Category Archives: Jews

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:

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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.

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Laodicea — Menorah and Cross

Laodicea is the last of the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelation (1:11; 3:14–22). In the letter there may be a number of allusions to the local setting of Laodicea: the lukewarm water, riches, gold, white garments, and eye salve! (see The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting by Colin J. Hemer; click here to view for purchase from amazon.com).

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Menorah with Flames Flanked by a Lulav and Shofar — Above it a cross was inscribed — Click (actually two clicks) on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

The above column was discovered while “cleaning out the nymphaeum” at Laodicea (Wilson, p. 251; see below).  The search for the Late Roman/Byzantine Jewish presence in Asia Minor is ongoing.  The above column attests to a Jewish presence at Laodicea but its relationship to the Christians there is ambiguous.  To this untrained eye it looks like the cross was added to the menorah.  Did this mean that Christians and Jews were peacefully coexisting at Laodicea?  Or was this an indication of Jewish Christians there?  Or that Christianity had “superseded” Judaism?

(Addition.   In the scholarly article mentioned in Mark Wilson’s comment below, Steven Fine comments on this artifact in light of the anti-Jewish Council of Laodicea that was held soon after the death of Julian the Apostate in A.D. 363. After a long discussion Fine draws attention not only to the “Christianization” of pagan shrines but also of Jewish synagogues and he concludes, “my own instinct, however, is to suspect the worst and to suggest that the kind of social distancing given expression by the Council of Laodicea adversely affected the local [Laodicean] late-antique Jewish community, of which our column is the only archaeological evidence.)

To view additional Menoroth with a lulav see  Hierapolis Tomb 148B, the steps of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, the plaque from the synagogue at Andriace (Turkey), a square post at Umm el-Qanatir (Israel, Golan Heights), and the mosaic synagogue floor at Sepphoris (Israel).  Menoroth with shofars are rather common.

LaodiceaMap4Laodicea is a very large mound located to the north of Denizli. It was founded by Seleucid kings during the third century B.C. By the New Testament era it was a very large and very important city. It had evidently replaced both nearby Hierapolis and Colossae as the most important city in the area.

It was located near good water sources although an aqueduct brought water to the city from the south. Most importantly it was located at a key road junction. The major road coming from the east (Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia, India, China) came to Laodicea and from there one could continue west, 112 mi. [180 km.], to the port city of Ephesus, or head northwest towards Philadelphia from where roads headed either west to Smyrna, or continued northwest to Pergamum. From Laodicea, one could also travel southeast to Attalia, a port on the Mediterranean Sea.

It is probable that Epaphras was instrumental in establishing the church at Laodicea, and Paul writes that his letter to the church at Colossae (only 8 mi. [13 km.] distant) should be read by the believers at Laodicea (Col 2:1). Paul also wrote a letter to the church at Laodicea (Col 4:16). This letter has not been discovered, although many scholars speculate that the book called “Ephesians” was originally addressed to the church at Laodicea.

Mark Wilson’s Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor is the best up-to-date resource available on biblical sites in Turkey (amazon $35.35).

Jerusalem: Behind the Scenes of The Western Wall — A Monumental Ritual Bath

We recently took the 80 minute guided tour called “Behind the Scenes of The Western Wall.”  This tour is run by the same group that operates the much more familiar “The Western Wall Tunnels” tour.

One of the interesting finds that we visited was a large ritual bath  from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era) that is located on the lower eastern  slope of the Western Hill—west of the Temple Mount proper.

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View of the large stepped ritual bath from the Late Second Temple Period. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

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.

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The very large Ritual Bath discovered by Benjamin Mazar south of the Temple Mount. Click on image to enlarge — and download if you wish

For a earlier discussion of Mazar’s bath/pool/basin see here.  For a view of a more typical ritual bath Click Here.

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Another view of the ritual bath/pool/basin at the Western Wall Excavations.

Next time, a monumental room from the Late Second Temple Period (New Testament era).


A personal musing follows:

These baths look a lot like the so-called “Balsam Soaking Pools” at New Testament (Herodian) Jericho.

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This is a view of a pool at Herodian (NT) Jericho 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.  See here for a more complete discussion of this pool/bath.