When I first started this series, I aimed to discover more about the lesser-known towns and cities in the Bible. As time went on, however, I moved on to the more familiar names leaving me with one key city to investigate: Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned approximately 1000 times in the Bible and is considered holy by three major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It is one of the oldest cities in the world and is currently the capital city of Israel, although it has changed hands so many times throughout history. According to records, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, captured 44 times and attacked 52 times. Ironically, its name can be translated into “The City of Peace”, deriving from Yireh (the abiding place) and Shalem (place of peace).
Jerusalem is first mentioned in the Book of Joshua: “Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies.” (Joshua 10:1) From here until the very end of the New Testament, Jerusalem crops up in the majority of the books of the Bible, eventually reaching the Book of Revelation and the city’s final mention: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Revelation 21:10)
Some scholars have pointed out that Jerusalem may have been mentioned in the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 14, after Abram has rescued Lot from four powerful kings, “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.” Salem may have been the previous name of the city of Jerusalem.
The oldest non-Biblical written reference to Jerusalem is found on an inscription in the Judean lowlands of Israel. Dating from the 6th or 7th century BC, it translates as “Yahweh is the God of the whole earth. The mountains of Judah belong to him, to the God of Jerusalem.” There may, however, be earlier mentions to the city under a different name, such as Urušalim in the Amarna letters of 1330s BC and Rušalim from 19th century BC Egyptian texts.
Before Jerusalem formed as a city, shepherds regularly used the land, camping there around 7000 years ago. They were attracted to the area by the Gihon Spring, which was once the main water source for Jerusalem. Permanent dwelling places began to appear around 3000 BC and the first settlement was inhabited by Canaanites. In the Late Bronze Age, it became a small Egyptian garrison and began to prosper during the reigns of Seti I (r. 1290-79 BC) and Rameses II (r. 1279-13 BC). This period corresponds with the time of Joshua’s invasion, however, most scholars agree the Book of Joshua is not historically accurate.
The Bible tells us that when the Israelites conquered the land of Israel, Jerusalem belonged to the territories allocated to the Tribe of Benjamin. “Gibeon, Ramah, Beeroth, Mizpah, Kephirah, Mozah, Rekem, Irpeel, Taralah, Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah and Kiriath—fourteen towns and their villages. This was the inheritance of Benjamin for its clans.” (Joshua 18:25-28) But, they “could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem.” (Joshua 15:63) King David, however, succeeded during the Siege of Jebus, which is written about in 2 Samuel. “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, ‘You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.’ They thought, ‘David cannot get in here.’ Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.” (2 Samuel 5:6-7)
During the 40-year reign of David, Jerusalem became the capital of Israel. King Solomon, who succeeded his father as king, built the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah in what is now considered the Old City of Jerusalem. This was the First Temple, which was stripped around the time the Assyrians conquered the kingdom in 722 BC and fully destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Second Temple was started under the reign of the Persian King Cyrus the Great in 538 BC and completed in 516 BC when Darius the Great was on the throne.
Jerusalem remained under Persian control, albeit with a few besieges, until Alexander the Great conquered the Empire, bringing the city under Macedonian control. Ptolemy I gained control of Jerusalem in 305 BC, however, Ptolemy V Epiphanes lost it to the Seleucids in 198 BC. The Seleucids then lost it during the Maccabean revolt in 168 BC and it was established as the capital of the Hasmonean Kingdom in 152 BC. Pompey the Great captured Jerusalem in 63 BC, bringing it under the influence of the Roman Republic, as it was when Jesus was born. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” (Matthew 2:1) Herod the Great was responsible for extending and beautifying the city. He erected walls, towers and palaces, plus expanded the Second Temple, doubling it in size.
The Gospel of Luke recounts Jesus’ first visit to the Temple in Jerusalem for the purification rights required by the Law of Moses. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (Luke 2:25-26) Simeon blessed the young Jesus in the temple and Anna, an elderly prophet gave thanks to God about the child.
The next recording of Jesus in the temple is also in the second chapter of Luke. “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.” (Luke 2:41-42) When it was time to return home, Jesus was no longer with his parents. After three days of searching, he was found in the temple asking the teachers questions. Jesus returned to the temple during his adult life and cleared out the courts, which were being ill-used. “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers.”’” (Mark 11:15-17)
The Last Supper is believed to have taken place on Mount Zion, which is a hill in Jerusalem. The “upper room” or Cenacle is supposedly the same place as King David’s burial. Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, is also in Jerusalem, however, it may have been outside of the city walls at the time.
The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War, which ended in 73 AD with the destruction of the city. Fortunately, Jerusalem was rebuilt and remained under Roman rule until the beginning of the 7th century. Those who have read previous articles about cities in the Bible will know many people conquered them over the following centuries. Jerusalem’s fate was no different. From the Roman period onwards, Jerusalem has been part of the following empires: Byzantine, Persian, Byzantine (again), Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Tulunid, Abbasid (again), Ikhshidid, Fatimid, Seljuq, Fatimid (again), Kingdom of Jerusalem, Ayyubid, Kingdom of Jerusalem (again), Ayyubid (again), Mamluk Sultanate, and the Ottoman Empire. Apart from the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Byzantine and Persian Empires, all have been Muslim empires.
The Battle of Jerusalem, which took place during World War One, left Jerusalem entrusted to the United Kingdom until 1948. During this time, the population rose from 52,000 to 165,000 and relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians began to deteriorate, resulting in recurring riots throughout the 1920s. Between 1948 and 1967, Jerusalem fluctuated between Jordanian and Israeli rule until the Six-Day War. Since then, Jerusalem has belonged to Israel.
Today, Jerusalem is known for its religious significance, however, there are plenty of other culturally important venues. Just for fun, here are a few:
· The Israel Museum
· The Bible Lands Museum
· The Rockefeller Museum
· The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
· The Jerusalem Trail
“O, little town of Bethlehem…” We are all familiar with the name of the little town where Jesus was born. Today, Bethlehem is a city in Palestine, approximately 6.2 miles south of Jerusalem with a population of around 25,000 people. Its economy is primarily tourist-driven, welcoming thousands of Christian pilgrims at Christmas time. It is also an important city for Jews and the location of Rachel’s Tomb, the wife of Jacob.
The earliest mention of Bethlehem can be found in the Amarna correspondence of 1350-1330 BC. Written on clay tablets, the letters contain diplomatic communication between Egypt and its representatives in Canaan. At this time, the Egyptians referred to the village, as it was then, as Bit-Lahmi. Incidentally, Bethlehem had a different name at the beginning of the Bible:
Bethlehem continues to be mentioned throughout the Old Testament, however, not necessarily for anything connected to the prophecy of Jesus’ birth. In the book of Judges, we are told, “Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel” for seven years. (Judges 12:8) In the same book, “A young Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, who had been living within the clan of Judah, left that town in search of some other place to stay.” He found work as a priest at Micah’s house in the hill country of Ephraim.
In the Book of Ruth, we learn Naomi came from Bethlehem with her husband Elimelek and sons, Mahlon and Kilion. “They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah.” (Ruth 1:2) They moved to the country of Moab where Elimelek died. Following his death, the two sons married Moabite women, however, the sons died too, leaving Naomi alone with her daughter-in-laws Orpah and Ruth. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem and told the young women to return to their families, however, Ruth insisted she stay with her mother-in-law, “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.” (Ruth 1:22)
In the First Book of Samuel, God tells the prophet, “I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (1 Samuel 16:1) Jesse was the father of the future King David, which is why Bethlehem is occasionally referred to as the City of David in the New Testament. “Once in Royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed …” During David’s lifetime, a Philistine garrison was established in Bethlehem, for which there is archaeological evidence. “At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem.” (2 Samuel 23:14)
Despite being the birthplace of Jesus, there is relatively little mention of Bethlehem in the New Testaments. Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ birth, however, Mark only mentions Jesus came from Nazareth.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2) As a result of the Magi asking King Herod where they could find the king of the Jews, the disturbed king “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.” Some scholars argue Bethlehem may not have been the birthplace of Jesus, however, the Massacre of the Innocents in the town and its vicinity is evidence that Jesus was born in the area.
To those disputing the whereabouts of Jesus’ birth were invited by Justin Martyr in around 155 to visit the cave in which Jesus was born. The Gospel of Luke documents the birth of Jesus, however, does not mention the precise location in Bethlehem. Modern nativity plays present the scene as a stable or cattle shed rather than a cave on account that Mary wrapped Jesus “in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:7)
The supposed cave was converted into a shrine dedicated to the Greek god Adonis by Emperor Hadrian. Others associate the cave with the Mesopotamian god Tammuz, claiming the Massacre of the Innocents was misinterpreted and the locals were partaking in a pagan mourning ritual over the god’s death.
Sometime between 326 and 328 AD, Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, visited Bethlehem during a pilgrimage to Syra-Palaestina. Not long after her visit, Constantine built a basilica over the cave where Jesus was purportedly born. This is now known as the Church of the Nativity. The building was destroyed during the Samaritan Revolt of 529, however, the emperor at the time, Justinian I, ordered it to be rebuilt. In 614, the Persian Sassanid Empire captured Bethlehem, however, the Church of the Nativity survived the assault. Legend says they refrained from destroying the church when the saw a mosaic showing the magi dressed in Persian clothing.
Although Muslims captured Bethlehem in 637, Christians were promised they could continue to use the Church of the Nativity, however, they did build a mosque next door. This agreement continued until 1009 when those in charge ordered the church to be demolished. Local Muslims, however, persuaded the authorities to spare it. In 1099, the Crusaders fortified the Church of the Nativity, however, the Greek Orthodox clergy were forced to leave and were replaced by Latin priests. When Saladin captured Bethlehem in 1187, the Greek Orthodox clergy was allowed to return.
During the Ottoman era, the Greek Orthodox clergy was often in dispute with the Catholic Church about the custody of the Church of the Nativity. Nonetheless, the Christian population began to rapidly grow and by the end of the 16th century, Bethlehem was split into separate communities: the Muslims and the Christians. During this time, the Christian community was more prosperous, which was partly because the Muslim quarters were attacked by Egyptian troops in 1834. Bethlehem was under Egyptian rule for a brief period before returning to the Ottoman Empire where it remained until the end of World War One.
From 1920 to 1948, the British Mandate administered Bethlehem. Following this, Bethlehem returned to Palestine; however, the city was captured by Jordan during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel took control of Bethlehem until they withdrew in 1995. Since then, the Palestinian National Authority has ruled the city.
Despite being a popular place for Christian pilgrims, the Christian population in Bethlehem has been declining since the mid-twentieth century. In 1948, Christians made up 85% of Bethlehem’s population but by 2016 it had declined to 16%. This is partially because Christians have been forced to leave the city so that land can be used to construct thousands of Israeli homes. A study also points out there has been a lower birth rate amongst Christians in the area, plus Christians are more likely to emigrate to the western world than any other religious group.
Tourism is Bethlehem’s main industry and provides more than 20% of the population’s employment. The Church of the Nativity is a major attraction, particularly around Christmas-time. Festivities begin long before the traditional date (25th December) and continue through the Greek, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox church celebrations (6th January) until 19th January when Armenian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas.
Due to the mix of religions in Bethlehem, other festivals continue to attract tourists throughout the year. This includes the annual Feast of Saint George, who is known as al-Khadr in the Quran, on the 5th and 6th May and the Feast of Saint Elijah on 20th July.
Just for fun, here is a list of the current cities throughout the world twinned with Bethlehem:
Damascus, as you may know, is the capital of Syria and is a major cultural centre of the Levant and the Arab world. Know locally as the “City of Jasmine”, Damascus is home to almost three million people. Carbon dating suggests the site of the city has been occupied since around 6300 BC and the city itself from the second millennium BC. Egyptian records tell us King Biryawaza ruled Damascus in the 14th century BC and, after a war, it fell into the hands of Ramesses II in 1259 BC.
Damascus is first mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Genesis.” During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus.” (Genesis 14:15) Abram, later Abraham, is in the process of rescuing his nephew Lot who has been carried off by Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar who attacked and looted the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah in what is known as the War of the Kings. King Kedorlaomer wanted to show the neighbouring territories his strength; fortunately, Abram was around to defeat him and recover the goods and his family.
The following chapter of Genesis tells us Abram’s servant came from Damascus. “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:2-3) There is, however, no mention in the Bible about how Damascus came to exist.
According to the 1st-century AD historian Flavius Josephus, Uz, the great-grandson of Noah, founded Damascus. Of Abraham, Josephus states: "Abraham reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans … Now the name of Abraham is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, The Habitation of Abraham.”
The next Biblical reference to Damascus is during the reign of King David. “When the Arameans of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down twenty-two thousand of them. He put garrisons in the Aramean kingdom of Damascus, and the Arameans became subject to him and brought tribute. The Lord gave David victory wherever he went.” (2 Samuel 8:5-6) The Arameans had arrived during the 11th century BC and established one of their kingdoms in Damascus. Their presence prevented the Kingdom of Israel from spreading northwards, which led to a clash and inevitably war.
“When David destroyed Zobah’s army, Rezon gathered a band of men around him and became their leader; they went to Damascus, where they settled and took control.” (1 Kings 11:24) Although David had defeated the Arameans, one man Rezon deserted from King Hadadezer and rose his own army. Throughout the reign of King Solomon, Rezon was an adversary and was constantly hostile towards Israel.
The Book of Kings records the rulers of Judah and Israel but also gives the names of the kings of neighbouring territories. Chapter 15 tells us that Hezion was the king of Aram-Damascus during the reign of King Asa of Judah. In chapter 19, the Lord instructed the prophet Elijah to “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.” Unfortunately, this did not stop the hostilities against Israel.
Conflicts continued until the 8thcentury BC when Ben-Hadad II was captured by Israel under King Ahab and granted them trading rights in Damascus. “I will return the cities my father took from your father,” Ben-Hadad offered. “You may set up your own market areas in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” (1 Kings 20:34)
Following this, Damascus entered a mini Dark Age and very little is known about the period, however, it was soon taken over by the Assyrians. This was encouraged by King Ahaz of Judah. “The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it.” (2 Kings 16:9) This fits with prophecies written by three people:
· Isaiah 17:1 - “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins.”
· Amos 1:4-5 – “I will send fire on the house of Hazael that will consume the fortresses of Ben-Hadad. I will break down the gate of Damascus”
· Jeremiah 49:24 – “Damascus has become feeble, she has turned to flee and panic has gripped her; anguish and pain have seized her, pain like that of a woman in labour.”
Damascus was conquered by Alexander the Great and was under his rule until his death in 323 BC. Following that, the city was fought over by the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires, until the Romans came along in 64 BC. Damascus became one of the cities that made up the Decapolis along with Gerasa (Jordan), Scythopolis (Israel), Hippos (Golan Heights), Gadara (Jordan), Pella (Jordan), Philadelphia (Amman, Jordan), Capitolias (Jordan), Canatha (Syria) and Raphana (Jordan).
Much of the historic parts of Damascus resemble the Roman period since much of it had to be rebuilt after the previous wars. When Caesar Augustus gave Herod the Great land in 23 BC, Damascus may have been included. Following his death, the city was given back to Syria. When Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians, he recorded, “In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me.” (2 Corinthians 11:32) It is not certain when Aretas IV Philopatris of Nabatea gained Damascus, however, he was King of the Nabataeans from 9 BC to 40 AD. Some speculate Emperor Caligula may have gifted it to the king around 37 AD.
The Apostle Paul, or Saul as he was originallynamed, was near Damascus when he underwent his conversion. “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 9:3-4) Paul was left blind by this initial contact and the Lord called on a disciple called Ananias to come and find him. “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” (Acts 9:11-12)
Judas of Damascus was a Messianic Jew who gave Saul/Paul lodgings when he was suffering from blindness. It is at his house on Straight Street, now known as Sultany or Queen’s Street that Ananias found Saul. This is the main street of the city. Following his return to full sight, Saul/Paul spent several days with the disciples and began to preach about Jesus. In Acts 22, Paul recounts his story of conversion to the people of Jerusalem and in Acts 26, he told King Agrippa the same in an attempt to persuade him to be a Christian.
In his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul reveals he once returned to Damascus. “I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:17) He remained there for three years before finally moving on to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and James, the brother of Jesus. Although he did not meet the other apostles in Jerusalem, it is believed Thomas may have lived in or near Damascus.
The next big change Damascus saw occurred in 634 AD when it was invaded by Muslim forces. For hundreds of years, various Islamic countries fought each other for land and Damascus was passed from army to army until 1516 when the Ottoman Turks captured the city. For 400 years, the Ottoman’s controlled Damascus, however, they allowed Muslims, Christians and Jews to live amongst each other peacefully. By 1867, approximately 140,000 people lived in the city, 30,000 of which were Christian (mostly Catholic), 10,000 Jews and 100,000 “Mohammedans”.
From the beginning of the 20th century, life in Damascus became more political. During the World Wars, France, who made the city the capital of their League of Nations Mandate for Syria, owned Damascus. Eventually, Damascus was freed from French control in 1946 and Syria became an independent nation.
Today, Sunni Islam is the main religion in Damascus, however, around 20% of the population identify themselves as Christian. There are three Christian districts in the city, each full of churches, including the Chapel of Saint Paul, House of Saint Ananias, Mariamite Cathedral of Damascus and Saint George’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral.
The main road of the old Roman city, Straight Street, where the conversion of Paul occurred is a key historical tourist attraction. Interestingly, the Grand Mosque of Damascus claims to contain the body of St John the Baptist.
In 2008, Damascus was chosen as the Arab Capital of Culture. It has also been twinned with five cities around the world: Toledo, Spain; Córdoba, Spain; Yerevan, Armenia; São Paulo, Brazil; and Istanbul, Turkey.
Jericho is a city that features in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible. Today, it is a Palestinian city on the Jordan Bank with a population of over 18,000. Believed to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, it is also the first known city to have had a protective wall built around it. So far, archaeologists have found evidence of settlements dating back to 9000 BC.
The last Ice Age ended in around 9600 BC and it was shortly after that when humans began to settle in the areas around the Jordan River. Remains of constructions built by these Epipaleolithic people have been unearthed, suggesting there were at least seventy houses. These buildings were built from clay and straw, therefore, little else can be determined other than they were quite small, probably containing only one room.
The Wall of Jericho was constructed around 8000 BC. It was roughly 12 feet high and 2 feet wide with a tower that was 22 steps high. Whilst the tower may have been used for ceremonial purposes, the function of the wall was likely to keep out the floodwaters from the Jordan. By 7000 BC, new houses were being constructed from mud bricks, each consisting of several rooms and a courtyard.
Not much is known about the comings and goings of people during the Bronze Age, however, from the 4th millennium, there is evidence the walls were rebuilt several times. By 2600 BC, Jericho was inhabited by the Amorites, although they seem to disappear around 300 years later. Jericho was taken over in 1900 BC by the Canaanites until an earthquake destroyed the city in 1573 BC. It remained uninhabited until the 9th century BC when it was rebuilt.
In the Book of Numbers, Jericho is used as a reference for the location of the Israelites. For example, “They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho.” (Numbers 33:48) It is estimated Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt in 1447 BC, therefore Jericho was uninhabited at this time but may have still been known by the people in the vicinity. Alternatively, since the final form of the Book of Numbers was written in the 5th century, the name may have been added then.
The most famous account of Jericho in the Bible is, of course, in the Book of Joshua, which tells us of the Battle of Jericho. Unfortunately, scholars believe the book holds little historical value since there are issues with the dates. The Bible dates the battle as taking place around 1400 BC, however, archaeological evidence suggests the city was uninhabited at the time. The Book of Joshua was first written during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BC) and revised in around 538 BC, therefore, the dating could be an estimate, an incorrect one at that.
Nevertheless, the Book of Joshua provides a great example of Israel’s obedience to the teachings and the laws set down in the book of Deuteronomy. It also tells us that the Israelites conquered Jericho, a city that had fallen into sin.
“Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.” (Joshua 2:1) Jericho was the first city of Canaan that the Israelites had decided to conquer. By sending in two spies, Joshua discovered the inhabitants were afraid of the Israelites and God. The prostitute Rahab told them:
“I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Joshua 2:9-11)
Following this, she asked the spies to promise that the Lord would show kindness to her for helping the spies. “Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.” (Joshua 2:12-13) With an instruction to tie a scarlet cord in her window so that she and her family could be identified by the Israelites, the spies returned to Joshua.
Acting on the will of the Lord, Joshua prepared the Israelites to attack the city. When the time came to attack the city, they found the gates closed and the citizens hiding in fear of the approaching attackers. “Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.’” (Joshua 6:2)
Rather than attempting to force an entry, the Israelites marched around the city walls once a day for six days with the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant. On the seventh day, they were instructed to march around the city seven times after which the priests blew their horns and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. Following God’s instruction, the Israelites entered the city and slaughtered every man, woman, child and animal apart from those belonging to the family of Rahab. Joshua then cursed anybody who rebuilt the foundations of the city with the death of the eldest and youngest children. According to the Bible, the city was rebuilt during the reign of King Ahab (871-852 BC), although not by him but by Hiel theBethelite. “In Ahab’s time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun.” (1 Kings 16:34)
Jericho was destroyed once again during the 6th century BC by the Babylonians during their conquest of Judah. The Book of Ezra records the number of people “whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon.” (Ezra 2:1) From Jericho alone, there were 345. The Bible, however, provides evidence the city of Jericho was once again flourishing during the 5thcentury BC. It had been rebuilt during the Persian period and during the construction of the walls of Jerusalem, “the men of Jericho built the adjoining section” after the Tower of Hananel.
Alexander the Great captured the region between 336 and 323 BC, making Jericho his private estate. Following this, the city became part of the Hasmonean and Early Roman empires during which time Mark Antony gifted the royal estate to Cleopatra. Following their joint suicide in 30 BC, the city of Jericho was given to Herod the Great (74-4 BC), who was king of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. His son Herod Archelaus who ruled for two years succeeded him.
The city of Jericho is mentioned in three of the Gospels as places Jesus passed through. Matthew 20 tells us “as Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho” (20:29) two blind men called out to Jesus and asked him to restore their sight, which he did. Mark 10 records Jesus “came to Jericho” where he met “a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’)” who he also healed. (10:46) The same story is told in Luke chapter 18.
In Luke 19, Jesus was passing through Jericho once again when he came across a chief tax collector named Zaccheus who had climbed a sycamore-fig tree to get a look at Jesus. Inviting himself to the tax collector’s house, Jesus inspired Zaccheus to repent of his dishonest practices.
Jericho was also mentioned in the parable of the Good Samaritan. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.” (10:30)
The city of Jericho began to decline from 70 AD following the fall of Jerusalem to Emperor Vespasian. By 100 AD, it was a small Roman town and by 333 AD it was abandoned altogether. The current city of Jericho lies slightly to the east of the old town and was built during the Byzantine Period (6th– 7th century AD). It was then under Muslim rule until the Crusades when a couple of monasteries were erected, one of which was dedicated to John the Baptist. In 1187, however, the Muslim forces of Saladin evicted the Crusaders. Since then until the 1900s, the growing city was mostly Muslim.
According to a census in 1922, the population of Jericho was over 3000, the majority of which were Muslim, however, there were also 92 Christians and 6 Jews. During the Second World War, Britain built fortresses in Jericho and by 1945 the population of Christians and Jews had risen to 260 and 170 respectively.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jericho was under the control of Jordan, however, the city continued to grow. By 1961, the population had reached 10,000. Since the Six-Day War of 1967, Jericho has belonged to Israel.
Jericho is situated 846 feet below sea level, making it the lowest city in the world. In 2010, Palestinian tourists ranked Jericho the most popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the Dead Sea. It also receives a lot of tourism from Christian pilgrims. Just for fun, here is a list of notable places in and around Jericho you could visit:
· Mount of Temptation on which a Greek Orthodox monastery sits
· The Spring of Elisha (Ein es-Sultan)
· The Sycamore tree of Zaccheus (for some reason there are two)
· The traditional site of the baptism of Jesus on the River Jordan
· The Monastery of Saint Gerasimos
· The Saint George Monastery
· The Stone, belonging to the Bronze and Iron Age
As President of Trinovante (The Wild Women of Essex) at Western Road URC, Romford, it is my privilege to do two talks a year on subjects of my choice. My most recent talk was about Words and I thought it would be interesting to share a few sections of my talk with you.
The talk covered various word games where I tried to breathe new life into unfamiliar and out-of-fashion words.
Round One: Would you like to be called?
Which of the following words do you think apply to you?
Round Two: Bible, Shakespeare or Dickens?
From where would you find the following words and phrases?
Round 3: Collective Nouns
What are the collective names for the following animals?
Round 4: Anagrams
Here are some prophetic anagrams you may enjoy.
Finally, some interesting facts...
5th January 2020
Readings: Matthew 2:1-12
Let me first concentrate on the "Wise Men". Certain readings go together and so with Matthew, you also need to read:
Nowhere do we have the number of visitors from the east but because there are three gifts, we assume there were three. Nowhere does it say they were kings and nowhere does it say they were wise men because, I believe, magi actually means astrologers. I read that magi is the plural magoi, which in Greek means Zoroastrian Priests. These priests prepared horoscopes.
Zoroaster was Persian, living in the 2nd millennium BC, although there is no concrete evidence on when he lived and was one of the first rulers to follow a single god. This god's name was Ahora Mazda, meaning "wise lord". He believed in one universal god who was all good, uncreated and a supreme deity. Zoroaster was born from a 15-year-old Persian virgin, therefore, miraculously conceived, and started his ministry at 30 after defeating the temptations of Satan. He predicted other virgins would conceive prophets and the Zoroastrian Priests believed they could foretell by reading the stars when these prophets were born; they were star-gazing with a purpose. Matthew's text, therefore, was not only for Jews and Gentiles, because the Magi were Gentiles, but also for the Zoroastrian religion.
As an aside, when I was researching, I wondered who was the first ruler to espouse a monotheistic religion. It was none other than Akhenaten, the father of Tutankhamun, who reigned 1353-1336 BC. Akhenaten was a Pharoah during the 18th dynasty and worshipped the sun god Aten, however, he was disliked and subsequent pharaohs tried to write him out of history and reverted to polytheism. Around the same time, Zoroaster and Akhenaten were looking at the possibility of there only being one god.
The three kings, which we will call them for simplicity's sake, appear to have been given names from a Greek manuscript dating around 500 AD. The more I read, the more confusing the various attributes of the three kings became. Over time, various characteristics and traits have been given. The three kings cover the three ages of men as well as come from three geographic areas, showing they are representatives from the known world at that time. With no sense of certainty, I offer the three kings names and their gifts:
The story of the three kings is said to happen two years after the birth of Jesus, so them coming to the stable is poet license. In Matthew, Jesus is a child and the kings visit a house.
What of the three gifts? King Herod was going to kill all children under the age of two in Bethlehem and so, for the reading of Hosea to come true, the Holy Family goes to Egypt so that they can be called back out. It may well be the money needed to live in Egypt was financed by these three gifts.
My normal caveat to my sermons is that any new information I find, I offer to you in faith for you to take on board or not. I just thought I would let you know these are some of the thoughts that surround the story of the three horologists.
Nazareth, the largest city in the Northern District of Israel was the childhood home of Jesus. Despite being such a well-known place, it is only mentioned in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. Although the city was never mentioned in the Old Testament, it is suggested Nazareth comes from the Hebrew word Netzer, which means branch, and alludes to the prophetic message in Isaiah 11:1 about the “branch of Jesse” that would eventually lead to the birth of Jesus. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”
In Biblical times, Nazareth was a town rather than a city, or to be more precise, “a town in Galilee.” (Luke 1:26) In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel visited Mary at her home in Nazareth to inform her that she would have a son. Her fiancé, Joseph, also came from Nazareth but, as we know, Jesus was not born there, but in Bethlehem. “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” (Luke 2:4)
Joseph and Mary could not immediately return to Nazareth due to King Herod the Great, who was searching for Jesus with intent to kill. Instead, the family fled to Egypt where they remained in relative safety until, “Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:22-23)
Jesus grew up as a Nazarene and the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth” appears at least seventeen times in the Bible. The Acts of the Apostles tends to refer to Christ as Jesus of Nazareth more than the Gospels, however, the Gospel of Mark tells us an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24) The Gospel of John records at Jesus’ crucifixion, “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19)
When the writers of the Bible introduce new people, they usually reveal where they came from, therefore, hometowns must have been important and used as a way to judge people’s character. Nazareth, being only a town and not yet a city, was not a highly regarded place, evidenced by the future apostle Nathanael’s reaction when he first heard about Jesus. “‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.” (John 1:46) It is not certain why Nazareth was looked down upon, however, when Jesus “went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom,” (Luke 4:16) he was rejected by the crowds who “drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.” (4:29)
There is very little in the history books about what Nazareth was like during the life of Jesus. There is no archaeological evidence of its existence until the Roman period, during which time Jesus was born. Similarly, although it is mentioned in the New Testament, there are no extant non-biblical references to Nazareth until around 200 AD. To make matters more confusing, the earliest references to Nazareth contain conflicting information, for example, one source said approximately 2000 people living in Nazareth at the time of Jesus, whereas, a different source states it had a population of 400. It was not until 2009 that any archaeological remains were discovered in the area dating to the time of Jesus.
Texts from the 6th century claim pilgrims began travelling to Nazareth to see the Jewish synagogue where Jesus was taught and the freshwater spring, known as Mary’s Well, where the Annunciation reputedly took place. Evidence has been found of a church built on the site believed to be Mary’s house and it is believed the town benefited from the Christian pilgrim trade. Unfortunately, anti-Christian hostility broke out when the Persians invaded in 614 AD. Many Jewish people helped the Persians to persecute and slaughter the Christians until Emperor Heraclius of the Byzantine Empire conquered the land in 630 AD. As punishment for their cruel acts, Heraclius expelled the Jews from Nazareth, turning it an all-Christian town.
As well as the church over Mary’s house, there was also a church where Joseph once lived. This, however, was destroyed during the Arab Muslim period, which lasted from 638 AD until the Crusader Period. In 1099, the Crusader Tancred made himself Prince of Galilee and used Nazareth as his capital. The town remained under Christian control until 1187 when the Muslims reclaimed it. Fortunately, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II managed to negotiate safe passage for Christian pilgrims, although, the Egyptians later destroyed all the Christian buildings when they invaded in 1263.
Due to all the invasions, Nazareth had become a poor village, although a few Arab Christians were determined to remain there. In the 14th century, Franciscan monks returned to Nazareth, however, were evicted in 1584 by the Ottoman Empire. Fortunately, in 1730, the leader of the Galilee, Zahir al-Umar, was more sympathetic to the Christians and allowed a Franciscan Church to be built. Permitting the Greek Orthodox community to build St Gabriel’s Church, which still stands today, followed in 1767.
Nazareth has since been occupied by a variety of people and nationalities, for instance, Napoleon in 1799, Britain in 1917 and Israel in the 1950s. Today, Nazareth still belongs to Israel, however, it receives a lot of trade and visitors from many places across the world, which has helped Nazareth grow into a sizeable city.
Today, Nazareth is home to many religious buildings, the majority of which are Christian, however, there are still plenty of Muslim places of worship. Churches include the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, the Greek Orthodox Church of St Gabriel, the Melkite Synagogue Church, the Roman Catholic St Joseph’s Church, the Mensa Christi Church, and the Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent.
Just for fun, did you know Nazareth is twinned with these cities?
The Christian calendar has many opportunities for self-reflection and self-examination, for example, Lent and Advent. I thought it might be helpful if I gave you some questions to aid the process. There are many in this list, so please choose the ones that fit you personally.
Where is God in my life?
Where do I see God working?
What is Jesus to me?
What is my list of priorities? God, family church?
What delights me?
What is the gift that I can offer to the world?
Am I living or just existing?
What do I think is my purpose?
What good am I doing for myself and others?
What small acts of kindness can I do daily?
What time do I have to just sit and stare?
What cheers me up?
Have I got a special place where I am closest to God?
Am I speaking kindly to myself?
With what treats can I reward myself?
How do I prioritise my time?
Do I really know what is important?
How much am I a doer and how much am I an encourager? Do I energise people or do I drain them of energy?
How do I absorb bad and transform it into good? How do I make lemonade from lemons?
How can I make something happen?
Do I know what rejuvenates me?
Who are my closest friends and why?
Do I have enough exercise?
Where are my favourite walks?
If thoughts lead to actions and actions lead to habits, how can I ensure my thoughts are pure? Do I need to change some of my habits because they are leading down the wrong path?
How can I be someone else's angel? How can I be someone's answer to prayer?
How do I keep perspective in a situation?
Am I creating my own golden memories?
What is shaping my world view?
Am I being shaped into the image God wants and needs?
How am I looking after myself?
What do I value the most and why?
Do I judge people too much?
How do I enjoy the simple pleasures, such as a sunrise?
Am I finding obstacles or stepping stones on my life journey?
Upon what are my worries and anxieties based?
Do I challenge these thoughts?
How much do I trust God?
I am a child of God, therefore, I am valued and precious. How often do I tell myself that?
It is not the stormy water outside a boat that makes it sink, it is the water that gets in. How am I ensuring I am not taking in too much water and how do I ensure I block any leaks?
How do I keep a strong mindset and how do I keep focused on God's love?
Do I have a vision for my life?
How am I helping others?
Am I using other people as role models?
Am I imitating the good traits I see in other people?
Where do I find refreshment of mind, body and soul and where do I find I am growing?
I am a work in progress, where is God working?
Am I spending enough time appreciating the good things that are happening to me?
Do I know what cheers me up? Do I know what drains me of energy?
Do I spend too much time dwelling in the past rather than concentrating on the present and the future?
It only takes one person to make a difference, therefore, how am I making a difference to other people's lives?
How do I keep on learning? How am I using my brain?
Am I allowing experiences to change me positively?
How do I acknowledge the people who support me?
Do I do things out of duty or out of love?
How can I turn enemies into friends?
Am I looking for miracles?
Another year has started, and there is always great hope and expectation. It is marked by New Years Resolutions and I like to have at least 20, so that by the end of January I might have at least kept one! Sadly, I recently looked back over my diaries and realised that many of the New Years Resolutions I made this year I also made for 2019, 2018, 2017 and so on. I, therefore, have two alternatives, either stop making New Years Resolutions because they are a waste of time, or really concentrate and make them work. Perhaps even streamline so that I only have one to remember and follow.
So, I publically declare that my 2020 New Years Resolution will be to actually read books that I buy. I currently have over 600 theological books in my study that I may or may not have read. If I have, I don’t remember.
How will you keep your New Years Resolution or do you think they are not worthwhile?
This year, I am going to begin each newsletter by looking at who or what the month is named after. The God of January is named after Janus who has two faces. One looks back over the past year and one looks forward to the next. So starting a new year, it is useful to reflect upon some of the habits we have accumulated over 2019 and to access whether they are useful and whether they bring us closer to God or whether they are an obstacle. So, as we start the New Year together, let us declutter. Get rid of bad habits. Fully focus on God and ensure all our actions are those that make God happy, namely loving God and loving our neighbour.
Fun Fact: In the King James Version of the Bible, there are 66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,173 verses, 774,746 words and 3,566,480 letters.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon