Book Review: Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books

Smith, Gary V. Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2014. 224 pp. Pb; $22.99.   Link to Kregel

This new contribution to the Handbooks of Old Testament Exegesis covers a huge section of the Old Testament canon. Gary Smith has already contributed a commentary on Isaiah in the New American Commentary series (B&H, 2007, 2009), The NIV Application Commentary on Hosea, Amos, Micah (Zondervan, 2001), the Mentor commentary on Amos (Mentor, 1998), as well as The Prophets as Preachers (B&H 1998).

Smith, Interpreting the ProphetsSmith begins with a discussion of prophetic literature. This first chapter is divided into a discussion of the genre of written prophecy and a brief introduction to the literary aspects of prophecy. Smith describes prophecy as having three “temporal categories.” First, some prophecy refers to events in the life of the life of the prophet (the present), some prophecies refer to a “future era.” His third category is “symbolic apocalyptic prophecies.”

Like other books in this series, Interpreting the Prophetic Books suffers from the limitations of the series. Since the goal is a short primer, there is no way for/ Smith to adequately cover even the four major prophets. Since the book is designed to cover 17 books, Smith must dispatch the major themes of each prophet in twenty-four pages (chapter 2) and the historical context in a mere nine pages (chapter 3)! This third chapter also includes a short note on Ancient Near Eastern prophecy and a primer on textual criticism in the Prophets.

A valuable aspect of this book is the section on interpretive issues unique to the prophetic books (chapter 4). Smith first deal with the problem of “literal vs. metaphorical.” There are many examples of prophecy which was fulfilled literally (Amos’s prediction that Israel would go into exile “beyond Damascus” Amos 5:27), but there are other examples of prophecy given in poetic language which remain “nebulous” (116). Smith uses Isaiah 42:14-16 as an example of a prophecy that is not particularly specific and contains highly evocative metaphoric language such as describing God’s anguish over his people as like the pain of a woman giving birth. When this kind of metaphoric language is used in a future prophecy, the application is even less clear. Using the example of Isaiah 42:1, Smith points shows how four different commentators read the broad metaphors in quite different ways (120).

Second, Smith asks if the meaning of prophecy is limited by its context. For a prophet like Haggai, there is a particular time and place which creates the background context for the prophecy. But an eschatological or apocalyptic prophecy has no immediate connection to the context of the prophet (121) since it refers to something in the future of the prophet and perhaps still future for the modern reader. Sometimes later New Testament progressive revelation makes the prophecy more clear, but Smith urges humility when approaching these prophecies.

Third, the conditional / unconditional nature of prophecy causes a number of problems for the interpreter. While some prophecies are explicitly conditional, others do not seem to be conditional yet remain unfulfilled. Smith cites Micah 3:12 as a vivid prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem that remained unfulfilled after Hezekiah responded properly to the Lord. Smith cites Jer 18:7-10 as a hint many prophecies are conditioned on a proper response even if the original prophecy did not make the contingency obvious.

Fourth, Smith deals with the problem of both near and far fulfillments of prophecy. There are many “day of the Lord” prophecies which seem to have a fulfillment in the fall of Samaria or Jerusalem, yet are not fully realized in those historic events. For example, there are many prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel and Judah to the land which are not fulfilled in the end of the exile, such as God “pouring out his Spirit” on his people (Ezek 36:27, Joel 2:28-29).

Since most readers of this book will be Christians, Smith discusses the problem of fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in the New Testament. Sometimes a New Testament writer claims a messianic prophecy is fulfilled even though it is hard to see how that is the case from a modern perspective. For example, Matt 2:15 claims the sojourn in Egypt was the fulfillment of Hos 11:1, a text describing Israel as a child coming up out of Egypt. But in the context, this looks back at the Exodus or forward to a new Exodus at the end of the exile, but there is no clear reference to the Messiah being taken to Egypt as a child. Evangelicals have offered several ways to approach these exegetical problems (double fulfillment, a “fuller sense,” pesher and typological interpretations, for example).

Last in this section, Smith asks if prophecy is always fulfilled. This may seem like an odd question, but there are examples when a prophecy seems to clearly predict something which does not occur. Jonah is an obvious example, although implied contingency may be a solution (Nineveh did repent) or near/far fulfillment (Nineveh did fall eventually). In other cases, there is only a partial fulfillment because a prophecy was stretched to cover many more years than first anticipated (the exile for example). For some difficult prophecies such as Ezekiel’s prediction Babylon would destroy Tyre, Smith encourages the reader to humbly admit there is something anomalous in the prophecy and that we do not fully understand the situation (140).

Chapters 5-6 deal with proclaiming the prophetic texts and drawing applications from these sometimes obscure passages of Scripture for contemporary Christians. These two chapters provide a hermeneutical strategy for reading prophetic texts and several examples of proclaimed prophecy.  First, the exegete must define the setting of the prophecy. This requires a study of the political, socio-economic and religious setting of the prophet. Second, the exegete must fully appreciate the nuances of the literary context, including the genre of the prophecy as well as any elements of biblical poetry present in the text. From this research, the exegete can develop a “descriptive outline” of the text. From this outline, basic steps of exegesis will fill in the details (word studies, background studies, etc.)

Once the descriptive outline has been detailed for the passage, the exegete must find a way to present the material to an audience. This requires using the needs of the audience to develop a thematic outline and illustrating the main principles of the text which will be of importance to the audience. Smith encourages a sermon presentation that is both theological and practical and calls for some change in action or thinking. He illustrates this method with Isaiah 31:1-9 (a near-fulfillment) and Jeremiah 23:1-8 (a distant fulfillment).

Conclusion. While some portions of this book are extremely brief, the hermeneutical method presented by Smith is clear and useful. Certainly I would have liked to see far more detail in chapters 2-3, but detailed descriptions of the prophet books, especially with respect to the formation of the books goes well beyond the goals of this short handbook. A second mild criticism is the lack of attention to application of the prophets to contemporary social issues. Since many of the prophets accused their listeners of abuse of the poor and needy and a general lack of justice in their society, it seems to me this message is an easy application to contemporary American culture. Third, I wonder if Smith would consider some passages in the prophets to be “un-preachable” from the pulpit in most churches. For example, Daniel 11 has so many difficulties, it is almost impossible to preach an applicable sermon which also deals with the text in any detail. Perhaps some of the more vulgar passages would be difficult to properly treat in a church context (Ezekiel 16, Nahum 2).

This Handbook reaches its goal of providing students of Old Testament prophecy the tools for teaching and preaching these important and often neglected texts. This would make a good textbook for a college or seminary class on the Prophets, especially in more conservative circles.

NB: Thanks to Kregel Books for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Mark A. Seifrid, The Second Letter to the Corinthians

Seifrid, Mark A. The Second Letter to the Corinthians. PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2014. 569 pp. Hb; $50.   Link to Eerdmans

Seifrid’s new commentary on Second Corinthians arrived about the same time as the second edition of Ralph Martin’s classic WBC commentary from Zondervan. Seifrid is known for his work on Pauline theology and more specifically Justification in the Pauline literature. His Christ, Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification (IVP 2001) built on the foundation of his Justification by Faith: The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme (Brill, 1992). As one of the editors of Justification and Variegated Nomism (Baker, 2004), Seifrid is also well-known as a defender of the traditional view of Paul over against the New Perspective. This theological background often comes through clearly in his commentary on 2 Corinthians.

Seifrid CorinthiansIn the brief twelve-page introduction to the commentary, Seifrid first discusses the situation both before and after the writing of the second letter to the Corinthian church. Here he traces the sometimes confusing period after the reception of 1 Corinthians, a brief time which included a “painful visit” and later “tearful letter” delivered by Titus.

Second, the introduction examines the various suggestions for the identity of Paul’s opponents in the letter, which naturally leads Seifrid to the purpose of the letter. He advocates a minimal “mirror-reading,” resulting in a Jewish-Christian opponent who appeared in Corinth between the two canonical letters. Since these new arrivals were considered apostles by the Corinthian church, they have made a bad situation worse. But for Seifrid, there is nothing in the letter which can be used to clearly describe a theology of the opponents. They preach another Jesus (2 Cor 11:4) and for Paul, this is the real threat to the church.

Since there are a number of complex theories regarding the composition of 2 Corinthians, the third section of the introduction deals with the integrity of the letter. After a short synopsis of the usual divisions suggested in scholarship, Seifrid concludes the alleged incoherence and inconsistency is “more apparent than real (xxxi). Paul’s defense of his mission “constitutes the thematic unity” for the letter.

Finally, Seifrid offers a few comments on the theology of the letter. Despite the fact 2 Corinthians is a deeply personal letter, Paul’s concern is to lay out clearly the marks of a true apostle. For the Corinthians, there is “jarring contrast between his powerful letters and his pitiful presence” (xxxii). Seifrid sees this as a hermenutical problem, and the whole of Scripture is at stake. For those who are outsiders, a veil covers their face and prevents them from seeing God and his saving work. The opponents have been blinded by the god of this world and are therefore “unbelievers” by definition. Only those who are “in Christ” are free in see the truth of the Gospel as revealed now by Paul, God’s representative.

In my view, Seifrid’s introduction is too brief. While I agree there is little or no merit to many of the partition theories for the letter, I would have liked more engagement with contemporary scholarship on the literary issues, whether in the introduction or the appropriate places in the commentary. While I thought his section on 6:14-7:1 was excellent, there is no hint this section is sometimes seen as a non-Pauline insertion. There is no interaction with Betz’s theory that chapters 8-9 are administrative letters, he simply states that chapters 8-9 are “integral to Paul’s larger purpose in the letter of binding the Corinthians to the other churches and to Christ” (317). Perhaps including a detailed discussion of these literary issues would have distracted from Seifrid’s overall goal of explaining the text of the letter as we have it, but given the strong objections to the unity of the letter in New Testament scholarship, I am surprised the issue is not addressed.

The commentary follows the same pattern the other Pillar commentaries. After a translation of the text, Seifrid briefly introduces the pericope, usually setting the section into the context of the letter as a whole. The commentary proper proceeds verse by verse, commenting primarily on the English text, although occasionally he comments on a transliterated Greek word. Greek and Hebrew untransliterated in the footnotes. There are less exegetical comments on the Greek text than other PNTC commentaries. In fact only rarely does he comment on the text. Comparing this to D. A. Carson’s Matthew or Colin Kruse’s Romans in the same series, there is very little exegetical material indeed.

Seifrid’s comments on 1 Cor 5:21 are an example of the more theological nature of the commentary. For Seifrid, “not reckoning the trespasses of the world” is a “forensic event” and reconciliation and justification refer to the same event, the cross and resurrection (260-261, and note 539). This verse offers Seifrid the opportunity to write more than eight pages on justification from a decidedly Lutheran perspective (citing Luther and Melanchton at length in the notes). His discussion is excellent and the theology presented in this section certainly reflects the “traditional view” of Paul and justification, but there is little discussion of the exegetical details in the text itself. For example, a discussion of the meaning of γενώμεθα in the ἵνα-clause is missing. Nor does Seifrid discuss the potentially rich allusion to Isaiah 53. But this is the style of the commentary and this criticism should not detract from the value of the commentary.

Interaction with other commentaries is minimal in the body of the commentary, but Seifrid is obviously well-informed by a broad spectrum of scholarship. It is not surprising that Luther is one of the most cited commentaries in the notes (according to the index), but only one reference to Ralph Martin’s WBC commentary is strange. (Ironically, Barack Obama is also cited one time as well!) Another difference between this commentary and others in the PNTC series is Seifrid use of German scholarship. Seifrid often cites the work of the Lutheran systematic theologian Oswald Bayer.

There are three excurses embedded in the commentary. For example, after Paul’s reference to himself as a “minister of the New Covenant” in 2 Cor 3:6, Seifrid offers 4 pages on “Paul’s Understanding of ‘Covenant.’” This brief overview of a monograph-worthy topic is a kind of biblical theology of Covenant,” beginning with Galatians and concluding with Hebrews. Seifrid concludes Paul’s contrast between the New and Old Covenants in 3:6 and 3:14 is consistent with both Galatians and Hebrews.

Conclusion. Seifrid’s commentary on 2 Corinthians is another excellent contribution to the study of this oft-neglected letter of Paul. While it is certainly more theological than exegetical, it will nevertheless be a valuable resource for Bible teachers and pastors for many years.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land

Martin, Oren R. Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan. NSBT 34; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 208 pp. Pb; $20.00.   Link to IVP

This new addition to New Studies in Biblical Theology is a detailed study of the Promised Land as a canonical link from Eden to Kingdom. The land theme is important because it connects various biblical covenants into a developing story of typological fulfillment of God’s plan to redeem humankind.

Oren Martin Bound for the Promised LandAs is often observed, the kingdom described in Revelation is very much like the Garden of Eden. Martin shows how the beginning and the end are connected through the entire grand narrative of Scripture. Quoting Jon Levenson, Martin quips “eschatology is like proctology;” the beginning corresponds to the end (56).  But each successive stage in God’s redemptive plan escalates the typology so that the end of the story is not just a restored Eden on earth, but an entirely new Heaven and Earth.

In the first two chapters Martin develops his view that the Promised Land is a typology found throughout the canon. Beginning with the creation story, he traces the development of God’s redemptive plan, arguing Eden is the ideal kingdom ruled by God. Humans rebel against the king in the Fall and the effects of sin separate humans from God. The rest of the Bible is therefore the story of God’s plan of redemption. God is “reestablishing his kingdom through covenant” (42). These covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and the New Covenant) are something like stages in God’s plan to restore Eden in the eschatological Kingdom of God. With respect to the New Covenant, Martin point to Jesus’ preaching of the presence of the Kingdom in his ministry as an “already established” restoration of Eden in the church. Yet he sees a still future new creation and kingdom coming in the eschatological age.

Having offered something of a sketch of the whole canon in chapter 2, Martin then provides the details of this developing typology on in chapters 3-9. For much of the Old Testament the promise of restoration is a future hope. While it is true Abraham does dwell in the Promised Land and the Israelites eventually return to the Eden-like Promised Land, the glorious return of Eden remains a tantalizing hope for a future restoration from exile. The promised restoration of God’s rule is in some ways “already” fulfilled, but in other important aspects, “not yet” fulfilled.

The hoped-for restoration from the Exile was inaugurated in the person and work of Christ. While it is difficult to trace Promised Land themes in the teaching of Jesus (117), Martin suggests Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom was an inauguration of the Kingdom and the promise of the land finds its fulfillment in Jesus. This is not a radically new suggestion, although it is critical for some of the theological reflections later in the book.

Martin attempts to find this same sort fulfillment in the epistles as well. There is, however, little in the Epistles that could possibly be taken as typology of the Land Promise. I found the brief material on Paul to be unrelated to a typology of Land, but Hebrews clearly uses a typological method and describes Jesus as a fulfillment of the whole Old Testament, including the rest Israel experienced when they entered the Land. Canaan is functioning typologically in Heb 3:7-4:13, for example, and there is a shift in chapters 12-13 from Sinai to Zion. More work is needed here since it is not clear from Hebrews that the fulfillment of the Land Promise to Abraham is wholly exhausted in the person and work of Jesus. The book would have been better served to omit everything except the material on Hebrews.

Martin describes the fulfillment of the promise in the book of Revelation, the shortest chapter in the book despite the fact Revelation has strong typological ties to the restoration of the Promised Land to God’s people. Martin’s focus in this chapter is almost entirely on the New Jerusalem and new creation as a restoration of the Edenic Temple. While this critique falls under the category “I would have written this part differently,” I do think Martin has missed a great deal which could support his overall thesis by limiting his brief comments in this way. For example, there is a great deal of “new exodus” language in Revelation, especially in the sequence of seven trumpets. The call to leave Babylon in Rev 17-18 could be understood as an allusion to the call to return from exile and return to the Land in Isaiah 40-66.

In the final chapter, Martin makes a series of theological reflections on the Promised Land. The thrust of his chapter seems to be to distance this study from Dispensationalism. In fact, as I was reading the book, I thought at many points Martin was a dispensationalist, or at least speaking in ways which resonate with the more academic dispensational theology usually described as “progressive dispensationalism.”

Dispensationalists maintain a distinction between Israel and the Church even in the present age and argue the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional and not wholly fulfilled in either the Old Testament nor in the Church. They look forward to a real fulfillment of the “land promise” in a future, literal kingdom of God. Since Martin’s study argues the Land Promise is fulfilled typologically in the work of Christ, the Church becomes God’s new covenant people. Yet Martin does say “all God’s promises find their ultimate fulfillment in the person and work of Christ as the culmination of God’s revelation and redemptive plan” (170), so there is still a future new creation which will continue (conclude?) the typological pattern of Eden. To my mind, this is an arbitrary limit placed Martin’s principle of typology expressed early in the book. If each successive use of a typology escalates, then the final restoration after the Parousia ought to be the most complete fulfillment possible. Dispensationalists include a restoration of Israel as God’s people in this ultimate fulfillment of the promise, Martin does not.

Conclusion. Martin has certainly delivered on his promise to create a biblical theology of the Promised Land. This book argues for the Land as a typological link throughout the various covenants of the Old Testament, covenants that find their fulfillment in the person of Jesus. Martin has contributed to the discussion of the over-arching plot of the whole Bible by pointing to the restoration of Eden as a possible controlling typology.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Gary M. Burge, A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion

Burge, Gary M. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 189 pp. Pb; $16.  Link to IVP, includes a short book trailer featuring Burge.

Burge says the modern reader is like “a foreigner in their world and culture,” this book attempts to immerse us in the world of the first century.  In the same vein as Ben Witherington’s A Day in the Life of Corinth or Bruce Longenecker’s The Lost Letters of Pergamum, Burge has created a short story about a centurion named Appius and his scribe and slave Tullus. While stationed in Dura-Europos, Appius is injured in a battle with the Parthians and eventually is in a gladiator arena at Caesarea Maritima. Eventually Appius and Tertullus end up in the small village of Capernaum on the shores of Galilee where the meet Jesus of Nazareth.

BurgeI will not spoil the novel with any more plot summary. The value of this book for Bible students is found in the numerous side-bars with detailed cultural information on such diverse cultural issues such as honor and shame, familia, or cosmetics. Burge describes the various locations mentioned in the book in the sidebars as well. There are small black and white illustrations scattered through the book. These are all informative, but could have been enhanced by added a “for further study” to each topic with reference to a more detailed source. Assuming use in a classroom, students could be encouraged to pick a topic and research it in more detail.

A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion is a great way to get into the world of the New Testament and would be used in a New Testament introduction or a Gospels class, in the same way A Day in the Life of Corinth is appropriate for a book on the Pauline letters. I am occasionally asked for resources on the “background” of the New Testament, this short novel will serve the average Bible reader well by illustrating the Roman world and enriching one’s reading of the Gospels.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Randal E. Pelton, Preaching with Accuracy

PeltonPelton, Randal E. Preaching with Accuracy. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2015. 170 pp. Pb; $16.   Link to Kregel, read a 25 page excerpt from the book.

This short book of preaching is in many ways a combination of Haddon Robinson’s classic Biblical Preaching and Bryan Chappell’s Christ-Centered Preaching. Pelton recognizes his debt to both books in his introduction. He believes the preacher needs to develop the ability to identify the dominant idea of a preaching portion, but also to allow the language and concepts of the portion to shape the sermon.

The first chapter of the book is a defense of expository preaching. For many preachers, exposition of a text in a sermon is not popular with audiences. Expository sermons will not “grow a church.” It is unfortunately true many congregations lack the biblical background to appreciate an expositional sermon and fewer pastors are attempting to “preach through a book.” I have found that even when a pastor preaches a series on a biblical book, the sermons will still be topical and only vaguely related to the selected text. This book by Pelton will help pastors to pay attention to the main idea of a text a selected text and conform their presentations to the Word of God rather than using scripture as a pretext for the hot topic of the week.

Pelton’s model for preaching begins with selecting an appropriate text to preach. He calls this “cutting the text,” although he is simply demonstrated for the reader how to identify a proper unit of scripture for preaching. Topical preaching tends to err by using a single verse (sometimes out of context) or by jumping to as many verses as possible. Expositional preaching can be ruined by trying to reach too large of a section, forcing the pastor to rush the details or bore the listeners with story-retelling. By paying attention to the genre-based clues in the text itself a pastor ought to be able to limit their expository sermon to an ideal number of verses.

By “cutting the text” properly, the expositor will then be able to identify the “textual big idea” in the portion. Pelton’s fourth chapter demonstrates how to select the broad subject, to narrow the subject to the preaching portion and finally to develop the “big idea” which will govern the content of the sermon. He gives several examples and has a number of “workbook” like exercises to allow the reader to develop their own “big idea” and compare it to his own work.

Randal PeltonOnce a “big idea” for the sermon has been crafted, Pelton describes a method for grounding the “big idea” in the context of Scripture. Obviously the “hero” of every text is God and the main character of every text is Jesus, but creating a Christ-centered sermon will vary from genre to genre. Pelton therefore gives several examples, including a few from the Old Testament, to demonstrate how to ground the “big idea” in the immediate context of the portion of Scripture selected. This contextual approach allows a preacher to select only a short section for the expositional sermon. For example, a preacher can cover the whole of Gen 39, for example, while focusing on only a few verses which demonstrate the “big idea.”

In his final major chapter, Pelton describes what he calls “canonical preaching.” By this he more or less means preaching Christ in every text. This many take the form of what Christians ought to be or do, or how Christ is revealed in a particular text. He is careful to avoid the allegorical “fuller meaning” of medieval preaching which found Jesus in every word of the Old Testament. Pelton firmly believes every text ought to point to Jesus and apply to the Christian and a sermon should be a kind of “theological exegesis” pointing the way to the Cross. This is not unlike Bryan Chapell’s “grace-centered preaching” or Sidney Greidanus’s method for preaching Christ from the Old Testament. While Pelton makes some distinctions between his approach and these other two popular homiletical texts, all three are working similar methods with the goal of preaching every text in the larger context of the whole canon.

If I have any critique of Pelton’s approach, it is this canonical method. On page 118 he has a chart comparing his method to a target, with the textual big idea on the outside, the contextual in the second ring and the canonical interpretation in the center of the bull’s-eye. Until I saw this chart, I would have place the textual big idea in the center and the canonical interpretation on the outside. For me, the idea in the text I have selected is the driving force in my sermon and (perhaps to my shame) I often do not consciously attempt to draw the text to the larger canonical context. Pelton’s book is an encouragement to re-think what is important in a sermon and to center my presentation on the Cross.

NB: Randal Pelton blogs on Preaching at Pelton on Preaching. Thanks to Kregel Books for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 13 – Back Home Again

[The group has now returned home after a long day of travel from Tamar in the Negev to Tel Aviv to fly through Newark to Chicago and finally a bus ride to Grand Rapids, Michigan. I took a day to recover, and now I am teaching a summer session Jesus and the Gospels course, but I thought one final travel report was necessary.]

The highlight for most of the students on the drive from the desert was a stop near Beersheva for one more visit to Aroma Coffee, but we did stop at the Valley of Elah for a short walk in the general area of the well-known battle between David and Goliath (1 Sam 17). We talked about the story for a few minutes and most people took a stone or two from the dry river bed. I have often wondered where all those stones come from, since every American tourist seems to take a handful home with them.


We spent our last four hours in the Old City. Some of the students revisited the Holy Sepulcher, others walked back to the Western Wall, and a few went all the way to the Pool of Bethesda. I visited the Tower of David exhibition just inside the Jaffa Gate with Josh and Lisa Tweist. I have never gone through this site before and it was well worth the shekels. They have done a nice job making use of the limited space to present Jerusalem from the Hasmonean era through Herodian, Crusader and Ottoman periods. We were in a bit of a rush since the Museum closed at 3PM, but were able to seem most of the outside displays.

There are two maps of Jerusalem within the site, one small model of Jerusalem at the time of Herod is designed like the National Park models. It is rather small, but should give some basic orientation to the Old City. Near the exit is a larger model created in the later 1800s by Stephen Illés. This is a fascinating map since it is a model of the city as it was seen by Illés in 1864-1873, showing the height of Robinson’s Arch for example. For anyone who has been around the Old City for a while, this model is worth visit.

2015-05-09 13.54.23

Tower of David


After the Tower of David I visited the Christ’s Church bookstore and then camped in their coffee shop for an hour and a half for some quiet reading and espresso before getting to the airport for the late flight back to the states. Overall, this was one of the best student trips I have had the pleasure of leading. The students were always interested and excited about what we did each day and asked great questions.

Now that I am back, I plan on editing the previous dozen posts (writing on an iPad is always an adventure!) I will also add a few more pictures for days I was unable to transfer my photos, so check back in a few days for some updates.

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 12 – En Gedi and Qumran

This was our final full day touring the Dead Sea region. We started early at En Gedi, a nature park with a 1.8 mile hike back into a canyon to “David’s Waterfall.” This is the location called the Crags of the Wild Goats in 1 Samuel 24:2 and the general environment on the wadi give the story the ring of truth. It is very easy to imagine David and a few men hiding back in the bushes in a small cave when King Saul comes and takes some time to relax in the shade and “cover his feet.”

IMG_0677 EnGediSince we arrived earlier than the big tour buses from Jerusalem we were the only people at the  waterfall for most of the time we spent there. I thought there was far less water than in the last two or three visits, the pool was certainly much smaller. We saw a very conservative Jewish family hiking in full black coats a first for me at En-Gedi. Aside from being hot in the sun, I thought it was interesting the children were playing in the water in there long black coats!

One warning for anyone driving to En-Gedi: there is a serious road construction project in front of the En-Gedi with a detour and traffic jam caused by one-lane traffic. The public beach across from En-Gedi is closed as is the gas station and resturant. I had planned to picnic at the beach, but had to adjust and eat at Qumran.

Getting to En-Gedi early means a hot afternoon at Qumran. After the vertigo-inducing video we walked out the the archaeological site, working our way quickly to the shaded viewing area of the cave. This was a particularly good time of discussion of who the Essenes were and why the the Dead Sea Scrolls are important. It also gave me a chance to correct the goofy suggestion in the video that John the Baptist was once part of the Qumran community.

Funny story: when I was giving some explanation in the little museum after the video, a young Jewish couple from New York hanging around listening. I chatted with them a bit and they were visiting Qumran for the first time. The stayed with us for most of our talk and seemed really interested. Strangely this was the second time someone has joined us on the tour.

Everyone Takes this Picture

Everyone Takes this Picture

After some shopping at Qumran, we drove to a beach for a float on the Dead Sea. There was a large group of American Jewish high schoolers, but they left soon after we arrived. Most of the students chose to float in the warm water, several collect some salt to stink up their luggage on the trip home. We enjoyed some excellent kosher pizza before heading back to Tamar for the night. Most of us are very tired after ten solid days of hiking, yet as I write everyone is hanging out playing games and snacking.IMG_0722 Dead Sea

I hear some of the students are planning on hiking up a hill behind Tamar to watch the sunrise. It really is a spectacular view and I wish them well. We head to Jerusalem tomorrow for final shopping in the Old City and then to the airport for home.