(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

My wife and I homeschool our children and since I’m the one with the history degree, it became my responsibility to teach that subject. I also have been teaching a biblical archaeology class once a week to 5th and 6th graders. As I have been teaching through these subjects, I am finding more and more uses for the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and am finding that with search tools it is easy to quickly find things in there that relate to a particular lesson.

For example, I was teaching my children about the Minoan civilization last week. We have a helpful book called The Usborne Book of World History which provides numerous images about various historical peoples and events, so I was using that to illustrate what the Minoans looked like and how they lived.  Then on a whim I turned to the PLBL to see if I could find any photographs of the excavations at the Minoan city of Knossos … and I was not disappointed.  After a quick search in Picasa, not only did I find a whole section of Volume 13 that is devoted to Knossos, but I even found a picture of one of the same items that was illustrated in the Usborne book.

The image below shows the throne room of the palace at Knossos. The walls are decorated with colorful frescoes, and on one side of the room stands a gypsum throne. According to The Usborne Book of World History, this is “the oldest throne in Europe still standing in place” (p. 25).

So once again, the PLBL comes to the rescue. I was able to use this image and others in the collection to give my kids a feel for what it would be like to visit Knossos on the island of Crete. There is no sign yet that any of my kids will follow in my chosen profession, but it’s still early (my oldest is only 7) and I have plenty of time to whet their appetite for a lifetime of study in the fascinating world of the ancients.  And I am sure the PLBL (and the Historic Views collections) will continue to play an important role in educating my children.

This photograph and over 700 others are available in Volume 13 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and is available here for $24 with free shipping. For more photos and information on sites in Crete, see the BiblePlaces website here, herehere, and here.


(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

This week we focus our attention on the site of the first excavation in Palestine. When and where did this event take place? According to Neil Asher Silberman in his fascinating book Digging for God and Country, the year was 1810 and the site was Ashkelon.

We actually have two pictures this week: one is from Volume 4 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and the other is from Volume 3 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. The first image is how this site looked around 1910 or 1920 (a hundred years after the first excavation) and the second image is how the site looked in 2001 (almost two hundred years after the first excavation).

Both pictures were taken from almost the exact same spot. Notice the same set of columns protruding from the cliff in each picture. (Apparently the horses were unavailable for the photo op in 2001.)

On pages 24 to 27 of Digging for God and Coutnry, Silberman tells the fascinating story of an eccentric woman named Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope. She came from a prominent family in England and so was a lady with some means. She attempted to put that wealth to good use by pursuing exploration in the Middle East.

After a daring visit to Palmyra in 1810, she received a copy of “an intriguing ancient document” from some Franciscan monks which “described a fantastic treasure of gold bullion said to have been secretly buried in the ruins of the ancient city of Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast, giving precise details of its location.” After getting further proof from the monks that the document was authentic, she reached out to the British government to help her retrieve the treasure, but (unsurprisingly) she was turned down. The story continues…

Sending word of her intentions directly to the sultan in Constantinople, Lady Hester began the journey down the coast to Ashkelon…. Arriving at the ruins of the Philistine city, Lady Hester settled into a comfortable cottage in a nearby village and conscripted hundreds of local fellahin to begin the work of excavation. The treasure map indicated that the gold was buried beneath a ruined mosque, and it was there that the digging began.

At the end of the fourth day of excavation, several huge pillars were discovered lying side by side as if to conceal a secret hiding place. The sultan’s representative hastily summoned special winches and ropes, but as the huge stone cylinders were lifted and removed, it became clear that the treasure they concealed was of neither silver nor gold.

It was the huge headless statue of a Roman emperor—the first archaeological artifact ever discovered by excavation in Palestine.

But beneath the statue was nothing, and Lady Hester was seeking gold, not classical art.

Ordering the statue to be set upright—and out of the way—she ordered the workers to resume digging for the treasure at another part of the site.

After several more weeks of excavation, a maze of empty trenches and haphazard piles of overturned earth testified grimly to the fruitlessness of the search…. Rather than admit to herself that the treasure map was a hoax, she became convinced that the late al-Jazzar had himself removed the treasure only a few years before. All that was left to her was the Roman statue.

Lady Hester was determined to demonstrate, however, that unlike other British antiquarians she had no interest in filling a museum; her search had been undertaken unselfishly, with regard only for the friendship of the Ottoman ruler. She had seen for herself the aftereffects of Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon frieze while in Athens several years before, and she did not want her excavations to encourage similar plundering in the Holy Land. With a wave of her hand, she ordered the workers to destroy the monumental statue and cast its fragments into the sea.

With that act, Lady Hester Stanhope ended her brief but memorable archaeological career…. 

Wow. How times change. There’s a lot we could say about that first excavation, but I will content myself by saying that fortunately the current excavations are being carried out much more responsibly. But if you would like a piece of the first artifact ever excavated in Palestine, allow me to suggest a walk along the beach at Ashkelon looking for fragments of a Roman statue discovered (and destroyed) in 1810.

These photos and hundreds more are available in Volume 4 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and Volume 3 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. The former volume is $39 and is available here; the latter volume is $20 and is available here (both include free shipping within the U.S.). Additional photos and information about Ashkelon can be found here on the BiblePlaces website. The excerpts were taken from Neil Asher Silberman, Digging for God and Country: Exploration, Archaeology, and the Secret Struggle for the Holy Land, 1799-1917 (New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1982), pp. 24–26, and is available for purchase here.


(Seth M. Rodriquez)

Last week, our “Picture of the Week” was of camels: an animal that most people are familiar with, even though we don’t see them on a regular basis. This week, we will focus on an animal you may have never seen before but is highly praised in the Bible … the rock badger.

This type of animal is also called a “hyrax” or, as the KJV translates it, “coney.” In the Law of Moses, the rock badger is identified as an unclean animal which the Israelites were not allowed to eat (Lev. 11:5; Deut. 14:7). These animals are also mentioned in Psalm 104:18. While exulting the Lord for the amazing world that He created, the psalmist states, “The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers” (ESV).

However, the rock badger’s claim to fame is how it is described in Proverbs 30. In that passage, it is listed among “exceedingly wise” animals:

Four things on earth are small,
    but they are exceedingly wise:
the ants are a people not strong,
    yet they provide their food in the summer;
the rock badgers are a people not mighty,
    yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
the locusts have no king,
    yet all of them march in rank;
the lizard you can take in your hands,
    yet it is in kings’ palaces.  (Prov. 30:24-28, ESV)

In other words, ants demonstrate wisdom by storing up food for the winter, rock badgers demonstrate wisdom by choosing to live in well-protected places, locusts demonstrate wisdom by moving together like an army, and lizards demonstrate wisdom by somehow getting into kings’ palaces even though it is a lowly creature.

The PowerPoint annotations included in Volume 17 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands (where this picture can also be found) has the following description of the rock badger:

The Syrian coney, also known as the hyrax or rock badger (Hebrew shaphan) looks like an overgrown guinea pig. It can easily move about on rocks and difficult terrain because its feet have built-in suction. Its diet consists of plants and various grasses, but although it does have a three-part digestive tract, it does not ruminate. As is necessary for survival in the desert, the coney can maintain water well, but has difficulty with direct heat, and thus hides in the rocks.

Last week we talked about how a photograph can help a bible teacher or preacher transport their listeners back to the world of the Bible. Yet sometimes a photograph can do even more. Sometimes, things that were familiar to someone living in ancient Palestine are completely outside the experience of someone living in the 21st century, so you not only need to transport your listeners back to the world of the Bible … you need to paint a picture for them about what they would have seen there!

You need to educate them about things that existed in that world. That is what makes a collection like the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands so valuable. With just a picture or two, you can deepen someone’s understanding of the Bible forever.

This photograph was taken at the Hai-bar Nature Reserve in Israel, where many animals mentioned in the Bible are on display. This photo and over 1,000 others are available in Volume 17 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and can be purchased here for $34 (with free shipping). An additional photo of a rock badger can be found on the BiblePlaces website here, along with several other biblical animals.


(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

This week I have been working my way through the book of Job. In chapter 1 we read that Job owned 3,000 camels (v. 3) and that these camels were stolen from him by the Chaldeans:

While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1:17, ESV.)

I’m willing to bet that most readers of this blog probably don’t see 3,000 camels on a regular basis (but I would not be surprised if a few of you do!). Like you, a large herd of camels is not part of my everyday life, so this verse stuck out to me. I know where the zoo is in my city where I can see a couple of camels, and I’ve even kissed a camel before at Jericho (a little trick that tourists do where you put a date between your lips and allow the camel to eat it from your mouth). Yet seeing a whole herd of these animals roaming free in a field would be remarkable.

Thus, our picture of the week is of (you guessed it) a herd of camel. This particular herd lived in the 1890s and wandered the fields near Nazareth. This photo comes from a collection available at LifeintheHolyLand.com called Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee.  (A few months ago I wrote about another picture of Nazareth from this collection; that post is available here.)

The original book where this photo was published has the following caption for this picture:

CAMELS FEEDING AT NAZARETH.- The Bedouins … live by cattle breeding, and possess immense herds of sheep and camels, as we said under a former picture. The eastern branch of the plain of Esdraelon and the valley of Jezreel, are the home of the wandering Bedouins who often pitch their tents near there. The little town of Nazareth is often harrassed by the quarrels of the Arab chiefs and the predatory attacks of the Bedouins. Their herds feed upon the grassy slopes, the camels seeking the sunshine, or loaded with tents and the multifarious furniture of the camp, go roaming abroad “for fresh fields and pastures green.” To the stranger the slow-paced camel with his soft-cushioned feet, his noiseless solemn tread, imperturbable patience imprinted upon his dun colored face, seems a picturesque and amiable animal, but to one who knows him well he is cross, discontented and often treacherous. H. M. Field in his “Review of Recent Events in Egypt” says: “As my camel and I were to be on somewhat intimate terms, I approached to make her acquaintance, and even tendered her some little caressing. I attempted to stroke her gently; she instantly swung around her long neck and gave me a vicious snap which warned me not to presume on any familiarity.” The camel, with all its faults, is an interesting animal. The riding camel, which forms an indispensable feature in processions of special character, when smartly caparisoned with shawls and strings of coins, is exceedingly artistic.

Fortunately for Job, at the end of his adventure, a herd of camel was restored to him (Job 42:12).

Actually he received twice as many camels as he started with! But unfortunately for the rest of us, the importance of camels as a means of transportation in the Middle East has seriously diminished in the last 120 years. Air conditioned cars, trucks, and buses have taken the place of this “interesting animal” and thus the modern world looks vastly different from the world of Job. That is why collections such as Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee are such valuable tools for the modern teacher and preacher. Photos such as this help us to turn back the clock and place our listeners in the world of the Bible.

This photo and almost 400 others are available in Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee which is available here for $20 (with free shipping). Additional images of and information about camels are available on the BiblePlaces website here and here, and on the LifeintheHolyLand website here and here.  Almost 20 photos of camels are included  in Volume 17 of the PLBL which is available for purchase here. To see a traffic sign warning drivers of passing camels, see the post I wrote a few months ago here.


(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Our Picture of the Week comes from the Sinai Peninsula: a rugged, mountainous area in eastern Egypt. This region was in the news this week due to violence and unrest in the area related to the political turmoil of the last couple of months. On Tuesday, one reporter stated,

“Sinai is always a bit of a sort of lawless area, but it’s especially that way now. There’s been daily attacks there ever since the takeover by the military from President Morsi six weeks ago. And some of these checkpoints – military checkpoints, police checkpoints – have been shot at 50, 60 times. You can see the bullet holes, you can see the burn marks where grenades have been fired at them.” —Robert Worth, in “Sinai Peninsula Sees Increasing Violence Since Morsi Takeover,” NPR ©2013, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=211735488

The statement that the Sinai Peninsula is a “lawless area” has been an apt description of the region throughout history. It has always been an area that was difficult to control, and often times has been a haven for those who sought refuge from civilization. For example, Elijah sought refuge in this area when he was fleeing from Jezebel (1 Kgs. 19:1-8). Not much has changed from then until now. It is still a relatively desolate place where those who want to avoid authorities can thrive.

A nineteenth century traveler once described the region in the following way:

Through the whole journey in the peninsula, or in the “Desert of the Wanderings,” is noticeable in the clear luminous air the deep silence. The Arabs conducting the distinguished Niebuhr declared that their voices could be heard from shore to shore of the Gulf of ’Akabah. Exaggeration doubtless, but exaggeration of a fact—that in these silent regions the human voice travels a long way. Noticeable also is the fragrance of the Desert. Most of the low shrubs, which seem more dead than alive on one’s stony path, are aromatic. But notice-worthy beyond everything is the desolation and mountain confusion. Most desolate, most barren—for the little oases of verdure we have mentioned are lost out of sight in any general view of the mountains—these hills of Sinai are the “Alps unclothed.” A naked Switzerland, even though its glaciers and snows should remain, seems inconceivable; but Sinai is naked as to any verdure of forest tree, or fir, or pine, or moss, or flowery pasture. Strange lichens grow on the boulders and rocks in some parts, as weird in form as vivid in colouring. Such a path as that which leads up Jebel Katharína is all the world over much the same as a Swiss mountain-path, but the illusion vanishes when one looks for the shade of the trees which beguile the way up a ravine in Switzerland. Then the confusion—the intricate complication of peak and ridge! One traveller (Sir Frederic Henniker) says of the view from Jebel Músa, that it is as if “Arabia Petræa were an ocean of lava, which, whilst its waves were running mountains high, had suddenly stood still.”

The Sinai Peninsula is perhaps best described as a rugged, “in between” place. It’s the perfect setting for those who want to remove themselves from the rest of the world, which makes it a dangerous place for those who are just passing through.

The picture and excerpt are taken from “Sinai” by C. Pickering Clarke in Picturesque Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt, Vol. 4, edited by Charles Wilson (London: J. S. Virtue and Co., 1881; electronic ed. by Todd Bolen, 2004 ). The excerpt can be found on p. 17. This image and an electronic copy of the book is included in Picturesque Palestine, Volume IV: Sinai and Egypt which is available here for $20 (or you can purchase all 4 volumes for $55). More images of the Sinai Peninsula are available on the BiblePlaces website here and here, and on LifeintheHolyLand.com here and here.


(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Our “Picture of the Week” focuses on the small, but significant, Kishon River. It is not a place that you would visit on a typical trip to Israel. In fact, I’ve been to Israel four times (two of which were extended stays) and I have never stopped there. Perhaps that is because the river does not look very impressive. Nevertheless, a couple of significant biblical events took place along this watercourse, and the geography surrounding and forming the river have played a crucial role throughout history.

The Kishon River drains much of the water from the Jezreel Valley and Lower Galilee. The Bible mentions this river by name a total of five times (Judg 4:7, 13; 5:21; 1 Kgs 18:40; Ps 83:9). It was here that Deborah and Barak defeated the 900 chariots of Sisera after gathering their forces at Mount Tabor, and it was here that Elijah had the prophets of Baal slain after the showdown on Mount Carmel.

In Judges 5:21, the Kishon is referred to as a “torrent,” but a visit to the site reveals that most of the time it is a rather timid river. In his book, The Geography of the Bible, Denis Baly describes the Kishon by saying:

Dry in its upper courses in summer, and only a trickle when it passes Harosheth [near its end], this famous stream is often a sad disappointment to visitors …

Yet on that fateful day in history, the river swelled with rainwater and swept away Sisera’s retreating army of chariots (Judg. 5:21).

The image above was a sketch of the river as it looked in the 1870s. At this location, the Kishon leaves the Jezreel Valley and enters the Plain of Asher through a narrow pass where the hills of Lower Galilee almost touch Mount Carmel. This choke-point is one of the reasons why the Jezreel Valley contains such rich soil. As the soil erodes into the valley from the surrounding hills, the river is not able to carry it out to sea. Instead, the river is blocked: first by a low ridge of volcanic rock that cuts across the valley in a northeast line starting near Megiddo, and then again by the foothills of Western Lower Galilee. Baly describes the outcome of these geographical features in this way:

The Kishon, small though it is, has to carry away the entire drainage from the surrounding hills, but it is twice hindered in this formidable task, once by the volcanic causeway and then again by the narrow defile through which it finds its way to the Bay of Acco. In consequence the two basins thus formed are only too easily flooded in winter, sometimes for prolonged periods, and W. M. Thomson, who knew the country well a century and a half ago, speaks of having “no little trouble with its bottomless mire and tangled grass.” In February, 1905, Gertrude Bell wrote even more feelingly of riding from Haifa to Jenin: “The road lay all across the Plain of Esdraelon … and the mud was incredible. We waded sometimes for an hour at a time knee deep in clinging mud, the mules fell down, the donkeys almost disappeared … and the horses grew wearier and wearier.” … Yet it was always “the rich valley,” for once dried out, the bottomless mud bears notable harvests.

So the Kishon River is not much to look at most of the time and until the rise of modern transportation it caused all sorts of difficulties for travelers during the rainy season when it flooded the valley. Yet for all this, it has played a key role in making the Jezreel Valley into a region of rich farmland. The fertile soil in this valley combined with the valley’s strategic location along the international trade route made the control of this area a coveted prize for many nations throughout history.

This image and 150 others (along with the entire text of Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt, Vol. 3) are available in Picturesque Palestine III: Phoenicia, Philistia, and the South. This digital volume can be purchased here for $20, or you can purchase all four volumes of the work for $55. Additional images of the Jezreel Valley can be seen here on the BiblePlaces website. Excerpts were taken from Denis Baly, The Geography of the Bible, new and revised ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 144, 146-147.