Sunday, December 31, 2006

Contextual Reflections: Newsletter

BiblePlaces readers may be interested in signing up for the Contextual Reflections newsletter published regularly by Preserving Bible Times (producer of the Above Israel DVD set).  These Reflections are rooted in a strong knowledge of biblical geography and history and are thought-provoking as well.  I cited the December issue in the discussion of "No Room in the Inn" and have frequently found the insights to be beneficial and challenging. 

The signup sheet is rather intimidating, but you can check what you want.  The signup sheet may lead you to believe that you're in for frequent mailings and sales pitches, but I have found neither to be true.  As a subscriber, I get good, helpful content about biblical matters.  I recommend it.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Flash Flood in Negev

Here's a remarkable home-made video of a flash flood in the Negev of Israel.  The cameraman and his companions don't strike me as very smart, and the footage is shaky, but you'll get the idea.

"Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev" (Ps 126:4).

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Book Review: Going Places With God

The problem with studying the geography of Israel is that it can quickly become divorced from the life-changing truths of Scripture. After all, how do hills and valleys help you grow closer to God? Wayne Stiles has the answer to that in his new book, Going Places With God: A Devotional Journey Through the Lands of the Bible. I am often asked what is the perfect follow-up to a trip to Israel. My typical answer (“read a Bible atlas”) just got better: read and meditate on the truths of this devotional guide. What makes this book so good is that it takes “boring” details of Scripture and shows how they are profitable for life and godliness.

Here’s an example: Stiles shows how the geography of Joseph’s brothers tending their sheep brought Joseph to slavery in Egypt and ultimately Israel’s deliverance from famine. Unless you understand the geography, you won’t fully appreciate God’s sovereignty. The author draws from that just how we should relate to our sometimes bewildering circumstances. In another story, Israel has to travel all the way around Edom, and Stiles explains that in God’s plan, sometimes the long way is the best way.

I love too the way that Stiles draws beautiful word pictures. With him as guide, I picture myself one day walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and another day watching the sunrise from the Mount of Olives. A pastor for fourteen years, Stiles is a truly gifted communicator with a knowledge of where people are hurting today. One devotional will encourage you to increase your trust in the all-powerful God, and another devotional will challenge you to take heed lest you fall. Familiar lessons some, but brought to life from places in the Bible that you would never otherwise look.

I love the geographical nuggets contained in this book, but the reason that I am recommending it is this: Going Places With God will challenge you to live a radical, Christ-centered life. The book came out a week ago: I encourage you to buy it, read it, and buy a couple for friends.

You can see more about the book and its author at this website. The book lists for $15, but Amazon has it for $10.

[Update: The free copies have all been claimed.]

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City of David: Updates for Visitors

From a notice received today from the City of David visitor's center:

Here are some very important updates for all travel agents, tour guides and trip organizers.

City of David Presentation - from 1.01.07, there will be a charge of NIS 5 per person for entry to the new 3-D presentation at the City of David. You can book a presentation together with a visit to the City of David, for preset times (only by making a definite booking, approved by the booking system). Due to the high demand, cancellation fees will be according to the price of the presentation itself (NIS 5), and the cancellation fees will be charged for any cancellation made within one week of the visit.

Set daily guided tours  - please note - we offer daily tours accompanied by a guard (registration in advance, available to individuals). There is a set tour in Hebrew, and a set tour in English, starting daily at 10 a.m. (duration of guided tour about 3 hours).

The Shiloah Pool (Pool of Siloam) and Herodian Street - as of 1.01.07, this  site (from the Second Temple era) will become a closed site of the Nature and Parks Authority. All visitors to the City of David will, of course, continue to enjoy this impressive site. The ticket to the City of David will continue to include entry to the Shiloah Pool. Visitors who only want to visit the Shiloah Pool will be able to purchase a ticket at the entrance to the pool, at the foot of the City of David, near the Kidron ravine. Entry fee to the Shiloah Pool and Herodian Street will be NIS 6 per person.

The City of David "Segway" - special trips in an up-to-the-minute, ingeniously designed two-wheeled vehicle. The tour lasts about an hour and a half, along the Armon HaNatziv (Commissioner's Palace) pr omenades - the eastern Goldman Promenade, the Sherover Promenade, and the Haas Promenade. An impressive and scenic tour, accompanied by an official tour guide, with breathtaking views and an “action” ride in the state-of-the-art vehicle. NIS 150 per person for the trip!

Temporary closure of the Shiloah Tunnel (Hezekiah's Tunnel) for routine maintenance - between 14.01.07 and 28.01.07, the Shiloah Tunnel will be closed for two weeks for ongoing maintenance work and restoration of the plaster on the floor of the tunnel.

We will be happy to help you with any clarifications and inquiries -

City of David Booking Center - *6033

At your service

Sincerely

Shahar Shilo
Marketing director, City of David

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Top 10 and Qumran Latrine Response

Haaretz has a very one-sided article on Israeli archaeology in the West Bank.  Somebody should write an honest response to what's essentially a mouthpiece for the opinions of one Rafi Greenberg.

Archaeology magazine lists the Top 10 Discoveries of 2006.  Nothing of biblical significance is included, but the #1 discovery is the tomb in Luxor's Valley of the Kings.  KV63 is the first tomb excavated here since King Tut's tomb in 1922.

Hardly a week goes by when some argue is promoted or dismissed on the basis of logic rather than evidence.  In this Haaretz article about the Qumran latrines, Yitzhak Magen responds to the recent proposal by Zias and Tabor that only Essenes would have ventured outside the camp.

"In addition," Magen says, "the Qumran area and particularly the caves surrounding the site, are full of predatory animals and animals that consume carrion, like foxes, hyenas, and leopards. People who lived in this area for years were well aware of that. They feared these animals and certainly would not leave their camps to relieve themselves. Thus, it is unreasonable to assume that the camp's latrine was located at such a distance."

"It was not the Essenes who buried the scrolls in the caves near the Qumran ruins," Magen adds. "The scrolls were buried by Jews who escaped from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple." One of the main escape routes from Jerusalem passed through Qumran. Jews, who were somewhat unfamiliar with the area and had no knowledge of its predatory animals, did not fear entering the caves to bury the scrolls, he proposes.

So it's unreasonable that Essenes walked a few dozen yards to bury scrolls, but it's reasonable that people came dozens of miles and hid them there (but only because they didn't know about the foxes!).

Magen does not respond to the ancient texts which specify the Essenes should travel 1,000 or 2,000 cubits (1,500-3,000 feet) outside of the settlement to relieve themselves.

Whenever you hear that something is "unreasonable," that should alert you to the likelihood that there's no good evidence to support the proposed conclusion.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Western Wall Excavations (photos)

About a week ago, there were reports that excavations at the Western Wall prayer plaza had "uncovered the remains of Jewish homes from the Second Temple period as well as a Herodian water conduit."   

In the photo below, you can see the relation between the excavations and the Western Wall.  While we were there, the crane moved the white container (middle) from the area at left, suggesting that excavations will be extended in that direction.  In fact, you can see the tractor beginning to break up the ground.


In the close-up below, it looks like large hewn slabs (paving stones?) have been removed in order to excavate beneath them. 


My guess is that those large paving slabs are part of the Byzantine "Valley Cardo," which has been discovered to the south. 

 
(Yellow box = present excavations; red box = Byzantine Valley Cardo previously revealed)

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tabor on the Megiddo "Prayer Hall"

Too often new discoveries are sensationalized, and after things are sorted out and more rational conclusions are made, the story doesn't make the news again.  For this reason, anyone interested in the "Megiddo church" would do well to read the book, or at least James Tabor's helpful comments about it.

In November, 2005 the news spread quickly around the world: Oldest "church" ever found has been discovered near the biblical site of Armageddon!

The site was uncovered on the grounds of a modern Israeli prison near Megiddo. It gives us a precious glimpse into early Christian worship and devotion before the time of Constantine (325 AD), for it is only after Constantine that structures we can definitely identify as "Churches" began to spread throughout the Mediterranean world.

Yet this site can not properly be called a church. So what is it? Scholars are just beginning to try and access the impact of this precious discovery. What we appear to have here is what the authors have called a "Christian prayer hall." It is a room, complete with mosaics containing art work and inscriptions, dedicated to "the god Jesus Christ," with obvious ritual functions and symbols, but quite different from later Christian churches of the Byzantine period. The structure appears to date to the early 3rd century, making it by far the most important early Christian archaeological site of its kind ever discovered in the Holy Land. In their book, excavation director Yotam Tepper, and epigraphic expert Leah Di Segni, throughly explore the textual evidence for "sacred meals" from sources such as the Didache, the fascinating early Christian document discovered in 1873 that I discuss in The Jesus Dynasty. Our evidence for pre-Constantinian "Christianity" is almost wholly textual. It is rare to find any kind of material evidence that might shed light on the practices of early followers of Jesus, particularly in the Holy Land. To have found at Megiddo this evidence for liturgical activities that seem to link to rites and practices we read about in ancient texts is something of which we normally can only dream. But there is more. One of the three inscriptions mentions four women, singled out as having special importance to the community. This is clear evidence, echoing what we find in our earliest gospel sources, of the vital importance of woman as leaders and even patrons in the earliest days of the movement.

Now that the dust has cleared a bit, literally, the story of this most extraordinary archaeological find has just become available in an attractive, lavishly illustrated, full-color booklet published by the Israel Antiquities Authority titled, A Christian Prayer Hall of the 3rd Century. The authors, have provided us with a fascinating but authoritative, account of the excavation and its significance narrated in an accessible style for the non-specialist. I recently heard both Tepper and Segni lecture on the discovery at the annual meeting in D.C. of the American Schools of Oriential Research, the preeminent gathering of archaeologists working in areas related to the Bible and the Ancient Near East. Their presentations were riveting and thought provoking and the substance of those lectures, plus much more, is provided in this richly illustrated volume.

This little book is a model for publications in the field of archaeology. It is beautifully done, reasonably priced, and as readable as it is informative. It is a must for anyone interested in the earliest archaeological records of the spread of Christianity in the Holy Land. The IAA has printed a limited but reasonable number of copies. It can be conveniently ordered in the U.S.A. from the Web bookstore: Centuryone.com. I urge anyone interested in the material evidence related to earliest Christianity to get a copy of this book while they are still available.

Dr. James D. Tabor
Chair, Dept. of Religious Studies
UNC Charlotte
Charlotte, NC 28223

For earlier BiblePlaces posts about this place, see here and here.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Updates: Paul's Sarcophagus and Western Wall Ramp

Yahoo has a photo that shows the alleged sarcophagus of Paul underneath the altar.  Something we didn't see before:

Filippi said the decision to unearth the sarcophagus was made after pilgrims who came to Rome during the Roman Catholic Church's 2000 Jubilee year expressed disappointment at finding that the saint's tomb — buried under layers of plaster and further hidden by an iron grate — could not be visited or touched.

All we need now are some pilgrims who want to see inside the sarcophagus and our questions will be answered.

In Jerusalem, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch and others are unhappy with the delay in building a new bridge for non-Muslim access to the Temple Mount.  The pile of earth likely is not very important archaeologically, but Muslims claim its removal will damage the Al Aqsa Mosque.  The rabbis want the temporary bridge removed because it is cutting into the women's prayer area at the Western Wall.

The removal of the earthen embankment will not only allow more of the Western Wall to be seen, but the large lintel stone of Barclay's Gate will be visible in its entirety for the first time in modern history.  This is the second of four monumental entrances to the Temple Mount on the western side.

We've commented on the ramp before here and here, and the sarcophagus here.  These posts have photos.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

"No Room in the Inn"

In the typical Christmas pageant, one of the children will be cast as the heartless innkeeper who refuses lodging to Joseph and pregnant Mary.  Most know that there is no innkeeper mentioned in the Bible, but fewer are aware that there is not even an inn described.  The view that Joseph and Mary simply arrived late to Bethlehem and accommodations at the local hotel were full is incorrect.  The word translated as "inn" is the word kataluma, which is used elsewhere by Luke and translated as "guest chamber" or "upper room" (Luke 22:11; cf. Mark 14:14).  When Luke wants to speak of a paid establishment (i.e., an inn), he uses a different Greek word, pandocheion, as in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34).  Unfortunately, of the dozens of English translations that I've checked, all translate kataluma as "inn" in Luke 2:7 and not as "guest room" (that includes the recent ESV and NET; apparently they are unwilling to buck tradition in favor of accuracy).

The result of this mistranslation leads to a different understanding of the story.  It's not that Joseph and Mary were late to town, but it's that they were rejected by their family.  Clearly they had family members in town, as that was the reason they returned to Bethlehem for the census.  That there was no room in the guest chamber for a pregnant woman indicates that they chose not to make room for this unwedded mother.  The birth of Jesus in a room where animals lived suggests shame and rejection. 

Most of what I have described above is the general view of scholars and I find it compelling.  But some scholars err in arguing that Bethlehem could not have had an inn.  This view has been repeated enough for me to address it.  Ben Witherington, for instance, says this:

It can be doubted whether there would have been an inn in Bethlehem in Jesus’ day since it was not on any major road, and inns normally were found only on major roads, especially the Roman ones (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p. 69).

Doug Greenwold, in the December 2006 Preserving Bible Times Reflection, writes:

These pandoxeion inns were typically located 16-18 miles apart on major trade routes, the average daily distance traveled by a caravan. Since Bethlehem was five miles south of Jerusalem, it was far too close to Jerusalem for the placement of such an inn. Furthermore, Bethlehem was not on a major trade route so there was little need for a pandoxeion.

I'm not sure what qualifies as a "major trade route," but if there was any trade route in the hill country of Judea, Bethlehem was on it.  The only way you can say that there was no "major road" near Bethlehem is by saying that there were no major roads in the hill country.  But were there no travelers in this area, and were there no traders bringing supplies to Judea and Samaria?  Certainly there were. 

An understanding of the topography of the hill country will help here.  The Judean hills are very rugged as they are divided by deep wadis (canyons) on the eastern and western slopes.  Consequently, travelers have always preferred to stay on ridges, to avoid frequent ascents and descents.  For this reason, travelers have moved along the watershed ridge, from the time of Abraham until the present.  About a decade ago, Israel decided that for political reasons they needed to build an alternate road to bypass the Arab population of Bethlehem.  They built a road less than 2 miles to the west of the watershed ridge.  Even such a small deviation required that they spend millions of dollars in the construction of tunnels and bridges.  Today we can do it; in ancient times, they did not.  In short, there can be no doubt that historically any north-south traffic in the hill country passed near to the town of Bethlehem (cf. Anchor Bible Dictionary 5:783).


Modern Israeli road that bypasses Bethlehem, with bridge and tunnel

Furthermore, the argument that Bethlehem is too close to Jerusalem to warrant an inn presupposes that all travelers left from the same point and had the same destination.  Jerusalem may have been a major destination of travelers in the hill country, but it was not the only destination.  Travelers could have been going to and from countless villages in the hill country.  Some known settlements in the 1st century B.C./A.D. include Hebron, Gabath Saul, Ephraim, Gophna, Sychar, Sebaste.  That travelers might stop at any point along the major north-south hill country route is illustrated well by the story of the Levite and his concubine in Judges 19.

In the end, the argument that there was no inn in Bethlehem in the time of Jesus falls short.  Luke, however, says nothing about an inn.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Herodian Remains near Western Wall

Excavations at the Western Wall have proceeded and now remains from the Herodian period have been discovered.

Excavations at the Western Wall have uncovered the remains of Jewish homes from the Second Temple period as well as a Herodian water conduit and arches from various eras, Army Radio reported (JPost).

I suspect that the water conduit mentioned is part of the Lower-Level aqueduct that brought water from Solomon's Pools to the Temple Mount.

See this previous post for photos of the excavation area.

UPDATE (12/21): New photos here.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

St. Paul's Sarcophagus Unearthed

Some who think of me as a tradition-basher have asked me to comment on the recent discovery of the sarcophagus of St. Paul.  Personally, it's of less interest to me because I don't foresee much helpful information coming from it, unless, as Paleojudaica jokes, there's an airtight container with a copy of his letters inside.

Here's the straight scoop:

1. The sarcophagus was not found in a random location, but was located in the very place that tradition said it was.  Several years ago after a visit to the church, before they started digging, I noted that this altar is built over the traditional tomb of Paul.  That is where this sarcophagus was discovered.


Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls

2. Constantine built the first church over the site in the 4th century.  That means that the tradition is a very old one.

3. After three years of digging underneath the altar, they found a sarcophagus.  That sarcophagus was found underneath a tombstone which had written, in Latin, "Apostle Paul, Martyr."  This means that whoever wrote the tombstone (presumably in the 4th century, but I can't be sure from the news reports) believed this was Paul's tomb.


The sarcophagus was found below this altar.

4. So instead of connecting the dots from the 20th century back to the 1st, we simply have to evaluate the potential accuracy that the site was preserved correctly from the 1st century to the 4th.  This is the typical situation of holy sites in Israel as well; the earliest traditions usually date to the earliest Christian presence, which is in the 4th century.   How reasonable is it to assume that the memory of a site was preserved for up to 300 years?  My answer is that it depends upon the nature of the tradition.  For the tradition of the place of Jesus' crucifixion, I doubt that Christians would have failed to pass this on accurately.  For the tradition of the place of Jesus' birth, I have a little more trouble imagining Jesus pointing the site out to his disciples.  Sometimes our knowledge shows that a traditional site cannot be correct, as in the case of the feeding of the 5,000 or the Transfiguration.  In the case of Paul's tomb, I am unaware of any evidence that rules the church out as a possibility.  Would early Christians have remembered the site of Paul's beheading?  My guess is that they would.  It's also important to note that there was the continuous presence of a believing community in Rome from the time of Paul's death until Emperor Constantine's construction of a basilica.

I think it's quite possible that curiosity is going to push Vatican officials to open the sarcophagus.  When they do, it will be interesting to see if 1) Paul's head is missing, and 2) they can determine what sort of malady he suffered from (cf. Gal 4:13-15).

 
Interior of Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls

For more information about the discovery, see the National Geographic news article or the story in the Telegraph.

All photos from the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, Rome volume (Kregel, 2003); used with permission.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ancient Church Discovered at Shiloh

Two things frequently bother me about news stories: what they say and what they don't say. An example of this is the recent story about the Byzantine church discovered at Shiloh. The Telegraph has the only report of this discovery I've seen.


Shiloh from west

I wish they had not said:

Headline: 'Church of the Ark' found on West Bank

That's a fine name, I suppose, except that there is no evidence that the ark was ever in this church or associated with this church. Yes, the ark of the covenant was at the same city where the church was found, but that was about 1,400 years before the church was built.

"The church dates to the late 4th century, making it one of Christianity's first formal places of worship."

I guess someone fears that this story will have no interest if it's not labeled the "first" or "one of the first." But it's nonsense. Byzantine Christians built many churches in the Holy Land before this one, including the Bethlehem Church of the Nativity, the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Mt. of Olives Eleona church. If you count last year's "earliest church ever found" at Megiddo, the best the Shiloh church can claim is that it was built in the first hundred years of church building in the the Holy Land. I guess that doesn't sound as exciting.


Shiloh from east

"The team at Shiloh is considering whether to dig under the beautiful mosaics that they have uncovered, in order to find traces of the Ark."

You've got to be kidding me. No one, and I mean no one, thinks that traces of the ark are underneath that church. Maybe, and that's a very unlikely maybe, there are traces of the tabernacle underneath the church. But most scholars who have ventured to guess believe that the tabernacle was located on the north side of Shiloh, while this church is on the south side.

"We have to decide whether to fix the mosaics here or take them to a museum," said Mr Aharonovitch.

There are two problems with taking the mosaics to a museum: 1) The mosaics lose much of their significance to the visitor because they are ripped out of their context. It is much better to allow the visitors to Shiloh to see the mosaics where they were discovered. 2) It's unlikely any museum visitor would ever see them anyway, because museum space is very limited and mosaic floors are very common.


Mosaic from newly discovered church

David Rubin, a former mayor of Shiloh, said: "We believe that if they continue to dig they'll reach back to the time of the Tabernacle."

This implies that archaeologists haven't already discovered remains at Shiloh from the time of the Israelites. Indeed, they uncovered much from this time in the excavations of Israel Finkelstein in the 1980s.

I wish they had said:

This isn't the first Byzantine church discovered at Shiloh. I suppose that it takes some of the drama away when you learn that about 50 yards away a Byzantine church sits that was excavated 80 years ago. A third church is less well-preserved but is known as the "Pilgrim's Church." It's quite possible that there are other churches yet unexcavated.


Apse of Byzantine church, mostly unexcavated

The church is located next to and underneath the "Mosque of the Orphans" (Jame Yetim). This would help the knowledgeable reader to know the precise location of the church. The long-abandoned mosque appears to be untouched, but I wonder if there was some political motivation to not publicize the specific location of the excavation.


Excavation of Byzantine church around "Mosque of the Orphans"

The inscription that mentions Shiloh is important evidence in confirming the identification of the site. A translation, even tentative, of the inscription would be helpful. (Is this the inscription in question? UPDATE: Theoblogian has begun a translation of it. UPDATE Jan-2: Dr. William Varner and Brian Gee have provided this translation: Lord Jesus Christ, remember and consider worthy in your kingdom Eutonius your bishop and Germanus your holy regional bishop. Draw near to Him and be enlightened.)

There are some nice photos of the excavation by Eyal Dor Ofer here.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Visiting Jordan

A good follow-up to the Beyond Cyprus post is yesterday's article in the Star-Telegram about a reporter's visit to Jordan.  The article is well-written and interesting, but the author doesn't mention some of my favorite sites in Jordan, including:

  • Macherus - where John the Baptist was beheaded
  • Penuel and Mahanaim - where Jacob wrestled with the angel
  • Medeba - location of the oldest map of the Holy Land (from 580 A.D.)
  • Amman acropolis - where Uriah was killed following David's adultery
  • Kerak - capital of the Moabites (ancient Kir/Kir-hereseth)

Too few students of the Bible go to Jordan, and those that do, usually miss the best places.  The University of the Holy Land periodically does a two-week trip in Jordan; it is led by Dr. Ginger Caessens and is excellent.  Their website indicates the next one planned is June 2008.

One other thought from the Star-Telegram article: Bethany beyond the Jordan is quickly becoming over-commercialized.  And it is very likely not the place mentioned in the Bible.


Mountains of Edom

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

iLumina Bible Software

The best multimedia Bible ever made, as far as I know, is iLumina.  Over the last couple of years, it has been released in several versions, but now I see that the Gold Premium edition (a step above the Parent-Teacher-Student edition) is out and available for the very good price of $50 (retail is $90).  I've given a number of copies of iLumina to friends and it has always been well received (and we're giving a few more this year). 

The program includes:

multiple commentaries, including the Life Application Study Bible Notes, concordances, interactive charts, interactive maps, DIGITAL animations and virtual tours, photographs, and discussion Bible study questions, plus much more....

  • 22 Volume Searchable Bible Encyclopedia
  • 35 animations and 25 virtual tours
  • 10,000 Bible Study notes
  • 8,900 in-depth articles
  • 200 maps and Bible charts
  • 1000 HolyLand Photos
  • 478 Guided Study and Quizzes
  • Full search and concordance features
  • New Living Translation and KJV
  • and more!

Personally, I'm not so enamored with the Bible translations or the Bible study notes (you can find these in plenty of books and software programs).  But I love some of the reconstructions, screenshots, and photos. 

For lots of details and the discounted price, see Sunday Software.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Beyond Cyprus (Where To Go First & Second in the Middle East)

If I could do only one trip to the Middle East to learn about the Bible, I would go to Israel. Second, Turkey and Greece, though for most only western Turkey would be included in the itinerary (and I profited more from eastern Turkey than western). Jordan and Egypt would be next. Near the bottom of the list would be the islands of Cyprus, Crete, Malta, Rhodes, and the city of Rome. If someone can do it all, then they'll gain from it, but most have to choose one or two trips, and for that, I recommend they skip some things. But this recommendation probably isn't necessary because there aren't many trips going to these places as part of a biblical tour anyway. I can't speak to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran because I haven't been. Yet. I do think a second trip to Israel is worthwhile, moreso than a first trip to some of the biblical countries.

I would not recommend someone to try to do Israel and Turkey/Greece on the same trip. This is because there is just so much to digest and you don't have the time necessary to do that if the two are put together on an initial trip. Israel largely introduces one to the Old Testament world; Turkey and Greece are a new window into the NT arena. I do believe understanding these "worlds" is very valuable for understanding the Scriptures, even apart from seeing the biblical sites themselves. You just understand Paul better when you see the gods they were worshipping in his day, see the temples that dominated the cities, and see the way of life of the Greek people.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Island of Cyprus #4 (Modern Conflict)

Anyone can tell you that in traveling to a region you will develop a new interest in that region's modern history. The area is now "on your map" and you can understand things that were formerly of little personal significance. The observation has been made many times that Israel's mention in the news of the US is disproportionate to its size. But I wonder if part of the reason for that is that many Americans (both Jews and Christians) have visited Israel. Some people are interested in Israel simply because it's the biblical land, but I would guess that having visited (or having family) there is an even greater reason.

On Cyprus, the major event in modern history was the invasion of the northern half of the island by Turkey in 1974. This issue was relatively unknown to me before this trip, so it was interesting to watch my thinking on the subject evolve as I was exposed to more information. After one day in the southern half of the country, esp. southern Nicosia, it was very easy to emphatize with the Greeks who had lost so much in the invasion. The signs they had posted there as we crossed over to the North were very bold and graphic. Clearly the Turks were animals who deserved the condemnation of the world. But after spending a day in the North and reading and thinking more about the situation, I became convinced that there was a very real other side to the story.

I still don't know a lot, but I can also make some conclusions based on my experience with other conflicts in the world and in history. This is also true given what the world and UN have (and have not!) done since the invasion. Yes, it's true that no other country in the world has recognized the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (thus the Turks were in the wrong), but it's also true that much more significant pressure could have been applied if the world/UN had thought it necessary (let alone discuss EU entry). But they saw it too - there were injustices on both sides. Yes, the Turks took away land of the Cypriots, but yes, the Turks were not treated well by some of their Greek neighbors. Ultimately, I think it's like a lot of regional conflicts - there are many losers and most of them are not the ones who personally deserve the loss.


White cliffs of Alamanou beach

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Island of Cyprus #3 (Museums)

The museums of Cyprus are loaded. I didn't take many photos because most of the museums didn't allow photos. And I didn't go to all of the museums because I just got tired of them. You see lots of the same stuff. But it's still quite amazing just how much stuff there is, from such a small island. And it's also impressive how advanced the cultures were.

The material culture in Israel is quite primitiv e in comparison - in Cyprus they had beautiful pottery, with lots of decorations and fancy designs. The best pottery in the Israel Museum is not as nice as the average material here, from the same periods. The books mention that a lot of the pottery has been removed from the island to other museums around the world (especially the Met in NY). The hotel owner this morning told us that there are no museums in the world that don't have something from Cyprus. That may be an exaggeration, but it certainly says something about the culture here. It also is telling that very few people could tell you anything about the history of Cyprus.


Idols from Archaic and Hellenistic periods

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Island of Cyprus #2 (Biblical Insights)

There are two real benefits to seeing and studying Cyprus for biblical purposes, as far as I know. 1) Knowing the biblical world better - seeing Israel/Canaan in the context of their neighbors. For instance, seeing how Cyprus would supply copper in large quantities. 2) Better understanding the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas. I think this means more than simply seeing the sites where they traveled. For me, it's also providing the opportunity and context to think more about this portion of their journeys. So I realize things like:

1. Barnabas was really the leader of the team at this point.

2. Cyprus was a natural place for them to start (indeed this was the first place they came after being sent out), given its proximity to Antioch and the fact that Barnabas came from Cyprus.

3. There was a Jewish community here. It is amazing just how scattered Jews had become after the First Temple Period. They seem to be everywhere in a relatively short period of time. The number of Jews was probably large given the "synagogues" (plural) that Paul went to in Salamis, and their trip "through the island." Their pattern, as evident later, is to go to the synagogues to present the gospel to the Jews and whatever "godfearers" were in their midst. So it seems quite likely there there were Jewish communities that they visited on their travel across the island.

4. I would guess that their route was along the southern shore of the island. This seems more likely given the presence of high (6000+ feet) mountains in the center, and the presence of large cities on the southern coast, including Kition (settled at this time?), Amathus, and Kourion. And others.

5. It is interesting that there is no follow-up on this island tour, outside of Barnabas' return of which nothing is recorded (except in apocryphal works). Paul apparently never writes a letter to any of the communities here, and though he often returns to places of former ministry (e.g., Lystra, Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus), he apparently never comes here, nor mentions Cyprus in any of his writings. Perhaps he ceded the area entirely to Barnabas' ministry and stayed out of his way.

6. The cities that are mentioned in the account of Paul's travels are very large and important cities. This is not surprising given Paul's centers in the rest of his journeys (also major cities), but it is something that a reader in America might never guess. It also "clicks" more when you travel to many sites and see small and medium communities. Then when you come to Salamis and see the huge area that it covers, the large harbor that it had, the theater, forum, bathhouse, gymnasium, you are impressed that this was the "Los Angeles" of ancient Cyprus.

7. Unlike other places of Paul's ministry, the two cities specifically mentioned in Cyprus continued to be major centers until today. Before Salamis existed, the major city on the east coast was Enkomi; this shifted a few miles to Salamis in later centuries, and after it was destroyed, the major population center shifted a few miles to the south to Famagusta, still a major center.

Gymnasium of Salamis

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