Bethany is famously remembered as the home of the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Today, Bethany is known by the Arabic name Al-Eizariya, meaning “place of Lazarus” and is the second-largest Palestinian city in the Jerusalem Governorate on the West Bank with a population of 17,606 inhabitants. The city is located approximately 1.5 miles from Jerusalem and sits on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Here, a tomb reputed to be the place where Lazarus was resurrected, draws thousands of tourists. An ancient house, thought to be 2000 years old, claims to be the House of Mary and Martha, which also draws the attention of visitors and pilgrims.
The raising of Lazarus can be found in the Gospel of John. “Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” (John 11:1) When news of Lazarus’ illness reached Jesus, he reassured everyone that the sickness would not end in death and remained where he was for a couple more days. After this, Jesus announced he was returning to Judea, where the city of Bethany was located.
“Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.” (John 11:18-20) On arriving in Bethany, Jesus discovered Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Most will know what happened next – i.e. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead – but the reading also contains two of the most well-known verses in the Bible.
The area in which the reputed Lazarus Tomb can be found was used as a cemetery during the 1stcentury AD. Since the 4th century, Christians and Muslims alike have identified it as the tomb mentioned in the gospel. Whether or not this is the case can never be proved, however, the belief is so strong that several churches dedicated to Lazarus have existed throughout time in the area. Today, there are three structures around the site of the tomb. Between 1952 and 1955, the Catholic Church of Saint Lazarus was built 25-metres from the entrance to the tomb by the Franciscans. A decade later, the Greek Orthodox Church built their Church of Saint Lazarus to the west of the tomb. The oldest remaining construction, however, is the Mosque of al-Uzair, which began as a small building in 1384 and was completed in the 16th century by the Ottomans. The mosque honours the town’s patron saint, Lazarus.
Lazarus’ death and subsequent resurrection was not the only time Jesus visited the siblings. Despite not being named, Jesus “came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him,” in Luke 10:38. This features just after the Parable of the Good Samaritan, however, is equally important in the teachings of Jesus. Martha was rushing around making preparations, whilst her sister sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to what he had to say. Martha expressed her exasperation about this; however, Jesus replied “Martha, Martha… you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
It has been inferred that Bethany was the site of an almshouse for the poor and sick. Lazarus was not the only sick person recorded in the Bible from Bethany. In the Gospel of Mark, we are told that the house of Simon the Leper was in Bethany. “While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” (Mark 14:3) Mark is writing about the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, which took place two days before the Festival of Unleavened Bread, or the Last Supper. Although the witnesses rebuked the woman for wasting perfume, Jesus stuck up for her saying she had done a “beautiful” thing and “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.” (Mark 14:8)
Very little is known about Simon the Leper, however, his presence in Bethany ties-up with the Temple Scroll – one of the Dead Sea Scrolls – that states there were three places for the sick, including lepers, to the east of Jerusalem. The town of Bethany, based on information from the Gospel of John, fell into the places mentioned in the scroll. Some suggest that Jesus’ remark in Mark 14:7 after the complaints about the waste of perfume that “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want,” is a reference to the almshouse.
The word Bethany appears eleven times in the New Testament. Whilst Lazarus and family are the most famous connection to the town, it was also an important place in the lead up to Jesus’ crucifixion. In Mark 11 and Luke 19, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as “king” is recorded, which is what we now celebrate annually on Palm Sunday. “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.” (Luke 19:28-29) It is not certain that “the village” was Bethany, Bethphage or an unnamed place, however, it is certain that the disciples found the colt nearby.
The day after Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, he and the disciples were “leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’” (Mark 11:12-14) Following this, Jesus entered the temple courts in Jerusalem and drove out those who were buying and selling there.
The Gospel of Matthew tells these two events in reverse, saying that after Jesus had cleared the temple courts “he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.” (Matthew 21:17) Verse 18 begins the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree.
The final time Bethany is mentioned in the Bible chronologically is in Luke 24. This chapter describes the Ascension of Jesus, which occurred after “he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany”. (Luke 24:50) The word “vicinity” implies it was not in Bethany itself that Jesus was taken up into heaven, but somewhere nearby. Nonetheless, the reference to the town gives it some importance in the life of Jesus Christ.
There is some discrepancy about the mention of Bethany in John 1:28, which states “This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” The fact that this Bethany was on the other side of the Jordan tells us it is not the same place as the town in which Lazarus lived. If you read the King James Version of the Bible instead, the issue is almost cleared up by the use of the word Bethabara in place of Bethany. Unfortunately, as the KJV is the only version to make this distinction, it is not 100% reliable.
Al-Eizariya, as Bethany became, has been continuously inhabited since the 6thcentury BC. In 1138, King Fulk and Queen Melisende of Jerusalem owned the village where the latter set up a Benedictine convent dedicated to St Mary and St Martha. The queen’s sister Ioveta was the first abbess and her granddaughter Sibylla was raised in the convent. The convent was abandoned in 1187 after the Siege of Jerusalem during the Third Crusade.
By the 1480s, the village was once again well populated, this time with Arabs and Muslims. During the 1500s, it became part of the Ottoman Empire and by the 20th century, it had at least 400 inhabitants. Later, the 1922 census of Palestine revealed there were 506 Muslims and 9 Christians (2 Orthodox, 7 Roman Catholic) living in the village, however, a decade later, this had risen to 715 and 11 respectively. By 1945, the Christian population had risen to 20, which was vastly outnumbered by the 1040 Muslims.
Between 1948 and 1967, Jordan controlled al-Eizariya. Nonetheless, the population continued to rise, reaching 3000 by the beginning of the 1960s. Since 1967, the land has been occupied by Israel and has become an overcrowded town due to lack of planning. The town has since continued to grow, both residentially and commercially, and now boats a population of over 16,000.
Beersheba, meaning, “well of the oath” is the largest city in the Negev desert in southern Israel. “So that place was called Beersheba,because the two men swore an oath there.” (Genesis 21:31) These men were Abraham and Abimelek, the polytheistic king of Gerar who wanted to take Sarah as his wife. Abraham swore an oath that he would not falsely deal with the king and his descendants and Abimelek agreed Abraham could live on the land and returned the well that his servants had seized. Beersheba may also mean, “well of seven” because Isaac dug seven wells in the land, the last being recorded in Genesis 26.
The city is mostly connected with Abraham and Isaac, although it is also mentioned in other books of the Old Testament. In Genesis 26, Isaac “went up to Beersheba. That night the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.’” (26:23-24) After this, Isaac built an altar there and dug one of the seven wells.
“So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.” (Genesis 46:1) Whilst there, God called out to Israel saying, “Jacob! Jacob … I am God, the God of your father … Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” (46:2-4) This was the final time God spoke directly to Jacob. He and his family had left Canaan because of the famine and God encouraged Jacob to go to his son Joseph in Egypt.
When the land was divided up between the tribes of Israel, Beersheba became the territory of both the tribes of Simeon and Judah. The towns belonging to Judah are listed in Joshua 15 and Beersheba is recorded as one of the southernmost towns. The tribe of Simeon’s territory lay within the territory of Judah, which is why some of the towns belonged to both tribes, as recorded in Joshua 19. “Their inheritance lay within the territory of Judah. It included: Beersheba (or Sheba) … thirteen towns and their villages.” (Joshua 19:1-6)
Beersheba is next mentioned in the First Book of Samuel. “And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 3:20) In chapter 8, Samuel, who was getting old, appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. “The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.” Unfortunately, they were dishonest men and used their power to gain money and pervert justice. As a result, a king was chosen to rule over Israel: King Saul.
Throughout 1 and 2 Samuel, Israel is usually measured “from Dan to Beersheba,” however, the next significant event involving the city does not appear until the first book of Kings. “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree.” (1 Kings 4:25) This time of peace was short-lived and life became unsettled under the rule of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. The prophet Elijah fled to Beersheba after Jezebel ordered him killed. Beersheba was a safe enough area for Elijah to leave his servant whilst he fled into the wilderness asking God to end his life. (1 Kings 19) God, of course, had more plans for the prophet and did not grant his wish. Soon after this event, Elijah found Elisha who would become his servant.
During the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, the people of Beersheba had adopted sinful lifestyles and religions. Fortunately, the king “went out again among the people from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim and turned them back to the Lord, the God of their ancestors.” (1 Chronicles 19:4) Jehoshaphat appointed judges throughout the land to help keep the people faithful to the Lord. “Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for mere mortals but for the Lord, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the Lord be on you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” (19:6-7)
The final time the city of Beersheba is mentioned in the Bible is in the Book of Amos. The prophet Amos mentioned the city as an example of idolatry. Amos repeats the words of the Lord to the people of Israel. Many towns and cities had fallen in the eyes of the Lord and “ turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground.” (Amos 5:7) The Israelites were encouraged to “Seek me and live” and not to “journey to Beersheba”. (5:4-5) Amos 8:14 threatens that if they follow the ways of Beersheba, they will be destroyed. “As surely as the god of Beersheba lives’ they will fall, never to rise again.”
Before the Israelite era, the city of Beersheba had been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Evidence of metal tools found in caves suggests the area had been inhabited since the 4th millennium BC. The Biblical Beersheba may have been slightly to the east of the modern Beersheba, which is where the ruins of an abandoned town have been discovered. Judging from the age of the stone used, the Israelites were living in Beersheba from the 10thcentury BC. The land was easily supplied with water, evidenced by the number of wells discovered in the area; no doubt some of these could be the ones dug by Abraham and Isaac.
From 539 – 332 BC, the Persians who built a citadel occupied Beersheba. There is little known about the city between this era and the Roman period where it served as a front-line defence against attacks on Roman territory. Records from 4thcentury AD reference Beersheba as a large village with a Roman garrison. Later, Byzantine Greeks inhabited the city, however, they abandoned the destroyed city during the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the first half of the 7thcentury.
The Biblical Beersheba no longer existed but during the Ottoman era, Beersheba was rebuilt, however, as archaeological evidence suggests, to the west of the original city. Present-day Beersheba is located on the edge of the Negev desert, approximately 75 miles from Jerusalem. It is susceptible to flooding during the winter from water that flows from the Hebron Valley. The water is mostly underground, hence the wells, however, the vast quantities that pour in can easily overflow. The temperature is generally high, averaging between 21 and 34 degrees Celsius (71 – 94 F) and it only rains during the winter months.
The population of Beersheba is rapidly growing with over 200,000 inhabitants. The city is larger than Tel Aviv and is predicted to have a population of 340,000 by 2030. Beersheba has a premier football team and basketball club, plus has become Israel’s national chess centre. Even children at nursery school are taught how to play chess.
Over time, Beersheba has been twinned with fifteen other towns and cities. Just in case you are interested, here they are. Have you been to any?
The latest East London Group URC meeting was held on Saturday 23rd November 2019 at Grange Park URC. It was a good meeting where all participants were greeted with tea or coffee and pastries; always a good start! Francis and Shahbaz were chairing the meeting and representatives from Gants Hill, Vine, Walthamstow United Reformed Asian Church and Grange Park were in attendance.
Shahbaz opened the meeting by thanking everyone for the prayers for his father and our continued prayers are requested as he is still seriously ill. Pastoral news, as well as activities, were shared from each of the churches.
John Danzo has had to stand down as interim moderator so that he can take care of his grandson who is ill at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Shahbaz, alongside being the minister at Walthamstow Asian Church, Wanstead and Grange Park, is to be the interim moderator at Vine. Pilots is to continue and local schools are starting to visit.
The Lighthouse Church is moving to bigger premises but the hope is another church will be moving in shortly and, therefore, help with rent. There is the possibility of another nursery using their facilities. They have inducted a new elder and new members with three more in the pipeline. They hold a children's club, which can have anything between three to nine children. They also have a new noticeboard.
Joshua spoke about the Worship Night, which attracted more than 70 people from the Asian community. Congratulations to Joshua for organising such as successful evening and there is the talk of another function in the new year.
The Gants Hill website is continually attracting new viewers. Currently, the website has been visited by over 820 people. An application to the resources committee for the release of funds, so that much-needed renovations can be done on the church hall, is soon to be sent and the ELG reconfirmed their support of the various works needed.
On Saturday 7th December, the Gants Hill Bazaar will be held from 10 am to 2 pm.
Francis advised that some people were looking at the profiles but no more could be said. In connection with the manses: the property development of the Vine manse is progressing well; the old manse at Fyfield Road has now been cleared and is on the market this week. There has, so far, been no comment from the synod concerning the purchase of new manse for Shahbaz, which is disappointing.
Donations to the fund, which is entitled ELG Project Account, at Barclays Bank are welcomed. Gants Hill pledged £500 and Grange Park are having collections to add to the fund as well as individual donations. If people do credit the account, it would be useful to let Rhona Lawrenson know so that she can keep track of the funds.
Much work has been done on this paper and at the next meeting, we should finally have the wording correct in conjunction with great work by Hilda and Grace.
United Christmas Carol Service
This is to be held at Wanstead URC on 1st December. There will be light refreshments at 5 pm followed by the service at 6 pm. All the churches have been asked to send in suggestions for hymns and readings, ensuring that this is a joint effort.
This will take place from 24th-26th January under the titled Common Ground: Where is it?
Just a reminder to update and review our safeguarding policies, making sure they have the named coordinator visible.
This exciting venture will be from 5th April - 7th April 2020. All are welcome.
There are seven nationally accredited lay-preachers based at Tottenham. If any churches need to support in pulpit supply, the should contact John Campbell who can put us in contact with potential preachers.
The conference called Inside Outside occurred on 26th October and was very well received with particular focus on how each church could become more eco-friendly. One of the main ideas was for churches to change their energy suppliers to more sustainable suppliers. There were various workshops that people could attend: Celebrating Diversity; Poverty in the UK; Climate Change Changes Everything; and Media Representation of Young People, Refugees and Asylum Seekers. There was a variety of activities, music by the Seven Kings Gospel Choir and the whole day was considered to be a great success.
Churches Together in Essex and East London, where our moderator Andrew Prasad is one of the trustees, are looking to develop stronger relationships with churches in the region. Their new website is www.cteel.org.uk It offers insights to help connections grow and there is also a Facebook page: @ChurchesTogetherEEL
The pilgrimage to Bradwell-on-Sea will take place on Saturday 4th July and the next ELG meeting will take place on 29th February 2020, hosted by Walthamstow Asian Church.
The meeting finished with tea, coffee, pastries and sandwiches. Some very hot spicy lentil soup was also on offer, which when combined with some very spicy Christmas-like wine, definitely made you feel like your mouth was on fire and impersonations of dragons followed! Our thanks go to all those who involved with the catering, particularly Hilda who made the soup and wine.
Antioch on the Orontes, to give its full name, was an ancient Greek city on the east banks of the Orontes River, near where the Turkish city Antakya is situated today. The city was founded during the 4th century BC by one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Seleucus I Nicator. Much later, Antioch became known as “the cradle of Christianity” and it is believed that the term “Christian” was first used in the city.
It is said that Alexander the Great once camped on the site that would become Antioch and erected an altar to the god Zeus. Little else is known about this period, however, after Alexander’s death, the territories he had conquered were divided up between his generals. Seleucus I Nicator won the rights to the area after the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC against some of the other generals. He founded four cities on the land, one of which was Antioch, named after his son Antiochus. The site of the city had been chosen through a ritual, which involved giving a piece of sacrificial meat to an eagle. It was agreed that wherever the eagle took the meat would become the centre of the city. After its construction, Antioch began to attract Athenians, Macedonians and Jews, who combined to create a population of approximately 17,000 people. By the early Roman period, the population had swelled to 500,000.
Under King Antiochus I, the city was chosen as the capital city of the Seleucid Empire from which the Seleucids ruled until 64 BC when it became the possession of the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar visited Antioch in 47 BC and declared the inhabitants free people. He then began to update the city with Roman architecture, which Octavian (Emperor Augustus) continued with the construction of a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus. Emperor Tiberius also held the city in high regard and laid out a forum and enlarged a theatre. It continued to be a popular place for the Roman emperors that followed.
Antioch has a vast history, however, what is its connection to the Bible? Antioch is first mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples were growing in number and people were complaining that some families were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. As a result, seven men were selected to be responsible for ensuring everyone was looked after. One of these men was “Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.” (Acts 6:5)
Acts 11 tells us about the first church erected in Antioch. A disciple named Stephen had recently been stoned to death for performing wonders in the name of Jesus. As a result, many other people were persecuted and those who survived had been scattered about in different areas. Rather than hide away, they travelled to different towns and cities spreading the word amongst the Jews. One of the cities they visited was Antioch where they also told the Greeks about Jesus Christ. A great number of people converted as a result and Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch where, along with Saul, he established a church. Many prophets and teachers became involved with the new church, including “ Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.” (Acts 13:1)
Antioch was the city that sparked debates about circumcision. “Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’” (Acts 15:1) Both Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to discuss with the elders what should be done. The Pharisees believed the new converts needed to be circumcised, however, the apostle Peter declared it was unnecessary because God had granted these people with the Holy Spirit without discriminating between them and the Jews. As a result, the following letter was delivered to the people of Antioch:
In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul writes about a man called Cephas who came to Antioch but separated himself from the Gentiles. Many Jews followed his lead and even Barnabas was led astray. Paul berated them for not acting in line with the truth of the gospel. He told them off for pushing old Jewish laws on the new believers stating, “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21)
By the reign of Emperor Theodosius I (379-395), it is estimated that there were 100,000 Christians in Antioch. The city became one of the five “patriarchates” or the office of a high-ranking bishop along with Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria and Rome. The Patriarch of Antioch still exists today, however, it has moved its headquarters to Damascus in Syria.
Antioch lost its metropolitan status during the reign of Theodosius I as a punishment for the rebellion over new taxes. As a result, Antioch became under Constantinople’s rule. It was, however, still considered a city and was renamed Theopolis (“City of God”) by Justinian I. This name change came about after an earthquake damaged most of the city in 526. Although some parts were restored or rebuilt, the city never returned to its former glory, particularly after the Persians invaded it in 602 and the Arabs in 637.
The city suffered further during the Crusader’s Siege of Antioch in 1098, after which it briefly became under the rule of a regency. Antioch had suffered from another earthquake, which had damaged the city’s foundations and further damages were caused during the Second Crusade in 1147. The kings of Antioch continued to rule the city in between the crusades, however, after the fifth in 1213, Antioch began to rapidly decline.
The Fall of Antioch finally occurred in the 13thcentury when it was invaded by Muslim forces. Every Christian in Antioch was either killed or enslaved, which reduced the population considerably. By 1432, there were only 300 occupied buildings in the once-great city. There are only a few traces of the original Roman city today, which includes the Church of St Peter that had been carved into the mountainside. Although many mosaics have been unearthed, there has been little else found of significance. The main reason for this is the majority of the ancient city now lies underneath the Orontes River.
There are a handful of notable people associated with the city of Antioch; however, to talk about them in any detail would result in a theses-worth of information. So, just for fun, I will list a few of the names and if any take your interest, you can look them up at your leisure.
Gezer, or Tel Gezer, was a city in the foothills of the Judean mountains, approximately midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Today, the ruins of the city are listed as a national park, however, in the Bible, it was mostly associated with King Solomon.
In the Book of Joshua, Gezer is listed as one of the 48 Levitical cities. Previously, Joshua had defeated the king of Gezer but the Canaanite people were still allowed to live there: “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labour.” (Joshua 16:10) In Joshua 21, the city of Gezer as well as Shechem, Kibzaim and Beth Horon were given to the Kohathite clans of the Levites. Being approximately thirty kilometres northwest of Jerusalem and on the junction of the Via Maris, Gezer would have been an important city on the ancient trade route.
The location of Gezer has been easy for archaeologists to find due to inscriptions in both Hebrew and Aramaic on rocks in the area. The inscriptions read “boundary of Gezer” and have been dated to the 1stcentury BC. Large caves in the area, however, suggest the land had been inhabited since the 4thmillennium BC. These people would have lived in the caves but by the early Bronze Age, they had built more substantial dwellings. This, however, was destroyed some time in the 3rdmillennium BC and was abandoned for a few centuries.
By 1600 BC, the Canaanites were living in Gezer and had constructed a fortified wall with towers to protect the city. The oldest mention of the city can be found in inscriptions about the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III who ruled between 1479 and 1425. During his campaign, a fire destroyed the city of Gezer and the city was rebuilt. Walls four metres in thickness surrounded the new city, which included a palace.
Gezer is mentioned in the First Book of Chronicles as the end of the path King David took when slaying the Philistine army. “So David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army, all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.” (1 Chronicles 14:16) Later, “war broke out with the Philistines, at Gezer,” (20:4) which sparked a few battles, all of which David and his army won.
It is around the 10thcentury BC that King Solomon became involved with the city of Gezer. Known as the “Sack of Gezer” an unnamed Egyptian pharaoh “had attacked and captured Gezer. He had set it on fire. He killed its Canaanite inhabitants and then gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, Solomon’s wife.” (1 Kings 9:16) After this, Solomon rebuilt the city but there is no Biblical record about the future of Gezer.
Due to the ambiguity of dates, it is not possible to determine which Egyptian king ruled concurrently with David and Solomon. Some suggest it may have been Shoshenq I, who ruled from 943 to 922 BC, however, others put forward Siamun (986-967 BC). Since no evidence of either of these suggestions has come to light, the unnamed Egyptian pharaoh remains anonymous.
The Assyrians may have captured Gezer in the 8thcentury BC and by the Hellenistic Period (323-31 BC) the city was inhabited by the Maccabees and led by the Hasmonean dynasty. During Roman rule, the population of Gezer dwindled considerably and it is not certain when it was abandoned altogether. During the Crusades, the land surrounding Gezer was used for the site of the 1177 Battle of Montgisard, during which the forces of the Muslim leader Saladin were defeated.
Since the early 1900s, Gezer has become one of the most excavated sites in Israel. Amongst the items found on the site are skeletons of people killed in the 13thcentury BC and amulets bearing the royal monikers of Thutmose III and Ramses II (reigned 1279-1213). Many stones bearing inscriptions have also been discovered, such as the boundary stones mentioned above. The most fascinating discovery has been the “Gezer calendar”. This is a small limestone tablet written in either Phoenician or paleo-Hebrew script that describes the monthly periods of the year, including harvest, planting and tending crops. The tablet could have been the work of Abijah, the son of Rehoboam who is mentioned in 1 Kings 14:31.
Despite looking rather desolate, Tel Gezer Nature Reserve is free to visit and can be particularly beautiful during the spring when the poppies and lilacs are in full bloom.
Shiloh was a city in the same region as Shechem, which I have previously written about, therefore, it was once a Canaanite city before belonging to the Israelites, then the area belonged to the Samaritans, and was finally taken over by the Romans during the first century AD. Like Shechem, Shiloh was eventually destroyed and it is believed to have existed where Khirbet Seilun (Hebr. Tel Shiloh) is today. This is a “tell” or artificial mound that has formed from centuries of human refuse.
Judges 21:19 gives us the general whereabouts of the city of Shiloh: “But look, there is the annual festival of the Lord in Shiloh, which lies north of Bethel, east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” Long before the Israelites arrived in Shiloh, it was a walled city with a religious shrine used by the Canaanites. When the Israelites took over the land, they set up their shrine: the tabernacle. “The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there.”
God had promised land to each of the tribes of Israel; however, by the time they had reached Shiloh, seven tribes had not yet received their inheritance. To help the tribes find their land, Joshua assembled the Israelites in Shiloh and sent three men from each tribe to survey the surrounding lands. On their return, “Joshua then cast lots for them in Shiloh in the presence of the Lord, and there he distributed the land to the Israelites according to their tribal divisions.” (Joshua 18:10)
After the land of the tribes had been distributed, the Levites came to Joshua in Shiloh saying: “The Lord commanded through Moses that you give us towns to live in, with pasturelands for our livestock.” Throughout Joshua 21, the Levites were given the towns they had been promised. As a result of these events occurring at Shiloh, the city became an important location for the Israelites and, according to Jewish sources, the tabernacle remained there for 369 years. Israelites from all the tribes went on pilgrimages to Shiloh where they partook in major feasts and sacrifices to the Lord. On one occasion, when the Benjamites needed wives, they were instructed to “Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. When the young women of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you seize one of them to be your wife. Then return to the land of Benjamin.” Judges 21:20-21)
One of the regular attendees at annual festivals in Shiloh was Elkanah, the husband of Hannah and Peninnah. The latter had children, however, Hannah was barren. It was here in Shiloh where Hannah, weeping, was found by the Priest Eli who told her that God would grant her wish for a child.
One of the famous stories about Samuel as a boy is when the Lord calls for Samuel, however, mistaking the voice for Eli’s, Samuel rushes to see what the High Priest wanted of him. Eventually, Samuel understood who was calling him and “The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” (1 Samuel 3:21)
At the same time, Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas were treating offerings to the Lord with contempt. They took some of the meat people had brought to the shrine for themselves and slept with the women who guarded the entrance to the tent. As a result, they were both killed. It is also thought this resulted in the loss of the Tabernacle at Shiloh when the Israelites were attacked by the Philistines. Some suggest the city was also destroyed at this time.
By the time the Book of Jeremiah was written, it had been over 300 years since the destruction of Shiloh. Jeremiah used the fate of this city to warn the people of Judah and Jerusalem what God could do to them if they did not change their ways.
After the destruction of Shiloh, pilgrimages to the city stopped and the original site became lost. Since 1922, excavations have taken place that has gradually unearthed the city of Shiloh. A man named Aage Schmidt made the initial discovery and further investigations by a Danish team of archaeologists uncovered more of the area. Israel Finkelstein (b.1949) conducted the most extensive excavations in the 1980s and determined that Shiloh had been abandoned in around 1050 BC.
Today, the ancient city of Shiloh can be visited by tourists, schools and groups, plus can also be used as the location of many Jewish ceremonies. A Tabernacle experience allows visitors to see what the area may have looked like through the aid of 3D glasses.
Just for fun, visit this website for a virtual tour of the remains of the city of Shiloh. https://vt.panovision.co.il/shiloh/shiloh_vt.htm
The purpose of this series, Towns and Cities in the Bible, is to discover the-lesser known locations mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. Places such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho and Nazareth are well-known names, however, there are plenty more that are less common or even non-existent in the contemporary world. The first of these cities I am looking at is Shechem, which was first mentioned in Genesis 12:26: “Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.”
Shechem, sometimes known as Sichem, was the first capital city of the Kingdom of Israel. Before the tribes were formed, Shechem was a Canaanite city and is mentioned on clay tablets dating from 1360 BC. It is believed the city was founded in c.2100 BC and was eventually destroyed in 67 AD. Today, the remains of the city can be found in the Palestinian suburb Balata al-Balad.
According to the Book of Judges, Shechem lay on the road going from Jerusalem to the northern districts. Judges 9:6-7 indicates that it was in the vicinity of Mount Gerizim and Joshua 20:7 described Shechem as being “in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah.” Due to its position, Shechem was likely a commercial city situated in the middle of important trade routes. During the Bronze Age, the city would have dealt in grapes, olives, wheat, livestock and pottery.
Early biblical ancestors treated Shechem with respect. In Genesis 12:7, “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspringI will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” This was confirmation of the covenant God had made with Abram (Abraham) earlier in the book.
In Genesis 33, we are told that Jacob “arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent.” (33:18-19) Whilst there, he set up an altar called El Elohe Israel, which means Might is the God of Israel. It is believed this is the same piece of land as the location of Jacob’s Well.
Whilst the city was under Canaanite control, the ruler was “Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land,” which is perhaps how the city got its name: the City of Shechem. This prince is mentioned in detail during chapter 34 of the Book of Genesis. Titled Dinah and the Shechemites, the passage explains that Shechem raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, on a visit to the land. Horrified, her brothers set out to confront the prince who claimed to be in love with their sister. Shechem wished to take Dinah as his wife and the brothers told him he could only do this if all the men in the city were circumcised. This was readily agreed upon, however, whilst the men were recovering, Simeon and Levi attacked the city, killing all the males and taking all the animals.
The Israelites settled in Shechem after their Exodus from Egypt. By this time, many people had gone against God’s wishes, committing a variety of sins. In Joshua 24, the leader of the Israelites assembled the people at Shechem where he made them choose between serving the God of Abraham and serving the false Gods of their ancestors. The Israelites agreed to serve God and Joshua erected a memorial stone in honour of this occasion: “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.” (Joshua 24:27) The stone was placed near an oak tree, which is thought to be the “great tree of Moreh” mentioned in Genesis 12. After this event, the Israelites buried the bones of their ancestor Joseph, which they had carried with them from Egypt. (24:32)
The Book of Judges mentions Shechem several times, for example, it was the home of the concubine who bore Gideon’s son Abimelech (8:31). In the following chapter, Abimelech is made king, which is contested by Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, to no avail. Three years later, the city rose up against the king, however, Abimelech fought back and destroyed Shechem. The city was eventually rebuilt in the 10thcentury BC and became the capital of the new kingdom led by Rehoboam, the son of Solomon.
After this, Shechem appears to lose its importance and is only mentioned in passing in the books of Jeremiah and Hosea:
Shechem is only mentioned a couple of time in the New Testament. Acts 7:16 recalls events of the Old Testament: “Their bodies were brought back to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money.” The other mention is contested by some versions of the Bible. In the New Internation Version, we are told: “So [Jesus] came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.” Other translations state “Shechem” but it is not certain whether Sychar was the same place. Nonetheless, if it is to be believed that Jacob’s well was built in Shechem, this is the location of Jesus’ talk with a Samaritan woman in John 4.
Shechem had eventually become a Samaritan settlement whose main religious centre stood on Mount Gerizim. In AD 6, however, Shechem was annexed to the Roman Province of Syria. Much later, the city was destroyed during the First Jewish-Roman War. The ancient city remained undiscovered until 1903 when a German party of archaeologists identified it.
Today, the ancient city of Shechem is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be visited by tourists. Whilst no humans live in the city, it has become home to a wide range of wildlife. Just for fun, here are a few of the residents you may see:
Although there are many more mountains mentioned in the Bible, this will be my last article on the subject. This does not mean that the others are less important but rather there is less information about them or they have become lost over time. Mount Zion, on the other hand, has three different locations.
Traditionally, Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem just outside of the Old City. Also known as Har Tsiyyon (Hebrew) and Jabal Sahyoun, it reaches a height of 2,510 feet and belongs to the Judean mountain range. The term “Zion” was first used in the Hebrew Bible as another name for the City of David and later used as an alternative name for Temple Mount.
It is not certain what the term “Zion” means, however, some scholars suggest it is similar to the Hebrew word for castle. This may help to explain why the location of Mount Zion has moved. Rather than being a physical mountain, Mount Zion is a time-honoured name for the focal point of Jerusalem, which shifts to the most appropriate place at the given time. For example, the first Mount Zion was the Jebusite city on the lower section of Jerusalem’s Eastern Hill, also known as the City of David. When the First Temple was erected on the top of the Eastern Hill, which is generally known as Temple Mount, the name Mount Zion migrated there too. The references to Mount Zion in the Book of Psalms are believed to be about this location:
Today’s Mount Zion is located on the Western Hill of Jerusalem, which the Jerusalemites have deemed a worthier location for the lost Palace of King David since the first century AD. Nebuchadnezzar II had destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 586 BC, which eradicated a lot of historical memories. Although the city was rebuilt to the best of everyone’s abilities, the Romans destroyed it again in 70 AD. By now, no one could identify where the original Mount Zion had been (the locations have been discovered by archaeologists in more recent years), however, the historian Josephus wrote that he believed the location to be on the Western Hill since they were higher and longer than the Eastern.
After the Roman period of rule had ended, a synagogue was built at the entrance to what was believed to be David’s Tomb, where he may have brought the Ark of the Covenant before the construction of the First Temple.
There is, however, a fourth unknown location of Mount Zion. In the Bible, particularly in the books of Isaiah and Revelation, Mount Zion represents the Kingdom of God: the heavenly Jerusalem.
Apart from the modern landscape of the present-day mountain and Table Mount (see the article on Mount Moriah), there is little else known about Mount Zion. Since 1967, the mountain/hill has belonged to Israel and in 1964 a winding path leading up to Mount Zion was paved in honour of a visit from Pope Paul VI.
There are a handful of important sites for pilgrims and religious communities on Mount Zion including the Abbey of the Dormition, the aforementioned King David’s Tomb, and the Room of the Last Supper. Despite its name, archaeologists do not believe David’s Tomb to be his actual burial place, although some people treat it in this manner. Likewise, the Room of the Last Supper may not be the actual location of the Passover meal and some archaeologists believe the building may have once been a synagogue. Nonetheless, Christians treat the site as the Cenacle or Upper Room mentioned in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. As well as the Last Supper, it is thought that other events from the New Testament took place here. These include Jesus washing the disciple’s feet (Luke 2), the appearance of Jesus to the disciples after the resurrection (Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20), the gathering of the disciples after the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1), the election of Matthias as an apostle (Acts 1), and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2).
The first museum opened in memory of the Holocaust can be found on Mount Zion. The Ministry of Religion inaugurated the Chamber of the Holocaust on 30th December 1949. Whilst small and cave-like, the museum contains ten rooms and many passages on which tombstone-like plaques record the 2,000 Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust.
Two Christian cemeteries can be found on Mount Zion, one Catholic and one Protestant. A handful of notable names can be found here, for example, Oskar Schindler, a “Righteous General” who saved the lives of 1200 Jews during the Holocaust. The Protestant cemetery is also the resting place of many soldiers who fought in the First World War and people killed in the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946.
I hope these studies about the important mountains in the Bible have been useful. They should help you to place and visualise many Biblical locations and help you make sense of some of the event in the Old and New Testaments. There are, of course, many more mountains that you could explore, so, just for fun here is a list of some of the other mountains listed in the Bible. If you are interested, perhaps you could look them up and see what you can find out.
Luke 19:1-10: Luke 19:1–10 (NKJV): 1Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 5And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
8Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
It would also be useful for you to read Luke 18:18-25, which is the story of a rich man wanting to know how to achieve eternal life and Jesus' response telling him to sell everything he owned. Other background references are: Ezekiel 34:16, Exodus 22:1, Leviticus 6:5
This story or pericope is so famous that perhaps we miss how radical Jesus' actions were. Also, I am aware that it is probably one of the most well-known stories and so, I aim to offer you a new reflection, which will cast light upon the reading as well as help us in our daily living.
The scene is set in Jericho, which is twelve miles northeast of Jerusalem. It was the scene of the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the place a blind beggar was healed (Matthew 20:29). It is located in the Jordan Valley and is believed to be the oldest inhabited city in the world, founded in 9600 BCE. It has one of the oldest protective walls and is the lowest city in the world at 846 feet below sea level. It is on the main trading route and the area has a flourishing agricultural industry, as well as being the main producer of balsam.
Jericho has had a chequered history; with the first permanent settlement in 9600 BCE, it was continually occupied throughout the Bronze Age but was later destroyed. It flourished once again and by 7th century BCE, Jericho had become a big town, but this was also destroyed following the Babylonian conquest of Judah in around 586 BCE. Whilst the Persians rebuilt the city, it came under the rule of Alexander the Great between 336 and 323 BCE and was subsequently controlled by Syria who strengthened the defensive walls. Mark Antony gave the royal estate at Jericho to Cleopatra in around 25 BCE and, following the Roman oppression, granted Herod absolute rule over Jericho. Herod built a royal palace, hippodrome and theatre, thus establishing Jericho as a major city. The roads were treelined with sycamore-fig trees, which had sprawling, low-level branches offering shade and a food resource.
This is the setting for one of the most famous stories in the Bible. When the Roman empire expanded it began to tax the population to help pay for the very army that was oppressing them together with sending money back to Rome. The Roman authorities knew how much money they wanted to receive from each area but allowed tax collectors to bid for how much they were willing to raise for the taxes and take a margin for their benefit. The taxes were hated by the populous and the collectors were even more hated because they were squeezing as much money as possible for their own gain. Zacchaeus was a Jew and he was seen as a betrayer of his people by being a tax collector and was hated accordingly. He would have been barred from the synagogue and would not have had many friends.
There is a song I learnt at Sunday School that went something like this:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And when the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree
And said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I'm going to your house for tea!
For I'm going to your house for tea!'
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
But a happy man was he
For he had seen the Lord that day
And a happy man was he;
And a very happy man was he
My suggestion is that because he was short he probably, throughout his schooling and young adulthood, would have been teased incessantly. I wonder if becoming a tax collector was his way of seeking revenge on his tormentors. I believe the name Zacchaeus is the Hebrew for pure/innocent. No doubt when he was born, given such a lovely name, he was probably well-loved but because of society's incessant need to label people and to bully, Zacchaeus became the product of all that nastiness. So motivated was he for revenge that he became not just a tax collector but a chief tax collector. He no doubt enjoyed the "respect" of the citizens but he was not happy.
There must have been a time when he realised he was lost; it is only when you realise you lost that you seek to find a different direction. He was fortunate a window of opportunity was to come when Jesus walked through Jericho. Being a "wee little man" he would have had trouble seeing Jesus through the crowds, so was willing to put dignity to one side and climb the sycamore-fig tree, one presumes not wishing to be seen as he did have a position to uphold. There is an element of risk-reward: is the risk of being spotted and looking silly overshadowed by the reward of hearing what Jesus was saying?
Yet, Jesus stops and calls him by name. An unanswered question is how did Jesus know Zacchaeus' name? How did Jesus know he was up a tree? In the only recorded account, Jesus invites himself for a meal and Zacchaeus takes this window of opportunity. He has a personal encounter with Jesus and, as with all personal encounters, the effect is life-transforming. Here we have a man who wanted to change and not just repented in words but repented in action, giving half his possessions to the poor as well as recompensing anyone with whom he had defrauded, paying them four times as much. Jesus offers him salvation, he needed no longer to be separated from God and his status as a Son of Abraham is reinforced. There is a tradition that suggests Zacchaeus went on following Christ and became the first Bishop of Caesarea.
So, what can we learn from this amazing story? Are we lost? Do we need a new direction? Are there habits and routines that we have fallen into and feel so comfortable with that are stopping us from being close to God? What windows of opportunities are there that we can take?
Always consider the risk-reward ratio. People can change and, therefore, by labelling, we sometimes stunt their growth into their potential being. Never tease or bully because you never know the hurt you are causing or the revenge that may follow.
Now it is November, the nights are drawing in and so, remember, words from the Gospel of John Chapter 1, Verse 5, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it.” That, in essence, is our faith. No matter how dark our lives may be, or the nights, the light of Jesus can never be extinguished, as long as we keep it alive.
Firework Night always reminds me of a sermon I once preached involving the question, “what type of firework we would be?” Are we like a Katherine Wheel, whizzing around making a lot of noise but not getting anywhere? Are we a Banger that just makes noise but doesn’t produce anything spectacular? Or perhaps we are a Roman Candle that shoots majestically into the air, producing an array of colour and beauty. Other ideas include Sparklers, easy to use and relatively friendly, but have to be managed with care, and Rockets, leaving a trail behind you wherever you go.
Ask yourself, if you were a firework, what type would you be? Why?
Whatever type of firework you are, remember that God can use you. Remember these words from John 8:12, “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.”
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon