“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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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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St. Stephen’s Gate

May 12, 2017

St. Stephen’s Gate, also known as the “Lion’s Gate,” is one of seven open Gates in Jerusalem’s Old City Walls. This gate is located on the Eastern Wall. It is  It is called “St. Stephen’s Gate” because of the tradition that Stephen, the first martyr of the church (Acts 6-7), was stoned to death at this location just outside the city walls.

St. Stephen’s Gate, located on Jerusalem’s Eastern Wall. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In Acts 7, Luke records Stephen’s sermon to the Sanhedrin (the ruling council overseen by the High Priest), as well as the response:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, . . . you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:51-60).

Murphy-O’Connor notes, “The current Hebrew name, ‘Lions’ Gate’, is due to a mistake. The pairs of animals are in fact panthers, the heraldic emblem of the Mamluk sultan Baybars (1260–77), which Suliman’s architects set on either side of the gate to celebrate the Ottoman defeat of the Mamluks in 1517” (The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford Archaeological Guides, p.21).

I previously posted on this gate here.

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What Time Is It?

May 4, 2017

Today we were able to visit Ein Yael, Philip’s Spring, located on the ancient Jerusalem-Gaza route. A number of interesting artifacts were on the site, including this sundial.

Sundial at Ein Yael. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This helps illustrate an event in the life of King Hezekiah of Judah, one of Judah’s best kings. He faithfully led the nation in very difficult times. Then he became sick and was near death. God sent the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah with the message, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (Isaiah 38:1). Hezekiah fervently prayed to the Lord, his prayer was heard, and the Lord promised to add 15 years to his life. As a sign to confirm this promise, God said, “Behold, I will bring the shadow on the sundial, which has gone down with the sun on the sundial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward” (Isa. 38:7,8, NKJV).

Some translations render the Hebrew term maalah as “stairway” (see NAS, CSB). The NET Bible notes, “These steps probably functioned as a type of sundial.”

Whether the term means “steps” or “sundial,” certainly what is under consideration is a means of telling time by the moving shadow cast by the sun. The miraculous sign was that the shadow would return, it would go backward by 10 “steps” or “degrees.”

Whether what is intended in Isaiah 38 is this type of sundial, or another system (steps, stairway) is meant, the principle is the same. God miraculously returned the shadow to confirm to Hezekiah that He would extend his life as He had promised.

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Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

May 3, 2017

Today we had opportunity to visit the temple mount in Jerusalem. This is a wide-angle shot I made this morning:

Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The very recognizable Dome of the Rock at center approximates the site of Solomon’s temple, as well as the 2nd temple, built after the return from Babylonian Captivity and vastly renovated by Herod the Great.

This area is known as Mt. Moriah. This was the location where Abraham took Isaac in obedience to God’s command to offer him as a sacrifice, though He stopped Abraham prior to the actual event (Gen. 22:1-13). Years later, when Solomon built the temple, the Bible says, “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah . . .” (2 Chron. 3:1, ESV).

The temple mount consists of about 36 acres. When the New Testament speaks of Jesus teaching in the temple, or of the early church meeting in the temple, those texts are not referring to the naos (holy place/most holy place) into which only the priests/Levites could enter; the most holy place only the high priest could enter, and that only once per year on the Day of Atonement. Rather, reference is made to the hieron, the greater temple area, consisting of its many courts and colonnades, etc.

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Sepphoris (Zippori), Capital of the Galilee

May 2, 2017

The Tetrarch Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, chose Sepphoris as his capital in Galilee (BC 4). (Later he would build Tiberias and move his capital there, 20 AD).

Much excavation, beginning in 1931, has been done in Sepphoris. In the house of Dionysus several mosaics were found, including this one featuring a woman often referred to as “Mona Lisa of the Galilee.”

The “Mona Lisa of the Galilee.” Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Sepphoris is only about an hour’s walk away from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. This was one of the sites I wanted to see on this current trip to Israel.

One of the main streets of Sepphoris. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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