known relief of the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah (1209 BC) featured on one of the walls of the temples at Karnak in southern Egypt.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah Crushing His Shasu Foes (1209 BC)

At least four Shasu are pictured as being trodden under by legs of the horse of Merneptah.  Note their headdresses and pointed beards.

Continue reading

55% off Encountering the Holy Land DVD set

I am pleased to announce that Zondervan has recently released my 13 lesson video Encountering the Holy Land: A Video Introduction to the History and Geography of the Bible.

The DVD set is on sale for 55% percent off!  The sale begins on Monday, November 4 and ends Monday, November 11.

Click Here for details.

The video series is an on-location visual overview of the lands of the Bible designed for students, Bible study groups, adult learners, travelers to the lands of the Bible, pastors, teachers, and all lovers of the Bible.  I hope that viewers will develop a deeper appreciation for the Bible by understanding the lands and cultures in which it was written.

Gezer Standing Stones

In Israel, Gezer is exciting site visit.  One of its features is an unusual assemblage of large Standing Stones that R.A.S. Macalister found.

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View looking northeast at 7 of the 10 standing stones that were excavated by Macalister (early 1900’s) and re-excavated by Dever (in the 1960’s).

They date to the Middle Bronze II Period (ca. 1800—1550 B.C.).   On the left side of the image the square basin, carved out on the top, which may have formed the base into which a standard was placed.

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Image courtesy of the Palestine Exploration Fund. This is what the standing stones looked like when excavated by Macalister.

Macalister covered up what he had found because he was afraid, probably correctly, that the locals might recycle (euphemism) the materials to use in their own construction projects.

The function of these stones is not certain, but it has plausibly been suggested that they were set up by 10 tribes (one for each tribe) who made a treaty (covenant) among themselves, and that these stones were set up as a memorial/witness to commemorate that treaty.

Note how the Israelites set up stones at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:1–8) in a covenant establishing context:

24:1    Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance,  2 but Moses alone is to approach the LORD; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.”

3     When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’S words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.”  4 Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.    He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  5 Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the LORD.  6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar.  7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.”

8     Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (NIV)

And at a covenant renewal ceremony at Shechem (Josh 24:26–28) a stone was set up as a “witness:”

Joshua 24:26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD.

27     “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”

28     Then Joshua sent the people away, each to his own inheritance.

To view additional image of Gezer (including the original Gezer Calendar; the MB II gate; the water system; etc.) Click Here without obligation.

Astounding Neolithic Site — Göbekli Tepe

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
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Note the variety of animals on the carved stone
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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.

What Happened in a Hippodrome/Circus — Part 2

In our previous blog, we had a look at the general picture of the chariot race depicted in the central portion of the large mosaic discovered in Lyon (ancient Lugdunum).  Here are some additional observations!

The central portion of the mosaic. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In this view, there are many interesting details of a chariot race that may not be visually represented anywhere else.

We know that in general there were four major “teams” that were in play in the Roman world: the reds, whites, blues, and the greens.  In the lower-left, note that charioteers are clad in red and white.  The two charioteers above the spina are clad in blue and green!

There are two rectangular pools that form the basis of the spina.  They were filled with water which seems to be a unique arrangement.  Note also, the pyramid in the left portion of the spina—many Hippodromes/Circuses had pyramids or obelisks).

In the lower right, there is a figure with two jugs—evidently, he wet down the track and may have cooled down the axles of the chariots.  In the upper left, the standing person may have a whip to urge the teams on—or it may be some type of cutting instrument that could be used to free horses and charioteers from chariots that had crashed.

 

Detail of the “spina.” Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In this image note the two figures (children?) dressed in blue between the two portions of the spina.  They are ready to present the winner of the race with the prizes of a palm branch and a laurel wreath.

In the left rectangle note the obelisk and then the rack that holds seven “balls” and the blue man attending it.  In the typical seven-lap race the balls were lowered to keep count of the laps.  In the right rectangle of the spina there is a similar counting contraption.  Also, in the right portion there are seven dolphins—I am not certain of their function.  In the left rectangle there are also seven dolphins, but those are spewing water out of their mouths (click here to view).


The whole mosaic. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This large second century Roman Mosaic that was discovered in Lugdunum (modern Lyon) in 1806.  On it, the details of a chariot race in the circus, or hippodrome, of Lugdunum is depicted.  It is 16 feet long and 9 feet wide.

It is surrounded by a floral design, inside of which is a guilloche pattern, and inside of that the arena of the circus where 9 chariots are racing.  No seating of the circus is represented and indeed the circus of Lugdunum originally had wooden seats that were destroyed by fire.