The Theodotos Synagogue Inscription in Jerusalem

September 18, 2018

An interesting artifact displayed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is the dedicatory inscription, written in Greek, from the synagogue of Theodotos in Jerusalem. This inscription, made of limestone, was discovered in 1913 by Raymond Weill during excavations in the City of David.  Fant and Reddish note: “If its pre-70 C.E. dating is accurate, then this discovery provides solid evidence of a synagogue building in Jerusalem that was built during the end of the first century B.C.E. or early part of the first century C.E. (Lost Treasures of the Bible, Kindle Locations 4613-4614).

Theodotus built the synagogue “for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments.”

Hundreds of synagogues stood in ancient Jerusalem before their destruction by Titus’s Roman forces in 70 A.D.; in one of them hung the following Greek inscription, carved prominently into the 25-by-17-inch limestone slab shown above: “Theodotus son of Vettenus, priest and synagogue leader, son of a synagogue leader, grandson of a synagogue leader, rebuilt this synagogue for the reading of the Law and the teaching of the commandments, and the hostelry, rooms and baths, for the lodging of those who have need from abroad. It was established by his forefathers, the elders and Simonides.” The fact that the language of the inscription is Greek, not Hebrew, and its allusion to “those who have need from abroad,” suggest that this synagogue was used by Jews from the Diaspora, and that it housed large numbers of visiting pilgrims. Some scholars have identified it with the Synagogue of the Freedmen (former slaves in the Roman Empire), mentioned in Acts 6:9 (Shanks, BAR 29:4 July/Aug 2003).

The Theodotus Synagogue Inscription. Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The term archisynagogos, “ruler of the synagogue,” is significant. Regarding this title held by Theodotus  and his grandfather, Fant & Reddish note:

Not only did Theodotus hold this office in the synagogue, but according to the inscription so did his father and his grandfather. If the traditional dating of the inscription is correct, then Theodotus’s grandfather would have been archisynagogos sometime during the first century B.C.E. This is the earliest known use of this title for the person who served as the leader of the Jewish synagogue, pre-dating by approximately fifty years other examples of a similar use of this term. (Treasures 4615-4616).

This term archisunagogos is found in the following passages in Acts:

  • ESV Acts 13:15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.”
  • Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.
  • Acts 18:17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.

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Libnah and Edom Revolted against Judah’s King Jehoram

September 11, 2018

2 Chronicles tells the story of Judah’s King Jehoram, who did “evil in the sight of the LORD” (unlike his father, good King Jehoshaphat). Things began to fall apart politically, as Edom to Judah’s south, and Libnah, to the west revolted:

In his days Edom revolted against the rule of Judah and set up a king over themselves. Then Jehoram crossed over with his commanders and all his chariots with him. And he arose by night and struck down the Edomites who were surrounding him and the commanders of the chariots. So Edom revolted against Judah to this day. Then Libnah revolted at the same time against his rule, because he had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers (21:8-10).

Note the reason for the revolt: “because he [Jehoram] had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers.”

Excavations have been conducted for many years at Tel Burna, believed by many to be the site of Libnah.

Tel Burna, proposed site of Libnah. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The Tel Burna Excavation Project has a website here.

Another nearby site which has also been proposed is that of Tel Zayit, the excavated under the direction of Ron Tappy of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Tel-Zayit, another proposed site for Libnah. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Both of these sites, located in the Judean Shephelah, are Iron Age Israelite cities and are good candidates for biblical Libnah; further excavation and research hopefully will be more definitive. See map here below which indicates the proposed location of Libnah (Tel Burna). Libnah was located on the western edge of Judah, just southeast of the Philistine city of Gath (Tel es-Safi), placing it near the Judean/Philistine border.

Google map shows Tel Burna, proposed site of Libnah, SE of Gath (Tel es-Safi).

The well-known city of Petra (of the Nabateans) was within the territory of Old Testament Edom.

Edom also rebelled against Judah’s King Jehoram. This view is in the vicinity of Petra. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Territory of Edom, south of Judah. Map by Scott Richardson.

Among the interesting things said about King Jehoram:

  • Judah increasingly follows the apostate lead of Israel, with its Baal worship introduced by Jezebel (2 Kings 8:18; cf. 1 Kings 16:31).
  • Jehoram of Judah is the brother-in-law of King Jehoram (or Joram) of Israel. The king of Israel was Ahab’s son; Jehoram of Judah is Ahab’s son-in-law, having married Athaliah the daughter of Ahab.
  • Once Jehoram was established as king, he killed all his brothers with the sword (2 Chron. 21:4). He had six brothers.
  • Though Judah’s leaders might be unfaithful, YAHWEH would be faithful to the covenant that He had made with David (2 Chron. 21:7). During this time, the Messianic lineage/hope would be hanging by the thread of one life for three successive generations, but God intervened to make sure there was a “lamp” burning.
  • In contrast to his good father Jehoshaphat, Jehoram constructed “high places” for the worship of pagan gods in the mountains of Judah by which he “led Judah astray” (2 Chron. 21:10).
  • Jehoram received a letter from the prophet Elijah (2 Chron. 21:12-15); Elijah was alive for at least part of Jehoram’s reign (cf. 2 Kings 1:17). The letter took the form of a prophetic judgment, inditing him for the sins of idolatry and fratricide. Great calamity as well as a painful death by an incurable intestinal disease was to come.
  • Philistine and Arabian raiders invaded Judah and took all of Jehoram’s sons, except Ahaziah (2 Chron. 21:17). We learn subsequently that all of these sons were killed (2 Chron. 22:1). Also they took away Jehoram’s wives, except for Athaliah.
  • In 2 Chronicles 21 Jehoram’s story concludes with three negatives: At his death the people did not make the customary funeral fire to honor him (v.19); when he died no one regretted his passing (v.20); he was not buried in the tombs of the kings (v.20). How sad!

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Nain, in Galilee, where Jesus Raised the Dead

August 4, 2018

I love to read the account of the time Jesus went to the Galilean city of Nain, raising a young man from the dead. How the widowed mother must have rejoiced!

Luke narrates as follows:

Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. 12 And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. 16 Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.” (Lk. 7:11-16).

This tiny village is still remembered as the site where this resurrection occurred. A Franciscan church commemorates the event. (It is reported that the church is seldom open. The key is held by the Franciscans on Mount Tabor.)

Franciscan Church at Nain, the city where Jesus resurrected the widow’s son, Lk. 7:11-17. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to show who He was/is. The limited occasions recorded when He raised the dead give proof that He is Life, He is the source of Life. He is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). And yet such occasions show the very real compassion of Jesus as well. The compassion He had during His ministry on earth He continues to have at this present time.

Ferrell Jenkins and I had the opportunity to make a quick stop at Nain during our study tour in Israel in March, 2018.

Nain in Galilee. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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“They Let Go the Anchors”

August 1, 2018

Acts 27 is tells the exciting (and scary)  narrative of Paul’s (along with 276 passengers on the ship, v.37) voyage in the storm, shipwrecking at Malta in the Mediterranean en route to Rome. As they approached land, Luke writes, “Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak” (v.29). Then when it was day and they could see land, “And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach” (v.40). There was no loss of life, and the group wintered at what turned out to be Malta (28:1ff.).

At En Gev on the Sea of Galilee I photographed some anchors which can serve as good illustrations of the Acts 27 text.

Anchors displayed at Ein Gev, Israel. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

House of the Anchors. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Such artifacts are useful in helping to visualize the text and may be used in PPT or printed as handouts.

Anchor at Ein Gev, Israel. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

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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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The “Horns of Moses”

June 14, 2018

One of the innumerable attractions in Rome which we were able to see last week was that of Michelangelo’s Moses, housed (among other artistic works/artifacts) in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli. The statue of Moses was sculpted by Italian High Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, who created this work in the years 1513-1515. This sculpture was originally commissioned in 1505 by Pope Julius II for his tomb.

Michelangelo’s Moses, in Rome. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Moses is here depicted as seated, holding the two tablets of stone. Some suggest the intensity portrayed is meant to represent his holy anger when he cast down the stones upon being confronted with Israel’s idolatry.

But to the point of this post, Moses is seen here with two horns on his head. This is based on a rendering of Exodus 34:29 in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible in use during Michelangelo’s time. The English Standard Version renders the text, which speaks of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai after talking with God, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” The Latin Vulgate renders the Hebrew word qaran, “to shine” as “horned.” Hence the horns on Michelangelo’s Moses.

The NET Bible contains this translator note:

The word qaran is derived from the noun qeren in the sense of a “ray of light” (see Hab. 3:4). Something of the divine glory remained with Moses. The Greek translation of Aquila and the Latin Vulgate convey the idea that he had horns, the primary meaning of the word from which this word is derived. Some have tried to defend this, saying that the glory appeared like horns or that Moses covered his face with a mask adorned with horns. But in the text the subject of the verb is the skin of Moses’ face.

The statue stands 8 feet, 4 inches and is made of solid marble.

Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

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