Blog

Biblical Israel: Western Wall

By Marc Turnage

The Western Wall refers to the western retaining wall built to support the Temple Mount platform. In the first century, this wall faced the city of Jerusalem, and as such, it had four gates in it that led onto the Temple Mount platform. 

The gates alternated in their access lower and upper. A street ran along the western wall in the first century. The two lower gates offered access to the Temple Mount from this street. The two high gates were accessed through a bridge and a stairwell supported by a massive arch. 

Today, we refer to these gates by the names of the modern explorers who rediscovered them and identified them. From north to south, they are Warren’s Gate, named after the British explorer Charles Warren. The next gate, accessed by the bridge that led from the Upper City of Jerusalem is Wilson’s Gate, named for the British explorer Charles Wilson. 

The third Gate, which today can be seen on the women’s section of the Western Wall prayer area, is Barclay’s Gate, named for the American missionary doctor, James Barclay. The final gate was named after the American explorer, Edward Robinson. Robinson identified the spring of an arch protruding from the western wall, which was the remains of a large arch that supported a monumental staircase that led onto the Temple Mount. 

Today visitors to Jerusalem encounter three areas of the Western Wall. The most famous in the Western Wall prayer plaza. This has served as a place of Jewish prayer for hundreds of years. It was a small area of the western wall of the Temple Mount retaining wall that was left exposed where Jews could come and pray. 

The Western Wall was not considered holy when the Temple stood but developed into a place of Jewish prayer centuries later. Today it functions as a synagogue and is the most holy site for Jews around the world. Men and women have two separate areas designated for their prayers. 

North of the Western Wall prayer plaza, one can go through a tunnel created by construction in later periods of buildings up against the western wall that follows the Western Wall. In these tunnels one sees the pillars that supported the bridge in the first century leading to Wilson’s Gate; one can even see Warren’s Gate, which is sealed up. 

Following along the tunnel, the first century street is visible in places, as are the massive hewn stones used to build the Western Wall. On the northern end of the tunnel, one encounters a pool, which was an open-air pool in the first century known as the Struthian Pool (or “Sparrow’s Pool”). 

South of the Western Wall plaza, one can walk along the first century street that ran along the Western Wall. On the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, the spring of Robinson’s Arch is visible as are the small shops where vendors sold sacrifices for the Temple and changed money in the first century. 

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans can be seen in a pile of large hewn stones from the Temple Mount, which remains where they fell in the first century. So too, the buckling of the street from the collapse of the walls of the Temple attest to the destruction inflicted by the Romans. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

Read more

Biblical Israel: Mount Tabor

By Marc Turnage

In the northeastern corner of the Jezreel Valley sits the dome shaped hill of Mount Tabor. The steep slopes on all sides of the solitary mountain lead to a plateau on top, 1000 meters by 400 meters in area. The tribal territories of Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali meet at Mount Tabor.

Mount Tabor played a prominent role in the story of Deborah and Barak. They gathered the Israelite forces at Mount Tabor prior to their battle with the Canaanite forces of Jabin, king of Hazor, that were led by his general Sisera (Judges 4). The Israelites used the steep slopes of Tabor to their strategic advantage against the Canaanite chariots. So too, their gathering at Tabor prior to the battle may have to do with the connection of the mountain to cultic worship (see Deuteronomy 33:18-19; Hosea 5:1).  

Mount Tabor served as the site for several battles during the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Josephus, who became a historian of ancient Judaism, fortified the mountain as part of his efforts in the Galilee during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (A.D. 66-73). 

Christian tradition, from the time of the Church Fathers, identified Mount Tabor as a possible location for the site of the event of the Transfiguration. The Gospels do not specify the location of this event, simply calling it “a very high mountain” (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2). The earliest tradition identifying Mount Tabor as the location of the Transfiguration comes from the Gospel according to the Hebrews. 

This work no longer exists, but Church Fathers quote passages of it in their works. Origen, citing the Gospel according to the Hebrews, identified the location of the Transfiguration as occurring on Mount Tabor. If this was written in the Gospel according to the Hebrews, then this tradition dates to the late first or early second century A.D. Cyril also knew the tradition that placed the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. 

Both Eusebius and the Bordeaux Pilgrim do not mention the mountain being a sacred mountain. Thus, while some early Christian traditions located the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, it was not treated as a sacred mountain or site within the early Byzantine period. Today, visitors to the mountain find a church on its summit.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

Read more

Biblical Israel: Hebron

By Marc Turnage

The city of Hebron played an important role, particularly within the Old Testament narratives. The city features prominently in the stories of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as Joshua and Caleb, and, eventually, David, who reigned for his first seven years at Hebron. 

The prominence of Hebron within the Bible stems from its location along the major north-south road through the central hill country of Israel. Located 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, Hebron sat at the juncture of two roadways that ascended from the basin of the biblical Negev. One came from Beersheva in the west, and the other came from Arad in the eastern Negev basin. These two roadways came together at Hebron, which sits at 3050 feet above sea level, the highest point in the southern hill country, in the heart of the tribal territory of Judah. 

The hills and valleys around Hebron offer a fertile region with iron-rich soil that enables the growing of grape vineyards, olive trees, fruits, and terraced land for growing wheat and barley. Also, sheep and goats can be grazed in the surrounding region. 

The ancient site of Hebron (Tel Rumeideh) sits on roughly seven and a half acres. A spring on the lower east slope of the tel provided the water for the city. To the east of the biblical tel sits the ancient shrine of the Machpelah, or the Tomb of the Patriarchs. 

The building, whose basic structure dates to the first century B.C./A.D., is built over the cave that traditions ascribe that Abraham purchased to bury Sarah (Genesis 23). Tradition ascribes it as the burial location of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah. For this reason, the site has been revered since ancient times, and is a place of prayer for both Jews and Muslims. No significant excavations have taken place at the Machpelah. 

Hebron played an important role in the stories of Abraham, who lived at Hebron, pitching his tent at the “oaks of Mamre.” Sarah died at Hebron, and Abraham, who was a nomad, purchased land in order to bury her there. The Israelite spies spied out the land near Hebron (Numbers 13). 

The last reference to Hebron in the Bible is as the place of David’s initial reign as king of the tribe of Judah. When he was made king over all Israel, he moved from Hebron, where he had reigned for seven years, to Jerusalem where he ruled over the twelve tribes of Israel. David’s son Absalom instigated his rebellion against his father at Hebron (2 Samuel 15:7-10).

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

Read more

Biblical Israel: City of David

By Marc Turnage

The first seven and a half years that David reigned, he reigned in Hebron, which sat in the heart of the tribal territory of Judah, David’s tribe (2 Samuel 5:5). As he expanded his rule to all of Israel, he decided to conquer the city of Jerusalem, which until this time was ruled by the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:6-10). Why did David select this city? 

Geographically it sat off the major north-south route through the central hill country; it did not have natural roads leading east or west from it. He selected it, however, due to its location. The city, on its southern end, was bounded by the Hinnom Valley, which formed the boundary between the tribal territory of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe) and Judah (David’s tribe). Also, by virtue of it not being captured by the Israelites, no tribe could lay exclusive claim to the city. It offered a place where he could consolidate the political and religious center of his kingdom.

The city of Jerusalem that David conquered covered about eleven acres. It sat on what is known as the eastern hill. To its east, stood the Mount of Olives, which is separated from the eastern hill by the Kidron Valley. To its west stands the western hill, which is separated from the eastern hill by a valley known as the Tyrpoean Valley. To its south lies the Hinnom Valley. To its north lay the upper heights of the eastern hill, where Solomon built his palace and the Temple. 

The Bible identifies the eastern hill, specifically the northern portions, as Mount Zion. This can be confusing for modern visitors to Jerusalem because in the Byzantine period (4th-6th centuries A.D.) the western hill was mistakenly identified as Mount Zion, and that nomenclature has stuck. In the Bible, however, the eastern hill, especially its northern area, where the Temple came to be built, was referred to as Mount Zion.

Today, the eastern hill sits outside of the Old City walls, even though it is the oldest part of Jerusalem. It is referred to as the City of David. As we hear in Psalm 125, the mountains surround Jerusalem; while the psalm brings to our minds the beautiful image of God surrounding his people, strategically, this was to Jerusalem’s detriment. On all sides of the eastern hill, hills higher than it surround it. So why was the city built here? Because of its water source, the Gihon Spring. This karstic spring continues to flow even today. Recent excavations have uncovered a large fortification built around the spring to protect it. 

Excavations of the City of David have uncovered remains dating back over four thousand years. The excavations of the City of David reflect the history of the city; its role as the capital of the kingdom of Judah; its destruction by the Babylonians; its smaller size in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Its water systems. Structures from the first century, and evidence of its destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70. It was here that the exiles remembered when they were dispersed and longed to return (Psalm 137).

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

Read more

Biblical Israel: Beth Shean

By Marc Turnage

Located at the intersection of two significant roads that crossed the land of Israel from west to east, through the Jezreel and Harod Valleys towards the land east of the Jordan River, and north to south, through the Jordan River Valley, Beth Shean’s prominence came due to its location. The importance of its location is underscored by being inhabited from the late Neolithic period until the Middle Ages.

Egyptian sources mention Beth Shean, and it served as an Egyptian administrative center during the 16th-13th centuries B.C., when Egypt controlled the region. Beth Shean appears often within the sources during the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods where the city is known as Scythopolis (“city of the Scythians”) or Nysa Scythopolis. 

The tribal allotment of land gave Beth Shean to the tribe of Manasseh (Joshua 17:11), but the Israelites were unable to dislodge the people of Beth Shean (Judges 1:27), in part, due to the people of Beth Shean having “chariots of iron” (meaning an iron axel; Joshua 17:16), which gave them a military advantage in the plain.

After the death of Saul and his sons on nearby Mount Gilboa, the Philistines hung their bodies on the walls of Beth Shean (1 Samuel 31:10). The men of Jabesh Gilead, in the Transjordan, later retrieved their bodies burning them and burying them in Jabesh Gilead (1 Samuel 31:12). Like Megiddo, Beth Shean served an important role along significant international roadways, which means that it rarely came under the control of the kingdom of Israel. 

The Gospels do not mention Jesus in Beth Shean, Scythopolis, as he avoided non-Jewish villages and cities. Yet, Luke mentions that on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem he passed between Galilee and Samaria (17:11). Luke’s precise geographic language reflects the geopolitical reality of the first century in which Beth Shean, the Harod Valley, and even the Jezreel Valley lay neither in Galilee, nor in Samaria.

Thus, Jesus passed through this way towards the Jordan River, where he crossed the river, south of Beth Shean, proceeding south along the east bank of the Jordan River, which was inhabited by Jews, until he came opposite Jericho, where he crossed the river again and ascended to Jerusalem.

Visitors to the site of Beth Shean today see primarily the Roman-Byzantine city. The biblical period site resides on the high tel that overlooks the lower Roman-Byzantine city. On the tel, archaeologists have excavated five different temples from the Bronze Age to the early Iron Age. Also, on the top of the tel, excavations have revealed Egyptian and Canaanite presence.

The lower city, most of which dates to the late Roman and Byzantine periods, preserves remains of two large bath houses, with public toilets, a large theater, with portions of the backdrop still intact (reconstruction work has added more to this), a public market, nymphaeum (a public fountain), a public market, and shops. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

Read more

Biblical Israel: Ein Gedi

By Marc Turnage

The name Ein Gedi means “spring of the kid (young goat).” Ein Gedi, which is the largest oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea, sits between two riverbeds (in Hebrew, nahal, in Arabic, wadi): Nahal David to the north and Nahal Arugot to the south. The oasis contains four springs, Ein David, Ein Arugot, Ein Shulamit, and Ein Gedi, that flow year-round supplying three million cubic meters of water annually. 

The springs have allowed habitation, which dates back to the Chalcolithic period (ca. 4000 B.C.). Its most continuous inhabitation goes from the beginning of the seventh century B.C. until the early Arab period as indicated by archaeological and literary evidence. The book of Joshua locates Ein Gedi within the tribal territory of Judah (15:62). Ein Gedi’s location within the tribal territory of Judah explains David’s use of the oasis when he hid from Saul (1 Samuel 23:29; 24). During the biblical period, a road from the southern end of the Dead Sea and the lands to the east, Moab and Edom, ascended from Ein Gedi into the central hill country towards Bethlehem. 

Although located along the arid shores of the Dead Sea, the fresh-water springs and temperate climate year-round allowed Ein Gedi to flourish as a place of agriculture. Date palms and perfume-producing plants became the primary crops of the oasis. The book of Ben Sira mentions the date palms of Ein Gedi. 

In the first century B.C., the arrival of hydraulic plaster from Italy in Judaea enabled the Jewish leaders, the Hasmoneans, to construct aqueducts at Ein Gedi, which allowed them to expand the agricultural production at Ein Gedi. During the first century B.C. and A.D., Ein Gedi produced a perfume, balsam, which served as the cash-crop of the kingdom of Herod the Great and Judaea. It was exported all throughout the Roman world. Herod the Great’s construction of the palace fortress of Masada, just south of Ein Gedi, served to protect the produce of the balsam.

The dates of Judaea also were exported to Italy. The site of Ein Gedi was destroyed during the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-73) but rebuilt in the years after the revolt and served as a location of a Roman garrison as well as a military and administrative center for the Jewish rebels during the Bar Kochba Revolt (A.D. 132-136). The Romans conquered Ein Gedi at the end of this Jewish revolt. Remains of the Jewish rebels and their belongings were discovered in caves near the oasis of Ein Gedi in the twentieth century.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

Read more

Biblical Israel: Temple Mount

By Marc Turnage

The Golden Dome of the Rock provides one of the most iconic and recognizable images of any city’s skyline within the world. The Islamic shrine completed in A.D. 692 by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik stands upon the platform of the Temple Mount, which was constructed during the first centuries B.C. and A.D. The Temple Mount refers to the platform and complex upon which stood the Temple constructed by Herod the Great. This was the Temple known to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Peter, and Paul. It stood on the northern end of the eastern hill of Jerusalem, what the Bible calls Mount Zion. 

Around 1000 B.C., David conquered the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and the stronghold of Zion, which sat on the eastern hill. He made this the capital of his united kingdom, Israel. When his son, Solomon, succeeded his father as king, he extended the city to the northern height of the eastern hill where he built his palace, administrative buildings, and the House of the God of Israel, the First Temple. This building remained situated on the height of the eastern hill until the Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed it in 586 B.C. The Babylonians carried the Judeans into exile. When they returned to the land around Jerusalem, they rebuilt the Temple, under Zerubbabel. This building underwent renovations and additions in the subsequent centuries; however, our knowledge of this is limited due to the absence of clear descriptions within ancient sources and a lack of archaeological excavation in the area of the Temple Mount.

In the eighteenth year of Herod the Great’s reign as king of Judea, he began a massive remodeling and reconstruction of the Temple area, which ultimately resulted in the construction of the Temple Mount. The construction, which continued into the first century A.D., after Herod’s death in 4 B.C., created a series of four retaining walls that supported the platform, which covered the high point of the eastern hill turning it into the largest enclosed sacred space within the Roman world. The main portion of construction took nine-and-a-half years. Herod apparently oversaw the building of the Temple building, which stood twice the height of the golden Dome of the Rock, and the remodeling of the sacred precincts, an area of five hundred cubits square, during his lifetime. 

The heart of the Temple Mount was the Temple building and the surrounding sacred complex, which including the Court of the Women, the Court of the Israelites, the Chambers of Wood, Oil, Lepers, and Nazirites. Inside the Temple building was the Holy Place, which housed the golden lampstand (the menorah), the Table of Shewbread, and the altar of incense. Beyond the Holy Place was the Holies of Holies, which was entered only by the high priest once a year on the Day of Atonement.

The construction of the Temple Mount continued into the first century as the southern and northern portions of the platform expanded. The four retaining walls of the Temple Mount contained gates that offered access onto the Temple Mount platform. The northern retaining wall contained the Tadi Gate, which rabbinic sources claim was not used at all. The Shushan Gate stood on the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, of which portions seem to predate Herod, and it was lower than the other walls that surrounded the Temple Mount. 

The present eastern gate, known as the Golden Gate (or in Arabic, the Mercy Gate) was built much later than the first century. It was sealed, like most of the gates onto the Temple Mount by the Crusader, Knights Templar, who made the Temple Mount their headquarters. The western retaining wall had four gates. Two were upper and two lower, and they alternated lower and upper. The northernmost gate opened onto a street that ran alongside the western retaining wall. Today it is known as Warren’s Gate (named after the British explorer, Charles Warren, who found the gate). 

In the first century an arched bridge spanned from the western hill to the western wall of the Temple Mount. This bridge conveyed an aqueduct that provided water for the Temple worship. The bridge and the arched gateway that provided access onto the Temple Mount were identified by Charles Wilson in the nineteenth century and bear his name today. Today a portion of the western retaining wall serves as the prayer plaza of the Western Wall, a functioning synagogue, a site holy for Jews. In the women’s section of the Western Wall remains of a third gate can be seen. This gate, known as Barclay’s gate, after the American missionary, James Barclay, who discovered it, also provided access to the street that ran along the western wall. 

The fourth and final gate also offered another elevated access onto the Temple Mount platform. It was supported by a large arch with steps that ascended the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. The arch, which was the largest arch in the Roman world at the time of its construction, is known as Robinson’s Arch, bearing the name of the American Edward Robinson who identified the spring of the arch, which is all that remains. The southern entrances of the Temple Mount served the majority of Jewish pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for the festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Two large double gates stood at the top of stairs providing access up a ramp onto the Temple Mount platform. Pilgrims entered on the right of the two gates and exited through the left two gates unless they were in mourning. If they were in mourning, they went the opposite direction in order to receive comfort from their fellow worshipers. 

The western and southern retaining walls were built in the first century A.D. Their construction enlarged the Temple Mount platform to the south, which created a large court outside of the sacred precincts. They also supported a large colonnaded structure that stood on the southern end of the Temple Mount known as the Royal Stoa. 

Herod’s Temple and the surround complexes were destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. During the second and third centuries a pagan shrine stood on the Temple Mount. During the period of the Christian Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, a couple of churches stood on the Temple Mount. With the coming of Islam in the seventh century, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were constructed. These two buildings stand on top of the Temple Mount until today.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

 Website: WITBUniversity.com  
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

Read more

Shavuot (Pentecost): The Festival of Weeks

By Julie Stahl

“Observe the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the agricultural year. Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel” (Exodus 34:22-23).

“When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages” (Acts 2:1-4).

What’s the connection between God giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai and pouring out His Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts? They are both celebrated on the biblical Festival of Weeks or Shavuot, known in the New Testament as Pentecost.

Fifty days or seven weeks after Passover, Jewish people celebrate Shavuot (“weeks” in Hebrew). At the same time, Christians celebrate Pentecost (“fifty days” in Greek).

According to Jewish tradition, God called Moses up to Mount Sinai and gave him the Law—the two tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written—as well as the entire Torah on Shavuot.

Rabbi Welton adds, “Some Jewish people feel that the Torah is like the wedding ring between them and God in the spirit of the verse, ‘I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the LORD’” (Hosea 2:19-20). 

He adds, “Each year on Shavuot we renew our nuptial vows to our Beloved. Many people have the custom to stay up all night, engaged in studying Torah to reenact the great excitement and love one has on their wedding night.”

Boaz Michael, founder of First Fruits of Zion, comments: “There’re so many beautiful parallels that take place for Shavuot. Imagine Mount Sinai with the mountains above it, the covenant given to the people of Israel. This reminds us of a chuppah [“canopy”] over a bride and a groom. It tells us that God is making a covenant with His bride, Israel. There’s a marriage that takes place.”

“Shavuot is the culmination of a series of events,” Michael continues. “We’ve finally been freed from slavery in Egypt, we’ve wandered through the wilderness, and now we’ve come to Mount Sinai. It’s here that we enter into an intimate relationship with God, through the giving of His commandments and then the covenant that He gives to us, the Torah.”

He concludes: “So this event links us to Acts chapter one verse eight, where Jesus tells His disciples that they’re going to receive the Holy Spirit and take His message to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Three times a year, God commanded the Jewish people to come up to Jerusalem, and one of those times was Shavuot.

“All your males are to appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place He chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths. No one is to appear before the Lord empty-handed” (Deuteronomy 16:16).

The New Testament records that Jews were gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost.

Many Jewish people stay up all night on Shavuot to study the Scriptures. The Ten Commandments are read, and in many Jewish communities, the Book of Ruth is also read. Before dawn, those in Jerusalem head to the Western Wall on foot where they pray and bless God.

Shavuot has become a time of eating dairy foods, chief among them cheesecake!

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism at Regent University; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. She is also an integral part of CBN News’ award-winning show, Jerusalem Dateline, a weekly news program providing a biblical and prophetic perspective to what is happening in Israel and the Middle East.

Read more

Biblical Israel: Shrine of the Book

By Marc Turnage

The discovery at Qumran of the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 required a suitable place to house them. The American Jewish architects Armand Bartos and Frederic Kiesler were tasked with designing a home for the scrolls at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. On April 20, 1965, the Shrine of the Book was dedicated. 

This landmark of modern architecture incorporated elements of the story of the scrolls as well as the community responsible for them to create a special building that symbolized a sanctuary. The architecture of the building seeks to convey the spiritual meanings of light and darkness and rebirth. The Shrine of the Book sits on the campus of the Israel Museum, which is next to Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, key government offices, and the Jewish National Library at the Hebrew University’s Giv’at Ram campus. Its location among institutions of government, history, art, and learning, give it a national importance. Moreover, it acknowledges the Bible and ancient Judaism and their importance to the State of Israel. 

The buildings architecture incorporates several features that seek to tell the story of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The unique white dome of the Shrine of the Book embodies the lid of the jars in which the first scrolls were found. Opposite the whited dome, under which is housed the Dead Sea Scrolls, stands a black wall. The contrast, white and black, symbolize light and darkness two themes that play prominently within the sectarian scrolls of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

One must walk through the black wall to make your way to where the scrolls are housed under the white dome, passing through a tunnel that looks like a cave, but also symbolizes a birthing canal. The idea being that one passes from darkness to light in an act of rebirth. Cases line the walls of this tunnel with scroll fragments and other artifacts discovered at the site of Qumran, which sits on the northwest corner of the Dead Sea. This display seeks to convey daily life at Qumran. 

Passing through the tunnel, one enters underneath the white dome. At the center of the hall, in a case built to represent the handle of the rod used for rolling and unrolling a Torah scroll while one reads, sits a facsimile of the Isaiah Scroll. This scroll, found in Cave 1 at Qumran, contains the complete book of Isaiah. The manuscript of this scroll was written around 100 B.C. In cases around the room are portions of actual Dead Sea Scrolls, the Community Rule, Thanksgiving Hymns, Habakkuk Commentary, and Isaiah from Cave 1, and the Temple Scroll from Cave 11. 

Below the display of the Isaiah Scroll is a lower level that houses a display of the Aleppo Codex. The Aleppo Codex was originally written in Tiberias, Israel in the 10th century A.D. The Aleppo Codex is the Old Testament-Hebrew Bible in book form. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it provided the earliest Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Its text contains traditions of pronunciation, spelling, punctuation, and cantillation handed down within the Jewish community and formalized in the codex by scholars known as “Masoretes.” The Aleppo Codex traveled from Tiberias to Egypt, and then later to Aleppo, Syria. It was smuggled into Israel in the 1950s. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide the single most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century. They offer an unparalleled window into the world of ancient Judaism, as well as the history and transmission of the Hebrew Bible-Old Testament.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

Read more

Biblical Israel: Second Temple Model

By Marc Turnage

The large, scale model of Jerusalem in A.D. 66 offers one of the main attractions at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Hans Kroch, who owner of the Holy Land Hotel in Jerusalem, commissioned Professor Michael Avi-Yonah and his students to create the model in honor of Kroch’s son who died in the War of Independence in 1948. Avi-Yonah provided topographical and archaeological detail and architectural design. 

For many years, the model resided at the Holy Land Hotel. Today the model is housed at the Israel Museum. When Avi-Yonah and his students began the project, the Old City of Jerusalem as well as the City of David—the area of biblical Jerusalem—lay in East Jerusalem, which was controlled by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. 

From 1948 to 1967, the city of Jerusalem was divided between West and East Jerusalem. West Jerusalem belonged to the State of Israel, while East Jerusalem belonged to the Kingdom of Jordan. East Jerusalem contained the area of biblical Jerusalem, which meant that during the period under Jordanian control little archaeological work and activity was conducted; thus, much of the archaeological information that came to light in the latter part of the twentieth century remained unknown when Professor Avi-Yonah built the model. 

This raises the obvious question: how could he have built such an accurate model of Jerusalem in A.D. 66 without the assistance of archaeological discovery? The answer lies in the rich descriptions of Jerusalem provided by the first century Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus wrote his works for a non-Jewish, Roman audience that had never been to Jerusalem. He provided such a detailed description of the city that using what they knew about the Roman world and the land of Israel in the first century, Professor Avi-Yonah and his students were able to produce this model, which contains a great deal of accuracy. While there are some mistakes within the model, it offers a testament to Josephus and his value as our greatest source on ancient Judaism and the land of Israel in the first century. 

Visitors to the model will notice three primary features. First, Jerusalem in the first century covered much more area than the modern Old City of Jerusalem (which has nothing to do with biblical Jerusalem). 

Also, the city had two principal foci. On its western edge, at the highest point of the city, stood the palace of Herod the Great. The largest of Herod’s palaces, his palace in Jerusalem played host to the wisemen (Matthew 2) and Jesus when he stood before Pilate. On the northern end of palace stood three towers, which Herod named Mariamme, Phasael, and Hippicus. On the eastern side of the city stood the Temple and the enclosure that surrounded it, which made the Temple Mount the largest sacred enclosure within the Roman world in the first century. The Temple provided the economic and religious center of the city. 

Jerusalem in the first century produced nothing; it did not sit on a major trade route. It dealt in religion. Jewish and non-Jewish pilgrims (see Acts 2) streamed into the city from all over the known world three times a year: Passover, Pentecost, and Sukkot. Pilgrims approached the Temple from the south. On top of the Temple Mount today stands the golden Dome of the Rock. To gain perspective, Herod’s Temple, the Temple that Jesus, Peter, and Paul knew, was twice the height of the Dome of the Rock. Looking at the model, visitors gain some perspective of its awesome grandeur. 

The third feature of the city is its walls. In the model, people see three different wall lines. The wall that comes from the south-eastern part of the Temple Mount surrounding the southern and western sides of the city, which turns east and connects at the western wall of the Temple Mount, Josephus calls the first wall. A large wall includes the northern neighborhoods; this is Josephus’ third wall, which was built after the time of Jesus. Inside the third wall, visitors to the model see a second wall. The first and second walls contained the Jerusalem that Jesus knew, which was twice the size of the modern Old City. 

One of the biggest challenges for guides of Jerusalem is helping their groups understand the city’s history and many layers. The model of Jerusalem at the Israel Museum offers an excellent visual, as well as a monument to the city at its height in the first century.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

Read more