View toward Syria from Israel

November 15, 2017

Acts 9 records the conversion of Saul, better known later as the Apostle Paul, the former persecutor of the church of the Lord. “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (vv.1-2).

It was on his way, as he neared Damascus of Syria that he saw the resurrected Christ. Blinded by this experience, he was led by the hand into the city, where after three days he was told of Jesus’ plan for him to be an apostle, a chosen vessel to preach the Gospel. Immediately he was baptized, and at once began to preach (vv.3-22). “The rest,” as they say, “is history.”

We had the occasion last November (’16) to be on the Israel/Syria border, and look over into Syria. Paul would have gone in this direction on his way to Damascus, and we thought about that as our group stopped here to look, reflect, and take photos.

In northern Israel, looking NE into Syria. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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The Suez Canal

November 10, 2017

On most Friday afternoons I teach some homeschoolers (brilliant students) two subjects, Bible and History. Currently their world history is dealing with the 19th century. One of the topics in that time-frame is the construction of the Suez Canal. Said Pasha  gave a concession to Ferdinand de Lesseps who created a French company, The Suez Canal Company, to join the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. The canal opened under French control on November 17, 1869. (Said was Wāli of Egypt and Sudan from 1854 until 1863, officially owing allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan but in practice exercising virtual independence. 4th son of Muhammad Ali Pasha).

The Suez Canal. The Sinai Peninsula is at our back, looking across to Egypt. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Our text says:

Naturally, the countries of Europe were very interested in this canal–the Suez Canal. The canal could change the way that European countries traded with China, Japan, and the other countries of the Far East. Instead of travelling all the way down the coast of Africa, around the tip of that enormous continent, and then heading east, European ships could sail from the Mediterranean Sea straight down into the Red Sea and then turn east. When the canal was finished,it would be a hundred miles long, about twenty-six feet deep, and it would make the trip from Europe to the  East six thousand miles shorter! (The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child. Vol.4, p. 109).

This area is of tremendous biblical importance as it pertains to Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea en route to the promised land of Canaan. I have previously written here and here on the Suez.

Another view of the Suez. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The canal separates the African continent from Asia, and it provides the shortest maritime route between Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans. It is one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes. The Suez Canal is one of the most important waterways in the world.

The canal is extensively used by modern ships , as it is the fastest crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean . Tolls paid by the vessels represent an important source of income for the Egyptian government.

Railway and a sweet water canal are run on the west bank parallel to the Suez Canal. The Canal runs between Port Said harbor and the Gulf of Suez, through soils which vary according to the region. At Port Said and the surrounding area, the soil is composed over thousands of years of silt and clay sedimentations deposited by the Nile waters drifted by Damietta branch. This formation extends to Kantara, 40 km to the south of Port Said , where silt mixes with sand. The central region of the Canal between Kantara and Kabret consists of fine and coarse sands, while the southern region contains dispersed layers of rocks, varying in texture from soft sand to some calcium rocks, The side gradient of the water cross-section differs according to the nature of the soil, which is 4:1 in the north and 3:1 in the south.

The Suez Canal is a sea level Canal and the height of water level differs slightly and the extreme tidal range is 65 cm in the north and 1.9 m in the south. The banks of the Canal are protected against the wash and waves, generated by the transit of ships, by revetments of hard stones and steel sheet piles corresponding to the nature of soil in every area. On both sides of the Canal, there are mooring bollards every 125 m for the mooring of vessel in case of emergency, and kilometric sign posts helping locate the position of ships in the waterway. The navigable channel is bordered by light and reflecting buoys as navigational aids to night traffic. (http://www.suezcanal.gov.eg).

Some current stats of the use of the Suez.

Click photos for larger view. Oh BTW did I mention that the home-school students I teach on Fridays are my grandchildren?


Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi . . . More Background for Esther

September 20, 2017

The restored treasury of the Athenians at Delphi:

The Athenian Treasury was a votive building in the form of a reduced scale temple, designed to hold the multitude of Athenian offerings to the Delphi oracle. The building was constructed entirely of Parian marble and had a Doric frieze decorated with 30 metopes. It is a distyle in antis building with a porch before the entrance to the cella, measuring 10 x 6 meters.

The metopes depicted mythological themes of Theseus, Heracles, and Amazons in high relief. It is believed that two Athenian sculptors carved the metopes, each representing a distinct style or generation: one from the Archaic period, and one from the Severe style of classical art (the transition from Archaic to High Classical art). The walls of the treasury were inscribed with various texts, among which are the hymns to Apollo which included melody notation (see below).

Several dates for its construction have been suggested (with Pausanias mentioning that it was built after the battle of Marathon), but it is widely accepted that its was created sometime between 510 and 480 BCE, a period framed by the founding of the Athenian democracy and the defining battle of Marathon. (http://ancient-greece.org/museum/muse-delphi-athenians.html)

Delphi of course is “home of the famous oracle of Delphi, known as the Pythia, and the Temple of Apollo, where the oracle presided” (Fant, Clyde E.; Reddish, Mitchell G.. A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, Kindle Locations 1180-1181).

Our photo here shows the treasury at left center:

Treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Regarding the famous battle of Marathon, 490 BC, where the greatly outnumbered Greeks repelled and defeated the Persians, EyeWitnessHistory.com has the following info:

The battle of Marathon is one of history’s most famous military engagements. It is also one of the earliest recorded battles. Their victory over the Persian invaders gave the fledgling Greek city states confidence in their ability to defend themselves and belief in their continued existence. The battle is therefore considered a defining moment in the development of European culture.

In September of 490 BC a Persian armada of 600 ships disgorged an invasion force of approximately 20,000 infantry and cavalry on Greek soil just north of Athens. Their mission was to crush the Greek states in retaliation for their support of their Ionian cousins who had revolted against Persian rule.

Undaunted by the numerical superiority of the invaders, Athens mobilized 10,000 hoplite warriors to defend their territory. The two armies met on the Plain of Marathon twenty-six miles north of Athens. The flat battlefield surrounded by hills and sea was ideal for the Persian cavalry. Surveying the advantage that the terrain and size of their force gave to the Persians, the Greek generals hesitated.

One of the Greek generals – Miltiades – made a passionate plea for boldness and convinced his fellow generals to attack the Persians. Miltiades ordered the Greek hoplites to form a line equal in length to that of the Persians. Then – in an act that his enemy believed to be complete madness – he ordered his Greek warriors to attack the Persian line at a dead run. In the ensuing melee, the middle of the Greek line weakened and gave way, but the flanks were able to engulf and slaughter the trapped Persians. An estimated 6,400 Persians were slaughtered while only 192 Greeks were killed.

The remaining Persians escaped on their ships and made an attempt to attack what they thought was an undefended Athens. However, the Greek warriors made a forced march back to Athens and arrived in time to thwart the Persians. (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/pfmarathon.htm)

In our title I suggested that these events give further background to the biblical book of Esther. In our post here we showed how in 480 BC, ten years after the Battle of Marathon, the Persian King Xerxes was building his forces to again attempt to subjugate Greece. The fact that Persia was still “smarting” after her humiliating defeat by Greece helps us to see the purpose and even urgency behind those opening verses of Esther (1:1-9), where Xerxes is meeting with officials from his 127 provinces, which ranged from India to Ethiopia.

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Xerxes at Troy–Some Background for Esther

September 19, 2017

The events narrated in Esther take place during the reign of the Persian King Xerxes. “The Hebrew word used throughout the book is ʾaḥašwērôš (“Ahasuerus”) which is considered a variant of Xerxes’ name. Xerxes is the Greek form of the Persian Khshayârsha” (Huey, F. B., Jr., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 797).

The book of Esther begins by telling of a great banquet in Susa, the capital,  in the 3rd year of his reign (483 BC): “in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence” (Esther 1:3). The biblical author’s intent was not to give the details as to the why of this banquet, but historical sources are helpful. Xerxes was on a mission to gather strength and support for his invasion [ill-fated] into Greece. This is the setting for the opening verses of Esther.

In the year 480 BC Xerxes marched westward to invade and attempt to conquer Greece. En route he passed through ancient Troy, where the historian Herodotus states, “he sacrificed a thousand heifers to Athene of Ilion” (Herodotus 7:43). Ilion is the Greek name for ancient Troy.

Our photo shows the Troy sanctuary area, Stratum VIII (dated ca. 700-85 BC).

Troy Sanctuary Area. Here Xerxes, King of Persia (r.486-464 BC) offered 1,000 heifers in sacrifice to the goddess Athena, in preparation for his war on Greece. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Xerxes’ invasion of Greece was a failure. It was after his return from his disappointing catastrophe that the Jewish maiden Esther became his queen, in the “seventh year of his reign” (Esther 2:17), which would be 479 BC.

Regarding the site in our photo above, Manfred O. Korfmann writes, “The earliest structures representing a sanctuary at the nearly deserted site are those established by the Aeolian Greeks sometime after 700 BCE, thus apparently existing within the lifetime of Homer! Votive offerings confirm the existence of much earlier sacred precincts as well” (TROİA/WIL̇USA p.62).

Of the city of Troy itself Korfmann continues, “Illion became the religious and political capital of a federation of municipalities, and to the south and east of the acropolis a lower city (on a grid-plan) arose – overtop and partially dug into remains from Trois VI/VII” (ibid.63).

The ancient city Troy consists of 46 occupational levels which date back to a total of nine different cities!

Our map shows Troy, which is a site on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Map of Troy in today’s Turkey, in relation to Greece.

I have previously posted on Troy here and here.

It is good to be reminded that the events of the Bible did not take place in a vacuum. The covenant people of God interacted with the people of their day, sometimes including the world powers as was the case in the Persian period, the setting for Esther.


Esther and the Providence of God

September 12, 2017

In our local congregation (Hanceville AL) we are soon to begin a study of Esther in our Sun AM class. I’m looking forward to this study, which displays the providence of God to continue, against all odds, to fulfill His plan through the Jewish people. The promise made to Abraham to bring salvation through the promised Seed, would be accomplished, in spite of the efforts of wicked Haman to destroy all the Jews of the Persian Empire.

Ladies at Şanlıurfa, or Urfa, Southeastern Turkey. Known in ancient times as Edessa. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The festive apparel of these ladies at Şanlıurfa perhaps help us visualize the dress of that ancient culture described in Esther.

Şanlıurfa, often simply known as Urfa or in Arabic, Al-Ruha, in ancient times was Edessa, located in south-eastern Turkey; it is the capital of Şanlıurfa Province. The city is populated with primarily Arabs, Kurds and Turks. Urfa is situated on a plain about 50 miles east of the Euphrates River.

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Signing the Covenant–Nehemiah 10

August 18, 2017

I love to study the book of Nehemiah. Jerusalem’s walls that had been in ruins since the Babylonian destruction (586 BC) were rebuilt (444 BC) in just 52 days! (Neh. 6:15). The people had a mind to work (4:6); they had a godly and capable leader in Nehemiah, and the good hand of God was upon them. But the remainder of the book (chapters 7ff.) is about the necessary follow-up; the necessary commitment to covenant faithfulness, without which the newly rebuilt walls would be meaningless.

Gezer Calendar. One of the oldest examples of Hebrew script. Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

To that end Israel’s leaders/Levites promised God: “Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests” (Neh. 9:38). What follows is a listing of 84 names (Neh. 10:1-27). Nehemiah’s name appropriately is first.

The Gezer Calendar is one of the oldest examples of Hebrew script. We share it here to illustrate our Nehemiah text. Those men who signed their renewed covenant with God, as well as “the rest of the people” (10:28), were pledging themselves to obey (v.29) in their homes (v.30), their business (v.31) and worship (v.32). In short: “We will not neglect the house of our God” (v.39).

By the way, the Gezer Calendar in our photo is a school-boy’s exercise in learning the months of the year, associated with agricultural events.

Explanation of the Gezer Calendar. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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Solomon’s Pools

August 16, 2017

On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), for the first time conditions of salvation were proclaimed under the New Covenant. Three thousand responded!

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ– this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (vv. 36-41, NASB).

There were many pools right there in Jerusalem which would have been suitable for the baptism of so many, including the Pool of Siloam, the Pool(s) of Bethesda, etc. I am also mindful of “Solomon’s Pools,” south of Jerusalem, located between Bethlehem and Hebron, which were water sources for Jerusalem in the days of Jesus.

“Solomon’s Pool.” The middle of three. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

These three pools, the middle of which is in our photo here, were not built by Solomon, but by  Herod the Great, or possibly by the Hasmoneans (intertestamental period). Pilate later made repairs to the pools.

Today the pools are located in the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank.

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