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The second of my three articles published recently belongs to an issue (pdf) in The Master’s Seminary Journal devoted to the Messiah in the Old Testament. My article is entitled “The Messiah in Isaiah 7:14: The Virgin Birth” (on Academia, or direct link here).

Some may roll their eyes at the idea that there is anything left to be said on a subject debated for a couple of thousand years now. I have, however, endeavored to break new ground, particularly in my first section. There I argue that the greater context (Isaiah 1-12) is all about the coming of God to be with his people after judgment. I don’t recall this argument being clearly articulated before with respect to the interpretation of Isaiah 7:14. My logic is that if Isaiah consistently presents Israel’s hope as lying beyond the exile, then it is most natural to expect that a “God-with-us” child was never intended to give hope to a wicked Ahaz but was for a future generation. If a woman gave birth in a dramatic sign in Isaiah’s own day, it would contradict Isaiah’s message in chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11.

In the second section, I try to show why hermeneutical efforts to see two fulfillments are textually illegitimate. Here I cite a number of conservative Christian writers who believe the text demands an 8th-century fulfillment, but who are compelled by Christian confession to affirm that Jesus was somehow also related to the passage. In my opinion, the only valid hermeneutical options are (1) the Jewish view, in which the prophecy was fulfilled in Ahaz’s day, or (2) the traditional Christian view, in which the prophecy was fulfilled only in the birth of Jesus.

In the third section, I make the case that the details of Isaiah 7 decisively preclude the birth of the child in the 8th century. If one accepts that almah means virgin, then the case is closed. (This, of course, is why some conservatives have labored so strenuously to insist that almah can signify a non-virgin.) But even were I to be wrong on that matter, an 8th-century fulfillment is impossible. Here’s how I summarized this argument in the article’s abstract.

Analysis of Isaiah 7:14–17 reveals that an 8th-century fulfillment is impossible given the nature of the sign, the meaning of almah, the syntax of the announcement, as well as the child’s name, role, diet, and character. A closer look at the timeline in Isaiah 7:16–17 shows that Immanuel could only be born after the land of Judah was laid waste, a reality that did not occur in the 8th century.

In other words, the greater context of Isaiah aligns with the particular details of the Immanuel prophecy. Those who wish to identify the Immanuel child with Maher-shalal-hash-baz necessarily ignore many details in the text, including the child eating curds and honey in a time of exile.

Here is the concluding paragraph of the article:

The best understanding of Isaiah 7:14 agrees with the interpretation of Matthew and the view of the church for most of its history. Because of Ahaz’s refusal to trust the Lord, Isaiah prophesied judgment against him and his kingdom. Like most other prophecies against Israel, this one had a silver lining. A special child would be born during the time of exile and would be called “Immanuel.” This prophecy could not have been fulfilled in the time of Isaiah because the conditions did not match the prophecy, and it was fulfilled once and only once in the person of Jesus the Messiah. The historical-grammatical interpretation of Isaiah 7 eliminates the need for hermeneutical liberties, fits the greater context of Isaiah, and corresponds with the fulfillment recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. The prophecy of the virgin birth heralded the earth-shaking tidings of the coming of God to live with his people as a man, making him qualified to atone for their sins and rule over God’s kingdom in righteousness.

My desire is that this article will help students of the Word to think more clearly about this most debated passage. If you know someone interested in the subject, please pass the article on them.

In fact, I recommend the entire issue and believe it will be quite valuable in strengthening the church’s understanding and appreciation of the unity of God’s Word, the divine origin of Scripture, and the need for hermeneutical integrity.

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I mentioned in a recent roundup the strange quirk of publication timing that saw three of my articles published in one week. None of the three are about biblical archaeology or geography, but all are subjects I’ve been studying for some years, and all are very important to me. (Might that go without saying?) I’ll introduce the first one today, and save the second and third for the coming weeks.

My article on “The Date of the Davidic Covenant” was published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (65.1). In this article, I argue that the Davidic Covenant was made with David early in his reign. This may sound obvious to one reading the narratives of 2 Samuel (where it occurs two chapters after his coronation in Jerusalem) or 1 Chronicles (also early in the narrative), but I haven’t been able to find one scholar in the last thirty years who has defended that view.

The chronology of David’s life was flipped in a proposal made by Eugene Merrill in the 1980s. He argued that since the rule of Hiram king of Tyre only overlapped with the final years of David’s life, he must have built David’s palace in those final years (2 Sam 5). Since the palace was built before the ark was transferred to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6), and the ark was transferred before the eternal covenant was made with David (2 Sam 7), all of these events occurred within a few years prior to David’s death. This quickly became the consensus view among conservative historians and commentators.

My article challenges this view by showing two things. First, the biblical text demands that the palace-ark-covenant events occurred early in David’s reign. It is not just one or two indicators, but multiple indicators that all consistently place these events soon after David conquered Jerusalem.

Second, I explain that the only evidence that provides the dates for Hiram’s reign is found in Josephus, a historian who lived 1,000 years later. I try to show why this data is insufficient to overturn the testimony of the biblical text.

I will be interested to see if my argument is deemed persuasive by the experts in the field. In circulating an earlier draft, I received positive feedback from Eugene Merrill and several other scholars.

Why does this matter? And why am I so passionate about it, particularly when teaching a course on the Psalms? The first thing is that I want to interpret the biblical text accurately. Second, I believe that it affects how you read David’s writings. If David received God’s promise to raise up a son to reign on his throne near the end of his days, he had relatively little time to reflect on that covenant. But if he was promised an eternal dynasty early on, it is most reasonable to expect that he wrote songs about his coming son and for his coming son. This chronology is an important basis for seeing a significant messianic component in many Davidic psalms, including Psalms 2, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 26, 69, 101, 109, 110, 144, and others.

Members of ETS can view the entire issue online here, and others can view my article via my Academia page (or with this direct link).

Comments are appreciated, either here or by direct correspondence.

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When I was first studying biblical archaeology and history, we would learn about the latest discoveries every few months from the newest issue of Biblical Archaeology Review or from The Jerusalem Post, if we scanned its printed pages carefully, or from reports from our professors. Journal articles were also helpful, when we had some extra time in the library.

Today we hardly need to go looking and we are overwhelmed with updates from every part of the biblical world. This year alone I wrote about 100 weekend roundups, covering more than 1,000 stories or events, including discoveries, resources, and online lectures. The sheer mass of information makes a year-end review valuable, as we can look back over the last twelve months and enjoy a better perspective on what was most important.

This top 10 list is my own, reflecting what I judge to be of greatest interest for biblical archaeology and history. I tend to attach greater significance to stories more closely related to the biblical lands and biblical time periods. Following the top 10, I have included several lists of noteworthy stories from Jerusalem, Israel, and elsewhere.

In addition, I’ve compiled lists of the top stories related to tourism, notable resources of 2021, and a review of some we lost this year. A final section provides links to other top 10 lists of 2021. I am of course greatly indebted to many, including the archaeologists who made the discoveries, the journalists who reported them, and many friends who sent links. In terms of archaeological discoveries, 2021 was a very good year.

Top 10

1. Archaeologists discovered two dozen scroll fragments in a cave near the Dead Sea. Most are Greek translations of portions of Zechariah and Nahum.

2. A team working at Khirbet al-Ra‘i near Lachish found an inscription with the name “Jerubbaal.” Jerubbaal was another name for Gideon (Judg 6:32). If the inscription can be identified with Gideon, this would be the first ancient inscription with the name of a biblical judge. Even though I doubt this association, it’s still a significant find.

3. A Late Bronze Age potsherd found at Lachish has an inscription that may make it the oldest text written in an alphabetic script ever found in Israel.

4. Archaeologists discovered a portion of Jerusalem’s city wall from the time of Hezekiah and Josiah.

5. A second synagogue was discovered at Magdala, making the site the first to have two known synagogues in the first century AD.

6. Archaeological evidence of Roman crucifixion is so rare that the discovery of a nail through a man’s heel, though far distant in England, makes this list.

7. Archaeologists believe they have discovered the place where the Aramean king Hazael breached the walls of the Philistine city of Gath. Hazael’s conquest of Gath is mentioned in 2 Kings 12:17.

8. An Egyptian farmer discovered a well-preserved stele dating to the reign of Pharaoh Hophra (Apries), ruler of Egypt at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC (Jer 44:30). There is a nice photo here.

9. Archaeologists working in the City of David believe that they have found evidence of the 8th-century BC earthquake that occurred in the reign of Uzziah (Amos 1:1; Zech 14:5). Other archaeologists found evidence from the same earthquake at a site in the Jezreel Valley.

10. The first-ever ancient depiction of the balm of Gilead was discovered on an amethyst seal in soil from the Temple Mount area.

Noteworthy Stories from Jerusalem

Archaeologists working near the Western Wall of the Temple Mount have discovered the largest collection of ancient dice ever found.

A rare 1st century AD oil lamp, shaped like a grotesque face cut in half, was discovered in the City of David. Its apparently matching partner was found nine years ago in Budapest.

Several dozen fossilized shark teeth were discovered in the City of David.

Archaeologists uncovered a Second Temple period quarry in northwest Jerusalem.

A private toilet in Jerusalem that dates approximately to the time of Manasseh or Josiah was unearthed in Jerusalem.

Sifting of debris from the Temple Mount revealed a rare 2,000-year-old silver shekel coin that may have been minted on the Temple Mount itself.

Noteworthy Stories from Israel

The first-known Crusader army camp in Israel was located near ancient Sepphoris.

Archaeologists working at el-Araj (Bethsaida?) discovered a large apse and two partial inscriptions in the mosaic floor of what they believe is the Church of the Apostles.

A diver found a Crusader-era sword in perfect condition off the coast of northern Israel. There is a short video here.

Marine archaeologists working near Caesarea have discovered a gold ring with a green gemstone depicting the “Good Shepherd,” a red gemstone depicting a lyre, and a hoard of Roman coins.

A portion of the “altar site” on Mount Ebal was destroyed by road construction work. A firestorm erupted, and repairs were made.

Analysis of soil from Herod’s palace garden in Jericho reveals that the king raised “lush bonsai versions of pines, cypresses, cedars, olives and other trees.”

Archaeologists have discovered dramatic evidence of the conflagration that destroyed Azekah circa 1130 BC, leading them to dub the site as a “small Pompeii.”

The 25th and final summer season of excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath concluded.

Archaeologists working in Yavne on Israel’s southern coast discovered a colorful mosaic from a Byzantine mansion.

Also at Yavne, a complex of Byzantine-era winepresses was discovered.

A study of fish remains at sites through Judah concludes that ancient Israelites/Jews broke the dietary laws by eating scaleless fish. Other scholars reject this conclusion.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has identified 20 caves in the Judean desert “with the potential for good artifacts” that will be excavated in the future.

Researchers sequenced the genome of date palm trees living 2,000 years ago.

Other Noteworthy Stories

A new study claims that Tall el-Hammam was destroyed by a cosmic airburst circa 1650 BC. Not all are convinced that this proves the site is Sodom.

Egyptian archaeologists discovered a new group of 50 wooden sarcophagi at Saqqara, dating to the New Kingdom period.

A “lost city” from the time of Amenhotep III was discovered near Luxor.

The first known example of an embalmed pregnant Egypt mummy was discovered.

Large inscriptions depicting the Babylonian king Nabonidus were found in Saudi Arabia.

Archaeologists in western Turkey have found a hoard of 651 silver coins dating to the 1st century BC.

A nearly intact 4-wheel ceremonial carriage has been found near Pompeii.

A perfectly preserved room inhabited by slaves was discovered near Pompeii.

A new book by Idan Dershowitz argues that the scrolls of Moses Shapira, long believed to be forgeries, are actually the earliest Dead Sea Scrolls and were a “pre-canonical antecedent” of Deuteronomy. Christopher Rollston and Drew Longacre disagree.

Top Stories Related to Tourism in Israel

A permanent exhibit for the Omrit temple, including a large column, is now on display at Tel Hai College.

The Iron Age gate at Megiddo often associated with Solomon has been reconstructed.

Israel opened its first underwater national park at Caesarea.

A new “Emmaus Trail” allows walkers to travel the 11 miles (18 km) from Abu Ghosh to Nicopolis/Latrun. The trail begins near a new visitor center that includes a museum dedicated to the life of Jesus.

A $12 million renovation project was completed at Hisham’s palace in Jericho.

With the mines removed, worshipers were able to celebrate Epiphany near the Jordan River for the first time in more than 50 years.

A major renovation project at Ashkelon will open up new areas of the site to visitors along with more than a mile of new pathways.

Construction has begun on a new reception center at the traditional Shepherds’ Field site near Bethlehem.

Top Stories Related to Tourism Outside Israel

The ancient Diolkos of Corinth is being restored.

A new project aims to restore five ancient theaters in central Greece, including Nicopolis and Dodona, in order to increase tourism to the sites.

Greece has announced plans for five new or upgraded museums in Chios, Trikala, Sparta, Thyrreio and Ermioni.

Cyprus is planning to build a marine archaeological park at the ancient port of Amathus.

The renovated mausoleum of Emperor Augustus in Rome has reopened after being closed for many years.

A new, retractable floor will be installed in the Colosseum of Rome, along with trapdoors, lifts, and other mechanical elements, in a $18 million remodeling project.

Saudi Arabia has opened the Nabatean site of Hegra to foreign tourists for the first time ever.

The indoor model of 1st-century Jerusalem that was located at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando will be part of a new exhibit at the Ark Encounter.

Notable Resources of 2021: Books

Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, 4th edition, edited by John Merrill and Hershel Shanks.

Camels in the Biblical World, by Martin Heide and Joris Peters.

Encountering Jesus in the Real World of the Gospels, by Cyndi Parker

Excavations in the City of David, Jerusalem (1995-2010), by Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron

Guide to Biblical Coins, 6th edition, by David Hendin. The author talks about his life in numismatics and why he has written six editions.

The Koren Tanakh of the Land of Israel – Samuel, edited by David Arnovitz. Contributors include Aren Maier, Yosef Garfinkel, Erez Ben-Yosef, and Chris McKinny (Amazon).

Messiah’s Ministry: Crises of the Christ, by William Varner. See my introduction here.

Olga Tufnell’s ‘Perfect Journey,’ by John D. M. Green. A free pdf download is available. Also on Kindle.

The Road Taken: An Archaeologist’s Journey to the Land of the Bible, by Seymour (Sy) Gitin.

The Story of the Apostle Paul, by J. Carl Laney

Under Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World’s Most Contested City, by Andrew Lawler

Where Was the Biblical Red Sea? Examining the Ancient Evidence, by Barry Beitzel

Notable Resources of 2021: Digital Resources

A new app created by an Episcopal church in South Carolina allows users to traverse a 98-mile path that follows the Gospel of Luke.

Biblical Israel Ministries & Tours has released a new collection of 385 enhanced aerial photos of Israel (and a few sites in Jordan).

“The 7 Churches of Revelation: Times of Fire,” available on DVD and streaming.

Trial & Triumph: Revelation’s Churches,” produced by Appian Media, is a two-hour movie featuring interviews with leading archaeologists. Available to watch online for free.

Several new volumes in the Photo Companion to the Bible, created by us here at BiblePlaces.com:

Losses This Year

Norman Golb, the unorthodox Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, died at the age of 92 in the last days of 2020.

Claus-Hunno Hunzinger died in January. He was the last living member of the original Dead Sea Scrolls team.

Hershel Shanks, founder of Biblical Archaeology Review, died in February at the age of 90. An entire issue of BAR celebrates his life.

George Bass, often called the father of underwater archaeology, died in March.

Robert E. Cooley died in April at the age of 91. During his career, he excavated Tel Dothan and helped to found the Near East Archaeological Society.

Eilat Mazar died in May at the age of 64. Following in the footsteps of her grandfather, Benjamin Mazar, her work focused especially on the City of David and southern Temple Mount excavations.

Ram Gophna, Professor Emeritus at Tel Aviv University, died in July.

Thomas Parker, director of several archaeological projects in Jordan, died in September.

William J. Fulco died in November. He worked extensively with the Pontifical Biblical Institute Museum in Jerusalem and advised on a number of films related to the Bible.

Baruch Levine died in December. He wrote dozens of articles along with commentaries on Leviticus and Numbers.

Other Top 10 Lists

Gordon Govier identifies biblical archaeology’s top 10 discoveries of 2021 in a report for Christianity Today.

Bryan Windle has created a well-illustrated list of the top 10 discoveries in biblical archaeology in 2021.

Ruth Schuster lists her top archaeology stories of 2021 as well as her top Christian archaeology stories of 2021 for Haaretz.

Emily Master posts the top discoveries of the Israel Antiquities Authority in 2021.

The Greek Reporter gives the 10 best ancient Greek archaeological discoveries of 2021.

Archaeology Magazine lists its top 10 discoveries of 2021 from around the world. (Daily Mail’s report is based on this list.)

Smithsonian Magazine describes ninety-nine fascinating finds revealed in 2021.

Previous Years

You can revisit the top stories of previous years with these links:

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For a year in which most excavations were cancelled, it was remarkably fruitful for archaeology in general. Some of that is owing to the continuation of certain excavations such as rescue projects sponsored by the government. In other cases, discoveries made in previous years were only announced in 2020.

The following list prioritizes archaeological discoveries closer in time and place to the biblical record. It was prepared from a survey of the year’s roundups, without consulting other lists (see below for links to those).

In addition to the top ten, I have included a good number of additional discoveries, primarily as a reminder of just how many interesting finds were made in a year that might otherwise be considered a loss.

1. Three royal (Proto-Aeolic) capitals were discovered south of ancient Jerusalem, providing beautiful evidence of a building that once served Manasseh or Josiah.

2. A large administrative complex dating to the time of Kings Hezekiah and Manasseh was discovered two miles south of the Old City. Finds included more than 120 LMLK jar handles.

3. A stone measuring table and several dozen stone weights were discovered in a plaza along the first-century AD street from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount. Archaeologists believe that the area it was found served as the Jerusalem’s central market.

4. Archaeologists have published a report that they have discovered a “massive Iron II temple complex” at Moza, in use from 900 to 600 BC.

5. A well-preserved complex at Horvat Tevet, near Afula in the Jezreel Valley, served as a royal estate for Israel’s kings.

6. A seal impression of an official of King Jeroboam II has been discovered. It is a smaller version of the famous seal found at Megiddo in 1904 (and later lost). UPDATE (Aug 2021): This item is actually a common tourist replica.

7. A Canaanite temple was discovered during excavations of Lachish.

8. More than 100 sarcophagi from the Ptolemaic period have been discovered at Saqqara in Egypt.

9. Archaeologists working in Kurdistan have exposed ten new rock inscriptions from the reign of Sargon II.

10. A subterranean complex was chiseled out of the bedrock near the Western Wall before Jerusalem was conquered in AD 70.

Noteworthy stories:

Discoveries by young people:

Small finds in Jerusalem:

More discoveries in Jerusalem:

More discoveries in Israel:

Top Stories Related to Tourism:

For shopkeepers and tour operators in the Old City of Jerusalem, COVID-19 has been worse than all the wars. The situation was no better at Petra.

The last land mine was removed from the Jordan River baptismal area near Qaser al-Yahud.

Israel is moving forward on plans to extend the high-speed train line to a station near the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Opposition continues against Jerusalem’s plan for a cable car to the Old City. One study claims that buses and shuttles are a better solution.

Israel has announced the creation of seven new nature reserves in the West Bank: Ariel Cave, Wadi Og, Wadi Malha, the Southern Jordan River, Bitronot Creek, Nahal Tirza, and Rotem-Maskiot.

A new outdoor archaeological exhibit was created in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, featuring 180 items previously scattered around the area.

$40 million will be spent to upgrade the Tower of David Museum, with a plan to double the size of the current museum, including the addition of seven new galleries, a new sunken entrance visitor center outside the Old City walls, and a multi-sensory experience in the Kishle excavations.

The Acropolis in Athens is undergoing a number of renovations to improve safety and enhance the experience for visitors.

Notable Resources of 2020:

Eric H. Cline, Digging Up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon

J. Daniel Hays, A Christian’s Guide to Evidence for the Bible: 101 Proofs from History and Archaeology

Titus Kennedy, Unearthing the Bible: 101 Archaeological Discoveries That Bring the Bible to Life

Joel P. Kramer, Where God Came Down: The Archaeological Evidence

Bob Rognlien, Recovering the Way

Appian Media, “Lessons from the Land: The Gospels,” a 13-part video series aimed at elementary-aged students

Bible Land Passages, “Caesarea by the Sea: Rome’s Capital in Israel,” a 20-minute documentary featuring 3D digital models

Biblical Israel Ministries and Tours, Biblical Israel by Air, with 69 minutes of drone footage of beautiful sites

The Complete ibiblestock Video Library includes more than 4.5 hours of footage.

The Photo Companion to the Bible:

The Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, volume 20: Western Mediterranean (1,400 photos)

Losses This Year:

Francis I. Andersen

Magen Broshi

Shlomo Bunimovitz

Gideon Foerster

Norman Golb

Thomas O. Lambdin

Patrick D. Miller

Shalom Paul

James Sanders

William H. Shea

David Stronach

Other Compilations:

Gordon Govier identified Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2020 in a report for Christianity Today.

Bryan Windle provides his list of the top ten discoveries in 2020.

Lawrence Schiffman wrote about discoveries made in 2020 for Ami Magazine.

Ruth Schuster summarizes the top biblical archaeology stories for Haaretz (premium).

Israel365News posts their top 10 archaeological finds in 2020 that are confirmed in the Bible.

Gizmodo has created a slideshow of about a dozen intriguing archaeological discoveries in 2020.

The Greek Reporter reviews the top ten most spectacular Greek archaeological discoveries of 2020.

The archaeology website Arkeofili suggests the top 10 archaeological finds in Turkey and North Cyprus in 2020.

Gulf News lists 38 archaeological highlights, organized by continent and date announced.

HeritageDaily identifies the 10 most prominent archaeological discoveries of 2020.

Archaeology magazine’s top 10 discoveries of the decade includes finds from Greece and Egypt, but nothing from Israel, Jordan, or Turkey.

Previous Years:

You can revisit the top stories of previous years with these links:

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By Chris McKinny

In the previous post – I indicated that I was cynical about the Cenacle being the location of Pentecost. For Part 1 – see here. In this post, we will look at some of the implied intertextual allusions related to Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. In the last post, we also highlighted Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Book of Acts through Revelation. For this one – I’d like to highlight the excellent collection of photos and notes put together by the BiblePlaces team. The full entry is Anderson, Steven D., A. D. Riddle, Kris Udd, and Todd Bolen. Photo Companion to the Bible: Acts. BiblePlaces, 2019. This amazing resource is available on this site – click the above link or photo below. This current post utilizes many photos from the PCB Acts.

Continuation of excerpt from McKinny, Chris. “The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2.” Pages 77–93 in Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Book of Acts through Revelation. Edited by Barry J. Beitzel. Lexham Press, 2019.

We will now turn our attention to the numerous intertextual allusions between the Old Testament (and the Gospel of Luke) and Acts 2. [1] We will organize these possible allusions chronologically, but our intention is to show both the chronological and geographical development of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and God’s people with specific emphasis on the temple mount.[2]

The Reversal of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:5-13

The first allusion to an Old Testament passage is rather obvious – the reversal of the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9) with the supernatural ability to understand foreign speech in their original language at Pentecost (Acts 2:5-13).[3]

  • Compare the “whole world… moved eastward to the plain of Shinar and settled there” (Gen 11:1) to the gathering together of Jews from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).
  • Compare the “whole earth had one language and the same words” (Gen 11:1) to “each one was hearing them (the disciples) speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6).
  • Compare the confusion after the change of languages (Gen 11:7-9) to the “bewilderment” of understanding those hearing their own language come out of a Galilean mouth (Acts 2:6, 12).
  • Compare the “plain of Shinar” and “Babel” (Gen 11:1, 9) to the first Jews mentioned in “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia” (Acts 2:9) who are clearly identified with Jews of the Babylonian diaspora.
  • Compare the preceding table of nations in Genesis 10 (who are the subject of Gen 11:1-9) to the list of Jews from all over the known world in Acts 2:8-11.
  • Compare the source of the language confusion in Genesis 11:5-8 (Yahweh)[4] to the source of the language understanding in Acts 2:11 (i.e., God, cf. also Acts 1:8)
Model of Babylon in the 7th and 6th centuries BC – the ziggurat of Marduk (left) is often thought to be the Tower of Babel mentioned in Genesis 11. Its earliest foundations are unknown, but it goes back to at least the early 2nd millennium BC. Photo by Mark Bolen.

Finally, the intertextual link between Babel and Pentecost points to the conclusion that the coming of the Holy Spirit would undo the division of peoples and their “scattering over all the earth” (Gen 11:8) by inaugurating a new era of “understanding” between the nations, even those who are “far off” (Acts 2:39; cf. also Acts 10:44-48). Moreover, it also implies that God was opening a new way to heaven for at least 3,000 (Acts 2:41) of the “devout men from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), after the failed attempt at Babel to reach heaven by means of “brick, stone and mortar” (Gen 11:4). With regards to the three-fold geographical “outline” of the events of the Book of Acts (Acts 1:7 – Jerusalem/Judea, Samaria, and the end of the earth), the reversal of Babel at Pentecost is the first step in the process which will culminate in the apostle’s bringing the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

The Giving of the Law – Exodus 24:12-18; Acts 2:1-13

There are not explicit textual allusion between Pentecost (Acts 2) and the giving of the Law (Exod 24:12-18).[5] However, second temple Jewish literature plainly points to the fact that contemporary Jews believed that Pentecost was the day when the law was given at Sinai.[6] Specifically, it was understood that Moses was given a covenant that had already been given to Noah (“on heavenly tablets”), which had been lost until Sinai (Jub 6:15-23). Against this contemporary backdrop, parallels between the two events are relatively straightforward.

  • Both events contain fiery theophanies (Exod 24:16-17/Acts 2:3-4, cf. also Christ’s “cloud” in Acts 1:9). Both events are connected with a new covenant (cf. Luke 22:20; Jer 31:31).
  • Both events use a prophetic messenger to explain the significance of what God has done (Moses – e.g., Exod 25:1-2; Peter – Acts 2:14). Regarding this, VanderKam points to the possible echo of a rabbinic tradition in which all the foreign speakers heard the giving of the Law from Sinai in their 70 languages (b. Shabb. 88b).[7]
  • Finally, one can also point to the subsequent spiritual anointing of the 70 elders at the tent of meeting in Numbers 11:25.[8] This event directly links the transfer of Yahweh’s Spirit from Moses to the elders at His place of residence (i.e., the tent of meeting). Moses’ following statement to Joshua in Numbers 11:29 indicates the hope that one day “all Yahweh’s people were prophets, that Yahweh would put His Spirit on them!” This text likely lies behind Joel 2:29,[9] and is therefore particularly relevant to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.
Wadi er Raha near Mount Sinai/Jebel Musa, traditionally connected with the giving of the Plain of Law, photo taken from Ras Safsafa, Matson collection

The “Cloud” of Yahweh in the Solomonic Temple – 1 Kings 8; Acts 2; cf. Acts 1:9

The next allusion is connected to an intertextual chain that can be traced back to the theophanies associated with Yahweh’s cloud seen at the giving of the Law (Exod 24:15-18), throughout the wilderness wanderings (e.g., Exod 13:21-22; Num 14:14), and his residence in the tent of meeting after its construction (Exod 33:9; Num 12:5; Deut 31:15). Significantly, the rest of my suggested allusions are geographically localized to the temple precinct as a result of Solomon building “the house of Yahweh” (1 Kgs 6 ) and, subsequently, Yahweh’s physical indwelling of his house (1 Kgs 8:10-13).

First Temple Model from c. 720-586 BC, the Solomonic Temple is located in the lower right corner of the photograph, this model is on display at the Bible Lands Museum, photo by A.D. Riddle

On this occasion (which is probably a parallel to the Feast of Tabernacles, cf. 1 Kgs 8:2), Solomon assembled all of the leaders of Israel and had the priests bring up the “ark of Yahweh, the tent of meeting, and all the of the holy vessels that were in the tent… to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place (i.e., the Holy of Holies), beneath the wings of the cherubim” (1 Kgs 8:4-6).[10] With his physical mobile throne and his treasures secured in his new residence, Yahweh appeared once more in his theophanic cloud that “filled the house of Yahweh, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). In my opinion, Solomon’s inauguration of Yahweh’s temple is clearly parallel to the events of Pentecost. Consider the following parallels:

  • Both events feature the gathering of Israelites/Jews from everywhere (the kingdom/diaspora) to the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kgs 8:1; Acts 2:5).
  • Both groups witnessed the astonishing, supernatural physical manifestation of God’s Spirit in the form of cloud (1 Kgs 8:10-13) and tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-5).
  • Both events specifically reference the “house” being filled by Yahweh’s Spirit (1 Kgs 8:10; Acts 2:2). From my perspective, this intertextual link is one of the main reasons why the events of Pentecost should be located on the temple mount.[11]
  • Both events were followed by the main leader (Solomon/Peter) delivering a long oration directed at explaining the significance of what the crowd had just seen (1 Kgs 8:12-61; Acts 2:14-40).
Close-up image on the Solomonic Temple, Bible Lands Museum, photo by A.D. Riddle

This last parallel requires some unpacking. For Solomon (1 Kgs 8:12-61), Yahweh’s presence in this new house meant the fulfillment of Solomon’s end of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7; cf. 8:12-26) and the perpetuation of the Mosiac covenant with its blessings and cursing (e.g., Deut 32-33, cf. 1 Kgs 8:31-61). Significantly, Solomon also expressed his humility and incredulity that the uncontainable Yahweh would graciously choose to reside in a permanent structure from which he would hear the “pleas of your servant (i.e., Solomon and Davidic kings) and of your people” (1 Kgs 8:27-30).

Model of Herodian Temple Mount, on display at the Israel Museum campus. This model provides the dramatic setting of the events of Pentecost, photo by Todd Bolen

Likewise, Peter employed Joel 2:28-32 to explain the supernatural phenomenon that they had just observed – namely the outpouring of Yahweh’s Spirit (Joel 2:29) upon them. In its contemporary first temple setting (as well as Peter’s day), the prophecy of Joel is based on the basic understanding that Yahweh’s Spirit was not at that time upon individual people (except for unusual circumstances, e.g., Elisha – 2 Kgs 2), but resided in the inner sanctuary of the temple. Therefore, it stands to reason that Joel 2:28-32 is textually linked to 1 Kings 8 (as well as 2 Ch 5-6). Accordingly, the prophecy of Joel concerns a future event that will shift the localization of Yahweh’s Spirit from a physical structure to a spiritual people (cf. also Jer 3:15-18; Zech 12:10). Therefore, Peter was claiming that the prophecy of Joel was currently being fulfilled before their very eyes. In light of the connections that we have outlined above, Peter was also implicitly referencing the earlier indwelling of the Solomonic temple on which Joel’s prophecy is based. Peter, like Solomon, then explained that this amazing change had occurred on account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – the son of David (Acts 2:32-41; cf. Solomon’s use of the Davidic Covenant above). But he also makes the bombastic claim that Jesus received the “promise of the Holy Spirit” from the Father and was the one “who poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33). In this regard, Peter proclaimed that Jesus was responsible for the filling of Yahweh’s new temples (i.e., the disciples) with his Spirit, in the same way that Yahweh was responsible for filling his physical temple in the days of Solomon. To underscore this intertextual link, compare Jesus’ “cloud” that the disciples saw at his ascension a few days before the events of Pentecost (Acts 1:9).

Aerial of the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives from the west, the Church of the Ascension is in the upper center of the photo, photo by William Schlegel

The Departure of Yahweh’s Spirit from the Solomonic Temple – Ezekiel 8-11

In relation to what we have discussed above, it is worth mentioning that according to the prophetic visions of Ezekiel, Yahweh’s Spirit departed from the Solomonic temple in the years before its destruction (Ezek 8-11).[12] In this vision, the Spirit is personified as a mobile throne with “whirling wheels” (for details see Ezek 10:2, 9-17; cf. 1:5-21) and also as a “cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually” (Ezek 10:3; cf. 1:4). With regards to the latter description, the cloud is obviously linked with 1 Kings 8:10-13, and it seems probable that the fire (πυρὸς in the LXX) of Ezekiel 1:4 and 10:6 can be connected to the “tongues of fire (πυρὸς)” of Acts 2:3.[13]

Jerusalem and mountains of Moab from west, photo by Eric Matson
Mount of Olives, wilderness and Rift aerial from northwest, showing flow of wadis down to the Dead Sea, photo by Todd Bolen; see note 14 concerning the relationship between John 7:37-39 and Ezekiel 47:1-12 as well as other related passages.

Besides similar imagery between the depictions of Yahweh’s Spirit, Ezekiel’s multi-step departure of Yahweh’s glory/Spirit from the Solomonic temple in Ezekiel 10-11 can be linked to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. First, before the departure of the Spirit, Ezekiel 11:19-20 indicates that a “new spirit” would be placed within the returning Israelites. This is a clear connection to Christ’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:33). Second, Ezekiel’s address was to those who were “far off among the nations… those scattered among the nations” (Ezek 11:16), which mirrors the addressees of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:39 (cf. Joel 2:32). Third, Jesus ascended from the same location that the Spirit had departed to – the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12; Ezek 11:22; cf. also Zech 14:4). Therefore, Jesus’ outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is a geographical reversal of the Spirit’s departure in Ezekiel 8-11. This geographical reversal is all the more intriguing when one considers that after mirroring the path of the Spirit from the Mount of Olives (Jesus – Acts 1:7-11) to the temple courts (Acts 2:1-5), the Spirit entered the disciples instead of re-entering through the torn curtain of the holy of holies (Luke 23:45; Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; cf. Heb 10:20), and thereby fulfilled the prediction of the prophets (e.g., Ezek 11:19-20).[14]

Dome of the Rock with clouds above, Eric Matson

The Return of Yahweh’s Spirit in and from His Son – Luke 3:16; Acts 2:33

On a related point, there does not appear to be a clear reference to the return of Yahweh’s Spirit to Zerubbabel’s temple. In my view, there are a number of textual parallels between Ezra 3 and 1 Kings 6-8 and the parallel passage of 2 Chronicles 2-6 (e.g., the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles – 1 Kgs 8:2; Ezra 3:4; receiving cedars from Tyre and Sidon via Joppa – 2 Chr 2:16; Ezra 3:7; etc.). These parallels likely indicate that Ezra’s presentation of the return to and rebuilding of the temple is attempting to follow in the steps of its glorious predecessor. However, these similarities stop abruptly with a huge difference at their conclusion. As we have seen, when Solomon inaugurated the temple (1 Kgs 8:1-12), Yahweh’s Spirit filled it and the people rejoiced. However, when the exiles finished inaugurating the temple – just at the point where one would expect to see the theophanic cloud return – nothing supernatural happened. In fact, Ezra 3:12-13 indicates that the “old men” who had seen Solomon’s temple wept over the sight of the new one. While it is obviously incorrect to state that Yahweh’s Spirit was not active during the second temple period, it seems significant that (to my knowledge) no reference is made to the return of Yahweh’s Spirit to its former home on Zion.

Dome of the Rock from above, the likely location of the holy of holies for the temples of Solomon, Zerubbabel, and Herod, photo by Eric Matson.

Against this backdrop, one should pay close attention to the Gospel predictions and depictions of Christ’s role in returning the Spirit both to its rightful home (i.e., the temple) and its new home (i.e., the hearts of his disciples). John the Baptist’s announcement of the Messiah who “will baptize you with Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16; cf. John 1:26) is a prediction that was fulfilled in Jesus’ outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Luke makes this clear within Peter’s appeal at the end of the sermon (Acts 2:38-40), which employs very similar language to Luke 3:16, 21-22. Therefore, in its main context within Luke-Acts, Pentecost serves as the fulfillment of Christ’s ultimate destiny that was promised by his forerunner. Still, one must also be attuned to the fact that the Gospel writers depicted Christ’s life and ministry as being “filled with the Spirit” following his baptism by John (e.g., Matt 4:1; Luke 4:1). As a logical inference, and even though this is never explicitly highlighted in the Gospels, one should not miss that Christ’s actions in the temple (e.g., Luke 4:9; cf. Luke 9:31) represented an actual physical return of God’s Spirit to his former residence. Nevertheless, Peter grounds his culminating argument in two great truths that are explicitly tied to location (or geography). First, the risen Jesus was currently seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Second, “this” Jesus had poured out the Holy Spirit in their midst (Acts 2:32-36).

Model of Herodian temple, photo by Mark Bolen

Conclusion

In conclusion, and despite early Christian tradition to the contrary, the events of Pentecost should be entirely localized to the temple mount. This localization underscores numerous implied intertextual parallels between the appearances and activities of Yahweh’s Spirit from his residences (i.e., Sinai, tabernacle, and Jerusalem temple) and the outpouring of Yahweh/Jesus’ Spirit upon the disciples in Acts 2. The absence of the Holy Spirit from the temple following its departure (Ezek 11) and the prediction of Christ’s “baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16) represent the major turning point in this geographical change from physical to spiritual. Notably, the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of the followers of Jesus from Pentecost onward is one of the major pieces of Christ’s culminating redemptive work that supersedes the need for a physical, atoning temple with its various cultic protections and rituals (e.g., priests, curtains of separation, etc.) The transformation of the abode of the Spirit from a physical mountain, tent, or building, to a spiritual, sacerdotal people has massive implications for believers. This point is made clear by the temple imagery of Peter (1 Pet 2:9), John (Rev 1:6; 5:10; cf. “kingdom of priests” Exod 19:5-6), Paul (1 Cor 6:19), and the writer of Hebrews (especially Heb 9:6-22). Therefore, one can take immense joy when observing the geographical movements of the Holy Spirit that Peter (as recorded by Luke) described and implied during his Acts 2 sermon. In response, we might also, like Solomon did when witnessing Yahweh’s cloud filling “the whole house” (1 Kgs 8:27; Acts 2:2), marvel that our uncontainable God through the manifestation of his Spirit would choose to reside in his redeemed people, and thereby make them living, breathing temples of God (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-5).  


[1] There are certainly more than I have discussed below, as my focus is primarily on the geographical implications associated with the intertextual allusions. For example, the reference to drunk priests and prophets in Isaiah 28:1-15 may be linked with Peter’s initial statement “these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day” Marshall, “Acts,” 531.

[2] When it comes to determining the viability of intertextual allusions or echoes, as a general guiding principle we should pay close attention to Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians  (compare especially his association of Christ with “the spiritual Rock that followed them” 1 Cor 10:4). See discussion of method in A. Chou, The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles (Kregel Academic, 2018). With specific reference to Luke’s use of the Old Testament see B. Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans, 1998), 123–27.

[3] Contra Marshall, “Acts,” 532 who does not see any “concrete evidence” for this connection.

[4] With the plural “us” in Genesis 11:7.

[5] James C. VanderKam, “Weeks, Feast Of,” Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6.897.

[6] Marshall, “Acts,” 531.

[7] See discussion in VanderKam, “Weeks, Feast Of,” 6.897. B. Shabb. 88b reads as follows, “with regard to the revelation at Sinai, Rabbi Yoḥanan said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “The Lord gives the word; the women that proclaim the tidings are a great host” (Ps 68:12)? It means that each and every utterance that emerged from the mouth of the Almighty divided into seventy languages, a great host,” A. E. I. Stensaltz, “Shabbat 88b,” in William Davidson Talmud, Sefaria (Koren Publishers, 2017), https://www.sefaria.org/Shabbat.88b.3?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en. 

[8] “Yahweh came down in the cloud spoke to him (Moses), and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders” (Num 11:25).

[9] Marshall, “Acts,” 531.

[10] For the location of the Holy of Holies currently beneath the Dome of the Rock, see discussion in Ritmeyer, The Quest, 312–17.

[11] See discussion in Keener, Acts, 796–97.

[12] The return of Yahweh’s Spirit to the temple (from the Mount of Olives – “coming from the east”) is also predicted in Ezekiel 43:1-9, which is the reverse vision of Ezekiel 8-11 (cf. 43:3). Whether or not this was fulfilled or partially fulfilled at Pentecost is a matter of theological debate that goes beyond the scope of our discussion.

[13] Marshall, “Acts,” 531–32; see also D. L. Bock, Acts, 2 vols., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Baker, 2007) who in his discussion on Acts 2:2-3 connects Philo’s discussion of “fire” in Decalogue 11.46 and several Old Testament passages.

[14] A similar geographical connection can be seen in the use of Spirit/river imagery flowing from the the temple in Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 13:1; 14:8 which appear to be some of “the Scriptures” that Jesus was referring to in John 7:37-39.

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by Chris McKinny

As we enter into the holiday of Shavuot/Pentecost – this year from May 28-30 – I thought this would be a good occasion to discuss the location and setting of Shavuot/Pentecost in AD 33 (or AD 30 if you prefer). That festival of course was the setting of the events that are recorded in Acts 2 – which detail the coming of the Holy Spirit.

There are two main candidates for the location of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost – the Church of the Upper Room/Cenacle and the Temple Mount. For several reasons, I think it is much more likely that this event occurred only on the Temple Mount, but we will discuss this in more detail later. We will begin by discussing the traditional candidate – the Church of the Upper Room. The text below is excerpted from “The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2,” which I wrote for Beitzel, Barry, ed. Lexham Geographic Commentary on Acts through Revelation. 2. Lexham Press, 2019 or for the entire excellent (and quite unique!) series see here. This series is highly recommended!

Before we begin – readers may be interested in reading and watching last year’s 3D scan of the Cenacle produced by Alex Wiegmann in connection with Amit Reʿem’s excavation and re-analysis of the building (also cited below). You can also read about the small-scale excavation that took place several years ago in the courtyard. Readers may also be interested in the excellent study of the building by David Clausen.

Tomb of David and Cenacle from the north. For modern visitors – the gaudy, golden statue of King David playing the harp was not made yet (it would have been in the lower right-hand corner of the photo) – Photo by Eric Matson
This photo is from more or less the same angle and by the same photographer – but notice that the courtyard has not been paved and a building (Dormition Abbey) is missing

Beginning of excerpt from McKinny, Chris. “The Location of Pentecost and Geographical Implications in Acts 2.” Pages 77–93 in Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Book of Acts through Revelation. Edited by Barry J. Beitzel. Lexham Press, 2019.

Textual Evidence

It should be noted that we are only attempting to pinpoint the location of the apostle’s reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Thus, we are not questioning the location of the reaction of the multi-ethnic multitude (Acts 2:5-13) or Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-40). It would seem obvious that these events clearly took place on the temple mount. This is made clear by the reference to many Jewish worshipers hearing their own native tongues on the lips of the Aramaic-speaking disciples (Acts 2:6-12). In addition, Acts 2:41 indicates that those “who received his (Peter’s) word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” This number should be compared to the “120” in Acts 1:15, who were present at the selection of Matthias as the replacement for Judas (Acts 1:15-26). The setting of this earlier event is clearly the “upper room” (Acts 1:13). However, there seems to be a time gap between Acts 1:26 and 2:1, as noted by the reference to “when the day of Pentecost arrived.” Thus, the events of Acts 1:15-26 (the selection of Mattathias) and Acts 2:1-4 (the outpouring of the Spirit upon the disciples) are separate events, even if the setting of the latter has not been certainly determined. In any event, the baptism of 3,000 people is clearly a mass religious event that would have required a large facility with available ritual baths.[1] Excavations around (various) and beneath (C. Warren in the 1860s) the temple mount revealed numerous ritual baths and cisterns that would have been available to second temple Jewish worshipers.[2] Therefore, we can conclude that the majority of Acts 2 occurred on the temple mount and its environs, but the location of the event in Acts 2:1-4 remains debated.

Survey of the Temple Mount – public domain – available here

From a textual standpoint, the location of Pentecost may possibly be connected to the “upper room” of Acts 1:14 by the reference in Acts 2:1-2. The latter indicates that the outpouring of the Spirit occurred where they were “all together in one place” and describes the Spirit’s rushing wind noise as “filling the entire house.” However, a literary connection between these two passages is not definitive, as no transition from the presumed “upper room” location to the temple mount is included in Acts 2:4-5. Moreover, Acts 2:6 indicates that the multitude heard “this sound” (i.e., the rushing wind of Acts 2:2), so in order to hold to the traditional view (see below) that Pentecost occurred in the upper room (i.e., on the western hill) then one must assume that the apostles moved from there to the temple mount after receiving the Holy Spirit.

Traditional Evidence

While the evidence for locating the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2:1-4 from the Book of Acts is relatively inconclusive, Byzantine tradition clearly favored a connection between the upper room of the Last Supper and the location of Pentecost connecting both events with the Cenacle/Tomb of David on Mt. Zion.[3] The two earliest traditions come from Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-373 CE)[4] and Epiphanius of Constantia/Salamis (c. 315-403 CE),[5] who connected the “Upper Church of the Apostles” or the “Church of God” with the events of Pentecost. Notably, Epiphanius’ referred to the “Church of God” beside the “seven synagogues which alone remained standing in Zion.” While not mentioning the church directly, the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux (written in c. AD 333) provides even earlier testimony corroborating Epiphanius’ statement about seven synagogues on Mount Zion (i.e., the western hill).[6] After visiting the Pool of Siloam and the Gihon Spring the Pilgrim writes,

“On this side one goes up Sion, and sees where the house of Caiaphas the priest was, and there still stands a column against which Christ was beaten with rods. Within, however, inside the wall of Sion, is seen the place where was David’s palace.[7] Of seven synagogues which once were there, one alone remains; the rest are ploughed over and sown upon, as said Isaiah the prophet (actually Mic 3:12; cf. Isa 1:8, Itinerarium Burdigalense Jerusalem).”[8]

Map showing the route of the anonymous Pilgrim in 333 AD – produced by Wiemers used with permission see here.

These traditions indicate that the western hill of Jerusalem was still in ruins during the 4th century AD. Within these ruins, only one of the seven synagogues remained with the rest presumably destroyed in either the AD 70 destruction by Titus or following the Bar Kochba Revolt in AD 132-135. Notably, this lone remaining synagogue (see Epiphanius and the Pilgrim) is distinct from the “the church of God” (Epiphanius), which was built in the small area of the western hill that “escaped destruction.” Eusebius (Ecc. Hist. 3.5.3) and Epiphanius (Weights 54a) relay that the Jewish-Christian community of Jerusalem, which had fled to Pella during the Jewish Revolt, returned to Jerusalem following the AD 70 destruction. Subsequently, they apparently resided in the city until the arrival of Hadrian (cf. Proof 3.5.124d). Later Byzantine tradition held that it was this community that built the church on Mount Zion connected with the Last Supper and Pentecost.[9] In the late 4th century AD, the large Hagia Sion church[10] was built on the western hill in near proximity to the pre-existing “Upper Church of the Apostles.” Christian pilgrim accounts, iconographic,[11] and archaeological evidence (see below), indicate that these two buildings were separate, but nearby structures as late as the 7th century.

To this point, we can conclude the following. First, Byzantine tradition connecting the “Upper Church of the Apostles” with the upper room of the Last Supper and Pentecost is well attested by the earliest Christian sources. Second, to my knowledge there does not appear to be a rival Byzantine tradition connecting Pentecost (whether the entire event or only the witness of the multitude and Peter’s sermon) with the temple mount. Third, it seems abundantly clear that there was an early Jewish-Christian community on the western hill, who built a church there at least sometime before Cyril of Jerusalem (c. AD 350). While it is possible that this church has not been located, it seems probable that the building known today as the Church of the Upper Room and the Tomb of David is in fact the original church built at some point before the mid-4th century AD.[12]

David’s Tomb and Upper Room building – wall with re-used Herodian stones, photo by Todd Bolen. Reʿem’s 2011 excavation took place in the area photographed.

Archaeological Evidence

Possible archaeological support tying Pentecost to the Cenacle comes from the suggestions of Bargil Pixner. Pixner developed a complex theory that incorporated the biblical text, the above referenced traditions, and J. Pinkerfield’s unpublished excavations of the floor of the “Tomb of David” in 1949.[13] Pinkerfield claimed that the building was originally a synagogue constructed in the Late Roman period.[14] In response to this, Pixner agreed that it was a synagogue, but suggested that it should be dated to the 1st century AD since it was built using Herodian-style masonry. He further hypothesized that this synagogue was none other than the room of the Last Supper (as well as the home of John Mark), the location of Pentecost, and the church/synagogue that is referenced by Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, and the Pilgrim of Bordeaux.[15] While future excavations in the Cenacle might indicate the viability of Pixner’s theory, several scholars point out that there is very little archaeological evidence in support of Pinkerfield or Pixner’s conclusions suggesting that the original structure was a synagogue.[16] A recent, limited excavation inside of the Cenacle and in the adjacent courtyard by Reʿem seemed to indicate that the building was constructed in the 4th century AD.[17]

Conclusion

The Church of the Upper Room has early Christian tradition connecting it with both the location of the Last Supper and Pentecost. This tradition is probably based on a supposed textual connection between Acts 1:13 and 2:1-4. But as we have seen, Acts 2:1-4 does not necessarily have to be connected with the upper room. Therefore, I would conclude that this early Christian tradition connecting Pentecost with the upper room probably originated from a misreading of Acts 1-2 and not an independent Pentecost tradition. Nevertheless, this negative conclusion concerning the location of Pentecost does not mean that one should determine that the Cenacle was not the location of the Last Supper (as well as other possible connections, see above). Regarding the archaeology, we must remain cautious, but it appears that the Cenacle was either constructed or underwent significant building activity in the 4th century AD. This evidence matches the contemporary references to the “Upper Church of the Apostles,” if not their attestations to earlier building activity and occupation by “Jewish-Christians” during the Early and Late Roman periods.[18]

Aerial showing location of Cenacle in relation to Temple Mount, photo by William Schlegel
Jerusalem second temple model from southwest showing temple mount, the location of the Cenacle is marked by the monument in the center of the photograph, photo by Austen Dutton

Therefore, if the Church of the Upper Room should not be connected with Pentecost, then it seems highly probable that the entirety of the Pentecost event (including Acts 2:1-4) took place in the temple precinct. From a historical and archaeological perspective, this conclusion clearly matches the purposes of the Herodian temple mount as a place for mass religious gathering. In addition, it is worth mentioning that religious Jews were supposed to be worshiping in the temple during the festival of Pentecost (Acts 20:6; 1 Cor 16:8), as well as during Passover (e.g., John 11:55) and Tabernacles (e.g., John 7:2). So, by referencing Pentecost (Acts 2:1), Luke is allowing for the inference that the disciples were in the temple, because that would be the obvious location for celebrating the feast. In addition, locating Pentecost entirely on the temple mount implies intertextual geographical parallels between the descent of the Holy Spirit on believers and the activities of Yahweh’s Spirit (in various forms) in the Old Testament. 

We will discuss these intertextual geographic parallels in Part 2.


[1] E.g., C. S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd ed. (InterVarsity Press, 2014), 322.

[2] See discussion in L. Ritmeyer, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006), 221–33.

[3] Also known as the mother of all churches, the church of the apostles, the church of God, the Coenaculum, the church of the Upper Room, etc. See discussion in C. Kopp, The Holy Places of the Gospels (New York: Herder, 1963); A.F. Rainey and S. Notley, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006), 370; see discussion in Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, 5th ed. (OUP Oxford, 2008), 115–18; see especially D. C. Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David: The History, Art and Archaeology of the Cenacle on Mount Zion, Kindle version (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2016).

[4] “We know the Holy Ghost, who spake in the Prophets, and who on the day of Pentecost descended on the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues, here, in Jerusalem, in the Upper Church of the Apostles; for in all things the choicest privileges are with us. Here Christ came down from heaven; here the Holy Ghost came down from heaven. And in truth it were most fitting, that as we discourse concerning Christ and Golgotha here in Golgotha, so also we should speak concerning the Holy Ghost in the Upper Church… (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture XVI.4).” See translation in Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Procatechesis and the Five Mystagogical Catecheses, trans. F. L. Cross (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1951). Apparently, Cyril of Jerusalem also mentioned that the supposed bones of James (the brother of Jesus) were temporarily interned near the church, see Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David, chapter 3.

[5] “And he (Hadrian) found the temple of God trodden down and the whole city devastated save for a few houses and the church of God, which was small, where the disciples, when they had returned after the Savior had ascended from the Mount of Olives, went to the upper room. For there it had been built, that is, in that portion of Zion which escaped destruction, together with blocks of houses in the neighborhood of Zion and the seven synagogues which alone remained standing in Zion, like solitary huts, one of which remained until the time of Maximona the bishop and Constantine the king, “like a booth in a vineyard,” as it is written (quoting Isa 1:8; Epiphanius Weights 54c).”  Epiphanius of Salamis, Epiphanius’ Treatise on Weights and Measures: The Syriac Version, trans. J. E. Dean, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilizations 11 (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1935), 30.

[6] According to O’Connor, the Byzantine tradition relating the western hill of Jerusalem to Zion is rooted in a misunderstanding of Hebrew poetry, which employs synonymous parallelism instead of referring to two (or three) different hills in Jerusalem, see Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, 115.

[7] These traditions connecting Zion and the Palace of David (cf. 2 Sam 5:11-12) with the western hill of Jerusalem are indicative of Byzantine confusion regarding the location of the original settlement of Jerusalem.

[8] Pilgrim of Bordeaux, Itinerarium Burdigalense, ed. A. Stewart, Online Edition-Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina 175 (London: Palestine Pilgrim’s Text Society, 1887), http://www.christusrex.org/www1/ofm/pilgr/bord/10Bord01MapEur.html.

[9] See sources in D. C. Clausen, “Can the Cenacle on Mount Zion Really Be the ‘Upper Room’ of Jesus’s Last Supper?,” The Bible and Interpretation May (2016), http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2016/05/cla408003.shtml; Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David.

[10] The ruins of Hagia Sion are located beneath Dormition Abbey, which was constructed in the early 20th century.

[11] These include two 6th century AD depictions of the Hagia Sion church with a small church (presumably the Cenacle) in immediate proximity;  the Medeba Map’s depiction of Jerusalem and a similarly dated mosiac from the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. Clausen, “Can the Cenacle on Mount Zion Really Be the ‘Upper Room’ of Jesus’s Last Supper?,” 10–11; Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David, chapter 3.

[12] See Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David, chapters 12-14 who persuasively argues for this view against the suggestions of an original Jewish synagogue or a pagan Mithraeum.

[13] Before he could finish his report, Pinkerfield was murdered (along with three others) by Jordanian soldiers during an archaeological tour of Ramat Rahel in 1956.

[14] J. Pinkerfield, “‘David’s Tomb’: Notes on the History of the Building: Preliminary Report,” in Bulletin of the Louis Rabinowitz Fund for the Exploration of Ancient Synagogues, ed. M. Avi-Yonah, vol. 3 (Jerusalem: Hebrew Univeristy, 1960), 41–43; Clausen, “Can the Cenacle on Mount Zion Really Be the ‘Upper Room’ of Jesus’s Last Supper?,” 3.

[15] See discussion in Pixner, Paths of the Messiah and Sites of the Early Church from Galilee to Jerusalem, 319–59.

[16] E.g., Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, 155–58; Clausen, The Upper Room and Tomb of David, chapter 12.

[17] A. Reʿem, “The Tomb of David on Mount Zion: Theories versus Archaeological Reality,” Hidushim Ba’archiologiyah Shel Yerushalayim Usvivoteha 7 (2013): 185–86; see also A. Reʿem and I. Berkovich, “New Discoveries in the Cenacle: Reassessing the Art, Architecture and Chronology of the Crusader Basilica on Mount Sion,” New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Region 10 (2016): 56*-92* for an interesting new analysis of the Crusader chapel.

[18] In light of these references, it seems likely that a post-AD 70 church (or a Jewish-Christian religious structure, as it unclear if the term “church” would have been used for such a structure during this period) was constructed on the western hill, which is either represented by the Cenacle or in its immediate proximity.

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