Category Archives: Places in Israel

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.

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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.

New Testament/Herodian Jericho

Most tour groups to Israel will visit the site of Old Testament Jericho.  However, there is a site about 2 miles south of there where first the Hasmoneans and then King Herod built a series of palaces along the Wadi Qelt.

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View looking north at Herod the Great’s Third Palace at Jericho—on the north side of the Wadi Qelt.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

From left to right is a large reception room, a large courtyard, a Roman bath (including cool, dressing, warm, and hot rooms), another courtyard and service area (sloping down and to the right).

HerodThirdPalaceDuring the winter, when there is rain, sleet, and snow in Jerusalem, generally the climate in Jericho is warm and pleasant!

Jericho was famous for the agricultural products that were grown here—especially Balsam shrubs/trees.

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This is a view of a pool that, according to the excavator, was used for the soaking of Balsam branches. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The balsam plantations at Jericho were world famous and this precious commodity was shipped all over the Roman World.  To harvest it I believe that usually not-too-deep slits were cut into the branches of the bush with either a sharp bone or piece of glass—never with a metal knife.  The sap that came out was processed for its scent.

Evidently, another method included the cutting and soaking of crushed branches, in a pool such as this, but I am not certain how that process actually worked.  I am guessing that the finished product, although valuable, was not as good quality as that produced by the method described above.

For 18 high resolution images of Herodian/New Testament Jericho Click Here.

The road leading to and from Jerusalem passed by theses palaces.

  1. Jewish Pilgrims going up to and returning from Jerusalem.
  2. Jesus’s family visiting Jerusalem? (Luke 2:41–52)
  3. The setting for the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25–37)
  4. Healing blind Bartimaeus (and friend). (Matt 20:29–34; Mark 10:46–52; Luke 18:35–43)
  5. Visiting Zacchaeus the [balsam?] tax collector. (Luke 19:1–10)

The following 11 minute video traces the route of this road from Jericho to Jerusalem.

See Netzer, Ehud, and Rachel Laureys–Chachy. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pp. 42–80.

Mysterious Bridge

Many of you have traveled across the Aijalon Valley (where the moon stood still; Joshua 10:12) and have seen the massive bridge that crosses the valley.

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High Speed Railroad Bridge across the Aijalon Valley.

The folk over at Ynetnews have posted an informative article, “Travelling the tracks to connect Israel’s largest two cities,” that describes the bridges and tunnels for the high speed railroad from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  It will only take 28 minutes for the journey at speeds up to 100 miles per hour!

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Aijalon Bridge Detail — Photo: Sasson Tiram

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One of the Best Preserved Ancient Synagogues in Israel

In the most recent issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review the process of the reconstruction of the synagogue at Umm el–Kanatir is described.  The following are some images of the site.  Additional images of this interesting synagogue can be viewed on my web site.

Entrance to synagogue at Umm el–Qanatir

Umm el–Q/Kanatir (The Mother of the Arch) is a site located on the upper reaches of the Wadi Samekh, 5 mi. [8.5 km.] east of the Sea of Galilee on the Continue reading

Magdala: the Chapel of the Encounter — Hemorrhaging Woman

In a recent visit to Magdala the students of the Jerusalem University College were graciously and expertly hosted by the excavator Arfan Najjar and Jennifer Ristine.

I like to visit Magdala for two reasons. One is to visit the antiquities of the First Century Synagogue and the Second is to reflect on the role of women among the first followers of Jesus.

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The Encounter Chapel, in the lower lever of Duc In Altum, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter of all of us, as illustrated by the hemorrhaging woman.  Note how she touches the hem of Jesus’ garment.  (Mark 5:25–34)

The Encounter Chapel is first of all an archeological treasure: the floor is that of the original first century market place of the Magdala port.

A port market place is about as busy a spot in any town you can imagine – probably the main metro train station or airport in our terms – where people without any discrimination rub shoulders.
Since we have also discovered significant infrastructure for fish processing, it is most logical that fishermen of the Sea of Galilee, many known to us by on a first name basis, who wanted to sell their fish for export to Rome (documented by Flavius Josephus) would have gravitated to Magdala’s port, probably not unfamiliar to Jesus’ fishermen disciples. Jesus´ ease at sitting in their boats and mingling with large crowds helps us to see many people encountering him in this marketplace and he can engage the workers and the traders.

The large painting (titled “Encounter”) gives us a snapshot of the encounter of the hemorrhaging woman who tries to touch Jesus for healing (Mark 5: 25-29).

The Encounter Chapel, in the lower lever of Duc In Altum, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter of all of us, as illustrated by the hemorrhaging woman. Located on the marketplace of the first century port, the Encounter Chapel is modeled after the structure of the Magdala First Century Synagogue with room for up to 120 people.

As you visit the Sea of Galilee and reflect on Jesus’ ministry in the area, I commend to you a visit to Magdala—about 1 to 1.5 hours so see it all.

70 FREE Aerial Views of Israel & Maps

Bill Schlegel, the author of the Satellite Bible Atlas, has made available to those who own his Atlas two wonderful teaching tools.

The first is a complete digital set of the maps that he produced for use in his Atlas.  One of the questions that I frequently receive is “where can I get maps that I can use in my PowerPoint presentations?”  Well, these certainly are useful for that purpose.

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View of Caesarea Maritima looking east. In the foreground, protruding out into the Mediterranean Sea is the Herodian Palace. Behind it to the right is the theater and behind it to the left is the Stadium/Hippodrome/Circus. Courtesy of Bill Schlegel, Satellite Bible Atlas.

Recently he has also made available 70 Aerial Photographs of sites of biblical significance.  They are also free to download (for owners of his Atlas).  They are of good resolution and will be useful for personal use and (again) in PowerPoint presentations.  Each image is 300-400 KB in size.  He took them in very clear weather using a drone.

Along with the 70  aerial photos is a pdf document with an entry for each of the images.  Each entry, after naming the image, provides a short synopsis of the biblical importance of the site.  Most of the images are of sites that most travelers to Israel will have visited, but there are also a few of  not–so–frequently visited places, such as: et–Tell, Maqatir, Dothan, Timnah,  Wadi Farah, and Tel Serah (Ziklag).

He has also produced numerous teaching/learning videos that I have previously noted.

William Schlegel’s Satellite Bible Atlas can be purchased here.