Wednesday, 29 March 2023

A Biblical Journey Through the Bible Lands: Israel (Part 5)

Caesarea Maritima

On the west coast of Israel and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea is the ancient site of the port city of Caesarea Maritima (“by the sea”), where Herod the Great built a magnificent harbor in the first century BC, naming the refurbished city after Augustus Caesar. When Judea became a Roman province in AD 6, Caesarea Maritima replaced Jerusalem as the capital and was the home of Roman governors Pontius Pilate, Antonius Felix, and Porcius Festus. In 1961 the “Pilate Stone” was discovered here, an inscription identifying Pontius Pilate as prefect of Judea, the first known confirmation of this historical fact outside the biblical record. Caesarea Maritima was also an administrative center for King Herod Agrippa I, where he died an excruciating death in AD 44 (Acts 12:19-23).


In the early years of the Christian movement, a strong Christian community was established in this city, starting with Philip the evangelist and his family (Acts 8:40; 21:8-9), and the household of Cornelius, the first Gentile members of the Lord’s church (Acts 10:1–11:11). The city was visited by Simon Peter and six brethren from Joppa (Acts 10:23-24) and by the apostle Paul on multiple occasions (Acts 9:30; 18:22; 21:8-16), including a two-year stint in the local prison (Acts 23:23–24:27). It was here that Paul stood before Antonius Felix, Porcius Festus, and King Herod Agrippa II, and made his appeal to Nero Caesar (Acts 23:33–26:32).


Nazareth


From a small, obscure village in the first century AD,1 with an estimated population of roughly 400 or so, Nazareth is now the largest city in Israel’s northern district, with a population of around 80,000, mostly of Arab or Palestinian descent, about 31% of whom identify as “Christian.”


Nazareth was the residential home of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his stepfather Joseph (Luke 1:26-27; 2:30). After Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and early childhood in Egypt, he grew up in Nazareth, which came to be recognized as his hometown (Matt. 21:11; Luke 2:39-40; 4:16). No less than twenty times in the New Testament he is called a “Nazarene” or “Jesus of Nazareth.”Later his followers were derogatorily labeled “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).


Jesus was raised in a carpenter’s home in Nazareth and became a carpenter himself, with at least four half-brothers and at least two or more half-sisters (Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). In addition to the training young Jesus received at home (Deut. 6:6-7; Luke 2:51-52), like all other Jewish boys of his day, he would have attended the local synagogue school from age 5 or 6 until around age 15. He customarily attended and participated in the services of the Nazareth synagogue into adulthood (Luke 4:16).3


The last time Jesus was in Nazareth, even though he was among his hometown kinsmen, he was rejected and maltreated (Mark 6:1-6). When he preached his last sermon at his home synagogue, the locals, who had known him and his family for most of his life, were outraged by his messianic claims and led him to the brow of a hill on the outskirts of town to cast him over a cliff, but he managed to escape (Luke 4:16-30).


Meeting with the Saints in Nazareth

After Jesus had completed his mission on earth and his church began in Jerusalem, it quickly spread throughout the region into Galilee (Acts 9:31). In the early 1970s the Lord’s church was reestablished in Nazareth through the missionary efforts of George Bailey. Since then the Maurice and Inaam Jadon family have worked with the Arabic-speaking congregation, the only known church of Christ currently in Israel and neighboring countries. We were blessed to worship and fellowship with these dear brothers and sisters on the Lord’s day. Though we were in a foreign land with language and cultural barriers, we felt right at home with family, thanks to the common bond we share in Christ.


Mount Precipice


Just outside of Nazareth is Mount Precipice (a.k.a. Mount Precipitation or Mount Kedumim), overlooking a 1,000-feet (305 m) drop to the valley floor below. Traditionally this has been identified as the place described in Luke 4:28-30. However, the cliff is just over a mile (2 km) from the city center and traditional site of the ancient Jewish synagogue, so a closer locality is more likely. Nevertheless, Mount Precipice provides an amazing panoramic view of Nazareth to the north and the Jezreel Valley to the south. 

Jezreel Valley from Mt. Precipice Lookout
Nain 

From Mount Precipice is a clear view of the small village of Nain on the northwestern slope of the Hill of Moreh (cf. Judg. 7:1), about 6 miles (9.5 km) southeast of Nazareth. This is where Jesus traveled 32 miles (52 km) uphill from Capernaum to raise a widow’s only son from the dead (Luke 7:11-17).4


Mount Tabor


Also visible from Mount Precipice, approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) northeast of Nain at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, is Mount Tabor. It rises above the valley floor nearly 1,900 feet (580 m) and provided a boundary for the lands of Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali (Josh. 19:12, 22, 34). It was the subject of poetic and prophetic imagery (Psa. 89:12; Jer. 46:18; Hos. 5:1), and is where Barak gathered Israelite troops to battle and conquer Sisera’s Canaanite armies in the Jezreel Valley (Judg. 4:6-14). 

Mt. Tabor in Jezreel Valley


Since the third century AD it has been called the Mount of Transfiguration, the alleged site of Jesus’ transfiguration in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:1-9). But the “high mountain” is not identified in the Synoptic accounts, which if taken at face value, collectively seem to depict the glorious event having occurred farther north.


Reflections


The places we have visited on this segment of our journey are reflective of hostile people who made valiant attempts to destroy Jesus and his church. Yet viewing the agriculturally fertile valley from the outskirts of Nazareth, not far from where the Lord’s saints presently meet, has reminded us of the agricultural image of the imperishable seed of God’s word (Luke 8:11; 1 Pet. 1:23), planted anywhere in the world, that sustains his indestructible church (Matt. 16:18; Heb. 12:28). “Then to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14).


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 Nicodemus asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46, NKJV). Outside the NT, the village is not even mentioned in extant sources until the third century AD.

     2 Matt. 2:23; 26:71; Mark 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; Luke 4:34; 18:37; 24:19; John 1:45; 18:5, 7; 19:19; Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 10:38; 22:8; 26:9.

     3 See K. L. Moore, “The Education of Jesus the Rabbi,” Moore Perspective (8 Feb. 2017), <Link>.

     4 See K. L. Moore, “The Miracle at Nain (Part 1),” Moore Perspective (11 May 2022), <Link>.


Related PostsIsrael Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Jordan Part 1Part 2Palestinian West Bank

 

Image credits:

Caesarea Maritima, <https://the-israel-guide.com/mediterranean/caesarea/>

Nazareth, <https://www.bibleplaces.com/nazareth/>

Meeting with Nazareth saints, photo by Katie Wadlington and Lynne Moore

Mt. Precipice Lookout, <https://www.ingermanson.com/on-mount-precipice-with-jesus/>

Mt .Tabor, <http://www.alluringworld.com/mount-tabor/>

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

A Biblical Journey Through the Bible Lands: Israel (Part 4)

Mount Carmel


Mount Carmel, including its coastal headland, is a 24-mile (39-km) mountain range in northwest Israel near the coast of the Mediter-ranean Sea (Jer. 46:18). Not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament, the beauty of its lush vegetation, with a variety of trees, plants, and flowers, is the subject of Hebrew poetry and prophetic imagery (Song 7:5; Isa. 35:2). 

Elijah slaying Baal prophet

King Saul set up a monument for himself on Mount Carmel after defiantly disobeying the Lord’s command to totally destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:12), subsequently rejected by the Lord as Israel’s king. His successor David married Abigail the Carmelitess, the widow of Nabal the Carmelite, whose sheep and goat farm was at Carmel (1 Sam. 25:2-42; 27:3; 30:5). Later the prophet Elisha’s homebase appears to have been in this area as well (2 Kings 2:25; 4:25). 


Mount Carmel is probably best remembered as the location to which the prophet Elijah called all Israel to witness his confronting, mocking, and executing 450 prophets of Baal, while the manifested power of God turned the hearts of the people back from idolatry (1 Kings 18:19-40). It was here that Elijah prayed seven times for rain, following a three-and-a-half-year drought, and God answered his prayer (vv. 41-45; Jas. 5:17-18).  


The Jezreel Valley 


From the Mediterranean coast just north of Mount Carmel, stretching southeastward to the Jordan Valley, are the fertile plains of the Jezreel Valley, the richest agricultural land in the region. The name of the valley, shared with one of its main cities, means “God sows” (cf. Hos. 2:22-23).1 The topography is comparatively flat, providing an easily accessible north-south trade route between Mesopotamia/Asia Minor and Egypt, and east-west between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. 


The area was also militarily strategic, conducive to gathering large troops for battle (Judg. 6:33) and fighting with iron chariots (Josh. 17:16-18; 2 Kings 9:16; 10:15-16). This is where Gideon’s 300 Israelite soldiers faced seemingly insurmountable odds as they battled Midianite, Amalekite, and Arab troops “as numerous as locusts” but were triumphant by the power of God (Judg. 6:33–8:28).


In the lower Jezreel Valley, two cities of importance, because of their strategic locations, were Jezreel and Megiddo (1 Kings 4:12). The city of Jezreel, whose residents were Jezreelites,was on the southeastern end of the valley, about 12 miles (19 km) south of Nazareth at the western foothills of Mount Gilboa. King Saul’s final battle against the Philistines was fought here, resulting in his death (1 Sam. 29:1). King Ahab’s son Jehoram and widow Jezebel and all the rest of his household and allies were violently killed here (2 Kings 9:7–10:11). The name “Jezreel” was practically synonymous with bloodshed, destruction, and judgment (Hos. 1:4-5).


Tel Megiddo


In the southwest section of the Jezreel Valley (the area known as the Valley of Megiddo) are the 35-acre ruins of the ancient city of Megiddo, although in Israelite times it was less than half this size. Formerly a Canaanite city-state and administrative center for the region (Josh. 12:21), it guarded a narrow pass intersecting important military and trade routes. Inevitably it became the site of major military conflicts involving the Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, and Israelites. 


After oppressing God’s people for two decades, the Canaanite forces of Sisera were defeated at Megiddo by the divinely-empowered Israelite armies of Barak (Judg. 5:15, 19). During Solomon’s reign Megiddo was a fortified city included among Israel’s 12 districts (1 Kings 4:12; 9:15), only to be captured by the Egyptians when the kingdom divided. In the 9th century BC Judah’s king Ahaziah was killed at Megiddo (2 Kings 9:27). The Egyptians won yet another decisive battle at Megiddo in the 7th century BC, where Judah’s king Josiah was mortally wounded (2 Chron. 35:20-23).


Like Jezreel, there was so much violence and bloodshed in the plains of Megiddo that it became a symbol of divine judgment. An apocalyptic scene is depicted in Revelation 16:12-16, a vision of God’s wrath poured out on the corrupt world of sin, where the Hebraic expression Armageddon (Greek Har-maged┼Źn) is used, a compound word meaning “mountain” or “hill” of “Megiddo.” The actual city of Megiddo lies between the mountains and foothills of Mount Carmel to the northwest and Mount Gilboa to the southeast, the two separated by about 42 miles (67 kms). Megiddo is in the near vicinity of neither. In fact, the site of Megiddo is a tel or mound of debris accumulated over centuries, surrounded by vast level plains. 


The reference is clearly metaphoric, as per the symbolic character of the book of Revelation and its repeated use of well-known places to symbolize other things (e.g., Rev. 9:14; 11:8; 14:1, 8; 16:12; 21:2). “Armageddon” is a symbol, not a literal locality, representing God’s final overthrow of the forces of evil. While this played out in the eventual collapse of the tyrannical Roman Empire (Rev. 18:2), God’s righteous people ultimately reign victorious over sin forevermore (Rev. 19:11-21).


Reflections


There is a long history of defiance, resistance, and antagonism toward the divine will, relentlessly vying for the attention and allegiance of God’s people. May we learn from the tumultuous past of the places we have visited that God always wins! “Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again” (1 Kings. 18:37, NKJV).


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:

     1 Other applications of the name occur elsewhere in scripture (e.g., Josh. 15:56; 1 Sam. 27:3; 1 Chron. 4:3; Hos. 1:4).

     2 Josh. 19:18; 2 Sam. 2:9; 4:4; 1 Kings 21:1-16; 2 Kings 9:21-25.


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Image credits:

Mt Carmel & Elijah statue, <https://www.bibleplaces.com/mtcarmel/>

Jezreel, <https://www.beinharimtours.com/a-visit-to-the-jezreel-valley/>

Megiddo, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tel_Megiddo#/media/File:%D7%AA%D7%9C_%D7%9E%D7%92%D7%99%D7%93%D7%95.JPG> 

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

A Biblical Journey Through the Bible Lands: Israel (Part 3)

The Jordan River 


Serving as a natural boundary marker, the Jordan River flows north to south, winding over 223 miles (359 km) from Mt. Hermon through the Sea of Galilee into the Dead Sea. Only about 100 feet (30 meters) wide at its broadest point, and just over 17 feet (5 meters) at its deepest, it is a primary water source for an otherwise arid land. Explicitly referenced nearly 200 times in scripture, its biblical significance comes from major events occurring in, around, and through it.1 Naaman the Syrian was cleansed by God of leprosy by dipping seven times in the Jordan (2 Kings 5:10-14). About nine centuries later, Jesus was baptized in the same river (Matt. 3:13-17).


John the baptizer, in preparing the way for Christ’s ministry, went “into all the surrounding region of the Jordan” (Luke 3:3), and multitudes went out to hear his preaching from “all the region around the Jordan” (Matt. 3:5-6; 11:7-10). John was “at first” baptizing in a particular place across the river (John 10:40)—within a couple of days’ walk from Bethany near Jerusalem (John 1:28; 10:40; 11:1, 6, 17)—but no single location can be identified as his only baptismal site.2 On at least one occasion he was immersing converts from the west side of the Jordan (John 3:23, 26). Jesus and his disciples also baptized masses of penitent believers in this general area (John 3:26; 4:1-3), as the Lord’s public ministry targeted both sides of the river.3


The Sea of Galilee


The Sea of Galilee is also known as the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1; 21:1), in connection with the western coastal city of Tiberias (John 6:23), and the Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), in connection with the northwestern coastal region of Gennesaret (Matt. 14:34; Mark 6:53). The latter designation is the Grecized form of Chinnereth, the ancient Hebrew name of this body of water, its western district, and city (Num. 34:11; Deut. 3:17; Josh. 19:35).


Fed primarily by the Jordan River and smaller streams, it is not really a “sea” (salt-water ocean) by modern conceptions but a fresh-water lake, second only to the Dead Sea as the lowest lake on earth, approximately 705 feet or 215 meters below sea level (notwithstanding declining water levels). About 8.1 miles (13 km) wide and 13 miles (21 km) in length, it covers an approximate area of 41,019 acres. Because of its location in a basin-like area of the Jordan Valley, it is subject to sudden and violent storms.


Fishing was a significant part of the Galilean economy in the first century AD, presumably the backdrop of the Lord’s parable of the dragnet (Matt. 13:47-48). The first four apostles were Galilean fishermen (Mark 1:16-20). Simon Peter owned a fishing boat, which Jesus used as a teaching platform (Luke 5:3), and throughout the Gospel narratives there are recurring references to “the boat,” suggesting a particular vessel readily available for the Lord’s use.4


Jesus and his disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee numerous times, and after Christ’s resurrection, when Simon Peter decided to go fishing, he and others “got into the boat ...” (John 21:3). This would not have been a very large vessel but a comparatively “small” or “little” boat (Mark 3:9; John 21:8). A first-century-AD fishing vessel was discovered in 1986 on the northwest shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, 27 feet (8.2 meters) long and 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) wide, capable of holding 13 people and affectionately called “the Jesus Boat.” 


St. Peter's Fish

Among the numerous species of fish in the Sea of Galilee, the tilapia was one of the main types caught in antiquity. Today it is nicknamed “St. Peter’s Fish” because it is believed to be the kind of fish Peter was instructed to catch to find a coin in its mouth for the temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27). Jesus ate fish with his disciples on more than one occasion (Luke 24:42; John 21:9-12) and performed at least two feeding miracles, providing enough fish to feed thousands.5


The supernatural acts Jesus performed on the Sea of Galilee included great catches of fish, calming storms, and walking on water.6 Much of his teaching was on the lake’s shores. Of its nine coastal cities (as reported by Josephus), not counting a number of unnamed locations, the biblical record explicitly identifies six that were reached and impacted by Christ’s ministry: Capernaum, Bethsaida, Gergesa, Gennesaret, Magdala, and Tiberias.7


The Mediterranean Sea


Separating the continents of Africa and Europe, the Mediterranean Sea covers an approximate area of 970,000 square miles (2,510,000 sq km), almost completely surrounded by land comprising the so-called Mediterranean world. Biblically known as the Great Sea, the Western Sea, and the Sea of the Philistines, it provided the entire western boundary of ancient Israel,8 also bordering North Africa, Western Syria, Southern Asia Minor, Macedonia, Achaia, Italy, and Spain. 


Among its many islands alluded to in scripture are Cyprus, Crete, Mytilene, Cos, Rhodes, Malta, and Sicily.9 Along its eastern shoreline were the ancient cities of Tyre, Sidon, Ptolemais, Joppa, Caesarea Maritima, Gaza, and Azotus (Ashdod).10 In carrying the gospel across the Mediterranean world, the apostle Paul and coworkers traversed the Sea multiple times, facing a number of dangers and near-death experiences.11


Reflections


Throughout history God has used water to do some amazing things to accomplish his will on earth, the most remarkable of which continues to this day. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus and the testimony of “the Spirit and the water and the blood” (1 John 5:8, ESV), forgiveness and redemption are still available through the same gospel message that spread across the first-century Mediterranean world. To all who receive it with penitent faith: “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).12  


--Kevin L. Moore


Endnotes:   

     1 E.g., Gen. 32:10; Josh. 3:17; 4:22-24; 2 Kings 2:7-14; 5:10-14; Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; John 1:26-34; 3:22-26; 4:1-3. 

     2 Farther north in the Galilee region seems to be excluded: note Matt. 3:13; 4:12; Mark 1:9, 14; Luke 4:14; John 1:43.

     3 See K. L. Moore, “Beyond the Jordan: an Ethnogeographical Study,” Moore Perspective (9 June 2021), <Link>.

     4 Mark 3:9; 4:1-2, 35-38; 5:2, 18, 21; 6:32, 45; 8:10, 14; also Matt. 8:23-24; 9:1; 13:1-2; 14:13, 22, 29, 32, 33; 15:39; Luke 8:22, 37; John 6:17, 24; 21:6. See K. L. Moore, “Leaving All to Follow Jesus,” Moore Perspective (16 Dec. 2012), <Link>.

     5 Matt. 14:13-21; 15:32-39; Mark 6:31-44; 8:1-10; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14.

     6 Matt. 8:23-27; 14:22-34; Mark 4:35-41; 6:45-53; Luke 5:1-11; 8:22-25; John 6:15-21; 21:1-14. 

     7 Matt 4:13; 15:39; Mark 5:1; 6:45, 53; John 6:23. Concerning the lakeside community of Gergesa, see K. L. Moore, “Geographical Confusion: the Land of Demon-Possessed Pigs?” Moore Perspective (6 July 2022), <Link>.

     8 Gen. 49:13; Ex. 23:31; Num. 34:6; Deut. 11:24; 34:2; Josh. 1:4; 9:1; 15:12; 23:4; Ezek. 47:10; 48:28; Joel 2:20; Zech. 14:8.

     9 Acts 20:6–21:14; 27:1–28:16; Tit. 1:5.

     10 2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 3:7; Josh. 11:22; Jonah 1:3; Matt. 15:21; Mark 3:8; 7:24; Acts 8:26-40; 9:36–10:48; 21:2-8.

     11 Acts 9:30; 13:4-13, 26; 16:11; 17:14; 18:18-22; 20:3-6, 13-16; 21:1-16; 27:1–28:14; 2 Cor. 11:23-27.

     12 For more biblical information, see K. L. Moore, “What Must I Do to be Saved? Moore Perspective (30 Jan. 2015), <Link>.


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Image credits:

Jordan River, photo by Cassidy Chapman Wilkins

Sea of Galilee, photo by Kaitlyn Moore

St. Peter’s Fish, <https://www.catholicconvert.com/wp-content/uploads/IMG_1178.jpg>

Mediterranean Map, <https://enterthebible.org/map/first-century-mediterranean-world>