holy land tours

A friend recently asked me if I get upset by proclamations issued  by secular archaeologists that challenge the claims of the Bible and my answer is always the same.

In a word No.

But why you might ask?

I remind them that archaeology is an important but an inexact science and falls into the category of detective work with a shovel and a spade.

In the virtuous pursuit of knowledge, the archaeologist assembles the fragments of the past and tries to draw some conclusions as to what they mean. His conclusions are colored by certain presuppositions and assumptions  that he brings to the table.

Also the game includes vigorous 0ne-up-manship.

Announcements  are often made breathlessly and with a eye to attracting headlines. Headlines attract attention and can result in funding for future digs by the now newly distinguished archaeologist who has successfully challenged another’s conclusions.

Bill's corrected Holy Land Pics 305

 

Such is illustrated by the discovery of the long sought tomb of King Herod the Great of Jesus’ fame.

In an earlier posting I described the announced discovery on the Herodium near Bethlehem,  of the fragmentary remains of a tomb identified by the eminent archaeologist Ehud Netzer as being that of Herod.

Now one of his students has challenged his discovery.

The interesting give and take of this so typical debate is described in the attached posting by Leen Ritmeyer based upon a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (the land) Archaeology is an inexact science at best.

The author of this blog Dr Robert Grant (aka The Holy land Guru) has been traveling to the Holy Land for 46 years and annually schedules departures and invites pastors and others to accompany him there.

Herod’s Tomb at Herodium

Haaretz newspaper carried an article today by Nir Hasson, reporting on the seventh annual conference, “Innovations in Archaeology in Jerusalem and the Surrounding Area”. During that conference, two archaeologists, Joseph Patrich and Benny Arubas challenged Ehud Netzer’s identification of Herod’s Tomb that was found at Herodium near Bethlehem. Herod’s tomb  was discovered by Ehud Netzer in 2007, next to a large stairway that gave access to the Upper Palace.
 On the other side, the remains of a theater was found. They argued that the tomb was too small for the larger than life personality of Herod the Great and that the monument was not in keeping with the size of other Herodian constructions. They also found the sarcophagus, which was made of beautiful red limestone, to be of inferior quality for the king and had expected either a marble or golden one. They also said that the plaza near the tomb was too small to accommodate the many people that accompanied the sarcophagus of Herod the Great. Patrich emphasizes that he was a student of Ehud Netzer, but that he couldn’t agree with him on the identification of the tomb. The rebuttal delivered by Roi Porat, who succeeded Netzer as the head of the Herodium excavations, was more positive and convincing. Porat pointed out that there was a very large plaza at the foot of the artificial man-made hill that could easily accommodate the funeral procession. He also noted that the tomb stood on natural ground:

“This whole big mass has one place that was not covered in earth, and that is the site of the tomb,” Porat says. He claims that Herod conceived of the entire tel as an enormous and unique burial mound, symbolizing the idea that life at its top would go on even after the king was buried.”

Porat doesn’t rule out the possibility of finding other tombs, but this one appears from an architectural perspective more than qualify to be the tomb in which Herod the Great was buried. Porat rightly observed:

“We believe we have a decent picture of what is going on there and it is convincing. We have sufficient data. He [Patrich] deals with what is not, and we with what is”.

That would fit in with my personal experience. Patrich may be proud to have been one of Netzer’s students, but having worked with him on several projects in the past, I must say that I am not too impressed with Patrich’s knowledge of ancient architecture. Patrich may have expected Herod’s tomb to have been a much larger and more impressive monument, but this exquisitively designed tomb was built for Herod himself and a few close family members only. Patrich and Arubas must have forgotten that a very large funerary monument for Herod’s wider family had already been identified by Ehud Netzer north of Jerusalem: To the north of the Old City of Jerusalem, the remains of a circular building have been discovered and identified with the Monument of King Herod the Great, which served as his family tomb. Herod was buried in his private tomb in Herodium, both other members of his family were probably buried in this structure. This mausoleum is mentioned twice by Josephus, in War 5.108 and 5.507. Haaretz may have called the observations of Patrich and Arubas an “archaeological stunner”, but I am not convinced by them. See also Todd Bolen’s blog. HT: Joseph Lauer

MASSIVE PRAYER MEETING AT THE WAILING WALL

Last evening thousands of Jews gathered in the Old City of Jerusalem at the historic Western Wall (aka “The Wailing Wall”)  to pray that God would preserve Israel now seen by many there as threatened by American middle eastern policy. They view current US policy with alarm and as counter to the interests of the State of Israel.

The echoing sounds of  trumpets rang out across the crowded square as bearded rabbis prayed fervently to “Adonai” and “Elohim”, Biblical names for G-d (Jews so respect the name of God that they will not fully spell it out).

They prayed that “G-d would cancel the decrees” of John Kerry, that Israel would “stand firm against the difficult pressures coming from the other side of the ocean” and that their leaders would resist American pressure and that G-d would give them “fear and great awe of You that they will fear greatly to harm our holy land”.

 

The Obama Administration, in ways both subtle and open, has made it quite evident that they have chosen sides in the ongoing competing interests of the Arabs and the Jews. This tilting of American foreign policy away from US long standing support of the State of Israel to a not always veiled belligerence towards the Jewish State, has marked the Obama Administration since day one.

In spite of that fact American Jews have remarkably  remained firm supporters of this president.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been quietly pressuring the European powers to tighten the pressure on Israel in regards to the Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in favor of the goal of declaring Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian State.

Orthodox Jews gather at the waiing wall for prayers on a regular basis

Orthodox Jews gather at the waiing wall for prayers on a regular basis

The plaza where this mass prayer meeting took place is quite significant and historic. The huge stones at the base of the wall were placed there at the time of Jesus by King Herod the Great and are all that remains of the Temple structure from that time. This is the western wall of the huge plateau on top of which then stood the 2nd Temple of Israel and where now stands two important Muslim buildings, the El Aksa Mosque and the gold covered Dome of the Rock built over what many believe to be the place of Old Testament sacrifice going all the way back to Abraham 2100 years before Jesus. The Muslims believe that it was from this spot Mohammed ascended into heaven on the back of a white stallion. These competing traditions about this site come laden with deep emotion and remain a tinder box that could easily ignite a new war.

In 1967 when, during the 6 day war, Israel took Jerusalem, this made it possible for Jews to again visit this wall, their most treasured site. They had been forbidden to go there when it was in Jordan. Its capture was greeted by great joy and celebration

I have stood there many times on our many Holy Land tours, first in 1967 just 6 weeks before the 6 day war and as recently as last February. We will go there again next December and January.

When I first went to the Holy Land  in 1967  the location of this huge prayer meeting appeared quite differently than it does today. There was no wide open plaza then that we now see. Then the area was a mass of slummy homes that crowded up against the base of the wall. It was not until, after weaving about through these dwellings  you suddenly rounded a corner and you could actually see where you were. And your eyes involuntarily turned up

One of the first things Israel did in 1967 was to clear away these modest Arab  dwellings, open the area up as we see it today and pave the filled in Tyropaean Valley from the time of Jesus (aka valley of the Cheesemakers) to accommodate the thousands that appeared there last evening.

There is great apprehension in Israel over the stance of the present US Administration and with good cause due to President Obama’s positive predisposition towards Islam due to fond memories of his childhood in Muslim countries.

One of the great values of travel to that part of the world is the  gaining of an understanding of the real politic issues that abound there and also a deepened understanding of the Biblical background and significance of the site

Dr. Robert Grant has been traveling to the Middle East for 46 years going there about 125 times and so has a unique understanding of the places important to Bible students and also what is reported on the evening news. Each year he takes Christian pastors and their church members on journeys there. His new book can be downloaded FREE at

http://www.holylandguru.com/ebook-for-you/

STRANGE BED FELLOWS: JORDAN AND ISRAEL

Get your FREE copy of my new book A HOLY LAND ROMANCE here. http://www.holylandguru.com/ebook-for-you/

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                   Breaking news.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

 

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU, HOLY LAND GURU

In a surprise development, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jordanian King Abdullah, met together last week in Amman Jordan to discuss their shared concerns: Muslim radicalism and national defense.

One could say that this is a demonstration of the maxim:  “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. But that would be overly simplified.

The two leaders met to discuss shared concerns about the current increase in the level of Arab radicalism that threatens both countries, the conflict in Syria, and the continuing  fallout from the  so called “Arab Spring”.

Built in historic tension between Jordan and her Arab neighbors, results from the fact that  Jordan, is a Sunni Muslim State, that borders Shiite Iran and Shiite dominated Iraq and Iran-allied Syria.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 https://maps.google.com/maps?q=map+of+jordan&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x15006f476664de99:0x8d285b0751264e99,Jordan&gl=us&ei=fs3aUs6GLuzMsQTyiIGIDg&ved=0CC0Q8gEwAA

A fragile existence at best for Jordan.

Jordan is clearly a target of the Muslim radicals. With this very public meeting, that target just got a whole lot bigger.

Those above stated long standing inter Muslim tensions have been exacerbated by the current  flow of refugees from the turmoil in Syria now spilling over the borders into both Turkey and Jordan.

A Complicated History

It is important to understand that Israel has, since 1967, been maintaining a military presence along its Jordan River border with Jordan.

On our holy land tours we have often driven alongside the plowed strip of land with its wire  fence that has provided this necessary barrier. Fences really do work. We in the US have yet to understand that fact.

Jordan fears  that negotiations being pushed by the present  US Administration in its quest to fulfill an Obama  campaign promise, could result in the establishment of  an untenable  Palestinian State ( with borders agreeable to both the Palestinians and the US but not to other parties), that could result in a compromise of Israel’s stabilizing influence along the border with Jordan. Not good for either side.

Jordan river border,

Jordan river border,

Jordan wants the Israelis to maintain a presence there and is fearful that Israel could cave in to American demands. Such a compromise would not serve the interests of either country.

Hence this historic meeting.

What makes this meeting so significant is not that it was held but that it was held openly and in Amman. Clearly Jordan has chosen sides.

It is important to understand that Israel and Jordan have a complicated history.

When the UN declared the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 , the combined forces of all of her Arab neighbors, including Jordan, ganged up on the fledgling  Jewish state.

Israel more than survived that 1948 “War of Independence”.

It was victorious and extended its borders beyond those designated only days earlier by the UN. She was then in a stronger but not yet secure position.

Again in June 1967, 19 years later, under the prodding of then Arab nationalist Egyptian President Abdul Nasser, conflict broke out with the 6 day war.

Nasser was a client of the then Soviet Union and his motivations were clearly at the behest of the Soviet Union in its contest with the US to dominate the region.

Under the guise of spurring  nationalism Nassser orchestrated a combined attack on Israel from the South (Egypt) East (Jordan) and North East (Syria).

Jordan was a reluctant participant.

Again Israel survived and even prospered, primarily at the expense of Jordan which lost all of the West Bank of the Jordan River including the Old City of Jerusalem and including the valued Muslim holy place, the golden Dome of the Rock.

dome of the rock

dome of the rock

Israel gained its most precious site, the “Wailing wall” or Western Wall of the Temple Mount that goes back to the time of Jesus and is nearest to the location of the destroyed temple that Jesus frequented.

Wailing wall/Wetern Wall

Wailing wall/Western Wall

Then King Hussein (married to an American girl and father of the current King Abdullah, also western educated and an Oxford grad) was a pragmatist and had his own real politic problems to deal with including an unsuccessful attempt by Yasser Arafat and his PLO forces to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy.This failed coupe led to the expulsion of Arafat and  the PLO from Jordan and into Lebanon, where they remain.

King Hussein long rued the day he got sucked into the 1967 conflict. It cost him dearly.

Behind the scenes discussions have been ongoing between Israel and Jordan for a long time. Those meetings seldom appear in the press. (Can you spell clandestine?)

This inter country communication goes back as far as 1963 but in particular to the days leading  up to the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

Six years after the disastrous Arab losses of 1967, the Egyptians and Syrians were  plotting  to retake land lost to Israel.  They wanted Hussein to join them in this plan and fight Israel with an Eastern front.

Rather than support them, King Hussein actually tipped off then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (an American from Milwaukee who had emigrated to Israel)  that this was a foot.

Jordan  remained out of that conflict.

Israel and Jordan  have shared interests and shared concerns over the shape of and the terms of the establishment of any proposed Palestinian state.

The openness of this  meeting between Abdullah and Netanyahu on Arab soil is quite significant in what it says as to the cooperation between the two countries.

It also ramps up the enmity of the Muslim radicals against Jordan and their desire to unseat King Abdullah. Oh and by the way American forces are now quietly on the ground in Jordan to undergird the stability of the region.

My personal perspective

I first went to Jordan in early 1967 on my very first Holy Land tour and  returned as recently as our holy land tour in February 2013.

Petra where Paul may have stayed

Petra where Paul may have stayed

Jordan is a beautiful country with strong Bible roots of interest to Christians who visit there.                                                       Among those roots are:  the place where the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan River to conquer the promised land, the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the place where St Paul spent time preparing for his world changing ministry (Petra), Pella where the early Christians sought refuge as the Roman armies approached to sack Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the places where both Moses and Aaron are buried, to name just a few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is another original contribution by Dr. Robert Grant aka The holy land Guru to help his  friends keep up to speed on all things holy land related and is based upon the perspective he has derived from 125 journeys to that part of the world during the past 46 years.    Each year he plans to take friends to the holy land.

His next  departures are December 1, 2014 and January 12, 2015. If interested please go to the website or call Dr. Grant at 386 447 9473.

Ariel Sharon: Famous Israeli General and Former Prime Minister  Dead at 85

The famous Israeli Prime Minister and General Ariel Sharon has finally succumbed to death after 8 years in a vegetative state. His death brings up memories on both side of the border. To Israel he was a national treasure. To the Arab forces he was a butcher. Sharon was the Israeli equivalent of US New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the original political tough guy.

Ariel Sharon dead

 

Fiercely protective of the tiny reborn nation of Israel that he more than once led in various capacities, Sharon came into criticism for massacres that occurred during his tenure as Defense Minister in 1982, in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Southern Lebanon.

 

 

It was reported that  Israeli soldiers under his command stood by as the largely Shiite and Palestinian camp residents were murdered by a group of “Christian” forces. This was a revenge killing as a result of the Syrian induced murder of the newly elected Christian President of Lebanon President Gamayel. Because this was an internal Lebanese issue Sharon chose to stand aside and let the killing go on unimpeded when he could have stepped in. This scandal forced his resignation from this post.

 

 

Sharon was Prime Minister of Israel from 2001 to 2006. His own life tracked the history of the State of Israel. As a kid, barely out of his teens, he first served as a young commando in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the 1948 War of Independence.  This battle for national survival followed, within hours, the UN declaration of the establishment state of Israel. For the first time since the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD, there was again a state of Israel.

 

 

Israel’s survival was not guaranteed. Fears of another holocaust were real as this tiny new state peopled by survivors of the death camps of Europe and Hitler’s final solution, was simultaneously attacked by the combined forces of her Arab neighbors Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It was in this bitter struggle for survival that Ariel Sharon cut his eye teeth and was tested.

 

Ariel Sharon: Love Him or Hate Him

 

Sharon was known as a brilliant strategist and considered to be the greatest field commander in the history of the modern state of Israel. He also was strongly in favor of the building of settlements in East Jerusalem that remain a bone of contention in US attempts to force a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians as we speak. When I was early in my now 46-year long career of taking holy land tours, the president of the company that I then represented, met with Sharon and was very impressed with him as a man. He found him to be genial, tough, warm and fiercely committed to the survival of the State of Israel.

 

On this site 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 on our Holy Land tours.

 

 

Biblical Characters – Holy Land South Paws

THOSE STRANGE BIBLICAL CHARACTERS AND PEOPLE OF THE HOLY BIBLE?

 

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.