It’s our final field study! This semester has passed so quickly and I have learned so much! It is kind of sad to think that this is the last trip of the semester, but I am excited about what is coming next.
On this week’s field study we’ll be exploring Jordan, beginning in the middle and moving to the north, then to the south.
Succoth & Zarathon
Today began riding the bus east of Jerusalem, down the Ascent of Adummim, past Jericho, and across the Israeli-Jordanian border at the Allenby Bridge. Once we made it through customs, which was pretty easy, we went to Tel Succoth. It sits in a bay of the Transjordanian Mountains and near the head of the Jabbok canyon. A little way up this canyon is Mahanaim, near where Jacob was reunited with Esau. The land surrounding Succoth contains a certain type of clay which may be used for foundries and the smelting of copper. In 1 Kings 7 the articles used in the building of the temple are listed, and in verse 46 it refers to the copper brought from the foundries between Succoth and Zarathon. We do not have definite proof of the location of Zarathon, but it is believed that it is the next tel to north of Succoth.
From Succoth we moved up the Rift Valley to the ancient site of Pehel. The tel of Pehel was the city of the Old Testament period. In the time of Roman occupation the city moved down the tel to the hills surrounding the tel. The city was then renamed Pella. It was one of the ten cities of the Decapolis.
The next visit was to Gadara, which was also a Decapolis city. It lies further to the north on the edge of the Rift Valley. Gadara sits at the edge of a basalt plug and because of this, and the desire to outdo all the other Decapolis cities, Gadara built most of its structures out of basalt. From this city one can look down and see the Sea of Galilee with Tiberias on the opposite side.
There is an octagonal church here at Gadara. Octagonal churches were built by the Byzantines to commemorate locations where Jesus did a miracle or preached a sermon. I think this church was built to commemorate Jesus driving Legion into the herd of pigs. However, it seems a bit ridiculous to suppose that this was the site of the driving out of Legion. If it was, then those pigs would have been in either amazing shape or else Legion gave those pigs some un-pig-like abilities. In the story the pigs run into the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 8, Mark 5, Luke 8). It is miles from Gadara to the sea. Plus, the Yarmuk Canyon is just to the north of town and must be descended in order to access the Sea. If pigs could climb down the steep, rocky cliffs of this canyon, it still would have taken them hours to reach the sea and throw themselves in. The much more likely site of this miracle is at Gergasa, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, known as Kursi today.
Something interesting about this octagonal church phenomena is that the Dome of the Rock is also an octagon. Why was the Dome of the Rock built in the same shape as Byzantine Christian churches? This was symbolic of Islam absorbing and replacing Christianity. At least, that was the perspective of it’s Muslim builders.
The final site of the day was Ramoth Gilead on the border of Jordan and Iraq. We arrived here just as the sun was setting. Since the only excavations here took place in 1967 and were not very extensive, there was not much to see.
In 1 Kings 22 Ahab swept across the Rift Valley with Jehosaphat, king of Judah, in tow with the intent of taking this city for himself. For Ahab this is a very risky move. This city is easily accessed from the desert, so it naturally belonged to the Syrians. However, it was part of the inheritance of the Twelve Tribes which the Israelites have not yet been able to control. So, ignoring the prophecy of Macaiah, Ahab attacked Ramoth Gilead and was killed. Upon his death, his family was wiped out by Jehu and the kingdom of Israel is never again strong enough to attempt to extend its reach this far from its home in Samaria.