Category Archives: Places in Israel

Mt. Tabor and En Dor

Mount Tabor is one of the most distinctive hills/mountains in Israel, yet many tour groups will only see it from Megiddo (but only on  a very clear day) or from a crowded moving bus and will try to get photographs of it through the bus’ windows!#$@!  Mount Tabor deserves better treatment than that!

t View north towards Mount Tabor, with En Dor on the left (west) side of the image

One terrific way of viewing Mount Tabor is after visiting Tel Jezreel (see last week’s tip) head east southeast towards Beit Shean on route 71, BUT turn north on route 716 (it is a good paved road, but not traveled too often by tour buses).   After crossing the watershed, and just north of the Tamra junction, there is a bus stop.  I suggest stopping there and walking with your group 20 yards north for a great unobstructed view of Mount Tabor from the south.

View north to En Dor — Home of the Medium that Saul Consulted — Note the distinctive palm trees

But not only is Mount Tabor visible in all its glory, below you, clearly visible with its distinctive palms trees, is the possible site of En Dor.

From this vantage point the tour leader/guide can talk about:

  1. The praise of Tabor found in the Bible (Psalm 89:12).
  2. Tabor as a marker of Tribal Boundaries (Joshua 19:12, 22, 34).
  3. Deborah and Barak — the battle and the retreat of Sisera and the deed of Yael (Judges 4 and 5; Psalm 83:10 [En Dor]).
  4. Saul’s visit to the medium at En Dor (you may have just left Jezreel where he mustered his troops! 1 Samuel 28, especially v.7).
  5. At least a mention of Jesus’ raising of the son of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:11–15; almost visible to the west).
  6. And Mount Tabor as a possible (IMHO not probable) site of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–8; the transfiguration probably occurred closer to Caesarea Philippi/Mount Hermon).

When stopping at this not-too-well-known place in the late afternoon, the lighting is perfect, the view is spectacular, and there is ample time to digest very important biblical and extra biblical material!

To view additional images of En Dor Click Here.

For additional information see Jerome Murphy–O’Connor, The Holy Land, 5th edition, pp. 412–415 and Peter Walker, In the Steps of Jesus, pp. 96–97.

Jacob’s Sheep Arrive in Israel

After a few thousand years absence, “Jacob’s Sheep” have returned to Israel—from Canada!

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Jacob‘s sheep in quarantine in southern Israel on December 5, 2016. (courtesy The Friends of Jacob Sheep)

From The Times of Israel: ” Biblical sheep in Israel for first time in millennia”

The breed received the name “Jacob sheep” based on Genesis Chapter 30, where Jacob talks about leaving his father-in-law Laban’s home and taking part of the flock as his payment for years of service. “I will pass through all thy flock today, removing from thence every speckled and spotted one, and every dark one among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and of such shall be my hire,” he is quoted as saying in Genesis 30:32.

After three years of high-level negotiations between the Israeli and Canadian governments, 119 heritage sheep, which trace their lineage back 5,000 years to the Middle East, began arriving in Israel on November 30. It is the first time that the breed, called Jacob’s sheep, has been represented in Israel since biblical times.

Genetic markings for the breed date back at least a few thousand years to the Middle East. The journey for the sheep began in ancient Syria (also the biblical home of Laban) and passed through North Africa. Moorish invaders brought the breed to Spain, and then to England, where the animal was something of a trophy sheep. A number were brought to North America, originally for zoos and then later for commercial use.

According to the Lewinskys, the sheep has not been found in Israel for thousands of years.

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While sheep generally have two horns, Jacob sheep usually have four to six horns, including large horns that frame their face, like Solomon, a member of the Lewinsky flock. (courtesy Gil Lewinsky/Mustard Seed Imaging)

Magdala Stone Interpreted

Bible History Daily has published an important article by Jennifer Ristine, the longtime coordinator of the Visitors Center and the Magdalena Institute at Magdala, on the interpretation of the famous “Magdala Stone”—”The Magdala Stone: The Jerusalem Temple Embodied.”

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The Magdala Stone in place near the center of the First Century Synagogue. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

In her article, Ristine cites the work of Dr. Rina Talgam of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Motti Aviam, Professor of Archaeology at Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee.

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A depiction of the Temple in Jerusalem? A seven-branched Menorah with the sacrificial altar below it (?),  flanked by two vessels—one for water, one for oil?

Click here for additional images of the Magdala Stone.  And for the interpretion of the symbols see especially Ristine’s accessible article!

Magdala is open daily to the public from 8:00 to 18:00. For more information, visit www.magdala.org.

Images in this post courtesy of Gordon Franz who maintains the web site Life and Land.

For my previous posts on Magdala see here, here, here and 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.

The Tomb of the High Priest Annas? Part 1 of 2 — The Exterior

One of the most richly decorated tombs from the Second Temple Period is located on the southern slope of the junction of the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys.

Junction of the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys with the Tomb of Annas

This is the area that some have called “Akeldama” or the “field of blood” that is associated with events surrounding the death of Judas.  In 1994 Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer published an article suggesting that this special tomb may have been that of one of the High Priests mentioned in the New Testament and elsewhere.

Exterior of the “Tomb of Annas”
Badly defaced by later quarrying

Entrance to the “Tomb of Annas”

The above images show a view looking south at the exterior of the tomb.  On the right (west) side of the image notice the two semi-circular niches (for mourners/visitors?).  The entrance to the tomb has been heavily quarried/destroyed.  Notice the decorative partial shell conch over the now-almost-destroyed entrance to the tomb.

Detail of west side of tomb with an engaged column (pilaster) and the mourner niches.
When this photo was taken the tomb and forecourt were being used as a cattle pen!

West side of the tomb

In the image above, remnants of an engaged column (pilaster) are visible as are two apses—possibly used by mourners and/or visitors.

Annas was a very influential High Priest (AD 6–15) whose sons, and later son-in-law, Caiaphas, succeeded him in that office.  Annas is mentioned in the New Testament in Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24;  and Acts 4:6.

Standing in front of this tomb, looking north, one has a clear view of the Temple Mount—were Annas and his descendents had served.

For a detailed description of this, and other tombs in the area, as well as the logic that this is the tomb of Annas please seen the article by Leen and Kathleen  Ritmeyer, “Akeldama: Potter’s Field or High Priest’s Tomb?” Biblical Archaeology Review 20 (1994): 23-35, 76, 78.

In the next post — images of the magnificent interior of this tomb!

Herod the Great and The Stadium and Theater at Jericho

About half way between Old Testament Jericho and the Second Temple Palaces of Jericho there is a site called Tell es–Samarat.  This tell was partially excavated and the area surveyed by Ehud Netzer.

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View looking south from the top of Tell es–Samarat at the “stadium” of Second Temple Jericho. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In the foreground is the top of the cavea of the small (3,000 seat) theater that faces south.  The flat area beyond it from the house in the lower right to beyond the hot houses is were the “stadium” of Herodian Jericho was located.  The stadium was bounded on the right (west) by the asphalt road and on the left by a line of green trees.

The first–century Jewish historian Josephus mentions several  important events that happened here.

Continue reading

Murder of a Jewish High Priest at NT Jericho

For the few tour/academic groups that visit New Testament Jericho usually, because of time constraints, the main (northern) site is viewed from the south of the Wadi Qilt, but an exploratory walk on the north side of the wadi does pay dividends.

One of the distinctive structures north of the wadi is a double pool that was built in conjunction with the Hasmonean Palace during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE).  It was refurbished by Herod the Great.

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View of the double swimming pool where the handsome, eighteen year old, Hasmonean High Priest, Aristobulus III was murdered by Herod’s colleagues. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Each pool measures 42 x 60 ft. and each is 10 ft. deep.  Note the staircases that lead down into the north (near) and south (far) basins.  A wide wall separates the two basins.

It was probably here, in 35 BC, that the brother-in-law of Herod, the young High Priest Aristobulus III, “accidently” drowned while “playing” with some of Herod’s youth.  His death marked the end of potential Hasmonean take over of Herod’s throne.

(53) Upon all this Herod resolved to complete what he had intended against the young man [Aristobulus III]. When therefore the festival was over, and he was feasting at Jericho with Alexandra, who entertained him there, he was then very pleasant with the young man, and drew him into a lonely place, and at the same time played with him in a juvenile and ludicrous manner.

(54) Now the nature of that place was hotter than ordinary; so they went out in a body, and of a sudden, and in a vein of madness; and as they stood by the fish ponds, of which there were large ones about the house, they went to cool themselves [by bathing], because it was in the midst of a hot day.

(55) At first they were only spectators of Herod’s servants and acquaintances as they were swimming; but after a while, the young man, at the instigation of Herod, went into the water among them, while such of Herod’s acquaintances as he had appointed to do it, dipped him as he was swimming, and plunged him under water, in the dark of the evening, as if it had been done in sport only; nor did they desist till he was entirely suffocated.

(56) And thus was Aristobulus murdered, having lived no more in all than eighteen years, and kept the high priesthood one year only; which high priesthood Ananelus now recovered again. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15:53–56).

This is the same Herod (r. 37–4 B.C.) who murdered his beloved wife Mariamne, a mother-in-law, an uncle, and three of his sons.  The Herod who was alive when Jesus was born (ca. 5 B.C.) and before whom the “Magi” asked “where is he who is born king of the Jews?” and who subsequently slaughtered the infants of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1–3, 16–18).

To view 18 high–resolution images of New Testament Jericho Click Here.