Category Archives: Places in Israel

2 Christmases in Bethlehem

Christmas Number 1 — On December 25 Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrated Christmas.  The festivities in Manger Square in Bethlehem was broadcast worldwide—and some Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrated in “Shepherds’ Field” east of Bethlehem (now filled with homes and shops of the village Beit Sahur).

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Grotto/Cave at the Roman Catholic Site of Shepherds’ Field
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Christmas Number 2 — On January 7, the Greek, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Churches will celebrate Christmas.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
Said to be the very spot where Jesus was born
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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A Greek Orthodox Priest Celebrating the Eucharist
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

On January 7 the Armenian Orthodox Church will celebrate Christmas.

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An Armenian Service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Armenians Celebrate Christmas on 7 January
Click On Image to Enlarge/Download

For additional images of Bethlehem Click Here.

Our friends a “Israel’s History – a Picture a Day” have posted 6 photographic images of Bethlehem at Christmas around 1900 under Turkish Rule: grotto, processions, etc.  They are very interesting!

–   –    –    Personal Story Follows    –    –   –

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Grotto of the Manger — Only 15 feet from the “star”
Said to be the place where the “manger” was
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the early 1970’s, when we were living in Israel, Mary and I and John (our two-year old barely–able–to–walk son) were visiting the grotto of the Nativity, Mary and I were looking at a variety of things.  When we turned around, looking for our son John, there he was, blowing out the candles that the faithful had placed by this site—sorry about that!

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Herod or Jesus: Which “King” Has Had the Most Lasting Influence?

A site located about 7.5 miles south of Jerusalem called the Herodium is a site that looks like a volcano—but it is not!   The Herodium was built by Herod the Great (Matthew 2).  According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, the Herodium served as a palace/fortress for Herod the Great.  Herod was buried here in 4 B.C.  Later the Herodium served as a base for Jewish rebels during the first (A.D. 66-70) and second (A.D. 132-135) revolts against the Romans.

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View looking southwest at the volcanic-shaped Herodium
The Palace, Fortress, and Burial Site of Herod the Great
Click to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost/obligation

In addition, the Herodium is located only 3.5 miles southeast of Bethlehem—where Jesus (called the Christ) was born.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
The “Traditional” Site Where it is said that Jesus was born
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost or obligation

Herod was the king when Jesus was born—the same one who killed not only three of his sons, his favorite wife (Mariamne), the High Priest, his mother-in-law, but also the babies of Bethlehem (Matt 2:16).

Visitors to Israel are keenly aware of all the places built by Herod the Great and will probably visit Caesarea Maritima, the Temple Mount, and Masada.  And there are many others.  If fact, the land is littered with archaeological remains of places and buildings built by Herod.  But really, one must consider the lasting (cosmic?) significance of Herod versus that of the child that was born in the insignificant hamlet of Bethlehem—namely Jesus.

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The Ascended  Jesus Surrounded by Mary and John the Baptist
From the Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost or obligation

In spite of all the “oohing and aahing” at Herodian remains, today no one actually “worships” Herod—as they do Jesus.

A Major New Development in Underwater Archaeology

In the October 9, 2018 online edition of Haaretz there is an article entitled “Meet Zeno, the Tiny Sub Discovering the Secrets of Israel’s Coasts.”

… the Italians are developing the Archeosub – an autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, called Zeno. It’s a tiny unmanned submarine that will be able to discover, survey and monitor large areas of the seabed.

The AUV nicknamed “Zeno” at the port of Caesarea, Israel, September 2018 Credit: Walter Daviddi from the Haaretz Article

The article states

institutions usually do not have large budgets and cannot afford expensive underwater excursions. Indeed, it costs more than $100,000 a day to operate a large research ship, plus the divers’ equipment itself usually costs millions.

The Italian teams aim to produce an AUV that will collect a great deal of material – on a single mission, said Sharvit, of the IAA: “The major advantage of such a vehicle lies in the fact that it permits the researchers to use it to carry out surveys over a wide area in a short period of time, and under various and unstable conditions. The results are received in real-time.” The hope is that by means of small and relatively inexpensive equipment, information will be generated in real time or just after a survey takes place.

The article contains 11 instructive photos and a 2:33 min. video [not to be missed].  It sounds like this technology is going to open up many new horizions in underwater archaeology.


Two Samples of Boat Discovered in Israel — Below

First century BC and AD boat from the Sea of Galilee.

The Galilee Boat was discovered on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee in 1986.

A fifth century BC ship discovered off the coast of Kibbutz Ma’agan Mikha’el.

The 41 foot long sea–going ship was discovered in the Mediterranean Sea a few miles north of Caesarea near Ma’agan Mikha’el.


To be frank, I am a bit fearful of what will happen when this inexpensive technology becomes weaponized for military purposes. Sigh!

The Earliest Synagogue in Israel? Used by the Maccabees?

First of all — Happy Hanukkah!
A SYNAGOGUE USED BY THE MACCABEES?

The folk over at Bible History Daily have drawn attention to  an article “Modi’in: Where the Maccabees Lived Have excavations uncovered the hometown [synagogue?] of the Maccabees, heroes of Hanukkah’s Maccabean revolt?”  Just in time for Hanukkah!

I don’t believe that any tour groups stop at this site so I thought I would share two images of the site (Umm el–’Umdan; Arabic for “Mother of the Columns”).

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View looking west at the synagogue at Umm el–’Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of the Columns”.

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The red “c’s” are column bases. Note the remains of the courtyard, entrance, and benches.

Excavations conducted in the past decade at Umm el-‘Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of Columns”) by authors Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn (recently deceased) revealed a previously unknown synagogue—featuring eight imposing columns—likely built during the reign of King Herod. But what about earlier? What was at Umm el-‘Umdan during the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt?

Directly beneath the Herodian synagogue lies a smaller synagogue constructed during the Hasmonean period, and beneath this was a structure securely dated to the end of the third or beginning of the second century B.C.E. According to the excavators, this structure must have been contemporaneous to the time of the Maccabees and the Maccabean revolt. While this Early Hellenistic building influenced the location and shape of the two synagogues built atop it in subsequent centuries, the excavators believe that there is not enough information at the time to conclude that the Early Hellenistic building was also a synagogue.

If the excavators are correct in their interpretation and dating of the above mentioned three structures, then structures two and three (earliest) might well be the earliest synagogue(s) discovered in Israel!   They seem to suggest that structure 2 is a synagogue.

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A more detailed view of Umm el–’Umdan.

For more evidence confirming Umm el-‘Umdan’s Jewish identity in antiquity as well as a discussion of the linguistic relationship between the Hebrew name Modi’in and the Arabic name Umm el-‘Umdan, see “Modi’in: Hometown of the Maccabees” by Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah and Alexander Onn in the March/April 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Happy Hanukkah!

Kh. Qeiyafa and Kh. al–Ra’i — Yosef Garfinkel Lecture

IMHO — this is not to be missed!  See the following.

The Lanier Theological Library has posted a 72-minute video of an illustrated lecture by Yosef Garfinkel entitled “Searching for the Historical King David: Khirbet Qeiyafa and Khirbet al–Ra’i.  Qeiyafa, in the Judean lowlands (=Shephelah), was excavated by him from 2007 through 2013 and is important in the discussion of the nature of the “Davidic Kingdom” around 1000 BC.  He also briefly discusses and illustrates his important new excavations at Kh. al–Ra’i—a site located about 1.5 mi. west of Lachish.

I think you will find the video well worthwhile to invest an hour in!  (Just in time for your [USA] Thanksgiving weekend) The lecture is a very convenient summary of some very important material that will be useful for students of the Bible and armchair archaeologists.  Garfinkel is very clear, as are the illustrations and the production of the video is outstanding.

Grab a cup of coffee, or your favorite adult beverage, and settle back and enjoy.  PS—have a pen and paper handy for taking notes!

Included in the video are:

  1. A discussion of various Minimalist views of the United Monarchy (beginning at 10th minute): Mythological (11 minute), Low Chronology (13), and Ethnographic (21).
  2. Is Qeiyafa a Judean city (begin at 22nd minute)?  Urban Planning (23), Cooking Habits, Administration (28), Writing (32), Geopolitical (39) Importance, and Cult (41).
  3. Kh. al–Ra’i (begin at 49th minute).  A “new” 10th-century site!  I am particularly interested in this (brief) section.  Included are aerial views and helpful pictures.  Excavated 2015–2018.
  4. Summary (53)
  5. Questions and Answers (55).

Besides all of the great content, here are two trivia that I found interesting:

  1. It takes about 5 days to restore one broken pot, and costs about $1,000/pot!
  2. He estimates that there are about 30,000 archaeological sites in Israel and about 1,000 have been excavated (1:08).

To view 12 images of Qeiyafa, check this out.

First Century Synagogue at Magdala — Did Jesus Worship Here?

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Click on Panorama to view descriptive details.

In 2009, in preparation for the construction of a Franciscan Retreat Center on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, excavations took place before the construction began.  Much to the surprise of the excavators they came down upon a first century A.D. synagogue.

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The Interior of the First Century Synagogue at Magdala at the time of excavation
Note the benches around the side, the frescoed columns, and especially the unique stone box in the center of the image
Click to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

The synagogue measures 33 x 33 ft. and has benches on all four walls.  There is evidence that it was renovated between A.D. 40 and 50.  A coin from A.D. 29 was found among the debris and the synagogue was destroyed in A.D. 67 when Titus (the Roman General, later emperor) leveled the city.

If this dating, and interpretation are correct, it is very probable that Jesus, His disciples, Mary Magdalene, and others worshiped in this structure!!

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The “Stone Box” in-situ
Note the representation of a Seven Branch Menorah (on a tripod) that is flanked by two vases and clusters of columns
Click on Image to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

This solid “stone box” is totally unique.  Who ever carved the menorah probably saw the ones in the Temple in Jerusalem (prior to its destruction in A.D. 70).

For brief comments on Magdala see below
For 12 images of the Stone Box, Frescos,
and Mosaics of the Synagogue Click Here.
Many of these images are courtesy of Gordon Franz who publishes
articles on his website Life and Land

The site of al–Majdal (Arabic for “tower”) is located 4 mi. northwest of Tiberias, along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This is evidently the site of New Testament Magdala (from migdol “tower”) that is the same as Taricheae (“the place of salted fish”) mentioned by Josephus where a bloody naval battle took place between the Jews and Romans during the first Jewish Revolt (ca. A.D. 66–70; War 3.10.1–10 [462–542]).

It was evidently the home of Mary Magdalene, one of the followers of Jesus who is mentioned 12 times in the NT.  It actually may also be the site of “Magadan: (Matt 15:39) and/or “Dalmanutha” (Mark 8:10).

The site was excavated in the 1970’s and more recent (ongoing) excavations have found the remains of an early Jewish Synagogue dated to the first century A.D. as well as ritual baths, streets, houses, and even the wharf.

A Unique Weight from Hippos—Sussita near Sea of Galilee.

In the November/December, 2018 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review there is a brief article on a unique weight that was found in the remains of a Byzantine Church that was destroyed in the devistating earthquake of A.d. 749.  This artifact is now on display in the Hecht Museum in Haifa, Israel.

The 6-ounce weight found at Hippos–Sussita. Note the cross in the center. It had been masked by a tin and lead paste during Islamic rule of the area.

A large stain—thought at first to be dirt—covered its front. A recent analysis, however, shows that the stain was actually made of a metallic paste (of tin and lead) that had intentionally been placed over a silver cross.

An artistic representation of the brass weight. From the Hecht Museum.

Once the stain was removed, it was clear that the weight’s front had originally depicted a cross on Calvary (where Jesus was crucified) surrounded by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where he was buried). Two Greek letters—signifying its weight of 6 ounces—appear on its back.

. . . The cross on the Byzantine weight had intentionally been obscured to ensure that the weight could be used even under the new administration. Part of the silver cross had been scratched out—to maintain the same weight—and a stain poured over it.


“Strata: Concealed Cross.”  Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 44, no. 6 (November/December, 2018), p. 13.