Category Archives: Places in Israel

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!

New Museum at Caesarea Maritima

On a recent visit to Caesarea Maritima I had a chance to visit the recently opened museum.

This photo is of the exterior of the new museum at Caesarea Maritima

The museum is built into four of the fourteen vaults that Herod the Great built to support the platform of the temple of Augustus and Roma.  To the left (north) of the museum, reconstruction work continues—note the reconstructed staircase that leads up to where the Temple stood.

This is what the area looked like back in the 1970s.  And also Here 2000s.

Inside of the second vault is a theater where a short, 12-minute, movie on the life of Herod the Great and the construction of Caesarea Maritima is shown.

This photo is of the interior of the theater of the new museum at Caesarea Maritima.

The other three vaults contain artifacts, or replicas of artifacts from the excavations at Caesarea Maritima.

One of the displays, in the first vault, is composed of sequencing images of the layout of Caesarea Maritima at various stages in its history.

This image is of one of the rotating displays of the city of Caesarea Maritima at various periods. This image seems to depict the city in the early Byzantine Period.

To view additional images of Caesarea Click Here.

A Visit to the “real” Bethsaida — el-Araj

On a recent trip to Israel, I decided to try to visit the site of el-Araj that is located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just east of the Jordan River.  This site has been much in the news recently because it is a much better candidate for the Bethsaida mentioned in the New Testament, Josephus and other sources than “et-Tell.”

The Jordan River and Lagoon by el-Araj (Bethsaida/Julias).

According to the New Testament the disciples Philip, Andrew, and Peter were from the town (John 1:44; 12:21). In addition, Jesus performed mighty works there (e.g., healed a blind man [Mark 8:22], and fed 5,000 in the vicinity [Matt 14:13; Mark 6:30ff]) yet the town was cursed by him because of unbelief (Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13).

Steven Notley and Mordechai Aviam have conducted four seasons of excavations at the site and have found a bathhouse and a residence from the Roman Period.  In addition, they have found the remains of a large Byzantine Church that they believe was The Church of the Apostles that was mention by Willibald in A.D. 725 as having been built over the house of Peter and Andrew.

My first visit to the site was with a group of adult learners from the Jerusalem University College.  We turned off the main road east of the Arik Bridge at dusk and our bus took us partway in.  We “debussed” quickly and set off at a brisk pace to try to reach the site before we lost all our daylight.  We were surprised to find that there were already THREE tourist busses at the site—those of a large group led by Jonathan Cahn (of “Harbinger” fame).  I have no idea why they were interested in the site, but we did hear them finish their “devotional” with the blowing of the shofar.  Hmm . . . .

My second visit, a few days later, was with a group from the Biblical Archaeological Society that was being led by Ofir Dror and myself.

Our BAS Group hiking into el-Araj.

The tricky part in accessing the site was due to the fact that the Israelis were busy clearing minefields in the area.  It was about a 12 minute walk in from where our bus parked.

Heavy equipment clearing minefields west of el-Araj.

Once we arrived at that excavations, we had a great time looking at the main place of excavation—Area A.

Area A of el-Araj—looking east.

I also had a chance to peek at Area C, about 100 yards to the north of Area A, where they have begun to uncover remains of a residence that dates to the Roman Period.

Area C — the area where a Roman residence has been partially excavated.

Finds from the house date from the first to the third centuries CE and include pottery, coins, fishing net weights, and a cooking oven.

For additional images of el-Araj you are invited to check out HolyLandPhotos.org.

The official website for the el-Araj excavations can be found Here.  And there you will find numerous links to related newspaper articles.  There are also a number of good videos of the site that have been posted on YouTube see Here for example.

 

Hippodromes/Circuses Part 1

In the Late Roman Period through the Early Byzantine (Christian) Era chariot racing was one of the most popular events of the public.  “Hippodrome” comes from two Greek words: hippos (meaning horse) and dromos (meaning “course”).  In Greek times they were used for horse races and chariot races.

The Latin equivalent to a Hippodrome was a “Circus,” meaning “circle,” that took over the functions of the Hippodromes and was also used for other events.  The most famous, and largest, of the Circuses, is the Circus Maximus in Rome.

One end of the Circus Maximus in Rome.

The Circus Maximus was over 2,000 feet long and could accommodate over 150,000 people!  It was used for Chariot Racing, Religious Festivals, and Political and Military Processionals.

In Rome the Flavian Amphitheater, aka. the Colosseum, was used for Gladiatorial contest and other public spectacles: mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, etc.

The Flavian Amphitheater in Rome could seat 65,000+ spectators.

For those readers of this blog, many of you have visited Caesarea Maritima.  The west, or seaside, Hippodrome/Circus, evidently dates to the days of Herod the Great (r. 37 t0 4 B.C.).

View looking north from the Promontory Palace where the governor of Caesarea Maritima resided.

This Hippodrome/Circus was 950 [290 m.] feet long and 165 feet [50 m.] wide. The prominent position of this Palace, from which this picture was taken overlooking the circus, was a reminder to those attending the chariot and foot races that Rome (the Emperor as represented through the governor) was the great benefactor of the games and of the political order.

In the second century A.D., a much larger (30,000-capacity) hippodrome was constructed in another section of Caesarea and the southern third of the Circus was converted to an Amphitheater that was used for gladiatorial contests.

View looking south along the length of the 1,476 ft. [450 m.] long hippodrome.

On both the right (west) and left (east) side of the image, the slopes outlining the hippodrome are visible. This is where the seating for 30,000 people was located.

The re-erected obelisk is clearly visible and beyond the hippodrome are three smokestacks from the electrical power plant at Hadera.  The hippodrome is now either used for agricultural purposes—note the stubble of the harvested crop.

In addition, some of you have visited Istanbul/Constantinople and the outline of the large Hippodrome in the Sultanahmet district.

The Hippodrome in Constantinople was 440 yards. 480 m.] long and 107 yrds. [117 m.] wide.  Some believe it could hold 100,000 spectators.

The Hippodrome was first constructed around A.D. 200 by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus as part of his rebuilding of the city of Byzantium.  Constantine the Great and his successors later expanded it. The royal box was close to where the entrance to the Blue Mosque is now situated.

Today a park covers most of the hippodrome and it still reflects its elongated shape.  Here chariot races and other extravaganzas were held: including victory parades and coronations.  Here also the Nike riot of 532 began, and it was here that some 30,000 partisans were slaughtered.

What really happened in an ancient Hippodrome/Circus?  Well, we have the next best thing to an ancient photograph or video.

Domus Galilaeae — Near Korazin

Visitors to Israel will often stop at the Second Temple/Talmudic site of Korazin (Chorazin: Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13) where an impressive basalt synagogue has been partially reconstructed.  To the west of Korazin, on the south side of route 8277 is beautiful is a Roman Catholic retreat center known as Domus Galilaeae.  It opened in 2000 and was blessed by Pope John Paul II.  It is generally not open to visitors so I thought I would share a few of my images of the place.

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View from the patio of Domus Galilaeae of Jesus teaching his disciples
In the background is the Sea of Galilee — 3 mi. distant

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The main chapel of Domus Galilaeae

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Library Reading Area
Inside of the beautiful deep blue plexiglass reading area
Note the desk and in the center is a scroll of scripture

To view additional images of the retreat center Click Here.

Where does Grandma Live?

Here in the USA, the non-visit of Rashida Tlaib to visit the “West Bank” is much in the news.

Israel had granted her permission for a “humanitarian” visit.  One of her stops was to have been in the Palestinian village of Beit Ur al–Fauqa—where her grandmother lives.

The Tlaib clan is one of three clans in Beit Ur al-Fauqa, home to some 1,000 people—home of her grandmother. The two other clans in the village are Samara and Zahran.

Residents here boasted that the village has one of the highest numbers of educated people. More than 20 village residents hold high positions in PA ministries and other Palestinian institutions in Ramallah, including banks.  (Jerusalem Post)

The bedrock foundations of the ancient Roman Road at Beit Ur al–Fauqa (Upper Beth Horon). Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Beit Ur al-Fauqa may not be on everyone’s “radar” but it has been frequently identified as the Biblical site of Upper Beth Horon.  There is also a Beit Ur al-Tahta—biblical Lower Beth Horon.

The Beth Horons of the Bible are twin towns that are located only 2 mi. apart on a ridge guarding the approach to the Hill Country from the Coastal Plain.  They are mentioned 14 times in OT: Joshua pursued the fleeing Amorites passed these towns (Josh 10:9 – 15); they were near Ephraim-Benjamin border, but were in Ephraim (Josh 21:22; 1 Chron 6:68); one, or both, was a Levitical city (Josh 21:22; 1 Chron 6:68); and Solomon rebuilt them to protect one of the approaches to Jerusalem from the W (1 Kgs 9:17; 2 Chron 8:5). (Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, p. 278)

These two cities, ancient and “modern,” are situated on the most important approach from the Coastal Plain of Israel into the Hill Country where Jerusalem and Ramallah are located.  Because of this, they have been fought over and fortified in many periods of history—including the modern period.

Most recently, after the Six Days War in 1967, Israel took control of this ridge and has built Highway 443 along its southern slopes—it runs east-west below and to the south of Beit Ur al-Fauqa.

The Beth Horon ridges as it approaches the Hill Country.  Courtesy of Bill Schlegel Copyright and Contact — Satellite Bible Atlas.

Thus, Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother and extended family is from a very small, but important village that is situated on a very strategic ridge!


For information on Bill Schlege’s Satellite Bible Atlas and 70 free aerial images Click Here.

The Lighter Side: The “Trip” within “The Trip”

Okay, as an academic I have introduced many academic groups to the “Historical Geography” of the Holy Land.  These classes have included pre–trip readings and map markings, lectures, field trips, and exams—serious stuff.  On the other hand, I am well–aware that although most of the students (young and old) are “onboard” with what we are doing, sometimes they have different agendas (other than “academics,” like basking on the beach, meeting the local folk, etc.).

A few years ago a number of young (“A” students) produced the following—all the while really engaging with all the “academic” material.

In the video you may see some of the places that you visited on your trip(s) to Israel.  BTW – I am “featured” very briefly at 00:01 and 2:45  and check the gymnast at 1:20 on Mount Gerizim.

BTW1: this blog will self destruct in four days!
BTW2: I disavow all knowledge with regard to the filming or production of this video.