Category Archives: Places in Israel

Wild Boar (pigs!) at Caesarea Philippi (Banias, Israel) — with 3 photos

A few years ago on a trip to Israel our student group was preparing our lunch at the picnic grounds on the site of Banias (NT Caesarea Philippi—think Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah—Matthew 16:16 and gospel parallels).  Looking up from our lunch, much to my surprise I saw a herd of about 15 wild boar near another picnic table close to us (adults plus young ones)!!  During my 15 years in Israel I had never seen a wild boar in the wild and here we were IN a Jewish national park and there they were!

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Two Adult Wild Boar near a Picnic Table at Caesarea Philippi Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

When we tried to approach them (bad move) they made aggressive moves towards us—in fact some of the students had to run away!  Their aggressiveness was evidently known to the Psalmist who wrote that God’s people were like a fertile vineyard that had been ravaged by animals, including boars—depicting how foreign nations had ravaged Israel.

Boars from the forest ravage it [the fertile vineyard]
and the creatures of the field feed on it.
(Psalm 80:13 NIV)

In the New Testament there is a reference to not throwing “your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces“!!

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Two Adult Wild Boar and 5 Piglets Foraging in the Picnic Grounds at Banias (= NT Caesarea Philippi) Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Pigs (domesticated boars) and boars are mentioned 22 times in the Bible.  They were unclean, and not to be eaten by the ancient Israelites (Lev 22:7; Deut 14:8).  In the New Testament there is the famous story about Jesus casting demons into “a herd of swine” that rushed down a steep bank into the sea [of Galilee] (Matt 8:28-34; Mark 8:28–34; Luke 8:26–37) and also of the “Prodigal Son” who resorted to eating the pods that the [domesticated] pigs were eating—in a distant country (Luke 15:11–32).

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Two Adult Wild Boar Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.”
(Proverbs 11:22 NIV)

I am told by expert guide Ofer Drori that there are plenty of the creatures in the Golan, Galilee, and Mount Carmel.  Possibly they multiply rapidly because both Jews and Muslims are forbidden to eat them.

Photos courtesy of:  Lorna Davis, Brady Bobbink and Joe Kirkland.

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Seldom Visited Aqueduct at Caesarea

The High Level aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima is a site usually visited by tour groups to Caesarea.

Aqueduct Junction  — Note how one part turns left while the other channel continues straight.  Eventually, both sections lead to Caesarea.

But only 3 mi. [4.5 km.] to the north-northwest of Caesarea is a very well preserved portion of that same aqueduct—at the Israeli town of “Bet Hannanya.”

On the right, a Latin Inscription mentioning the the Roman Emperor Hadrian (ruled AD 117-138)

To visit the aqueduct, drive north on Route 4 from Caesarea.  Turn left (west) at the Bet Hannanya intersection, and left again toward the village.  The road passes right through the aqueduct—it is only two minutes from Route 4!

To view additional images of this aqueduct Click Here.

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!

An “Unknown” Christmas Site Near Bethlehem

KathismaMap02All Christian tour groups will make the bus trip from Jerusalem south to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  Along the short 5 mile journey there are so many things to see that buses race past the remains of an important octagonal church that is located just along the east side of the busy highway—just inside of pre–1967 Israeli Jerusalem.

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View looking south at the foundations of the Kathisma Church

The usually unnoticed excavations are the remains of the  “Kathisma Church” that is located about half way between New Testament Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  It was built around A.D. 456 to commemorate the spot where, according to the Protoevangelium of James, Mary rested (Kathisma, Greek for “seat” or “chair”) on the way to Bethlehem (text below).

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It is octagonal in shape with three concentric octagonal walls and a large apse area on the eastern side.  This type of church is called a martyrium.  Its octagonal design probably facilitated processions in the building.  Examples from Israel include churches from Capernaum, built over St. Peter’s house, and one at Caesarea (another is found at Hierapolis in Turkey).

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View looking northeast at the foundation walls of the octagonal
Kathisma Church — Place where Mary rested on the way to Bethlehem
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Between the two outer octagonal walls are four good-sized chapels—on the northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest.  The floors of the chapels were covered with geometric and floral mosaics (now covered with sand).  In the center of the octagon is a large stone (bedrock?) that was probably venerated as the spot where Mary rested.

The church was turned into a mosque when the Muslims conquered Palestine in the seventh century.

“And they came into the middle of the road, and Mary said to him [Joseph]: Take me down from off the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth.  And he took her down from off the ass, and said to her: Whiter shall I lead thee, and cover thy disgrace? for the place is a desert.  And he found a cave there, and led her into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to to seek a midwife in the district of Bethlehem”
(Protoevangelium of James 17 and 18)

To view more images of the Kathisma Church Click Here.

For a convenient description of this church see Hershel Shanks, “Rediscovering the Kathisma—Where Mary Rested.” Biblical Archaeological Review 32, no. 6 (November/December, 2006): 44–51.

Three Christmas Videos

Wayne Stiles today launches three videos related to the birth of Jesus Christ.  Wayne filmed them on location in Israel.  The photography is great and Stiles is a master of linking the Land and the Bible to the Christian Life!

Each video is about 15 minutes in length.  Click Here for the first free, no obligation video.  Be sure to scroll down to see the content of the three videos.  Enjoy!

The three-part series is called, “The Promise that Changed the World.”

The prophecies and preparation for the Incarnation
The birth of Jesus and the announcement to shepherds
The aftermath of His birth, including the Magi and Herod’s rage

Deir Aziz Synagogue (Golan Heights)

Deir Aziz (“Monastery of Aziz”) is a site  located 4 mi. [6.5 km.] east of the Sea of Galilee on the north side of a wadi that flows into the Nahal Qanaf.  There is a very powerful spring at Deir Aziz and the remains of a prominent synagogue that dates to the Talmudic/Byzantine Period.

Synagogue at Deir Aziz — Looking Southwest

View looking down, southwest at the interior of the synagogue.  The woman in the image is sitting near the south wall of the synagogue.  On the upper right note the stairs that lead down into the synagogue.

The synagogue was first built during the sixth century AD and was evidently destroyed in the earthquake of AD 749.  The scattered remains are from the synagogue and subsequent usage.

Deir Aziz — Interior — Looking East

The door on the far side is the entrance to the synagogue from the east.  On the left (north) side of the image notice the three-tiered bench and behind it the plastered wall.  Above the wall notice the projecting stones.  These stones probably supported wooden beams that supported the roof of the synagogue.

Deir Aziz — Spring and Pool

View of the “modern” pool at Deir Aziz that is fed by the powerful spring at the site.  Note the sabra cactus plants on this side of the pool.

To locate Deir Aziz on a map, and for additional images, Click Here.

Kfar Bir’im

BaramIn the 19th century Kfar Bir’im (ancient Bar’am) was occupied and settled by Maronite Christians.  During Israel’s war of Independence (known as “the catastrophe” to the Arabs) the inhabitants were forced out of their village by the Israeli military forces with the promise that they could return after the fighting ceased.  The displaced inhabitants settled in nearby Gush Halav and other villages.

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View of the occasionally used Maronite Christian Church in Kfar Bir’im
that is located to the south of the synagogue at Baram.
Click on Image to Enlarge

The request/demand to return by these Arab Christians was tied up in the Israeli court system for years, but ultimately the court ruled against allowing them to return.  Today the site is a National Park and boasts the best preserved ancient synagogue in the country.

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