Unusual Ritual Bath Discovered in Jerusalem

Many ritual baths from the Second Temple Period have been excavated in Jerusalem, but today (Wednesday, 5 August 2015) the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the excavation of one in the Arnona neighborhood in south Jerusalem.  This large mikveh has inscriptions, written in Aramaic, and symbols of a boat, palm trees, plants and possibly a menorah written or carved on its walls!

The Times of Israel has published an article describing this discovery along with 9 clear photos and an informative (partially in Hebrew) 5 minute video of the exterior and interior of the mikveh and its inscriptions.

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.

Next Tuesday — did you know that there was a “Swiss Forest” in Israel?

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.

Magdala: The Rest of the Story

MagdalaPanoIn two previous posts I described and posted images of the beautiful chapel and the first century synagogue at Magdala.  Besides these two structures a number of others have been discovered including an “Elite House” (=mansion) that contains three(!) ritual baths, a mosaic floor, etc.


View looking east at a portion of the foundation walls of an elite residence that is located south of the synagogue. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In the center of the image is a doorway and below it to the left are hewn steps that lead down into a miqveh (ritual bath).  The thickness of the walls indicates that there was more than one story to the house.  There is a mosaic under the permanent covering—that is still covered for protection.   Because of the ritual baths found in the house, it seems that wealthy/religious Jews that lived there.


View of one of the three ritual baths that are part of an elite house that is located south of the synagogue at Magdala.

Hewn stairs lead down into the water.  The bath still contains water—actually a spring in the area still supplies the bath with water.

Between the synagogue and the mansion an extensive Market Area has been excavated.


View looking east at the market of Magdala.

In the shops, pottery, woven goods, and fresh produce were sold.  In several of the shops there were plastered pools designed to hold fresh fish.  These pools had access to fresh underground water.

In addition, what is being called a “port,” was excavated—although the remains are not too impressive.

Finally, to the northwest is a very large freshwater pool called En Nun.


View looking northwest at the large freshwater pool of En Nun.

This pool collects water from the springs that are located to the west of it.  It was apparently used for irrigation as far back as the Roman (= New Testament) Period.  It is possible that water was used in the fields north of Magdala.  Or, maybe it was used by another city that was located to the north of Magdala (Dalmanutha?? Mark 8:10).



First Century Synagogue at Magdala — Did Jesus Worship Here?


Click on Panorama to view descriptive details.

In 2009, in preparation for the construction of a Franciscan Retreat Center on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, excavations took place before the construction began.  Much to the surprise of the excavators they came down upon a first century A.D. synagogue.


The Interior of the First Century Synagogue at Magdala at the time of excavation
Note the benches around the side, the frescoed columns, and especially the unique stone box in the center of the image
Click to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

The synagogue measures 33 x 33 ft. and has benches on all four walls.  There is evidence that it was renovated between A.D. 40 and 50.  A coin from A.D. 29 was found among the debris and the synagogue was destroyed in A.D. 67 when Titus (the Roman General, later emperor) leveled the city.

If this dating, and interpretation are correct, it is very probable that Jesus, His disciples, Mary Magdalene, and others worshiped in this structure!!


The “Stone Box” in-situ
Note the representation of a Seven Branch Menorah (on a tripod) that is flanked by two vases and clusters of columns
Click on Image to Enlarge — Photo: Gordon Franz

This solid “stone box” is totally unique.  Who ever carved the menorah probably saw the ones in the Temple in Jerusalem (prior to its destruction in A.D. 70).

For brief comments on Magdala see below
For 12 images of the Stone Box, Frescos,
and Mosaics of the Synagogue Click Here.
Many of these images are courtesy of Gordon Franz who publishes
articles on his website Life and Land

The site of al–Majdal (Arabic for “tower”) is located 4 mi. northwest of Tiberias, along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This is evidently the site of New Testament Magdala (from migdol “tower”) that is the same as Taricheae (“the place of salted fish”) mentioned by Josephus where a bloody naval battle took place between the Jews and Romans during the first Jewish Revolt (ca. A.D. 66–70; War 3.10.1–10 [462–542]).

It was evidently the home of Mary Magdalene, one of the followers of Jesus who is mentioned 12 times in the NT.  It actually may also be the site of “Magadan: (Matt 15:39) and/or “Dalmanutha” (Mark 8:10).

The site was excavated in the 1970’s and more recent (ongoing) excavations have found the remains of an early Jewish Synagogue dated to the first century A.D. as well as ritual baths, streets, houses, and even the wharf.

Magdala: Home of Mary Magdalene — Chapel

During several visits over the past few years I have been excited to see the archaeological work on the synagogue, market, dwellings, and harbor of Magdala—home of Mary Magdalene on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

This past June we visited the site under the leadership of one of the Magdala guides and although we were pressed for time, she urged us to visit the Chapel at Magdala.  I am so glad that we did!


View looking north northwest at the entrance to the chapel called “Duc in Altum.”

This chapel is called Doc in Altum that is Latin for the words of Jesus addressed to Peter as recorded in Luke 5:4 where, after preaching from his boat, Jesus tells Peter to “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” After a large catch Peter and his partners left all behind to follow Jesus—to become “fishers of men” (5:10).   The chapel is a call for present day followers of Jesus to become “fishers of men.”


View looking east at the “Women’s Atrium” of Duc in Altum.

As we entered the atrium we were informed that it is dedicated to the women who followed and supported Jesus (Luke 8)—especially Mary Magdalene.  On seven of the eight columns the names of women mentioned in the Gospels are engraved.  The eighth column is not inscribed and represents women of faith through the ages.  Here our guide encouraged women in the group to pray at the eighth column.  A number of them, especially those who had experience trauma as women, did in fact do that—and later shared that this was a very moving and important experience for them.

From the Atrium of the Women, we moved east into the Chapel of the Boat.


View looking east at the “Boat Chapel.” To view details on this Panorama you are invited to Double Click on the Image.

This chapel commemorates Jesus preaching from the boat of Simon Peter (Luke 5:1-11).  The chapel seats 300 and along the sides of the chapel are pictures of the 12 male disciples of Jesus.


View looking east at the boat altar in the “Boat Chapel.”

The altar’s design is based upon the 1st century boat that was excavated in 1986 along the shoreline near the chapel.  The altar is made out of cedar wood.  The “tabernacle,” that contains the elements for the Eucharist, to the right of the mast, was blessed by Pope Francis on May 26, 2014 during his pastoral pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The glassy floor, the reflecting pool behind the window, and the Sea of Galilee itself give the impression of the boat resting on the sea.

As usual, I was very impressed with the antiquities at Magdala, BUT I am so glad that we set aside time to visit this chapel to experience the symbolism and testimony that the Legionaries of Christ are sharing with the world–at–large!  If you visit the site, please budget 90 minutes for a complete visit—it will be very worthwhile!

Additional information can be found at the Official Magdala Web Site.

Via Egnatia (Peqin, Albania)

Paul probably traveled on this road on both his second and third missionary journeys, as he traveled between Philippi and Thessalonica.  The current issue of Aramco World has a wonderful article on this road—describing it from west to east.  It includes some pictures, a video and a helpful map.

The Via Egnatia is the name of a Roman Road that connected ports on the Adriatic Sea with Byzantium.  From west to east, a traveler from Rome (Italy – not on map) would head southeast overland to Brundisium (a port on the east coast of Italy).

ViaEgnatia01From there they would sail east, across the Adriatic Sea, landing at either Apollonia or Dyrrhachium (both on map).  They would head east, overland, on the “Via Egnatia” toward Byzantium — via ThessalonicaAmphipolisPhilippi, and Kypsela.

Although completed in stages, it was begun in the second century B.C. and it was expanded and repaired by the Romans in subsequent centuries.  It is named after the second century B.C. Roman proconsul of Macedonia, “Gnaios Egnatios.”  Its length varied according to the period, but Roman milestones suggest it was 535 Roman miles long (= 493 English miles [790 km.]).


View looking east at a portion of the Via Egnatia near the Albanian village of Peqin. Here the roadbed is being used for local rural traffic!


Carl and Mary Rasmussen on a Roman Bridge that supported the Via Egnatia near Peqin (Albania)


View looking northeast at a bridge of the Via Egnatia near the Albanian village of Peqin. Here local traffic is diverted to the right of the bridge.

HT:  Drs. William Burlingame and Mark Wilson.

Old City (Jerusalem) Church Now Open

The Church of Saint John the Baptist is located at 113 Christian Quarter Road in the Old City of Jerusalem.  I have always wanted to visit the church but visiting hours were non-existent and it seemed that the church was always locked!$#@!

OldCity04This past June when walking past the church I noticed the door to the courtyard was open so I “popped in.”


View of the entrance to the Church of Saint John the Baptist with the courtyard in the foreground.

Much to my surprise the door to the sanctuary, on the far side of the courtyard was also open—so I walked in!

Aviva Bar–Am describes the interior of the church as “one of the most ornate in Jerusalem”—and it did not disappoint!


View of the Iconostasis of the Church of Saint John the Baptist. On the pedestal to the right of the carpet is a relic of the skull of John the Baptist.

The current church was built sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries.  Underneath of it is an older Byzantine Church that dates to the time of the Empress Eudocia— ca 5th century A.D.—it is not yet open to the public.


View of an icon depicting the head of John the Baptist on a platter. To the right of it, within a jeweled silver case, is a piece of a skull that is said to be a relic of John the Baptist.

In the sanctuary a relic that is said to be a portion of the skull of John the Baptist is venerated.  During the Crusader Period the Knights Hospitaler cared for the sick from this monastery/church.  After the conquest of Jerusalem by the Muslims in 1187 — eventually the church was returned to the Greek Orthodox.

For a convenient description of this church see Bar–Am, Aviva. Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Ahva Press, 1998, pp. 36–49.

For additional photos of the Church of Saint John the Baptist Click Here.