Gethsemane, or Gat Shmaním, which means “oil press”, was a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The garden is only mentioned by name in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, which both describe the same scene, commonly known as the Agony in the Garden.
The Agony in the Garden took place on the night of Jesus’ arrest. After the famous Last Supper, “Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” (Matthew 26:36) Whilst Jesus was praying, the disciples fell asleep. Three times Jesus asked his disciples to sit and pray, and each time they fell asleep. Jesus’ prayers were almost like pleas, asking God to “Take this cup from me.” Jesus knew, of course, the events to follow were part of God’s big plan. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36
The Mount of Olives, and therefore Gethsemane, was a place Jesus and his Disciples visited regularly. Going there to pray was nothing unusual, however, it meant Judas was able to easily find Jesus to have him arrested.
Gethsemane’s location is uncertain and there are at least four places near the foot of the mountain that claim to be the true garden. Each claim was made by a different Christian denomination: Catholic, Eastern Christianity, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox. The first claim is the garden at the Catholic Church of All Nations in Jerusalem. The church, which was consecrated in 1924, is built on the remains of a 12th-century Crusader chapel, which in turn had been erected on the site of a 4th-century Byzantine basilica. Enshrined within the church is a piece of bedrock claiming to be where Jesus prayed before his arrest.
The second location claiming to be Gethsemane is near the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary, which is where Eastern Christians believe Mary, the mother of Jesus was buried. According to tradition, Mary died a natural death and was buried in the tomb, however, was resurrected three days later. Following this, Mary was taken up to heaven in bodily form, which is known as the Assumption of Mary.
The Greek Orthodox Church has supposedly determined Gethsemane would have been on the east side of the Mount of Olives, however, has expressed no precise location. The Russian Orthodox Church, on the other hand, is certain Gethsemane is the orchard next to the Church of Mary Magdalene. The Russian architect David Grimm designed the church for Tsar Alexander III who wished to honour his mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna. A relic of the martyred saint Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, can be found in the church, alongside a relic of the nun Varvara Yakovleva who was also murdered along with the royal family. Having expressed the wish to be buried near her grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, the mother of Princess Phillip, was buried in the crypt below the church.
It is impossible to determine which, if any, of the claimants are the true location of Gethsemane, however, they are all within proximity of each other. Olive trees in the area have been determined to be the oldest known to science, however, it is uncertain whether they would have been the same trees that Jesus was familiar with. Carbon dating has placed some of the trees as far back as 1092. Since olive trees can regrow from their roots if chopped down, there is a very strong chance that these trees have been there since biblical times.
Just for fun, I have found out some facts about olives:
Capernaum, which only appears in the Gospels, was a fishing village on the northern shore of Lake Galilee. It was established during the time the Hasmoneans were the ruling dynasty of Judea between 140 and 116 BC. Today, the village lies in ruins; however, it once had a population of about 1500 people.
The village’s original name was Kfar Naḥūm, which means “Nahum’s Village” but, as far as we know, there was no connection to the Old Testament prophet. In Greek, the name was written Kαφαρναούμ (Kapharnaoúm), which over time became Capernaum.
In the Bible, Capernaum is recorded as the hometown of several of Jesus’ disciples. In Matthew 4, Jesus “went and lived in Capernaum” (4:13) where he came across “Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.” (4:18) Jesus told them to follow him and they did, becoming his first disciples. Walking on from there, although presumably not far, Jesus came across, James son of Zebedee and his brother John who were also fishing. Just as he did with Simon and Andrew, Jesus called to them and they became his disciples.
In Matthew 9, “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town” – believed to be Capernaum – where he healed a paralysed man. Following this, he came across a man called Matthew, a tax collector and, although tax collectors were generally despised, Jesus asked Matthew to follow him. Thus, Matthew became another of Jesus’ disciples.
Possibly because he lived there, or at least some of his disciples came from the village, Jesus spent a lot of time in Capernaum, therefore, it is unsurprising that many of his miracles took place in there. Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding in Cana, however, “After this he went down to Capernaumwith his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days” (John 2:12)
Jesus’ miracles in Capernaum are recorded throughout all four Gospels. Already mentioned is the healing of the paralysed man, which took place shortly before Matthew was called to discipleship. Whilst this miracle is recorded in both Matthew and Mark, the latter contains more detail. “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.” (Mark 2:1-2) Jesus’ miracles were already well known, hence the crowd of people, however, this meant not everyone could get into the building to see Jesus. Four men attempted to bring a paralysed man to Jesus, however, after seeing the crowd, they decided to lower the man through a hole in the roof rather than attempt to get through the door. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:5)
Jesus was often amazed by the faith of the people who sought him out, for example, “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralysed, suffering terribly.’” (Matthew 8:5-6) The Centurion confessed he did not deserve Jesus to come under his roof, however, should Jesus wish to heal his servant he knew Jesus would. Amazed, Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10) Subsequently, the servant was healed.
Another physical ailment Jesus healed was blindness. Whilst he was walking through Capernaum, two blind men called out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 9:27) For their faith, Jesus restored their sight. Immediately afterwards, a mute man who was possessed by a demon was brought to Jesus. “When the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke.” (Matthew 9:33)
Many of Jesus’ miracles involved driving out demons. In Mark 1, a man possessed by a demon tried to challenge Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. “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) After a stern “Be quiet!” Jesus ordered the demon to leave the man. Later that day, “people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.” (Mark 1:32) Jesus healed the people and drove out many demons.
One of Jesus’ amazing miracles involved raising a dead girl. A synagogue leader approached Jesus saying, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” (Matthew 9:18) Jesus followed the man to his house where he told the noisy crowd, “The girl is not dead but asleep.” (9:24) Despite being laughed at, Jesus took hold of the girl’s hand and she rose up from the bed, completely healthy. Coinciding with this miracle was the healing of a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. Her faith was so strong, she believed by reaching out to touch Jesus’ cloak as he passed by would heal her. She was right.
Not all the people Jesus healed were strangers. After spending the day preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus went to the home of Simon where his mother-in-law was suffering from a fever. Jesus “rebuked the fever, and it left her.” Incidentally, archaeologists believe they have found the remains of Simon’s house, or Saint Peter as he is otherwise known.
Whilst the majority of Jesus’ miracles involved healing, the disciples were witnesses to a different type. John 6 tells us of the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, which took place on the opposite side of the lake, however, when the disciples had “got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum,” (Mark 6:17) they saw Jesus walking on the water towards them. Naturally, they were frightened by this but Jesus reassured them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” (6:20)
The Gospels do not only record miracles occurring at Capernaum, but there are also the teachings of Jesus. Mark 9:37 is perhaps the most well known of these, which states, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Another well-known saying occurs in Matthew 11, which was said by Jesus while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
Jesus also issued a warning to the people of Capernaum. Despite the number of miracles that occurred in the village, Capernaum would not survive the wrath of God. “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.” Although Jesus spent a lot of time preaching to the villagers, they still lacked faith. Whether related to this or not, the village now lies in ruins.
It is not certain exactly when the village was abandoned but scholars believe it was during the 11thcentury AD before the crusader conquest. The village was established during the 2nd century BC at the same time as other fishing villages around the lake. The historian Josephus described Capernaum as a fertile spring, which he stayed at for a night to recover from a riding accident.
The ruins reveal the houses in Capernaum were narrow and could be accessed by communal passages and courtyards. There was no plumbing; therefore, it can be assumed people got water from the river. Remains of fishhooks and weights confirm that Capernaum was an established fishing village and there is no evidence of an “upper class” or ruler.
One set of ruins has been identified as a synagogue from the 4th-century. Underneath this are older remains that are believed to be the foundations of the synagogue mentioned in the Bible. There are also walls belonging to houses built in the 4thor 5thcentury, which were larger than the older building, however, one excavated house from the 1stcentury was markedly different from the rest. Unlike the bare walls of the other houses, this building had been plastered, leading archaeologists to believe it was not just used as a residence. Suggestions that it may have been a religious gathering place are widely accepted, as well as the idea that the disciple Simon/Peter lived there. Graffiti on the wall mentions Peter’s name. Today, a memorial modern church has been built above the ancient house in which a glass floor allows a direct view of the ruins below.
Did you know, in 1986 on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee, a 1st-century fishing boat was discovered that gives us an idea what the Disciple’s boat looked like. Who knows, it could even be their boat!
The Gospel of John mentions a town named Cana. John specifically tells us Cana is in Galilee, which is a region in Northern Israel. The location of the biblical town is widely debated today, however, the name Cana may derive from the Hebrew word for “reeds”, which suggests the town was located near marsh or grasslands.
In the Bible, Cana is best known as the place where Jesus performed his first public miracle. Told in chapter two of the Gospel of John, “a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.” (John 2:1) “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) Jesus was attending a wedding in Cana with his mother and disciples. During the celebration, the host ran out of wine and Mary asked her son to do something about the situation. Jesus instructed the servants to fill six stone jars with water, however, when the master of the banquet tasted the liquid, it had become wine. Although this is believed to be Jesus’ first miracle, it is not recorded in the synoptic Gospels.
The Gospel of John mentioned Cana a further two times. “Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.” (John 4:46) When the man heard Jesus was in Cana, he begged Jesus to heal his son. Jesus declined to go with the man to his house; however, Jesus promised his son would live. As Jesus was saying this, the fever left the young boy, and Cana became the location of a second miracle.
The final time Cana is mentioned in the Gospel of John is in relation to one of Jesus’ disciples. “Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.” (John 21:1-2) Nathanael from Cana is more commonly known as Bartholomew the Apostle who was born in Cana during the 1stcentury AD. He was first mentioned in John 1 when Philip introduced him to Jesus. When Jesus met Nathanael, he said, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:47) Jesus promised Nathanael that he would “see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) St Bartholomew (Nathanael) was later skinned alive and beheaded in Albanopolis, Armenia, where he is now celebrated as the patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
In some versions of the Bible, Simon the Zealot, as he is known in the NIV, is known as Simon from Cana or Simon the Cananite. (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:18) Simon was another of Jesus’ apostles who, like Nathanael, may have been born in Cana. Some scholars, however, contest his place of birth, pointing out the Hebrew for “zealous” and “Cana” both derive from the same word, qanai, therefore, “Simeon from Cana” could be a mistranslation.
The location of Cana has baffled historians for centuries and many theories have been developed. There have been some suggestions that Cana may not have been a real place, however, the name of the town has also featured in The Life of Josephus written between 94-99 AD. To date, five places have been proposed as the true location of the town. They are Qana, Lebanon; Kafr Kanna, Israel; Khirbet Qana, Israel; Karm er-Rasm, Israel; and Ain Qana, South Lebanon.
The early Christian historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, selected Qana in Lebanon as the location of Cana during the 4thcentury. It is a village situated approximately 18 miles from the city of Tyre. It is said that Jesus’ first miracle took place in one of the natural caves in the village, which contain ancient inscriptions on the rock.
In the 17thcentury, a papal emissary to Palestine reported two possible locations of Cana: Khirbet Qana and Kafr Kanna. The latter, located 4.3 miles from Nazareth, was considered to be the location of Cana long before the emissary’s visit, however, there is no tangible evidence for this. Although Arabs predominantly inhabit the town, there are a few Catholic churches, including the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Apostle Bartholomew and the Franciscan Wedding Church.
Khirbet Qana, on the other hand, means “ruins of Cana”, giving it more standing as the true location of the city. The village is 8 miles from Nazareth and contains the remains of a settlement from the Early Arab Period. Maps produced by the Crusaders cite Khirbet Qana as the biblical Cana, however, since the village lies in ruins, there is little other evidence.
Meanwhile, Yardenna Alexandre, an Israeli archaeologist, is convinced the ruined site of Karm er-Rasm is the true location of Cana. Excavations have revealed it was once inhabited by a Jewish population and eventually abandoned in the Byzantine period. Unfortunately, no one else agrees with her theory.
Finally, Ain Qana, which means “the spring of Cana”, is an agricultural town that has been considered as a better candidate for the biblical Cana. Situated only a mile from Nazareth, early Christian pilgrims reported the town contained a spring from which the jars at the wedding may have been filled. The spring is no longer there and excavations have not yet taken place. Once again, there is not enough evidence to determine if this is the true location.
For now, Cana remains missing!
Caesarea is a city that is heavily featured in the Acts of the Apostles. Today, the ancient city lies in ruins two kilometres from a modern city of the same name. To differentiate between the two, the Biblical city is now known as Caesarea Maritima and is located within an Israeli national park in the Sharon Plains on the coast of the Mediterranean.
Herod the Great constructed Caesarea (Maritima) between 22 and 9 BC. Before then, Straton I, king of Sidon (365-352 BC) had built a tower on the land, which may have been used as a storehouse. In 90 BC, Alexander Jannaeus, a Hasmonean King of Judea, captured the tower and developed the area into a shipping industry. It remained under Jewish control until 63 BC when the land was taken over by the Romans. The city was awarded to Herod the Great in 30 BC and he began to make vast changes, which included renaming it Caesarea after the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Other developments included a harbour named Sebastos, storerooms, market places, roads, temples and public baths.
In 6 AD, Judea became a Roman province and Caesarea replaced Jerusalem as the capital. The city was the home of Roman governors, including the prefect Pontius Pilate who, as we know, ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. A block of carved limestone was discovered in 1961 bearing the inscription “To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum...Pontius Pilate...prefect of Judea...has dedicated [this]” which confirms Pilate lived in the area.
If the writings of the 1st-century historian, Josephus, are to be believed, Caesarea’s harbour was as large as the harbour in Athens. The city became the largest in Judea, spreading over 1.4 square miles and provided homes for 125,000 people. During the reign of Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) the city was raised to the status of a Colonia and renamed Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea.
Caesarea is first mentioned in Acts 8:40: “Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” Philip the Evangelist was responsible for introducing Christianity to Caesarea. One of the converts, possibly the first gentile to convert to Christianity, was Cornelius the Centurion. “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.” (Acts 10:1) Peter the Apostle was also involved in the spread of Christianity and when Cornelius heard that Peter was nearby, he requested a visit. “The following day [Peter] arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.” (Acts 10:24) Following this, Cornelius was baptised, which again was a first for the gentiles.
Naturally, the Jewish converts were concerned about a gentile becoming a Christian and being baptised, so they began to criticise him. Peter defended himself and explained his actions, retelling the story of Cornelius’ baptism from his perspective. “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them.” (Acts 11:11-12)
Unfortunately, Peter’s explanation did not please everyone and he eventually ended up in prison after being seized by King Herod Agrippa. An angel of the Lord, however, helped Peter escape and the next day, Herod began thoroughly searching for the fugitive. “After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.” (Acts 12:19) Shortly afterwards, Herod was struck down by the Lord for not allowing God’s word to flourish, and “he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:23)
Another apostle loosely associated with Caesarea was the convert Paul, previously Saul. In Acts 21, Paul “reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist.” (Acts 21:8) Whilst there, Philip prophesied that Paul would be bound by his belt in Jerusalem and handed over to the gentiles. Although people implored Paul to stay in Caesarea, he assured that he was “ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)
As Philip predicted, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, however, some people wanted to go one step further and have him killed. To save his life, a commander ordered his centurions to “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmento go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” (Acts 23:23-24) Paul stayed in Caesarea for two years until he was transferred to Rome.
After this, Caesarea is never mentioned in the Bible again, however, there are other works and literature that reveal a little more information about the city. Some say the Nicene Creed may have originated in Caesarea and the early Christian scholar Origen wrote some of his theological works whilst living in the city. The Apostolic Constitution, which was written somewhere between 375 and 380 AD suggests that Cornelius the Centurion became the second Bishop of Caesarea and was followed by Theophilus, the possible addressee of the Gospel of Luke.
Caesarea became the capital of the Byzantine province Palaestina Prima in 390 AD. It remained the capital until the early 7th century when the Sasanid Empire of Persia conquered it during the Byzantine-Sasanian War of 602-628. The Byzantine Empire managed to temporarily re-conquer Caesarea in 625; however, it was permanently lost to them after the Muslim conquest in 640, during which time the city was partially destroyed. People may have continued to live in the remains of Caesarea and the harbour still functioned until the 9th century.
According to accounts written of the First Crusade, which began in 1101, Caesarea had been rebuilt and fortified. The Crusaders took control of the city until 1191 when Saladin, the Egyptian sultan captured it in 1187. The Crusaders won back their control in 1191 and, during the following century, Caesarea was fortified with high walls and a moat on the orders of Louis IX of France. Unfortunately, the fortifications were not enough to keep Mamluk armies out and the city fell for good in 1265.
In 1952, the modern city of Caesarea was established as a Jewish town near the ruins of the old city. Excavation work began in Caesarea Maritima, unearthing mosaics, foundations of buildings and, most recently, 24 gold coins dating to the Crusader period.
In the Bible, people occasionally confuse Caesarea with another place of a similar name. Caesarea Philippi (Philip’s Caesarea) is mentioned twice in the Gospels. This is not the same place as Caesarea Maritima and may have been called Baal Gad in the Old Testament. “… Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon.” (Joshua 11:17) Caesarea Philippi is now an almost uninhabited archaeological site in the Golan Heights.
Philip II named Caesarea Philippi in honour of Caesar Augustus. It was generally known as Caesarea, however, the New Testament refers to it as Caesarea Philippi to differentiate from the other Caesarea. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus came near to Caesarea Philippi but there is no record that he entered the city. “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’” It was at this time that Simon Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus promised him keys to the kingdom of heaven. This is also recorded in the Gospel of Mark, which states, “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi.”
Just for fun, did you know there was a saint who once lived in Caesarea (Maritima)? Saint Albina was a young woman from Caesarea who died a martyr in 250 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius. It is not certain whether she died in Caesarea or another city, however, Greek tradition states that after her death, her remains were miraculously transported to the Italian city of Gaeta, where they remain today.
Bethel, meaning “House of God”, is a place name that frequently appears in the Old Testament. It was first mentioned in the Book of Genesis after God had called Abram. “From [Shechem] he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 12:8) Unfortunately, the true location of Bethel has been lost.
Some early Christian writers, such as Jerome and Eusebius of Caesarea, described Bethel as a small village, twelve miles north of the city of Jerusalem. Many modern scholars have identified the village Beitin as Bethel, although others suggest the Palestinian city El-Bireh. This is 15 miles north of Jerusalem. Since 1967, Bethel has been associated with Beit El, an Israeli settlement adjacent to Beitin.
Bethel, wherever it may be, appears in twelve books of the Old Testament. As we read in Genesis 12, which is also referenced in chapter 13, Bethel is a place close to where Abram pitched his tent on the way to and from Egypt. It is next mentioned in Genesis 28 when Jacob is fleeing from his brother Esau. “He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.” (Genesis 28:19) While resting here, Jacob dreamt of a ladder stretching between Heaven and Earth; at the top stands God, who promises Jacob the land of Canaan. On waking, Jacob renames the place Bethel (House of God), although it is never revealed why the name had changed to Luz, or whether it is the same place as the Bethel mentioned earlier in the book.
Later, God instructed Jacob to return to Bethel, where he built an altar to God “who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” (Genesis 35:3) Not long after Jacob and his family left Bethel, Rachel gave birth to his final son, Benjamin. Unfortunately, the birth was not without complications and Rachel passed away shortly after.
Bethel is mentioned a few times in the Book of Joshua, which confirms its location to be the same village Abram camped near. “Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, ‘Go up and spy out the region.’ So the men went up and spied out Ai.” (Joshua 7:2) Joshua 12 reveals that Bethel had a king, although we do not learn his name and, in Joshua 18, it is revealed that Bethel was located in the land allocated to the tribe of Benjamin. This is also recorded in 1 Chronicles.
Before the Israelites arrived, Bethel was inhabited by Canaanites. According to Judges 1, however, the tribes of Joseph killed the Canaanites. “Now the tribes of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them.” (Judges 1:22) Unfortunately, the Israelites went on to do evil things and the Lord had them sold into slavery under King Jabin of Canaan. At this time, Israel was being led by a woman named Deborah who held her court “between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim.” (Judges 4:5) Under Deborah’s command, the Israelites managed to defeat King Jabin.
In Judges 20, the Israelites went to Bethel to ask God whether they should fight against the Benjamites. “Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord.” (Judges 20:26) In this instance, Bethel is living up to the meaning of its name, the House of the Lord. Rather than calling on God from their hometowns, the Israelites travelled to Bethel to seek God out. Bethel was an important religious place at the time and the Ark of the Covenant was kept there. In the following chapter, the Israelites returned to Bethel asking how the tribe of Benjamin could survive since all their women had perished. The Israelites could not give their daughters as wives to the remaining male Benjamites due to an oath they had previously made. The solution was for the tribe of Benjamin to take their wives from “Shiloh, which lies north of Bethel, east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” (Judges 21:19)
The prophet Samuel went on yearly visits “from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places.” (1 Samuel 7:16) He also instructed Saul, before he was made king, to visit Bethel. “Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there.” (1 Samuel 10:3) It is inferred that there was a Philistine garrison near Bethel because “Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin.” (1 Samuel 13:2) The army attacked the Philistine outposts from these locations.
In 931 BCE, following the death of King Solomon, Israel was divided into two kingdoms. This king of the northern kingdom was Jeroboam, Solomon’s superintendent. Fearing his people would prefer the ruler and faith of the southern kingdom, Jeroboam made two golden calves and told his people they were the gods who brought them out of Egypt. “One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.” (1 Kings 12:29) By tricking the Israelites into worshipping these idols, Jeroboam ensured his people stayed within his kingdom. The Israelites would not be fooled forever, as predicted by a man who had travelled “from Judah to Bethel” (1 Kings 13:1) who cried, “A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you … The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.” (13:2-3) The sacrifice of the priests is written in 1 Kings 10 during the reign of King Jehu (842-815 BC); however, the altar was not fully destroyed until the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 BC). “Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria and that had aroused the Lord’s anger. “ (2 Kings 23:19)
The Lord had previously spoken through the prophet Amos (c.750 BC) who warned the Israelites that “On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground.” (Amos 3:14) Bethel had become a place of sin. God tried to encourage the Israelites to “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel.” (Amos 5:4-5)
In the Book of Hosea, Bethel is referred to as “Beth Aven,” which means “house of wickedness”. The prophet Hosea repeated Amos’ warning: “So will it happen to you, Bethel, because your wickedness is great. When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.” Hosea also remembered the great things of Bethel’s past, for instance, Jacob’s dream: “He found him at Bethel and talked with him there.” (Hosea 12:4) By the time the prophet Jeremiah was writing in the 6thcentury BC, Bethel had received its fate. Jeremiah states, “Israel was ashamed when they trusted in Bethel.” This shows that the Israelites had repented of their sins. Zechariah, writing in around 520 BC, reveals that Bethel once again became the “House of God”. “The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, ‘Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?’” (Zechariah 7:2-3)
During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (605-562), the Israelites were enslaved. After Cyrus the Great conquered the empire in 539 BC, the exiles were allowed to return from Babylon. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the number of male Israelites that returned to each city. There is, however, a discrepancy in numbers; Ezra records that 223 men returned to Bethel and Ai but Nehemiah claims it was 123. Nehemiah also records that it was the descendants from the tribe of Benjamin that reclaimed Bethel and its settlements.
Although not recorded in the Bible, Bethel was inhabited during the time of the Maccabees (167-37 BC) and built up by Bacchidies, a Hellenistic general and friend of the Syrian-Greek King Demetrius. The last written historical record of Bethel tells us the emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) captured the town, but after that, it fell into obscurity.
If the proposed town of Beitin really were the location of Bethel, the events of the Bible would have occurred there during the Iron Age. Before then, during the Bronze Age, the Canaanites lived in the era, evidenced by the remains of tombs and houses to the north and south of the town. It was around 1750 BC when the village of Bethel was elevated to the status of a town.
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?
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
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon