This is the third day of our tour and I intentionally planned an easier day at two major museums, Yad VaShem and the Israeli National Museum.
There are three main things to see at the Israel National Museum for biblical studies (the focus of this trip). First is model of Jerusalem in the first century. This model used to be at the Holy Land Hotel but was moved to this museum a few years ago. Although someone might raise a minor objection to nearly every detail of the model, it is extremely helpful for visually seeing the whole city as it might have appeared in the first century. Several of my students considered this the highlight of the museum since they are “visual learners.”
The second highlight of the museum is the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are presented. There are a series of displays illustrating how the scrolls were found and some artifacts from Qumran, but the main room has examples of several types of scrolls found int eh caves at Qumran. These include Scripture (a few panels from the Great Isaiah scroll were on display), several apocryphal books (including the Genesis Apocryphon), and several of examples of the literature created by the Essenes (the Temple Scroll, the Habakkuk Pesher and the Thanksgiving Scroll). The Shrine of the Book also has a small display for the Aleppo Codex, the oldest Hebrew Bible in book form (just slightly older than the Leningrad Codex). If you visit the Shrine of the Book be sure to go down the stairs and see this display. There is a new (to me) display just outside the Shrine of the Book with pictures from the original excavation of Qumran (with several color pictures I had never seen before.
The third highlight is the archaeological wing of the museum. This section alone could take several hours to fully digest, we were only able to see some of the highlights. The Tel Dan inscription is on display and there are several inscriptions from the Second Temple. There is a fragment of the warning to Gentiles to stay out of the Jewish section of the temple courts, the so-called Trumpeting Stone which indicated where a priest sounded a trumpet from the Temple Mount, and the Theodotus Inscription.
Two other items should be mentioned because of their connection to the crucifixion of Jesus. Discovered in 1990, the Caiaphas Ossuary is an ornate bone box inscribed “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” The bones belong to a 60-year-old male, likely the Caiaphas mentioned in the New Testament. In the same corner of the display is an ankle bone from a crucified man. Normally the Romans would not want the nail to pass through bone since it is more difficult to remove and reuse the nail for another crucifixion. In this case, the ankle was entombed along with the nail and later placed in a bone box for secondary burial. Although no one would doubt the Romans crucified many people, this is the only archaeological evidence of a person who was crucified and then buried.
One of the most important things I include on my tours of Israel is a visit to Yad VaShem, the Holocaust Museum. Since many of my group are younger, they are often not well informed about the events leading up to the Holocaust or many of the detail. I try to point students into certain directions, especially to the display on the role of anti-Semitic Christianity in the rise of Nazism. This was terrible theology and not at all the teaching of the Bible, yet people justified pure evil by appealing selectively to a few verses badly interpreted. The museum is designed to physically represent the descent into the horrors of the Holocaust. The story is told through pictures and film documenting the beginnings of the anti-Jewish attacks in Germany and elsewhere. Many displays have video interviews with survivors which are (for me) challenging to watch without physically breaking down.
After our visit to Yad VaShem, we drove to Machane Yehuda Market for a late lunch. Since it was Friday afternoon, the market was extremely crowded. The Machane Yehuda Market is a huge shopping area with more than 250 vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables to fine restaurants, coffee shops and pubs. A group of us found tables at Manou ba Shouk and had a great meal of kosher Lebanese food. Sofia helped us out by bringing us a little of everything and we all left satisfied. Great place eat if you are in the area.
Since we had a little extra time in our day, our guide suggested we visit the Jerusalem New Souvenir Store. I had visited this store at least one before. They have a wide selection of carved olive wood items with a wide price range, from affordable to extremely expensive (think, “new car”). After Daniel blessed us with the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, our group indulged in the worship of the great American god of consumerism. I looked over some of their ancient coins, but though better of ruining my credit on several which caught my eye. (Not to worry, I bought two excellent books at the Israeli National Museum and two official Yad VaShem publications. We all have our own ways to honor consumerism).
It has been a great few days in Jerusalem, but tomorrow we head north to Caesarea, Megiddo, Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee where we will stay at the Ginosar Kibbutz Hotel.
Today was a long walking day, I think I wore out some people. We started early at the Mount of Olives, there were no big groups and we were able to get a prime spot for viewing the Kidron Valley and the Dome of the Rock. In fact, the morning was cool and the strong breeze made me wish for a jacket.
Like most Mount of Olives walks, we walked down to Dominus Flevit, a church about halfway down the Mount commemorating the location where, according to tradition, Jesus wept over Jerusalem before the Temple action (Luke 19:41-44). There were no other groups when we arrived so we has a nice spot to look over the valley and discuss the Triumphal Entry and Jewish Messianic expectations in the first century. If you have never visited this site, there is a cave with examples of first century ossuaries (bone boxes) just inside the entrance.
Continuing down the steep walk we visited the Church of all Nations, the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. This is another site which is usually crowded, but there was only one big group which was just finishing in one of the spots used for teaching. After a quick look at the olive trees many of the students went into the church to see the Agony Stone, the traditional place where Jesus wept on the night he was betrayed. We read Luke 22:39-46 (Jesus’s prayer) and 22:47-53 (the arrest). This gave us a chance to discuss the meaning of Jesus’s prayer asking God to “take this cup” from him.
Just a short walk from the Garden of Gethsemane is the Orthodox and Coptic Tomb of Mary (as opposed to the Roman Catholic church of the the Dormition and the site in the city of Ephesus which claims Mary moved there before she died (or ascended to Heaven). The reason to visit this crusader era church is to see how deep the Kidron valley was in earlier centuries, the tomb itself is 25 feet or more below the current level of the valley. There church was almost empty so we were able to enter the Tomb and explore the icons.
Fir the last several tours I have led the students on a a walk through the Kidron Valley. This involves crossing the busy street (probably the most dangerous thing we did on this tour) in order to follow a walking path down past the Tomb of Absalom and back up the other side of the valley to the City of David. The parks service has cleaned this area up considerably ]and there are free toilets (not the cleanest in Jerusalem but good enough). Like the tombs of Zechariah, this tomb had nothing to do with the biblical king, dating to no more than 150 B.C.
There is a promenade on the west side of the Kidron which makes for an easier walk (I did stop halfway to explain the view and catch my breath). The walk ends at the south east corner of the Temple Mount, near the Southern Temple archaeology park, offering a unique view of that end of the southern Wall. It is just a short walk from there to the City of David. Many of the viewing areas have been upgraded (in front of the Stepped Wall, for example).
What most people want to see at the City of David is Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This is the water system built by Hezekiah according to 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30. After a short walk down through tunnels to the Canaanite spring, there is a split in the Tunnel between the “wet” tunnel and the “dry” Canaanite tunnel. The wet tunnel has water flowing over the knees, and is completely dark. About half the group walked through the wet tunnel. I, however, took the the rest of the group through the dry tunnels.
The dry Canaanite tunnel exits near the Jebusite walls, and the park has re-configured the walk further down the hill to the pool of Siloam. We no longer exit the park and walk along the street (which is busy and potentially dangerous). There are now a series of wooden walkways within the park and partially through a private neighborhood. This is much more convenient and it appears the site is developing additional viewpoints along the way.
The pool of Siloam is mentioned in connection with Jesus healing a blind man (John 9:7). In the first century it may have functioned as a public mikveh for pilgrims arriving at Jerusalem from the south. Since the pool was discovered more than ten years ago, additional work has been done to expose steps which appear to lead all the way up to Robinson’s Arch. What is new this year for me is climbing up the Herodian steps part of the way up top the Temple Mound, then through the first century sewer the rest of the way. This is a sometimes narrow passage, often the walls are covered in green algae and the steps are slippery, and for much of the way I walked stopped over. I have been waiting for this passage to be opened for several years and was quite happy with the walk despite the rough conditions. The tunnel is not too small, occasionally about five feet high (but higher in places) and just wider than my shoulders. It was quite a thrill to get to the end of the tunnel and see the Herodian stones and climb the stairs to the first century streets on the southern end of the Western Wall.
The Davidson Museum is closed for renovations (still!) and we had reservations for the Temple Tunnel tour, so we were rushed at the steps leading up to the Temple Mount. This was unfortunate (and unavoidable), I like to give people some time to read scripture and walk up the steps. This is one of the places in the Old City where we can say with some confidence likely Jesus walked up and down these steps, as did the apostles when they went up to the Temple to worship in the book of Acts.
The highlight of the day for me was the New Temple Tunnel Tour. I have done this tour many times, but this was a brand new experience for me, the Great Bridge Route. We had an excellent local guide, one of the archaeologists working on the site. He was entertaining and informative, the video portions were very helpful and the site is laid out well with new stairs and railings. I was very impressed with several mikveh in the tour, which passes through Warren’s Masonic Temple. You may not realize it, but the Western Wall we normally see in photographs is only 11% of the western side of the Temple Mount. The highlight was the Western Wall itself; the same stones from the above ground Western Wall but untouched by 2000 years of weathering.
Tomorrow is a Museum Day, starting at Yad VaShem in the morning, then to the Israeli National Museum in the afternoon.
After a long travel day (Monday and Tuesday!) we arrived in Jerusalem to start the 2022 Grace Christian University Israel/Jordan trip. This is my then time leading a student trip, although this time I have more adults than students. This complicates things sometimes (more bathroom breaks and more questions about what is at the top of the stairs we are about to climb).
Since our hotel is a 10 minute walk from the Garden Tomb, we started our first day in Israel with a visit to this beautiful garden to read the story of the resurrection and reflect on Jesus’s death and burial. Our guide in the Garden Tomb (Edgar) was excellent, as is usual for Garden Tomb guides, especially since he had to negotiate space between three large groups all arriving at 9AM.
From the Garden Tomb we made a long walk up to the Jaffa Gate and made a brief stop in the Citadel. This site is good for showing the real depth of Jerusalem, from Hasmonean times (150BC) to Herodian (first century BC); there are Crusader era fortifications and Ottoman walls. This is all visible from one viewpoint! The top of the building offers an excellent view west to the new city of Jerusalem and to the east to see the Dome of the Rock, the Holy Sepulchre, and other major points of interest.
We made our way from the Citadel through the Armenian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter, with a quick stop the Cardo (a small bit of street from the early Byzantine period and at Broad Wall (likely built in 700BC by King Hezekiah). After a quick lunch, we walked down to the security checkpoints for a visit tot he Temple Mount.
I have not been on the Temple Mount in several years, and given recent events I thought we would skip this part of the tour. But there were no problems for us at all, in fact, it was a very quiet and peace time. Except, nearly every one of the women in the group were told to wear coverings (provided by the security guards in change of hemlines). It wasn’t too bad and the women took this in stride. While we were in from of the Al-Aqsa Mosque we were approached by a guy telling us to come around to the side of the building and peer in the windows and take a few pictures. Of course he was also asking for money for his trouble, but I was happy to pay for the chance to get a peek inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. There are number capitals and one pillar sitting on the east side, all unidentified. We were later than expected and the security started telling people to leave a little early, so we only had a quick look at the Dome of the Rock before we exited via the Cotton gate. We stopped at a little cafe and had mint tea or Turkish coffee.
After that well deserved rest, we picked up the Via Dolorosa at the third station and walked past many of the other stations to the Church of Holy Sepulcher. Our guide took in the “back way” (which sounded sneakier than it really was). We basically avoided the crowd by cutting through the Ethioptic church to enter the plaza in front of the church. Most of my group had no idea what Ethiopic Christians were, or Coptics for that matter. The Church of Holy Sepulcher is really a collection of churches and chapels on the traditional site of Golgotha and Jesus’s tomb. I took some of the students to Golgotha and had a good discussion of the value of traditions which support the site (some are very good, others are very weak). The line to enter the actual tomb of Jesus was very long so I took the students into the Syrian Chapel. There are usually very few people in the Syrian chapel, but there are two first century tombs in the back of the chapel which are good illustrations of the tomb people are waiting an hour or more to enter
All things considered, the Holy Sepulcher has a better claim on being the actual location of the crucifixion and location of Jesus’s tomb, but the Garden Tomb is a much better place to actually worship. After a very nice orientation by the Garden Tomb’s own guide we entered the tomb and then celebrated communion. Since we were the last group of the day, most of the students were able to spend a few minutes privately reading Scripture or praying in the quiet garden.
We ended the day by walking through the Muslim Quarter to the Damascus Gate and back to the hotel. Tomorrow we start at the Mount of Olives, should be a great day!
I am currently leading a “Missionary Journeys of Paul” tour in western Turkey. I have been planning this trip for a long time and I am very happy to be traveling with some good friends. I am using Tutku Tours, the same company that helped me with the May 2019 Israel trip. They did a great job helping me plan the itinerary and (so far) everything has gone according to plan.
To answer your first question: Yes, we are quite safe. We are traveling almost exclusively in southwest Turkey, very far from anything which might be considered troubling, And there is less risk of getting sick here than in the States, at least at the moment. Sadly the paranoia about the Corona Virus has reduced tourism greatly. We are the only group staying in this hotel and most of the usual tourist sites are not as crowded as expected.
Our day started with a drive through Istanbul traffic to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more popularly known as the Blue Mosque, is currently under renovation and many of the beautiful mosaic domes are unfortunately not visible. When I visited in 2018 the Mosque was totally closed, at least we could get inside this year. There is scaffolding blocking the view of the main dome, which is unfortunate. The mosque is know for its 20,000 hand-painted glazed ceramic tiles, which we were able to see in the main gallery.
The Hagia Sofia is just a short walk from the Blue Mosque. Built in A. D. 537 by the emperor Justinian, the church is known for its dome and many mosaics. There are a number of stunning mosaics in various parts of the church as well as four seraphim in each corner. After Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, the church was converted to a mosque. Fortunately the mosaics were plastered over rather than destroyed. After Atatürk converted the mosque into a museum in 1935, this plaster was carefully removed and many mosaics were restored. Other than a few large groups of school children, the usually crowded site was not very full at all.
After Hagia Sofia, we crossed the street and made a short visit to the Basilica Cisterns. The cistern is about 100,000 square feet at has capacity for about 21 million gallons of water, although most of the water is now drained for cleaning. Last time I was there the water was a few feet deep and there were large fish. Most of the columns in the cistern are recycled from other places, so there was a need for bases of varying sizes to support the columns. The most interesting of these are two blocks featuring medusa heads. I noticed one block which looked like it had been dressed for an inscription, but was never actually inscribed (a factory reject?) If none of this interests you, the Basilica Cisterns were featured in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love and the film, Inferno, based on the Dan Brown book.
We ate lunch at the famous Pudding Shoppe, always a good lunch with great service. If you do not know why it is famous, read this.
After lunch we made a short walk to the Istanbul Museum. Like everything else in Istanbul, large portions of the museum are being renovated. Unfortunately this meant we were not able to visit the floor with many important archaeological finds from Israel, including the Siloam Inscription and the Gezer Calendar. The whole section for Greco-Roman archaeology was also closed, I do not know how long this area will be closed, but if you are planning a trip to the museum you might want to check to see what is actually open at the time. The Museum book store had a number of very good books on archaeology sites in Turkey, I managed to restrain myself and selected only two published in Turkey (one on the Terrace Houses in Ephesus and another on Luwian history).
The Ancient Near Eastern museum was open and is well-worth a visit. There is a nice collection of Hittite, Assyrian and Babylonian items, including panels from the neo-Babylonian period Ishtar Gate and a collection of uniform documents. In the main museum, several new displays (to me) were open. Although they they were nice, they did not make up for my disappointment at missing the biblical archaeology. The section of Greco-Roman tombs is always interesting.
Tomorrow, we fly to Antalya and begin tracking the first missionary journey of Paul at Perge.
Beitzel, Barry J., ed. Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 763 pp.; Hb. $39.99 Link to Lexham Press
Barry Beitzel has a well-deserved reputation in scholarship for his contributions to biblical geography. He edited The New Moody Atlas of the Bible (Moody, 2009; reviewed here). He edited the first volume of this projected five volume series, Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Gospels (Lexham, 2017, see my review here). This new volume is a joy to read, and will be an excellent addition the library of any student of the New Testament.
This new volume contains fifty-three essays written by nineteen New Testament scholars. More than half of these articles cover the book of Acts and the remaining articles discuss locations were Paul or Peter did ministry and the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. See the end of this review for a list of chapter topics.
Each chapter begins with a list of Scripture covered in the section, so it is possible to read through at least the first half of the book alongside a reading of the book of Acts. This is not always possible since some locations appear in various parts of the book such as Jerusalem or Caesarea. For example, Paul Wright’s chapter on Caesarea Maritima (chapter 16) lists all of the occurrences of the location in the book of Acts. A text box at the head of the article offers three or four key points covered in the chapter. The text flows in parallel columns and the chapters are richly illustrated. All non-English words appear in transliteration; distances are given in miles and kilometers. Each section concludes with a bibliography citing key journal and other dictionary articles.
The articles in these volumes are highly detailed and well-documented. Several would make excellent academic journal articles. Eckhard Schnabel contributes several chapters. His two-volume Early Christian Mission (IVP Academic, 2004) and Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days (Eerdmans, 2018) are two of the most detailed academic works on the geography of the Gospels and Acts. David deSilva contributed articles on The Social and Geographical World of Psidian Antioch, Rome, Roman Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Sardis. Mark Wilson contributes several articles on locations in modern Turkey (the Geography of Galatia, Peter’s Communities in Asia Minor, the Geography of Patmos, and the Social and Geographical World of Thyatira and Philadelphia).
The chapters are illustrated with photographs, diagrams and charts. Some photographs are licensed through WikiCommons, some are from Beitzel himself, and David deSilva contributed many. A few of these are familiar diagrams found in other Logos resources or Logos map sets. I noticed some of the city maps of the seven churches in Revelation were designed by Tutku Tours. The book is printed on an uncoated paper which does not glare and is easier to make notes on compared to a book like the Zondervan Bible Backgrounds commentary.
Some chapters cover material that strictly speaking is not a part of the book of Acts or the Epistles. For example, Ekhard Schnabel has a brief article on Paul in Spain and Crete based on the very thin evidence that Paul actually did ministry in these locations. J. Carl Laney contributed an article on Paul’s travel after the book of Acts based on the Pastoral Epistles and several church traditions. Each location where Paul did ministry has a chapter, including Colossae even though he did not establish that church.
A few other highlights: Barry Beitzel has a lengthy and detailed article on the meaning of “Arabia” in classical literature in order to answer the question of what Paul meant in Galatians 1:17 when he spent time in Arabia. Benjamin Foreman has an article on the Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria, Egypt, a location only mentioned in the book of Acts as the home of Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). He discusses the Jewish presence in Alexandria and some of the traditions associated with how Christianity came to this important city in the Roman world. A. H. Cadwallader contributes an article on Onesimus and the world of Philemon, which is more less on slavery in the Roman world. Schnabel has an article on Paul’s travel in Macedonia and Achaia, including the distance traveled by foot between different locations and suggested time to travel. This article also includes a footnote in which Schnabel disagrees with one of his earlier conclusions.
Perhaps the most unusual article concerns Philippi, Michael Thate’s “Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.” The article is not particularly about the geographical location of the city of Philippi, but about how bodies were understood in the Greco-Roman world, specifically in the Macedonian city of Philippi. As he puts it, this is a theo-graphical article rather than a geographical article. Unfortunately, this is the only article in the book devoted to Philippi. I would have liked an additional article on the social and geographical word of Rome Philippi as similar to other locations of Paul’s ministry.
The final seven chapters concern geographical locations in the book of Revelation, six of the seven churches plus an article on the geography of the island of Patmos. (Ephesus was covered in the order of the Pauline letters.) Each of these chapters gives the pre-history of the cities, as well as something of the religious and social situation at the time John wrote the book of Revelation.
The book includes with seventeen-pages of color charts and additional maps, a detailed list of the contributors, a subject index, a Scripture index and a list of image credits.
As typical in a Logos resource, clicking a Scripture references will open your preferred Bible to the text, or you can float over the reference to peek at the text. This works also for ancient sources if you have unlocked them for your library. For example, I can click on a cited reference to Pliny’s Natural History and open the version I have unlocked in the Logos library. This is true for any resource, Josephus, Philo, Strabo’s Geography, etc. At the end of a chapter the Logos version as a “see also” section which does not appear in the print format of the book. This section includes links to the Logos Atlas tool, Logos FactBook places and events, other articles in the Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation and any videos in the Media Library related to the section. The bibliography sections open additional Logos resources if unlocked. The Logos version of the book is obviously more interactive than a printed book and can be updated and corrected as necessary.
One disappointment in the Logos version of the book is the lack of page numbers. Usually a Logos book is tagged with real page numbers so I can cite the resource properly. The only index available is Scripture. The original Geographical Commentary on the Gospels has a page number index, perhaps Logos will update this book in the future.
All things being equal, I much prefer a real physical book. And this is an excellent looking book. But there are some definite advantages to using this book as part of Logos Bible Software.
Conclusion. The Lexham Geographic Commentary on the gospels is a joy to read. The articles are stimulating and well-illustrated. This book will make an excellent addition to the library of any student of the Bible. A hardback book with 763 pages illustrated with color photographs, maps and charts is worth more than the $39.95 list price. The Lexham website inaccurately lists the publication date as 2017. The Geographic Commentary will continue in 2020 with volumes on the Pentateuch, Historical Books and Poetry and Prophecy are due in 2020.
NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Contents of Lexham Geographical Commentary on the Acts through Revelation
Typological Geography and the Progress of the Gospel in Acts
The Topography of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts
The Threefold Expansion of the Early Church: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria
Jesus’ Missionary Commission and the Ends of the Earth
A Sabbath-Day’s Journey from the Mount of Olives
The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2
Early Church Demographics
Geography of the Nations in Jerusalem for Pentecost
The Jerusalem Temple in the Book of Acts
The Geography of Worship: From Temple to Synagogue to Church
The Persecution of the Earliest Christians in Geographical Perspective
The Theodotus Synagogue Inscription and Its Relationship to the Book of Acts
Samaria: Too Wicked to Redeem?
The Roman Road System around the Mediterranean
The Desert Road between Jerusalem and Gaza
The Geography of Caesarea Maritima
The Road from Jerusalem to Damascus
Paul’s Missionary Work in Syria, Nabatea, Judea, and Cilicia
Peter’s Ministry in Caesarea Maritima
Peter and the Centurion Cornelius: Roman Soldiers in the New Testament
The Geographic Importance of Antioch on the Orontes
Famines in the Land
The Death of Herod Agrippa I in Caesarea Maritima
Paul’s Missionary Work in Cyprus, Galatia, and Pamphylia
Barnabas, John Mark, and Their Ministry on Cyprus
The Social and Geographical World of Pisidian Antioch
Paul’s Missionary Work in Macedonia and Achaia
Paul at the Areopagus in Athens
What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Context
The Social and Geographical Significance of Alexandria
Paul’s Missionary Work in the Provinces of Asia and Illyricum
Paul as a Prisoner in Judea and Rome
Paul’s Journey to Rome
The Social and Geographical World of Rome
Paul in Spain and Crete
Paul’s Travels After Acts
The Social and Geographical World of Roman Corinth
The Geography of Galatia
Paul’s Early Ministry in Syria and Cilicia: The Silent Years
The Meaning of “Arabia” in Classical Literature and the New Testament
The Social and Geographical World of Ephesus
Paulus Geographicus? The Spatial (Somatic) World of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
The Social and Geographical World of Colossae
The Social and Geographical World of Thessalonica
Onesimus and the Social and Geographical World of Philemon