“I Was the King’s Cupbearer” (Nehemiah)

July 20, 2017

Nehemiah, whom God used to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (444 BC), served during the administration of the Persian King Artaxerxes (464-423 BC). Nehemiah states, “For I was the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11).

Drinking Cup. Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Professor Edwin Yamauchi has some helpful information on what it would have meant to be a “cupbearer”:

“Cupbearer” (mašqeh is a Hiphil participle of the verb šaqāh) literally means “one who gives (someone) something to drink.” It occurs twelve times in the OT in the sense of “cupbearer,” e.g., in 1 Kings 10:5 and 2 Chronicles 9:4 of Solomon’s attendants. In the Joseph story it occurs nine times (Gen 40:1–41:9), but its significance is obscured by the KJV and the RSV, which translate the word “butler.” That the cupbearer could have other responsibilities as well is indicated by Tobit 1:22: “Now Ahikar was cupbearer, keeper of the signet, and in charge of administration of the accounts, for Esarhaddon had appointed him second to himself.” For archaeological evidence of Persian wine services, see P.R.S. Moorey, “Metal Wine-Sets in the Ancient Near East,” Iranica Antiqua 15 (1980): 181ff.
Varied sources suggest something about Nehemiah as a royal cupbearer:

1. He would have been well-trained in court etiquette (cf. Dan 1:4–5).

2. He was probably a handsome individual (cf. Dan 1:4, 13, 15; Jos. Antiq. XVI, 230 [viii.1]).

3. He would certainly know how to select the wines to set before the king. A proverb in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Qamma 92b) states: “The wine belongs to the master but credit for it is due to his cupbearer.”

4. He would have to be a convivial companion, willing to lend an ear at all times.

5. He would have great influence as one with the closest access to the king, able to determine who was able see his master.

6. Above all Nehemiah had to be one who enjoyed the unreserved confidence of the king. The great need for trustworthy court attendants is underscored by the intrigues endemic to the Achaemenid court. Xerxes, father of Artaxerxes I, was killed in his own bedchamber by Artabanus, a courtier (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job. Vol. 4, p. 683).

H.G.M. Williamson notes:

Royal cupbearers in antiquity, in addition to their skill in selecting and serving wine and their duty in tasting it as proof against poison, were also expected to be convivial and tactful companions to the king. Being much in his confidence, they could thus wield considerable influence by way of informal counsel and discussion. Texts and pictures from many Ancient Near Eastern sources (including Achaemenid) supporting this statement have been helpfully collected by Yamauchi, ZAW 92 (1980) 132–42. The portrayal fits admirably with the sequel in chap. 2. It may be noted also that the office of cupbearer could be combined with other important offices. (Word Biblical Commentary, Ezra, Nehemiah. Vol. 16, p. 174).

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The Euphrates, at Zeugma/Seleucia

June 20, 2017

We are currently teaching the OT book of Ezra in our local congregation. Ezra 8 mentions Ahava as a place (v.15) and a river (note NET: “canal” and NLT: “Ahava Canal” (vv.21,31).

This [Ahava] has not been identified, though it appears from v 21 that both the canal (lit., “river”) and the locality shared the same name. We must assume from the context that it was a large open space close to Babylon. Babylon itself was built on the Euphrates river from which flowed a number of artificial canals and waterways for defensive purposes (cf. IDB 1, 334–38; Ezek 1:1; Ps 137:1). Ahava was no doubt one of these (Williamson, H. G. M. Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 116).

Our photo shows the Euphrates at Zeugma, named Selucia during the Grecian intertestamental period.

Euphrates River at Zeugma. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

I took this photo in Upper Mesopotamia, near the Birecik Dam, well north of the area referenced in Ezra 8, but it serves well for illustrative purposes. In the foreground are pistachio trees.

Pistachio tree, close-up. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Originally, the ancient city of Zeugma was founded as a Greek settlement by Seleucus I Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander the Great, in 300 BC. The city was called “Zeugma”, because of the bridge across the Euphrates River that was made of pontoons, thus connecting the two banks of the river. In Greek, “zeugma” means “bridge-passage” or “bridge of boats”. The population of the city at its peak was approximately 80,000.

In 64 BC the city was conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire. During Roman rule, the city became one of the attractions in the region, due to its commercial potential originating from its geo-strategic location because the city was on the Silk Road connecting Antioch to China via a bridge of pontoons across the river Euphrates, which defined the border with the Persian Empire until the late 2nd century.

In 256 AD, Zeugma experienced an invasion and was destroyed by the Sassanid king, Shapur I. The damage from the invasion was so drastic that Zeugma was not able to recover for a long time. To make the situation even worse, a violent earthquake buried the city beneath rubble. Indeed, during the rest of its time under Roman rule, the city never regained the prosperity it had once achieved.

Zeugma and environs remained part of the Roman empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries the city was ruled by the Early Byzantium or Eastern Roman Empire. As a result of the ongoing Arab raids the city was abandoned once again. Later on, in the 10th and 12th centuries, a small Abbasid group settled in Zeugma.

Finally a village called Belkis was founded at the site in the 17th century. (Wikipedia).

To see another of my photos of the Euphrates click here. Ferrell Jenkins has several entries on the Euphrates including here and here.

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Benedict Arnold’s Travels Up the Kennebec River En Route to Quebec

June 13, 2017

The sub-title for Leon’s Message Board is “Bible History and Geography…and More.” Today’s post from Maine is in the “and more” category. Before Benedict Arnold became know as the infamous traitor to his country, he led a force of 1,100 Continental Army troops on an expedition from Cambridge, Massachusetts to the gates of Quebec City. Part of that journey took him and his men up the Kennebec River coming to what is now Skowhegan, October 4, 1775. We had opportunity today while in nearby Waterville to visit this area.

Looking down the Kennebec. Arnold and his men came upstream here, south of Skowhegan. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here is a view looking up the Kennebec toward Skowhegan.

Looking up the Kennebec to Skowhegan. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

When Arnold and his men arrived at the falls at Skowhegan, portage was necessary. This is the location; now there is a dam.

At the Falls at Skowhegan where Arnold and his men took portage. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

An interesting diary entry from a solder, Captain Thayer wrote in his journal while passing through Skowhegan: at this time:

The carrying place is across an island…The people call this place Canaan; a Canaan indeed! the land is good, the timber large and of various kinds, such as pine, oak, hemlock and rock maple. Last night our clothes being wet were frozen a pane of glass thick, which proved very disagreeable, being obliged to lie in them…The people are courteous and breathe nothing but liberty.

We’re enjoying our visit in Maine, as our speaking appointments continue this week.

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Armageddon (Megiddo), where Good King Josiah Was Slain

May 19, 2017

Megiddo is mentioned several times in the Old Testament, and once in the NT (Rev. 16:16). In the Old Testament, nearing the close of the kingdom of Judah, good King Josiah (r. 640-609 BC) was mortally wounded there in battle by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, who was en route to Carchemish to war against Babylon. The international highway, the Via Maris, connected Egypt to Mesopotamia, so Neco was on that route, which passed through the strategic site of Megiddo.

However, Josiah would not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to make war with him; nor did he listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to make war on the plain of Megiddo.  The archers shot King Josiah, and the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.”  So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in the second chariot which he had, and brought him to Jerusalem where he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.  Then Jeremiah chanted a lament for Josiah. And all the male and female singers speak about Josiah in their lamentations to this day. (2 Chron. 35:22-25, NAU).

Tel Megiddo in distance. A portion of the “Plain of Megiddo” or the “Valley of Megiddo” is in foreground. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

One of the sites my group visited in November ’16 was Megiddo.

View from Megiddo through ancient gate looking to plain below. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Here is a view of some of the archaeological excavations in foreground, with another view of the plain/valley below.

Excavations/view from Megiddo. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

These photos help provide the setting for the texts that mention biblical Megiddo.

I have made numerous posts on Megiddo; click here, here, herehere, here, and here.

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Jerome of Bethlehem

May 18, 2017

We recently had the opportunity to visit Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born. In addition to Bethlehem’s being important for that reason (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:1-20; Matt. 2:1-13), this location is also significant due to the work of Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus).

Statue of Jerome in Bethlehem, outside of the Church of St. Catherine. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Jerome was born at Stridon, Dalmatia, ca. AD 347. He is especially noted for his translation of the Bible into Latin.

In 384 Jerome took up residence in Bethlehem, to be joined two years later by Paula and her daughter Eustochium. Together they made Bethlehem a great monastic centre; within this framework Jerome wrote prolifically, his most notable achievement being a new translation of the Old and New Testaments (the Vulgate) which remained the authoritative version of the Bible for Catholics until the C20. (Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, Oxford Archaeological Guides, p.233).

This cave is said to be Jerome’s study, where he did his monumental literary work.

Jerome’s study in Bethlehem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

See Ferrell Jenkin’s article (Dec. ’08) on Jerome here.

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Herod’s Gate in Jerusalem

May 17, 2017

We continue to explore some of the gates of Jerusalem, as we share some our photos from our recent trip to Israel. Today’s post features Herod’s Gate.

Herod’s Gate in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor writes:

The official name of this gate is Bab ez-Zahr, ‘the Flowered Gate’. It got its present name only in the C16 or C17 because pilgrims believed a Mamluk house inside near the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation to be the palace of Herod Antipas. The original entrance is in the east face of the tower. It was at this point that the Crusaders first established a bridgehead on the walls at noon on 15 July 1099. Just beside the west face of the first tower going towards Damascus Gate the channel of an aqueduct is marked by a series of irregular covering slabs. Pottery embedded in the plaster of the last repair show it to have been in use until the late C3AD or early C4. The ditch in which the present road runs must therefore be subsequent to this date, because it cuts the aqueduct. This suggests that the earliest wall on the present line at this point must be dated to the last years of Aelia Capitolina. Slightly further west the wall makes a curve inward and follows the rim of an ancient quarry which extended across the road into what is now the bus station; for details see SOLOMON’S QUARRIES (p. 162). The weight of the wall caused part of the roof of the quarry to cave in. The small walled section in the centre at ground level enshrines part of a sloping glacis of uncertain date. The wall of Herod Agrippa I (AD 41–4) linking Damascus Gate with the East Gate in the ECCE HOMO CONVENT (p. 35), must have turned south on the highest point to the west now occupied by the Spafford Hospital. (The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, Oxford Archaeological Guides, p. 14).

We previously posted (in 2011) on Herod’s Gate here.

Sign pointing to Herod’s Gate. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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Making Friends in Jerusalem en route to Damascus Gate

May 16, 2017

When traveling in the Bible lands I enjoy seeing family life there, parents with children engaging in various activities–often outdoors cooking, or playing, or just out walking. On my recent trip to Israel, this young man was walking with his Dad as I was making my way toward the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. He was about the same age as one of my grandchildren.

A new friend in Jerusalem.

The two caught up with me from behind, and the Dad told me his son wanted to ask me where I was from. I answered him, “the United States,” and “Alabama.” A broad smile resulted. I asked permission to take his photo, and it was granted; one of me with my new friend and one of father and son.

Local father and son in Jerusalem, wanting to make my acquaintance. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

I gave the father my card with URL for this blog, and told him to check it out to see their photo.

The Damascus Gate is located on the north side of Jerusalem, so named because this would be the direction going out of Jerusalem to Damascus, ca. 150 miles NNW. The Jews call this gate the Shechem Gate, and the Arabs call it Bab el-Amud.

Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This entrance gate along the present north wall dramatically accents the spot that has been the main north entrance to Jerusalem for almost two millennia. R. W. Hamilton’s sounding here in 1937 and Basil Hennessey’s excavations in the 1960s; have revealed, below the modern entrance, layer upon layer of earlier gateways, reaching back through Arab, Crusader and Byzantine constructions to Roman Age foundations. The earliest certain construction here dates to Aelia Capitolina, the second to fourth-century C.E. city of Hadrian, but both Hamilton and Hennessey felt they found evidence that Hadrian’s gateway was built on foundations that went back to the Second Temple period. BAS Biblical World in Pictures. (2003).

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