Category Archives: Places in Israel

Magdala — Some Uncertainties

My late, great, and brilliant Professor (and colleague) Anson Rainey use to tell his students, “let me enrich you with some new uncertainties!”

The synagogue during excavation. The “stone box” is in the center of the Image. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Since many readers of this blog have visited Magdala, located along the northern part of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, I thought I would share a link to a recent article by Dr. David Gurevich who has revisited some of the interpretations of the Synagogue at Magdala—especially those presented by the volunteer guides at the site.  “Magdala’s Stone of Contention.”

Reconstruction of the Synagogue with the entrance on the west side.

For example, Gurevich notes that the entrance of the synagogue on the west side is a complete reconstruction!  He believes that it was on the south side.

Much of the article is taken up with a variety of interpretations of the now-famous “Magdala Stone.”

The “Stone” with the Menorah. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Is it a table for the Torah Scroll?  An Incense Altar?  A representation of the Second Temple?  A Prayer Table?  Gurevich’s article discusses all of these possibilities.

Magdala’ Stone of Contention” by Dr. David Gurevich is scholarly, but non–technical.  IMHO —a worthwhile 10 to 12 minute read.

For 16 photos of the Synagogue Click Here.  For previous blog posts on Magdala see Synagogue, the Stone, and The Chapel.

 

 

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King David at the City Gate

It is well–known that in Old Testament times that the “elders” of a city often would congregate at the gate of their city for a variety of functions.  But it must not be forgotten that kings often made themselves available to their subjects and performed some of their duties there (see below).

One of the many interesting discoveries made by Avraham Biran was a podium and column base that was located at the gate of the northern city of Dan.

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View looking west at the (reconstructed) podium that Avraham Biran discovered at the city gate of Dan. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It is very possible that the king, or some other official, sat on this podium hearing legal cases (2 Sam 19:8). The decorated stone bases at the corners of the podium supported columns as the reconstruction illustrates.

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View looking west at the podium (prior to reconstruction [compare photo above!]) that Avraham Biran discovered at the city gate of Dan.

city-gate

This image has been posted courtesy of Balage Balogh. It may NOT be used on any other web sites, DVDs, or for any commercial purposes without the expressed written consent of Balage Balogh. His images can be viewed at http://www.archaeologyillustrated.com.

A realistic drawing of the Iron Age Gate area at Dan.   The view is from outside of the gate on to a plaza that is located between the outer and the inner portions of the gate.  On the far side of the plaza note the podium where the king could sit (red and white).  To the left of the podium is the archway of the inner gate.

The story of David fleeing from his rebellious son Absalom provides some insight into the king and the city gate.   As David’s troops were leaving the Transjordan city of Mahanaim:

2 Sam. 18:4     The  king [David] stood beside the gate while all the men marched out in units of hundreds and of thousands.

It was in the city gate that David awaited word from the battlefield:

2 Sam. 18:24     While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone.  25 The watchman called out to the king and reported it.

Notice also that the “watchman went up to the roof of the gateway”

six-chamber-gate-model

From a previous post, the 6–chamber gate at Megiddo.  Notice the towers and rooms above the inner city gate.

And after David heard the report of the death of his rebellious son Absalom

2 Sam. 18:33     The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Later during the Israelite and Judean monarchies Ahab and Jehoshaphat sat at the gate of Samaria (Ahab’s capital) where they were deciding whether or not to go up to battle the Arameans at Ramoth Gilead.

1 Kings 22:10     Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel [Ahab] and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them.

It was also while sitting at the Benjamin Gate in Jerusalem that Zedekiah, the last Judean king, received word that Jeremiah had been imprisoned in a cistern!

Jer. 38:7     But Ebed-melech, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate,  8 Ebed-melech went out of the palace and said to him,  9 “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.”

Gezer

GezerMapOne of the most interesting archaeological sites in Israel is Tel Gezer.  Gezer is situated along the eastern branch of the International Highway (aka The Via Maris) and guards the entrance to the Central Hill Country (territory of Benjamin and Jerusalem and to the north Ephraim).  It is mentioned 14 times in the Old Testament and was of such importance that it was fortified by King Solomon.

Here is the account of the forced labor King Solomon conscripted to build the LORD’S temple, his own palace, the supporting terraces, the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer.  (NIV; 1 Kings 9:15).

After discovering six-chamber gates at Megiddo and Hazor, that were dated to the days of Solomon, Yigal Yadin suggested that William Dever, in the 1960’s the excavator of Gezer, reopen R.A.S. Macalister’s so-called “Maccabean Palace” that looked like it might actually be another six-chamber gate—like those at Megiddo and Hazor (1 Kings 9:15).

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The six-chamber gate that is located on the south side of Tel Gezer.

View looking south at the area of the “Solomonic Gate” on the south side of the mound of Gezer.  The area at the bottom of the image is inside the ancient city, while the top half of the image is outside the city.

In the center of the image an ancient drain is visible that led water and waste out of the city — draining from bottom to top of the image.  The drain runs right through the center of the city gate — it was of course covered with paving stones in ancient times.

If you look carefully, you will notice that stone foundation walls on one side of the gate are matched by foundation walls on the other side of the gate.  There were actually three rooms on each side of the gate — yielding a total of six “rooms” in the gate area.  Traffic in and out the city traveled on a paved street, which was above the drain.

According to the initial thoughts of the excavator, Dr. William Dever, the gate dates to the period of King Solomon (970–931 B.C.).  From 1 Kings 9:15 note how Solomon fortified Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.

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William Dever (right) hosting Yohanan Aharoni (center) at Gezer in the spring of 1967 when we were digging at Gezer. This was the beginning of the re-investigation of the “Solomonic Gate.”

Steve Ortiz and Sam Wolff completed their excavations of structures to the west of the gate in 2018.  One of their goals is to attempt to clarify the dating of the six-chamber gate.

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.”

IJOTIT05

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 Divine Name — YHWH — at Mt. Gerizim

I have posted on my web site some images of the archaeological remains that have been excavated on Mount Gerizim—the Samaritan’s holy mountain.

Mount Gerizim on the left (south) and Mount Ebal on the right (north)
For a higher resolution version of this image Click Here

In addition to the images of the archaeological remains, I have posted three images of inscriptions, among many,  that were found on Mount Gerizim and that are now on display in the Good Samaritan(!) Inn Museum—on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

The Divine Name YHWH carved in stone — from the excavations at Mount Gerizim

One of these stone inscriptions actually contains the divine name Yhwh in Paleo-Hebrew script and might be of interest to some of you.

To view additional images of the remains on Mount Gerizim Click Here.

David vs. Goliath — The Valley of Elah

One of my favorite places to take students when in Israel is to the top of Tel Azekah.  From there, there is a wonderful view of the lowlands (aka Shephelah) and especially of the Valley of Elah.  From this vantage point one can envision the geographical setting of the battle between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17).

View from the Top of Tel Azekah. My interpretation of the geographical setting of the Battle between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17).

The Philistines, moving eastward from Ekron and Gath, camped at Ephes Dammim between Socoh and Azekah (17: 1). The Israelites, defending the approaches to the hill country, camped on the north side of the valley (vv. 2– 3), probably east of the Philistine camp.

The encounter between David and Goliath took place in the broad valley itself, from which David took five smooth stones for his sling. Emboldened by David’s example, Saul’s troops successfully attacked the Philistines. The latter at first fled northward, on the Shaaraim road in the valley east of Azekah, and then north of Azekah; they turned west and followed the valley to the security of their cities of Gath and Ekron (v. 52).

This battle was probably one of a number that occurred between the Israelites and the Philistines in the Shephelah. For example, in the Shephelah David defended the inhabitants of Keilah against the Philistines (23: 1– 13). Thus the account of David and Goliath not only provides geographical details concerning the Valley of Elah region but also illustrates the fact that the Shephelah served as a military buffer zone between the inhabitants of the coastal plain and those of the mountains to the east.

Valley of Elah during a January storm! It is normally dry!

For a description of the battle, see Rasmussen, Carl G. Zondervan Atlas of the Bible.   Zondervan, 2010, p. 34.

To view additional images of the area of the Valley of Elah (without obligation) Click Here.

Spring of Jezreel

On a recent trip to Israel I visited a site that I had viewed many times, but had not taken the time to visit.

The spring of Jezreel is situated in the large cluster of trees.

The Spring of Jezreel is located about 0.6 mi. northeast of the summit of biblical Zezreel.

This is a view of the pool and abandoned structure that was built during the days of the British Mandate (1922–1948). A channel directs water from the Spring of Jezreel into this pool. This powerful spring is located at the foot of Tel Jezreel (about 0.6 mi northeast of the summit of the tell).

According to the biblical text it was here that Saul mustered the Israelite troops in preparation for his fatefull battle with the Philistines.

“The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel.”

Soon afterward, Saul and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-shua were killed on nearby Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:2).

Naboth’s vineyards may have also been in the vicinity (1 Kings 21:1).

View of the channel that leads from the Spring of Jezreel to the pool that was built during the days of the British Mandate (1922–1948). In this photo, the water is flowing toward the viewer.

For more images from Jezreel, Click Here.