Biblical Israel: Church of the Holy Sepulchre

By Marc Turnage

The traditional location of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which sits within the heart of the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The origin of the church goes back to the Emperor Constantine. His mother the Empress Helena on a visit to the Holy Land (326 A.D.) was shown this location by local Christians and identified as the place where Jesus’ crucifixion and burial took place. Upon that site, her son built the first church, which was called the Church of the Resurrection. 

Archaeological excavations within the church have uncovered the history of the site. In the 8th-7th centuries B.C., the location of the Holy Sepulchre was a large limestone quarry to the northwest of the walled city of Jerusalem. According to the excavator, the site continued to be used as a quarry until the first century B.C. when it was filled in with soil and stone flakes from the quarry. The site at this time became a garden or orchard that contained fig, carob, and olive trees. At the same time, it developed into a cemetery. Within the complex of the Holy Sepulchre, tombs dating to the first century have been discovered.

One of the challenges for modern visitors to the church is its location within the modern Old City of Jerusalem and its walls. Jesus was crucified outside of the city walls. The modern Old City walls, built in the 16th century, however, have nothing to do with the walls of Jesus’ Jerusalem. Jews did not bury within the walls of city, but rather outside. The presence of first century tombs within the Holy Sepulchre complex indicates that this location stood outside the walls of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. 

Jewish tombs in the first century consisted of two types: kokhim and arcosolia. The most common being the kokhim. A kokh (singular) was a long, narrow recess cut into a rock tomb in which a body, coffin, or ossuary (bone box) could be laid. The typical kokhim tomb was hewn into the hillside and consisted of a square chamber. The entrance to an ordinary kokhim tomb was a small square opening that required a person entering to stoop. The height of the chamber was usually less than that of a person, so they often cut a square pit into the floor of the chamber. This pit created a bench on three sides of the chamber where the bodies of the deceased could be prepared. 

After the chamber and the pit were cut, the kokhim were cut level with the top of the benches and perpendicular to the wall of the tomb in a counter clockwise direction, from right to left, in every wall except the entrance wall. One to three kokhim were usually cut per wall. The kokh had roughly vaulted ceilings and were the length of the deceased or a coffin. After the deceased was placed into the kokh, a blocking stone sealed the square entrance of the tomb. Small stones and plaster helped to further seal the blocking stone. The tomb was sealed in a manner that it blended into the surrounding hillside. 

In addition to the kokhim tomb, arcosolia tombs began to appear sporadically during the first century. The arcosolia is a bench-like aperture with an arched ceiling hewn into the length of the wall. This style of burial was more expensive since only three burial places existed within a tomb chamber instead of six or nine, as typically found within kokhim tombs. Approximately 130 arcosolia tombs have been discovered in Jerusalem and over half of them also contain kokhim. Ossuaries (bone boxes) could be placed on the arcosolia benches.

The tomb identified within the Holy Sepulchre as the tomb of Jesus was originally an arcosolium (singular) with an antechamber; however, the centuries of pilgrims and the various destructions of the church have deformed and obliterated the tomb. What visitors see today is a later structure; nevertheless, the tomb originally contained a first century arcosolium tomb. 

The Roman Emperor Hadrian built on top of the quarry-garden-cemetery a raised platform with another platform on it where he built a temple to Venus/Aphrodite in the second century. This pagan temple was removed when Constantine built his church. 

Constantine built a rotunda around Jesus’ tomb. The rock of Golgotha was exposed to the open air in a garden, and on the other side of the garden, Constantine built a basilica church. 

The question arises whether or not the Holy Sepulchre contains the location of Jesus’ tomb. What we can say is this: 1) The site was a cemetery in the first century with first century tombs. 2) From the second century until the arrival of the Empress Helena, the actual tomb had been covered for 300 years. The fact that the local Christian memory remembered this location, where a first century cemetery existed, even though it was covered by the Hadrianic temple strongly suggests the authenticity of the site. 3) When Helena was shown this site, it sat like now within the walled, urban city of Jerusalem, which would have seemed strange to ancient pilgrims as it does to modern. 

Yet, the memory of the local Christian community remembered that this location once lay outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Ten to fifteen years after Jesus’ death and burial a wall was built in Jerusalem that enclosed this area into the city. 

Pilgrims to Jerusalem often wonder if the Holy Sepulchre marks the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The archaeology and tradition of the site support its claims. 

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.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Blessed Is the King

“Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” (Luke 19:37-38 NKJV).

Jesus came to Jerusalem riding a wave of popularity and redemptive expectations. As He ascended toward Jerusalem, Luke tells us that those traveling with Him were anticipating that the kingdom of God would appear immediately. We hear in the voices of the disciples on the road to Emmaus the redemptive hopes many had pinned on Jesus: “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21 NKJV). 

Their hopes were not misguided. After the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), but Jesus did not rebuke them for failing to understand God’s redemptive plans and purposes. Rather, He affirmed their hopes but said that now is not the time. When He came to Jerusalem, the time of redemption for the nation of Israel had not yet come. Instead, God had other immediate plans for Jesus—a path of suffering, the path of the cross.

Jesus came to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, surrounded by the rejoicing of His loyal disciples. Their song of praise, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” echoes the angelic proclamation at Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14 NKJV). The jubilation of Jesus’ disciples during His entry into the city and the announcement of the angels both herald God’s redemption through Jesus. At His birth, it referred to the hopes carried by the newborn baby; as He rode into Jerusalem, it pertained to hopes deferred. Jesus had things to accomplish.

We do not always understand what God is doing and where He is taking us. Yet do we have the confidence to trust that He will get us there? We want to know the future, understand the signs of the times, but Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7 NKJV). Can we trust God even when the times of His plans and redemption are not fully known to us? 

The New Testament affirms and declares God’s faithfulness to His promised redemption; it has dawned and has come near. But can we remain faithful knowing that the loving Father who promised redemption, who led Jesus to the cross knowing that the empty tomb stood on the other side, stands with us, and He will accomplish what He promised? 

May we echo the jubilation of Jesus’ disciples as they entered Jerusalem, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”


Father, our lives are in Your hands. We trust in You. Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven. Amen.

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Six Predictions on How the Biden Iran Deal Will Impact the Middle East and Weaken U.S. Power

By Ellie Cohanim

Reports from the Vienna talks indicate that a new “Iran Deal” is expected to be announced imminently. Based on the public information on the probable terms of this agreement, there are six outcomes that I predict are likely consequences of this new Iran Deal for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The end result of this Biden Iran Deal will be seismic shifts in the region and a weakening of the U.S. as the leading global power.

The first, and perhaps the most significant, outcome is the perception by all of America’s historic allies in the MENA region that the United States is about to commit a historic betrayal of long-term U.S. allies Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), by signing on to this new Iran Deal. In the last few weeks, Saudi Crown Prince MBS has refused Joe Biden’s phone calls; Saudi Arabia has refused Biden’s request to pump more oil to make up for oil shortages as a result of the Russian war on Ukraine; and when asked recently in the Atlantic if he is misunderstood by Joe Biden, MBS responded, “Simply, I do not care,” and went on to say, “It’s up to him to think about the interests of America.”

While the Israelis have been less public in broadcasting their perception of American betrayal, the sense is there, nevertheless. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is reported as telling his cabinet in a March meeting, “We pick our battles with the Americans; there’s no reason for an international campaign against the nuclear deal—because it will be signed.” The Israeli premier believes he is serving his country’s interests by not waging a public campaign against the U.S. president as his predecessor did against then- President Barack Obama and the original 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iran agreement, but the sense of futility in trying is certainly there.

The second outcome of the Iran Deal is a trend that has been observable for a handful of years, which is Israel’s Gulf Arab neighbors depending on this young nation to take the action necessary against Iran to protect them all. This is a wonder to behold—that little Israel, only 76 years old and engaged throughout its history with both internal and external enemies that wish to destroy her— has somehow become the protector of the region.

Israel has proven itself, time and again, to have astonishing intelligence capabilities in terms of its reach into Iran and capability to disrupt Iran’s march toward the bomb. Whether it was the daring Mossad operation into Iranian territory to withdraw Iran’s nuclear archives, or the elimination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, or the multiple explosions at Iran’s nuclear and other facilities—Israel has proven itself capable of what it seems no other country can achieve.

Due to Israel’s success with these operations, the Sunni Gulf states are now relying on Israel to contain Iran and protect them all from the Iranian threat. This dependence on Israel will only continue to grow following the signing of the Iran Deal, which naturally yields to my third prediction—and that is the continued strengthening of the Sunni-Israel alliance. 

The Sunni-Israel alliance was formalized with the signing of the Abraham Accords brokered by the Trump Administration, which for the first time in history saw warm peace deals being made between Israel and her Arab neighbors. Last week’s historic Negev Summit—hosted by Israel on Israeli soil and bringing together the Foreign Ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, the UAE, and the U.S.—was a significant step forward in the strengthening of that alliance. We can expect the Iran Deal to cause a further strengthening of the Sunni-Israel alliance, and it will do so with the blessing of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia whether the Saudis have formal diplomatic relations with Israel or not. 

Given that Israel now finds itself in the position of defender of the region, what options will be left to Israel following the signing of this Biden Iran Deal to counter the Iranian threat? If the Israelis can continue to successfully set back Iran’s nuclear development through their sabotage and other covert activities, in theory Israel would maintain a status quo between the countries.

On the other hand, is it possible that the Israelis might find themselves cornered into a position in which they will have to conduct actual strikes on Iranian nuclear sites?

Israel’s security experts have told me that historically their expectation was that they would handle the threats at their borders (Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iranian presence in Syria), with an understanding that it would be the U.S. that would take the lead on any necessary strikes against the Iranian homeland. Last week, however, Senator Lindsay Graham (R – SC) stated in an interview that an Israeli attack on Iran was “probably” the only way to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and he said that an Israeli strike on Iran, “is probably the way this movie ends.” 

I have argued that at minimum the U.S. should supply Israel with the bunker-buster bombs she needs to penetrate Iran’s underground nuclear sites so that Israel has the equipment necessary, should the IDF ever make the assessment to attack.

My fifth prediction is the expectation that we will see a nuclear arms race in the region. With the Sunni states realizing that, due to the Iran Deal, the Islamic Republic of Iran is on the legal pathway to achieving nuclear weapons state status, it is only logical for them to seek achieving this same status. In fact, in a 2018 interview on 60 Minutes, MBS stated: “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

In August 2020, both the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and the New York Times reported that China was building an industrial capacity facility in KSA to produce nuclear fuel that could later be enriched to weapons-grade level. I am confident that Saudi Arabia will continue to pursue a nuclear program, which it undoubtedly perceives as a defensive measure against the Islamic Republic of Iran , and perhaps other states in the region will follow suit.

My sixth and last prediction is the weakening of the United States as a global power, and the strengthening of China as one, as a result of Biden’s Iran Deal. In addition to the cooperation between KSA and China listed above on the construction of its nuclear facilities is an expected state visit to Saudi Arabia in May by Chinese President Xi JinPing—as well as and troubling recent reports that Saudi Arabia is considering receiving payment in yuan (Chinese currency) for their sale of oil to China going forward. According to the WSJ, “The Saudi move could chip away at the supremacy of the U.S. dollar in the international financial system, which Washington has relied on for decades to print Treasury bills it uses to finance its budget deficit.” This is a serious development that should jolt the Biden Administration from its destruction of the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

The Saudis are not the only ones working closely with China. Israel just celebrated its 30th anniversary of China-Israel diplomatic relations and announced the China-Israel Innovation Cooperation Action Plan (2022-2024), as well as seven cooperation agreements in the fields of science and technology, health, culture, environmental protection, clean energy, and intellectual-property rights.

In 2021 China’s Shanghai International Port (Group) finished construction on a new port in Haifa, which it is franchised to run for 25 years. 

Since 2015, China has also been host to the China-Israel Changzhou Innovation Park, which is host to 155 Israeli-owned and China-Israeli joint ventures and has facilitated 40 China-Israel scientific and technological cooperation projects. In 2019, the China-Israel Innovation Hub in Shanghai was inaugurated with 70 companies operating there. Data shows that bilateral trade in goods between China and Israel reached $20.4 billion in the first 11 months of 2021, up 28.9 percent year-on-year.

Washington’s entire argument for withdrawal from the MENA region is so that the U.S. can channel its abilities to confronting China. However, as a result of the impending Iran Deal, the Biden Administration is effectively creating a security crisis for our allies and leaving them nowhere else to turn but into China’s warm and open arms. The Biden Administration’s betrayal of our allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the Administration’s entry into an Iran Deal, will ultimately facilitate China’s global dominance rather than thwarting it.

Ellie Cohanim is the former U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism and a political and national security contributor to CBN News. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EllieCohanim.

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Palm Sunday and the Day of the Lambs

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

When John the Baptist saw Jesus walking toward him at the Jordan River, he announced, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Those awaiting baptism may have been startled. They knew all about lambs. Their Jewish culture was saturated with them, as they not only provided a livelihood by means of food and clothing but were also an essential part of the ancient Jewish sacrificial system. So, what did John’s title for Jesus mean?

The slaughter, the lamb’s blood, symbolized a temporary redemption, a covering for sin that God inaugurated in ancient Egypt. Looking into history’s rearview mirror, when Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, God instructed them to choose an unblemished, perfect lamb to kill and then apply its blood to their doorposts. In the 10th plague, which took the lives of Pharoah’s firstborn, God promised that when the Angel of Death swept over Egypt and saw the blood, the Israelites’ firstborn would not die. The blood of lambs saved lives!

Some 1500 years later, the Jews who gathered at the Jordan that day could not imagine the significance of John’s greeting to Jesus. They did not know it was a day of beginnings—the day Jesus presented Himself officially for baptism, then ministry. The Lamb of God sent as a sacrifice not in the Temple, but to die on a cross. One death for all sin—a radical idea from God the Father who radically loves us.

Holy Week 2022 begins this Sunday, April 10—our Christian celebration of Palm Sunday with remembrances of Jesus’ last days before His sacrificial death on the cross. Churches have numerous customs on Palm Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

The Jewish context of our Christian faith, though, is often lost in the annals of history. Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on what was called the “Day of Lambs”—the day that Jewish shepherds annually herded huge flocks of Passover lambs into Jerusalem, which signaled the beginning of the Passover celebration.

Jesus fulfilled the prophetic descriptions of the Old Testament, poignantly shown in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Then, in the New Testament, Jesus’ birth to a young Jewish woman fastened the Old and New Testaments into one glorious story in the history of humanity.

The New Testament reveals an extraordinary one-of-a-kind DNA where Creator God blended Jewish genetics and the Holy Spirit.

Born into a Jewish family and culture, Jesus lived His life on earth engaged in Jewish customs and religious observances. When the time came for His holy destiny as our sacrificial Lamb, our Savior Jesus entered Jerusalem, a city He loved, fully understanding that His interrogation, beatings, betrayals, and crucifixion lay ahead.

Prior to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His reputation for teaching and miracles was well known. His fame spread throughout the land, as did the growing rage of the religious and political hierarchy. Jesus healed a blind man, ate with sinners, attended a joyful wedding, and raised Lazarus from the dead.

Throngs of Jewish followers viewed Him as their Savior. Crowds lined the streets, waving their greenery and throwing down their cloaks thinking He was their hoped-for king, a human king to liberate them from their Roman oppressors. Jews waved palm fronds and olive branches shouting “Hosanna,” which in Hebrew means, “God saves.”

Estimates are hard to come by, but the historian Josephus says that a million or more Passover pilgrims were already flowing into the capital from all over the known world. Passover, the highlight of the Jewish year, was one of the three most important Jewish festivals.

When Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, it occurred on the same day when Bethlehem shepherds annually herded huge flocks of Passover lambs into Jerusalem. The Day of Lambs! It was a divine cultural context with awe-inspiring purpose.

The Sadducees, in charge of Temple sacrifices, also owned the Bethlehem fields and the lambs raised there. They hired shepherds who were experts in animal husbandry. The Sadducees considered these shepherds as Levitical priests, because the lambs they tended when ewes gave birth were destined for Temple sacrifices. Exodus 12:5 instructs, “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats.” Historian Josephus estimates that as many as 265,000 lambs could be sacrificed in the Temple for Passover.

However, the Sadducees first required that each animal be inspected at Jerusalem’s Lamb Gate to make sure none was blemished. Perfection was the rule! When Jesus rode by on a donkey, the priests missed the fact that He was the Perfect Lamb, considering Him a threat to their power, wealth, and corrupt system. They controlled every step of the sacrificial process, including selling the lambs to the Passover pilgrims. You can now understand why, later the same day, Jesus walked to the Temple Mount in a display of righteous anger. He overthrew the money changers’ tables and coins as recorded in Matthew 21:13, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

Jesus, the Perfect Lamb of God, rode into Jerusalem with thousands of bleating, scampering Bethlehem lambs that were paraded into the holy city by shepherds from Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthplace. I wonder: Did some shepherd priests who beheld Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem live long enough to behold Him once again as He entered Jerusalem among thousands of lambs?

Although we may have commemorated decades of Holy weeks, let us make sure we behold Jesus at this Holy season in a new and profound way. Our world is filled with chaos; however, Father God made a redemption plan through Jesus, the Perfect Lamb, giving us the kind of peace that overcomes the chaos.

We invite you to join us at CBN Israel for the holiest week of our year beginning with Palm Sunday, the Day of Lambs. John 1:14 reminds us, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Pray that we will draw closer to God this Holy Week and that we will have an even deeper gratitude for Jesus’ redemptive gift:

  • Pray for people around the world to recognize Jesus at the promised Messiah.
  • Pray for the safety of the IDF and Israel’s police during the violence of Ramadan.
  • Pray for the safety of Christian pilgrims and churches during Holy Week.
  • Pray for families grieving the murder of their loved ones by terrorists.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at

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Victims of Terrorism: Rima and Yaakov’s Story

Rima and Yaakov came to Israel from Belarus and became citizens in 2007—and they’ve always been happy about their decision to immigrate. These senior citizens are committed to staying in their town of Sderot, despite the fact that it is a target for bombings. 

But during a recent barrage of rocket attacks, their daughter, who lives an hour away, insisted they stay with her. Several days later, when the bombs subsided, they returned home—and were shocked to find their building had received a direct rocket hit, with huge damages. 

Their laundry room, washing machine, windows, and water pipes were destroyed. They were also shocked by the insurance assessment, which was much lower than expected. It wouldn’t cover the cost of repairs and replacing their belongings. Rima, 78, has had knee replacements and uses a walker to get around. She and Yaakov needed help—but where could they turn? 

Fortunately, friends like you were there for this couple through CBN Israel. Caring donors paid for emergency repairs, including the broken pipes and windows, and replaced her washing machine. Rima shared, “We are so grateful for your compassion during this difficult time!”

And your gift to CBN Israel can provide food, essentials, and trauma counseling for many other victims of terrorism, as well as reaching out to help single mothers, aging Holocaust survivors, and immigrant families in need. 

The cries continue daily in the Holy Land from those who are hurting. Your support can provide them with groceries, housing, and financial aid—while also reporting true stories and news from Jerusalem. You can be a blessing to this special land—join us today!

Please join us in blessing Israel and her people in need!


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Biblical Israel: Garden of Gethsemane

By Marc Turnage

Mark and Matthew identify Gethsemane as the place Jesus went with His disciples after eating the Passover within the city of Jerusalem, prior to His arrest (Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32). These two Gospels provide the only mention of this place within ancient sources; thus, pinpointing its location proves difficult. 

The Gospel of Luke describes Jesus going to the Mount of Olives (22:39), which sits to the east, across the Kidron Valley (see John 18:1), from the city of Jerusalem. Passover pilgrims would consume their Passover meal, which was the lamb offered in the Temple, within the walled city of Jerusalem, but they stayed outside of the city on the surrounding hillsides. 

The name Gethsemane comes from the Hebrew, gat and shemen. A gat typically refers to a “wine press,” but it can refer, as a more generic term, to any pressing installation. Shemen refers to olive oil, which the olive groves on the mountain gave it the name, Mount of Olives. Thus, Gethsemane most likely refers to an olive oil pressing installation. 

Pilgrims to Jerusalem today can visit four different sites, which Christian traditions (Roman Catholic, Russian, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox) have identified as Gethsemane. All reside on the Mount of Olives. The traditions of these sites only date back at the earliest to the fourth century A.D. The most popular is the Roman Catholic site, maintained by the Franciscans. 

This site contains a church built by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi and a grove of olive trees. Some of these trees are several hundred years old, but they do not, as some claim, date back to the time of Jesus. The first century Jewish historian Josephus relates how the Roman army that laid siege to Jerusalem cut down all the trees in the vicinity to build their siege engines (War 6:1). 

While we do not know the precise location of Gethsemane, its location on the Mount of Olives offers an important geographic window into Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane. The Mount of Olives sits on the eastern watershed of the Jerusalem hill country. Beyond the mountain’s ridge, the land drastically falls away toward the Jordan River Valley and the area of Jericho and the Dead Sea. This wilderness served bandits and refugees for centuries as it provided natural concealment to those hiding from authorities. 

When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He physically stood at the door of escape. He could have walked less than an hour and disappeared from Caiaphas and Pilate. This heightens the tension of His prayer, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). In that moment, He turned His back on the door of escape to face God’s will that lay in front of Him, the cross. 

This is something that can only be truly appreciated when one stands in this geography and realizes the choices that lay in front of Jesus: how easily He could have saved Himself, yet He submitted to His Father’s will.

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.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Hiding from God

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 HCSB).

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree and God came to walk with them in the garden, they responded by hiding themselves. Children who disobey a parent often respond in the same manner; they hide themselves. But God did not leave Adam and Eve in hiding; He searched and called for them. You could say that, from the time of the Garden, the story of the Bible is God in search of mankind.

The psalmist realized how intimately God knew him, and he recognized that even if he wanted to hide from God, he could not: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol [the underworld], behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:7-12 NASB). The psalmist finds himself overwhelmed with the realization that even when he wants to hide from God, he cannot.  

Think about this: Even in those moments when our disobedience and shame drive us to hide from our Father in heaven, He searches us out. He pursues us and doesn’t allow us to remain in hiding. When we want to wrap ourselves in darkness to hide from Him, He dispels the darkness in His pursuit of us. What an incredible reality!

When Adam and Eve came out of hiding, God provided clothing to cover their nakedness; He continued to care for them. He could have unleashed His fury, but He didn’t. The psalmist’s realization that God knows him intimately, that God pursues him to the ends of the earth, elicits in him the response of obedient surrender: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24 NASB). 

While our disobedience may drive us to hide from God, His pursuit and searching of us should cause us to respond with a yearning to walk obediently in His ways.


Father, even in those times when I want to hide from You, You are still there. You search me out and pursue me. Lead me in Your paths. Amen.

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Israel’s Archaeological Findings Continue to Prove the Bible’s Authenticity  

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Palm Sunday and Resurrection Day are fast approaching. For Christians, our Holy Week is the most momentous time of the year and the Holy Land is the most sacred place—because it is the land of our Jewish Savior’s birth, where He taught, healed, died, and was gloriously resurrected. The Bible’s 66 books, from Genesis to Revelation, are a spiritual guidebook for life. Its Old and New Testament pages prepare us to relive the most profound moments in history in the days ahead. The Bible is also a popular textbook of world history and geography, with an estimated 6 billion copies already in print. In 1995, The Guinness Book of Records noted that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time.

Yet despite such amazing credentials, some dismiss it or ignore its reliability. 

What is truly surprising is when that reliability is questioned by such an organization as The World Heritage Committee (WHC), which is part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The WHC is responsible for researching, visiting, and then designating World Heritage Sites—“places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity,” according to its website, such as Machu Picchu. The Great Wall of China. Yosemite National Park. However, their experts deserve a failing grade when it comes to Jerusalem, Israel’s 3,000-year-old capital and the location of Judaism’s most important holy sites. The WHC’s efforts—to erase the unquestionably ancient Jewish heritage from the world’s only Jewish state—are hard to understand amid Israel’s intensifying archaeological discoveries. The unearthed findings keep popping up, adding to the already remarkable body of indisputable evidence. 

Regarding Israel, such bias is a damaging mark on the World Heritage Committee in light of its otherwise-successful focus: providing quality basic education for children, youth and adults and preserving cultural heritages worldwide. Their purpose is valuable and affirms an impressive list of achievements, including a total of 1,154 properties around the globe.

In 2016, however, the decisions that UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee made were astonishing in their biases when measured against Jerusalem’s antiquity. Its 21 members, prodded by several Arab countries, attempted to “rectify” what they considered a wrong in their “Occupied Palestine” report. Thus, the committee majority voted to rename Israel’s 3,000-year-old holiest prayer site, the Western Wall, with a Muslim moniker: Al-Buraq Plaza. Muslims say that Buraq was a celestial creature belonging to their Prophet Muhammad on his “night ride” from Mecca to Jerusalem and back. The resolution about the wall (also called the Wailing Wall by Christians and the Hebrew Kotel by Jews went on to say that the 32-acre Temple Mount should be referred to as Haram al-Sharif. Indeed, these decisions declared that only Islamic names were acceptable.

It is a worthy footnote to the 1967 Six-Day War that, when the Israelis reunited their capital Jerusalem, they nevertheless allowed the Jordanian Foundation (the Wakf) to remain as the administrative body on the Temple Mount with Israeli police as security. An example in plain sight, but ignored by the WHC, is Israel’s commitment to honor religious freedom by protecting the observances of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 

In response to the 2016 resolution, Israeli leaders, major American Jewish organizations, and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) weighed in on the attempted erasure of Israel’s ancient history. Dr. Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ’s president, expressed the sentiments shared by 600 million evangelicals worldwide: “We are utterly dismayed that UNESCO has adopted once again a scandalous resolution denying any Jewish connection to the holy sites in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, including the Temple Mount. The resolution omits the traditional, biblical names of sacred Jewish sites, calling them by alternative Muslim names only.” Dr. Bühler concluded, “This is tantamount to rewriting history and stripping these sites of their 4,000 years of Jewish and 2,000 years of Christian connection. We, as Christians, are deeply concerned that the wording accepted by an international body intends to eradicate any Jewish and Christian bonds to these holy places.” 

Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor at the time, likewise voiced anger. “Would UNESCO vote to deny … the Muslim connection to Mecca? The UNESCO vote claims that there is no connection between the Jewish people and the Western Wall. In fact, it is the UNESCO vote that has no connection to reality.”

The fundamental facts remain. Whatever the opinion of UNESCO, Palestinians, Iran, or any legislature or government in the world, the Bible towers in truth above every human opinion. 

Looking at only four of my personal archaeological favorites in Jerusalem, I find it incomprehensible that UNESCO and others choose to ignore facts. Not only are they written in the Bible under the impartation of the Holy Spirit, but to dismiss embedded evidence—since archaeological discoveries can be seen and touched—does not make sense. Like every believer, I am compelled by my faith to touch and pray at the Western Wall. That Rabbi Jesus touched the Wall and walked up the southern steps to the Second Temple holds deep, precious meaning. Often, when in Israel, I’ve made a habit of walking to the Western Wall around midnight. I rest my forehead against the Wall, place my hands there, and breathe in the quiet holiness that surrounds me. 

Walking on Jerusalem’s Pilgrimage Road is another breathtaking touchpoint. In 2019, a guide gave a friend and me a VIP tour, where we literally walked in the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples who attended Judaism’s three major feasts. Each year, they walked the same stone street—about one-third of a mile long and 26 feet wide—up to the Temple Mount with thousands and thousands of others. It was easy for me to imagine pilgrims singing the 15 Songs of Ascent, Psalms 120–134, as they walked. Each psalm is called the Hebrew word maʿalot, which means “going up.” 

On the same day, I chose to wade through Hezekiah’s Tunnel filled with knee-high water. To say it was one of the adventures of my lifetime is an understatement! It is an engineering wonder, where ancient workers began on opposite ends of the mountain adjacent to the City of David and connected the 1,750-foot-long tunnel. Halfway through the dark tunnel, I read the notation showing the actual connection point, thanks to my mobile phone flashlight. 

 2 Chronicles 32:30 describes Hezekiah’s plan to protect their water source, since the dreaded Assyrian army was marching toward Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C.E. “This same Hezekiah also stopped the water outlet of Upper Gihon, and brought the water by tunnel to the west side of the City of David. Hezekiah prospered in all his works” (NKJV). 

And yet another piece of evidence is written in stone! In 2018, workers excavating near the International Convention Center in Jerusalem found a limestone column, two-and-a-half feet high and one-and-a-half feet in diameter. The workers immediately summoned the Israel Antiquities Authority, which examined the words etched in stone: “Hanania son of Dudolos from Jerusalem.” The sensational fact is that the city name “Jerusalem” is spelled in Hebrew Yerushalayim—exactly as it is spelled today. The column is 2,000 years old. I saw the glass-encased column on display at the Israel Museum, where it is now housed. I am left to wonder if UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee consulted the Bible—which mentions the name Jerusalem 660 times. 

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) once said, “The Bible is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. You just have to let it loose.” As we approach Holy Week, let us take Spurgeon’s counsel to “let it loose” in our lives to celebrate Resurrection Day in a more resolute, profound way amid the chaos in our world and share it with others who need hope. 

Join us at CBN Israel in prayers this week for Israel and the Middle East: 

  • Pray for archaeologists and volunteers to uncover more ancient artifacts. 
  • Pray that Holy Week 2022 will reap a harvest of new believers. 
  • Pray for peace on the Temple Mount, where tempers can quickly ignite. 
  • Pray for the even stronger ties between Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and members of the Abraham Accords.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at

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Biblical Israel: Masada

By Marc Turnage

Masada, a palace-fortress built by Herod the Great (Matthew 2), sits on the south-western shore of the Dead Sea, fifteen and a half miles south of Ein Gedi. The fortress sits atop an isolated rock plateau that overlooks the Dead Sea Valley below. This naturally fortified rock was first built on by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (ruled from 103-76 B.C.). Herod the Great made it into a palace fortress that could provide protection if he needed to flee Jerusalem, as well as protecting the balsam industry at Ein Gedi, which provided the cash crop for Herod’s kingdom. 

Herod built two palace complexes on top of Masada, one on the western side (the oldest), and one on the north, which boasted three levels cascading down the northern slope of the rock scarp. Both had functioning Roman style baths, living quarters, storerooms, and decorations fitting for a king. Herod also had a pool on top of Masada, as well as gardens. 

Masada receives on average only an inch to an inch and a half of rainfall annually. The need for water of Herod’s luxuries on Masada required an ingenious water catchment system using gutters, the natural slope of the plateau; he also captured the rainwater that fell to the west of Masada diverting it into channels, which flowed into cisterns along the slopes of Masada. The cisterns on Masada held millions of cubic liters of water ensuring that the residents of Masada could survive along the arid shores of the Dead Sea, as well as enjoying the luxuries of the pool and bathhouses. 

Masada’s popularity derives from the story told by Josephus about the defenders of Masada during the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-73). According to Josephus, a group of Jewish rebels, Sicarii, led by Elezar ben Yair held up in Masada through most of the revolt. A couple of years prior to the fall of Masada, which took place on Passover of A.D. 73, this group of rebels slaughtered the Jewish community at Ein Gedi. 

Josephus tells a tale how the Tenth Roman Legion laid siege to Masada, built a ramp up its western slope (the remains of which visitors can still see), yet when they stormed the mountain, they found that the defenders had killed their families and then themselves instead of facing slavery at the hands of the Romans. Josephus provides our only account of this story, and while it offers a daring and captivating tale, it most likely did not happen in exactly that manner. Nevertheless, visitors to Masada see evidence of the lives of the Jewish rebels. 

Not needing the luxury of Herod’s royal palace-fortress, the rebels converted portions of the palaces into more serviceable and functional purposes. The room that served as the stables for the donkeys used to bring water from the cisterns below, the rebels converted into a synagogue. Archaeologists found ancient scrolls fragments from the remains of the Jewish rebels. Some fragments preserved portions of biblical books, like Ezekiel; other fragments contained portions of other ancient Jewish literature, like Ben Sira. 

Masada offers a fascinating window into the changing political landscape of the land of Israel in the first century. In this way, it enables us to understand themes and trends that we find within the New 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.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Are You Only the God of the Past?

“God, we have heard with our ears—our ancestors have told us—the work You accomplished in their days, in days long ago: to plant them, You drove out the nations with Your hand; to settle them, You crushed the peoples. … Why do You hide Yourself and forget our affliction and oppression? For we have sunk down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up! Help us! Redeem us because of Your faithful love” (Psalm 44:1-2, 24-26 HCSB).

Have you ever found yourself frustrated reading the Bible? Not confused, but frustrated. Frustrated because in its pages you read about God’s mighty acts, His deliverance of His people, His signs and wonders, then you look to our world, to your life, and the thought comes: “Where is God, why do we not see Him act as we heard Him do of old?” 

The psalmist felt the same way. He found himself frustrated because of God’s mighty acts in the past, but in the present, the psalmist feels that God has rejected His people. The psalmist cannot even console himself by acknowledging Israel’s sin (44:17-22). He declares that the people have not forgotten God’s name or turned back from Him, yet because He does not act, the people suffer. 

It is such a raw and honest psalm. Most of us would not have the audacity to pray in such a manner. But the psalmist does. He recognized that in a covenantal relationship, both parties have responsibilities. God held Israel to their obligations to the covenant, and so, too, they could hold Him to His. 

The psalmist’s appeal to God’s steadfast covenant love called upon God to remember the covenant He made with Israel. Amid the psalmist’s frustrations, however, he recognized that the God of Israel kept His covenant. Reminding God of His covenant responsibilities had merit because God was faithful to His covenant with Israel. 

We often speak about relationship with God, and we sometimes even criticize the “religion” of the Bible. Yet true relationship allows for the visceral frustrations expressed by the psalmist. True relationship enables both parties to remind the other of their commitments, and it stands upon the confidence that the weaker party can trust the stronger party to remain true to the obligations of the agreement.

The Bible presents God as a covenant-keeping God. He keeps His promises and obligations to His people. Within the Old Testament, this acts as the basis of His love, the covenant. Even when He became angry with Israel, He still acted in faithfulness to the covenant He made with them; He did not give in to His emotions because He keeps His covenant.

He is the same for us. He is faithful. And He is big enough to handle our deepest questions and frustrations. We can trust Him to redeem us for the sake of His steadfast love.


Lord, we have heard about Your mighty deeds of the past, but at times we feel frustrated and forsaken in our present. Please rise up for the sake of Your steadfast love to us. Amen.

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