New Testament/Herodian Jericho

Most tour groups to Israel will visit the site of Old Testament Jericho.  However, there is a site about 2 miles south of there where first the Hasmoneans and then King Herod built a series of palaces along the Wadi Qelt.

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View looking north at Herod the Great’s Third Palace at Jericho—on the north side of the Wadi Qelt.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

From left to right is a large reception room, a large courtyard, a Roman bath (including cool, dressing, warm, and hot rooms), another courtyard and service area (sloping down and to the right).

HerodThirdPalaceDuring the winter, when there is rain, sleet, and snow in Jerusalem, generally the climate in Jericho is warm and pleasant!

Jericho was famous for the agricultural products that were grown here—especially Balsam shrubs/trees.

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This is a view of a pool that, according to the excavator, was used for the soaking of Balsam branches. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The balsam plantations at Jericho were world famous and this precious commodity was shipped all over the Roman World.  To harvest it I believe that usually not-too-deep slits were cut into the branches of the bush with either a sharp bone or piece of glass—never with a metal knife.  The sap that came out was processed for its scent.

Evidently, another method included the cutting and soaking of crushed branches, in a pool such as this, but I am not certain how that process actually worked.  I am guessing that the finished product, although valuable, was not as good quality as that produced by the method described above.

For 18 high resolution images of Herodian/New Testament Jericho Click Here.

The road leading to and from Jerusalem passed by theses palaces.

  1. Jewish Pilgrims going up to and returning from Jerusalem.
  2. Jesus’s family visiting Jerusalem? (Luke 2:41–52)
  3. The setting for the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25–37)
  4. Healing blind Bartimaeus (and friend). (Matt 20:29–34; Mark 10:46–52; Luke 18:35–43)
  5. Visiting Zacchaeus the [balsam?] tax collector. (Luke 19:1–10)

The following 11 minute video traces the route of this road from Jericho to Jerusalem.

See Netzer, Ehud, and Rachel Laureys–Chachy. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pp. 42–80.

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Herod the Great and The Stadium and Theater at Jericho

About half way between Old Testament Jericho and the Second Temple Palaces of Jericho there is a site called Tell es–Samarat.  This tell was partially excavated and the area surveyed by Ehud Netzer.

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View looking south from the top of Tell es–Samarat at the “stadium” of Second Temple Jericho. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In the foreground is the top of the cavea of the small (3,000 seat) theater that faces south.  The flat area beyond it from the house in the lower right to beyond the hot houses is were the “stadium” of Herodian Jericho was located.  The stadium was bounded on the right (west) by the asphalt road and on the left by a line of green trees.

The first–century Jewish historian Josephus mentions several  important events that happened here.

It was in this stadium (also called an amphitheater) where the sickly Herod reprimanded those responsible for the removal of the eagle from the Temple, where Herod had locked up the Jewish leadership that was to be executed upon his death, and where his death and will were announced to his troops prior to the procession to the Herodium where he was buried (Josephus Antiq. xvii.161, 173–179, 193–195).

Trial in the Theater of Jews for the Removal of the Golden Eagle in the Temple Precincts  (160) . . .  And when the king had ordered them to be bound, he sent them to Jericho, and called together the principal men among the Jews; (161) and when they were come, he made them assemble in the theater, . . .  He then cried out, that these men had not abstained from affronting him, even in his lifetime, but that, in the very daytime, and in the sight of the multitude, they had abused him to that degree, as to fall upon what he had dedicated, and in that way of abuse, had pulled it [the golden Eagle] down to the ground. They pretended, indeed, that they did it to affront him; but if anyone consider the thing truly, they will find that they were guilty of sacrilege against God therein.

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View looking west northwest at the cavea (semi-circular seating area) of the 3,000 seat “theater/odeum” at Tell es–Samarat. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It was in this area where the sickly Herod reprimanded those responsible for the removal of the eagle from the Temple (see text above), where Herod had locked up the Jewish leadership that was to be executed upon his death (texts below), and where his death and will were announced to his troops prior to the procession to the Herodium where he was buried (Josephus Antiq. xvii.161, 173–179, 193–195).

Herod Commanded the Execution of Jewish Elite so that there would be Mourning at His Death  (173) . . .  and though he [Herod] was near his death, he contrived the following wicked designs. (174) He commanded that all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation wheresoever they lived, should be called to him. . . . And now the king was in a wild rage against them all, the innocent as well as those that had given him ground for accusations; (175) and when they were come, he ordered them all to be shut up in the hippodrome, and sent for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, and spoke thus to them:—“I shall die in a little time, so great are my pains; which death ought to be cheerfully borne, and to be welcomed by all men; but what principally troubles me is this, that I shall die without being lamented, and without such mourning as men usually expect at a king’s death.” (176) For that he was not unacquainted with the temper of the Jews, that his death would be a thing very desirable, and exceedingly acceptable to them; because during his lifetime they were ready to revolt from him, and to abuse the donations he had dedicated to God: (177) that it therefore was their business to resolve to afford him some alleviation of his great sorrows on this occasion; for that, if they do not refuse him their consent in what he desires, he shall have a great mourning at his funeral, and such as never any king had before him; for then the whole nation would mourn from their very soul, which otherwise would be done in sport and mockery only. (178) He desired therefore that as soon as they see he hath given up the ghost, they shall place soldiers round the hippodrome, while they do not know that he is dead; and that they shall not declare his death to the multitude till this is done, but that they shall give orders to have those that are in custody shot with their darts; and that this slaughter of them all will cause that he shall not miss to rejoice on a double account; that as he is dying, they will make him secure that his will shall be executed in what he charges them to do; and that he shall have the honor of a memorable mourning at his funeral. (179) So he deplored his condition, with tears in his eyes, . . . and begged of them that they would not hinder him of this honorable mourning at his funeral. So they promised him not to transgress his commands.

Jewish Elite Released at Herod’s Death  and the Reading of His Will  Antiq.17.8.2. (193) But then Salome and Alexas, before the king’s death was made known, dismissed those that were shut up in the hippodrome, and told them that the king ordered them to go away to their own lands, and take care of their own affairs, which was esteemed by the nation a great benefit; (194) and now the king’s death was made public, when Salome and Alexas gathered the soldiery together in the amphitheater at Jericho; and the first thing they did was, they read Herod’s letter, written to the soldiery, thanking them for their fidelity and good will to him, and exhorting them to afford his son Archelaus, whom he had appointed for their king, like fidelity and good will. . . .  so there was presently an acclamation made to Archelaus, as king, and the soldiers came by bands, and their commanders with them, and promised the same good will to him, and readiness to serve him, which they had exhibited to Herod; and they prayed God to be assistant to him.

Herod’s Burial Procession from Jericho to the HerodiumAntiq.17.8.3. (196) After this was over, they prepared for his funeral, it being Archelaus’s care that the procession to his father’s sepulchre should be very sumptuous. Accordingly he brought out all his ornaments to adorn the pomp of the funeral. (197) The body was carried upon a golden bier, embroidered with very precious stones of great variety, and it was covered over with purple, as well as the body itself; he had a diadem upon his head, and above it a crown of gold; he also had a sceptre in his right hand. (198) About the bier were his sons and his numerous relations; next to these was the soldiery distinguished according to their several countries and denominations; and they were put into the following order:—First of all went his guards, then the band of Thracians; and after them the Germans; and next the band of Galatians, everyone in their habiliments of war; and behind these marched the whole army in the same manner as they used to go out to war, (199) and as they used to be put in array by their muster-masters and centurions; these were followed by five hundred of his domestics, carrying spices. So they went eight furlongs, to Herodium; for there, by his own command, he was to be buried;—and thus did Herod end his life.

BTW: the only other place in the Roman world where a theater is connected with a stadium is at the beautiful/well–preserved site of Aizanoi in Turkey!

PS: Caution Visiting Tell es–Samarat  The last time we visited this site our group of about 35 was harassed by five 10-12 year old boys who kept touching the women in our group and would not stop—even our Palestinian bus driver tried to intervene, but to no effect.  Unfortunately we had to quickly leave because of this.

See Netzer, Ehud, and Rachel Laureys–Chachy. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pp. 72–80.

Yom Kippur 1973 — Did Golda Meir Know An Attack Was Coming?

Today, September 18/19 2018, is Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)—the Jewish Fast Day when there is no work, no traffic, no TV, no radio, etc.,.  On Yom Kippur 1973, Saturday, October 6, my family and the family of Jim Monson were walking below the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament,  when we saw a few cars racing up and down the street.

Israel’s Kenesset—Parlement.

We wondered what was going on, in light of the fact that driving, especially in Jerusalem, was/is forbidden on the day.  Soon the air raid sirens went off!!   In a coördinated surprise attack, both Egypt and Syria had attacked Israel on its most sacred day (BTW it was also Ramadan!).

The Monson’s headed back to their house, and we headed back to our apartment.  When we arrived at our apartment we found our neighbors cleaning out old mattresses, bicycles, etc., from the bomb shelter.  The husband of one of our friends was stationed in one of the Israeli forts on the east side of the Suez Canal—the ones that the Egyptians overran.  But his fort was the only one not to be overrun!

How much of a surprise was the attack?  A  telegram (pre-internet age) from the head of Mossad, Zvi Zamir, to Prime Minister Golda Meir, warned, in the morning of Yom Kippur, that Egypt would attack that afternoon.

See Ynet for the telegram and English summary and commentary please see the interesting article:

We all know what happened!

Istanbul — An Informative 55 minute video

Here in the USA, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting air a 55 minute presentation of Istanbul.  This progam is NOW (13 September 2018) available on the internet, but I am not certain how long it will remain available.

The only well–known structure in the video is the Hagia Sophia.

Included is the well–known Hagia Sophia, and lesser–known places such as the Bucoleon Palace, the Hippodrome Cistern, the Ayazam Church, the Valen’s Aqueduct, etc.

I assume that this VIDEO is available worldwide at THIS LINK.

NB there are three items available.

  1. Hagia Sophia in 3D (3 min)— this did not impress me at all and seems to be poorly done.
  2. THE VIDEO — 54 minutes
  3. Nine pictures — not impressive

The 10th Red Heifer? And Dominus Flevit?

I usually don’t following items such as this but I find it rather interesting that some Rabbis in Israel are quite excited about the birth of a perfect Red Heifer.  From an article in BreakingNews Israel Harbinger to Messiah: Red Heifer is Born.” [ME: really?]

Red Heifers were used, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and wool or yarn, in a mixture that was used by the ancient Israelites/Judeans for ritual purification (Numbers 19).  According to Rabbinic sources 9 Red Heifers were slaughtered from the time of Moses until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

In order for the temple to be rebuilt and sacrifices to be reinstuted, the priestly line would need to be purifed—and a RH would be needed to produce the necessary purification material.

Years ago they thought that a RH had been produced in Nebraska (USA)—but due to Israeli laws such an animal could not be imported to Israel.

Almost three years ago the Temple Institute inaugurated its Raise a Red Heifer in Israel program. Due to laws restricting the importation of live cattle into Israel, the Temple Institute imported frozen embryos of red angus, implanting them in Israeli domestic cows. The pregnant cows were raised on cattle ranches in different locations throughout the country. The cows are giving birth this summer with several calves already having been born.

One week after it’s birth, the newborn red heifer was certified by a board of rabbis as fulfilling all the Biblical requirements. The rabbis emphasized that the heifer could, at any time, acquire a blemish rendering it unsuitable. They will be inspecting the calf periodically to verify its condition.

The red heifer was the main component in the Biblically mandated process of ritual purification for impurity that results from proximity or contact with a dead body.  Because the elements needed for this ceremony have been lacking since the destruction of the Second Temple, all Jews today are considered ritually impure, thereby preventing the return of the Temple service.

The red heifer is described in the Book of Numbers.

“This is the ritual law that Hashem has commanded: Instruct B’nei Yisrael to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid. Numbers 19:2

Several heifers have been found in recent years that seemed to qualify but ultimately were unsuited for the ritual. . . .


No less stringent than the laws pertaining to the heifer are the laws pertaining to the site where the heifer is burned. Almost 30 years ago, Rabbi Yonatan Adler, who is also an archaeologist, performed an in-depth study into the textual references to the site where the red heifer was burned, publishing his results in  in the Torah journal Techumin. His calculations, based on the Holy of Holies being located where the Dome of the Rock stands today, led him to a spot where Dominus Flevit, a Catholic Church built in 1955, now stands. Archaeological surveys discovered unique characteristics of the site that corresponded to descriptions in the Talmud.

View from the Temple Mount area toward Dominus Flevit—the site of the slaying of the Red Heifer?

View from Dominus Flevit towards the Temple Mount (aka Haram esh–Sharif).

More Interesting Viewing

Here in the USA the Public Broadcasting System is airing Ancient Invisible Cities — three one hour programs on the cities of Athens, Cairo, and Istanbul.  This past week I saw the one on Athens and it was very interesting.  It took me to places that I had not seen before and used computer graphics to investigate a structure such as the Erechtheum on the Acropolis.  It is available online right now at:

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

And, the folk at Jerusalem Perspective have placed on line a 54 min lecture (with pictures) by Ronny Reich entitled “The Mikveh and Ritual Immerson in the Second Temple Period.”  Ronny Reich is of course famous for many excavations—but especially at the Gihon Spring and the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem.

This is an informative lecture about the archaeology and literary sources that describe miqvaoth.  You will want to have pen and paper at hand to take notes.  Around 14:00–26:00 he describes the minimun requirements for a miqveh.  And talks about miqvaoth discovered in the Jewish Quarter by Avigad and near the Temple Mount by Mazar.  Also ones at Gamla (33:00), Jericho (41:45), Masada (48:20), and Qumran.  I always wondered how they cleaned them and exactly how an otzar worked—here I found out.  But remember, this is as of 2006, before the discovery of many additional ritual baths such as the ones at Magdala.


Here are two miqvaoth samples from Jerusalem that are not discussed by Reich and one question (from me) from Jericho.

This ritual bath (miqveh) is located in Benjamin Mazar’s excavations south of the Triple Gate of the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif) area.

Ritual Bath recently discovered in the Rabbinic Tunnel Complex near the Western Wall.

Note the steps that lead down into the ritual bath (miqvah).  Our guide suggested that this ritual bath may have been used by the priests that served in the Temple itself.  But, since it looks like it would have been difficult to immerse oneself in this bath/pool/basin, our guide said that an alternative view is that it was a place where ritual vessels were washed (purified).  It seems to me that this bath/pool is very similar in design to the larger one that was found by Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount.

This large ritual bath is from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era) and is located on the lower eastern  slope of the Western Hill—west of the Temple Mount proper.


My Question: is this a Balsam Processing Pool?  It looks like one of the above Ritual Baths.  Also, see here!

Okay, from Jericho. Is this a Balsam processing pool? Or a Ritual Bath?

This is a view of a pool that, according to the excavator, was used for the soaking of Balsam branches.

The balsam plantations at Jericho were world famous and this precious commodity was shipped all over the Roman World.  To harvest it I believe that usually not-too-deep slits were cut into the branches of the bush with either a sharp bone or piece of glass—never with a metal knife.  The sap that came out was processed for its scent.

Evidently, another method included the cutting and soaking of crushed branches, in a pool such as this, but I am not certain how that process actually worked.  I am guessing that the finished product, although valuable, was not as good quality as that produced by the method described above.

See Netzer, Ehud, and Rachel Laureys–Chachy. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pp. 42–80.

2 Videos of Kenyon’s Excavations at Jericho

Almost all visitors to the Holy Land will visit the site of Tell es–Sultan = OT Jericho of “walls–come–tumbling–down” fame.  Typically, mention is made of Dame Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations, the trenches of which, and the Neolithic Tower are still visible (see end of post).

The folk over at the Non-Professional Archaeological Photographs project have posted two videos of Kenyon’s excavations (1952–1958).  FWIW/IMHO, the simple modern graphics and sound track help set the stage for the “hard core” film and photos.

One is an 8 minute video of the excavation from the “WesternPerspectives.”

This one includes footage of getting to the tell, the daily life of the excavators, the excavation in progress, Kenyon’s personality, a riot in the nearby refuge camp, boat races on the Dead Sea, partying deep into the night, preference for Gin, and rolling the Land Rover she was driving after a party.  Hmm.

The other video is from “Local Perspectives“—6 minutes long.

This one includes selecting and paying workers, relations with the local refuge camp (remember this is in the 1950’s!), working at the tell, lunch breaks, partying with the locals, questions about (western) women driving and wearing slacks, and even a picture of Father de Vaux!

Tell es–Sultan = OT Jericho, from the west looking southeast.  Palestinian Refuge Camp in foreground—now destroyed.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Kenyon’s West Trench.

Neolithic Tower.

For 16 High Resolution images of Jericho, including the interior of Elisha’s Spring,  Click Here.