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?

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Chester Beatty Library at Dublin Castle

October 18, 2017

Today concludes our Emerald Tour of Ireland, and was a day of “free time” for our group. Some of us included a visit to the Dublin Castle, because here the Chester Beatty Library is located. Among the interesting collections there are some of the very earliest New Testament texts, dating to c.AD 200.

Johnny Felker & Leon Mauldin at Chester Beatty Library. Photo by Martha Felker.

Photos are not permitted inside the exhibition.

Some info re: the New Testament manuscripts:

There are three New Testament manuscripts that are part of the Chester Beatty Papyri. The first, P. I, is labeled under the Gregory-Aland numbering system as P45 and was originally a codex of 110 leaves that contained the four canonical gospels and Acts. 30 fragmentary leaves remain, consisting of two small leaves of the Gospel of Matthew chapters 20/21 and 25/26, portions of the Gospel of Mark chapters 4-9, 11-12, portions of the Gospel of Luke 6-7, 9-14, portions of the Gospel of John 4-5, 10-11, and portion of the Acts of the Apostles 4-17. The ordering of the gospels follows the Western tradition, Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, Acts. These fragments are palaeographically dated to the first half of the 3rd century.

P46 is the second New Testament manuscript in the Chester Beatty collection (P. II), and was a codex that contained the Pauline Epistles dating c. 200.[citation needed] What remains today of the manuscript is roughly 85 out of 104 leaves consisting of Romans chapters 5-6, 8-15, all of Hebrews, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, virtually all of 1–2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians 1-2, 5. The leaves have partially deteriorated, resulting in the loss of some lines at the bottom of each folio. The manuscript split up between the Chester Beatty Library and the University of Michigan. Scholars do not believe the Pastoral epistles were included originally in the codex, based on the amount of space required in the missing leaves; they conclude 2 Thessalonians would have occupied the final portion of the codex. The inclusion of Hebrews, a book that was questioned canonically and not considered authored by Paul, is notable. The placement of it following Romans is unique against most other witnesses, as is the ordering of Galatians following Ephesians.

P. III is the last New Testament manuscript, P47, and contains 10 leaves from the Book of Revelation, chapters 9-17. This manuscript also dates to the 3rd century, and Kenyon describes the handwriting as being rough (Wikipedia).

It’s been a great tour.

From the Chester Beatty Library Brochure.


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.

Click image for larger view.

 


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.

Click image for larger view.


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.

Click images for larger view.


Royal Tombs of the House of David

August 15, 2017

On the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), which marked the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel and the discharge of the Great Commission, Peter affirmed the resurrection of the crucified Christ, showing the fulfillment of Psalm 16:8-11 (Acts 2:25-28). Peter explained,

Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses (Acts 2:29-32, NASB). (Note: the NASB uses upper-case in NT texts to indicate quotations from the OT).

Here is the proposed site for the tombs of the house of David located at the SE portion of the City of David, excavated by Raymond Weill, 1913-1914.

Royal Tombs of the House of David, proposed site. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

And a close-up shot:

Proposed Tomb of the House of David. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Dr. Todd Bolen notes,

Most scholars today reject this identification. These structures do not have features typical of Iron Age tombs; there are no burial benches or repositories. Because of later destruction, there is no stratigraphy, pottery, or burial gifts which would make dating the structure possible. Some scholars think that it dates to the Herodian period and may have been used as wine cellars for the structures built above it. There is no other candidate for the tomb of David.

The point to be remembered is that unlike the Subject of David’s psalm, David was buried, and his body saw corruption. The One of Whom he spoke saw no corruption. His body did not decay, and His spirit was not left in the Hadean realm–up from the grave He arose! The resurrection of Jesus is at the very heart of the Gospel message. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus there IS no Gospel!

We recently wrote on David’s Tomb here.

Click images for larger view.