Picture of the Week: Mitylene

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Our “obscure site” for the week is the Roman city of Mitylene, a city that Paul visited during his third missionary journey. (Click on the map above to see its location on an island off the coast of modern Turkey.)  If you don’t remember reading about this city in the New Testament, don’t feel too bad. It is only mentioned in passing and Paul spent less than a day there while he was traveling back to Jerusalem. Perhaps the best way to remember it is to tie it to the story of Eutychus.

Eutychus was the young man (or boy) who fell asleep while listening to Paul preach late into the night. Unfortunately, Eutychus was sitting in a window sill and fell to the ground from the third floor after he dozed off. Luke writes that he was “picked up dead” (Acts 20:9, NASB). But fortunately Paul miraculously brought him back to life (Acts 20:10-12). This happened in Troas on the western shore of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Paul left Troas the next day, walked twenty miles to the city of Assos, and then boarded a ship where Luke was waiting for him. Luke continues the story by saying:

And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. Sailing from there, we arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:14-16, NASB)

So only a few days after raising Eutychus, we find Paul in Mitylene. This passage makes clear that Paul was quickly moving through this territory and it is not even clear that he set foot on the island of Lesbos where this city is located. Consequently, the city finds itself on our list of “obscure sites in the Pictorial Library of the Holy Land” instead of prominently displayed on the BiblePlaces website along with Samos, Miletus, and Ephesus.

In the image above, you can see the modern city of Mitylene through the window of a medieval castle that sits on the city’s peninsula. This peninsula is actually man-made, similar to the one at Tyre. The castle sits on what was once an island that stood a short distance from the shore. At some point in the city’s history, a causeway was constructed from the shore to the island, and subsequently two harbors were formed (one of which probably sheltered Paul’s ship during the night he was there). The ancient city was inhabited from about 1200 B.C. until A.D. 151 when it was destroyed by an earthquake. In addition to the apostle Paul, the city also played host to Aristotle and Epicurus during its long history.

Now, you probably did not get up this morning and expect to read a blog post about the obscure city of Mitylene or the biblical story of Paul and Eutychus, but this post illustrates an interesting phenomenon … We are curious creatures and images have a way of drawing us into a story. They lead us to want to know more. If you are a teacher, a preacher, a professional in the corporate world … someone who stands up in front of people and delivers information verbally … you should take note of this and use it to your advantage. We live in a visual culture. We also live in a generation that has resources which previous generations could only dream of, if they could imagine them at all. We have at our fingertips photographs and illustrations of places and things all over the world! So the next time you stand up to talk about obscure (or not-so-obscure) topics, start with a photograph. Draw your listeners in by using an image as a springboard to your discussion. Equip yourself with collections such as the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, Historic Views of the Holy Land, or something similar that exists in your field of expertise. Then use people’s natural curiosity to lead them where you want them to go. Once you have their attention, you can take them anywhere.

This photo is available in Volume 12 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and is available here for $24 (with free shipping). This volume focuses on the Greek Islands, and includes the islands of Samothrace, Samos, Patmos, Cos, Rhodes, and others.


Artifact of the Month: The Merneptah Stela

(Posted by Michael J.

This month’s
artifact is an engraved slab of granite that is more than ten feet tall. It was
discovered in 1896 in Western Thebes, Egypt by Sir Flinders Petrie and it
contains the oldest* certain reference to “Israel” outside of the Bible. It is commonly
referred to as the Merneptah Stela and the text was carved c. 1210 BC in
hieroglyphs under the auspices of Pharaoh Merneptah.  It is now located in
the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the word “Israel” is in the
darkened section in the second line from the bottom that can be seen more
clearly by clicking on the photo to enlarge it.
The wording on the stela is hymnic in
nature and recounts the military exploits of Pharaoh Merneptah, especially
against the Libyans. Indeed, of the 28 lines of inscribed text, 23 deal with
the Libyan conflict. It is only in the later part of the inscription that
Israel is mentioned, and in this regard the Israelites are referred to with the
language designating them as an ethnic group instead of a settled nation state.
This description is fully in line with the Biblical portrayal of the Israelites
during the era of the Judges, which represents them as a  people group lacking in central leadership
and without a capital city.  
BiblePlaces.com. Significant resource for further study: The Context of Scripture, Volume 2, page 40-41.)
*The Berlin Pedestal may contain a
reference to Israel that is older than the Merneptah Stela. See:
in Canaan (Long) Before Pharaoh Merenptah? A Fresh Look at Berlin Statue
Pedestal Relief 21687. Journal
of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections
2.4: 15–25.


Israel Tourist Statistics

The latest Caspari Center Media Review includes a brief summary from the Hebrew-language Yerushalayim Shelanu of tourism to Israel in 2012.

56% of the 2.88 million tourists who visited Israel were Christian. Of these, 90% visited Jerusalem, 68% visited the Dead Sea, 62% visited Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, and 60% visited Bethlehem. Most Christian tourists come from Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Poland, Mexico, Russia, Romania, and Nigeria.

A photo of a flock of tourists all wearing floppy orange hats would fit right here.


IWC Spring 2014 Lecture Series

In my estimation, perhaps the most interesting lecture series related to biblical archaeology is that held each year by the International Women’s Club at Tel Aviv University. They bring in outstanding lecturers who discuss topics of broad interest.

This year’s theme is “In the Eye of the Storm—‘Jerusalem in History and Archaeology Through the Ages.’” The schedule is as follows:

February 18: Dr. Gabriel Barkay, Jerusalem of Kings and Prophets

February 25: Prof. Avraham Faust, Jerusalem and Sennacherib: The City, before, during, and after the Assyrian Campaign of 701 BCE

March 4: Dr. Joe Uziel, Recent Excavations in Jerusalem and Their Importance for 
Understanding the First Temple City

March 11: Dr. Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, “The Hezekiah Tunnel.” How Was It Built and Why Was It Built?

March 18: Dr. Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, The History and Archaeology of the Book of Esther

March 25: Dr. Guy Shtibel, “By Far the Most Famous City of the East” – Herod and Jerusalem

April 1: Dr. Guy Shtibel, The Eagle and the Flies – The Roman Siege of Jerusalem

April 8: Dr. Guy Shtibel, “Between Two Cities” – From Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina

April 29: Dr. Yonatan Adler, Mikva’ot (Ritual Baths) in Late Hellenistic and Early Roman Jerusalem

May 13: Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, Jerusalem (Aelia Capitolina) in the Roman Period: The Foundation of the Roman Colony and the Bar-Kokhba Revolt

May 20: Dr. Oren Gutfeld, From Aelia Capitolina to Hagia Polis Hierosalima: Changes in the Urban Layout of Jerusalem

June 10: Mr. Perez Reuven, The Umayyad Building Project on the Temple Mount and Its Environs

Individual lectures cost 50 NIS; the entire series is 400 NIS. The lectures will be held 9-11:30 am in the Gilman Building, Room 282, Tel Aviv University. A flyer with contact details is available here.


Weekend Roundup

Excavations in Hebron have already revealed an Iron Age house, artifacts from the 10th century, and Second Temple period items.

Nadav Shragai writes in Israel HaYom on recent Temple Mount discoveries that have not been publicized.

Plans are underway for a new museum at Petra.

The Rapid City Journal recounts how a collection of cuneiform tablets came to be in the collection of Black Hills State University in South Dakota.

National Geographic presents “Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology,” a new exhibition coming to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Ferrell Jenkins has posted several entries recently in his Visualizing Isaiah series: a skirt of sackcloth, trusting in horses and chariots, and a booth in a vineyard.

Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo has welcomed a new male lion to replace the one who died last year.

ASOR has a roundup of stories from around the world.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Charles Savelle, Jack Sasson


Lecture Series: History and Archaeology of the Three Jerusalems

The American Jewish University in Bel Air, California, is hosting the Simmons Family Charitable Foundation’s Twenty-Fifth Annual Program in Biblical Archaeology on Sunday, February 16, 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The registration fee is $55. The schedule includes the following lectures:

Carol Bakhos, The Idea of Jerusalem in the Hearts of Those Who Call Out “Lord” or “Allah” or “Adonai”

Shimon Gibson, Christian Jerusalem: From Constantine the Great in the 4th Century to Emperor Heraclius in the 7th Century

Shimon Gibson, Jerusalem under the Moslems: from Caliph Omar to Saladin

Gabriel Barkay, When the Second Temple Stood

Gabriel Barkay, The Footprints of Kings in Jerusalem

The website includes more details about each lecture and provides a link for online registration. Gibson and Barkay are both excellent lecturers, and Jerusalem is a fascinating subject.

HT: G. M. Grena

Dome of the Rock, mat06204
The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, early 1900s 
Photo from the American Colony Collection

Picture of the Week: Cenchrea

(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Our “obscure site” for the week was the location of a famous haircut.  Acts 18:18 tells us, “After this, Paul stayed many days longer [in Corinth] and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow.” (ESV)

The city of Cenchrea (or Cenchreae) was a port city near the Corinthian isthmus in Greece.  Paul was on his second missionary journey and had just completed his 18-month stay in the city of Corinth

When he passed through Cenchrea, he was reaching the end of his journey.  After this, he made a short stop at Ephesus, and then continued on to Caesarea, Jerusalem, and finally Antioch where he started his journey.  Cenchrea is also mentioned in Romans 16:1 where Paul mentions a lady named Phoebe who served the church in that city.

In the photograph below you can see the harbor of Cenchrea. This city served as the eastern port of Corinth, which explains why Paul passed through here on his way back to Jerusalem and Antioch.

John McRay, in his book Archaeology and the New Testament, provides the following information about Cenchrea:

Virtually nothing has been found of the main city of Cenchreae, which lay northwest of the harbor, because during five seasons of excavation from 1963 to 1968 the government restricted work to the harbor except in 1966. … The picturesque harbor thus far excavated, dates to the Roman period. … The Roman harbor originally contained about 1600 feet of shoreline and was 98,000 square feet. In comparison with other Greek and Roman harbors, this one was rather small …. Two large breakwaters, were constructed around a natural bay. The modern shore is about 7.5 feet lower than during New Testament times, due to seismic activity. The harbor’s breakwaters or moles are completely submerged. Pottery and coins give evidence to a city whose commercial life, prosperity, and general status was inextricably tied to Corinth’s. Almost all the coins uncovered have been of Greek mintage or from the eastern Mediterranean, confirming that Cenchrea’s commercial significance was the link it provided between Corinth and the east.

It is unfortunate that further excavations of the site have not been allowed, but that probably explains why we have not yet found the hair that was cut from Paul’s head. 😉

This map and photograph, along with over 800 other images, are available in Volume 11 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, which can be purchased here for $34 (with free shipping).  Another photograph of the harbor at Cenchrea can be seen here on the BiblePlaces website. Ferrell Jenkins has a picture of the harbor available on his blog here. For other posts in our series on “obscure sites in the PLBL,” see here.

The excerpt is taken from John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), pp. 336-337.


Byzantine Basilica Discovered near Kiryat Gat

Archaeologists in Israel revealed an impressive Byzantine church building with beautiful mosaic pavements at Moshav Aluma near Kiryat Gat. The site is in the eastern coastal plain, about 10 miles (16 km) east of Ashkelon and 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Jerusalem.

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavations, Daniel Varga, describes the structure in a press release issued by the IAA:

An impressive basilica building was discovered at the site, 22 meters long and 12 meters wide. The building consists of a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars. At the front of the building is a wide open courtyard (atrium) paved with a white mosaic floor, and with a cistern. Leading off the courtyard is a rectangular transverse hall (narthex) with a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs; at its center, opposite the entrance to the main hall, is a twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names Mary and Jesus, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction.

The press release gives more detail of the mosaic floor:

The main hall (the nave) has a colored mosaic floor adorned with vine tendrils to form forty medallions. The medallions contain depictions of different animals, including: zebra, leopard, turtle, wild boar, various winged birds and botanical and geometric designs. Three medallions contain dedicatory inscriptions in Greek commemorating senior church dignitaries: Demetrios and Herakles. The two were heads of the local regional church. On both sides of the central nave are two narrow halls (side aisles), which also have colored mosaic floors depicting botanical and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols.

The site will be open to the public on Thursday and Friday (Jan 23–24) before the mosaics are removed for future display in a local museum. The church building itself will be buried. More information is available in the press release. The photos posted below are available via this link. Brief news articles have been published by the Jerusalem Post, Washington Post, and Times of Israel.

1Excavation of the Byzantine basilica at Moshav Aluma
2An excavation volunteer cleans the mosaic floor
3 (1)
Mosaic floor of the Byzantine basilica
All photos by Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Now Available: Edward Robinson’s Works on Logos

Logos Bible Software is offering a set of 8 volumes entitled “Classic Studies and Atlases on Biblical Geography.” What you need to know is that it includes the three volumes of Edward Robinson’s Biblical Researches in Palestine. The collection is now listed on the Community Pricing, which is always the most affordable way to purchase books from Logos. Once they receive enough orders, the price will jump up $100 or so. Now you can bid what you feel the set is worth.

For those who don’t know, Edward Robinson’s set is the seminal work on historical geography of the land of Israel. Robinson and his student Eli Smith traveled throughout Palestine in 1838 with a goal of locating ancient sites, primarily on the basis of name preservation. I have a couple of sets of this work, including one original edition from 1841. I once began creating an electronic edition, but other matters came in the way and it was set aside. Now you can purchase this at an attractive price. (And, yes, Google Books has long had this for free, but what you save in money you’ll pay for in the headache of trying to sort out the volumes from various editions that do not go together.)

I do wish that Logos would add to this collection the fourth volume, Later Biblical Researches in Palestine (1856). This was based on a later trip that Robinson and Smith made to answer some outstanding questions.

The other titles included:

Once upon a time, I created a list of the best resources by 19th-century explorers of Palestine.

You can put in your bid here. And here is another collection of similar works, but no longer at the attractive Community Pricing.

HT: Charles Savelle

Robinson's Arch with new excavations, db6806245201
Robinson’s Arch in Jerusalem, named for Edward Robinson
Photo by David Bivin

Weekend Roundup

Noah Wiener has a follow-up article on the spring tunnel discovered in the Rephaim Valley. He includes a great photo of the tunnel.

Zachi Zweig disagrees with Leen Ritmeyer’s dating of the newly revealed course of ashlar stones on the Temple Mount. He dates it to the Early Islamic period.

A woman has turned over to the IAA a large collection of pottery discovered by a relative in the Mediterranean Sea.

The winter dig at Khirbet el-Maqatir began in the snow. They spent several weeks excavating three caves.

The ancient Myceneans once used portable grills at their picnics.

Archaeologists have discovered grain from the Neolithic period at Çatalhöyük.

The report for the 2013 excavation season at Tall el-Hammam is now online.

The first two volumes of NGSBA Archaeology are available for download. (NGSBA = Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology.)

Just published: The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: c. 8000-332 BCE, edited by
Margreet L. Steiner and Ann E. Killebrew. Oxford University Press. 912 pages. $165.

Wayne Stiles explains how to make the maps in your Bible atlas fully searchable.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Tim Graham, Jack Sasson