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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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Biblical Israel: Pool of Siloam

By Marc Turnage

Located on the southern part of the rock cliff that marks the hill of the City of David (in Jerusalem), near the southern end of the Tyropoean Valley sits the Pool of Siloam. The pool was accidentally discovered in 2004 by workmen laying a new sewage line in the southern part of the City of David. The Gihon Spring, Jerusalem’s primary water source, supplied water to the pool in antiquity via the so-called Hezekiah’s Tunnel. 

Archaeologists uncovered two flights of five narrow steps separated by a wide landing that descend into the pool. This enabled people to descend to different levels based upon the fluctuation of the water level due to either the rainy or dry seasons within the land of Israel. Although the archaeologists only uncovered one side of the steps of the pool, it seems that such an arrangement of steps surrounded the pool on four sides. The pool covered roughly an acre of land. Coins and pottery date the construction of the stepped pool to the mid first century B.C.

To the north of the pool, archaeologists uncovered a fine pavement of stones that resemble the first century street that runs to the west of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Discovery of column drums and column bases protruding from the pavement suggests that a colonnade ran along the pavement. 

The Pool of Siloam appears twice within the New Testament (Luke 13:4; and John 9:7). In John, Jesus instructed the blind man to wash the mud from his eyes in the pool to be healed. It served the water needs of ancient Jerusalem (along with other pools in the city), and it also served as the largest ritual immersion pool within the city. Jewish pilgrims, who needed to be ritually pure before entering the sacred precincts of the Temple (see Acts 21:26), could use the Pool of Siloam for ritual immersion. Its size and proximity to the Temple makes it a suitable location for the baptism of the three thousand who responded to Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). 

Archaeologists have suggested that the holes found on the steps leading into the pool might have supported screens made of wood or mats to provide privacy for those ritually immersing in the pool. Jewish ritual immersion, like what we find in the New Testament, required privacy as the person immersing did so in the nude, nothing can come between the bather and the water. 

During the first century, on the last night of the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), water was drawn from the Pool of Siloam and brought to the altar of the Temple and poured out as a libation. The festival occurs at the end of the summer (around October), and the water libation requested rains from God (see John 7:37). This ceremony, known as the Beth HaShoeva, occurred at night. Jewish sources describe how pilgrims lined the route from the pool to the Temple carrying torches.

The first century Pool of Siloam likely covers the same pool mentioned in Nehemiah (3:15). Then, at a later time, the pool was enlarged and constructed in the manner of a Jewish ritual immersion bath. 

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

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Biblical Israel: Avdat

By Marc Turnage

Located in the modern Negev Desert on the spur of a mountain ridge, overlooking the plain around the canyon of En Avdat (the “Spring of Avdat”), sits the ancient ruins of the Nabatean city of Avdat. Avdat sits along the ancient caravan routes that crossed the barren lands from Elat (ancient Aila) on the Gulf of Aqaba, and Petra, the Nabatean capital in the Transjordan, to the Mediterranean coast and the port city of Gaza. 

The Nabateans, a nomadic people, immigrated out of the Arabian Peninsula, and in the period of the New Testament, their kingdom stretched from southern Syria to the northern Hijaz in the Arabian Peninsula. Their capital was Petra, in the south of the modern Kingdom of Jordan. Although the land of their kingdom was vast, they had few urban centers. They controlled the trade and caravan routes through the Transjordan, including those that extended west to the Mediterranean coast. Their ability to travel through the dry desert regions, in part by using their caravansaries, like Avdat, enabled them to acquire a great degree of wealth. 

In the New Testament, Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist, was originally married to a Nabatean princess, the daughter of the Nabatean king Aretas IV. He divorced her in order to marry Herodias, the wife of his brother with whom he had an adulterous affair (Luke 3:19-20).

Avdat was originally settled at the end of the fourth or the beginning of the third century B.C. as a station on the caravan routes. By the end of the first century B.C. and into the first century A.D., Avdat had become a religious, military, and commercial center. Nabatean shrines were located at the site. 

The Roman annexation of the Nabatean kingdom into Provincia Arabia in A.D. 106 did not hurt Avdat. In fact, the second and third centuries A.D. saw the site flourish, as both agriculture and herding became part of the local economy. With the rise of Christianity in the fourth century A.D., two churches and a monastery were built on the site replacing the pagan shrines. Avdat relied upon the cultivation and production of a fine variety of grapes and wine during the Byzantine period. The site was abandoned in A.D. 636 with the Arab conquest. 

The earliest periods of settlement left little in terms of remains, especially a lack of architectural remains. Coins and imported pottery provide the main discoveries on the site from the fourth century B.C. to the early first century B.C. During the first century, public buildings were erected on the site including a shrine (temple) where the Nabatean pantheon were worshipped. 

Although not mentioned in the New Testament, Avdat and the Nabateans stood on the edge of the New Testament world. Herod the Great’s mother likely belonged to the Nabatean aristocracy, if not the royal family. We already mentioned the wife of Antipas. Throughout the first century, the Herodian lands came into conflict with Nabatean territory, which sets the backdrop for life in the region.

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

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Yom HaAtzma’ut: Israel’s Independence Day

By Julie Stahl

“Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children” (Isaiah 66:8 NIV).

On May 14, 1948, just before the Sabbath, some 350 guests crammed into an un-air-conditioned, Tel Aviv art gallery for a 32-minute ceremony that would change the world forever.

We, members of the people’s council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel,” declared David Ben-Gurion, Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and soon to be the first prime minister of the fledgling state.

On that historic day, Ben-Gurion spoke for 11 million Jewish men, women, and children around the world who had no voice, no address, and nowhere to go. For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, they finally had their own nation in their ancestral homeland.

“It was promised to us by God. We are the only people in the history of the world that live on the same land, speaking the same language, and believing in the same God more than 3,000 years,” says Isaac Dror, who heads the education efforts for Independence Hall, the place where the declaration was made.

Among the crowd of witnesses was Yael Sharett, whose father Moshe Sharett was on stage with Ben-Gurion and was the country’s first foreign minister and second prime minister. At age 17, Yael wrote as her father dictated one of the drafts of the declaration. She shared a chair with her aunt at the ceremony.

“It’s really epic. It’s poetry actually. The only time I was really moved I must say was when the Rabbi Levine made the old age Jewish blessing: shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu la’z’man ha’zeh,” Yael told CBN News.

That ancient Jewish prayer, which is recited on momentous occasions, offers thanks to God “who has given us life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this day.”

Then they sang HaTikvah (“The Hope”), which is Israel’s national anthem.

The next day, which was the Sabbath, U.S. President Harry Truman became the first world leader to recognize Israel.

He understood something that most of his top advisors and ministers failed to see. This is truly prophecy being realized,” Dror said.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations had passed resolution 181 calling for the creation of a Jewish State and an Arab State in British-controlled Mandatory Palestine. The plan set aside land in the Galilee, along the Mediterranean and the Negev Desert for the Jewish people, while the Arabs were to receive all of biblical Judea and Samaria, later known as the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and other small portions. Perhaps the most controversial part of the plan was that an international body would control Jerusalem.

Still the Jewish people accepted the plan, but the Arabs rejected it. Less than six months later the Jewish people declared independence. The following day, the armies of five Arab nations attacked Israel.

Many countries have fought wars for their independence, but Israel’s war was not common. They had been granted independence by the sovereign, Britain; the decision was confirmed by the United Nations; and the Jewish people were returning to the historic land of their ancestors. But it was their neighbors who didn’t want them to exist.

A year later, the Jewish state was still standing and had increased its size by nearly 50 percent. Against overwhelming odds, this fledgling State of Israel not only survived but grew beyond expectation.

In honor of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Partition Plan, Israel’s mission to the U.N. celebrated by returning to the hall in Flushing Meadows, New York, where the U.N. vote took place.

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said: “In this very hall 70 years ago when the United Nations declared to the modern world an ancient truth that the Jewish people have a natural, irrevocable right to an independent state in their ancestral and eternal homeland.”

Israelis celebrate Independence Day on the 5th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. During a televised ceremony that includes Israeli leaders, Israelis make the transition from mourning on their memorial day to celebrating their independence. Later that night, in cities and towns around the country, young and old take to the streets to listen to live music and dance Israeli folk dances.

Orthodox Jews recite the Psalms (but ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t yet recognize the State).

On Independence Day, the Israeli Air Force flies over cities and along beaches to celebrate as their fellow citizens picnic and barbecue (what they call mahngal). At the close of the day, the country awards the Israel Prize to Israelis who have made a unique contribution to the country’s culture, science, arts, and humanities.

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.

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Yom HaZikaron: Israel’s Memorial Day

By Julie Stahl

“The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die” (Psalm 116:15).

A week after Yom HaShoah (“Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day”), Israelis mark Yom HaZikaron (“Israel’s Memorial Day”) to honor and remember those who died fighting for their country and those murdered in terror attacks.

A televised state ceremony is held at the Western Wall and neighborhoods throughout the country hold their own ceremonies in public places, with the participation of the youth. 

Israelis stand in the streets for an hour or more as the people who died from those neighborhoods are honored.

Since Israel is frequently under attack—whether by rockets or terror attacks or infiltrations—the day is very real and relevant for most Israelis. Many visit cemeteries and attend other ceremonies on the day. Schools are in session but have special programs to honor the fallen.

Twice, on the evening before Israel’s Memorial Day and the following morning itself, Israelis collectively stand in silence as a siren sounds calling to mind the sacrifices that were made by family and friends for Israel’s freedom and security. 

“I was thinking about all the soldiers from the beginning of the modern State of Israel up until today who had to fight on the frontlines and on the home front,” said Shai Yosipov, a former IDF combat medic.

“It’s so important that everyone understands the price and the responsibility we have for living in this country. We not only remember our fallen loved ones, but we also acknowledge that there has always been a sacrifice that needed to be made so that we could be here today,” says Yosipov.

“During the siren, I was praying for families who’ve lost so many, and I prayed that God would give them comfort from the pain,” says Sarah Rivka Yekutiel, who moved to Israel from Boston many years ago.

“It’s an emotional time for everyone, whether you’ve lost family or not. This day is very heavy and intense,” said Orital Saban, who recently moved to Israel from Canada.

More than 23,000 Israeli and Jewish soldiers and more than 3,100 terror victims have fallen since 1860. 

At sundown on Israel’s Memorial Day, Israelis make an incredible leap from mourning those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, to celebrating Yom HaAtzma’ut (“Israel’s Independence Day”).

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.

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