From David to Jesus: The Mount of Olives

One of the best views of the Mount of Olives can be found from the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City walls. The Rampart Walk is cheap (around $4 at this time) and permits unique views of Jerusalem. I posted on this experience last year and included a short video from the experience. The walls were built from 1537-1541 when the Ottoman Turks controlled the city. They are nearly 500 years old – built just after Columbus discovered the New World - but in a city continuously occupied for thousands of years, some locals joke that the walls are “new.”

Here is a broad view of the Mount of Olives taken from the ramparts of Jerusalem’s southwestern walls. We are looking east in the photo. This view shows most of the mountain without including the buildings on the Temple Mount. The right portion (the southern end) of the mountain is covered with hundreds of thousands of Jewish tombs, some of which date back many centuries. These graves are here in the hope that their Jewish occupants will rise at the coming of the Messiah from the east and enter Jerusalem with him.

The Mount of Olives viewed from the ramparts of Jerusalem's Old City walls. This perspective gives an idea of the size of this mountain lying east of Jerusalem's Temple Mount. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The Mount of Olives viewed from the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City walls. This perspective gives an idea of the size of this mountain lying east of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Interestingly, the Bible mentions this mountain by name in conjunction with only two men: David and Jesus. David fled over it during the coup d’etat of his son Absalom. The following Bible passage describes how David planted an agent in Jerusalem as he was fleeing, and indicates there was an active “high place” for worship on the summit.

David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went.

While David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and dirt on his head. David said to him, “…If you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king…’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel [Absalom's chief advisor]…  So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.(1 Samuel 15:30-37)

David’s city was just off to the right in the above photo. The biblical text states that David went over the mountain and down the other side to the Jordan River Valley, where he crossed the river and proceeded to set up a base at the defensible site of Mahanaim. From here, David gathered his strength and defeated Absalom’s revolt.

Jesus climbed and crossed this mountain numerous times, most notably during the week prior to his crucifixion. He taught daily on the Temple Mount (just off to the left of the above photo) and spent his last nights in the village of Bethany on the opposite slope. Jesus was eventually arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, located along the visible slope above.

More could be said about the Mount of Olives, but we are about to join the new excavation at Lachish and time is precious. Lord willing and internet connection permitting, I will post more on the experiences of our tour and excavation experience in Israel.

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Arrival in Jerusalem

Our group all arrived safely (and with all luggage) to begin our tour of Israel and join the archaeological dig at Tel Lachish. Today was a day to explore Jerusalem’s Old City and rest up for the excavation, which begins tomorrow afternoon.

One of our first stops was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, about 50 yards or so from our hotel. This building marks the traditional location of Jesus’ crucifixion site and tomb. It may in fact be, but that analysis is for a later post.


Our 2014 dig group, minus one member who is holding the camera, at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

To get an idea of the in-depth scholarship and adventurous spirit that characterizes our group, I offer a photo of Dr. David McClister, Chair of the Biblical Studies Program at Florida College, demonstrating the proper use of a Roman-era tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Dr. David McClister

Dr. David McClister occupying (temporarily) a Roman-period burial niche in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Nothing compares to experiencing the Bible in up close and personal ways.

Look for more photos and posts directly from Israel over the coming days and weeks.

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Do finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa improve Bible translation?

If you read 1 Kings 6:31-33 in the Bible, you may see a margin note that the meaning of some Hebrew words is uncertain. Similar margin notes may also appear in Ezekiel chapter 41. Read 1 Kings 7:1-6 in different Bible versions such as the King James, Revised Standard, or New American Standard, and you will notice phrases that read very differently in the various translations.

Why is biblical Hebrew yielding markedly different English translations?  Do we not know how to translate the Bible? Does this have implications for the rest of the biblical text?

The explanation is actually straightforward. These chapters in Kings and Ezekiel all provide detailed architectural descriptions of temples and other buildings in Jerusalem. The uncertainty is only with certain technical terms in the Hebrew whose meanings were lost after many centuries. These terms were rarely if ever used in ordinary conversation. Some specific technical vocabulary was simply forgotten over time.

Recent archaeological finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa may clarify some of these lost words. Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu propose that two model shrines discovered in 2011 provide insights to resolve some of this long-standing uncertainty. You can download the article for yourself by clicking here.

Besides suggesting new translations for the aforementioned Bible passages, the article offers other intriguing proposals, including the following suggestion about a feature of “Greek” architecture.

“For millennia, classical Greek architecture has been considered among the highest achievements of human aesthetics. The stone model from Khirbet Qeiyafa indicates that one of its characteristic features, the row of rectangular triglyphs forming the Doric frieze, originated in the Levant… The triglyphs at Khirbet Qeiyafa are nearly 400 years earlier than the earliest stone-carved triglyphs of Greek Doric temples.”

Sketch showing a triglyph (highlighted) above a Doric column.  (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Sketch showing a triglyph (highlighted) above a Doric column. These are famous in Classical Greek architecture and adorned many ancient building, including the Athenian Parthenon. (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

9. Khirbet Qeiyafa stone ark

The late-11th/early-10th century BC stone shrine discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa. Among its distinct architectural features is the set of triglyphs above the door. This indicates the triglyph was utilized in Canaan some four centuries earlier than the Parthenon’s construction. (Courtesy of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Expedition)

This and another shrine have specific architectural features not normally found in Israel/Judah around the early 10th century – the days of the early kingdom. Here is a selection from the article’s concluding points:

“The building models uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa indicate that an elaborate Iron Age architectural style had developed as early as the tenth century BCE. Such construction is typical of royal activities, suggesting that state formation, the establishment of a social elite and urbanism had existed in the region in the days of David and Solomon… From the Khirbet Qeiyafa stone model we can glean that the [Bible] text described architectural elements that were known in that region and during that period, thus strengthening the historicity of this particular biblical tradition.” [emphasis mine]

Again, you can read and evaluate it for yourself here.

Posted in 2011 Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation, Ancient Architecture, archaeologists, Bible comments, Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Languages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Roman Legionary Camp Identified at Megiddo

The Sixth Roman Imperial Legion Ferrata established a permanent base at Tel Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley during the early 2nd century AD. This display of Roman muscle, along with the Tenth Legion Fretensis in Jerusalem, was intended to stabilize a region that had already produced the Jewish War (AD 66-73) and would soon give birth to the destructive Bar Kochba Revolt (AD 133-136). As it turned out, the Sixth Legion Ferrata may have done its job. The Bar Kochba Revolt centered itself in Judea with little impact on the Jezreel Valley.

The Roman Sixth Legion stayed by Tel Megiddo for at least a century. Centuries later, an Arab village in the area continued to show its legionary roots with the name Lejjun (or, Lajjun). The village of Lejjun endured until 1948, but the exact site of the original Roman camp was just recently located. In 2013 an archaeological team uncovered buildings from the camp in a field just south of the tel. The area of the discovery is a field labeled “el-Manach” just below-right of center in the photo below. You can read a well-illustrated summary of the excavation’s finds here.

(Courtesty of the JVRP)

Aerial photo showing the tel of Megiddo (top center) and other nearby locations. The area of the Roman VI Legion camp was in the field labeled el-Manach. (Courtesty of the Jezreel Valley Regional Project)

Just below el-Manach is a crossroads that has been strategic for millennia. The road coming up from the bottom center is the exit from the Megiddo Pass (also called Wadi Ara or the Aruna Pass), connecting Megiddo to the Coastal Highway. The el-Manach field is perfectly located to guard the crossroads, and it was here that the Sixth Roman Imperial Legion established its  permanent base.

Excavation squares from the 10-day expedition in 2013 are visible below.

(Courtesy of JVRP)

Excavation squares in the field south of Tel Megiddo. This dig uncovered buildings of the original VI Legion camp in the early 2nd century AD. (Courtesy of JVRP)

Below is a photo I took of this same field during a visit to Megiddo in 2012, one year before the excavation.

(Photo by Luke Chandler)

The field of the Roman VI Legion camp, viewed from Tel Megiddo. The strategic crossroads is located immediately to the left of the trees. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The first recorded battle in history occurred in this field. Pharaoh Thutmose III came here in 1457 BC to put down a Canaanite rebellion. He ignored his generals’ advice to advance over easier terrain and instead sent his army through the narrow Wadi Ara pass. The Canaanite coalition was caught off guard as the full Egyptian army suddenly poured onto the field before Megiddo. The Canaanite army panicked and fled, and Thutmose eventually achieved a total victory. During the First World War, British General Allenby used this same maneuver against the Ottoman forces at Megiddo and routed the entire army. (The British government later granted him the title, “Lord of Armageddon.”)

(Courtesy of JVRP)

An aerial view of the 2013 excavation squares. You can see remains of 2nd century AD buildings below the modern ground level.  (Courtesy of JVRP)

I plan to be at Megiddo in just a few weeks and will try to post another photo of this area. If you want to see this yourself, come with me to Israel this fall. The tour registration closes next month, so now is the time to decide to go. You will not regret it!

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Canaan was not a big desert. (Someone tell the media!)

Looking at biblically-themed art or watching biblically-themed movies, one has to assume most of ancient Israel’s territory was desert. This is simply not true of a land of “milk and honey” – two products that require vegetation.

One example of geographical misinformation is in depictions of David and Goliath. The text of 1 Samuel gives a precise description of the location.

“The Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.” (1 Samuel 17:1-3, ESV)

Here are some popular depictions of the Valley of Elah location.

The 2013 miniseries "The Bible" is one of many to have portrayed David and Goliath as fighting in a desert. (Image by

The 2013 miniseries “The Bible” puts the David and Goliath battle in a desert. (Image by

This nice image for iPad also puts David and Goliath in the desert. (Image by TabTale LTD)

This image from an iPad storybook adventure also puts David and Goliath in the desert. Notice the brown, barren hills and the total absence of plant life. (Image by TabTale LTD)

Even VeggieTales puts the Giant Philistine Pickle in the desert sand and brown, barren hills. (Image from

Even VeggieTales puts the Giant Philistine Pickle in desert sand. (Image from

Here is the actual location described in 1 Samuel 17:

The location of David v. Goliath as it really appears. This photo was even taken during the dry season. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The location of David v. Goliath as it really appears. This photo was even taken at the height of the dry season. The valley is often greener than this. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Why is David v. Goliath portrayed in a desert instead of a green, fertile valley? Perhaps a) the producers/artists have never visited the Land or performed due diligence, or quite possibly b) the barrenness of the desert is believed to carry some artistic value. Maybe c) it’s just cheaper to animate/film in a desert. In any case, many modern media types just ignore the rich and detailed geographical setting.

Legends, tall tales and myths tend to sensationalize or ignore geographical details. When one looks at the Bible’s geography, the text consistently fits the reality. The Bible’s geographical details are impressive and undeniably real throughout its pages.

A visit to the Bible Lands permits us to visualize the events we read about. We literally “walk where they walked” and see the same hills, valleys, lakes, shores, (and in some areas… yes, deserts) featured throughout the Bible.  Here is a nice 10-minute video showing the impressive geographical diversity within ancient Israel’s borders.


Posted in Bible comments, Bible Geography, Israel, Philistines, Short videos, Tel Azekah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Video: All About Region of Samaria in 15 Minutes

The Satellite Bible Atlas web site has a series of short videos that illuminate Bible places. Today features one that illuminates the region of Samaria. I watched it and cannot recommend it highly enough. It is more than worth the 15 minutes’ viewing time.

Todd Bolen comments on this video:

In my experience, the most important area of the biblical land that people know the least about is the hill country of Samaria. Its importance is reflected in the fact that it is easier for me to list biblical people who were not in this area than it is to name those who were.

… In just 15 minutes, you’ll learn about:

  • The capital city of Samaria
  • The Trans-Samaria Highway
  • The Wadi Fara
  • Shechem
  • Mounts Gerizim and Ebal
  • Shiloh
  • Ai

The video includes a historical review of major events, including Jacob’s dream at Bethel, Joshua’s battle at Ai, the tabernacle at Shiloh, Jeroboam’s capital, Baal worship at Samaria, the chariots of fire at Dothan, and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.

Most tourists do not visit these areas today largely due to the political situation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. All of the region of Samaria is in the West Bank. It is often safe to visit but many vehicle rental agencies in Israel do not insure their vehicles in PA territories. There is more than enough to see outside of Samaria, but the region is more prominent throughout the Bible than any other except Jerusalem.

Whether or not you have already visited some of these places, in 15 minutes from now you may be ready to plan a trip. Enjoy!

HT: Todd Bolen

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Archaeologists find 2,000 year-old chisel used to build Western Wall

Excavations near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount uncovered a 2,000 year-old chisel at the foot of the Western Wall. Archaeologist Eli Shukron believes it was used in the construction of the wall around the early 1st century A.D.

The chisel was found in a Roman-era drain some 6 feet below the 1st-century street level. Shukron speculates a workman may have accidentally dropped it from a scaffolding and was unable or unwilling to recover it. Archaeological work in the drainage system is a part of the ongoing work by Shukron and Ronny Reich in/around the City of David.

Ancient chisel discovered below Jerusalem's Western Wall in 2013.

Ancient chisel used in the construction of the Temple Mount, discovered below Jerusalem’s Western Wall in 2013 and announced in 2014. (Photo by Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Ha’aretz has an article on the find but requires a subscription to read. Herod the Great began the Temple Mount project but the context of the chisel suggests the Western Wall was built after his reign. Here is an excerpt from the article:

The most dramatic discovery was a number of coins found beneath the wall, which led to rethink its date of construction – and who was behind it.

Until the coins’ discovery, the Western Wall had been thought to be part of King Herod the Great’s gargantuan construction drive – which included the Second Temple itself. He is also credited with building the fort at Masada, among his many other architectural achievements.

But Shukron and Reich now say Herod hadn’t been responsible for the Western Wall: going by the date of the coins found under it, the Wall had been built after his time, by one of its heirs.

The possibility of the Western Wall being built after Herod’s time is not news. The project of expanding the Temple Mount was way too big to complete in Herod’s lifetime. It passed on to his successors and ended up taking more than 80 years from start to finish. (Jesus’ ministry falls mid-way through the temple project. Note the comment to Jesus in John 2:20.)

Leen Ritmeyer offers an interesting critique on the find as well as the conclusions presented in the Ha’aretz article. He describes how the chisel was likely used in the unique conditions of the Temple’s construction and suggests the Western Wall could conceivably have been constructed during Herod’s reign after all.

Ongoing tests may further illuminate the chisel and its context. We look forward to reading later reports as scholars continue to research this and other finds.

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem during summer, 2013. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

The Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem during summer, 2013. The temple likely stood in the same area as the golden Dome of the Rock to the upper left. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Adjust the angle down a bit and we see some of the excavations that lead up to the foundations of the Western Wall, below the level of today's plaza. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

Adjust the angle down a bit and we see some of the excavations that lead up to the foundations of the Western Wall, below the level of today’s plaza. Excavations go under the platform all the way to the Wall itself. The newly-announced chisel was found near the Wall’s foundations, around 30-35 feet below the plaza. The ancient street visible at the bottom of the photo dates to the early 2nd century AD. The remains of 1st century Jerusalem lie below this level. What are they discovering under there that will illuminate ancient Jerusalem and its inhabitants? With patience, and with careful scholarly process, we will know more in time. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wild Boar (pigs!) at Caesarea Philippi (Banias, Israel) — with 3 photos


Carl Rasmussen and his group encountered a wild boar pack at Caesarea Philippi. See his photos and note his Bible comments.

HT: Todd Bolen

Originally posted on HolyLandPhotos' Blog:

On a recent trip to Israel our student group was preparing our lunch at the picnic grounds on the site of Banias (NT Caesarea Philippi—think Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah—Matthew 16:16 and gospel parallels).  Looking up from our lunch, much to my surprise I saw a herd of about 15 wild boar near another picnic table close to us (adults plus young ones)!!  During my 15 years in Israel I had never seen a wild boar in the wild and here we were IN a Jewish national park and there they were!


Two Adult Wild Boar near a Picnic Table at Caesarea Philippi Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

When we tried to approach them (bad move) they made aggressive moves towards us—in fact some of the students had to run away!  Their aggressiveness was evidently known to the Psalmist who wrote that God’s people were like a…

View original 260 more words

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Lectures on the Philistines in Kansas City and Chicago

Those in the Kansas City and/or Chicago area have a special opportunity next week to hear lectures by Dr. Aren Maeir, the archaeologist who has excavated ancient Gath since the mid-1990′s.

Bible students will recall Gath as one of the cities of the Philistine pentapolis. Gath was the hometown of Goliath and also one of cities where the captured Ark was taken. David went to Gath on two occasions while fleeing Saul, and was granted asylum on his second attempt.

On next Tuesday, April 22nd, Aren will be at the University of Kansas lecturing at the Jewish Studies Program on the topic, “Canaanites, Philistines, and Others at Tel es-Safi/Gath – the Hometown of Biblical Goliath.”

On Wednesday, April 23rd, he will be at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. He will lecture there on, “New Light on the Biblical Philistines: Recent Study on the Frenemies of Ancient Israel.”

I’ve heard Dr. Maeir speak several times. If you can make it, it will be an enjoyable and interesting experience. His work at Tel es-Safi/Gath has produced a lot of information on the origins and culture of the ancient Philistines, as well as insights into historical events mentioned in the Bible.

Dr. Aren Maeir (center) ill (photo courtesy of

Dr. Aren Maeir (center) clearly enjoying his work at Tel es-Safi/Gath. His lectures are interesting, informative, and highly recommended. (Photo courtesy of

So… how much will it cost to temporarily abandon my family and fly up from Florida for these lectures?? After the winter they’ve had up there, I suppose they deserve a few perks.

HT: Joe Lauer

Posted in archaeologists, Biblical Archaeology, General Archaeology, Links to interesting stuff, Museums, Philistines, Speaking engagements | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gihon Spring and Solomon’s Wisdom

My previous post discussed the recently-completed excavations around Jerusalem’s Gihon spring. This spring was the water source for ancient Jerusalem.

The Gihon spring had one weakness. It lay at the bottom of the hill, but for defensive purposes the city was built along the top. How would residents access the water during a siege? The Canaanite solution was to build fortifications down the slope of the hill and around the spring. This blocked enemy access to the water. Underground tunnels to the spring provided city residents with secure access.

The Canaanite defenses around the Gihon appear to have been in use into the period of the Israelite monarchy. Solomon was coronated by the Gihon spring tower in 1 Kings 1. Any Jerusalem king, including Solomon, was fully aware of the Gihon fortifications’ vital role in the city’s protection. To lose the Gihon spring was to lose the city.

Perhaps Solomon was thinking of the Gihon fortifications when he wrote Proverbs 4:23.

Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.

Do we notice the water reference here? We must protect the “springs” of our heart or we risk life itself. Solomon speaks in the context of obtaining wisdom, but he appears to illustrate the point using the Gihon fortifications down the slope from his window.

Did the Gihon spring tower seen below inspire Proverbs 4:23? It is certainly possible.

The Gihon spring tower that may have inspired Proverbs 4:23. (Courtesy of the Ir David foundation)

The Middle Bronze Canaanite tower that continued to protect the Gihon spring during the 10th century BC. This structure may have inspired Proverbs 4:23. (Courtesy of the Ir David foundation)

Bonus: Here is a short promo video of the tour experiences available at the Ir David location. The first portion shows the view of the eastern hill, the Mount of Olives, and the southern end of the Temple Mount as seen from the observation platform. There are also glimpses of the Large Stone Structure, some ruins around the Stepped Stone Structure, the Gihon spring and Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Roman-era processional street, and bits from the 3D movie visitors get to see.


Posted in Ancient Architecture, Bible comments, Biblical Archaeology, Israel, Jerusalem, Short videos | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment