Monday, November 29, 2010

New Recommended Software: ScrollTag

A very powerful new Bible software program was released this weekend, with a special introductory sale beginning today.  The best introduction is the preview video at the ScrollTag website.  You can also get a quick sense for some of the program’s strengths and value from the Q&A below, which is a mixture of information from the website and my own reflections.


What is ScrollTag, briefly?

ScrollTag is a Bible program which enables users to organize all of their notes, markings and tags on Biblical texts. Notes are tagged directly onto Hebrew, Greek, or English words, phrases or entire verses to allow easy retrieval and revision…

How does ScrollTag differ from Logos, Accordance, and other Bible programs?

ScrollTag has been designed to meet a need which we saw no other Bible programs meeting adequately (Tagging, Organizing, Block Diagramming and Marking the text). ScrollTag does not intend to directly compete with these other major software packages which focus on other strengths. We intend to keep our focus on what we do well, and not branch out to try to do everything.

The answer to this next question is increasingly important to me as my children get older and begin serious Bible study.

How many users can share a single copy of ScrollTag?

ScrollTag is licensed per household…

What does this program have to do with biblical places?

First, anything that helps us to understand the Bible better gets us excited.  We love the Bible first and the “places” second.  Next, the program includes three very high-resolution satellite maps.  The high resolution allows you to zoom in and use the maps for a variety of purposes. 

Third, we have known the author of this program for many years.  The programming genius is immediately obvious to those who watch the demo and read the notes, but we can attest to his love for people, his passion to know God’s Word, and his absolute integrity.  We marvel at the skill and hard work that he has used over the years to create ScrollTag.

Why does the program cost $150?

The introductory special reduces the cost to $125.  That includes paying required royalties for the various English, Hebrew, and Greek translations (e.g., USB4, AGNT, NASB, WHM).  You can also get just a taste for the amount of work involved by this explanation of the origin of the Greek text that the author did not even end up using. 

In addition, ScrollTag includes three high-resolution maps, a Hebrew Chartbook, and a Greek Chartbook.  The full name of these books: Charts for the Acquisition of Biblical Hebrew/Greek: A Natural Approach to Language Learning for the Biblical Exegete.  These two chartbooks contain a wealth of unique information and are recommended for students with or without ScrollTag (available separately here).  The collection is a tremendous value for all that you get.

What can I get for free?

The three satellite maps are available in medium-resolution.  The significantly improved Westcott and Hort electronic text is available here.  There are also several ways you can enter to win a free copy of ScrollTag.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Israel has surpassed the 3-million-tourist mark for 2010, breaking the annual record for tourists set in 2008.  More than 60% of tourists are Christians and the nation’s goal is to reach 5 million tourists a year by 2015.

Last week’s annual meeting of the Near East Archaeological Society was attended by Ferrell Jenkins, who provides summaries of many of the lectures.  Aren Maeir has posted his observations of one day of the ASOR meetings.

The Magdala excavations are continuing around the calendar and photos are now posted from November.

Israel is calling on the Palestinian leadership to reject the “study” that the Jewish people have no right to the Western Wall.

The PBS Special “Quest for Solomon’s Mines” is now available online, though viewing in some countries is not permitted.  UCSD’s role in the feature is discussed in a campus news story.

I have not yet seen it, but a trusted reader tells me that Anson Rainey’s Teaching History and Historical Geography of Bible Lands: A Syllabus that I mentioned here before “consists almost entirely of the text of biblical passages, without any commentary or other notes.”  You might browse it before you buy.

This week I read A Promise Kept, a new book produced by Insight for Living.  Subtitled “A Pictorial Journey of the Coming of Christ,” the beautifully illustrated and superbly written book was just what I needed to start the Christmas season.  It’s available this month for a donation and will be on sale in the IFL store in December.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

ESV Bible Atlas Give-Away

This week’s free item is the ESV Bible Atlas.  I mentioned many of the great features I liked about this atlas when it was imagereleased five months ago.  One of the stand-out qualities is the free CD included with the atlas with more than a hundred of the maps in electronic format.  A friend wrote recently to ask how to get the beautiful reconstruction diagrams (many by Leen Ritmeyer) without scanning them one by one.  Scanning is particularly difficult because of the diagrams’ large size and the seam in the middle.  (I’ve cut the binding off of a number of books in order to get good quality scans, but this does make the book less use-able.) 

There is a good solution.  All of the ESV Bible Atlas drawings are included in the ESV Study Bible (plus a few extra).  The study Bible is now available in digital form in Logos Bible Software.  Thus for $40 you get all of the diagrams in ready-to-use PowerPoint format, plus all of the extensive study notes (which I use frequently in my study).

In other words, you get a wealth of resources with the combination of the ESV Bible Atlas (with CD) and the Logos version of the ESV Study Bible.

UPDATE: After writing the above, I stumbled upon a previous post which reminds me that the printed version of ESV Study Bible includes online access to the notes and diagrams.  Thus you can choose whether the printed or electronic Bible best fits your need, knowing that either way you get the diagrams in digital form.

For this week’s give-away, we have a free copy of the ESV Bible Atlas.  The rules: enter your name and email address by Monday noon (PST).  The winner will be contacted by email for a shipping address and all other names and email addresses will be deleted.

UPDATE (11/29): The True Random Number Generator at has selected #14.  Congratulations to Keith.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Archaeology Update, October 2010

Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg has written an “Archaeology in Israel Update—October 2010,” posted now at The Bible and Interpretation.  The update focuses on three items: the 20th anniversary of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the mosaic floor at Tel Shikmona, and the passing of Ehud Netzer.

Ehud Netzer is also the focus of the latest two broadcasts of The Book and the Spade.


Jerusalem Post Erects Pay Wall

I was disappointed to see this morning that the Jerusalem Post has erected a pay wall for some of their content, including the weekend magazine and the “Christian Edition.” 

Dear reader,
The Jerusalem Post is pleased to introduce its Premium Content, featuring online editions of the daily "Jerusalem Post" electronic paper, "The Jerusalem Report," our youth magazine "Dash", The Jerusalem Post's "Christian Edition" and our easy-Hebrew magazine "Ivrit" and more (click for more details). This service is available exclusively by subscription, for US$8 per month. 
As an introductory offer, if you register now you will get free access to these products for the first week of use.

Though the pay model was widely considered a failure in online journalism some years ago, a few news organizations are trying to revive it.  I doubt that many will consider the paid content in the Jerusalem Post worth $8 per month, especially as most would be interested in only one of the “editions.”  Perhaps the content will improve and more will be attracted to it.  Another approach that I believe would work better is the use of “micropayments” to view individual articles.  Fortunately, it appears that previous articles can still be accessed from links in this blog.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Joy of Discovery

The Gilgamesh Epic is an ancient account with remarkable parallels to the Genesis story of Noah’s flood.  The “Flood Tablet” was first deciphered in 1872 by George Smith, an assistant in The British Museum.  According to the museum, when he first read the text, Smith

jumped up and rushed about the room in a great state of excitement, and, to the astonishment of those present, began to undress himself.

There’s a photo of the object below.  If you’re at work, you may want to refrain from viewing it until you’re in a safe environment.

HT: Gunner

Flood tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, db061600


Monday, November 22, 2010

Roman Bathhouse Discovered in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today the discovery of a second-century Roman bathhouse in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem.  The excavation was being conducted in advance of construction of a ritual bath (miqve).  According to archaeologist Ofer Sion:

It seems that the bathhouse was used by these soldiers who were garrisoned there after suppressing the Bar Kokhba uprising in 135 CE, when the pagan city Aelia Capitolina was established. We know that the Tenth Legion’s camp was situated within the limits of what is today the Old City, probably in the region of the Armenian Quarter. This assumption is reinforced by the discovery of the bathhouse in the nearby Jewish Quarter which shows that the multitude of soldiers was spread out and that they were also active outside the camp, in other parts of the Old City.

Roman bathhouse in Jewish quarter, IAA

Roman bathhouse in Jerusalem.  Photo courtesy of IAA.

The discovery of a paw print on one of the roof tiles created some excitement:

Another interesting discovery that caused excitement during the excavation is the paw print of a dog that probably belonged to one of the soldiers. The paw print was impressed on the symbol of the legion on one of the roof tiles and it could have happened accidentally or have been intended as a joke.

Dog print in Roman tile, IAA

Dog paw print in Roman tile.  Photo courtesy of IAA.

Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem district archaeologist, explains the larger significance:

What we have here is a discovery that is important for the study of Jerusalem. Despite the very extensive archaeological excavations that were carried out in the Jewish Quarter, so far not even one building has been discovered there that belonged to the Roman legion. The absence of such a find led to the conclusion that Aelia Capitolina, the Roman city which was established after the destruction of Jerusalem, was small and limited in area. The new find, together with other discoveries of recent years, shows that the city was considerably larger than what we previously estimated. Information about Aelia Capitolina is extremely valuable and can contribute greatly to research on Jerusalem because it was that city that determined the character and general appearance of ancient Jerusalem and as we know it today. The shape of the city has determined the outline of its walls and the location of the gates to this very day.

The press release and three high-resolution photos (including the two photos above) are available at the Israel Antiquities Authority site (temporary link).  The story is also reported by the Jerusalem Post, Arutz-7, and CNN.

UPDATE (11/23): The Jerusalem Post now features a 2.5 minute video of the discovery.  Several new photos are posted at CBS News.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Chris Harrison has several interesting graphics at “Visualizing the Bible,” including one entitled “Biblical Social Network (People and Places).”

I love the work of Biblical Backgrounds, Inc., and was excited to see their new website on a recent visit.

Raphael Golb was sentenced to six months in prison for his internet crimes related to the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Robert Cargill has posted his response to the sentencing.

In a paper to be presented at SBL, James Davila has posted his SBL paper online: What Just Happened: The Rise of “Biblioblogging” in the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century.”

Ferrell Jenkins has posted an interesting quote about “Rachel’s Tomb” from the father of historical geography, Edward Robinson.

A documentary shot in 1969-70 linked at Leen Ritmeyer’s site has stunning aerial footage of Iran, including Persepolis and Susa.

PBS will be premiering “Quest for Solomon’s Mines” on November 23.  You can watch a preview online.  Luke Chandler wonders how the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation will be treated.

HT: Joe Lauer


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Scientists Drilling under Dead Sea

From Haaretz:

Drilling is to begin Wednesday half a kilometer into the bed of the Dead Sea to study hundreds of thousands of years of geological history, in the largest-scale scientific drilling ever carried out in Israel.

The material to be extracted will form a column only a few centimeters thick - but 500 meters long. Through it, scientists will be able to document the climate in the region to a precision level of within a few years, and learn about the earthquakes that shaped the landscape during this time.

The sponsor of the project, the International Continental Drilling Program, is a consortium of several countries that conducts two scientific drillings a year, and finally chose the Dead Sea area after repeated requests over recent years. Locally, the project is being supported by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and the Tamar Regional Council.

The drilling, which is expected to cost approximately $2.5 million, is a regional project, implemented jointly with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, as well as with Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Japan and the United States.

The full story is here.

Dead Sea shore with salt crystals, tb010810100

Dead Sea shoreline

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Calendar Give-Away

This week marks the first give-away from  If all goes well, we hope to have about one a week through the end of the year.  For this first one, we have a beautiful 2011 calendar produced by Lamb & Lion Ministries (previously described here).  The calendar features our photos of gates of the Old City of Jerusalem.  Three winners will be selected from those that enter by Sunday 5:00 pm. 

Enter your name and email address below.  After the drawing, only the winners will be contacted and all other names and email addresses will be deleted.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

National Geographic: Archaeological Views on David’s Kingdom

The cover story of the current issue (December 2010) of National Geographic is entitled “Kings of Controversy,” and it considers the archaeological debate over the kingdom of David and Solomon.  The story is interesting and well-written, and it gives a good presentation of the debate from a mainstream perspective.  image

On one side is Israel Finkelstein, somehow considered the “establishment, a Goliath fending off upstart assaults on his chronological order.”  On the other side, those launching the “upstart assaults” are such novice scholars as Amihai Mazar, Thomas Levy, Eilat Mazar, and Yosef Garfinkel.  The writer got his Davids and Goliaths mixed up, for it is actually Finkelstein’s theory which is the late-comer and the minority position among scholars today. 

If you’re at all interested in what archaeologists are saying today about this contested issue, the article is worth your time.  The photo gallery is viewable at a separate link.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New Discoveries on Avenue of the Sphinxes

From Adnkronos Culture and Media:

Archaeologists in the southern temple city of Luxor have unearthed twelve new sphinx statues and a road from the reign of ancient Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo I (380-362 BC), Egypt's culture minister Farouk Hosny announced on Monday.

The sphinx statues are inscribed with Nectanebo I's name and were found in the last sector of the Avenue of the Sphinxes, one of the most important archaeological and religious paths in Luxor, the site of the Ancient Egyptian city of Thebes.

The mythological creatures with human faces and reclining feline bodies were typically used to decorate the tombs of ancient Egyptian rulers.

The Avenue of the Sphinxes, built by Nectanebo I, runs from Luxor to nearby Karnak, where it connects to the temple of the goddess Mut. Karnak and contains a vast conglomeration of ruined temples, chapels, monumental gateways to temples, and other buildings.

The archaeologists discovered the new sphinxes at the end of the newly unearthed road of Nectanebo I, said Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The story continues here.  A better photo is posted in this article.


Luxor Temple avenue of sphinxes, tb011005744ddd

Avenue of Sphinxes, Luxor

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Monday, November 15, 2010

New X-Ray Analysis of Dead Sea Scrolls

From Earth Times:

This week, Berlin scientists are to brief scholars on 21st century methods of sorting the fragments, which contain Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic writing and are kept at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The new methods, which include shining X-rays through the parchment and papyrus, are guaranteed not to damage them.

Re-analysis would not only help to resolve some fierce academic and religious disputes that have been based on differing readings of the texts, but also help reconstruct several more documents which had seemed lost for ever in the muddle of fragments.

The new methods were evolved by BAM, Germany's material-science laboratory in Berlin.

"We'll be able to say if any two fragments have identical material properties," explained BAM spokeswoman Ulrike Rockland. "If they do, they come from the same piece. No one could say that with certainty before."


These include examination with light, electron and environmental scanning electron microscopes and advanced technologies known as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy.

The experts devised standard ways to trace how each piece of parchment was made and how it aged.

"Goatskin is an organic material. If two fragments have the same X-ray, Raman and infrared signature, they must belong together," said Rockland.

The procedures can also identify different batches of handmade ink. The scientists manufactured their own iron-gall ink using ancient recipes to test what happens as it dries and eats its way into the parchment.

The sole disadvantage of the new tests is the high cost.

The full story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weekend Roundup

An inscription with the name of Ramses III has been found in Saudi Arabia, suggesting Egyptian interest in the trade routes to what is today Yemen.  A related article is “Solomon & Sheba, Inc.,” by André Lemaire, published earlier this year in Biblical Archaeology Review.

A Logos collection that may interest readers here is the William Mitchell Ramsay Collection.  The 16 volumes may sell for $30 if enough people bid on it.

Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa will be visiting Yeshiva University, giving a talk on Tuesday evening, November 16.  His topic is "A Word is Better than a Million Potsherds: David and Solomon Between Text & Material Culture." The talk will take place in Furst Hall (500 West 185th St, at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue), on the 5th floor, in room 535, at 8:30 p.m. 

Yoav Farhi will be lecturing on Tuesday, November 16, at 7:00 p.m. at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee.  His topic is “Ancient Coins of Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Stronghold on the Road to Jerusalem.”

Aren Maeir will be speaking at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri on November 17, at 5:30 p.m.  The college’s participation in the excavations at Gath this season are the subject of an article in the local press.

I wonder if anyone knows whatever happened to this anticipated biblical archaeology book by Stager and Cross.

HT: Eric Welch and Joe Lauer

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rachel’s Tomb: A Response by Benj Foreman

Benj Foreman, professor at the Israel Bible Extension of The Master’s College, has responded to my post about Rachel’s Tomb with observations worthy of more attention than they’ll get in a comment.  He writes:

Thanks for your synthesis. I’ve heard you teach this before, but here are a few points to consider:

1) 1 Sam 10:2 does not need to be translated “in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah,” as you do in your post. The Hebrew “gevul” can mean border, and often does. Though it can mean “territory,” it often emphasizes the limit of a territory. It’s possible, therefore, that Samuel is saying something like this: you will meet two men on the border of Benjamin at Zelzah, near Rachel’s tomb (I rearranged the word order, i.e. “Rachels’ tomb” for clarity).

2) Rachel clearly dies “on the way” to Ephrathah in Gen 35:19–20. This means that she wasn’t buried in Bethlehem, but on the way there. So the fact that Bethlehem is 5 miles from the border need not be troublesome.

3) It’s not “certain” that there was a Bethlehem in Benjamin. I’m not convinced that the Bethlehem in Neh 7:26 is a different from Bethlehem in Judah. You’re right that it seems to be listed in an odd place (amidst Benjamite cities), but considering the fact that Bethlehem of Judah––the city of King David––is not listed anywhere else in the list, makes it unlikely to me that “Bethlehem” here refers to a city previously unknown to us. Wouldn’t we expect there to be at least a few returnees from David’s hometown?

4) It seems unlikely to me that the Ephrathah and Bethlehem which are linked in Gen 35:19 are different from the Ephrathah and Bethlehem which are linked in Micah 5:2.

5) What about Jer 31:15? The fact that Rachel is associated with Ramah is initially striking. However, perhaps we should note first of all that the text makes no connection to Rachel’s death. Rather, she is weeping for her children. Why? Because they are no more. But why single out Rachel? The answer may be because Jeremiah is using “Ephraim” as an object lesson for Judah (cf. v. 18, 20). She, one of the matriarch’s of Israel, was the “mother” of Ephraim: she bore Joseph, to whom were born Manasseh and Ephraim.

6) Migdal Ha Eder in Gen 35:21 and Micah 4:8 is not problematic. It’s near Jerusalem: between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Why does it have to be NORTH of Jerusalem? (I just read your response to Leen and there you say that it could be in any direction from Jerusalem….)

7) Summary: if we translate “gevul” in 1 Sam 10:2 as border, then having Rachel’s tomb somewhere south of Jerusalem ceases to be problematic. Rachel died “on the way” to Bethlehem (i.e. Ephrathah) and was buried somewhere on the border between Judah and Benjamin near an unknown site called Zelzah. The traditional location is probably unlikely since this is nearly 5 miles from the border of Judah/Benjamin.

8) Maybe I left out one vital piece of evidence and all of this will crumble. :)

Rachel's Tomb, pp1126

Rachel’s Tomb, c. 1881.  Source: Picturesque Palestine.


Friday, November 12, 2010

2011 Calendar: Gates of Jerusalem

Lamb & Lion Ministries has just released its 2011 calendar, featuring photographs of the gates of Jerusalem by  The calendar may be purchased for $5 through their website.


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Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Nymphaeum at Herodium?

Israeli tour guide Shmuel Browns has done some investigation and come to the conclusion that the monumental building at the Herodium was a nymphaeum.  He has posted his research, with numerous illustrations, here

You may recall that archaeologist Ehud Netzer once proposed that this structure was Herod’s tomb.  Since the location of the burial place on the slope of the mountain, the question is open once again, and Browns’ proposal seems like the right one.  It would be just like Herod to construct a palace in the wilderness complete with swimming pool and monumental fountain.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rachel’s Tomb: The Bible vs. Tradition

UNESCO’s designation last week of “Rachel’s Tomb” as a mosque was received with great criticism, including a pointed response by Israel’s prime minister. My interest is not in the identification of the domed structure in recent centuries. I’m willing to grant that “Rachel’s Tomb” is as Jewish as the Tomb of David on Mount Zion or the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. For many Jewish worshippers, that is enough. The site has been sanctified by the prayers of the faithful for centuries. I have no interest in addressing the issue of the late tradition, and thus this post is not really relevant to the UNESCO debate. The evidence for the site being a Muslim holy place in the last thousand years will not be evaluated here.

My interest is in whether Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob, was buried anywhere near the location of the contested dome. The best evidence for answering this question is the oldest evidence, and the biblical data answers with a decisive “no.” Rachel was buried somewhere else.

The story of Rachel’s burial is related in Genesis 35:19-20, “So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (cf. Gen 48:7). This verse seems to establish the matter, and if the investigation is halted at this point, the traditional location appears to face no objection.

Bethlehem Rachel's Tomb, cf12-26

Traditional location of Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem of Judah
Source: Photographs of Charles Lee Feinberg

The situation is more complicated than that, however. Shortly before the time of King David, the prophet Samuel anointed Saul and instructed him to “meet two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah” (1 Sam 10:2). This verse appears to locate the matriarch’s burial place in the land allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. The detailed boundary descriptions given in Joshua 18 place Jerusalem on the southern boundary of Benjamin (18:16). Bethlehem of Judah, however, is about five miles (8 km) south of Jerusalem. If this was all the evidence we had, we might conclude that there is an obvious contradiction and one statement is right and the other is wrong. We might surmise that this is the result of competing ancient traditions. If that is the case, then the traditional site has no more than a 50% chance of being the actual location.

Closer examination, however, reveals that there is no contradiction but that both references are to the same place. The first piece of evidence is the existence of another Israelite town called Bethlehem. Most people are aware of the Bethlehem of Galilee mentioned in Joshua 19:15. But there is yet another town with the same name in a city list in Nehemiah 7:26. In the midst of a series of sites clearly within the tribal territory of Benjamin, there is a place called Bethlehem. The existence of a Bethlehem in Galilee and a Bethlehem in Benjamin makes more understandable the frequent reference to “Bethlehem in Judah.” David was not from “Bethlehem,” but from “Bethlehem in Judah” (1 Sam 17:12; cf. Judg 17:7-9; 19:1-2, 18; Micah 5:2). It is noteworthy that Rachel’s tomb is never identified as being in “Bethlehem of Judah.”

In fact, Jeremiah corroborates the Benjamite location when he writes, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children” (Jer 31:15). Ramah is a well-known city in Benjamin, and it was apparently within earshot of Rachel’s tomb. Some might object that the Gospel writer Matthew seems to locate Rachel’s tomb near Bethlehem of Judah when he quotes this verse from Jeremiah (Matt 2:16-18). But Matthew makes no such identification, and the fulfillment that he sees lies not in geography but in history. The exile begun in Jeremiah’s day continues in the days of Jesus as foreign rulers continue to slaughter the Jewish children.

There is yet one more potential objection that remains before the Bethlehem of Judah can be completely dismissed from consideration as Rachel’s burial place. The Genesis account says that Rachel was buried “on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).” It is well known that the prophet Micah predicts that the Messiah would come from “Bethlehem Ephrathah,” a place in Judah (Mic 5:2; cf. Ruth 1:2). If this is the same place as where Rachel was buried, then there is simply no way to resolve the conflicting evidence. But the “Ephrath” of Genesis could well be a reference to the Benjamite site of “Parah” in Joshua 18:23 (though these words look significantly different in English, they are very similar in Hebrew). The prophet Jeremiah describes going to “Parat” to hide a belt, and it is reasonable that this is the site in Benjamin not far from Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth (Jer 13:4-7). (Some versions translate this as the “Euphrates” River, but it seems unlikely that Jeremiah would travel not once but twice on this extremely long journey for a very simple object lesson.) Until today a spring known as Parat exists in the territory of Benjamin not far from Jerusalem.

Additional support for a location in Benjamin is found in Genesis 35:21, which says that after Rachel was buried, Jacob traveled on to “Migdal Eder.” This location is identified in Micah 4:8 and m. Seqal. 7:4 as a place near Jerusalem. This further supports the location of Rachel’s tomb as north of Jerusalem and within the territory of Benjamin.

The evidence can be summed as follows: all the biblical evidence conforms with a Benjamite location for Rachel’s tomb. That there was a Bethlehem in Benjamin as well as a Parat/Ephrath in Benjamin is certain. This location was well known in Saul’s time, and it was the basis for a prophecy by Jeremiah. The mother of Benjamin was buried in the same territory that would later be deeded to the descendants of the son to whom she died giving birth.

There is yet another piece of extrabiblical evidence that cannot be said to prove the point, but it certainly is a curious “coincidence.” Very close to the Parat spring there are a series of large stone monuments. These monuments are located directly on a north-south road that served the ancients traveling through Benjamin on their way to the lush watering hole of Parat. The site is east of Ramah by a few miles, and an Israeli military official has told me of acoustical experiments that he performed with his soldiers that demonstrated that it was within hearing distance of Ramah. A local Arab tradition, first recorded by Western explorers in the 19th century, identified these monumental structures as Kubr Benei Israel, the “tombs of the sons of Israel.” Whether these structures date to the time of Rachel has not yet been determined by archaeological means, but the biblical evidence suggests that her tomb is likely in this same area.

Tombs of Sons of Israel, Kubr Benei Israel, tb020503112

“Tombs of the Sons of Israel” in the land of Benjamin
Source: Pictorial Library, volume 2

How did the traditional location near Bethlehem of Judah arise?  This is very easy to understand.  Early pilgrims knew of only this Bethlehem and they were unaware of the other biblical evidence.  They established the site at a location convenient for visiting tourists.  Not far from here they built a church where they said Elijah rested on his flight from Jezebel and another church where they claimed that Mary fed Jesus and a drop of milk fell to the ground.  The same sort of logic was used for locating the tomb of David on what they thought was “Mount Zion.”  Byzantine and post-Byzantine traditions sometimes accord with the biblical evidence, but they fall short in the case of Rachel’s tomb.

It is unlikely that any of the ideas presented here are original to me. You can pursue the subject further in the following resources (asterisks indicate most helpful works).

Beck, Astrid Billes. “Rachel (Person).” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. Volume 5, 605-7. D. N. Freedman, ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

*Clermont-Ganneau, Charles. Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873-74, vol. II. London: Palestine Exploration Fund, 1896. Reprint, Jerusalem: Raritas, 1971, p. 278-79.

*Hareuveni, Nogah. Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage. Trans. H. Frenkley. Tel Aviv: Neot Kedumim, 1991, pp. 64-71.

Jung, K. G. “Rachel’s Tomb.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Volume 4, 32. Geoffrey W. Bromiley et al, eds. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1988.

*Luker, Lamontte M. “Rachel’s Tomb (Place).” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. Volume 5, 608-9. D. N. Freedman, ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Rainey, Anson F. and R. Steven Notley. The Sacred Bridge. Jerusalem: Carta, 2006, p. 145.

Thompson, Henry O. “Ephraim (Place).” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. Volume 2, 555-56. D. N. Freedman, ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

For another perspective, see Leen Ritmeyer’s post and my comments there.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Nations Come to Israel to Make Desert Bloom

From Arutz-7:

A four-day international conference in the Negev is aimed at helping 200 million people around the world threatened by poverty and hunger. More than 50 countries will be represented at a four-day international conference in the Negev that is aimed at helping 200 million people around the world threatened by poverty and hunger.

The third annual conference, with the unwieldy title of “Conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification: The Route to Restoration,” opens Monday at Ben Gurion University’s campus in Sde Boker, located between Be’er Sheva and Eilat.

More than 500 government officials and academics, including those from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, will participate. The conference is co-sponsored by the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 

"If you do nothing about desertification, people will starve and die," said Prof. Alon Tal, Arava Institute founder, Ben Gurion professor and native of North Carolina.

Israel's success in rehabilitating the Arava desert has attracted worldwide attention to the Jewish State, where 97 percent of the land is arid. Israel has not only "made the desert bloom,” it also has also invested major resources in learning how to keep dry lands from overtaking fertile soil.

With increasing worldwide soil erosion, salinization and groundwater mismanagement, Israel wants to share its solutions with the world.

The story continues here.

Aravah, Neot Hakikar farms with child, db8004000209

Farm at Neot Hakikar in the Aravah of Israel
Photo by David Bivin


Monday, November 08, 2010

Bible and Archaeology Fest 2010

The Bible and Archaeology Fest has now posted a schedule of speakers and their topics (pdf).  Lectures of greatest interest to me on the first day include:

David Ussishkin, “Sennacherib's Attack on Lachish: What We have Learned from Archaeology

Yosef Garfinkel, “The Sanctuary of Khirbet Qeiyafa: Judean Cult at the Time of King David

Jodi Magness, “Masada: Last Stronghold of the Jewish Resistance against Rome

James Tabor, “Was There an Essene Quarter and a "Church of the Apostles" on Mt. Zion in the time of Jesus? What We Know Now in 2010

Amihai Mazar, “Beth Shean: Biblical Traditions and Archaeological Reality

Other speakers for the weekend include Mark Wilson, Ben Witherington, James Charlesworth, Mark Goodacre, Michael Coogan, William Dever, Craig Evans, and Marvin Meyer.



Saturday, November 06, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Anson Rainey will be lecturing in the Chicago area on “The Order of Sacrifices in Levitical Ritual” in the inaugural lecture of a new series: “The Trinity Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology Lecture.”  For more details on the Nov 15 lecture, see here.

The Albright Institute in Jerusalem is hosting a “Workshop on the History and Archaeology of the Negev and Edom in the Iron Age” on December 12.  For more details, see this flyer.

Ehud Netzer was remembered in a broadcast this week on LandMinds.

A special exhibit opened at the British Museum this week entitled, “Journey through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.”  Ann Wuyts has some related information.

Atiqot has placed their two most recent issues online.  Arutz-7 explains the significance of this journal.

There are a couple of new articles about the irrigation system at Ramat Rahel.

Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled against a petition intended to stop the destruction of artifacts on the Temple Mount.

If you’ve ever wondered if Jews are or are not allowed to walk on the Temple Mount, you now have your answer.

There has been some discussion online recently about Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem in light of UNESCO’s claim that the Jewish holy place is actually a Muslim mosque.  Leen Ritmeyer has the best images and discussion, but my guess is that it probably was a Muslim shrine before it was “Rachel’s Tomb.”  In any case, the biblical evidence is decisively against the authenticity of the site.  Maybe I’ll explain more one of these days, but for the real short answer, see 1 Samuel 10:2.  [I now see Jim Davila’s request for an explanation, so I’ll bump it up on my priority list and try to post on it soon. UPDATE: That explanation is here.]

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, November 05, 2010

New Book: Biblical Turkey

The premiere scholar on biblical sites in Turkey is Mark Wilson, and his long-awaited book has just been published.  Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor is a 400-page work that includes “all the references to cities, regions, provinces, and natural features in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Biblical_TurkeyApocrypha/Deuterocanonicals, New Testament, and Apostolic Fathers.”  Though I haven’t seen the book, I have no doubts that this is the best book on the subject and an essential reference work.

The book is published in Turkey which makes purchasing a little more work.  One option is to purchase from the Turkish website for a cost of 30 euros (about $42) including delivery.  A second option is to take advantage of an introductory discount (20 euros/$28) available by sending in an order form by fax or email (details below).  A third option for those going to Atlanta later this month is to purchase it at the David Brown Books table at the SBL/ASOR conference (but I’d recommend you get one on the first day before they sell out their stock).

Option two details:

After preparing the list of the book you wish to order (Biblical Turkey in this case), click on "By Fax Order Form". There you can write your credit card details, take a print out and send it as fax to us.  Our Fax Number: 90 212 244 32 09.”

You can also download the form, fill it out, scan it, and send it to for processing. For any further questions about an order, please email that same address.

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Carta Collection for Accordance

An extraordinary collection of historical and geographical works on the Bible from the Carta Publishing House in Jerusalem has been announced for Accordance Bible Software (Mac).  Some of these works are the best in the field and available nowhere else electronically. 

Bible Lands Atlases

  • The Sacred Bridge
  • Carta’s New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible
  • The Carta Bible Atlas
  • The Illustrated Bible Atlas with Historical Notes
  • Bible History Atlas Study Edition
  • The Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea


  • The Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem
  • Carta’s Historical Atlas of Jerusalem
  • Jerusalem in the Time of Nehemiah
  • Jerusalem in the Year 30 A.D.


  • The Quest
  • Carta’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of The Holy Temple in Jerusalem
  • The Holy Temple of Jerusalem

You can purchase the entire collection for $500, but there are other less expensive packages available.  All the details are here.

HT: William Krewson


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Logos Software Deal: Travels Through Bible Lands

Some months ago, I mentioned a Logos Bible Software collection of books entitled “Travels through Bible Lands Collection.”  This fifteen-volume collection was listed in their pre-publication specials for $130.  That collection and many others did not receive sufficient interest and so it has now been moved to “community pricing” where a large number of orders results in a greatly reduced price.  Thus you could now pick up all 15 electronic books for $20 if enough people place bids.  Here are a list of titles:logos_bible_lands

  • The Land of Israel: A Journal of Travels in Palestine, by Henry B. Tristram (1876)
  • Land of Moab: Travels and Discoveries on the East Side of the Dead Sea and Jordan, by Henry B. Tristram (1876)
  • Early Travels in Palestine, by Thomas Wright (1848)
  • Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon: with travels in Armenia, Kurdistan and Desert, by Austen Henry Layard (1871)
  • Travels in Turkey, Asia-Minor, Syria, and Across the Desert into Egypt, by William Wittman (1803)
  • Social Life in Egypt, by Stanley Lane-Poole (1884)
  • East of the Jordan: A Record of Travel and Observation in Moab, Gilead, and Bashan, by Selah Merrill (1881)
  • Fifty-Three Years in Syria, Vol. 1, by Henry Jessup (1910)
  • Fifty-Three Years in Syria, Vol. 2, by Henry Jessup (1910)
  • A Brief Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, by Caroline Hazard (1909)
  • The Unvarying East, by E. J. Hardy (1848)
  • Among the Turks, by Cyrus Hamlin (1878)
  • Through Persia on a Side-Saddle, by John MacQueen (1901)
  • Palestine Past and Present, by James Challen (1859)
  • My Winter on the Nile, by Charles Warner (1892)

The ones in bold are those I’m familiar with and believe would be worth at least $20 each.  The others may be outstanding, but I have no knowledge of them.  In short, for $130 this is a tough one to recommend.  For $20, this would be an excellent addition to your Logos collection.  If you’re interested, click on over to the Logos website and place your bid.  If enough of us chip in, we all will get a fantastic deal.

In the near future I plan to suggest my own “Travels through Bible Lands Collection.”  There are many books better than these and perhaps if Logos is successful with this one, they’ll do a follow-up with my favorite resources.


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Clean-Up Planned for Mount of Olives Cemetery

From the Jerusalem Post:

Prominent Jewish leaders around the world have joined forces to create an international- watch committee to clean up the Mount of Olives cemetery. The leaders say the cemetery has fallen into “utter chaos” since Israel regained control of the area in 1967. The committee is planning a kick-off event to raise public awareness on Saturday night at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.

“There isn’t a Jewish cemetery in the world that’s as neglected,” lamented Menachem Lubinsky, a New York businessman whose parents are buried in the cemetery.

He told The Jerusalem Post that his brother Avraham hatched the idea for an international committee after visiting their parent’s grave this past spring, when he noticed eight nearby graves destroyed with a “the kind of maliciousness that defies imagination.”

In May, the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released a report that slammed successive governments for not providing basic maintenance and security in the cemetery. Last week, the Knesset State Control Committee, headed by MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), said the government had agreed to refurbish 20,000 graves by the end of 2013 – about 7,000 per year. Some 200 security cameras will also be installed in, and around, the cemetery.

The full story is here.

Tombs on Mt of Olives at night, tb042100801

Cemetery on Mount of Olives


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Moody Radio: The Land and the Book

Popular author and teacher Dr. Charlie Dyer has begun a new weekly radio show entitled “The Land and the Book.”  In the first month, he has interviewed Israeli tour guide Amir Tzarfati, Charles Ryrie, Howard Hendricks, Tom Doyle, and Joel Rosenberg.  Some of the interviews are more oriented to the biblical lands whereas others focus more on interpretation of Scripture.  Programs also include discussion on recent events in the Middle East as well as devotions related to biblical history.  You can see descriptions of each program and subscribe to the podcast here.

HT: Wayne Stiles


Monday, November 01, 2010

Shobak Castle To Become Tourist Destination

Most who see this Crusader castle do so only from a distance on their way to Petra.  Plans are underway to attract tourists to stop and shop. From the Jordan Times:

European experts and local officials are looking to develop the southern city of Shobak into an emerging tourism destination.

The project, led by the University of Florence in association with the Shobak Municipality and the EU, aims to take advantage of the historical value and natural beauty of the southern town in order to bolster local development, according to organisers.

Situated on the road to the rose-red city of Petra, Shobak is best known for its Crusader castle, once part of a chain of fortresses stretching across Jordan.

However, the castle and town’s Ottoman-era homes are often overlooked by tour groups who shuttle in and out of Wadi Musa to see Petra a few miles away.

Michele Nucciotti, an archaeologist from the University of Florence, which has been working on developing the archaeology of the town over the last several years, said the project aims to introduce the area to tourists.

"Shobak has a tourist and historical value that has been overlooked. Our job is to develop the city and prepare it for the prominence it deserves,” he said, referring to Shobak Castle as one of the best preserved existing crusader castles.

As part of the project, officials will work to enhance facilities in the castle to enable it to accommodate larger numbers of tourists. Restoration experts will also work to renovate Ottoman and Mamluk buildings in the town for some to be converted into small-scale tourism businesses, he added.


Originally known as Montreal, Shobak Castle was built in the early 12th century by Baldwin I of Jerusalem as a Crusader stronghold of what was then considered “Arabia”, standing at the ancient crossroads between the Gulf of Aqaba, Damascus and Mecca.

After succumbing to a two-year siege by armies led by Salah Addin in 1189, the castle fell into disrepair before being taken over and renovated by the Mamluks in the 14th century.

The full story is here.

Shobak Crusader castle from east, tb061504226

Shobak Crusader Castle from east

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