Gush Halav, Israel and its Pauline Connection

January 18, 2018

Gush Halav (Arabic Jish) is located in Upper Galilee, on the northeastern slopes of Mount Meron, seven kilometers north-west of Safed (Tsfat). One of the interesting sites there is the remains of a synagogue (Roman period).

Remains of Gush Halav Synagogue, Upper Galilee, Israel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

There is some credible evidence of Paul’s family having lived at Gush Halav. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor wrote under the title “Paul’s Galilean Ancestors” the following:

Commenting on Philemon vv. 23–4 Jerome of Bethlehem (342–420) wrote, “They say that the parents of the Apostle Paul were from Gischala, [Gush Halav] a region of Judaea and that, when the whole province was devastated by the hand of Rome and the Jews scattered throughout the world, they were moved to Tarsus a town of Cilicia; the adolescent Paul inherited the personal status of his parents.” “Judaea” is used here to mean the whole of Palestine (Luke 23: 5). The likelihood that Jerome, or any earlier Christian, invented the association of Paul’s family with Gischala is remote. The town is not mentioned in the Bible. It had no connection with Benjamin, the tribe to which Paul belonged (Phil. 3: 5). It had no associations with the Galilean ministry of Jesus. And there is no evidence that it had Christian inhabitants in the Byzantine period. The Romans took control of Palestine in 63 BC, and subsequently there were a number of occasions (61, 55, 52, 4 BC, AD 6) when Jews from various parts of the country were enslaved and deported. The most probable in the case of Paul is 4 BC. (The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700, p. 297).

When Ferrell Jenkins and I visited this location in May 2017, cattle were freely roaming the grounds.

One of many cows at Gush Halav. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

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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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Mamertine Prison in Rome

July 24, 2014

It is not unusual for a tour group to discuss what was their favorite or most meaningful location/event during their trip. On our recent “Highlights of Italy Tour,” many of our group cited the Mamertine Prison in Rome as being at the top of their list. To be able to walk down to the dark prison cell, and recall Paul’s last words in 2 Tim. 4, really enhances one’s understanding of the text and of Paul’s circumstances:

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. 9 Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica — Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 12 And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come — and the books, especially the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. 15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words. 16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen! (2 Tim. 4:6-18).

Mamertine Prison in Rome. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

Mamertine Prison in Rome. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.

We cannot affirm that this is the exact part of the prison that Paul was in as he penned the above text. But this is definitely a part of the state prison complex, and it illustrates the biblical setting as Paul, near death, penned his last letter to his faithful friend and fellow-worker, Timothy. I.e., it is safe to say that Paul was in a cell like this, in this area, awaiting execution. BAS in their photo collection has this information:

Near the Forum, at the base of the Capitoline Hill, is the dungeon of the Mamertine Prison. This was the state prison of Rome, and Paul may have ended his days here.

We see the lower of two chambers constructed of blocks cut from tufa, the local porous rock. Originally, this 30-foot diameter room could be reached only through the hole visible in its ceiling. This would have been the dungeon cell for prisoners; above it is a smaller room for the warders. Conflicting Roman traditions attributed the building of the prison to different rulers of the 7th and 6th centuries B.C.E. Some modern investigations have suggested a 3rd-century B.C.E. date for this lower chamber and a 1st-century B.C.E. date for the room above, but there is no question that it was in use in Paul’s time. Christian tradition also places Peter’s final internment here, at the time of Nero’s persecution. (Biblical Archaeology Society: The Biblical World in Pictures).

The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands has this entry:

Tradition has it that during his second imprisonment Paul was detained in the Mamertine Prison in Rome. The name Mamertinus is postclassical; during the Empire the place was known simply as the Carcer. This was the ancient state prison of Rome at the foot of the Capitoline Hill. It was used as a place of detention, not of penal servitude, although executions occurred there. The upper room is a vaulted trapezoid, the sides varying in length from eleven to sixteen feet.

Below it was a subterranean chamber, originally accessible only by a hole in the roof. This Tullianum was nearly twenty-one feet in diameter and, according to Sallust, twelve feet high. All who wrote of the place described it with horror. Sallust (86–34 B.C.) described it as “exceeding dark, unsavory, and able to craze any man’s senses.” Under such circumstances the apostle would indeed have felt the need of the cloak and the books he had left behind at Troas (2 Tim. 4:13).

As Paul wrote Second Timothy, he had none of the optimism expressed in his earlier letters, when he expected release. He had obtained a preliminary hearing, and it had been a dismal failure (2 Tim. 4:16). Though he found himself in dire circumstances, he delivered what sometimes has been called his valedictory, for he was about to “graduate.” “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6–8) (Eds. Pfeiffer & Vos, 1996).

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Scroll down to see more from our recent trip to Italy.


St. Paul’s Well

December 13, 2011

Paul is said to be a “man of Tarsus” in Acts 9:11, ASV). Tarsus was the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, located on what is today the southern coast of Turkey. It was a cultural and intellectual center in the first century. Fant and Reddish quote Strabo’s description of Tarsus as having “surpassed Athens, Alexandria, or any other place that can be named where there have been schools and lectures of philosophers” (A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, p. 324).

Not much can be seen of the Tarsus of Paul’s day, because the modern city with its population of 350,000+ is built on the ancient ruins. One exception to this is “St. Paul’s Well,” a well that dates back to Roman times.

"St. Paul's Well" at Tarsus. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Visitors to this site are told that Paul certainly drank of this well, and therefore the waters are said to have curative properties. It would be more accurate to say that because the well certainly dates back to Roman times that Paul may have drunk from this well; the fact that it goes back to the time of Paul is what gives it special value to students of Scripture.

Well at Tarsus, Paul's home. Dates back to Roman Period. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

There is an info sign on the premises:

Info Sign on location near well. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Though Tarsus was Paul’s home, as a youth he was “brought up in this city [Jerusalem], educated with strictness under Gamaliel according to the law of our ancestors” (Acts 22:3 NET). After his conversion there was a period where again Paul was in Tarsus (Acts 9:30), prior to his work in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26).

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