A Different Kind of Christmas Story (for Kids)

(Post by A.D. Riddle)


Several years ago, I checked out a book at the library to read to my kids. It turned out to be a delightful story of a young boy who helps his father harvest resin from trees in Arabia. The connection with Jesus’ birth is sort of a surprise twist at the end of the book, so if you read it to your kids, be sure not to give away that this is a Christmas story—they will get it by the time they reach the last page.

The book is entitled, The Third Gift, by Linda Sue Park (Boston: Clarion, 2011). The Third Gift was probably intended for ages 4-10 (best guess with input from my kids), but the beautiful illustrations (by Bagram Ibatoulline) and the Middle Eastern setting made it interesting for me as well, and it gives you a different perspective for thinking about a very familiar account from the book of Matthew. The “Author’s Note” on the last two pages summarizes the history of our modern perceptions about the biblical story, and re-connects the event with its original geographical and cultural setting. Recommended if you have young ones around for the holidays.

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Free Maps from AWMC

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

In 2011, Routledge published Wall Maps for the Ancient World, a series of seven maps which were created by the Ancient World Mapping Center (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

According to the center’s blog, the maps have gone out of print and now the rights have reverted back to the Ancient World Mapping Center. Yesterday, they announced they are making digital versions of the maps available to download. Most of the maps will be of interest to Bible students and readers of this blog. The announcement noted additionally that the digital version of map 6 “World of the New Testament” incorporates some minor corrections.

You can read more about the maps and download them here.

[UPDATE: Yesterday, we experienced troubles trying to download the maps. We contacted AWMC and they are working to resolve the issues. In the meantime, AWMC has removed their blog post about release of the maps. You can continue to read the same information on this other page, but to download the maps, you might want to use this temporary link we have created.]

[UPDATE 2: AMWC has reposted their original announcement, but now it includes instructions to email awmc@unc.edu and they will send a link to download one or more files.]

The seven maps are:

1.  Egypt and the Near East, 3000 to 1200 BCE. Scale: 1:1,750,000.
2.  Egypt and the Near East, 1200 to 500 BCE. Scale: 1:1,750,000.
3.  Greece and the Aegean in the Fifth Century BCE. Scale: 1:750,000.
4.  Greece and Persia in the Time of Alexander the Great. Scale: 1:4,000,000.
5.  Italy in the Mid-First Century CE. Scale: 1:775,000.
6.  The World of the New Testament and the Journeys of Paul. Scale: 1:1,750,000. Inset “New Testament Palestine” (Scale 1:350,000).
7.  The Roman Empire around 200 CE. Scale: 1:3,000,000.

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Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament (New Book)

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

Available beginning today is an impressive-looking title published by Baker Academic, Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts, edited by Jonathan S. Greer, John W. Hilber, and John H. Walton.

The book contains 65 essays (in 640 pages) by many well-known scholars in archaeology, and biblical and Ancient Near East studies, but it also includes several younger scholars who are just beginning their careers in these various disciplines. Perusing the range of topics, it seems that little has been overlooked—iconography, geography, literature, archaeology. The opening chapters addressing historical geography and physical geography will have special appeal to readers of this blog. Essays even extend beyond the title’s “Old Testament” to include Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic period, and the Hasmonean kingdom.

This authoritative volume brings together a team of world-class scholars to cover the full range of Old Testament backgrounds studies in a concise, up-to-date, and comprehensive manner. With expertise in various subdisciplines of Old Testament backgrounds, the authors illuminate the cultural, social, and historical contexts of the world behind the Old Testament. They introduce readers to a wide range of background materials, covering history, geography, archaeology, and ancient Near Eastern textual and iconographic studies.

Meant to be used alongside traditional literature-based canonical surveys, this one-stop introduction to Old Testament backgrounds fills a gap in typical introduction to the Bible courses. It contains over 100 illustrations, including photographs, line drawings, maps, charts, and tables, which will facilitate its use in the classroom.

Here is the full table of contents:

Introduction (Jonathan S. Greer, John W. Hilber, and John H. Walton)
Part One: Elements of the Drama
I. The Stage: Historical Geography
1. Introduction to Historical Geography (Paul H. Wright)
2. Regions and Routes in the Levant (Carl G. Rasmussen)
3. Climate and Environment of the Levant (Elizabeth Arnold)
4. Plants and Animals of the Land of Israel (Daniel Fuks and Nimrod Marom)
II. The Sets and Props: Archaeology
5. Introduction to Biblical Archaeology (Seymour Gitin)
6. Archaeology of the Late Bronze Age (Joe Uziel)
7. Archaeology of the Iron Age I (Aren M. Maeir)
8. Archaeology of the Iron Age II (Amihai Mazar)
9. Archaeology of the Neo-Babylonian and Persian Periods (Constance E. C. Gane)
10. Archaeology of the Hellenistic Period (Jordan Ryan)
III. The Scripts: Ancient Near Eastern Literature
11. Introduction to Ancient Near Eastern Literature (Adam E. Miglio)
12. Hebrew Inscriptions (Judith M. Hadley)
13. Mesopotamian Literature (Dave C. Deuel)
14. Egyptian Literature (Nili Shupak)
15. Hittite Literature (Alice Mouton)
16. Northwest Semitic Inscriptions (Margaret E. Cohen)
17. Ugaritic Literature (William D. Barker)
18. Early Jewish Literature (Ryan Stokes)
IV. The Frames: Ancient Near Eastern Iconography
19. Introduction to Ancient Near Eastern Iconography (Izak Cornelius)
20. Egyptian Iconography (Laura Wright)
21. Mesopotamian and Anatolian Iconography (Daniel Bodi)
22. Canaanite/Israelite Iconography (Brent A. Strawn)

Part Two: Acts and Scenes of the Drama
V. Acts: Integrated Approaches to Broad Historical Contexts
23. The Ancestral Period (Richard S. Hess)
24. The Egyptian Sojourn and the Exodus (David A. Falk)
25. The Settlement Period (Pekka Pitkänen)
26. The United Monarchy (Steven M. Ortiz)
27. The Divided Monarchy: Israel (Jens Bruun Kofoed)
28. The Divided Monarchy: Judah (Eric L. Welch)
29. The Exile and the Exilic Communities (Deirdre N. Fulton)
30. Persian Period Yehud (Kenneth A. Ristau)
31. The Maccabean Revolt and the Hasmonean Kingdom (Joel Willitts)
VI. Scenes: Integrated Approaches to Event-Based Historical Contexts
32. Akhenaten and the Amarna Period (Mark D. Janzen)
33. The Late Bronze Age Collapse and the Sea Peoples’ Migrations (Gregory D. Mumford)
34. Sheshonq’s Levantine Conquest and Biblical History (Yigal Levin)
35. The Battle of Qarqar and Assyrian Aspirations (Mark W. Chavalas)
36. The Mesha Inscription and Relations with Moab and Edom (Juan Manuel Tebes)
37. The Tell Dan Inscription, Jehu’s Revolt, and Aramaean Campaigns in Israel and Judah (K. Lawson Younger Jr.)
38. Sennacherib’s Invasion of Judah and Neo-Assyrian Expansion (Kyle H. Keimer)
39. Eighth-Century Levantine Earthquakes and Natural Disasters (Ryan N. Roberts)
40. The Battle of Carchemish and Seventh-Century Regional Politics (Sara L. Hoffman)
41. Alexander the Great and Levantine Hellenism (D. Brent Sandy)

Part Three: Themes of the Drama
VII. God: Integrated Approaches to Themes in Israelite Religion 
42. Monotheism in Ancient Israel (Matthew J. Lynch)
43. Biblical Texts Studied in Comparison with Other Ancient Near Eastern Documents (John H. Walton)
44. The Temple in Context (John H. Walton)
45. Priests in the Ancient Near East (Gerald Klingbeil)
46. Worship, Sacrifice, and Festivals in the Ancient Near East (Roy E. Gane)
47. Family Religion in Ancient Israel (Andrew R. Davis)
48. Prophecy, Divination, and Magic in the Ancient Near East (John W. Hilber)
49. Death and Burial in the Iron Age Levant (Christopher B. Hays)
VIII. Family: Integrated Approaches to Themes in Family Networks
50. Tribes and Nomads in the Iron Age Levant (Thomas D. Petter)
51. Women in Ancient Israel (Carol Meyers)
52. Family, Children, and Inheritance in the Biblical World (Victor H. Matthews)
IX. Sustenance: Integrated Approaches to Themes in Economic Contexts
53. Seasons, Crops, and Water in the Land of the Bible (Oded Borowski)
54. Trade in the Late Bronze and Iron Age Levant (Joshua T. Walton)
55. Slavery in the World of the Bible (Richard E. Averbeck)
56. The Local Economies of Ancient Israel (Peter Altmann)
57. Metallurgy in the World of the Bible (Brady Liss and Thomas E. Levy)
58. Ancient Technologies of Everyday Life (Gloria London)
59. Food Preparation in the Iron Age Levant (Cynthia Shafer-Elliott)
60. Feasting in the Biblical World (Janling Fu)
61. Music and Dance in the World of the Bible (Annie F. Caubet)
X. Governance: Integrated Approaches to Themes in Social Organization
62. Kingship and the State in Ancient Israel (Nili S. Fox)
63. Social Stratification in the Iron Age Levant (Avraham Faust)
64. Law and Legal Systems in Ancient Israel (David W. Baker)
65. Wisdom Traditions in Ancient Israel (Paul Overland)
66. Warfare in the World of the Bible (Mark Schwartz)

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New Volume of Assyrian Royal Inscriptions

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

I had noticed earlier this year that inscriptions of Ashurbanipal had started appearing in the online corpus of the “Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyria Period,” and sure enough, yesterday, Eisenbrauns released the latest volume of the series, The Royal Inscriptions of Ashurbanipal (668-631 BC), Aššur-etal-ilāni (630-627 BC), and Sîn-šarra-iškun (626-612 BC), Kings of Assyria, Part I, by Jamie Novotny and Joshua Jeffers (2018).

From the publisher:

In this book, Jamie Novotny and Joshua Jeffers provide updated, reliable editions of seventy-one historical inscriptions of Ashurbanipal, including all historical inscriptions on clay prisms, clay cylinders, wall slabs, and other stone objects from Nineveh, Assur, and Kalhu. Each text edition is accompanied by an English translation, a catalog of all exemplars, a comprehensive bibliography, and commentary containing notes and technical information. This volume also contains a general introduction to the reign of Ashurbanipal, his military campaigns, the corpus of inscriptions, previous studies, and chronology; translations of the relevant passages of several Mesopotamian chronicles and king lists; photographs of objects inscribed with texts of Ashurbanipal; indexes of museum and excavation numbers, selected publications, and proper names.

Ashurbanipal is mentioned once in the Bible (Ezra 4:10). The other two kings listed in the title are some of the last kings of Assyria, up to the time Nineveh was conquered in 609 BC by Medes and Chaldeans. Note that this is part 1, and that part 2 is still being prepared for publication. The publisher’s description of the book mentions only Ashurbanipal, so I do not know if Aššur-etel-ilāni or Sîn-šarra-iškun make into this part, or if they are in the next one. The online version of this volume, however, is already up and running, and there you can view (some of?) the inscriptions of these last two kings. The online material appears to contain most, if not all, of the information in the printed book, but I must say it is more enjoyable for me to use and read the printed volume, while using the online version for research. If you are interested in ordering a copy, visit the Eisenbrauns page. The announcement sent out yesterday included the code NR18 which you can use to receive a 30% discount.

This book is the first part of volume 5 in the series entitled the Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period, or RINAP. Now, all we need is RINAP volume 2, the inscriptions of Sargon II (the publication of which I was told four years ago was imminent). RINAP is the successor to an earlier publication series named RIMA. You can explore both of these, and more, at the Royal Inscriptions of Assyria Online Project. These online resources are already very good, but they keep getting better and better. Big thank you to Eisenbrauns and all the other individuals, organizations, and acronyms (Oracc, RIAo, OIMEA, etc.) who make this available.

Related posts on this blog:
Neo-Assyrian Royal Inscriptions
Neo-Assyrian Kings and Biblical History
More on Neo-Assyrian Inscriptions

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New Excavation at Khirbet ‘Auja el-Foqa

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

The Jordan Valley Excavation Project will be starting a new excavation at Khirbet ‘Auja el-Foqa, a fortified city on a hilltop overlooking the Jordan Valley, just north of Jericho. Registration is now open for the inaugural 2019 season which will run from May 26 to June 23. The project is co-directed by David Ben-Shlomo and Ralph K. Hawkins. For information, visit the project’s website at www.jvep.org.

Khirbet ‘Auja el-Foqa was surveyed by Adam Zertal, who identified a casemate wall and towers (see photo blow). Zertal concluded, “The main settlement in the site was founded at the beginning of the Iron Age IIB and it was possibly abandoned during Sennacherib’s campaign to Judah in 701 BCE.” But until now the site has not been excavated. The Jordan Valley Excavation Project is interested in determining if there are earlier settlements beneath the Iron IIB remains. One reason for thinking there might is the Jordan Valley Excavation Project discovered Late Bronze II/Iron I at the site of Khirbet el-Mastarah, right next door to Khirbet ‘Auja el-Foqa. Zertal identified ‘Auja el-Foqa as Ataroth in Joshua 16:5, and Shmuel Ahituv suggested it is the town of Na’arta mentioned in an inscription from Jerusalem. The project’s website provides more details.

Tower at Khirbet ‘Auja el-Foqa (www.jvep.com). 

This map shows both Khirbet ‘Auja el-Foqa and Khirbet el-Mastarah, and their relation to the Jordan Valley and Jericho.

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New Book on Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

A few years ago, we mentioned a number of new titles addressing the topic of crucifixion (you can read that here). One of them was by one of my teachers, Eckhard Schnabel, who is now on faculty at Gordon Conwell. I think I had a total of four classes with Schnabel, and I was always amazed at the breadth and depth of his learning. So I was happy to learn that Eerdmans has recently released a new volume by Schnabel entitled Jesus in Jerusalem: The Last Days (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018).

I once heard a rumor about Schnabel (I am not sure if it is true) that he complained that there are not enough big books in the world, but that he is doing his part to correct the deficiency. For those who likewise think there is shortage of big books, then this 704-page tome will be a welcome contribution.

From the publisher:

This is the first book to describe and analyze, sequentially and in detail, all the persons, places, times, and events mentioned in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s last week in Jerusalem. 

Part reference guide, part theological exploration, Eckhard Schnabel’s Jesus in Jerusalem uses the biblical text and recent archaeological evidence to find meaning in Jesus’s final days on earth. Schnabel profiles the seventy-two people and groups and the seventeen geographic locations named in the four passion narratives. Placing the events of Jesus’s last days in chronological order, he unpacks their theological significance, finding that Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection can be understood historically as well as from a faith perspective.

The contents of the book are organized into five sections: People, Places, Timelines, Events, and Significance. Below is the full table of contents. (Note from the contents that Schnabel appears to locate the events of Jesus’ last week in the year AD 30, whereas others argue for the date AD 33.)

People
1. Jesus
2. The Twelve
3. The Eleven
4. Two Unnamed Disciples
5. Simon Peter
6. Andrew
7. James son of Zebedee
8. John son of  Zebedee
9. Thomas
10. Philip
11. Judas son of James
12. Judas Iscariot
13. Nathanael
14. Lazarus
15. Simon the Leper
16. Cleopas
17. Nicodemus
18. Joseph of Arimathea
19. Unnamed Disciple from Emma’s
20. Two Anonymous Disciples
21. Owner of a Colt in Bethphage
22. Man with Water Jar in Jerusalem
23. Owner of House in Jerusalem
24. Young Man in Gethsemane
25. Women Disciples
26. Martha from Bethany
27. Mary from Bethany
28. Mary the Mother of Jesus
29. Mary the Wife of Clopas
30. Mary from Magdala
31. Mary the Mother of James and Joseph
32. Mother of James and John
33. Salome
34. Joanna
35. Acquaintances of Jesus
36. Pilgrims
37. Crowds
38. Tax Collectors
39. Prostitutes
40. Vendors, Customers and Moneychangers on the Temple Mount
41. Blind and Lame
42. Children
43. Gentiles/Greeks
44. Rich People
45. Widow
46. Members of the Sanhedrin
47. Chief Priests
48. Sadducees
49. Experts of the Law
50. Lay Aristocrats
51. Pharisees
52. Annas, Former High Priest
53. Caiaphas, High Priest
54. Malchus, Slave of Caiaphas
55. Malchus’s Relative
56. Two Female Slaves of Caiaphas
57. Retainers
58. Officers of the Jewish Executive
59. Jewish Security Forces and Their Captain
60. Witnesses
61. Herodians
62. Herod Antipas
63. Soldiers of Herod Antipas
64. Pontius Pilate
65. Pontius Pilate’s Wife
66. Soldiers of Auxiliary Troops
67. Centurion
68. Barabbas
69. Simon of Cyrene
70. Women of Jerusalem
71. Two Criminals
72. Man with Sponge at Golgotha

Places
1. Jerusalem
2. Temple Mount
3. Mount of Olives
4. Bethany
5. Bethphage
6. Gethsemane
7. Akeldama
8. House of Jesus’ Last Supper
9. Residence of Annas
10. Residence of Caiaphas
11. The Sanhedrin Building
12. Praetorium
13. The Lithostrotos
14. Residence of Herod Antipas
15. Golgotha
16. Jesus’ Tomb
17. Emmaus

Timelines
1. The Year AD 30
2. Saturday-Sunday, Nisan 9 (April 2-3)
3. Sunday-Monday, Nisan 10 (April 3-4)
4. Monday-Tuesday, Nisan 11 (April 4-5)
5. Tuesday-Wednesday, Nisan 12 (April 5-6)
6. Wednesday-Thursday, Nisan 13 (April 6-7)
7. Thursday-Friday, Nisan 14 (April 7-8)
8. Friday-Saturday, Nisan 15 (April 8-9)
9. Saturday-Sunday, Nisan 23 (April 16-17)

Events
1. The Anointing in Bethany
2. Jesus’ Approach to Jerusalem
3. Jesus’ Prophetic Action on the Temple Mount
4. The Jewish Authorities’ Scheme to Eliminate Jesus
5. The Lesson of the Withered Fig Tree
6. Controversies and Jesus’ Public Teaching on the Temple Mount
7. The Greeks Seek Jesus and the Unbelief of the People
8. The Jewish Authorities’ Planning of Jesus’ Arrest
9. The Betrayal by Judas Iscariot
10. Prophecy of the Destruction of Jerusalem, of the End, and of His Return
11. Preparations for Passover
12. The Last Supper in Jerusalem
13. Arrest in Gethsemane
14. Preliminary Interrogation before Annas and Peter’s First Denial
15. The Trial before the Sanhedrin with Caiaphas Presiding and Peter’s Denials
16. Transfer of Jesus’ Case to Pontius Pilate
17. The Trial before the Roman Prefect with Pontius Pilate Presiding
18. The Walk to Golgotha
19. Jesus’ Crucifixion
20. Jesus’ Burial
21. The Death of Judas Iscariot
22. The Guards at the Tomb
23. The Empty Tomb and Jesus’ Appearance to the Women
24. Jesus’ Appearance to the Disciples

Significance
1. Jesus Is the Messiah, the King of the Jews
2. Jesus and the Temple
3. Jesus’ Death
4. Jesus’ Resurrection
5. Jesus’ Mission and the Mission of His Followers

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New Collection! — Ruth Photo Companion

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

Yesterday, the BiblePlaces newsletter went out with a big announcement about our newest Photo Companion. If you did not receive the newsletter (or if you did not take a moment to read it yet), you can check it out here.

The Photo Companion to the Bible launched last year with the release of The Gospels. Now, we are pleased to announce the latest volume in the series, the book of Ruth.

Ruth is chock-full of cultural and geographic scenes which the BiblePlaces team has illustrated with 350 modern and historic photographs. The photographs are arranged chapter-by-chapter and verse-by-verse in PowerPoint files, accompanied by descriptions, notes, Bible citations, and labels.

Whether you are a student, a teacher, a pastor, or a lay person who studies the Bible, we believe you will truly appreciate this carefully selected assortment of photographs.

To mark the release of this new volume, Ruth is on sale this week for only $20. The price includes free shipping (in the U.S.) and immediate download. Visit this page for further details and to order.

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Bypass the Learning Curve for Bible Mapper

(Post by A.D. Riddle)


A few years ago, we wrote a recommendation when Bible Mapper version 5 was first released. At the time Mark Hoffman, a Bible Mapper user, recorded seven tutorial videos to help out new users.

Mark just moved the tutorials over to YouTube two weeks ago. The videos are a fantastic introduction to some of Bible Mapper’s customization options, and they will give the jump start you need to start creating custom maps right away.

BibleMapper can be downloaded here. Many features can be used with the free version, but a one-time license key ($37) is required to save your work and to access advanced features.
Be sure to watch Mark Hoffman’s tutorial videos on YouTube to help you quickly get started making maps.
You can read our original review here.

To review, the strengths of Bible Mapper are:

  • Accuracy of the data.
  • Ability to customize the look of the terrain, to select features and cities to be displayed, to modify the look and position of labels, and even to import your own sites directly using a kmz/kml file.
  • Permission to use the maps you create copyright-free in papers, lectures, websites, and publications.
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Free Asia Minor Wall Map

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

The Ancient World Mapping Center is making available for free download their wall map of Asia Minor. The blog post from yesterday reads:

After several years of preparation, AWMC’s newest wall map is now available online. This map is a successor to that of J.G.C. Anderson (1903) and its partial revision by W.M. Calder and G.E. Bean (1958).  It was displayed in draft at the ‘Roads and Routes in Anatolia’ conference organized by the British Institute at Ankara (March 2014).  It was then revised with a view to being issued with the volume planned to follow that meeting in due course.  Meantime the Center is now making the map available online.

The map is noteworthy because the Ancient World Mapping Center has reconstructed the ancient coastline, most notable at places such as Miletus, Ephesus, north of Smyrna, and between Xanthos and Patara. The map shows Roman roads, bridges, quarries, and aqueducts. It also shows rivers, wetlands, and elevation with subtle hillshading. According to the legend, the map includes mountain passes and shrines, though I noticed only one of each.

There are a few symbols that do not appear in the legend, and I am not entirely sure what they mean: an asterisk before the name Sparza, and these three patterns

[UPDATE: A commenter noted that the asterisk is identified in the legend and is used to indicate a reconstructed ancient place name. The first pattern, blue dots outlined in blue, appears to represent an “intermittent lake.” The second pattern, burnt orange dotes, appears to represent a “dry lake.” The last pattern remains a mystery to me.]

Yesterday, I could download the map directly, but as of today you have to email the Ancient World Mapping Center for a download link. The TIF file I downloaded is a whopping 1.72GB! If you were to print the map at 300dpi, the sheet would measure 80″ x 50″. (To download a JPG version of the map at about 100MB, use this temporary link.) The map is licensed under CC-by-4.0.

This map is the latest creation by the Ancient World Mapping Center in a line of cartographic products which includes the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (print and digital), Benthos Digital Atlas of Ancient Waters, the AWMC à-la-carte Map, and the Routledge Wall Maps for the Ancient World.

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Travel in Egypt

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

As mentioned before, I took my first trip to Egypt this year. The main part of the trip was led by James Hoffmeier (Trinity International University) and was organized by Shepherd Travel. For those interested in traveling to Egypt, I am happy to recommend Shepherd Travel, and in particular, our guide Maged. At the end of the Hoffmeier trip, a friend and I remained a few extra days to visit additional sites. Maged was an enormous help during our extended time.

Egypt possesses many amazing places and artifacts to see, but travel in Egypt can present a few challenges. If we had not had Maged as our guide, it would have been extremely difficult (maybe impossible) to visit and photograph all the sites that we did.

Our Egyptian guide Maged

Here are four ways having a good guide helped us:

Negotiation. First, everything in Egypt must be negotiated—from transportation, to prices and tips, to permission to enter some of the sites and permission to photograph. All of this takes time and knowledge of how things work (the ability to speak Arabic is also huge advantage). There were a few sites that were “closed” or where photography was forbidden, but Maged was able to negotiate our way into nearly every one of them. In addition, if we had been by ourselves, we surely would have paid more and tipped more (or less) than we needed to, because we are not familiar with the customs. Maged made sure we avoided these situations. (In Egypt, everything you can imagine requires a tip, and you have to be willing to give each transaction plenty of time to “transpire.” If you are in a hurry, you will probably miss out.)

Transportation. Second, we had to rely on local transportation. In other Middle East countries I have visited, it is not difficult to rent a car and do all of my own navigating, but I would not recommend this in Egypt. Instead, we utilized local drivers, trains, and subways for transportation. Some of this we could have figured out on our own, but it would have taken us twice as long and in some cases we probably would have paid (much) more than we should have. Maged arranged all our transportation needs to maximize our schedule and negotiated fair prices. In places where Maged was not with us, he made sure we had a driver, that the driver knew where we wanted to go, and that we knew how much we needed to pay and tip.

Security. Third, Egypt is very protective of tourists, excessively even at times. During the Hoffmeier trip, we noted at one site that the number of police and guards exceeded the 40-something members of our tour group. Travel to some sites and use of the desert highway require police escort, and it was helpful to have Maged explain our intentions to authorities, to procure their assistance when needed, and to keep us informed of everything that was going on. Maged also knew which sites are located in military zones and therefore off-limits, thus saving me wasted time and effort trying in vain to reach them. Finally, Maged could verify whether it was safe for us to travel to some of the out-of-the-way sites.

Expertise. Fourth, Maged studied Egyptian archaeology and ancient Egyptian language in university. He showed us his comprehensive exams in Egyptian hieroglyphs, hieratic and Coptic, and they looked quite impressive. He has participated in excavations and was familiar with all of the sites on my itinerary—even the ones that I thought were ultra-obscure. In addition, Maged is quite knowledgable about the history, sites, doctrines, and traditions of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Many American Christians probably are not too familiar with traditions related to Joseph and Mary’s flight to Egypt (Matt 2), the martyrdom of Mark in Alexandria, the ostensible fulfillments of Isaiah 19, the Desert Fathers, or the differences between the Latin and Eastern Church. And not least, Maged speaks very good English.

If you are thinking of taking a trip to Egypt, I recommend Shepherd Travel and ask for Maged to be your guide. You can find more at Shepherd Travel’s website or on Facebook.

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