Category Archives: Places in Israel

A Monumental Herodian (Hasmonean?) Hall in Jerusalem — Behind the Scenes of the Western Wall

We recently took the 80 minute guided tour called “Behind the Scenes of The Western Wall.”  The main reason I signed up for this tour was to revisit a Monumental Hall  from the late Second Temple Period  (New Testament era).

herodianhall-0007

View looking northwest at the northern and western walls of the hall. Click on Images to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note the finely finished stones in both walls as well as the chest high decorative horizontal ridge/railing that separates the lower and upper portion of the walls.  Near the corner of the west (left) wall note the delicately carved protruding pilaster.

I visited this all in the 1970’s with Gabi Barkai and I thought he said it might be Hasmonean.  But our guide said it was Herodian (37–4 B.C.) with possibly some Hasmonean elements.

I am not sure of its function but it certainly is “monumental.”  In my Zondervan Atlas of the Bible I labeled it as a “Public Building” (p. 250).

herodianhall-05171

View of the northeastern corner of the Monumental Hall.

In the above image note the delicate protruding pilaster to the right of the center of the image and to the left of center note the well–defined horizontal “railing” that is about chest high that separates the lower and upper portions of the wall.

herodianhall-05134

View looking at the southeastern corner of the Monumental Hall.

On the left (east) wall there are two huge doorways.  Note the large carved doorposts and the huge lintels.  Currently these doorways lead to the ritual bath that I described in my previous post, but originally they may have led to something else.

I believe that that far wall, with a doorway and other openings is secondary, and that the original hall extended farther south.

Could this have been the hall where the Sanhedrin met?  If so, possibly Jesus, some apostles, Stephen, and/or Paul appeared here. (Unconfirmed speculation)

I am away from my library and am on the road, and could not verify all of my musings above.  The early explorer Charles Warren called this structure the “Hall of the Freemasons (see below).  Additional comments/suggestions/correction are appreciated.

Not my “cup of tea” below.


From the Gallery of Masonic Sights from Israel
Hall of the Freemasons, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel.
Discovered and named by the Freemason, Bro. Lieutenant Charles Warren [!] during the excavations of the late 1860’s near Wilson’s Arch.  Second Temple construction by Zerubbabel (536-516 BCE).

 

Unusual Photos of a Recent Visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher/Resurrection

On my first day in Jerusalem I like to go the Church of the Holy Sepulcher before our groups arrive.  The following are some photos that I took of our visit on 31 December 2016

hls-05100

The Tomb of Jesus is still undergoing reconstruction. It is still “walled off” but pilgrims are able to enter the tomb itself. Click on Image to Enlarge and or Download.

hls-05109

An architectural piece from and earlier structure (Constantinian [ca A.D. 340]?) Note the massiveness of the stone AND especially the carving and the well-preserved painting on it.

hls-05094

The now blocked western entrance to the Crusader Church on Christian Quarter Road.

hls-05112

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch praying at the Stone of Anointing at the entrance of the Church.

hls-05106

A Coptic Priest leading prayers west of the Tomb of Jesus.

To view over seventy (70) images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher Click Here.  These free, High Resolution Images, are arranged in 12 convenient folders.

The Earliest Synagogue in Israel? Used by the Maccabees?

First of all — Happy Hanukkah!

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”).

modiinsynagogue01

View looking west at the synagogue at Umm el–’Umdan (Arabic for “Mother of the Columns”.

modiinsynagogue60001

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.

modiinsynagogue03

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!

3 Christmases in Bethlehem

On December 25 Protestants and Roman Catholics will celebrate Christmas.  The festivities in Manger Square in Bethlehem will be broadcast worldwide—and some Protestants and Roman Catholics will be celebrating in “Shepherds’ Field” east of Bethlehem (now filled with homes and shops of the village Beit Sahur).

ShepherdsFieldGrotto01

Grotto/Cave at the Roman Catholic Site of Shepherds’ Field
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

On January 6, the Greek, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox Churches will celebrate Christmas.

ICHJBT51

The Grotto of the Nativity
Said to be the very spot where Jesus was born
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

ICHJBT68

A Greek Orthodox Priest Celebrating the Eucharist
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

On January 18 the Armenian Orthodox Church will celebrate Christmas.

ICHJBT60

An Armenian Service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Armenians Celebrate Christmas on 19 January
Click On Image to Enlarge/Download

For additional images of Bethlehem Click Here.

Our friends a “Israel’s History – a Picture a Day” have posted 6 photographic images of Bethlehem at Christmas around 1900 under Turkish Rule: grotto, processions, etc.  They are very interesting!

–   –    –    Personal Story Follows    –    –   –

ICHJBT09

Grotto of the Manger — Only 15 feet from the “star”
Said to be the place where the “manger” was
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the early 1970’s, when we were living in Israel, Mary and I and John (our two-year old barely–able–to–walk son) were visiting the grotto of the Nativity, Mary and I were looking at a variety of things.  When we turned around, looking for our son John, there he was, blowing out the candles that the faithful had placed by this site—sorry about that!

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.

Kathisma01

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).

KathismaOctagon400-0104

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).

ICJKC07

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.

Jacob’s Sheep In Danger of Dying

From The Times of Israel: After heavy rains, the whole “Jacob’s Sheep” project is in danger as one sheep has died and 40+ are sick!


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

sheep01

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.

sheep02

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)

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.