Jerash and on to Petra

This morning we left Galilee early in order to cross the border to Jordan. Today was a classic example of best laid plans…we left on time (rare on this trip!) and got to the border crossing all in good time. But someone decided that today everyone must use the shuttle bus. After an hour of arguing (our guide and driver making calls), we had to wait behind three other tours caught in the same bureaucratic nonsense (“formal stupidity” was the phrase I heard). The upshot of all of this is that we were three hours late meeting our guide Osama in Jordan. That really upset our plans for the day, which were already difficult since we intended to visit Jerash, Mount Nebo and then drive to Petra.

The drive from the border crossing to Jerash is a winding road through the hills. For most of our students, this was their first experience in an Arab country and I have already had several conversations about the differences in the various cultures we have seen on this trip. Our driver took a few “short cuts” which brought us to the back side of the archaeological park to get an overview of a few things we cannot see on such a short visit.

Jerash is a large Roman city with several structures which illustrate what a huge imperial city looked like in the late first century and early second. First is the Hadrian Gate on the south side of the city. When Hadrian went on a grand tour of the Empire, many cities honored him with a new Gate or arch. Jerash built this new gate well south of the city, but it does not appear the city ever expanded south as planned. If you are wondering what the flags in the gate are, the site was filming one of those Amazing Race shows and that was one of the checkpoints.

Jerash Hadrian Gate

Second, just inside the gate is a large hippodrome. Only one section has been restored but the ends of the structure are clear. The guides will usually walk a group through the hippodrome; if you have been to virtually any other hippodrome (such as Caesarea) you can skip this.

Third, after passing through the actual south gate of the city there is a spectacular Oval Plaza leading to the Cardo (the central street in a Roman city). From the Oval Plaza you can see the Roman Temple of Zeus, which is built on top of the Hellenistic Temple. There is a small museum below this temple but I have only been able to enter it once; as usual it was closed on this visit.

Forth, a short walk up the hill from the Plaza is a very nicely restored Roman theater. All the acoustics are restored so people can speak from the central part of the stage and be heard throughout the theater. I enjoy watching the students speak a few words, the step on to the central stone and hear their voice projected all around them. Virtually every time I have visited this theater a Jordanian bagpipe player and drummer are there to show off the acoustics.

Jeresh

The Cardo

Fifth, we walked across the hill to the Temple of Artemis. This is an incomplete temple, like Sardis in Asia Minor. I have read speculation that the eastern Empire became increasingly Christian so work was stopped, but it is just as likely they ran out of money, perhaps because Rome withdrew from the region. Usually guides like to demonstrate how the pillars flex just a bit by putting a spoon in the lower crack and pushing the pillar (our guide did not even walk us up to the temple platform; I insisted on taking the students up myself). It really is impressive, but I wonder why it is always the same pillar: do the others not sway?

Jeresh temple of artemis

From the temple of Artemis we walked down the sacred ascent to the Cardo (the easiest route even though it would be more authentic to walk up the stairs to the Temple). I noticed a Latin inscription with the name Diana and a Greek inscription opposite it about three-quarters up the steps. They were unidentified and I am not at sure where they were originally located.

Sixth, walking down from the ascent to the Temple we joined the Cardo and worked our way back to to the Oval Plaza. This central colonnaded road is lined with shops and a few sacred spaces. I noticed there are far fewer inscriptions at Jerash than Ephesus or Perge (for example). I am not sure if there were many Greek inscriptions and they have been moved or lost, but compared to virtually every city we visited in Turkey, Jerash is inscription-less.

By now it was getting late in the day and traffic through Amman was terrible. It is always terrible. But three hours late on the border crossing meant we arrive just as the Mount Nebo site was closing, so we were only able to see the norther view of the Jordan Valley. Mount Nebo is the place where Moses died after viewing the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1-2). Several students asked about whether this is really the place, so I pointed out it is Mount Nebo and the best viewpoint to see the land in the area is there, and a pass through the mountains is at the foot of the mountain. So it is plausible this is Nebo, even if it is not at the exact place of the Church.

Mount Nebo

We did not arrive to our hotel in Wadi Musa until 10:00 PM. I am certain a few traffic laws were bent/broken on the way (it was a wild ride, especially since we were in a thirty passenger bus; we felt every bump along the way). Our driver cut at least a half hour off of our estimated time (and we kept the bathroom break to just that, no snack shopping!) We had a quick supper and tried to get a good night’s sleep to prep for a long day at Petra. We are in the Movenpick across from the Petra site, and the hotel is excellent. I cannot say enough about the service considering how late we arrive. .

Tomorrow we hike Petra, the highlight of a trip to Jordan!

Tremper Longman, Revelation through Old Testament Eyes

Longman, III, Tremper. Revelation through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2022. 351 pp. Pb. $29.99   Link to Kregel Academic  

This new volume in Kregel’s Through Old Testament Eyes is the first written by an Old Testament scholar. Longman is well-known in Old Testament circles for his excellent commentaries on wisdom literature. He wrote the NIVAC commentary on Daniel (Zondervan, 1999) and How to Read Daniel (IVP Academic, 2020). This new commentary on Revelation in Kregel’s “Through Old Testament Eyes” is a basic commentary on the English text, with a special emphasis on using the Old Testament to illuminate aspects a New Testament book.

Longman - Revelation Through Old Testament EyesIn the brief introduction to the Book of Revelation, he suggests the principal theme of the book is that, despite present trouble, God is in control, and he will have the final victory. He suggests that the wedding of political power and Christian faith does not lead to the strengthening of the church, but rather to its weakening. In fact, Revelation says “do not give up the faith or fall into lockstep with culture” (19).

Regarding authorship, date, and genre, Longman leans towards the traditional view that Revelation was written late in the first century, but he does not think there is enough evidence to decide which John wrote Revelation. But for Longman, authorship does not matter for interpreting the book. Unlike many commentaries on Revelation, the introduction has no interest in millennial positions or the usual discussion of preterist versus futurist interpretation. The driving concern throughout the commentary is “how is this text related to the Old Testament?” Or, “how does the Old Testament help understand this verse?”

Let me illustrate this with several examples. As might be expected, he suggests interpreters read Revelation in the light of the book of Daniel rather than Revelation into Daniel. Commenting on Revelation 11: 2-3, he asks if the 42 months are a literal time period. For Longman, Daniel 7-8 refers to a three-and-a-half-year period which was symbolic of the time when the sanctuary would be desecrated. Longman is, therefore, hesitant to take the time literally in Revelation. Rather than a three-and-a-half-year period, the message of Revelation 11 is that evil has a limit, the desecration of the temple will not last forever.

Some imagery in Revelation may allude to Greco-Roman culture rather than the Old Testament. Discussing God’s throne in Revelation 4, he draws attention to a series of Old Testament passages (1 Kings 22:14; Isa 6, Ezek 1:26). But following Ian Paul and David Aune, John models the throne room on the Roman Empire. In Revelation, only God who is deserving of worship, not the emperor or the empire.

The body of the commentary is based on the English text and rarely refers to the Greek text. Occasional references to secondary literature are cited in endnotes. The commentary is clear and concise. Longman avoids the parallelomania that often plagues Revelation commentaries. Rather than explain every detail of the text, Longman’s focus is squarely on Old Testament or ancient near eastern backgrounds. For example, commenting on the serpent in Revelation 12, he refers to the broader ancient Near Eastern background from Ugaritic literature. In the Baal myth, the sea represented the forces of chaos and evil which needed to be pacified for creation to happen. The Old Testament uses rivers and seas as symbols for chaos and evil, so it is no surprise the serpent spews water like a river.

There are several types of sidebars throughout the commentary. “What the Structure Mean?” appears at the beginning of a new unit, offering a summary and overview of the chapter. Many chapters include a “Through the Old Testament Eyes” sidebar. These focus on the Old Testament in more detail that the regular commentary. For example, commenting on Revelation 7:9, “every nation, tribe, people, and language,” Longman connects this to Abraham, to whom God promised “all people on earth would be blessed through him” (Gen 12:3). Longman points out the phrase “nation, tribe, people, and language” is not the same, but reminiscent of a phrase found in Genesis 10, the theological origins of various languages before the tower of Babel story in Genesis 11.

In the context of the seven bowls of God’s wrath in chapter 15, Longman suggests that the plagues on Egypt influenced these bowls of God’s wrath. He therefore surveys the plagues and compares them to Revelation 16. He concludes, “just as the Egyptian plagues overtook a recalcitrant leader, pharaoh, who represented a Kingdom that exploited God’s people, so the plagues described by Revelation come on those who resist God and persecute his people” (229). And like the Egyptian plagues, those who experience the wrath of God do not repent, but only further resist God.

Sidebars entitled “Going deeper” are an application based on the text. For example, commenting on wealth in Revelation 18, Longman suggests the seductive power of wealth is a common biblical theme. The Bible is not anti-money, but it is against the strong desire to accumulate wealth. Commenting on idolatry and adultery in Revelation 17, he connects the Whore of Babylon to the Old Testament, primarily Hosea, Ezekiel 16, 23, but also to Ephesians 5: 21-33 (the church as a pure, spotless bride). Commenting on the judgments in revelation 16, he makes a slight nod to Christian responsibility to care for the environment rather than a “let it all burn” attitude.

Because of the goals of this commentary series, there are several things missing one usually finds in Revelation commentaries. First, there is little interest in the Greco-Roman background for interpreting Revelation and nothing on the imperial cult in Asia Minor, either in his discussion of the seven churches or Revelation 13 and 17. Second, although theological comments appear throughout the book, this is not a theological commentary. Unlike John Thomas and Frank Macchia Two Horizons commentary (Eerdmans 2016), Longman does not include theological reflections on Revelation.

Conclusion. Longman achieves his goal in Revelation: Through Old Testament Eyes to shed light on Revelation based on the Old Testament. This commentary will serve pastors and teachers well as they study this difficult book of the New Testament.

 

Other volumes in this series:

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

 

 

Following Jesus around Galilee

Today out tour focused on sites in Galilee associated with Jesus and his ministry. We stopped at Migdal yesterday, so we began our day with a drive through Tiberius to Mount Arbel. This is not so much a biblical site, but a hike up to the top of Mount Arbel to view the Sea of Galilee. From the top of the cliffs we can see the west and north quarters of the sea, essentially where all of the Jesus sites are located. The carob tree at the top of the hill was struck by lightning a few years ago and is recovering nicely (I have done group photos from that spot for many years).  Although the morning was warm, there was a strong breeze on top of Arbel so the walk was pleasant.

Mount Arbel

We arrived at the Mount of Beatitudes about ten AM and despite being Sunday morning, there were not many pilgrims crowding the grounds. We found a mostly shaded spot to read from Matthew 5 and talk about the Beatitudes. (See this post, What are the Beatitudes?) The group was able to visit the octagonal chapel then had a few minutes to pray and read the Bible privately.

Beatitudes

We then drove a short distance to Capernaum, which I was afraid would be closed at noon. But to my surprise, they are now allowing visitors to stay in the grounds all day. Most Chrstian sites close form  noon to two PM. For most the highlight here is Peter’s house, although it is difficult to see much of the house due to the large church built over the top. There is also a beautiful synagogue, although it dates to the fifth or six century, long after the time of Jesus. For me, the highlight of a visit to Capernaum is walking out in the beach near the Sea and reading the Bible. In this case I read Mark 2 since the healing of the paralytic takes place at Peter’s house.We took some time in the shaded area near the synagogue to read Mark 2:1-12 and talk about the authenticity of the site (is this really Peter’s house? Maybe?)The only negative thing about this visit is an enormous group of 250 people led by Mike Huckabee took over the shaded area, some even seated themselves among our group. (FYI, our tour did more for much less money…)

After lunch (Aroma Coffee, avocado sandwich and a double espresso) we headed back to Nof Ginosar to to the Yigal Allon center where the Galilee boat is on display.There is a presentation describing how the boat was discovered and preserved and the actual boat is on display in a climate controlled room. I have visited this museum a few times and I have enjoyed the presentation. The shop is quite nice and has a nice selection of Christian and Jewish oriented souvenirs (including wine and olive oil).

My students were very tired out by this time and were looking forward to swimming in the Sea of Galilee or the pool (or a a short nap). We met our guide at 5:30 for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee before dinner. I have done the boat ride a long time ago and was never really impressed. But this was a little different, we were able to talk through the two big miracles on the sea of Galilee (See Matthew 14:22-33, Why does Jesus walk on the Water? and Why Does Peter Ask to Get Out of the Boat?) Several people shared some idea about why Jesus chose to reveal himself first in Galilee and many enjoyed some praise music.

Sea of Galilee

Tomorrow we enter Jordan and visit Jerash on our way to Petra.

 

Caesarea, Megiddo, and the Sea of Galilee

We left at 730AM for a drive north and west to Caesarea. Everyone was on time, but due to an extremely large group in the hotel and the complication of Sabbath elevators, a few were just a bit late. Since it was the Sabbath it was virtually no traffic on the road. We had a little stomach sickness today, hopefully that works itself out with a good night’s sleep.

Caesarea has always been one of my favorite places to visit on an Israel trip. The city is Herod the Great’s tribute to the Roman Empire. By building such a beautiful city Herod demonstrates he is the ideal Roman client king and makes the claim that Judea is not something backwards end of the Roman empire, it can hold its own against any other Greco-Roman city.We spent a little time talking in the theater about the death of Herod in Acts 12 and Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea later in the book of Acts. This was likely a house arrest, Paul was likely in a similar situation to his house arrest at the end of Acts.

This was my first visit to Caesarea since the new visitor’s center was finished. It has a small museum with a few artifacts, but the main feature is a film about Herod’s life and his need to impress Rome by building the city. It is a bit too influenced by Game of Thrones, but it fairly accurate and gives first time visitors an insight into why the city is so intentionally Roman.

Caesarea Palace

As for biblical significance, Caesarea is the city Peter visit when he preached to Cornelius in Acts 10. In Acts 12 Herod Agrippa was struck dead when he entered the theater looking like a God (a story confirmed by Josephus). Philip the Evangelist lived in Caesarea with his four daughters when Paul passed through the city on his return from Ephesus. Paul also spent two years under house arrest awaiting trial while Felix was the governor. Later, when Festus was governor, Paul made his famous appeal to Caesar in Caesarea.

From Caesarea we traveled through Mount Carmel to Megiddo. I visited Megiddo on my 2019 trip, and the visitor’s center has been significantly improved during the COVID shutdown.The short video has been updated with flashy edits, drone shots and interviews with Israel Finklestein. Overall, it tells the story f the site as well as the history of excavations in less that ten minutes. The old model of the site has been upgraded with some video overlays, but that was not particularly effective.

Why is Megiddo important for biblical Studies? According to 1 Kings 9:15 Solomon fortified Megiddo along with Hazor and Gezer. Jehu assassinated Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:27) and Josiah was killed in battle by the Egyptian army led by Necho II (2 Kings 23:29). Aside from the spectacular view of the Jezreel Valley, there is a 3000 BC Canaanite cult center and a major granary and other storage buildings. But the main thing to see at Megiddo is the water system, a passage carved through the rock to a hidden spring. (Megiddo is the inspiration for James Michner’s The Source).

Megiddo Tunnel

We continued across the Jezreel Valley to Nazareth, although we did not do much in this very crowded and busy city (which looks nothing like it did in Jesus’s day). We drove up to a view point some 1290 feet above sea level. Although it is highly unlikely, some Christians this this is the place where the people Nazareth tried to throw Jesus off a cliff in Luke 4:29. The precipice is  outside of town and clearly very high, but it is so far from the original Nazareth village of the first century to be an authentic location.

Valley of Jezreel

From Nazareth we made our way through Cana to the Sea of Galilee. Since we had time this afternoon, we visited Migdal. Like Megiddo, there has been a great deal of work in the three years since I visited. The hotel is now finished (and it is beautiful) and the grounds have been improved. This was the first time we went into the church, there are some interesting modern mosaics there and a stunning mural of the woman who touched Jesus’s tassels in a small chapel in the lower level. I appreciated the attention to detail: the entry to the church used the same mosaic motif as the synagogue found on the property and the lower chapel was designed to look like the building.

Although this village was the home of Mary Magdalene, the place is rarely mentioned in the Bible. However, a first-century Synagogue was recently excavated along with an unusual carved stone found near the center of the synagogue. Some scholars have suggested the stone was carved to look like the Second Temple, although this is not particularly conclusive. What is important is this is a first century synagogue not far from Capernaum. Although there is no evidence Jesus taught in this particular synagogue, the gospels portray him is teaching in many of the synagogues in Galilee. So it gave us an opportunity to discuss what teaching at the synagogue might have been like. There are a number of other excavated buildings adjacent to the synagogue including what appeared to be two or three mikvoth.

The group ended up walking all the way to the Sea of Galilee to put their feet in the lake and take pictures knee-deep in the water.We checked into the Nof Ginosar Hotel and had an excellent dinner. Since we are a student group we are saying in the Village rooms, which are small, comfortable bungalow style rooms with a camp-like atmosphere. The walls are thin, as I type this I can hear the man in the next room taking face-timing someone (fortunately I do not speak enough Hebrew to follow the conversation).

Tomorrow we will visit sites related to the life of Jesus, beginning with a hike up Mount Arbel to view the Sea of Galilee.

Israeli National Museum and Yad VaShem

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.”

Jerusalem Model

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.

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.

Crucified Man

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.

Manou ba Shouk

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.