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BiblePlaces Newsletter
Vol 15, #2 - August 23, 2016

It can be tempting to think when you've lived somewhere a long time, and when you've created a "pictorial library" of that country that there aren't too many places you haven't seen. But in my case, the list of places to see never seems to shrink. Oftentimes I just want to get back to somewhere I haven't been in a while, but there are other places that I've just never gone. Some of these may have just opened, while others may have been inaccessible for quite some time. In any case, it's always a thrill to be somewhere important for the first time. In today's newsletter, I'll tell and show you where I've been this summer for the first time.

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Todd Bolen
Photographer, BiblePlaces.com
Assoc. Professor, The Master's University


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Featured BiblePlaces Photos:
Never Been There Before!

When you guide students around the land of Israel, you always visit the most important places. You don't want them to miss the essential sites that shaped biblical history. But that can be rather repetitive for the professor, and so it's always fun to get off the bus and into a vehicle (preferably, an off-road vehicle) to explore new territory.

This month I thought I'd share with you seven places I visited this summer that I had never been to before. But these are seven out of a larger number of places that were new to me. I did not include below my visit to the amphitheater of Nablus, my tour of the Good Samaritan Inn Museum, or my explorations of several synagogues in the Golan. It was good to finally get back into the Israelite Tower in Jerusalem (thanks, custodian!), and the sunset visit to Abel Meholah was beautiful. I also had my first taste of Israeli tear gas as I emerged from Lazarus's tomb, but that's an experience I don't need to repeat. While these items are not featured below, I think that you will enjoy those that are.

All of the photos below are available, with captions, in a free PowerPoint presentation. A limited version is also available in pdf format. Readers are welcome to use these images for personal study and teaching. Commercial use requires separate permission. For more high-quality, high-resolution photographs and illustrations of biblical sites, purchase the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands or the Historic Views of the Holy Land collections.


Kerioth, Hometown of Judas Iscariot

Click photograph for higher-resolution version. Download the PowerPoint presentation for all of the photos.

We'll start our little journey in the south, with the site of Khirbet el-Qaryatein, identified by some as biblical Kerioth, and of greater interest to those who believe it is the hometown of Judas Iscariot. The derivation of the word "Iscariot" is not certain, but one theory is that it comes from "man" (ish) of Kerioth. If so, this would make Judas the only apostle we know that was not from Galilee. This proposal is supported by some NT manuscripts that read "from Kerioth" in place of "Iscariot." But there are other theories, including one that Iscariot was his nickname, deriving from the Aramaic root that means "liar." Kh. el-Qaryatein is located 12 miles (20 km) south of Hebron and 4.5 miles (7.5 km) north of Tel Arad.


Canaanite Wall of Hebron

Click photograph for higher-resolution version.

Hebron is not so easy to visit, given the ever-present security issues. It is the only Palestinian city in the West Bank with a community of Jews living within it. I've visited several times, but this was my first chance to see the massive Canaanite wall on the south side of Tell er-Rumeida. It is known locally as "Giant's Wall," which is not a bad name considering its size. The name also recalls the fear of the Israelite spies who refused to enter the Promised Land because of the giants they saw in the land (Num 13:22, 32-33). In later years, Hebron was the capital of David's kingdom for the first 7½ years of his rule. In recent excavations up the path to the left, archaeologists uncovered large and impressive remains of ritual baths from the first century AD.


Location of the Praetorium Entrance

Click photograph for higher-resolution version.

This next site is a little different, because I have in fact "visited" it countless times. For a good while, I jogged every morning along the western wall of the Old City of Jerusalem and sometimes walked by it multiple times a day. But I didn't know the possible significance of what you can see in the photo above. Shimon Gibson excavated along this wall in the 1970s, and in his recent book The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence he proposes that this area was where Pilate condemned Jesus to be crucified. He reasons this on the basis of a gate discovered here that gave access to Herod's palace (the praetorium). The two walls in the center of the photo above were on either side of a staircase that ascended to an enclosed courtyard where the crowd stood before Pilate. If this is the case, then the true Via Dolorosa began here.


Via Dolorosa Museum

Click photograph for higher-resolution version.

Even so, you don't want to skip the traditional Via Dolorosa, in part because of the new Via Dolorosa Museum. Located at the Monastery of the Flagellation opposite Herod's Antonia Fortress, the museum offers a multimedia presentation centered around some impressive Herodian-period remains, including a fluted column with Ionic capital (back) and fragments of a vaulted ceiling with meander reliefs (lower left), both of which once belonged either to the Temple Mount or to the Antonia Fortress. They also have displayed a Roman inscription dedicated to Hadrian. All of this anticipates a new archaeological wing to be opened in the near future. If you can't wait, many (unlabeled) photos are online at the official website.


Ramah, Hometown of the Prophet Samuel

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It seems hardly possible that one could look at a site dozens of times, drive around it quite a few times, and even fly right next to it in an airplane, but never actually set foot on the site. Even more to the point, Ramah sits at the "crossroads" of the Central Benjamin Plateau, making it well-traveled in ancient times. But in recent decades the area has been covered by construction and I just never found my way there. What you'll see if you climb to the summit of this hill is a cluster of old dwellings surrounding by modern apartment buildings. These houses date to much, much later than the time of Samuel, but their traditional look makes for a more interesting photograph than the high-rises or the minaret next door. The prophet Samuel made an annual circuit, returning each year to Ramah (1 Sam 7:15-17). When he died, Samuel was buried here (1 Sam 25:1), making the traditional location of his tomb at Nebi Samwil an inaccurate identification.


The Tomb of Joseph in Shechem

Click photograph for higher-resolution version.

The book of Genesis closes with Joseph's request that his bones be carried out of Egypt and buried in the Promised Land (Gen 50:25). When the Israelites pulled out of Egypt, Moses remembered to pack these in his luggage on their way to Canaan (Exod 13:19). The final words of the book of Joshua record the fulfillment of this mission, with Joseph's bones being interred in the tract of land that Jacob had purchased at Shechem (Josh 24:32). Fifty years ago, the compound surrounding the traditional tomb of Joseph sat alone in a field east of the ancient tell of Shechem. Today the area is buried in buildings, and Joseph's tomb is walled off and sealed tight. If you happen to find the guard in the right mood, he may unlock the door and let you take a quick peek at the traditional tomb of the man who saved his family from death by famine. And, if you angle the camera just right, you can include Mount Gerizim in the photo.


The Wadi Farah

Click photograph for higher-resolution version.

I confess now that the reason that I chose to move from south to north was so that I could end with my favorite new place. For 25 years I've studied and taught about the "Trans-Samaria Expressway" that runs from the Jordan River and connects the three ancient capitals of Israel. And I've visited all three—Shechem, Tirzah, and Samaria—when the political situation has permitted. But the eastern portion of that expressway, the Wadi Farah, which connects Tirzah to the Jordan, was terra incognita to me. For many years, it wasn't considered safe to travel to Shechem, let alone north of it where no Israeli settlements are located. But this summer I finally drove the length, and the pleasure was no doubt greater because of the long "forbidden" nature of the area.

My greatest excitement, though, came from seeing this beautiful area where Abraham likely entered the Promised Land on his way to Shechem and where his grandson Jacob almost certainly traveled with his two wives and eleven sons before they settled in Shechem (Gen 12, 34). The reason we can state this with confidence is that this is the best natural route, and surely the patriarchs would have traveled through this broad valley rather than force their flocks and herds to climb unnecessarily over the mountains of Samaria. For me, retracing their steps was a highlight of my summer excursions.

All of these photos, and a few bonus ones, are available in a free PowerPoint presentation.



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All contents © 2016 Todd Bolen. Text and photographs may be used for personal and educational use with attribution. Commercial use requires written permission.