holy land tour

Biblical Characters – Holy Land South Paws



The Sea of Galilee to the North of ancient Moab

The Sea of Galilee to the North of ancient Moab

A recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review by 2 distinguished scholars * triggered some  thoughts and brought to mind a story that could have been lifted right out of a tabloid like National Inquirer. It is a story of murder and deceit and international affairs  and Biblical characters  from the book of Numbers (3:12-29) and is about  how God used a south paw to deliver the death blow to one of Israel’s bitter political enemies.  But why a south paw? And was this a common trait?

As recounted in the New Living Translation of the Bible this story reads like today’s newspaper, and why not. People of the Holy Bible were no different at the time of the Judges 3100 years ago than they are today. Same lusts and drives just different toys and devices to act out on those human flaws.

Because of its frequent spiritual lapses, Israel was again under the domination of the king of Moab.  Follow the story line: Ehud, a judge of Israel during the time preceding the establishment of the monarchy under King Saul et al, was selected for a special assassination mission specifically  because he was a south paw. This particular trait gave him a tactical advantage in conflict as few south paws were encountered in battle and their protagonists would seldom be expecting the actions of a left handed opponent.

(Side Note: Think the modern Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on the East side of the Jordan River South of the Sea of Galilee. When we go on our Holy Land Tours it is easy to visualize this scene as often we find ourselves on both sides of that border. It is so very interesting because the terrain is the same as it was then. Nothing much has changed. And this is the value of travel to the Holy Land for Bible teachers and pastors and why I continue to offer to take them there on our annual Holy Land Tours)

Jordan River

Jordan River

 Biblical Characters:  South Paws From The One Tribe?

Apparently the south paws all came from one particular tribe of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin. How weird is that? The other player in the list of biblical characters in this drama is Eglon, the King of Moab who was a grossly overweight man with rings of fat amidst his belly. Seems Ehud came across the Jordan River heading East bearing the demanded tribute but with a foot long dagger strapped to his right leg where a lefty would easily reach for it but where those searching him would be least likely to discover it.

The dirty act took place in the air conditioned (Don’t believe me? read the text) upstairs of Eglon’s house/palace with the door locked and with the dagger buried deep in the guts of Eglon and with Ehud making a safe retreat back West across the Jordan to safe territory, while Eglon’s confused servants searched for a key to open the door where they found their fat king dead. The Bible contains a graphic description of his death and body state.

The follow up scene was that of a decisive battle that resulted in the overthrowing of the kingdom of Moab and in 80 years of peace between Israel and Moab. Again I encourage you to read the account in the New Living Translation of the Bible. The designation of a person as being left handed is found in 3 places in the Bible and they are all from the tribe of Benjamin.  In Numbers 20:16 the account speaks of 700 left handed warriors of whom it was said that they could “sling a rock and hit a target within a hairsbreadth without missing”. They were the Special Forces of their day.

Later in 1 Chronicles 12:2 we are told that among David’s supporters, while he was still in Hebron before he took the hill side Jebusite city that became his capital Jerusalem, were a couple of dozen ambidextrous warriors who were not only adept with the sword but also with the sling and  left handed. The article in Biblical Archaeology Review offers interesting additional information as to why left handedness would be more seen in the tribe of Benjamin and not in all 12 tribes. Was it genetics at work? Apparently, they note,  studies of twins indicate that genetics could account for about 25% of the handedness issue. The remaining 75% being environmentally influenced.

Is it possible that the tribe of Benjamin actually encouraged left handedness?  The authors  observe that “The Hebrew term for ‘left hand’ …..literally means to “restricted (itter) in his right hand” and that raises the issue of child abuse.

Question: Did the Benjaminites bind the right arms of their kids in order to encourage this behavior? The name Benjamin actually means “son of my right hand”..

Just another example of why reading the Bible is so true to life and so beneficial to those of us who are living in today’s world. And no I am not advocating crippling your kids by binding their right arms to their bodies. A friend reminded me of an Italian custom of tightly binding an infant so that his feet always face perfectly straight-forward so they would not grow up with splayed feet. Similarly they would strike a child’s wrist with a ruler if they tried to use their left hand so as to discourage left handedness. In fact the Italian word for left is “sinestra” or sinister. Seems little has changed.

It is my intention to address a wide variety of issues related to the Holy Land. We cover the gamut of history, theology, current events, archaeology and the current political tides. As such we welcome and encourage your comments and healthy interchange as we continue to learn together. Consider coming along with us as we go to the Holy Land.

*Dr. Boyd Seevers , prof of Old Testament and Dr. Joanne Klein, associate prof of Biology, both from Northwestern College in St Paul Minnesota.



It was April 1967 when I gathered at New York’s JFK International Airport with my 47 friends. This was to be my first journey abroad.If you have already  been to the Holy Land, you will be able to identify with my feelings on my first journey. I was flying before the plane left the gate in New York.I was actually going to the Holy Land!    Me!      Actually!    Seemed incredible.Our group was quite eclectic in its make up. There were young couples and a few kids but they were mostly older retired people. This is still the profile of most groups.   And most groups today are not as large as was mine. They usually number 12 to 15 and share the services of guides and drivers on a bus

To me the unique experience of being a minority in a majority Muslim world, was quite disturbing at first.

one of the largest mosques in the worold

one of the largest mosques in the world

 It was a rude awakening to learn that the world did not mirror my limited life experience in Southern California. I remember awakening in Beirut Lebanon the first morning to the Muslim call to prayer and finding that so wild  and pagan sounding.

One of our 1967 side trips was impossible this year as we went through the Bekka Valley to Damascus to visit the traditional Street called “Straight” and the largely fictional places that memorialized the story of Paul in the book of Acts.

I remember the huge monolith there, destined to be an obelisk but broken in the process of its removal from the quarry, jutting out of the quarry as a silent memory of when this area was dominated by Rome. So big you could actually drive a car on it.

Beirut was known then as the Switzerland of the Middle East as it was the place the wealthy of the Muslim world went to play and experience the vices they were denied back home in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.It was fortunate that we went there in 1967 because, not too many years later, war would break out between the Maronite Christians and the Syrian backed Muslim fundamentalists and later Hamas. Beirut became a war zone. Hamra Street, with all of its French designer shops, was right in the middle of that conflict and was destroyed in the process.

When we were there, all of the world’s top designers  had their beautiful stores on Hamra Street where they catered to the wealthy of the Arab world. Beirut was then a beautiful city and even had a Las Vegas style casino, Casino du liban, complete with elephants and water falls on stage that out did the Nevada scene by far

One of the marvelous buildings cared out of the rock in Petra

One of the marvelous buildings cared out of the rock in Petra

Going to Petra the first time was a thrilling experience even before I understood its fascinating probable connection with the Apostle Paul and with the development of our Christian theology. (See chapter 19 ).

The Rose red city of Petra

The Rose red city of Petra 

Up there, above our heads, was the tomb of Aaron, brother of Moses.

Petra was on the track followed by the Jews during their 40 year trek through the wilderness.

It was also  from here that the mother of Herod the Great came .

The Idumaeans who built Petra were a gifted people with their city carved out of the red sandstone cliffs described now as one of the wonders of the world.

It took another 30+ years for Hollywood to discover this exotic site and feature it in the epic film, Indiana Jones and Last Crusade.

Not far from Amman, the famous mountain called Nebo towers over the Jordan Valley.It was from this vantage point that Moses viewed the promised land that he was forbidden to enter and it was near here that he was buried in a yet to be discovered tomb. Somewhere below where we stood on Nebo, Uriah the Hittite fell in battle so that David could claim his wife Bathsheba for his own. Down the distant mountain pass to the West, Naomi  and her 2 sons and their wives, traveled in search of food and it was back up that same pass, across the Jordan River  that the 2 now destitute widows returned to Bethlehem, as recorded in the Book of Ruth. As we stood on Mount Nebo we were able to let our eyes sweep the panorama below us as we looked to the left and saw the Dead Sea and the cliffs where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, Qumran, where we would later visit.

Sweeping to the North our gaze took us past ancient Jericho and the mountain of temptation where Jesus is said to have had his encounter with Satan, and, with the Jordan River snaking its path from the Sea of Galilee in the North to its terminus in the Dead Sea, it was all there  at our feet. Awesome!

Further to the North, if we could have seen that far, we would have seen the Sea of Galilee.

Standing there on Nebo we realized the fact that the land promised by God to Israel was located on both sides of the Jordan River. That became more significant later when the border dramatically moved in June of 1967, 6 short weeks after my visit there. We ventured onto the West Bank by crossing the King Hussein bridge over the Jordan River near where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

You  are beginning to see how close we are to the Bible events? They are everywhere.

Visiting Jericho we looked in vain for the fallen walls and then proceeded up the modern/old Jericho road and were reminded of the story of the good Samaritan. The ruins of an old Turkish fort are found at the mid point and are often mistakenly called the inn of the Good Samaritan.  I learned early on to try to distinguish between the fanciful and the real. A lot of what we were shown as fact just was not so. Our Jerusalem hotel was an Arab hotel called the St George and it was located quite near the Old City of Jerusalem. Next door to the hotel was the shop of Mr. Kando.

He was an interesting character and played an important role in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Small of stature and always wearing a dirty ankle length robe with a fez hat and always in need of a shave and shower, his main employment was as a shoe repair cobbler. He also dabbled in antiquities and that is how he at one time had the famous Dead Sea Scrolls in his possession. I bought some ancient lamps from him to bring home with me. The famous one eyed  Israeli general Moishe Dyan was a regular customer of Kando in later years.

While in Jordan/Jerusalem we had a fascinating time visiting so many sites of importance to the faith. 

A cave is located under the alter in the church in Bethehem where Jesus was born

A cave is located under the alter in the church in Bethlehem where Jesus was born

We went to the birthplace of the Savior in Bethlehem,  to Mount Moriah with its 4000 year old history at the heart of the Old Testament  sacrificial system and  its connection to one of the 2 possible sites for the crucifixion and resurrection. (See chapter 19.) We visited both traditional places identified as Calvary.

The authentic pools of Siloam and Bethesda central to 2 of Jesus’ miracles, and the 2800 year old tunnel of Hezekiah were on our itinerary.   

the retaining wall of the temple of Herid

the retaining wall of the temple of Herod

A wandering walk through the Old City is an experience unto itself.   And of course the “wailing wall” or western wall of the temple plateau built by Herod the Great at the time of Jesus, looms large in my memory of that first trip.

The high point emotionally for us then and now, was the communion service experienced at the Garden Tomb, one of the 2 locations thought to be where Jesus died and was raised from the dead.

The wine/grape juice is served there in a small carved olive wood cup that is then taken home as a treasure to remember an extraordinary experience and spiritual high.


communion service at the garden tomb

communion service at the garden tomb

During the intervening years since 1967 the borders between Israel and her Arab neighbors have changed in remarkable ways.

On the first trip, all of the West Bank of the Jordan River including the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Jericho and the Dead Sea, were ruled by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan under the Western oriented King Hussein. His son Abdullah now reigns in his place. Israel’s piece of the pie was tiny and indefensible

There were then and are still, 2 cities of Jerusalem.There is the “Old City” everyone recognizes. But there is also New Jerusalem built by generations of Zionist Jews who have immigrated from Europe over the past 150 years.

In April 1967, the border between Jordan and Israel, and Old and New Jerusalem,  was a “no mans land” strip of dirt that traced along  outside the walls of the Old City and continued to the North.  Across the valley to the West were Israeli snipers who tried to kill the Arab snipers who were shooting at them from behind the walls of the Old City.  Everyone was a target and fair game in this struggle, regardless of which side of “no mans’ land” you stood on. Keep your head down or else..

If you were foolish enough to become exposed to either side you could become dead quickly and so, when touring the Old City then, we were very careful to not stick our heads up anywhere along the Western side of the city.

One of the places where Jesus may have been buried

One of the places where Jesus may have been buried

In early 1967 while the Old City was still in the hands of Jordan, Jews were forbidden to visit what is now Israel’s most sacred location the so called wailing wall or Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Now there is a wide open plaza there that allows you to walk in great numbers right up to the wall. Then that entire area was covered by slummy little houses that crowded right up to the wall itself. I remember threading my way through this tumbledown mess and suddenly abruptly finding myself at the base of the wall looking up. The time of greatest celebration for Israel was when the Jews took the Old City and especially the area of the Western wall. Almost immediately they cleared away the slum dwellings and the result is the wide plaza over the now filled in Tyropean Valley of Jesus’ day.

Israel was so small and virtually indefensible then within the borders defined by the UN mandate and then subsequently  fought over in the 1948 war of Independence.

Israel’s  continued existence as a nation was not all  that certain in 1967

At one point Israel was only about 8 to 10 miles wide between the border with Jordan to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the West. This narrow portion was in the area of Biblical Samaria.  The Arab world at large has never accepted the existence of the State of Israel and still does not do so. So Israel can never enjoy the luxury of letting its guard down.

In order to enter Israel in April 1967  it was necessary to cross over “no mans’ land”.The entry point to Israel from Jordan was through the remains of a home formerly owned by a Jewish family called Mandelbaum. Their ruined home was in fact the famous so called Mandelbaum Gate. When we crossed over into Israel, leaving our Jordanian bus and driver and guide behind , we personally hauled our baggage across the strip of dirt plaza where it was then  reloaded  onto the awaiting Eged  Israeli bus and  where we met our Jewish Israeli guide and, unexpectedly,  our Christian Arab driver.An  Arab driver for our Israeli bus in Israel?    We did not expect that.             How can this be?

At that time many of the sites of interest to Christians were in Jordan. But there was still much for us to see on the Israeli side including Nazareth, Cana and Megiddo and Caesarea and Capernaum. In traditional Cana I purchased a small bottle of wine (remember that famous wedding Jesus participated in?) that now, some 46 years later, resides yet unopened in my home office.

local wine in the city made famous by Jesus' first miracles

local wine in the city made famous by Jesus’ first miracles

A mystery. This corked and still sealed bottle has seen its fluid level drop about an inch over the past 46 years. How is that possible?     Bottom Line: It is my hope is that this summary from memory of my first journey to the lands of Bible will whet your appetite to share my experience

canawine holylandguru



What if Rahab was not a hooker as your Bible claims?  ( see Joshua 6:25)  Read on.

Holy land Guru  holyh land tours see this monastery on the mountain where tradition says Jesus was tempted by Satan

Monastery above Jericho on Mount of Temptation


Known as the City of Palms, Jericho is a welcome oasis in the Jordan valley with an historic water spring of Biblical note   ( See 2 Kings 2 where it is called the spring of Elisha the prophet who poured in salt and made this formerly brackish water sweet. You can still drink from that spring today some 2900 years later). That spring has provided water all the way back as far as recorded history and beyond.




Jericho is said to be the oldest continually inhabited city on earth and is located near where the Jordan River dumps into the Dead Sea at the lowest elevation on earth some estimated 1300’ below sea level and its history is told in both the Old and New Testament parts of the Bible.

Jericho appears first in the Biblical story at the time of the conquest of the promised land by the invading Israelite army under Joshua. This occurred about 40 years after the exodus from Egypt. This is the well known story of when its city walls fell down, as memorialized in the old spiritual “Joshua Fit the battle of Jericho and the Walls Came aTumblin Down”.

1000 years after that event  Jericho became the private estate of Alexander the Great .Some time later Mark Anthony of Rome then gained control of Jericho and  gave it to Cleopatra from whom Herod the Great then  leased it and built his great palace and a hippodrome there.

alexander the great

alexander the great

According to the Roman/Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Herod also died a terrible agonizing death in Jericho while plotting the death of the important men in every leading family in his realm.

Some thirty years after that, Jesus passing through Jericho, had an encounter with a remarkably short man called Zacchaeus under a sycamore tree.   If you happen to be  among the more gullible, the locals will show you that very tree as it stands alongside the main street of modern Jericho. We passed that tree  by when we were there last February without stopping. I always try to differentiate between the fanciful and the factual when my friends travel with me on a Holy Land Tour.

It was the famous British woman archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, who first extensively explored the ruins of this  site in the 1950s and she identified 20 layers of civilization dating back to well before the invasion of the army of Joshua.

I first went to Jericho in 1967 and was disappointed with what I found there.

Not sure what I expected to find, but I have since learned that there was certainly more there than what my untrained eyes saw.

I was surprised to see that Jericho was not all that large either.

And I had hoped to be able to detect evidence of the fallen walls from the time of Joshua.


This taught me that the educated eye of the professional archaeologist is far superior to the untrained eye of the layman.

An archaeologist like Kenyon could look at the accumulated rubble and discern the different layers and what those now fallen stones had originally been.  She like all of us was intrigued by the story of Joshua and the fallen walls and she made an effort to find them.




The Biblical story found in Joshua 1-6 is fascinating especially when reread in a modern translation of the Bible such as the New Living Translation which I rather favor.

The account tells how, following the crossing of the Jordan River, (a sight we enjoy from afar, as did Moses,  when viewed from atop Mount Nebo in Jordan  across the river to the East when on our holy land tours).

Like any wise military commander, Joshua sent 2 spies in to Jericho to scope out the defenses of the city in advance of attacking it.

Those spies were unexpectedly protected by a woman called Rahab who resided there and who was either a prostitute or an inn keeper or both.

The Hebrew word “zonah” apparently could go either way.

I have often wondered what motivated Rahab to side with this invading force and thus enlist in the plot that would result in the certain destruction of  her neighborhood and all of her neighbors. Was it self preservation that motivated her or something bigger?

More on that to follow.

In the Biblical account (Joshua 1-6) we read that for 7 days the army, tribe by tribe, with the ark of the covenant surrounded by the priests, encircled the walls daily in total silence. With apprehension building, on the 7th day they encircled the city 7 times and then, as with  one voice, yelled at the top of their lungs and the priests simultaneously blew the trumpets and the walls came down and all but the family of Rahab were put to the sword.

What caused the collapse of the walls? I am always amused how skeptics, if they are forced by the evidence to accept the historicity of a weird or unusual event or seemingly supernatural occurrence, often try to provide a rational explanation for that event. The plagues of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land during the exodus come to mind.

In the case of Jericho, some have suggested that sympathetic vibrations from the marching army of Joshua may have caused the collapse of the walls noting how armies, when they cross bridges, are always ordered to not march in lock step but to break stride for real fear that the simultaneous  steps of an army of thousands could cause structural failure of the bridge.

I don’t know what happened or what caused it. Guess it is enough to just conclude that God did it and He is not saying how.

And so what of this woman Rahab?

A recent issue of the Biblical Archeology Review has an article that caught my attention entitled “Was Rahab Really a  Harlot?” and I wondered what they would report.

Just who was this woman who was memorialized in such a marvelous way in both the Old and New Testament parts of the Bible.

Question: Prostitute? OR  Innkeeper? OR both?

And is it really all that important?

Answer: the Biblical Archeology article claims that the Hebrew word “zonah” that is translated as “harlot” is the same word that is translated as “inn keeper”.

So it seems that a bad translation of the Hebrew word “Zonah” may have needlessly besmirched Rahab’s good name for 3300 years.   Who’d a thunk it??!! Maybe time to think outside the box as they say?

Remember that those of us who believe in the inspiration of the Bible only attribute that quality to the original documents (called autographs, none of which exist) and not to the translations of the same.  So I am not troubled by possible errors in translation.

It all now makes sense to me that Rahab may have run a small hotel in Jericho. Doing so it would seem natural for her to take in 2 strangers and house them overnight as she is said to have done. And the local Jericho authorities would not be surprised that she would have guests as this must have been a common phenomenon. But they were concerned about these particular guests as they posed a risk to the city.

 Either “prostitute” or “inn keeper” fits this scene

And what about where she lived?

 Did she live IN the wall or ON the wall?

Makes an interesting difference to the archaeologists. The building of walled cities apparently went through an evolutionary process.

The oldest most primitive walls built around  cities then were of sold stone and a single thickness in nature.

The later more sophisticated walls like those to be viewed atop Masada, are called case mate walls and consist of double walls (inner and outer with a substantial space between) with a roof and with partitions every so often thus creating rooms within the parallel walls and so making the back wall of those rooms the actual outer wall of the city.

The earlier solid stone walls would not have had windows while the case mate walls would have had them and Rahab is said to have let the concealed spies down from a window by means of a rope in order to escape discovery and so this would seem to indicate that she lived in a house with such a case mate wall with a window and so could let them down to the ground undetected by anyone else. But some archaeologists have seized on this and date the use of case mate  type walls to a time later than Joshua and so conclude that this Biblical story is not accurate.

A moral dilemma for Rahab.

Rahab  lied. And she was praised in Scripture for doing so.

Dr Robert Grant the so called Holy Land Guru has been to the Middle East 125 + times over  rthe past 46 years and writes frequently about the Holy Land and takes friends there annually

Dr Robert Grant, aka The Holy Land Guru

When I was a student at Fuller Theological Seminary in the 1960s my favorite professor there was Dr. E J Carnell.

I remember well a class he taught on ethics and a  discussion of the issue of lying. An illustration was brought up that demonstrated the dilemma that we often encounter when we are faced by competing choices and we find that neither choice is free of deception.

But one could say, doesn’t the Bible charge us not to lie? After all it says “let your yea be yea and your nay be nay”.

An example was proposed of a World War 2 German family who were sheltering a Jewish refugee when the Gestapo arrived and demanded to know if there were any Jews there.

If they said “No” they would be lying but the Jew would be saved.

If they said “Yes” they would be truthful but the Jew would die.

Carnell described this as a “tragic moral choice” an idea that I still find helpful many years later.

Rahab faced just such a “tragic moral choice” and is lauded now for lying.

In fact she is mentioned  in the New Testament book of Hebrews (chapter 12) as an example of one of great faith and is also listed as an ancestor of Jesus.(Matthew 1:5) So if having a prostitute in the family line of Jesus has perplexed you perhaps this explanation resolves that issue. Was Rahab a franchisee for the local Motel 6 of her day??!!

In conclusion: I mentioned in an earlier posting how the archaeology game is often played.

It is often, of necessity, largely about the money.

Observe: If you are going to undergo the costly work of archeology you will need money and lots of it.

Question is: How do you get it?

Here is the game plan: If you are in this field and you want to gain fame and attract investors to fund your work then you get attention by either successfully challenging some accepted claim or by   conclusively confirming the validity of an already accepted claim.

The resulting attention brings the cash.

And so, in the often imprecise science of archeology, it is common to draw controversial conclusions while not having conclusive evidence to support those claims.

So it is not surprising to find some archeologists who now question the accuracy of the Bible account of the destruction of Jericho by Joshua and company, and some who even question the validity of the book of Joshua claiming that it is the product of an editor who lived some 400 years after the events recorded there.

Such claims used to bother me but no more.

Permission  to reprint granted with appropriate source credit.


There are two  locations in Israel that have been associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Holy Land Tour with the Holy Land Guru

The empty tomb perhaps of Jesus

One is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, located deep in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem.

The other is outside the northern walls of the same Old City of Jerusalem, a location called the Garden Tomb or also Gordon’s Calvary. It was named after the British General, Chinese Gordon, who spent a great deal of time in Jerusalem in the mid 19th century.

Gordon was impressed by the naturally eroded image of a skull that he observed on a rough hill side that caught his attention one day  as he walked along the Northern wall  of the  Old City. Added to his growing conviction that this was where Jesus had  died and was raised from the dead, was the further discovery of  the nearby tomb (now called the Garden Tomb) that had the highly  unusual feature of a place for a rolling stone. It was the tomb of a rich man. It appeared to never have been occupied.

Each of these competing traditions for the  place of  the death and resurrection of Jesus  has its proponents and arguments in its favor.

When you go on our holy land tours with the Holy land guru we will usually visit both of these sites. And when we do this  it is always interesting to note the reaction of our friends. They are universally  drawn to the Garden Tomb and usually  repelled by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.


To be fair it must be acknowledged that  most professional archeologists and mainline religious denominations including the Roman Catholic Church , favor the former of these choices.

All of the arguments seem to circle around the attempt to locate remnants of  the ancient walls of Jerusalem from the time of Jesus.

One would assume that this ought to be a simple matter to determine.  But that is not so. This quest opens up a virtual Pandoras box as those walls were long ago destroyed, particularly at the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem by the  10th Legion in 70 AD when the city and the temple of Herod were torn down stone by stone.

The search for the old walls is further hindered by the fact that the current crowded  city sits upon what may be left of them.

Hints as to  the location of the  destroyed  walls can be detected here and there  under houses and stores in the Old City. What ads to the complexity of this exercise to locate the walls of Jesus’ day is the fact that  there was more than one set of walls from different periods. And usually all that can be  found  is bits of  the foundations of such and then the archeologists have to make certain leaps and  draw conclusions based upon what they think they have found. Not a very precise matter.

Interestingly, all of  the research begins with the premise that the New Testament description of the location of the place of execution of Jesus  is to be trusted and that  Jesus was indeed executed outside the city walls in a place of execution that could maximize the example the  Romans wanted to make of criminals that defied Rome . Accepting that basic premise, the archeologists must then try to make the evidence fit into that scenario.

The jury is still out in this regard as far as I am concerned.

On the other hand, the arguments for the alternate site, the Garden Tomb, as the place of the death and resurrection of Jesus, can be summed up thus:  It is outside the present walls of the Old City (to be sure not a very compelling case) . It presents the skull like  naturally eroded hill that would seem to explain the name of the place as Golgotha or place of the skull. It has a nearby tomb with a place for  a rolling stone, an unusual feature to be sure. There is also evidence that this  site was the location of an ancient garden as proven  by the discovery of the old olive press found there.

Another more spiritually motivated argument in its favor is interesting to consider. The history of blood sacrifice that runs throughout the entire Old Testament all the way back to the time of Abraham and his almost sacrifice of his son Isaac, 2000 years earlier, concentrates these bloody events on an elevation called  Mount Moriah.

An argument can be made that Gordon’s Calvary is actually  located on the Northern terminus of Mount Moriah and thus provides a purposeful conclusion to the practice of blood sacrifice not only with the destruction of the temple some 30 years later, but also with the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, the final sacrifice for the sins of the world, as the Christian message declares.

Finally the more emotional and least compelling argument is that the Garden tomb area lends itself to a feeling of worship and peace. A subjective argument to be sure. It just feels like it should for whatever that means.

By contrast the competing Church of the Holy Sepulcher dates back to the time of Queen Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. It was built by her to memorialize what the locals reported to her, that this was where the events in Jesus’ life had occurred 300 years earlier. Local tradition is important but not infallible. The building  has been destroyed and rebuilt since that original construction some  1800 years ago.

Rather than a place of peace the Church of the Holy Sepulcher  is a place of great conflict and tension with warring Christian sects, jealously guarding their little piece of real estate,  vying for attention and for prominence and control.

The competing Christian sects are so at war with each other there  that the keys to the church are entrusted to a Muslim family. Imagine that. These so called Christians cannot be trusted with the key to the place supposedly built over the tomb  of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Something is wrong about that picture don’t you think?

We always leave the final decision concerning this matter up to our traveling  friends to try to sort it out for themselves as to what they conclude about these competing sites.


One thing we also  always do is offer a communion service at the Garden Tomb and we use olive wood cups from Bethlehem and spend a very deeply spiritual period of time considering the sacrifice of Jesus and then we go quietly into the actual tomb itself. That experience forever transforms communion for all. Participation in this service of course is voluntary and no pressure is made to participate. In my more than 46 years of going there I cannot recall a single person not participating.

So what is the bottom line? The jury is till out on that.

Is the Garden Tomb the place?

I don’t know. What I do know is that it certainly feels like it is, and a strong argument can be made in its favor, and it provides the opportunity to think on a deeper level about the events that took place there or close nearby and that is enough for me.

I came across the following video from the Garden Tomb and it wonderfully captures the experience that you will have if you choose to come with us to the Holy Land on a journey conducted for you personally by the Holy Land Guru.




Jewish refugees fled here in 70 AD from the Romans

Jerusalem was still the most important site in the Christian world in 70 AD but the future was looking dark as the Roman army approached with the avowed determination to destroy the Jewish capital.

 Conversations like this probably took place with some regularity in Jerusalem in the late 60s AD when the Roman 10th Legion under the then general and soon to be Emperor/Caesar, Titus, was on its way, responding with the threat of brutal force against the building Jewish rebellion.

Seeds of revolution had taken root in post Jesus Palestine. Resentment against the Roman occupiers had blossomed into outright rebellion.
Jewish military leaders like Flavius Josephus of Galilee cautioned against this course of action but their cries went unheeded.

holy land tour, dr robert grant

David’s City of Jerusalem walls

It was now about 35 years since the resurrection of Jesus and Jerusalem was still the prime center of influence for the Christian movement. Under, for many years, the leadership of the recently dead Peter and James the brother of Jesus, a second generation of believers was now fully engaged in their mission.  The building political tension with Rome was seen by them as a threat to their preaching of the Gospel of the resurrected Savior.

And some may have recalled Jesus’ own prediction that the grand temple of Herod would be torn down and not a stone left on top of another. So the believing community had a premonition that this was not going to turn out well.
And, they recalled, Jesus had counseled them to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s so their deep felt interests lay elsewhere and so….. Where to go? was no doubt a topic of deep discussion.

There was no way that Rome would tolerate such rebellion as to do so would be viewed as weakness and no doubt birth similar rebellion across their vast empire.
Before Rome could attack, most of the believers decided to leave Jerusalem. But, where did they go?

According to the famous 4th century Christian historian Eusebius, they went to Pella, across the Jordan River, in what is now the modern Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and formerly the land of the Amorites in the Old Testament period.

Pella has a history going back thousands of years to when it was called Pehel during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom and Pihil during the more recent Egyptian New Kingdom when it was then referred to in the famous Amarna letters, as a center of commerce.

The remote remains of Pella have been uncovered by the archeologists beginning with the famous Edward Robinson in the mid 1800s.
Pella’s existence predates the time of the Christian immigration there by several thousand years. Cities like this always had a strategic reason for their location and Pella was no exception as it was located at the juncture of major East/West and North/South trade routes.

Extensive digging has taken place there over the years and little remains of the early 1st century period when the Christian influx occurred. Caves that have been enlarged by hand have been found and are thought to have been used by the Christian refugees. Speculation!

Also, a very old 1st century sarcophagus has been found that may date back to one of the Christians that fled there from Jerusalem. Again, speculation.

What intrigues me most was the discovery by myself that I had unknowingly passed very near to this site on more than one occasion during our many  Holy Land tours when traveling North along the Jordan River valley on our way to cross into Israel over the Jordan River at the South end of the Sea of Galilee.

We will probably do that again when I take some new friends with me to the Holy Land in February 2014 for 11 wonderful days. I hope that many of my new social networking friends will take advantage of the opportunity to come along with us. Such a terrific experience. Because I am personally overseeing all aspects of the journey this will make it comfortable for first time pastors along with their people  to have this experience with confidence.

Written by Dr. Robert Grant with gratitude to Biblical Archeology Review for updated information. Dr Grant has been traveling to the holy land  for 46 years, hosting special holy land tours for friends and has been designated by some as the holy land guru as a result of his more than 125 journeys there
July 24, 2013