Category Archives: Places in Israel

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.

 

Jason’s Tomb (2nd Temple Period)

Jason’s tomb is a beautiful funeral monument from the late Hellenistic – early Roman period. It was the tomb of a high priestly family that was forced out of Jerusalem in 172 B.C. (2 Maccabees 5:5-10) by their rival, Menelaus. It was constructed in the second century B.C. and was in use until A.D. 30 (about the time of the crucifixion of Jesus).  This tomb was discovered in 1956 and is located in west Jerusalem—in Rehavia. It consists of several courtyards and a “pyramid-shaped” roof.

Entrance to Jason’s Tomb

View looking north into the tomb complex.  On this side of the arch is the first of the two courtyards. Beyond the arch is the second court. Note the (reconstructed) pyramid shaped roof.

Entrance to Inner Court

View looking onto the inner porch of Jason’s Tomb.  Clearly visible is the single Doric (a simple Greek architectural style) column built of stone drums. Beyond the column is the inner porch.  Note the pyramid shaped roof. The reconstruction is based upon fragments found in the excavations.

Jason’s Tomb Interior

View of the northwest corner of the inner (third) courtyard of Jason’s Tomb. The entrance on the left is to the area of 8 shaft graves. On the right of center is the entrance to the chamber in which secondary burials were made.  Note the two blocking stones that were used to close these chambers.

For additional information and images of Jason’s Tomb Click Here.

The Holiest Druze Site in Israel

On the road that leads to the top of the Arbel Cliffs, on the west side of Lake Galilee, there is a turn off that leads to the most sacred Druze site in Israel.  Today, April 26, the Druze  will celebrate the Nebi Shu’eib holiday.

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View from the Nabi Shu’ayb complex looking northeast. The Arbel Cliffs and the Sea of Galilee are visible in the distance.

This site is located on the lower northeastern slope of the Horns of Hattin and commemorates Nabi Shu’ayb (=”the prophet Shu’ayb” = Jethro).   The identification of Shu’ayb with Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses is a Muslim and Druze tradition.

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View of the entrance ways into the main room that houses the “tomb” of Nabi Shu’ayb.

In the picture above, note the man on the left who is putting on a gray cape that covers him from head to calf.  Of course, one removes their shoes before entering the room.  As a non-Druze I was not permitted to enter the tomb area via the main doorway, but had to enter and exit via a side door—I was escorted by a Druze elder.  I was not permitted to take pictures within the room.

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View of a courtyard with a fountain that is located west of main room that houses the “tomb” of Nabi Shu’ayb. No one used the fountain while I was visiting the site.

Since 1948 this shrine has been under Druze control (= holy property [wakf]).  It was rebuilt in the late 20th century and is a place of pilgrimage for Israeli Druze.  On April 25th, the Druze community has an annual meeting (celebration) here.  Usually new Druze soldiers in the Israeli army swear loyalty to the state at this site.

This is one of 4 or 5 places where Shu’ayb is said to be buried.  The main tomb of Shu’ayb is in Jordan and there are several candidates in Sinai.

To view 9 images of this sacred site Click Here.

For a quick overview of the Druze Religion Click Here.