Cities of the Decapolis

July 18, 2018

I’m currently presenting a visualized survey of the Bible, with tonight’s lesson dealing with the Life of Christ. Following Jesus’ Galilean Ministry, He pursued a plan to invest more time alone with the Apostles, preparing them for the great work they were to do. This period is known as the Retirement Ministry, “retiring” from the crowds to be with the apostles. One region Jesus traveled during this time was the Decapolis. “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis” (Mark 7:31). This largely Gentile area was comprised of ten cities (hence the name) which were given autonomy by Rome.

One of the cities of the Decapolis was Jerash (Gerasa).

Hadrian Gate at entrance to Jerash, one of the cities of the Decapolis. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Here is a view down the Cardo of Jerash.

Cardo at Jerash. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Another city of the Decapolis was Hippos. From here you can see the Sea of Galilee.

Hippos of the Decapolis. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We’ve previously written here on Hippos.

Back to our text of Mark 7:31. Here was the site of one of Jesus’ many miracles, which gave proof of His deity:

Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. 32 They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. 33 Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; 34 and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” 35 And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. 36 And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. 37 They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:31-37).

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Paul’s Military Escort: From Jerusalem to Caesarea via Antipatris

June 20, 2018

Acts 23 records how Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander stationed in Jerusalem, upon learning of a Jewish plot to kill his prisoner, the Apostle Paul, provided for a military escort to Caesarea, the Capital. “And he called to him two of the centurions and said, ‘Get two hundred soldiers ready by the third hour of the night to proceed to Caesarea, with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen.’ 24 They were also to provide mounts to put Paul on and bring him safely to Felix the governor” (vv.23-24). These unusual measures were taken because Paul, although a Jew, was also a Roman citizen. It was upon previously learning that fact (Acts 22:25-29), that the Commander provided for Paul’s safe transport to the Governor’s residence, Herod’s Praetorium. Claudius Lysias certainly did not want responsibility for the assassination of a Roman citizen on his watch!

Their route from Jerusalem to Caesarea took them through Antipatris: “So the soldiers, in accordance with their orders, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris” (Acts 23:31).

Antipatris, a stopping point on Paul’s escort to Caesarea. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

This past March, Ferrell Jenkins and I saw the RACE Show (Roman Army and Chariot Experience) in the Roman amphitheater at Jerash of the Decapolis (in today’s Jordan). This helps us visualize the Roman soldiers/spearmen that would have accompanied Paul.

Roman soldiers (actors) at Jerash of the Decapolis. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

From there Paul was taken on to Caesarea: “But the next day, leaving the horsemen to go on with him, they returned to the barracks. When these had come to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him” (Acts 23:32-33).

Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. Ruins of the Palace. Paul was taken here. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

The closing verse of Acts 23 records the Governor’s (Felix) reception of Paul: “‘I will give you a hearing after your accusers arrive also,’ giving orders for him to be kept in Herod’s Praetorium” (v.35). There is on-site at Caesarea some artwork that helps us to visualize the Praetorium.

Artwork showing Herod’s Palace at Caesarea. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

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Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem and the Role of the Spirit

May 16, 2018

As Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey draws to a close, the text states, “After looking up the disciples [at Tyre], we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). At first glance it would seem that the Holy Spirit is instructing Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Is that what the passage means?

View of Jerusalem, looking west, from Mt. of Olives. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Every passage of Scripture has a context. Previously Luke recorded, “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21, ESV). Then a few verses later, ” And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there” (20:22, ESV). We know that capitalization is supplied by the translators but you see that the English Standard Version, along with many others, indicate this is the Holy Spirit, not Paul’s spirit, in these texts, Who is directing Paul. Further, that Paul’s journey to Jerusalem was clearly endorsed by the Lord is seen in 23:11, “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (ESV). Additionally, when Paul and his companions were forbidden by the Holy Spirit (on the 2nd Journey) to preach in Asia, Mysia and Bithynia, they did not resist the Spirit, but passed through those regions on to Macedonia (Acts 16:1-10). These passage furnish the surrounding context in which Acts 21:4 must be viewed.

J.W. McGarvey wrote, “We are not to understand that these entreaties [in our opening text, 21:4] were dictated by the Spirit; for this would have made it Paul’s duty to desist from his purpose; but the statement means that they were enabled to advise him not to go, by knowing, through the Spirit, what awaited him. The knowledge was supernatural; the advice was the result of their own judgment” (A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p.255).

Bob & Sandra Waldron explained, “The Spirit is telling Paul there will be trouble, but it is the people who are begging him not to go” (Go Tell the Good News, p.184).

I do believe that this gives the best explanation of Acts 21:4, as any other view would contradict the related texts immediately before and after the passage. I’m convinced this must be the approach when approaching a challenging text–explanations must be ruled out which contradict other plain passages of scripture.


“Who Sent out the Wild Donkey Free?”

April 7, 2018

In the concluding chapters of the book of Job, God asks a series of rhetorical questions to help Job see the incomprehensible greatness of God. Many of these questions have to do with God’s creative power.

5 “Who sent out the wild donkey free? And who loosed the bonds of the swift donkey, 6 To whom I gave the wilderness for a home And the salt land for his dwelling place? 7 “He scorns the tumult of the city, The shoutings of the driver he does not hear. 8 “He explores the mountains for his pasture And searches after every green thing. (Job 39:5-8, NASB).

Note the translation of the NKJV: “Who set the wild donkey free? Who loosed the bonds of the onager” (Job 39:5).

The onager, the wild donkey referenced in Job 39:5. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

I had the opportunity this past week in Israel to visit the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, situated in the Southern Arabah, and photograph animals that are native to the Bible lands. This photo helps us visualize the animal (the onager) God was mentioning to Job in our above text.

The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible has the following info in its entry on “animals”:

The onager or Syrian wild ass (Equus hemionus hemihippus) is an intermediate between the true horse and the true ass. Its ears are longer than those of a horse but shorter than those of an ass. The front hooves are narrow; there are chestnuts (callouslike spots on the inside of the knees) on the front legs only, and the tail is short-haired for a long distance from its root so that it appears to be tufted.

The Sumerians (ancient Mesopotamians) were able to domesticate the onager, which was eventually replaced by the horse. It was used to draw chariots in Ur; a number of onagers were buried with their vehicles in a royal grave that dates from about 2500 BC. Later the wild onager was a favorite hunter’s prize for Babylonian and Assyrian kings.

The onager was very common in the steppe lands near Israel where it was described as a freedom-loving desert animal (Jb 24:5; 39:5–8; Ps 104:11; Is 32:14; Jer 2:24; Hos 8:9). Ishmael was described as “a wild ass of a man” (Gn 16:12), one who could not adjust to domestic life. Nebuchadnezzar lived among the wild asses when he was mentally ill (Dn 5:21). Drought seems to have been responsible for the population decline of the onager in biblical times (Jer 14:6). The modern onager (Equus hemionus onager) is slightly larger than the Syrian wild ass which is extinct. (Vol. 1, p. 94).

As Job learned more of the greatness of the awesome God he faithfully served, his faith and trust grew in the most difficult of circumstances.

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Trip Summary &the Siq at Petra

March 30, 2018

Ferrell Jenkins & I are at the TLV airport, awaiting flights (different airlines) to Florida and Sweet Home Alabama respectively. It has been a great trip. In Israel we’ve traveled and photographed from “Dan to Beersheba”, and on down to Elath. Our time was rather equally divided between Jordan and Israel. We’ve seen the Mediterranean, the Jordan (and some of its tributaries: the Banias, a sliver of the Dan, the Senir), the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. On the Jordan side we were able to see the Arnon and the Jabbok (where Jacob wrestled with the Angel).

There is such variety in the land: a bit of snow could be seen on Mt. Hermon, the highest point of elevation in Israel. At the Dead Sea we were at the lowest point on earth. We traversed longitudinal zones: the coastal plain, the gently rising hills of the Shephelah, the hill country of Judea, Samaria and Galilee; the Jordan Valley, and the Trans-Jordan Plateau. We saw numerous green fields, some with crops, much agriculture, but also the barren desert.

I learned a lot on this trip, enjoyed the companionship of a valued professor, esteemed friend, and fellow-worker. I took a few thousand photos which hopefully find use in various venues of teaching, preaching, classes and writing, as well as resources for our local congregation.

For now I’ll share a photo of the Siq at Petra:

The Siq at Petra. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The 1.2km siq, or canyon, with its narrow, vertical walls, is undeniably one of the highlights of Petra. The walk through this magical corridor, as it snakes its way towards the hidden city, is one full of anticipation for the wonders ahead – a point not wasted on the Nabataeans who made the passage into a sacred way, punctuated with sites of spiritual significance.

The Siq starts at an obvious bridge, beside a modern dam. The dam was built in 1963, on top of a Nabataean dam dated AD 50, to stop floodwater from Wadi Musa flowing through the Siq. To the right, Wadi Muthlim heads through a Nabataean tunnel – the start (or finish) of an exciting hike. The entrance to the Siq was once marked by a Nabataean monumental arch. It survived until the end of the 19th century, and some remains can be seen at twin niches on either side of the entrance. Many people charge through the Siq impatient to get to Petra. That’s a pity because the corridor of stone is worth enjoying for its own sake and the longer you take to travel through it, the more you can savour the final moment of arrival. Technically, the Siq, with its 200m-high walls, is not a canyon (a gorge carved out by water), but a single block that has been rent apart by tectonic forces. At various points you can see where the grain of the rock on one side matches the other – it’s easiest to spot when the Siq narrows to 2m wide. The original channels cut into the walls to bring water into Petra are visible, and in some places the 2000-year-old terracotta pipes are still in place. A section of Roman paving was revealed after excavations in 1997 removed 2m of soil accumulation.

Some historians speculate that the primary function of the Siq was akin to the ancient Graeco-Roman Sacred Way. Some of the most important rituals of Petra’s spiritual life began as a procession through the narrow canyon, and it also represented the end point for Nabataean pilgrims. Many of the wall niches that are still visible today along the Siq’s walls were designed to hold figures or representations (called baetyls) of the main Nabataean god, Dushara. These small sacred sites served as touchstones of the sacred for pilgrims and priests, offering them a link to the more ornate temples, tombs and sanctuaries in the city’s heart, reminding them that they were leaving the outside world, and on the threshold of what was for many a holy city. At one point the Siq opens out to reveal a square tomb next to a lone fig tree. A little further on, look for a weathered carving of a camel and caravan man on the left wall. The water channel passes behind the carving. Hereafter, the walls almost appear to meet overhead, shutting out the sound and light and helping to build the anticipation of a first glimpse of the Treasury. It’s a sublime introduction to the ancient city. (Lonely Planet Jordan: Travel Guide).


At Biblical Elath, on the Red Sea

March 27, 2018

The past two days Ferrell Jenkins and I have explored various sites in the Arabah (see Deut. 1:1 & etc., NASB), using Elath (spellings vary) as our base. This evening I took a photo looking out to the Red Sea.

Looking out to the Red Sea from Elath. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

It was in this area that King Solomon stationed a fleet of ships: “King Solomon also built a fleet of ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom” (1 Kings 9:26).  This was made possible through the cooperation of the Phoenicians. 2 Chronicles 8 records, “Then Solomon went to Ezion Geber and Elath on the seacoast, in the land of Edom. And Hiram sent him ships by the hand of his servants, and servants who knew the sea. They went with the servants of Solomon to Ophir, and acquired four hundred and fifty talents of gold from there, and brought it to King Solomon” (vv.17-18).

Note the location of Elath:

Location of Elath on the Red Sea. BibleAtlas.com.

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Beit Shan in Israel, where King Saul’s Body Was Fastened

March 25, 2018

A slight (and temporary) “wrong turn” today put us in position to get a different view of Beit Shan than what I’ve previously had. What is so significant about this site (among many other considerations) is that when King Saul and his sons died in battle (on nearby Mt. Gilboa) against the Philistines, they decapitated Saul and fastened his lifeless body and that of his sons for display on the city walls.

Tel Beit Shan, where the bodies of Saul & his sons were desecrated. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Your view to the left shows Trans-Jordan toward Jabesh-Gilead, from where brave Israelites came to take down the bodies. Read the text to see the story:

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua the sons of Saul. 3 The battle went heavily against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was badly wounded by the archers. 4 Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and pierce me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him. 6 Thus Saul died with his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men on that day together. 7 When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley, with those who were beyond the Jordan, saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned the cities and fled; then the Philistines came and lived in them. 8 It came about on the next day when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 They cut off his head and stripped off his weapons, and sent them throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. 10 They put his weapons in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. 11 Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all the valiant men rose and walked all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. 13 They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days. (1 Sam. 31:1-13).

In Roman times Beth Shan became one of the cities of the Decapolis.

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