This is Hezekiah’s Tunnel and The Pool of Siloam

In what is considered to be one of the engineering marvels of the world, beneath Jerusalem lays the connecting tunnel from the Spring of Gihon to the Pool of Siloam.  The events that pushed a king in Judah to do the unimaginable in order to secure his people are recorded by both the king and his encroaching enemy from Assyria.  To accomplish the task will require none other than the literal guiding hand of God. 

King Hezekiah is one of the few kings in the history of Israel (Judah, in this case of the divided kingdom) that is recorded as “doing right in the sight of the Lord.”  The irony of this is that he was born of King Ahaz, who was an abundantly wicked man (2 Kings 16, 17).  Not only did he (Ahaz) desecrate the temple, have his own altar built (and placed before the actual altar of the Lord in the temple), encouraged idol worship and depended on the nations to defend him, but he also offered human sacrifice of his own children to idols.  It is incredible how the heart of a son can be so different than the heart of his father. 

Because of Ahaz’ wickedness (and north Israel’s king Hoshea), enemies plundered the land of Israel.  Despite God’s warnings through His prophets (i.e. Hosea, Isaiah, Micah and Obed), Scripture states that they “stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God.”  By this time, Ahaz has already cut a deal with Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser and bribed him with Temple treasury to defend him against his enemies. 

An important side note here is that Pekah, King of north Israel, is one the enemies attacking Ahaz (Jerusalem, in particular).  This means that the nation of Israel as a whole is fully engaged in civil war. 

Also of note is, during this period, the Assyrians had a well-known reputation as being the most brutal nation in warfare.  The mere notion of any contact, let alone chance of loss, would cause kings and their nations to tremble, because Assyria used the nobles to make an example.  They would decapitate the political and religious figures in the cities conquered and stack their heads in pyramid form in the center of the town square.  No one was allowed to dispose or bury the remains.  This was to remind all who would see what would happen to them as well, if they contested.

Hezekiah is 25 years old when he takes the throne of Judah.  He purges Israel of every idol he can find.  In one case, it was something of antiquity that was never intended to be idolatrous.  In fact, the object was quite the reverse when fashioned (cf. Numbers 21).  The bronze serpent that Moses made for the rebellious nation of delivered Israelites to gaze upon had been kept for nearly 800 years.  Hezekiah destroyed it because of their idolatrous worship.  However, Judah was apparently burning incense to it in worship.  Cleansing the nation, Hezekiah is described in Scripture as one who “trusted in the Lord” and who “clung to the Lord.”  There was none like him, neither before, nor after (2 Kings 18:5). 

Assyria had burned through north Israel, but their appetite was not yet satisfied.  A new Assyrian king had arisen by the name of Sennacherib and he had his sights on Jerusalem.  It would be there that he could take complete control of the land and within the Temple, would be treasures unspoken.  Sennacherib is in the process of taking all the fortified cities of Judah as he makes his way towards Jerusalem.  But Hezekiah was not one who would be considered a valiant king of war.  Nevertheless, he knew he had to take some sense of defensive action to secure the city from such a ruthless foe.  More shields and weapons were added.  Plans were assembled and fortifications were reinforced (2 Chronicles 32:5).  But something additional and substantial would be needed. 

No matter how fortified a city’s walls might be against the battering rams of an invader, there are two things that can work together to bring a city to its knees over time – food and water.  Of these two resources, water is the most valuable and it was typically brought in from the outside of the city walls (*see note on Warren’s Shaft at the end of this article).  All Sennacherib would have to do is wait them out on thirst and starvation.  Hezekiah knew this.  So he made a plan and rapidly went to work.  Time would be of the essence, because this project will literally require chiseling through solid rock.  Secondly, with a spring of fresh water outside the city walls, the enemy would have a constant supply of water for its troops (2 Chronicles 32:2-4).  To cut off the spring outside and divert it to the inside was a twofold plan.

The primary source of water for the city of Jerusalem is the Spring of Gihon (or “En-gihon” meaning “gushing” – see map).  This is the same Gihon where Zadok anointed Solomon as king of Israel (1 Kings 1:38ff).  Somehow, water would have to be routed from the spring into the city without giving an external enemy the opportunity to dam or redirect the stream.  The only option would be to channel it underground.  In 701 BC, Hezekiah employed his workers, who would cut through 1,748 ft of solid rock to connect the spring to the Pool of Siloam in the city walls.  Workers started on opposite ends of the project and met in the middle upon completion.  The tunnel has a number of curves in it that are presently unverifiable in intent.  Many believe they were directional mistakes while others think it had to do with the stone density (otherwise known as “karst,” which is a natural fault line of sorts).  Speculation regarding the engineering also suggests a possible method of sounding from the rock above to the chiselers below for direction. 

An inscription was posted in the tunnel commemorating the event of the two teams meeting in their dig.  The partial rendering reads, “The tunneling was completed… While the hewers wielded the ax, each man toward his fellow… there was heard a man’s voice calling to his fellow… the hewers hacked each toward the other, ax against ax, and the water flowed from the spring to the pool, a distance of 1,200 cubits.”  The inscription was discovered in 1880 and removed in 1890.  It is presently stored at the Imperial Museum in Istanbul.

The tunnel height starts at 5 ft high at the entrance and deepens to 16 ft at the end.  However, the Ophel, which is the highest point in Jerusalem, is 130 ft above the tunnel.  For 2,700 years, water has poured through the channel in the rock.  The gradient is 12 inches from spring to pool, causing the water to continuously flow.  Pick marks of the chiselers remain in the tunnel rocks today. 

The traditional Pool of Siloam site has recently (in terms of archaeology) been contested.  In 2004, a sewer system was being installed in the city when the excavator hit precut stones.  Archaeologists continued the dig and discovered what many believe to be the actual Pool of Siloam of Hezekiah’s time.  This location clearly predates the previous site, which dates closer to the Byzantine period.  However, the Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) group believes this “new” discovery to be a second pool (as the Byzantine is considered third).  It is estimated that an older pool is directly located under the newest discovery.  A notable point is that over half of the most recent site remains covered in rock and stone.  This is because the remaining surface area is owned by an individual that refuses to allow any further digging.  BAR experts believe this new discovery to be the actual place where Jesus healed the blind man (Luke 9:7ff).

As for the result of the confrontation between Sennacherib and Hezekiah, there are two main sources for reference.  Scripture states that Sennacherib surrounded Jerusalem and taunted them to abandon Hezekiah and surrender.  Meanwhile in the city, Hezekiah led the people in prayer to the Lord for deliverance.  That night, an angel of the Lord went out into the Assyrian army and killed 185,000 of the soldiers.  The next morning, Scripture states that they literally “woke up dead.”  Subsequently, Sennacherib leaves and goes to his capitol home of Nineveh, located in Assyria.  Eventually, while Sennacherib is worshipping the Nisroch in its temple, two men kill him that are identified as his children. 

However, upon returning home, Sennacherib records a different slant on what has been called the “Taylor Prism,” which now resides in the British Museum.  For centuries, marauding kings would return to their homes and spectacularly document their victories, even in some occasions when they were technically defeated.   The Taylor Prism is one such example.  Sennacherib stated that he had Hezekiah “shut up like a caged bird.”  While this is technically true, it does not fully represent the net result of his resounding defeat at Jerusalem and of course, his subsequent death at the hands of his own children. 

In recent years, revisionist historians have attempted to alter the renderings and have deemed the Scriptures to be incorrect.  However, the basis on which they mount their positions is largely assumptive and subjective. 

 *Warren’s Shaft – A 45 ft tunnel with steps down to a water access point that comes from the Spring of Gihon.  The dates of when the shaft was dug are in dispute.  However, many biblical scholars believe that this is where David gained access to Jerusalem with his mighty men when he took the city.  The shaft ties into the front end of Hezekiah’s tunnel.  Some have questioned the account of the construction and purpose of the tunnel if the shaft already existed within the city walls.  However, the proximity of the shaft to the edge of the city walls did not necessarily offer the security of water supply in the event of the initial wall being breached. Two towers (1800 BC) were built at the entrance by the Canaanites to protect the water supply.  As well as the base of the shaft and tunnels connecting, ruins of the towers have been preserved and are open to view.

Biblical References

  • Numbers 21
  • 1 Kings 1:38ff
  • 2 Kings 16-17; 18-20
  • 2 Chronicles 32
  • Luke 9:7ff

This is The Mount of Olives

On Day 10 our journey will take us to the Mount of Olives (“Olivet”), which is a portion of the Central Mountain Range.  It consists of a small ridge of three summits that stretch approximately 2 miles long.  This highest peak is just shy of 3,000 ft above sea level.  The mountain is directly east of Jerusalem and adjacent to the Temple Mount.  It has obviously been known throughout the centuries for its olive trees, which are hardy to the heavy limestone laden surface.  Due to the popularity of the burial sites that are close to the Temple compound, the mountain has largely been deforested.  Most Zionistic millennial dispensations believe that Jesus will actually return to the Jerusalem Temple and reign for a thousand years.  Thus, being buried adjacent to the Temple gives them an assumed advantage of “being there” when He returns.  Many church buildings memorialize locations in the region, though the actual histories of events at the geographical points are held in question by many scholars. 

The Mount of Olives is mentioned a number of times throughout the Scriptures in varying circumstances.  David fled Jerusalem from his son, Absalom, who was leading a charge to overthrow him.  Zechariah prophetically spoke of the mountain as where Yahweh would stand and cause enemies to run while His holy ones come forth.  Debatable references also include the names, “The Mount of Offense,” “Mount of Corruption,” “Mount of Sandal,” and “Mount of Evil Counsel.”  These names were used in terms of the idolatrous places of worship, including those that King Solomon built for his foreign wives.  Another possible passage in Ezekiel speaks of where the Holy Spirit came to rest after departing from the Temple.  Jewish tradition held that the Spirit tarried there for three and one-half years awaiting Israel’s repentance.  Direct references to the mountain during the time of Christ are also present and several indirect references exist as well.  Aside from the passion week, the home of Mary and Martha and the events surrounding their home occurred somewhere in proximity to Bethany, which is on the east side of the Mount of Olives.  It is also probable that the raising of Lazarus, the cursing of the fig tree, the teaching of moving a mountain by faith, when Christ sent His disciples to go into Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (probably on the west side of Olivet) and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus were all somewhere in proximity to the Mount of Olives.

According to the Talmud, the Jews practiced the burning of the red heifer (Numbers 19:1-10) at the Mount of Olives, opposite of the Temple East Gate.  Another interesting tradition practiced the announcement of the new moon to the brethren in Babylonia via a series of fire signals.  The Mishnah records that the chain (of signals) would be started at the Mount of Olives.  Jewish tradition also held that the dove sent from the ark by Noah, returned with an olive branch from the same mountain.  More on the side of superstition, Jews held that brethren who died on distant shores would be brought back through a series of underground caverns and be resurrected at the Mount of Olives.

When approaching Jerusalem from Galilee, most Jews would travel east and turn south, thus entering the city from the Mount of Olives.  This detour was solely to avoid touching Samaritan soil. 

Many shrines have been built on the Mount of Olives over the centuries.  While most of them declare specific events occurring at the locations, they are hardly verifiable.  Muslims have also placed value on the area and teach that the final judgment will occur in the Kidron Valley, between the Mount of Olives and their Jerusalem shrine, The Dome of The Rock.

Biblical References

  • 2 Samuel 15:30, 32
  • 1 Kings 11:7-8
  • 2 Kings 23:13
  • Ezekiel 11:23
  • Zechariah 14:4-5
  • Matthew 21:1; 24:3; 26:30
  • Mark 11:1; 13:3; 14:26
  • Luke 19:29, 37; 21:37; 22:39
  • John 8:1
  • Acts 1:12

This is Jerusalem Part 2

Today, many of the most popular sites are contested by Muslims as focal points to Islam.  The Western Wall (Wailing Wall; Hebrew – Kotel) is known to the Muslims as the Buraq Wall.  They believe it to be where Muhammad tied his steed, al-Buraq, to the wall when he was traveling through Jerusalem on his way to ascending to “paradise.”  For Christians and archaeologists, it is the expansion of the Second Temple that Herod the Great built that is known as, “The Temple Mount.”  It is considered to be the holiest place for Jews to pray who cannot get past the restrictive point to enter the Temple Mount itself.  The “Little Western Wall” is considered to be even closer to the Holy of Holies, which by definition to the Jew, is the closest to God one can be.  It is important to note that the term “Wailing Wall” is not typically used by the Jews and is considered derogatory.  It was originally applied in description of the Jews who went there and wept over the destruction of the temples that existed prior. 

With the increase of the Zionist movement in the 20thc (which are inclined to a restoration of a Jewish kingdom reigning from Jerusalem), tensions increased between Jews and Muslims.  In fear that the Jews were gaining a stronger foothold, a riot broke out at the Wall in 1929 where 133 Jews were killed and 339 were injured.  The subsequent Arab-Israeli War of 1948 left the eastern side of Jerusalem in Jordanian control.  The Jordanians banned all Jews from the Old City, which included the Wall, for 19 years.  After the Six-Day War on June 10, 1967, Israel finally regained control over the area and Jews were allowed to reenter.

The Rabbinical Tunnels are a series of underground paths that have been built along the Western wall as the Temple has been constructed, destroyed, and rebuilt over the centuries.  The tunnels provided underground access to a variety of locations, as well as having cisterns for water used in temple service, including ritual cleansing.  Aside from the history of their use, they also give access to archaeological views of the different Temple periods, such as the Solomonic (971 BC), Second Temple / Zerubbabel (began 536 BC), and Herodian (began 19 BC).  Through each of these periods, the Temple went through partial and complete phases of pillaging and destruction.  Rebuilding would take part on top of the remaining structure and foundations.  Therefore, as the tunnels descend, they pass by and through former walls and streets, just as layers in a cake.  Due to the continuing tensions between Christian/Jews and Muslims over the holy site, any continuing excavation is frowned upon.  However, the exposed tunnels offer a brilliant view of not just the pathways of rabbis from long ago and where they conducted their business in and about the Temple, but also hundreds of years of antiquity and magnificent architecture. 

Upon exiting the tunnels, we will be able to view the traditional “stone which the builders rejected.”  The history starts with one of Herod’s vast architectural projects called, “Antonia’s Fortress, ” which was located on the edge of Mount Moriah, adjacent to the Temple.  From this mountain, Herod had stone quarried to build the Temple Mount (including its colonnade and platform) and Antonia’s Fortress.  It was from this fortress that Pontius Pilate oversaw the Roman troops that were headquartered there.  Located near the northern end of the Temple, the fortress had four main towers on each corner.  The southwest corner tower is where Jesus was brought to stand before Pilate.  This tower overlooks the Temple courtyard.  Therefore, the people standing in the courtyard looked up at Pilate, Jesus and Barabbas and shouted, “Crucify Him!”  A sidewalk exists along the base of the Western Wall that ends directly under the southwestern corner of the tower at the fortress.  This is where a massive rock has been left for centuries, still bearing the scars of chisels.  It was one of the quarried stones from Mount Moriah that was to be used in Herod’s building project.  However, the builders rejected this huge stone and left it in the spot it still resides in. 

Jesus and His disciples were leaving from Jericho and bound for Jerusalem (Luke 19:1ff).  They came around through Bethany and Bethpage, approaching the Mount of Olives, when He sends them to retrieve a colt.  As He enters the city riding the colt, the throngs of people shout praises to His name by quoting from the 118th Psalm; “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”  This is what is commonly referred to as, “The Triumphal Entry.”  Upon entering the city, Jesus casts out the merchants from the Temple while declaring the words of Jeremiah (which ended with Jeremiah being cast into a pit – [Luke 19:46]).  In the days following, Jesus continues to teach the people in and around the Temple complex.  He is eventually confronted by the chief priests and scribes, to which Christ responds with a parable about a vineyard owner.  When He ends the parable, He quotes the very Psalm the people were singing when He made His triumphal entry into the city.  However, the line He quotes is, “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone.”  Since Christ continually used visuals around Him to illustrate with, it is probable that He was standing within eyeshot of the same stone which remains at the foot of the southwest corner tower at Antonia’s Fortress, where He would later be standing with Pilate, above before the crowds in the courtyard of the Temple.  Ironically, it was the Pharisees who commanded Jesus to rebuke His disciples in Luke 19:39 for praising Him as King.  Jesus responded to the Pharisees with, “I tell you, even if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”  Perhaps it is this stone that still stands, crying out its witness to all who see.

Biblical References

  •  Psalm 118:22, 26
  • Luke 19:38; 20:17

This is The Dead Sea

With the highest measured salinity in the world for a body of water (25-30%), the Dead Sea has earned its name for good reason.  No aquatic biological life form can technically survive in a salinity of this value.  The Sea has been referred to by various names in ancient times, including the “Salt Sea,”  “Sea of Arabah,” “Sea of the Plain,” “Eastern Sea,” “East Sea,” and “The Former Sea.”  Josephus called it “Lake Asphaltitis and the Arabic name for it is, Bahr Lût, meaning, “Sea of Lot.”
The general theories about the cause of the salt content usually divide into 2 groups: 1) the salt mountain Jebel Usdum (now called, “Har Sedom”) leaching into the Sea; and 2) the biblical phenomenon of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).  Both sides roundly reject the other’s assertions.  However, this does not necessarily have to be an either/or situation.  A massive geological fissure exists from south of the Jordan River Valley to the Zambezi River in eastern Africa.  Therefore, God may have used a large earthquake (which the area is prone to) and erupted subterranean heat, sulfur, and noxious gases (i.e. hydrogen Sulfide) and blown salt all over the region.  
The current surface of the Dead Sea is 1294 ft below sea level.  It is about 50 miles long and 10 miles wide.  The Sea is divided into 2 uneven sections by a point of land referred to as “el-Lisan” (“the tongue”).  It receives water primarily from the Jordan River along with other minor tributaries.  Winter and spring rains also drain into the Sea through several wadis located there.  While salt is still mined from the Sea, the most lucrative extraction is that of potash.  
To the southwest corner lies the fortress of Masada.  A little further north is En-gedi and on the northwest corner are the infamous Qumran caves, which yielded the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Because of the rough terrain on the western side, in conjunction with the sudden and violent storms that emerge on the Sea, it became a fantastic eastern boundary in defense of Judea against her enemies.  The traditional sites for Sodom and Gomorrah are located on western side of the Sea (a 700 ft tall halite formation called “Mount Sodom”).  However, there is no extensive evidence to support their exact locations.  
The Dead Sea has made the news in last few years pertaining to an oil field discovery.  The Hatrurim Reservoir is estimated to hold 7-11 million barrels of oil.  In the last few months, reports of aquatic wildlife (both fish and plant) in the Sea have excited the prophetic community.  It is reported that fish and plants have been spotted in the Sea which is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy given in Ezekiel 47:8, 9.  However, some say that there is nothing unusual about the sightings, because they are technically not in the Dead Sea proper.  Rather, they are peripheral areas of water pools that appear from the discharge of underwater springs.  Thus, the report should be taken with a ‘grain of salt’.  

Biblical References

  • Genesis 14:3
  • Numbers 34:3, 12
  • Deuteronomy 3:17, 4:49
  • Joshua 3:16; 12:3; 15:2, 5; 18:19
  • Ezekiel 47:18
  • Joel 2:20
  • Zechariah 14:8

This is Masada

The last stand of the Jews during the First War took place at 1300 ft elevation next to the Dead Sea in a fortress that was mostly surrounded with shear cliffs.  It offered a location where the only boundary was in supplies stored in precedence to a siege.  But there is a considerable history of the site leading up to this point.  

The earliest archaeological evidence of occupation at Masada was in the 4th millennium.  The next findings are dated to the First Temple (Solomon) in 10th – 7thc BC, yet there are no indications of architecture until the Hasmonean (Jewish) period.  Historically, it was Herod the Great that recognized the potential of fortifying the location for the protection of his family.  However, Helix (second in command to Cassius, a Roman senator who plotted the death of Julius Caesar) took Masada in 42 BC when Herod had gone to Syria.  Upon his return, Herod recaptured it and placed his family there when he traveled to Rome to accept a formal declaration of his reign as king.  He had been challenged by Antigonus for the region of Judea and Masada held him off until Herod returned.  They had almost yielded because they had run out of water, but a sudden rain refilled their cisterns and saved them from being overtaken.  Herod forced Antigonus to resign from his battle and subsequently, released his family from the fortress.  
Being the accomplished architect that he was, Herod began the improvements on Masada in 2 stages.  Clearly identifying what had nearly happened to his family, he carved out an additional 4 enormous cisterns to the existing 8 that were already there.  While the cisterns were not directly on the mountaintop, they were connected by a series of paths called “the snake pass (named by Josephus).”  This was one of only 2 accessible ways to ascend Masada.  The path is a cruel twist of steep ascents that can take a strong person 50 minutes to climb.  The other path is a siege ramp that was built by the Romans during the First Jewish War.  Josephus mentions a prior path existing there that provided easier access.  However, this was covered over by the siege ramp.  While both paths were used to transport water to the upper cisterns, the one on the NW corner was adeptly named the “water gate.”

In typical Herodian flamboyance, he built the Northern Palace, which had a large bathhouse, storehouses, and 3 natural terraces that were built in 90 ft stages along the northern face of the mountain (see picture).  The lowest terrace had a reception hall with a circle of colonnades.  An additional  bathhouse was located there with frescoes.  The large bathhouse included palaestra (peri-styled courtyard), with a receiving room, a tepid room, a cold room (frigidarium) equipped with a ritual immersion pool, a hot room (caldarium) and a heating system.  

In the second stage, Herod built several other rooms and a grand Western Palace with service wings, guardhouses, storerooms and other luxury items.  He then further fortified Masada with a 4,600 ft casemate wall that was almost 21.5 ft thick.  The wall encased 70 rooms and had more than 30 towers.  A synagogue was placed on the western wall facing towards Jerusalem.

The most formidable fortification of Masada was its natural location.  Josephus described it as “A rock of no slight circumference and lofty from end to end is abruptly terminated on every side by deep ravines, the precipices rising sheer from an invisible base and being inaccessible to the foot of any living creature, save in two places where the rocks permits no easy ascent.”  It is adjacent to the el-Lisan (cf. “This is The Dead Sea”) and 10 miles south of En-gedi.  The mountain has deep wadis to the west and the south, which lie between it and the cliffs of the Dead Sea.  The dimensions of the surface are 1900 ft from north to south and 650 ft from east to west.  This gives an approximate total of 20 acres that is flat.  

The First Jewish War began developing prior to 66 AD and it was not simply based on a rebellion against Rome.  Factions of Jews were frustrated with Jewish leadership and were becoming more impoverished than ever.  Differing views were rapidly forming and divisions began to spread.  To say the least, it was completely unorganized and without solidarity in cause or leadership.  These conditions were ripe for anarchy to bloom and rebels began to take front stage.  While the most vocal of the groups were those decrying the idolatrous worship that had been not only tolerated, but even incorporated into Judaistic practices.  This gave them some binding as agents of righteousness and perhaps a link to the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks (the cleansing of the temple).  

It is important to note here that the majority of history that is possessed from this period is from the writings of Josephus, who had a disdain for all Zealots and a dedication to Rome.  His views, though valuable in antiquity, can be seen as biased in many ways and must be sifted for truths.
As with all mounting internal conflicts within countries, those who are wealthy and with prestigious position are prone to seek out peaceful solutions, so as to maintain their comfort and status.  The poor and oppressed have a tendency to seek war, when the option is presented to them.  The Zealots clearly emerged as the radicals they had been historically known for amongst the Jews.  Their cause had gained traction and their numbers increased.  Two main factions developed following two different leaders.  The Sicarii (meaning “dagger carrier;” Spanish = “sicario,” meaning “assassin”) were named after their habit of carrying daggers in their cloaks to kill Romans.  They followed a leader name Menachem, a descendant of Judas the Galilean, who was considered to be one of the original zealots.  The other group was led by a priest named Eleazar, son of Ananias.  He had called for the ceasing of offering sacrifices to the Emperor of Rome and led a group priests and leaders who stood against the corruption of the high priest and other authorities among the Jews.  At one point, they take control of the temple and do not allow the other priests to enter.  

Menachem and the Sicarii joined forces with Eleazar and took control of Herod’s palace and towers and seized the Roman garrison at Masada.  In doing so, weaponry and supplies were greatly increased for the Zealots.  Later, jealousy provoked the ranks of Eleazar and they killed several of his men in the temple.  Menachem fled to Ophel, where he was captured, tortured and killed.  Eleazar saw the possible looming conflict with the Sicarii escalating, so he and some of his men fled to Masada.  
As Rome began to entrench itself against the rebellion, their campaign under Vespasian spread from Galilee to Judea.  The pressure from Rome upset the hierarchy in Jerusalem and thousands of refugees poured into the city.  The result was full-fledged anarchy.  Incorporating many of the refugees, a new Zealot party emerged and was galvanized in 67 AD under John of Gischala.  They aggressively began to forcibly take control of the city and punished anyone who resisted.  An attempt was made by the people to negotiate with the Zealots, which failed.  John believed the attempt was a trick to hand over control to the Romans.  He then called for another group of radicals to come to their aid – the Jews of Idumea.  

Upon their arrival, the Zealots proceeded to slaughter the resisting populace, including the moderate leaders.  They plundered the city and killed the high priest, Ananus, with the rest of the major leaders they could find.  The people began to desert Jerusalem.  The coalition fell apart and a new one formed between the people and the remaining Idumeans, along with another group following Simon bar Giora, to attack John and the Zealots and regain the temple.  This siege took one year to oust the Zealots from the temple.  It was 69 AD and the city was completely divided and at war with itself.  Pillaging and murder became commonplace and there was no central leadership in the city.  

Titus had been dispatched by Emperor Vespasian to quell the rebellion once and for all.  In conjunction with other generals, he closed in on Jerusalem.  The people in the city appointed Simon to lead.  Now, all of the Jews who had been at each other’s throats had to join forces against the impending army of Rome.  But it would be too little, too late.  In short, Jerusalem fell.  Even when John and Simon attempted to negotiate, Rome would have nothing of the sort.  The time for talk had long passed.  Following a mass slaughter, fire was set to the city, which entirely burned.  John was sentenced to life imprisonment and Simon was executed after a victory march in Rome.

But there was an item left undone in the rebellion.  The rebels still held three fortresses: Herodium, Machaerus, and Masada.  A new Roman legate named Lucilius Bassus easily takes the first two.  But in 73 AD, Bassus dies and is succeeded by Flavius Silva.  He sets his eyes on the last stronghold, which is Masada.  But clearly, it presents more problems than all the others combined.  Because of the shear cliffs and position of the fortress, there is only one place a siege ramp can be built and it is on the west side of the mountain.  It takes an embankment over 300 ft tall to get the battering rams up the slope.  Built with large stones and leveled, the battering ram easily breaches the outer walls, only for the Romans to find that the Jews had built an interior wall.  They set fire to the wall, but the wind curled the fire back into their faces.  At first, it seemed as if the Romans would have to retreat.  However, the winds suddenly reversed and covered the inner wall.  
Eleazar could see that all was lost.  He appealed to the people that they should die before becoming slaves.  To him, suicide was the only option.  Josephus writes that many of the people disagreed and refused to join him.  Therefore, he made a second appeal on a more philosophical front.  He told them that to die was to be set free from the bondage of the body and that to watch their families tortured, desecrated, or enslaved was worse than death.  

It is said that the men of the families in Masada each executed his own family.  Then, they chose 10 men by lot and these men killed the other men.  The last survivor was to have killed the other 9 and then have been the only one that committed suicide.  2 women and 5 children were the only survivors by hiding themselves in a cistern.  This historical narrative given by Josephus is said to be problematic on multiple levels.  It is still a matter of debate whether or not the Jews jumped to their deaths, died as Josephus describes, or were laid waste by the Roman sword.  Nevertheless, 960 Jews had survived a little over 2 years of siege before all dying together on Masada in 74 AD.

Many fragments of Scripture have been discovered at Masada, including Deuteronomy, Psalms, Ezekiel and Leviticus.  Other artifacts and writings of Jewish antiquity were also found.

This is Beth Shean

In what is considered to be one of the oldest settlements in the world, this city has offered possibly more archaeological discoveries than any other in the region.  Also known as Beth-Shan, Beit Shean, Baithsan, Bethsa, Tell el-Huşn and later named by the Greeks as Scythopolis (capitol of the Decapolis), site inhabitants date as far back as 4500 BC.  This date rivals the oldest city in archaeological history, ancient Jericho.  The Semitic name of the city can be interpreted to mean, “house of rest.”  However, many believe it was more likely identified with the meaning “temple of Shan,” due to the Sumerian worship of the serpent god Ŝahan.

The city is situated at a junction between the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys.  The tel rises approximately 213 ft and is .5 mile in circumference.  Located in Issachar (Joshua 17:11-12, 16; Judges 1:27, 28), Beth-Shean was given to Manasseh.  However, Manasseh was unable to completely drive the Canaanites out of the land because of their “chariots of iron,” and thus, they remained in the land.  To complicate matters, the Israelites then put the Canaanites to slave labor, which ironically is what they had been delivered from. 

Later, Israel demanded her first king, much to the chagrin of the Prophet Samuel.  Saul was anointed, but soon came to be a disappointment as a man and leader from God.  David is subsequently anointed by Samuel as king, but has to run for his life because of Saul’s insane jealousy.  Towards the end of Saul’s reign, Israel had been struggling to break the Philistine hold on the land of Jezreel.  After Samuel dies, Saul gathers his forces and prepares to confront the enemy (1 Samuel 28:4).  However, when he sees the Philistine army, he is terrified and turns to inquire of God.  He receives no answer from the Lord, so in his desperation, he seeks out a medium (spiritist) for consult.  While he does not ask her to specifically tell him what to do, he does ask her to bring Samuel up from the dead.  Much to the surprise of the medium, it works, and Samuel appears.  Samuel chastises him for disobeying God and tells him he will lose the battle. 

Meanwhile, as the Philistines are gearing up for battle against Saul’s army, David and his men approach them from the rear.  The surprised Philistines recognize him and want to know why he is there.  For years David had been hiding in the land of the Philistines from the hand of Saul, who sought to kill him.  Even though he had to act as if he were insane, he survived for 1 year and 4 months (1 Samuel 27:7) in the hotbed of Israel’s worst enemy and ended up collecting his elite fighting group of “mighty men.”  David leaves from the immediate land of the Philistines and goes to Gath.  He tells the king there (Achish) that he has come in peace and sets up camp.  But then he raids the sounding lands of all those who were set against Israel.  When David returns, Achish inquires where he has been raiding.  David lies and tells him he has been in the south country, which belonged to the Israelites.  Achish believes that David is purely anti-Israel now, and trusts him. 

Achish is aligned with the Philistines and thus, musters for battle against Saul.  David is unaware whom specifically the Philistines were fighting against.  But he must keep up the façade with Achish in order to keep his cover.  However, when he rides up with Achish to the battle camp, the Philistines recognize him and begin to inquire why he is there.  The Philistines do not trust David to stay true in the fight and believe it is too risky to have him along.  Achish then appeals to David to hang back because of the friction. 

David departs the battlefront and comes back to his camp in Ziklag, only to find that it has been raided by the Amalekites while he was gone.  They took everyone captive (which included David’s wives and children) and all their possessions and then burned the rest to the ground.  The people started to turn against David, but he pulled himself together and consulted the Lord for direction.  He receives word from the Lord to pursue the marauders and rescue his people.  After finding an abandoned Egyptian that had been fighting for the Amalekites, he finds the location of the enemy and lays them waste.  All of David’s people and possessions are rescued, including his wives and children. 

Meanwhile back at Mount Gilboa, the Philistines are roundly defeating the Israelites (1 Samuel 31:1).  The sons of Saul are killed and the Philistines are now in pursuit of him.  Archers manage to mortally wound him and Saul begs his armor bearer to finish him off.  The armor bearer refuses, so Saul falls on his own sword and commits suicide.  The armor bearer sees this, panics, and does likewise to himself.  Later the Philistines find the bodies of Saul and his sons.  They stripped Saul’s body of his weapons and decapitated him.  His weapons were stored in the temple of Ashtaroth and they fastened his body, along with the bodies of his sons, to walls of the city of the site we visit here, Beth-Shan (Shean). 

By the time of King Solomon’s reign, the city will be administered to under Megiddo/Ta’anach (1 Kings 4:12).  It will be listed multiple times throughout Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine history, when it will be known as Scythopolis.  When the Maccabean revolt occurs, this particular city will be spared because of its lack of resistance and support of the Jews.  Later, it became the capitol city of the Decapolis, even though the vast majority of the district was to the east of the Jordan and Scythopolis was to the west.  Remnants of synagogues from the 6th and 7thc AD have been discovered with Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic inscriptions.  The city fell to Islamic conquest in 636 AD and was utterly destroyed.  A mosque was built on site and the city was renamed as “Besian” by the Muslims. 

As a footnote, going back into the 15th-16thc BC periods, it is important to note the presence of ancient figures identified in the archaeological stratigraphy of Beth-Shean.  Pharaoh Thutmose III and Ramses III are evidenced in artifacts, as well as hieroglyphics declaring the presence of the “Sea Peoples,” who are later identified as “Philistines.”

Biblical References

  • Joshua 17:11, 16
  • Judges 1:27
  • 1 Samuel 31:10, 12
  • 2 Samuel 21:12
  • 1 Kings 4:12
  • 1 Chronicles 7:29

This is Magdala

Continuing Day 6 travels will lead us approximately 1 mile north of Tiberias to Magdala.  Sorting out the name of this location has been of debate over the years.  The map attached will refer to it as “Magadan,” as will many scholarly articles because it is transliterated (letter for letter) as such in the Greek New Testament (Matthew 15:39).  There is a parallel passage concerning the feeding of the 4,000 in Mark 8:10 that refers to the region as Dalmanutha (meaning “many towers”).  Because both of these passages are geographically dealing with regions and districts, these biblical citations are not necessarily in disagreement.  The Jewish Talmud refers to the area as Migdal Nûnnya, meaning “Tower of Fish.”  The Greeks called the area Taricheae or Tarecheae.  Thus, Magdala-Taricheae would mean, “Tower of [Salted] Fish.”  The city is most traditionally known as being the hometown of Mary Magdalene.  However, some scholars believe the town to be on the western shore of Galilee near the plain of Gennesaret.

Towns in this region were very important to the Romans as a fishing export.  Many towns in the area were named Taricheae for their fishing industry.  Strabo (cf. article “This is Tiberias”) records knowing of the salt-fish business operated by Galilee.  In biblical references, there are no events or disciples other than Mary Magdalene related to this place.
When Nero’s position progressed in 54 AD, he conveyed Tiberias and Magdala-Taricheae to Herod Agrippa II.  Though once fortified, Vespasian captured the city in 66 AD.  It is the only location of a sea battle between the Romans and the Jews, which ended badly for the latter.  The Jews fled from Vespasian’s armies to Tiberias, where he captured 12,000 refugees and ordered their slaughter in the stadium (cf. “This is Tiberias”).  6,000 others were farmed out as slaves to build Nero’s canal at Corinth and 30,400 in number were sold.

Pilgrimages did not take place to Magdala from the 4th to the 6thc AD, which means it was not acknowledged by most people of this particular time frame as being a site directly related to Scripture.  However, before 518 AD, a person by the name of Theodosius wrote, “my Lady Mary was born (at Magdala),” which city he only knows by that name.  A small synagogue was unearthed there between 1971-73.  Excavators believe it was converted into a fishpond around 70 AD after the First Jewish Revolt.  A 21 ft masonry and mortar tower remains across the street, but is considered a water tower, as opposed to a fish tower.  More recent (and important) discoveries include the Migdal Synagogue, which was revealed in 2009.  It is considered to be possibly the oldest synagogue in Galilee, dating back to 50 BC.  It was discovered during a dig for the location of a new hotel on Migdal Beach.  In particular to artifacts discovered is the Magdala Stone, which is adorned with the relief of a seven-branched menorah.  What makes this important amongst archaeologist is that they believe the only way a person would know how to portray and sculpt the figure is to have seen it in person at the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Ruins of a 5th – 6thc AD monastery, decorated in mosaics, is present to the south.  Records from the 8th – 10thc AD indicate a church structure present and traditionally held as Mary Magdalene’s house.  However, pilgrims in 12thc AD make no mention of a church there.  It is not until the 13thc AD that records indicate Muslims using the location of the church as a stable.  

Biblical References

  • Matthew 15:39
  • Mark 8:10

This is The Mount of The Beatitudes

In Matthew chapter 5, it states that when Jesus saw the multitudes, “He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.”  Read alone, it captures none of the dramatic nature of the event taking place.  Going back into the end of chapter 4, Jesus is going throughout the land and physically healing what would have otherwise been incurable.  Imagine the crowds that would genuinely gather around someone who could cure anything, right before one’s eyes.  No tricks.  No behind the cloak scenes.  No mystery diseases were declared cured that had not yet been identified in the person.  A withered hand was restored (Mark 3:1ff), seizures stopped, demons cast out, and the paralyzed made ambulatory.  The crowds came from as far east of the Sea of Galilee as they did from the west and the south.  Jesus literally has drawn national attention.  

Here He stops and the crowds gather to listen to what He has to say.  The words given could not have been from any earthly man, because they are the exact opposite to what they would expect to hear.  Blessed are the poor?  Blessed are the mourning?  Blessed are the persecuted?  You have heard it said, but I say unto you?  He was not talking about random subjects, ideas or conjectures; He was talking about Torah.  To challenge the teachings of the theologically academic leaders of His day was unheard of.  Did He not know what they could do to Him?

The site for the Mount of the Beatitudes is still under some dispute today.  But tradition has held for 1600 years that the location is between Capernaum and Gennesaret.  It is also referred to as Mt. Eremos (Greek = “solitary,” “uninhabited”) and Karn Hattin.  This area has also been known as the “Horns of Hattin” for the two mountains that emerged from an extinct volcano.   At an elevation of just over 500 ft above the surface of the lake (190 ft below sea level), the “mountains” are more actual “hills.”  They overlook the beautiful Plain of Gennesaret, which extends for approximately 4 miles.  A Byzantine church was built on the slopes in 4thc AD.  In the 1187AD, the Crusaders were defeated by the Islamic army of Saladin at the Battle of Hattin.  Saladin erected an Islamic “victory dome” on the mountain, but it was reported as destroyed as early as the 17thc AD.  The current Roman Catholic chapel constructed in the 1930’s is visible from Capernaum.  Inside, the stained glass windows depict the 8 Beatitudes with the 7 Virtues being represented around an altar.  Those in agreement with this being the site of Matthew 5, also attribute it to the region spoken of in Mark 6-7 where many other miracles took place.  

Biblical References

  • Matthew 4:23-8:1
  • Mark 6-7

This is Dan

Day 6 of adventure will lead us through another packed series of sites that begins with the ancient city of Dan.  Tel Dan (Tell el Qadi) is first mentioned in Scripture during the time of Abraham in (Genesis 14:4).  At that time, the city was known as “Laish” (also “Leshem”) to the people.  Laish appears in Egyptian Execration Texts that date back to the 18thc BC.  Thutmose III also lists Laish as one of the cities he conquered.    A scarab of Ramses II (1279-1213 BC) testifies of prevailing Egyptian influence in the region.  The city’s name was changed to Dan after the tribe of Dan conquered it in the taking of Canaan (Joshua 19:47). 

Dan is located on the northern most edge of Israel at the foot Mount Herman and near the headwaters of the Jordan River.  The tel is situated at a main intersecting of roads leading to Damascus and the Mediterranean Sea.  It covers approximately 50 acres and is just over 65 feet above the surround plain, at a 40° angle on the rampart.  This tells us that the city had a substantial means of fortification and defense built into it for the location it was in.  

Archaeologists have estimated that artifacts date the first settlement of Dan (Laish) to 5000 BC.  There is a large gap of physical evidence until the 27thc BC.  Several periods are representative of the settlements inhabitants over the centuries prior to the conquest by the Israelites.  

It will be after the death of Solomon that Jeroboam, son of Nebat challenges Rehoboam (Solomon’s son and successor to the throne of Israel) to be king.  The kingdom responds by dividing itself in a civil war.  Jeroboam knows that Rehoboam has the upper hand of influence over the majority of the people though, because within his territory of Judah, Rehoboam has Jerusalem, and thus, the temple of God.  To compete with this, Jeroboam builds his own places of worship to attract not only Israelites, but foreigners as well.  He incorporates shrines on the “high places” in Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12) with the comingling of altars to YHWH and idols represented by golden calves (possibly the Apis Bull of Egypt, which is often considered being the idol built by Aaron in the wilderness after the exodus).  The sanctuary built by Jeroboam has been discovered at tel Dan.
As mentioned prior, Dan was abundantly fortified, possibly for two main reasons.  First, the city was on a main artery between major trade routes in the north.  Being somewhat removed, it would be susceptible to foreign invasions, especially bordering enemy nations.  Secondly, as an established religious location, even more attention would be drawn to the assumed treasuries to the idols.  

Dan continued to be a place of idolatrous worship, even through the Hellenistic periods.  Several coins from Antiochus IV, Demetrius V, Constantine I and Constantine II have been discovered.  Inscriptions written in Greek and Aramaic giving homage to “the god who is in Dan,” remain.  

Biblical References

  • Genesis 14:4
  • Joshua 19:47
  • Judges 18:29; 20:1
  • 1 Samuel 3:20
  • 2 Samuel 3:10; 17:11; 24:2, 6(?), 15
  • 1 Kings 4:25; 12:29-30; 15:20
  • 2 Kings 10:29
  • 1 Chronicles 21:2
  • 2 Chronicles 16:4; 30:5
  • Jeremiah 4:15; 8:16
  • Ezekiel 48:2, 32
  • Amos 8:14

This is Caesarea

Day 5 of our journey will be busy as before, with 4 sites visited (technically 5, including the night’s stay in Tiberias).  The first location will be the historically rich city of Caesarea.  Our route will be along the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea to arrive at the seaport also known as Caesarea Maritima.  Centuries prior, this location had been used by Egypt as their shipping portal to the eastern Mediterranean, extending from Greece to Cyrenaica (also known as “the Levant”).  Records of the Sidonian king named “Strato” retaining settlement to the area extend back to the 4thc BC.  It was known as “Strato’s Tower.”  Because of the location of the port to the fertile land of the Plain of Sharon, agricultural transportation was a prime marketing trade.
Having been under Ptolemaic control in the late 2ndc BC, a ruler by the name of Zoilus captured Strato’s Tower and local lands.  He then changed the port to a fully fortified city by constructing an artificially protected anchorage point.  To accomplish this, Zoilus literally changed the coastline and flooded the area to create a shipping harbor.  During the Hellenistic age, the harbor was closed into the city walls for additional fortification.  Zoilus maintained control of area until being overcome by Alexander Jannaeus in 103 BC.  By the time Herod the Great comes into power (40-4 BC), the city will practically be in ruins.  
Herod will eventually be placed in the position of Rome’s client king of Judea.  Caesar thus granted him additional territory, which included the ruins of Strato’s Tower.  After the acquisition, Herod turns the region into a major international port he named “Sebastos” to bolster his economic position, both locally and with Rome.  Eventually, Herod will rebuild the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  As a counterpart to appeal to his Gentile allies, Herod turns the area into a definitive Greco-Roman attraction that included pagan temples, a hippodrome, amphitheater, and theater.  In an astonishing archaeological feat, the entire complex was completed in just over 10 years (22-10/9 BC).  These events have been recorded by Flavius Josephus in historic detail.  
Upon Herod’s death, his son Archelaus took over as king of Judea.  However, Caesar Augustus deemed him as incompetent and removed him from the seat in 6 AD.  The kingdom under him, including Caesarea, was annexed into the immediate Roman Empire.  Now being considered a part of Judea, the seaport was appointed as capitol of the region.  Thus, a census was called for by Augustus and directed hence from Caesarea to determine the amount to be taxed upon its residents.  This is the very census that Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary respond to and subsequently travel to Bethlehem for.  (Luke 2:2).  
In additional terms of biblical historicity, few cities rival Caesarea for events; Pontius Pilate governed Judea as prefect from this capitol city; Philip (deacon in the Jerusalem church) brings Christianity to Caesarea in Acts 8:4-40; Peter confirms the converting of the first Gentile, Cornelius (and household) in Acts 10:3-48; The apostle Paul had been taken from Caesarea to Tarsus in Acts 9:23-26, but is later imprisoned there for two years before (57-59 AD) being transferred to Rome (Acts 23-26).  The interesting aspect in this situation in regard to the profound wisdom of God is that even though imprisoned, Paul’s evangelistic outreach extends through the shipping portal of Caesarea.  
The beginning of the First Jewish War (66-70 AD – Destruction of the Temple) is largely attributed to circumstances occurring in Caesarea.  Through disruptions with the people, some 20,000 Jews were killed there in one hour.  Vespasian, and his son Titus issued orders to the Roman legions from this location.  At one juncture, over 10,000 soldiers resided in the city.  However, when the war was over, “social boredom” set in with people.  Therefore, Titus hosted “victory games” in the amphitheater for the people’s entertainment.  As appointed “gladiators,” 2500 Jewish prisoners were required to fight to their deaths for the amusement of the populace.  In honor of commitment and loyalty to Caesar, Vespasian renamed the city as a Roman colony – Colonia Prima Flavia Augustus Caesarea.
Additional construction, honors and titles were placed upon the city due to subsequent favors of Caesars to follow.  By the end of the 3rdc AD, the Jewish population had largely recovered from the wars.  Prominent rabbis began issuing legal decisions from Caesarea and were recorded in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds.  When Origen arrives in 231 AD, he literally turned the city into a center of learning for Christianity.  He constructed a library there (which housed the Hexapala) that was utilized for decades by scholars of the Scriptures.  
The peak of Christian persecution occurred in Caesarea from 303-313 AD.  Multiple believers were martyred there for their faith and testimony.  Eusebius of Caesarea recorded many of the events in “On The Martyrs of Palestine,” in 311 AD.  He is the same Eusebius who wrote the first historical chronicle of the church, “Ecclesiastical History.”
During the Byzantine period and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, a political dispute between bishops emerged over the importance placed on Caesarea as opposed to Jerusalem.  Regardless, the library continued to enrich many who came to study there.  
Into the 6th and 7thc AD, the city began to decline due to drought and religious conflict with Islam.  After the port being rebuilt in the early 6thc, the city surrendered approximately 100 years later (614 AD) to the Persians.  Emperor Heraclius overthrew the Persians in 627-28 AD.  But only 6 years later, the Muslims invaded and attacked Caesarea.  The city withstood the attacks until 640-641 AD.  Caesarea could have ultimately survived their onslaught, but a Jew by the name of Joseph betrayed the people and led the invaders into the city through an aqueduct.
By the time of the Crusades, Christians reclaimed the city.  In the process of regaining control, a green cut-glass chalice was discovered in the Great Mosque and was determined to be Holy Grail.  The Genoese fleet took the chalice back to their home city of Genoa, where it remains in the treasury of Cathedral of San Lorenzo (Saint Lawrence).  
Throughout the centuries, the general ruins of Caesarea have remained intact, in spite of skirmishes in the territories.  It was not until 1952 that a Jewish community established the modern settlement of Caesarea next to the ancient city.  Today, the general population is just over 5,000.  Caesarea Maritima has been declared a national park and preserved for antiquity.