Category Archives: New Testament

The Best Rolling Stone Tomb in Israel — Khirbet Midras

As Easter approaches, I thought I would share a few related blog posts that contain some images that some of you might find useful for Easter presentations.

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View Looking East at the entrance to the First Century A.D. Tomb

View looking east at the entrance to the tomb. The rolling stone was 6 ft. [1.8 m.] in diameter and 1.3 ft [0.4 m.] thick. It was placed between two walls, each built of hewn stone. When discovered, it still rolled in its trough!

The tomb itself was in use during the Roman Period — up until A.D. 135.

In my estimation, it was the best example of a rolling stone tomb in the country of Israel. It seems to illustrate well passages from the Gospels which speak of Jesus’ tomb as being closed by a rolling stone. See especially Matthew 27:57-66; 28:1-2; Mark 15:42–47; 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–2, 10–11; and John 20:1, 11–18.

MidrasMap3Horvat Midras (Hebrew) or Khirbet Durusiya (Arabic) is located 19 mi. [30 km.] southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah. The ancient remains are spread over hundreds of dunams in the area. The site dates to the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

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View of the Courtyard of the “Rolling Stone Tomb” at Khirbet Midras—prior to its destruction

In 1976 part of the cemetery was excavated. Several tombs were uncovered, including, in my estimation, THE BEST ROLLING STONE TOMB in the country. Unfortunately in the late 1990’s the tomb site was totally destroyed by vandals!#%$@!!

BUT it has been reconstructed and is now visible in the Adullam Park!

To view 3 additional images of the tomb Click Here.

For images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher see: Calvary and Tomb.

Click to see images of Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb.

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

Near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, there is a Monumental Hall that dates to the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era).  There is some speculation that the Sanhedrin may have (occasionally) met here—see below.

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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 1970s 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 a previous post, but originally they may have led to something else.

I believe that the 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)

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).

Bone Box of Caiaphas the High Priest

Caiaphas, the High Priest, is mentioned 9 times in the Gospels and is one of those before whom Jesus appeared before being condemned to death by Pilate (Matthew 26; John 18).  A few years ago a “bone box” (ossuary) was found, along with 11 others, in a Second Temple tomb located two miles south of Jerusalem on a hill that today is called “the Hill of Evil Counsel” (John 11:49–50).  On it, the name “Joseph ‘son’ of Caiaphas” was inscribed!

The Joseph “son” of Caiaphas Ossuary. In the Israel Museum. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.  See below for the inscription.

The ossuary has a slightly curved cover that is etched with designs.  The front of the soft limestone ossuary is beautifully carved with rosette and leaf designs.  Note the red paint is still visible in some places.

The bones of six(!) individuals were found inside of the ossuary: 2 infants, 1 child, 1 teen-aged boy, 1 adult woman, and a man—approximately sixty years old.

View of one of the Aramaic inscriptions on the Ossuary [bone box] of “Joseph ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”

On one of the short sides, and on the back, the name Caiaphas had been etched into the stone with a nail—see the image.  It is evident that the ossuary was prepared in a workshop, but then when the bones were placed inside the name was inelegantly scratched on it.

The Aramaic inscription on this side of the ossuary reads “Joseph the ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”

 יהוסף בר קפא 

Most scholars believe that the Caiaphas mentioned here is the same one that is mentioned six times in the New Testament as well as in Josephus.  Ronny Reich argues that the person was named “Joseph” and had a nickname “Caiaphas.”  Caiaphas was High Priest from 18 to 36 CE and was the one before whom Jesus was tried and is famously quoted in John 11:50

For an accessible discussion of the name Caiaphas, plus others appearing on ossuaries, see Reich, Ronny. “Caiaphas name Inscribed on Bone Boxes.” Biblical Archaeology Review 18, no. 5 (September/October 1992): 38–44.

Adada and Paul’s First Journey

AdadaAdada is a well–preserved Roman city located 40 mi. north of Perge on the road that led from Perge to Pisidian Antioch.  It is probable that Paul and Barnabas passed through the city as they traveled south, descending from Pisidian Antioch to Attalia (see below).

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This well preserved temple at Adada was dedicated to the Roman Emperors
Three temples dedicated to the Emperors have been found at Adada
Click on Image to Enlarge

The city minted its own coins in the first century BC and it was very prosperous during the rules of the Roman Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius (ca. AD 98–160).

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Remains of the Roman Forum — The massive “staircase” is more probably a seating area where the council of Adada could meet.
Click on Image to Enlarge

The remains at Adada include a Forum, a theater, and temples to Roman Emperors!

AdadaMapTHYDr. Mark Wilson notes that there were two routes that connected the Pamphilian Plain (Perge and Attalia) with Pisidian Antioch.  He suggested that Paul and Barnabas took the western route, the via Sebastia, from Perge to Pisidian Antioch but followed the quicker, but steeper central route on their return journey south to Perga (Acts 14:25)—thus passing through Adada on their return journey.

Wilson, Mark. Biblical Turkey — a Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. Istanbul: Ege Yayinlari, 2010, p. 106.

To view 24 high resolution images of Adada, along with commentary, Click Here.

Eflatunpinar — Did Paul Stop Here Four (!) Times?

The Hittites are mentioned 61! times in the Hebrew Bible.  Eflatunpinar (map below) is a mysterious, out-of-the-way Hittite site that is located about 50 mi. [80 km.] due west of Konya (classical and biblical Iconium; Acts 13:51; 14; 16:2; 2 Tim 3:11).

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Hittite Monument — Spring — Pool

At Eflatunpinar (Eflaltun Pinar) there is a spring and a very well–preserved Hittite monument that dates to the second half of the thirteenth century B.C.—to the reign of the Hittite king Tudhaliya IV (ca. 1259–1229 B.C.)—biblically, about the time of the Israelite conquest of Canaan.

It is actually very possible that the Apostle Paul stopped at this wonderful spring twice as he traveled from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium and back on his first journey (Acts 13:5; 14:21), and as he probably traveled from Iconium to Pisidian Antioch on his second (Acts 16:4-6) and third journeys (Acts 18:22-23).

The monument is a “spring head” that feeds a pool that measures 110 ft. x 100 ft. (34 m. x 30 m.).  Eflatun Pinar means “lavender-colored spring.”

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Main Hittite Monument

The monument is composed of 19 large stone blocks that measures 23.3 x 23 ft. (7.1 x 7 m.).  This upper portion is composed of twelve figures.  The two central deities (not well-preserved) are probably the main god and goddess—the symbolism may be that of the gods “who carry the sky and connect it with the earth” (source).   These two deities support two two-winged sun disks and above them is a huge two–winged sun disk tops the monument.

On the right side two deities, one on top of the other, are clearly visible–as are their counterparts on the left (west) side of the monument.

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Five Mountain Gods

At the base of the monument are five mountain gods.  The central three are the best preserved and note how the central three have holes in them—just below their folded arms—through which water originally flowed.

To view the lower portions of these deities when they are not covered by water, Click Here.  Additional holes for the discharge of water are clearly visible as are their “skirts.”

To view additional images of Eflatunpinar Click Here.

Tomb of Cicero — Along the Appian Way with Paul

Acts 28:11-16 describes Paul’s walk from the port of Puteoli (near modern Naples) to Rome—along the Appian Way. The via Appia is one of the first and most important Roman Roads that eventually connected Rome with the port of Brindisi on the Adriatic coast of Italy.  It was named after Appius Claudius Caercus who oversaw the completion of the first section of the road in 312 B.C.  It was built for Roman troupes to move quickly to the south in their war against the Samnites.  Eventually, it grew to become about 350 miles long.

About 40 mi. north of Puteoli, possibly at the beginning of day three of this journey—after having spent the night in Formia that is only a 1.5  miles to the southeast—Paul would have passed by the monument that is now called the “Tomb of Cicero”.

The “Tomb of Cicero”

A view looking southeast at the whole of the monumental “Tomb of Cicero.”  It is 78 ft. high and consists of a base of squared blocks that rests on a crepidoma of two steps.  A truncated, hollow, conical cone, that is missing its outer casing, surmounts the base.  There may have been a statue on the top of the cone honoring the man that was buried there.  The structure was situated in a walled garden (see below) and is in the shape of a truncated cone on a large square base.  It was restored in 1957.

This funeral building is located 1.5 mi. northwest of the Italian city of Formia on the via Appia—about 40 mi. northwest of Puzzuoli/Naples.  It is dated to the second half of the first century B.C.  It is said to be the funeral monument erected in memory of the orator Cicero (106-43 B.C.).  Cicero had a villa in nearby Formia (1.5 mi. to the southeast).  Since it is on the via Appia, Paul would have passed by it on his way from Puteoli to Rome (Acts 28:11–16).

The Base and Entrance to the Tomb of Cicero.

Above is a picture of the base of the “Tomb of Cicero”—looking west-northwest.  The modern staircase ascends the two-step crepidoma.  The modern doorway leads into the lower portion of the tomb.  It is built of hewn pieces of limestone.

The Garden of the Tomb of Cicero

This is a picture of one of the walls that surround the 272 x 232 ft. garden that the “Tomb of Cicero” was placed in.  The boundary wall, behind the olive trees, is Roman and built of opus reticulatum topped by some shaped limestone pieces.  The framed open doorway is original.

Additional photos of this monument, including the interior, are available Here.

New Testament Inscriptions — Erastus of Corinth (Acts 19:22; Romans 16:13; 2 Timothy 4:20)

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“Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.” Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download (free).  The letters were originally filled with metal — see the image below.

Part of a pavement found near the theater of Corinth which mentions “Erastus” who was the aedile of the city.  An “aedile” was in charge of the financial matters of the city — and was very wealthy. The pavement was laid about A.D. 50.

The New Testament book of Romans was written by Paul from Corinth to the church in Rome in the spring of A.D. 57—on his third journey. In Romans 16:23 Paul says that “Erastus, the city treasurer [Ἕραστος ὸ οἰκονόμς] greets you . . . .”   It is very probable that the “Erastus” mentioned in Romans is the very same person who is mentioned in this inscription.

The two lines on the Latin inscription have been transcribed by John McRay in the following way:

ERASTVS PRO AEDILIT E
S P STRAVIT

McRay suggests that the full transcription can be translated as “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid (the pavement) at his own expense.”

From the following passages it is evident that Erastus was very involved in Paul’s ministry:

On his third journey, prior to the writing of the NT book of Romans, Paul wrote:

Acts 19:22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia [at Ephesus] a little longer.

and then in Paul’s final letter while imprisoned in Rome Paul wrote:

2Tim. 4:20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus

The image below is an example of an ancient inscription filled with metal — from the via Appia in the Italian city of Terracina.

An ancient inscription filled with metal (as the Erastus inscription originally was) on the via Appia in the Italian city of Terracina.


For an extensive discussion of the Erastus inscription and the various options that the various Latin and (NT) Greek terms suggest, see John McRay Archaeology and the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991: 331–33.   To examine for purchase Click Here.

For a brief description of the biblical and historical significance of Corinth and a Map of the region Click Here.

Jews, Proselytes, and God-Fearers at Aphrodisias

In the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts and in the ministry of the Apostle of Paul, Jews, Proselytes, and God-fearers are mentioned (see for example Acts 2:11; 6:5; 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17).  Because of Paul’s activities in Asia Minor (= modern Turkey), Christian scholarship has been interested in finding evidence of these groups in that area.  Unfortunately, there is little archaeological indication of first-century Judaism in the region.  However, synagogues from the Late Roman Period have been found at sites such as Sardis, Priene, Andriace, etc.  And later inscriptions mentioning “God-fearers” have been discovered at Miletus and Sardis.

At Aphrodisias a unique find related to the Jewish presence in the city was discovered—that mentions all three categories noted above.  It is a 9 ft. tall marble block that was found during the construction of the Aphrodisias Museum.

This 9 ft. tall marble block lists over 120 donors to a synagogue. Click on this and following images to Enlarge and/or Download—and to read the Greek Inscription.

The marble block is engraved on two sides—both visible in the photo.  It is a list of over 120 donors to a synagogue and is composed of three categories of names—all males: Jews, recent converts to Judaism (proselytes), and unconverted members of the synagogue community (“godfearers;” theosebeis).  It evidently dates to ca. AD 350–500) and probably served as a doorpost in a synagogue.  (Please see below for sources used in this blog post)

There are about 121 names on this front side of the marble block.

This main list is divided into two sections—see the blank space between the upper and lower portions of the list. First come men who have distinctly Biblical names or names favored by Jews, such as Benjamin, Judas, Joseph, Jacob, Samuel, Zachary, and names such as Amantios (loving), Eusabatios (the good Sabbath).

The second portion of the list is headed with the word theosebeis (“god fearers” ΘΕΟΣΕΒΙΣ ) who are gentiles who have a strong chosen affiliation with Judaism but who are not themselves Jews. They have traditional Greeκ-Roman names such as Alexandros or Eutychos.

Several local councilors head the list of god fearers, and ten of the Jews and seventeen of the God-fearers list their professions. They are all tradesmen who range from food-providers to painters to leather-workers, to sculptors and builders. The pillar probably stood outside the local synagogue and is a striking testimony to the proud place of the Jewish community in the city, to continuing fluid religious interaction in the fourth century AD, and especially to the high valuation of craft professions among this group of like-minded monotheists. (from the description in the Aphrodisias’ Museum)

This is a view of the “side” of the inscribed pillar.

This side also lists the names of members of the Jewish community and includes “14 men with predominantly Hebrew names (including three proselytes) and two Godfearers.” (Chaniotis, p. 40)

Compare the quality of this side inscription with that on the front of it. Chaniotis argues the ‘these two distinct carving styles suggest that the inscription on the front face was carved first, when the stone was still lying flat on the ground and was fully accessible to the engraver, while the text on this side face was carved at a later date—once the pillar had already been installed in the synagogue and the engraving had to be completed from atop a ladder.’ (p. 40)

For detailed pictures of this Inscription see Here.


Chaniotis, Angelos. “Godfearers in the City of Love.” Biblical Archaeology Review 36, no. 3 (May/June 2010): 32–44, 77.

Fairchild, Mark R. Christian Origins in Ephesus & Asia Minor. Istanbul: Arkeoege, 2015.

Pliny Persecutes Christians – A.D. 112

Were the early Christians really persecuted?  How many Christians were there in the Roman Empire in the early 2nd century A.D.?

Bithynia

Click on Map to Enlarge

In a previous post I commented on the importance of Pliny’s (Roman governor of Pontus and Bithynia) description of early Christians.  In his letters to the Roman Emperor Trajan (ca. A.D. 112) he asks what he should do with these people known as “Christians.”  This letter (see below) tells us at least two important things.

First of all regarding persecution(s):

  1. It does not seem that Christianity was outlawed by the Romans, yet it was considered subversive.
  2. The best “charge” that he could come up with was that they were “stubborn and obstinate”—i.e., they would not worship the gods nor burn incense to the Emperor.
  3. Pliny was not seeking out Christians to persecute them, but others were making accusations against them.
  4. Pliny came up with a “test” to see if they really were Christians.
    1. They needed to invoke the gods (with a formula dictated by Pliny)
    2. They needed to offer a prayer with incense and wine to the image of the Emperor.
  5. If they didn’t pass the test and were not Roman citizens they were to be executed.

The Romans seemed perplexed with what to do with these people.  They were not like traditional rebels for they did not take up arms against the state.

Secondly, the letters can be interpreted to indicate that there may have been many Christians in the province that he governed.  Pliny writes:

For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it.

He seems to indicate that because of the Christians, the traditional gods were being neglected (cf. the situation at Ephesus: Acts 19:23–41), but because of his efforts the worship of the gods was increasing again:

It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found.

This can lead to the conclusion that Christianity was rapidly expanding, at least in the area governed by Pliny, but the extrapolated numbers do not agree with the general scholarly opinion that only about 1 or 2% of the total Roman population was “Christian” in the second century A.D. (see Reed p. 141).

Reed, Jonathan L. The HarperCollins Visual Guide to the New Testament — What Archaeology Reveals About the First Christians. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

–   –   –   –   –   The Relevant Text from Pliny the Younger Follows   –   –   –   –   –

Pliny, Letters 10.96-97
Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

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Bethsaida (el–Araj) Flooded

This past fall (2019) we had a chance to visit el–Araj—the “real” Bethsaida—on two occasions (see here for a report).  This past year Israel has received heavy rains and the Sea of Galilee has risen to about -686 ft.  The first-century harbors around the Sea of Galilee were roughly at the -696 ft. level.  On May 11 our guide, Ofer Drori, had a chance to visit the site and found that the water had infiltrated the site and has given me permission to share some of his photographs.

Compare the November 2019 and May 2020 photos of the same area.

Excavations at el–Araj in November 2019.

Excavations at el–Araj in May 2020.

Excavations at el–Araj in May 2020. Photo courtesy of el–Araj excavations (see below).

Excavations at el–Araj in May 2020.

The bus “parking lot” at el–Araj.

Ofer described his visit — ‘splashing my way into el–Araj via swamps, marshes and the lagoons of the mighty Jordan delta — stepping on schools of Saint Peter’s fish and Catfish.  Noting egrets, herons, cormorants, and jackals along the way.  The site is almost an island.  Water fills the pits of the excavation area.’


The official el–Araj Excavation can be found here.

To contact our guide Ofer, click Here.

For helpful information on the site please see the following:

Notley, R. Steven and Mordechai Aviam. “Searching for Bethsaida — The Case for El–Araj.” Biblical Archaeology Review 46, no. 2 (Spring, 2020): 28–39.

Nun, Mendel.  “Has Bethsaida Finally Been Found?” Jerusalem Perspective no. 54 (July–September, 1998): 12–31.  For a pdf of this article see Here.