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(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

You can have Athens . . . I’ll take Corinth.

As I prepared to write another post on a site in Greece, I was drawn once again to Corinth. It is such a fascinating site in so many different ways: archaeologically, geographically, and biblically. After searching around for another site to write about (for the sake of variety) I’m throwing in the towel . . . Our picture of the week comes from Volume 11 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and focuses once again on Corinth.

The picture below is entitled “Corinth bema and Acrocorinth.” The Acrocorinth is the tall mountain that rises in the distance. The bema (also called the “tribunal” or “judicial bench”) is the structure in the left half of the picture. It was a platform on which a judge would sit as the people brought their cases before him while standing in the plaza below. This is one of those rare places where we can say that a certain biblical event took place. This place of judgment is mentioned in Acts 18, when Paul was brought before Gallio.

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” And he drove them from the tribunal. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (Acts 18:12-17, ESV)

The PowerPoint® notes in the PLBL provides the following background information:

The Roman tribunal where Paul was dragged before Gallio has been uncovered in the center of the agora. This was the bema, where Roman officials would appear before the public…. Had Paul’s trial been more formal, it likely would have been held at the North Basilica instead of the Bema. In Christian times, a church was built atop the bema.

So we know where this trial (or would-be trial) took place, but the story doesn’t stop there. F. F. Bruce in his book, New Testament History, points out that this trial had particular significance in Paul’s ministry:

Sir William Ramsay regarded Gallio’s ruling as ‘the crowning fact in determining Paul’s line of conduct’, because it provided a precedent for other magistrates, and thus guaranteed Paul’s freedom to prosecute his apostolic mission with the assurance of the benevolent neutrality of the imperial authorities for several years to come. One thing at least is certain: if Gallio had given an adverse verdict against Paul, it would have been pleaded as a precedent by Paul’s opponents for the rest of his life; and a precedent established by so exalted and influential a magistrate as Gallio—a much more important personage than the politarchs of Thessalonica—would have carried great weight.  The mere fact that Gallio refused to take up the case against Paul may reasonably be held to have facilitated the spread of Christianity during the last years of Claudius and the earlier years of his successor.

Thus, this site can not only be tied to a biblical event, but it can be tied to a biblical event that is more significant than can be observed at first glance. The event that happened in this humble location helped determine how the rest of New Testament history played out.

This photo and over 800 others are available in Volume 11 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands and is available here for $34 (with free shipping). Other photos of Corinth and its surrounding territory can be found on the BiblePlaces website here and here. The excerpt was taken from F. F. Bruce, New Testament History (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, 1969), p. 317, and is available for purchase here.

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(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the remains of several ancient harbors were identified around the Sea of Galilee. At least 13 harbors have been identified, all of which most likely date to the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. A map of the various harbors can be seen here. The work of archaeologists in this area (most notably, the labors of Mendel Nun) have provided us with significant insights into what life was like for fishermen who worked on the Sea of Galilee during these periods.

Our picture of the week comes from Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and shows the remains of the main breakwater of the harbor of Susita (a.k.a., Hippos) on the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The photo was taken at a time when the water level in the lake was extremely low, so the breakwater stands several meters from the shore. However, in ancient times this breakwater would have provided boats with shelter from dangerous storms that can occur on the lake (for example, see Matt. 8:23-27).

This harbor was a typical one on the Sea of Galilee during this period. The breakwater was man-made and extended from the shore, enclosing an area of about an acre with a gap on the south end for boats to pass in and out.  In the map referenced above, the Hippos harbor can be seen at the bottom right.  Mendel Nun, in his book Ancient Anchorages and Harbours Around the Sea of Galilee (Kibbutz Ein Gev, Israel: Kinnereth Sailing Co., 1988), describes this harbor in the following way:

The harbour of Susita was built to fit the conditions of the sandy shore. The central breakwater is 120 meters long; its base is five to seven meters wide. The stone breakwater projecting from the shore turns to the south and runs nearly parallel to the shore at a depth of -211.25 meters [693 feet below sea level] for another 85 meters.

At the far end it curves sharply to the west and extends into the lake to a depth of -212.5 meters [697 feet below sea level]. This shape makes for a long inner area open to the south; a second breakwater was therefore constructed which extends from the shore for 40 meters. The inner part of the harbour thus formed a closed basin enclosing an area of about an acre. A small jetty leading north from the breakwater was for passengers embarking and disembarking, saving them the tedious procedure of passing through the narrow harbour entrance.  Indications that this entrance was deepended [sic.] may still be seen.

The total lenght [sic.] of all the breakwaters in this harbour comes to 180 meters.  The sides were built of rows of stones, the interstices filled with smaller rocks, re-used building stones, fragments of lime columns. During the past few years of low water, the silt filling the harbour has been overgrown by shrubbery.  (Nun, Ancient Anchorages and Harbours, pp. 13-14.)

Harbors such as this bear witness to the thriving economy around the lake during the time of Christ. Although people have probably always fished in the lake, the Roman Period was a time when fishermen were especially active and an unusually high number of settlements were constructed around the Sea of Galilee. According to Mendel Nun, “all settlements on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, even the smallest, had an anchorage, each built to suit local conditions and requirements.” (Ibid., p. 27.) So harbors such as this would have been part of the everyday life of people living next to the lake. Insights such as this add color to our reading of the stories in the Gospels.

This photograph and over 1,100 others are available in Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and is available here for $39 (with free shipping).  Additional images of the Sea of Galilee can be found on the BiblePlaces website here and here, and on LifeintheHolyLand.com here.  Images and information about fishermen on the Sea of Galilee in the 19th century can be found here on LifeintheHolyLand.com.  Additional information about the ancient harbors around the Sea of Galilee can be found here.

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(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

I still remember the first time I studied the descriptions of the Tabernacle in detail. I was a college student at the time and was taking an Old Testament Survey course. I combed through the descriptions of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-30 and did the best I could (with the limited knowledge that I had) to picture what the various items looked like and how they fit together.

A case in point is the description of the lampstand in the tabernacle, or as it is commonly called: the menorah. The Bible describes the lampstand in the follow way:

You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain. (Exod. 25:31-40, ESV)

Now some of the Hebrew terms in this passage are difficult to accurately interpret (for example, the word translated “calyx” in the ESV is translated as “bulb” in the NASB), but it is clear that the menorah in the Tabernacle incorporated elements of almond blossoms. So to get an idea of what the menorah looked like, you need to know something about the shape of almond blossoms. Unfortunately, as a college student from the suburbs of Southern California, I had no clue what an almond blossom looked like.

So to remedy that situation (for myself and for the sake of others like me) our picture of the week comes from Volume 16 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. This is an entirely new volume that was added when the collection was revised and expanded last year and it focuses on “Trees, Plants, and Flowers of the Holy Land.”  (For another sample from this collection, see my post here.)  The photograph below shows a branch of almond blossoms on a tree near Aijalon in Israel.  You can click on the photo to enlarge it.

Almond blossoms are white or pink in color and appear on the tree in early spring, before any of the leaves are produced. The petals of the blossom form a cup and, as you can see, several flowers grow next to each other on a single branch.  In the upper left section of the photograph you can see some new buds forming with the calyx covering. (A “calyx” is the leafy covering around a bud or flower.)

Given an image like this, it is not difficult to imagine what the branches of the Tabernacle’s lampstand may have looked like. Each of the six outer branches of the menorah incorporated three almond blossoms and the center branch somehow incorporated four blossoms. Although we may not be able to reconstruct the exact details of the lampstand with certainty, a picture like this goes a long way in enlightening our reading of the text.

This photograph and over 1,500 others are available in Volume 16 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, and is available here for $34 (with free shipping).  Additional photographs from that collection can be seen here, here, and here on the BiblePlaces website. For one reconstruction of the Tabernacle’s lampstand, see images of the Tabernacle replica here and here.

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(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Where can you see the American seal in Jerusalem? In honor of Independence Day in the United States, this week’s “Picture of the Week” will show you.

The photo above was taken in the Church of All Nations (also known as the Basilica of the Agony) on the Mount of Olives. The church is built over the traditional location of the place where Jesus prayed the night he was arrested. The modern church was completed in 1924, but it sits on the location of two earlier churches: one from the fourth century and another from the twelfth century.

The photograph shows the interior of one of the church’s twelve cupolas. The American seal can be seen at the bottom of the photo (click the picture to enlarge it). The ceiling of this church actually contains the seals or coats-of-arms of several countries, all of whom donated money to help construct the building. Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and the U.S. are all represented.

In his book, The Holy Land, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor provides the following information about the church:

This church … built in 1924, is located on the traditional site of the garden in which Jesus collapsed. No one can be sure of the exact spot at which he prayed, but this limited area was certainly close to the natural route leading from the Temple to the summit of the Mount of Olives and the ridge leading to Bethany.

The present edifice … is the latest in a series of three churches. It covers ‘the elegant church’ (Egeria) built between AD 379 and 384 … on the site where the pre-Constantinian Jerusalem community commemorated the prayer of Christ. Willibald, in 724-5, is the last pilgrim to mention this church; it was destroyed by an earthquake some twenty years later. The Crusaders first built an oratory in the ruins which they later (c.1170) replaced by a church …. The fate of this building is unknown; still functioning in 1323, it was abandoned in 1345.

Additional information about the modern church (as well as additional pictures) can be found on the Franciscan Cyberspot here. A 360-degree image of the inside of the church is available here.

This photo and over 1,500 others are available in Volume 3 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, which can be purchased here for $39 (with free shipping). Additional photos and information about the Mount of Olives is available here on the BiblePlaces website. This page on LifeintheHolyLand.com includes a photograph of the area taken in the 1890s before the Church of All Nations was built.

Excerpt was taken from Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, 4th ed. (Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 128-129. The fifth edition of this book is available here.

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(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

At first glance, our picture of the week looks like a peaceful, pleasant Mediterranean beach. However, there is more here than meets the eye. This is the site of a famous battle waged by Alexander the Great, and the place still bears the marks of Alexander’s army. In fact before 332 B.C., this beach didn’t even exist.

In antiquity, the city of Tyre was comprised of a fortified settlement on the mainland and another settlement on an island about half a mile off the coast. What you are looking at is the southern side of the isthmus that was created when Alexander’s army built a causeway between the mainland and the island. The image below from the maps of the Survey of Western Palestine provides a bird’s eye view of the former island with the narrow isthmus. (These maps are available here in digital form for only $35.)

The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands describes the confrontation between the inhabitants of Tyre and Alexander the Great in this way:

Tyre alone opposed Alexander. The Tyrians initially offered submission and tribute to him, thinking they would thereby gain substantial freedom, as they had before. But when they saw that Alexander intended personally to occupy the city, they determined to resist.

Hope of Tyrian success in withstanding the siege was not unfounded. Their city was located on an island a half mile from shore; the current in the channel which separated it from land was swift. Their fleet controlled the sea. The city wall on the landside rose to 150 feet. There were assurances of help from Carthage and elsewhere. But Alexander devised unexpected tactics. He resolved to construct a causeway 200 feet wide out to the island, on which he could plant his siege engines. Ruins of mainland Tyre furnished material for the causeway. The Tyrians fought heroically. They destroyed the engines of war by fire-ships and damaged the mole, or causeway. They hurled pots of burning naphtha, sulfur, and red-hot sand from catapults.  Seeing that the battle could not be won without the use of a fleet, Alexander obtained contingents from Sidon, Greek allies, and Cyprus. After a siege of seven months, the wall was breached and the city taken after savage fighting.

Many people see this as the part of the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophesies about Tyre found in Ezekiel 26-28, especially these verses:

Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. (Ezek. 26:3-4, ESV)

Our picture of the week was taken by A.D. Riddle, and is available in Volume 8 of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands. This photo and over 700 others are available here for $34 (with free shipping). Additional photos and information about Tyre can be found here on the BiblePlaces website, and here on LifeintheHolyLand.com.  The quote above was taken from The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands by Charles F. Pfeiffer and Howard F. Vos (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), 210-211.

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(Post by Seth M. Rodriquez)

Our photo of the week is a profile of the small, but significant site of Abel-beth-maacah. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, then allow me to refresh your memory with a story …

During the reign of David, shortly after the time when Absalom tried to usurp the throne, a man named Sheba rebelled against David and led away the entire northern kingdom (2 Sam. 20:1-2). So David sent Joab and some of his soldiers to pursue him. Joab and his troops were coming up from the south, so naturally Sheba headed north.  In fact, he kept running north until he reached one of last cities before reaching Israel’s northern border: the city of Abel-beth-maacah (2 Sam. 20:14).

Unfortunately for him that proved to be a poor choice. While Joab was attacking the city, things took a turn to everyone’s advantage (except Sheba’s):

Then a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, that I may speak to you.’” And he came near her …. Then she said, “They used to say in former times, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel,’ and so they settled a matter. I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord?” Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy! That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David. Give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king. (2 Sam. 20:16-22, ESV)

Thus ends the story of Sheba … but not of Abel-beth-maacah. The city is mentioned two other times in the Bible. One occurrence is in the story of the war between King Asa of Judah and King Baasha of Israel (1 Kgs. 15:16-22). During the struggle, Asa is able to convince Israel’s northern neighbor, King Ben-Hadad I of Damascus, to attack Israel’s northern territories to draw Baasha away from his southern borders (1 Kgs. 15:20). Abel-beth-maacah and the neighboring city of Ijon are specifically mentioned.

The other occurrence is similar, although it records events that happened about 150 years later. In 2 Kings 15:29, Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria begins to conquer Israel by taking over its northern regions. Again, Abel-beth-maacah and Ijon are specifically mentioned.  Being situated on Israel’s northern border meant that you were first in line when an invading army showed up.

As I have mentioned before, one of the most valuable aspects of the Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands is that it includes places and things that are not normally included in a collection of biblical places. Abel-beth-maacah is a case in point. So the next time this site comes up in your OT Survey class or your Sunday School lesson or sermon preparation, you need not be content showing where Abel-beth-maacah is on a map but can also include a couple of pictures to give your listeners a feel for the place.

One final note: As I was writing this post, I was pleased to learn that a major excavation project at Abel-beth-maacah is starting this summer. Information about the dig and several additional photos of the site are available at www.abel-beth-maacah.org. They also have a Facebook page available here, and a blog here.

The photo above and over 1,100 others are available in Volume 1 of the Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands, and is available here for $39 with free shipping. Photos and information of neighboring locations are available herehere, and here on the BiblePlaces website, and here and here on LifeintheHolyLand.com.

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About the BiblePlaces Blog

The BiblePlaces Blog provides updates and analysis of the latest in biblical archaeology, history, and geography. Unless otherwise noted, the posts are written by Todd Bolen, PhD, Professor of Biblical Studies at The Master’s University.

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