BiblePlaces Newsletter
Vol 3, #2 - March 23, 2004


The most frequent question I get concerns locating electronic maps for teaching.  With the availability of the photographs of biblical sites in the Pictorial Library, the major missing component for presentations is high-quality maps which can quickly and easily be used in PowerPoint.  I have been working on a reply to this question for more than a year, and plan to dedicate an entire newsletter to the topic (next month?).  In the meantime, if you have any suggestions in this regard, I'd appreciate hearing from you ([email protected]).

This month's newsletter has a few items of news and some recommended links to free, high-resolution satellite photographs from NASA.  What you won't get anywhere else though are free, high-resolution photographs of the Judean Wilderness.  I have had some great days exploring in various sections of the wilderness in the last few months and I've selected some of the best photographs for this newsletter.

And for those of you waiting for the new edition of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, scheduled for release by Kregel Publications in November....  keep waiting.  I've received a set from the publisher but they've not quite made it to the distribution channels yet.

Todd Bolen
Assoc. Professor, The Master's College
Israel Bible Extension (IBEX), Judean Hills, Israel



Evidence from Exile Returnees Discovered

Rare evidence from the late 6th century B.C. was recently uncovered in a cave at En Gedi in the excavations of Hanan Eshel.  In general, evidence in Israel from the Persian period is limited, making remarkable these discoveries of glass and gold beads, bronze mirrors, a necklace, and a Babylonian seal impression with the figure of a priest worshipping the moon god.  These objects apparently belonged to a group of Jewish people who had been in exile in Babylon and were allowed to return following the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1).  For more information, see this Jerusalem Post article (or if that link doesn't work, here).

Wealthy Villa Unearthed in Netanya

A two-room villa from the Byzantine period was uncovered recently in Netanya during construction of a highway offramp.  The rooms contain elaborate mosaics and a lead water pipe.  Discussions are ongoing as to how to preserve the building.  For more information, see this Haaretz article (or here).

Beth Shean Antiquities' Warehouse Destroyed

A medieval building that housed thousands of antiquities from the Beth Shean excavations was destroyed in a fire set by arsonists earlier this month.  The most valuable finds from the excavations are housed elsewhere, but this building included ancient potsherds, marble, and glassware artifacts.  For more information, see this article in the Jerusalem Post.


Controversial Matters

The Passion

Two scholars, Dr. Andrea Berlin and Dr. Jodi Magness, give an evaluation of the accuracy of "The Passion of Jesus Christ" from a historical and archaeological perspective. The current interest in the movie provides a good opportunity for learning the background of crucifixion. Interesting reading, even if we have some disagreements.  The article is available in pdf format here.


BAR magazine recently reported that Joe Zias claims to have seen the "James Ossuary" in Jerusalem before the "brother of Jesus" inscription was added. Whether or not that can be confirmed, we have recently learned of the website of this scholar, which includes a few of his articles for downloading. The one on crucifixion is especially helpful.

The Jehoash Inscription

It has not been my practice to address the same controversial issues in each newsletter, but since many have concluded it is a patent fraud, I thought this recent article to be of interest. Several scholars have issued a call for a new examination of the artifact. Prof. Cohen of Ben-Gurion University says this:

"There is nothing philological in the inscription that attests to its being a forgery. I can categorically refute all the evidence that my colleagues have brought up in concluding that it is a forgery. I can explain everything written there from a linguistic point of view as suited to the biblical period, to the period of Jehoash, the ninth century BCE. And I am not the only philologist who thinks so."  See the full article in Haaretz here.  Another interesting scholarly note in this regard from Victor Sasson can be read here.

Featured Resource:  Free Satellite Photographs

Did you know that some of the most unique photographs of the Middle East are available for free in high-resolution without copyright restrictions?  NASA has more than 6,000 photographs on their Visible Earth website, including 128 of the Middle East.  These include satellite images in high to super-high resolution (up to 6400x5000 pixels!), including tif and png formats (up to 20MB). Unless noted, these photographs are not copyrighted.  Here are a few of my favorites, with direct links to the high-resolution photographs.

Middle East: general view from Egypt to Syria.  Link to high-resolution photos.
Israel, Jordan Lebanon, and Syria. With such high-resolution photos available, you can crop a small area and view the stunning detail.  Link to high-resolution photos.
Turkey and Greece.  Good view of the area of the Seven Churches of Revelation and Paul's journeys.  Link to high-resolution photos.


These are the direct links to see the selections of photos of:

1) Middle East - 128 photos

2) Egypt - 41 photos

3) Israel - 10 photos

4) Jordan - 10 photos

5) Lebanon - 6 photos

6) Syria - 13 photos

7) Turkey - 48 photos

8) Greece - 20 photos

9) Italy - 53 photos

10) Iraq - 36 photos

11) Iran - 20 photos




Free High-Resolution Photos

One of my favorite places to explore is the Judean Wilderness.  I have had many opportunities to do so in the last few months and I have chosen some of my favorite photographs from those trips for this newsletter. 

As always, these photographs are recent, unpublished, and linked to high-resolution photographs which may be used freely for personal and educational purposes.


Click picture for higher-resolution version.

Dry and Thirsty Land

The Judean Wilderness is the stretch of land between the Judean Hill Country and the Dead Sea.  Because it is on the leeward side of the mountain range, it receives little rainfall and is better for shepherds moving with their flocks than for farmers.  In ancient times, this region was uninhabited and ideal for seeking seclusion or refuge.  Today the area is largely empty except for the occasional military base or camel herd.


Nahal Tseelim

Because of the steep descent of the Judean Wilderness to the Dead Sea (1300 feet below sea level), rapid run-off has created deep canyons draining to the Dead Sea.  These canyons (Hebrew: nahal; Arabic: wadi) are dry except for a brief time during and shortly after a rainfall.  A few miles north of Masada is Nahal Tseelim, where some of the scrolls from the time of Bar Kochba were discovered (135 A.D.). 

Click picture for higher-resolution version.


Click picture for higher-resolution version.

Nahal Mishmar

About midway between Masada and En Gedi is Nahal Mishmar.  Like the Tseelim, Arugot, and Darga, this nahal runs east-west and is a barrier to north-south travel because of its significant size.  In a survey of the Judean Desert in the early 1960s, a cave in Nahal Mishmar was discovered with a large hoard of copper objects from the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium B.C.).  These artifacts from the "Cave of the Treasure" are known for their beauty and perfect preservation.


Ein Perat

Springs are rare in the Judean Wilderness, and they were valuable to ancient travelers, as is evidenced by the remains that can often be found in their vicinity.  Ein Perat is about 5 miles east of Jerusalem, and not far from the prophet Jeremiah's hometown of Anathoth.  It is probable that the prophet hid his loincloth here and not at the Euphrates River (both places are spelled prt in Hebrew; cf. Jer 13).  In Herod's day, an aqueduct brought water from this spring to his palace in Jericho.

Click picture for higher-resolution version.



Click picture for higher-resolution version.

Streams in the Wilderness

It is not common to see this much water flowing through the Wadi Qilt, but after heavy rains, the normally dry canyon flows with water.  Such a picture is given in a description of the blessing of the land in Isaiah 35:  "Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs" (NIV).



Spring of the Young Goats

En Gedi means "spring of the young goats." This photograph shows a mother and her kid drinking from a spring at En Gedi.  These goats, known as ibex, are dependent upon water and thus live near a dependable supply.  Ibex have apparently lived in the area of En Gedi for thousands of years, as attested by the name of the spring and by depictions of ibex on objects found in the Cave of the Treasure in the nearby Nahal Mishmar. 

Click picture for higher-resolution version.


Click picture for higher-resolution version.

For a Season

This is not Scotland, honest!  For a short period of time after the winter rains, short grasses grow on the slopes of the wilderness.  Though it may appear that this is the natural and permanent state of things, in a few weeks, the sun and hot east wind causes the grass to shrivel and die.  Isaiah compared men to this grass: ?All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass? (40:6-7).



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