Did Jesus Have Cold Feet?

A few weeks ago the media was carrying the report of a study done by the Journal of Paleolimnology that a patch of ice could have formed on the surface of the Sea of Galilee. The scientists admit that this was a very rare event and may have occurred only once every 30 to 60 years. It was a floating piece of ice that would have been difficult to see. And it’s on the opposite side of the lake where Jesus had been with his disciples just prior to the episode (he had been near Bethsaida). I’ll leave it for you to determine which is the greater miracle: incarnate God walks on water or a really moral teacher with great eyesight catches a ride on a floating piece of ice without anybody figuring it out until 2006.

Re-enactment of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee

The State of “Palestinian Archaeology”

You don’t read much about “Palestinian archaeology,” that is research done by Arabs in the West Bank. This article gives a little insight into why that is (HT: Explorator). One thing of note for biblical studies is the “freshly uncovered Bronze Age site called Tell Etell, a few kilometers outside Ramallah.” Certainly this must be a reference to the site sometimes identified as Ai, which is anything but “freshly uncovered” (it was first excavated in 1928). I can see why it would be an attractive site for Palestinians: 1) its proximity to the large city of Ramallah, and 2) its apparent discrediting of the historicity of the Israelite conquest when identified as Ai. For a brief note about the problems with et-Tell as Ai, see this BiblePlaces page with photos and links.

Early Bronze temple (or palace) of et-Tell

Down the Jordan River

Richard Bangs is claiming to be the first guy since Lynch 150 years ago to float a boat down the entire length of the Jordan River. If he succeeds, I’ll be impressed, and not only because it’s an international border between a Jewish state and an Arab state. But he has reached “Day 4” of the journey and I see that the trip intro was hype and not reality. He’s now driving down the road parallel to the river. Now that’s an “adventure.” Still there may be something of interest to viewers here, as in addition to his narration, there are photos and videos for each day. Unfortunately he does perpetuate the myth (see Day 4) that the Jordan is 200 miles long between the Galilee and Dead Seas. In reality, it’s closer to 130 miles.


Today is Palm Sunday AND Easter

No April Fool’s joke here; it really is. Today you could go to one part of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and see the Easter observance and go to another part and watch the Palm Sunday ceremonies. The Western Church (Roman Catholic and Protestant) celebrate Easter today; the calendar of the Eastern Church (Orthodox) is a week “behind” this year. The picture below is from today’s procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; I bet you can guess who is pictured from what they’re holding.

As if that is that’s not enough excitement for one city in one day, the Jewish people are now celebrating Passover and this morning was the “Priestly Blessing.” At least you know the police in Jerusalem aren’t bored.


Israel Museum update

I was at the Israel Museum a few days ago and construction is moving ahead on the installation of the “Holyland Hotel” model of Jerusalem. It looked like there were 30-50 workers on site and most of the model seems to be in place. Construction continues on the walkway around the model, which is elevated and affords a better view than the previous location. The museum says that the model will be open in May and I think they won’t be far behind that estimate.

You might want to skip the museum itself, if you’re interested in finds related to the New Testament. That section is greatly lacking with many of the finds now in Cleveland (pdf file) for a special exhibit. Among the missing are the Temple Scroll, the ossuary of Caiaphas, the trumpeting stone, the Temple inscription forbidding entry to Gentiles and the Pilate inscription. Too bad they can’t put the James Ossuary (forgery or not) on display in one of the empty cases.

Plans are afoot to dramatically change the museum’s layout. $50 million will move the main entrance to the display wings and create an enclosed route of passage to it. I admit that I’ve always been baffled by the two “entrances” to the museum, at either end of the campus (both with security guards to check your bags).


Flash Floods in the Judean Wilderness (with Photos)

This weekend there was a big storm in Israel. I slept through most of it but realized the magnitude when I saw that my home modem was fried and a network switch at the office wasn’t working. I didn’t realize how much rain had come down or I might have done the smart thing and jumped in my van to go take pictures. The flash floods closed some roads and killed a few people, but for those with a safe vantage point, they were impressive. That evening I had a dinner scheduled with my friend Ferrell Jenkins. He had scheduled his group to spend the day in the Old City but re-routed because of the storm and thus was out in the wilderness watching the rivers run. I got to sit in his hotel room that evening as he downloaded the pictures from his camera. The shots he got were amazing. He had pictures you wouldn’t believe if you couldn’t see. Ferrell has graciously sent me a few of those with permission to post them here. I’m up north now and have only a slow internet connection, so these pictures are unfortunately low-res.

This first one shows a wider view. There are multiple “rivers” of water flowing down into the Wadi Qilt. The wadi itself has become a river. This photo was taken from a viewpoint overlooking St. George’s Monastery (which is just off to the left).

The second is a close-up of one of the “waterfalls.” Most of the year this area is brown and dead. You wouldn’t guess that it had seen a drop of water in centuries. Now you know better.

The last shows the Wadi Qilt in Jericho as it runs under a modern bridge. Normally as we cross this dry riverbed on the bus I comment to the students that when it rains this could be a raging torrent. They shrug and ask the driver to please turn up the A/C.

My thanks to Ferrell Jenkins for letting me share these photos here. If you’ve got a minute, take a look at Ferrell’s website, www.biblicalstudies.info. He has put together many excellent and helpful resources during his years of teaching.


1st Century Road Revealed in Jerusalem

I think I’ve mentioned this somewhere before, but the Jerusalem Post has an article now announcing the discovery of the 1st century road leading from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. The northern portion of this road was fully uncovered in the work of Ronny Reich in the mid-1990s, but Reich’s partner Eli Shukron has been working on “uncovering” it on the southern end. I say “uncovering” because all of the work is actually underground or in very deep pits, inaccessible to the public. The excavator suggested to me that he wanted to “uncover” the entire stretch of the road, which means digging a tunnel for hundreds of meters underneath the houses of the City of David. I can’t imagine that the cost would be justified by what is revealed (more of the same). If they could dig underneath that road to reveal Old Testament period remains, now that might get me excited!


2006 Season at Cave of John the Baptist

Last month, Shimon Gibson and James Tabor returned for one “final” season of digging the “Cave of John the Baptist.” The results of the season have now been released by the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. The archaeologists followed a corridor which seems to be leading to yet another cave, making this an even more significant water system in the Iron Age. In addition, seven stone pillars were found in the middle of this corridor. Apparently the new discoveries may be leading Gibson to consider non-ritual purposes for the cave.

In his 2004 book, Gibson argues that “evidence showed that the cave at Suba was already more than 700 years old at the time of John the Baptist. It was a place, I believe, that must have possessed a hoary Israelite tradition of ritualistic bathing going back into the mists of time.” As more evidence has been uncovered Gibson has broadened his theorizing and currently is uncertain of the original function of the facility. There are no precise parallels to this kind of complex from the Iron Age.

We’re all for any thinking that considers non-ritual purposes for the site.


Israel Population Redistribution Underway

One of the results of this week’s election is the immediate implementation of a resettlement program throughout Israel. The demographic problem has long been cited as a major issue affecting national harmony and the new plan has widespread support for resolving internal social tensions.

In the first phase, all Israeli citizens will be identified by tribal affiliations. Much of this work has already been collected by the Yad VaShem Archives. New teudat zehut (national identity) cards will be issued, color-coded according to tribe (one “senior administration official” says that Judah’s color will be blue).

In the second phase, the inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon will be asked to relocate to Uganda. If they do not, the Israelis are prepared to march around Damascus and Beirut for 7 days.

The resettlement will occur in the third phase and will follow the guidelines laid out by a former national spokesman, known to the public only by the name Ezekiel. His decree is widely regarded as fair because each tribe gets “one portion.” This will reduce tension resulting from Israelis who are used to privileged status. The established boundaries will locate Dan in the northernmost district, with the descendants of Asher just to the south. The territories will continue in east-west bands to the south where members of Judah will receive the land just to the north of Jerusalem and Benjamites will be located to the south of the Holy City. Gad will receive the southernmost region, including the springs of Meribah Kadesh.

There are a variety of positive benefits to this plan:
1. Families will be united. Grandparents will no longer be separated from their grandchildren.
2. Those expelled from Gush Katif will no longer be homeless.
3. The population of Tel Aviv will be reduced to a few thousand.
4. There will be no more conflict at the border with Lebanon.
5. In response to the plan, Israel’s new national leader has agreed to make the Dead Sea fresh.

Responses have generally been positive, though Shimon Peres has voiced concern that the grave of Yasser Arafat not be disturbed. Omri Sharon says that once he gets out of prison, he will enthusiastically endorse the plan. Benjamin Netanyahu thinks there should be a referendum on it. 

Ehud Olmert is taking credit for the idea.

On the world scene, Jordan’s King Abdullah is ecstatic that his territory will be untouched and that his northern neighbor will move to Africa. Syria’s President Assad says he will announce his decision after reading Joshua 6. Former President Bill Clinton says that he has no idea where such a plan came from.

According to the law, all phases of this plan must be implemented not later than one year from today, April 1.