JUC with my masters in biblical history and geography at the beginning of May! Yeah! Dr. Paul Wright, the president of the university, is standing with me, holding my diploma in the picture to the left. My time living and studying in Jerusalem and traveling throughout Israel, Jordan and Egypt was life-changing. While I was excited to come home I was sad to leave and will miss living in the Land of the Bible. Hopefully I will be back to visit before very long.
A couple days after my graduation I flew back to Rochester, NY and spent a couple weeks there before packing up everything I own and moving it all to Des Moines, Iowa where I will be living with my bride following our wedding on July 17. Life at the moment is focused on preparing for the wedding and finding a job in Des Moines. I would appreciate your prayers on both of those items.
I meant to post this a long time ago, but was sidetracked by all the events of life. A week and a half before I left Israel I went from Jerusalem to Hebron with Sam Salem, an Arab-Christian tour guide, and 3 other guys from school. Hebron shows up in the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as well as that of David. It is at Hebron that the three Patriarchs were buried, and it was also there that David was made king. David ruled from Hebron for 7 years before taking Jerusalem from the Jebusites and turning it into his capital city.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs was probably built by Herod the Great, a few years/decades prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. Today the structure contains a synagogue and a mosque. At one time the whole structure was open to the members of both of these religions. However, following the Goldstein Massacre, they have been separated by a wall within the structure.
It is believed that this structure was built by Herod because it has so many characteristics of Herodian architecture. Herod was the architect of the Temple Mount which is seen today. It is believed that around the upper level of the Temple Mount were massive pilasters like those of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Check out the pictures below.
Below the Herodian monumental building is a cave, believed to be the Machpelah Cave, which Abraham bought to bury Sarah in. Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are also believed to have been buried in this cave as well. Today, the building stands over the cave and no one is allowed to enter it. Six giant sarcophagii-like memorials draped in cloth stand within the mosque/synagogue, and are memorials to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah, who are all supposed to have been buried here.
Following our visit to the tomb we drove through the center of town to the ancient tel of Hebron, where the city in the time of Abraham and David would have been. This central area of the modern city is a ghost town. No one lives here and all the shop doors are welded shut. The only people in this area were Israeli soldiers on patrol. You can see this area in the video at the bottom of this post.
The top of the tel of the ancient site has been built over by a military base and an apartment building. So, there is not a lot to see. Beneath the apartment building we were able to view the remains of a 4-room Israelite house from the biblical period. The 4-room style house is a classic Israelite structure.
In this video you can see the inside of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the center of Hebron and the 4-room house on top of the ancient tel of Hebron. The guy doing a lot of the talking is Sam Salem, a Christian-Arab guide. I highly recommend employing him to take you on visits to sites in the West Bank/Palestine. You can contact him to set up a tour at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading! Enjoy the video!
Our trip began by meeting Sam Salem, a local Arab Christian, who spent the day taking us to sites that are very difficult to get to without the help of a local. If you come here I highly recommend employing him to take you to various sites in the Palestinian regions as he knows them and their people and speaks English, Arabic and Hebrew very well. If interested contact him at email@example.com.
Mount GerizimThe first stop was the Samaritan community atop Mount Gerizim. Here we were guided through the new Samaritan Museum by one of the Samaritan priests, Husney Cohen. My brother, Michael, and I are in the picture to the left with Husney and one of the Samaritans' two Torah scrolls. Check out their website: www.samaritans-mu.com. If you don't speak Arabic be sure to translate it using Google Translate. Just paste the site's web address into the text box on the Google Translate page and click "Translate".
SebastiyaThis is the modern Arabic name of the Palestinian town next to the ancient ruins of Samaria. It was here that Omri, a king of Israel and the father of Ahab, moved the capital of Israel to around 884BCE. Following the exile of the Israelites by the Assyrians the city of Samaria was inhabited by the Samaritans, a people who were the result of the intermarrying of Israelites who were not exiled and people from other nations who were brought in to replace those who were exiled.
A big reason Omri moved the capital of Israel to Samaria was 'location, location, location'. Samaria provided him with much easier access to the trade routes of the Land Between than either of the earlier capitals at Shechem or Tirzah had done. It was also a much more defensible region with the height of Samaria's acropolis rising far above the surrounding areas. Check this out in the images below.
The horizon line looking north from the acropolis of Samaria/Sebaste
The horizon line looking south from the acropolis of Samaria/Sebaste
Jacob's Well and the Tabernacle at ShilohOur day of traveling in the West Bank with Sam wrapped up with a stop at the Greek Orthodox church in Nablus to see Jacob's well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42). We then headed south to Shiloh, the site where God's Tabernacle was permanently set up once the Israelites entered this land and before Solomon built the Temple. A likely location for the Tabernacle is outlined by the rock rectangle near the center of the image to the right.
This was a great day, primarily because I finally got to see Samaria/Sebaste, which is one of the sites in this region which can be difficult to reach without a local guide. I can take that one off of my checklist now. The next up on my "sites I want to see but probably cannot without a local guide" list are Hebron with the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the inside of the Dome of the Rock, and the inside of the Hulda Gates above the Southern Steps of Herod's Temple. The last two seem like they might never happen. But, we will see. Whenever I get to any of these places you will know about it.
Grace and peace,
This last Saturday I was went to Jericho with a class on the history of the Church in the East. We visited five monasteries, each of a different Eastern Orthodox church. You can check out the pictures from this field study here. All these monasteries are located in the area of the Jericho oasis down in the Rift Valley. Some of them are built on or near the ruins of former monasteries and some are brand new.
Since the time of the early church fathers, there have been patristic writings referring to monasteries in the hill country of Judea. Until the last century not a single one of these monasteries had been found. Many articles had been written about the “mythical monasteries” saying that they were just that, myths. Then, one was uncovered, and it was a huge monastery. Since that first one, over four thousand monasteries have been discovered in just the hill country and wilderness of what was once Judea!
The oldest of these was built in the 4th century by a priest named Euthemius. He originally was the only person living there and so there was no monastery. He simply lived in a cave. Over time, many monks congregated with him and prior to the death of Euthemius there are records of there being over one thousand monks living in the monastery they had built! By the time he died a village had even sprung up around the monastery. This is how it happens that a monastery is no longer a place secluded from society. It will often begin that way, however, a community would soon surround the monastery and a village would take root. The monastery would support the village and would also host and provide for any travelers who came along.
One of the disciples of Euthemius was a man named Gerasimos. Gerasimos left Euthemius with his blessings and built a monastery about ten miles away on the outskirts of what is today the modern city of Jericho. You may have heard of Gerasimos before. If you ever read Aesop’s Fables you might remember one of those fables is about a man and a lion. The man walks through the forest when he comes upon a giant lion. At first, he is terrified that the lion will rip him apart. Then he notices that it is limping. He is given the courage to come up to the lion and he discovers that the lion has a thorn in his paw. The man is able to remove it and because he relieves the lion’s pain the lion befriends him. From this point on the lion follows the man around until both are captured and separated. Later the man is thrown into the arena to be eaten by lions. The gates open and out bounds an angry snarling lion ready for lunch. But, when it sees the man it becomes tame and runs up to him. It is the lion the man helped and befriended and because of the help he had given the lion the lion now does not eat him.
This fable is of course only partly true, which is why it’s a fable. In fact, it is possible that none of it is true. Regardless, the man in this story is supposed to be Gerasimos. Today you can see a statue of his lion standing outside the entrance to the monastery which has been rebuilt upon the ruins of the monastery Gerasimos built.
The monastery of Gerasimos of the Jordan (that refers to the Jordan River, which is less than a mile from here) functions still today and is a meeting place for people of all three of the major religions in Israel. In its crypt there are purported to be bones of over five thousand monks who were all massacred during Muslim raids during the 7th and 8th centuries. The chapel of this monastery is built directly over the crypt and this is the pattern in all non-Protestant churches. Though, in America and in some newer European orthodox churches this pattern is no longer always followed.
The Ethiopians are by far the poorest of the orthodox churches. Their compound and chapels were extremely simple. They trace their roots back to the Ethiopian official who met the apostle Philipp and was converted.
The Romanians are the wealthiest church in Jericho, as you can tell from the artwork filling their chapel. It is very beautiful.
The Copts stake their claim on Christianity upon the fact that Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt, the home of the Copts, to escape Herod the Great. There are only two Coptic monks in Jericho and there are two Coptic monasteries. So, it was not surprising that there were no monks at the monastery when we visited. There were five or six Egyptians there who had come from their homes in Egypt for several months to help the monasteries harvest all of the crops that are grown there. They were telling us how much work was left to be done and how there were only five of them to do it. When asked how soon they needed to harvest they said, “Today!”. So, we hung around and harvested bushels of green beans as well as green and red peppers.
Once we finished, back to the bus we went. We went around the North edge of Jericho and up to the cliffs that form the western edge of the Rift Valley. From here it was a ten to fifteen minute hike up switchbacks to the Greek monastery. It is built right into the cliff face several hundred feet above the valley floor. It was at this spot that the Greek church claims Christ was brought by Satan and tempted with all the nations of the world. It is also here that the cave where tradition says Elijah lived when God had the ravens bring him food.
The priest at this monastery would not let us in. It was Saturday and the monastery had closed an hour and a half earlier. So, our professor went to work on him. She begged and pleaded with this man to let our group in, but he told her, “Even if you were friends of God, I would not let you in!”. I thought we were friends of God, but apparently that wouldn’t have changed anything. So, our professor gave up and began to teach us while standing up by the entrance to the monastery. After about five minutes another priest, whom our professor knew, stuck his head out a window and hollered at her. They talked in German for a while and eventually he decided to let us in! I am so glad he did. It was unlike any monastery or church I have ever been in, and what a view it has! If you ever come to Israel, be sure to bring a pair of binoculars. They make an already awesome experience and view even more incredible.
That is a quick summary of the weekend. I hope you are all doing well wherever you are!
Grace and Peace,
Stop number two was at the Zionist settlement town of Elon-Moreh. This settlement is across the Michmathah Valley from Shechem. Because it is a settlement town it has a gate and we had to be escorted by a member of the town wherever we went in the settlement. His name was Phineas though it is pronounced “Pinhoss”. He was very interesting to listen to as long as you could hear him. He was very soft-spoken except for times when he began talking about the rights of Jews to the lands. At those moments he would begin yelling and waving his arms. He was very passionate about everything, and it was fun to listen to him. Phineas was one of the founders of this settlement. Today there is a military base surrounding the summit of one of the hills of the settlement, and it was to the summit of this hill that Phineas took us. He pointed out Joseph’s tomb, near Shechem. This tomb is actually the tomb of a medieval sheik, but if you told Phineas that, he would probably say that was just an example of Arabs trying to take over and discredit Jewish sites. Phineas also pointed out a possible site of the altar Joshua built at Shechem. It was on the north side of Mt. Ebal. Down the slope of Mt. Ebal is the Fariah Valley. This cuts through the Samarian hill country to the Jordan Valley. Phineas claims that Abraham came with Sarah and his whole family through this valley as they traveled into the land from Haran. It is possible, but unlikely as it is a very indirect route. Phineas also believes that Joshua led the Israelites up this valley when they entered the land. Again, this is probably not true, but it makes the hill his settlement stands on important. In the Fariah Valley sits the Tell of Tirzah as well as the city where Alimelek, the son of Gideon, was killed by the woman with the rock.
After leaving Phineas we climbed Mt. Gerizim. From there we looked down into the ancient city of Shechem. It is on the south side of Mt. Ebal, in Wadi Shechem. This wadi cuts between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim to the city of Samaria and out to the coastal plain. In the base of this wadi is the ancient site of Shechem. We were unable to actually visit the ancient site because to get there you must travel through the modern city of Nablus, which was the Roman city of Neapolis. The checkpoints around this town is extremely tight as it is home to two refugee camps which are considered “hotbeds” of terrorism. So, we stood atop Mt. Gerizim, right next to a military base, and looked down on Nablus, Shechem, and the New Testament town of Sychar. The ruins which we saw were from the Shechem of the time period of Abraham (Genesis 12). It is also the site where Joshua pronounced the blessings and curses over the tribes of Israel. It is possible that these blessings and curses are those listed in Deuteronomy 28. Since we were looking down on the site, and were unable to walk around it, the most interesting thing about the site was comparing it to Jerusalem. Shechem was the capitol of the northern kingdom of Israel. It sits on a highway in a semi-protected valley and it is surrounded by large amounts of arable land. On the other hand, Jerusalem is completely surrounded by high hills and wilderness. There is insufficient land there for the city to sustain itself on, and it is a militarily precarious position. It would have made much more sense for David to set up his capitol at Shechem. From here, kingdoms could be launched. Though, because of its location, a kingdom built here would also be constantly in danger of being overrun by empires passing through the area. When the kingdom split this was where Jeroboam set up his kingdom. He later moved it to Tirzah because Shechem was too exposed for his taste. Later on, there was a coup and Omri, who was the general of Israel, became king. He felt that Tirzah was far too secluded, so he moved the kingdom up the Wadi Shechem and built it at Samaria. From here he had easy access both to the heartland as well as to the coastal plain. This was where David’s capitol should have been if simply geography and economics were being taken into consideration. However, if David had set up his capitol in Samaria, his tribe would have considered him a traitor, and he would probably never have been able to unite the tribes and succeed as he did.
The next stop was on the back of Mt. Gerizim at one of the only Samaritan settlements still in existence. The other is at Tel Aviv. Here we were able to meet with the Samaritan high priest, who’s name is Hitamar Cohen. He is the priest because he is descended from Levi, the son of Jacob. When he dies, one of his sons will become the high priest. Today there are only 700 Samaritans left in the world. This is because they only marry within their religion. There is a lot of intermarrying between cousins. According to their tradition, Mt. Gerizim is the only holy site on earth. This is where Adam was made, where Noah’s ark landed, where Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac, and where Joshua pronounced the blessings and curses over Israel. They also believe that the next Temple will be built on Mt. Gerizim. Their religious beliefs are (1)that there is only one God. (2) Moses was his prophet. (3)Mt. Gerizim is the only holy place. (4)The five books of Moses are the only books from God. (5)When Messiah comes He will set up His kingdom on Mt. Gerizim. As you can see, the Samaritans are quite a bit different from the Jews. They also only observe the holy days which are recorded in the first five books of Moses. Their understanding of the meaning behind Yom Kippur and Succot was interesting. They believe that at Yom Kippur, you are made into a new, clean person. Then you live in the succot (booths) as a representation of living back in Eden, which (surprise, surprise) they believe was on Mt. Gerizim.
The final destination was Shiloh, where the Tabernacle stood. The exact site where the Tabernacle stood is unknown. Because the Tabernacle was a tent there is nothing left of it to excavate. However, there are three likely sites for the Tabernacle. The first is in an old orchard of almond trees. Today there is an old Turkish building standing in the orchard, which is supposed to mark some holy site. Recent excavations around the building have uncovered beautiful floor mosaics which contain three inscriptions. Here is the one I was able to get written down in my notes before we walked off to the next part of the site: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on Shiloh and its inhabitants.” This mosaic is the floor of a church. Unfortunately, the entire mosaiced floor is currently covered up by garbage bags and about a foot of sand in order to protect them. Within the next couple of years the plan is to cover the mosaic’d floors in glass so that they might be safely viewed. According to Eusebius, the church was built at the site where the altar had been. So, these mosaics are the first possible location of the Tabernacle. The second location is the highest point in Shiloh, and today has an observation tower on top of it. The third location is a rectangle of stone which has perimeter measurements that are the same as those describing the Tabernacle in the Bible. Nearby, there is a wine press. Near this wine press is a storage building which, when discovered, contained far more storage jars than could have been used by a single family. So, it is thought that this was an industrial olive press. Knowing that this was a holy site leads some to believe that this press might have been used for the holy oil. No one can be certain which of these three sites is the original. Perhaps none of them are. But, it is an awesome experience just to be standing and walking on the ground where God once dwelt with the Ark of the Covenant and to know that now He lives with me.
If you remember the story of Eli and Samuel, you probably remember that the Ark was taken into battle by Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phineas. It was captured by the Philistines and after that Eli died and the Tabernacle fell out of use as Samuel became God’s prophet to Israel. When the Ark does come back, it does not return to Shiloh. First it comes to Beth Shemesh and then to Kiriath Jearim where it stays for a “long time”. Why not take it back to Shiloh? I had never wondered about this before now, but now that I am here I am wondering. There are several places in Scripture where an answer is given. Jeremiah 7:12, “Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.” Psalm 78, particularly verse 60 also addresses this, “He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among mortals”. Another reason why the ark was not returned here is because when the Philistines conquered the Israelites and took the Ark, they also came and destroyed Shiloh. There is no Biblical evidence for this, but archaeological excavations have found a burn and rubble layer that corresponds to this period in history. This is the one and only example we possess of Israel going out to attack the Philistines. At all other times they are defending themselves.
Something interesting I learned at this site was from Deuteronomy 8. In verse 10 of the NIV, it says “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” What does that mean, “the apple of his eye”? What the Hebrew literally says is “the little man of his eye”. That’s nice, but that still does not clear things up. What is “the little man of his eye”? The little man of your eye is what you see when you get up close to someone and look into their eyes. What do you see? You see a reflection of yourself! When God looks into my eyes what does he see? He sees himself! I am the “little man of his eye”.
We left the Wadi Qilt and joined up once again with the four lane highway. Soon we reached Jericho. At Jericho, the Hill Country suddenly drops off in hundred foot cliffs into the Jordan Valley. On one of these cliffs above Jericho Herod built a fortress which is still there today. On another, there is a Byzantine church commemorating the site at which tradition says Jesus was tempted. Elisha’s Spring is also here. It was named after him because it is the spring that was poisonous, but was made clean when he scattered salt in it. Read the story in 2 Kings 2:19-22.
Jericho is both the lowest and oldest city on earth. It is so old that pottery was not even invented when it was first settled! This has caused some problems with dating, but the accepted date for the founding of Jericho is between 8300 and 8000 BC, which is in the neolithic age. In part of the excavations done by Kathleen Kenyon, there is a tower from this earliest city of Jericho. In the past, I had been told it was some kind of high place for cultic Canaanite sacrifices. If you see it in its physical setting that does not make much sense. There were a lot of higher places around on which to build an altar. So, it makes a bit more sense that this tower would have been built for defensive purposes.
There are some issues concerning whether or not there actually was a city of Jericho in Joshua’s day. Kathleen Kenyon excavated the city and claimed that there was evidence for a city being in existence before and after the time of Joshua, but not at the time when Scripture records the Israelites as marching around Jericho’s walls. What do we do with this? We could reexamine the evidence. Maybe we have misread the biblical account. Perhaps Jericho was not the Veggie Tale’s version with giant walls. Perhaps it was just a small mud-brick village. How do we know whether the Joshua story really happened or if it was just made up to give the Jews an admirable ancestry as Kenyon claims? For starters, Kenyon is an anti-Semite who has absolutely no interest in utilizing the biblical text as an actual historical document. So, her findings and conclusions must be considered along with her underlying designs and desires in excavating. Since she excavated Jericho, it has come to light that she actually did find some tombs and pottery from Joshua’s time, but she brushed it aside since it did not fit into her ideology. Whether or not these tombs and this pottery exist, does that mean the story never happened? There is another city near Beirut which is most often referred to in texts as the city of Byblos. It appears in the Al-Amarna Letters in a list of powerful Canaanite cities from the 13th century BC. However, excavation at Byblos has found absolutely no archaeological evidence for a city at Byblos during that time. Yet, academia accepts that the city was there at that time, despite the lack of archaeological evidence. Why would we not do the same for events and places that appear in the biblical account?
We left Jericho and because the original routes from Jericho to the Benjamin Plateau are only able to be traveled by 4-wheeler, foot, or camel, we had to backtrack most of the way we had come. Before reaching Jerusalem, we turned north and crossed the Wadi Qilt. After climbing the far side of the wadi we got out and walked to the top of Mitzpe Danny, which is along the ancient Zeboim route to Jericho. This Zeboim route was the most direct route from Jericho to the Benjamin Plateau. It is usually called the “Way to the Wilderness” in the biblical text. It was very near here that Jonathan climbed the cliff of the Suweinit Canyon and routed the Philistines. From where we stood, we could see Geba, Michmash, and Ai, the last of which Joshua conquered after Jericho.