Category Archives: Jerusalem

Tombs in the Kidron — The Arrival of the Greeks!

When Christian tour groups are in Jerusalem usually they will visit the Mount of Olives and some of the churches on it.  However, they often will not have an opportunity to visit or reflect upon the monumental tombs from the Second Temple Period that are located in the Kidron Valley—on the lower, eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.

The Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley with Monumental Second Temple Tombs

Often a guide will refer to these tombs from a moving bus as being in existence in Jesus’ day and some reference will be made to Matthew 23:27–32—Jesus’ condemnation of the hypocrisy (whitewashed tombs) of some of the leadership of his day.

However, it seems to me that these monuments deserve more than just a glance from a moving tour bus.  If one stops in the vicinity (see below) it is really a great place to share with your group how Greek influence in the land was introduced by Alexander the Great (332 B.C.) and increased during the days of the Seleucids

So-called “Pillar of Absalom” with Syrian Style “Hat”

Upper Portion of the “Pillar of Absalom”

(Seleucids: Greeks ruling from Syria; note the “Syrian style hat” on the “Pillar of Absalom”) and Ptolemies

Tomb of Zechariah” with Pyramid Shaped top and Ionic Capitals

(Ptolemies: Greeks ruling from Egypt; note the pyramid shaped top of the “Tomb of Zechariah”).  Greek culture in general had certainly affected the lifestyle of the Jewish Jerusalem elites that probably had built these tombs — note the Ionic columns on “Absalom’s Pillar” and the “Tomb of Zechariah” and the Doric columns on the “Tomb of the sons of Hezir“).

By the days of Jesus the arrival of Greco–Roman culture  had rewritten, and was continuing in the process of rewriting, the cultural landscape of the peoples of the land.  All of this may seem to be a bit “technical” for a typical tour group but what better place to visually introduce your group to the fact and importance of  the arrival of Greco–Roman culture than here?

This rewriting of the cultural/religious landscape certainly had a very significant impact on the outlook of the people living in the land—including the Maccabees/Hasmoneans, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Herodians, etc.  How did these various groups deal with these powerful external influences?  Adopt the new culture?  Reject it?  Fight against it?  I believe that these are powerful questions that should be taken into account not only when discussing Second Temple Judaism, but also when expounding upon the ministry and message of Jesus.

#2 = a wonderful seating area to view the tombs, Kidron Valley, and Mount of Olives
#1 = a view down on Eilat Mazar’s Excavations (Travel Tip #8)

One great place to view and discuss the monuments and their significance is from viewing point #2 above (as a bonus the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount towers over you, and the famous “seam” in the eastern wall is clearly visible).  Another way is to actually visit the monuments.  A walk from the Pool of Siloam north in the Kidron Valley will take you to these tombs.  This walk provides an interesting opportunity to get a good “feel” for the Kidron, the location of the Gihon Spring, the City of David, and the Arab neighborhood of Silwan (check to see if local conditions are “calm” before taking this walk, and I do not suggest walking alone).

Click Here to view 12 high resolution images of these monuments in the Kidron Valley.

The Road to Emmaus — A Farewell

David N. Bivin, founder and editor–in–chief of the Jerusalem Perspective has produced a wonderful article A Farewell to the Emmaus Road.

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Curbing on the Roman Road to Emmaus — Luke 24 — in the valley on a hill to the east of Motza that Bivin discuses in his article.

Bivin writes:

The Emmaus Road narrative is the climax of Luke’s Gospel. In it, two of Jesus’ disciples encounter their resurrected Lord as they follow the road leading west from Jerusalem. Not only do the hearts of the disciples burn as they speak with their risen Master, the hearts of the readers burn as well, since, unlike the disciples, we know that it is Jesus himself who is accompanying them as the disciples relate the sad tale of how all their hopes for the redemption of Israel were dashed when Jesus was crucified outside the walls of the holy city. Readers feel almost as if they were present with the disciples on the road as Jesus walked and spoke with them.

In his article he evaluates the arguments for the two most prominent candidates for biblical Emmaus.  He rightly (IMHO) rejects the identification of biblical Emmaus with Emmaus/Nicopols and correctly argues for its identification with Qaloniyah (modern Mozah).

The materials from all the relevant sources are conveniently cited in the article along with a helpful map from Carta Publishers and a labeled aerial photograph 1917.  In addition, detailed footnotes are included.

Bivin states that:

I conducted an experiment to put this hypothesis to the test. On October 2nd of the year 1987, I walked with my son Natan from the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (the Kotel) to the springs at Motza following the route of the Roman road (on which, see below) as closely as possible in order to measure how long such a journey would take. It was the eve of Yom Kippur, so no vehicles were moving on the streets to slow us down, and we set out from the Western Wall at 6:10 p.m. under a full moon, walking at a leisurely pace. Together we covered the distance from the Western Wall to the Motza springs in one hour and twenty minutes.[18] My experiment proves that Jesus’ disciples could easily have made the trip down from Jerusalem to Motza-Emmaus and back again within the time frame Luke describes.

According to Luke, the two disciples who were heading to Emmaus set out from Jerusalem sometime after morning, for they knew of the women’s report of the empty tomb (Luke 24:22-24), but it could have been as late as mid-afternoon. The disciples did not head back to Jerusalem until after they had sat down for their evening meal in Emmaus (Luke 24:29, 33).

This is the most complete set of video clips and photos that I know of that document the road.

There are five short video clips:

  1. Josephus on Emmaus — 3:00
  2. Mishnaic Evidence on Emmaus — 3:00
  3. Emmaus Road erosion — 0:50
  4. Emmaus Road erosion 2 — 0:30
  5. Emmaus Road: Hope for the Future — 1:26

There are a series of photos of the road from different years that document its condition.

  1. 1992 — 14 photos
  2. 1997 — 7 photos
  3. 1999 — 11 photos
  4. 2003 — 20 photos
  5. 2007 — 16 photos
  6. 2016 — 19 photos

IMHO A Farewell to the Emmaus Road is well–worth the 15–20 minutes it takes to process.

A Monumental Herodian (Hasmonean?) Hall in Jerusalem — Behind the Scenes of the Western Wall

We recently took the 80 minute guided tour called “Behind the Scenes of The Western Wall.”  The main reason I signed up for this tour was to revisit a Monumental Hall  from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era).

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View looking northwest at the northern and western walls of the hall. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note the finely finished stones in both walls as well as the chest high decorative horizontal ridge/railing that separates the lower and upper portion of the walls.  Near the corner of the west (left) wall note the delicately carved protruding pilaster.

I visited this all in the 1970’s with Gabi Barkai and I thought he said it might be Hasmonean.  But our guide said it was Herodian (37–4 B.C.) with possibly some Hasmonean elements.

I am not sure of its function but it certainly is “monumental.”  In my Zondervan Atlas of the Bible I labeled it as a “Public Building” (p. 250).

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View of the northeastern corner of the Monumental Hall.

In the above image note the delicate protruding pilaster to the right of the center of the image and to the left of center note the well–defined horizontal “railing” that is about chest high that separates the lower and upper portions of the wall.

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View looking at the southeastern corner of the Monumental Hall.

On the left (east) wall there are two huge doorways.  Note the large carved doorposts and the huge lintels.  Currently these doorways lead to the ritual bath that I described in my previous post, but originally they may have led to something else.

I believe that that far wall, with a doorway and other openings is secondary, and that the original hall extended farther south.

Could this have been the hall where the Sanhedrin met?  If so, possibly Jesus, some apostles, Stephen, and/or Paul appeared here. (Unconfirmed speculation)

I am away from my library and am on the road, and could not verify all of my musings above.  The early explorer Charles Warren called this structure the “Hall of the Freemasons (see below).  Additional comments/suggestions/correction are appreciated.

Not my “cup of tea” below.


From the Gallery of Masonic Sights from Israel
Hall of the Freemasons, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel.
Discovered and named by the Freemason, Bro. Lieutenant Charles Warren [!] during the excavations of the late 1860’s near Wilson’s Arch.  Second Temple construction by Zerubbabel (536-516 BCE).

 

Unusual Photos of a Recent Visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher/Resurrection

On my first day in Jerusalem I like to go the Church of the Holy Sepulcher before our groups arrive.  The following are some photos that I took of our visit on 31 December 2016

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The Tomb of Jesus is still undergoing reconstruction. It is still “walled off” but pilgrims are able to enter the tomb itself. Click on Image to Enlarge and or Download.

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An architectural piece from and earlier structure (Constantinian [ca A.D. 340]?) Note the massiveness of the stone AND especially the carving and the well-preserved painting on it.

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The now blocked western entrance to the Crusader Church on Christian Quarter Road.

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The Greek Orthodox Patriarch praying at the Stone of Anointing at the entrance of the Church.

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A Coptic Priest leading prayers west of the Tomb of Jesus.

To view over seventy (70) images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher Click Here.  These free, High Resolution Images, are arranged in 12 convenient folders.

Model of Second Temple Jerusalem

The model of Jerusalem on a 1 to 50 scale that depicts Jerusalem as it would have appeared just prior to the First Revolt (began ca. 66 CE) is justly famous.  Professor Michael Avi–Yonah was the original consultant and the model has been updated on a number of occasions—based upon new archaeological discoveries.

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I thought some might find the following labeled image useful.

modelgeneral01View looking north northeast at the model of Second Temple Jerusalem.  On the left (west) side of the image is the higher “western hill.”  This is where the elite of Jerusalem lived (see Wohl Museum).  Note the placement of the “theater.”  However, no archaeological evidence of the structure of theater has been found.

Note the bridge that connects the Western Hill with the Temple Mount (see Wilson’s Arch) and the platform and staircase to the south of it (see Robinson’s Arch).

In the center, and right (east) of center, is the Herodian Temple platform with the Temple clearly visible.  On the south end of the platform the long red–roofed building is the Royal Portico (stoa).  Below it are the two Double Gates that led up into the Temple Mount.  Note the staircases that lead up to them.  The large open space to the south of the Mount is where originally a “stadium” was placed.  However, in spite of excavations, no evidence of it has been found and thus it was removed from the model.

On the northwestern corner of the Temple Platform is the Antonia Fortress.

This model was originally built on the grounds of the Holy Land Hotel but has been moved to the Israel Museum.

The Burial Bench of Jesus

See the link near the end of this post!

On Thursday The Times of Israel published an article on the uncovering of the burial bench of Jesus in the  Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The Marble Slab on the Burial Bench of Jesus — Before it was removed! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

One of their reporters had gotten into the tomb and there was a unique photo of the gray slab that was below the well-known marble slab—among others.

I went to the same article today (29 October, 2016, 5:00 PM Israel time) and the article had been scrubbed of these unique photos and commentary had been replaced by the National Geographic photos and more generic commentary.  It appears that the article had been updated on 28 Oct at 2:16 AM.  (I wonder if this was at the National Geographic’s “request?”)

BUT here is the link to the original article.  The link was working at the time I posted this blog.  See the last three photos near the end of this article.

For more images of this unique structure, prior to renovation see here.

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.

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.