Jeremy Park of bible-scenes.com asked me a while ago if I could help him with his project of developing a 3D video of Herod’s Temple Mount. Last week he wrote the following:
“Shalom to you all. I am so excited to say that after almost two years working on this project it is finally finished; Herod’s Temple Mount. Journey back through time and see what Herod’s Crowning glory the Temple Mount could have looked like two thousand years ago. Places that we can see the remains of today, places like Robinsons Arch and Barclays Gate, Solomon’s Stables and the Western Wall, to name but a few.”
The compilation video can be seen here on YouTube.
“When I made each scene I tried to include people. There were two reasons for this, firstly they gave a sense of proportion and scale as sometimes it is only when you see a person in the shot that you realise just how big some of the structures really are. Secondly, I tried to create a story of each scene where something is happening or has happened. For example, the picture of the two weary travellers on the road in the Kidron valley are obviously talking about the politics of the day:
Here are some additional images:
“As most of you are aware by now, I have followed Leen Ritmeyer’s model for this project and if anyone is interested in learning more about the Temple Mount, his book “The Quest” is a gold mine of information.”
“I was fortunate to discover the Ritmeyer Archaeological design Website where I was able to purchase comprehensive plans, elevations, images and information about all aspects of this incredible site that would have been the setting for many Gospel narratives. Without the Ritmeyer resource I don’t think I would have been able to have done justice to the historic and archaeological authenticity of the site.”
I am probably a little biased when I say that this is the best 3D rendition of the Temple Mount I have seen so far.
Do watch the video and let Jeremy Park know what you think. He would love to hear from you. His HD videos are free to watch and download, but only subscribers can download high-resolution 4K copies:
The High Definition (HD) videos on this site are free to download and are accessed from the HD download buttons that accompany each scene.
4K videos are available to all subscribers.
When anyone subscribes, an e-mail will be sent out with the necessary password enclosed.
Jeremy’s Bible Scenes is not a separate charity but a branch of his company Park 3D Ltd. Until Bible Scenes can provide him with a sufficient income to work full time on it he has, by neccessity, a day job. He would love to have your support!
What comes next?
“Over the next few days I will be uploading each camera move that you see in this video in HD and 4K to the Bible Scenes Website. As subscribers you will have access to these videos 4 weeks before they are released to the general public (and of course access to them in 4K). I will let you know as soon as the website is updated with the new videos. After this I will be concentrating on producing individual descriptive videos of most (if not all) of the elements that make up the Temple Mount. For example, there are 18 chambers that surround the Temple itself, all of which serve a different purpose and while I may not be including all of them, I think there is a wealth of information to share regarding them. Then there are the various entrances and gates, the Royal Stoa, the Antonia Fortress and all the other parts that make up this project, all have their own story. I am excited to start producing them and will let you know as soon as they are completed.”
I am guessing that some, if not all, of the readers of my blog may be interested to see the latest book to which I had been asked to contribute.
The authors, Brandon Benzinger and Adam Day, are to be commended to have tackled the problem of finding jobs for graduates of Biblical and Theological Study programs. As fewer and fewer jobs are available to them, the editors understood that to get employment, these candidates must think outside the box.
They asked 25 people who have found satisfying jobs to share their experience of how they settled into their present occupation, the ways in which they have used their biblical training in that occupation, the “joys” and “trials” of their work, and advice for those who would like to follow in their footsteps.
The book is divided into four parts:
Part 1: Academia
Part 2: Publishing and Media
Part 3: Congregational Ministry
Part 4: Parachurch Ministry, Missions, and Public Service
I would love to have had this book available at the beginning of my career, rather than nearer the end of it.
Personally, I can’t wait to read the contributions of Steve Ortiz and Mark Wilson, who are closest to my field of work, but I think that I will be quite amazed how interesting I will find many of the characters whose professional dreams are portrayed here.
My chapter in Part 2 is called “Design and Illustration”, in which I set out the various roads I have followed and to see how biblical studies can be a springboard to not just one but possibly a few different careers.
It is interesting to note that those who show the highest level of satisfaction are those with supportive familes.
Personally, I am very thankful that my work has also brought me many joys, chiefly in that I have been able to share it with my wife Kathleen, a trained archaeologist. Her excellent writing and research skills have enabled us to produce books and various other educational materials that people still find useful today. When my family was young, I was often able to take them on digs and give them some memorable experience. When they were older, they helped me at times with photography, cartography, and illustration.
And, of course, some of the most exciting moments in my career were the making of major discoveries, such as the placement of the ark of the covenant on the Temple Mount, the identification of the Middle Gate mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3, and the main gate of Sodom, where Lot sat (Gen. 19:1).
I warmly recommend this book to all those seeking alternative employment in this ever shrinking field.
 Brandon C. Benzinger and Adam W, Day, editors, What CanYou Do with Your Bible Training? Traditional and Nontraditional Vocational Paths, Resource Publications, Eugene OR, 2023.
In our previous blog, we looked at the Middle Gate as an example of the description in Lamentations 2:9 that Jerusalem’s “gates were sunk into the ground.” We published it on the 1st of September, as that was one of the readings for the day according to the Traditional Daily Reading plan of the Avery Bible app.
Today, on the 5th of September, according to this plan, we begin reading the Prophecy of Ezekiel. From Chapter 1 we understand that Jehoachin, King of Judah, was exiled to Babylon along with Ezekiel and several thousands of Jerusalem’s leading citizens.
According to Ezra 2:59, the Jews lived in villages like Tel Abib, Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Cherub, Addan, Immer and Casiphia, from where they returned following the Edict of Cyrus in 539 BC. The location of these places is not known, but it is understood that these were clustered round the River Chebar, where the Jews were forced to work on government projects.
A few years ago, in 2017, as part of an archaeological project we were doing in the area, we visited the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. At that time, the curators had put on a dazzling display called “Jerusalem in Babylon”, showing archaeological evidence for some of the places where the exiles lived. This was the first time that archaeology had proved that Jews lived here during the Exile. The following images are photographs taken by permission of the Bible Lands Museum.
While reminiscing recently about the highlights of our archaeological careers, we could not help but include our visit to this exhibition as a stand-out experience.
We had assumed that this was only a temporary exhibition and expected it to be dismantled. We were pleasantly surprised, however, to see on their website that this exhibition is still very much on!
An animated movie in Hebrew (but with English subtitles) introduces the story of the Exile for children. We were indeed relieved to see that this unforgettable exhibition could still be enjoyed by the next generation.
The text on some of the clay tablets that were discovered showed that the exiles lived in an area called Al-Yahuda (City of Judah) or Al-Yahudaiah (City of the Judeans), where they were initially forced to dig and dredge canals for transportation of goods as part of their obligatory service to the king and state.
Some clearly recognisable Jewish names, such as Gedaliah, Zechariah, Hananiah, Nethanyahu, Obadiah and Zedekiah, have been found on several of these tablets.
The Akkadian word for man-made canals (naru, Hebrew nahar) is one and the same for rivers. Therefore, it is possible that the words in Psalm 137:1, “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, yea we wept when we remembered Zion”, do not refer to the main rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris, but rather to those canals that branched out from them, which the Jewish captives were forced to dig. It was hard work, especially for a labour force that had just survived the destruction of their country and a long march from Judah to Babylon. These canals were needed to bring water for irrigation purposes and for bringing goods to inland cities, such as Babylon.
When that work was completed, the Jews were allowed to settle in the land.
The text on these tablets also showed that after an initial hard time, the Jews quickly settled down and became prosperous. Some preferred to stay in Babylon rather than to endure the hardship of pioneering work in the province of Judea.
However, after 70 years, many exiles that had been living in Babylon since the conquest of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and Judea.
At the end of the 19th century, Jews again, after a much longer exile, returned to the Land of Israel, and many saw a historical parallel with the return of the exiles from Babylon.
This engraving by Ephraim Moses Lilien was printed on the invitation for the 5th Zionist Congress, held in 1901, as stated in Hebrew at the top of the drawing. The pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe at that time stimulated Jewish immigration to Palestine. This ideal has profound religious and historical roots, one of which was the return to Zion after the Babylonian exile.
The lower Hebrew inscription reads: “May our eyes behold your return in mercy to Zion.”
“her gates have sunk into the ground.” (Lamentations 2:9)
The Middle Gate is mentioned in Jeremiah 39.3 as the place where the Babylonian princes came together to celebrate their conquest of Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem was dramatically exposed in the excavations in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem that were directed by the late Prof. Nahman Avigad. After digging down for some 10 m., a large L-shaped fortified wall of the Israelite period was found.
This gate was called the Middle Gate as it was built in the middle of the northern wall of Jerusalem of that time. It is amazing to think that the Babylonian princes, who sat in the Middle Gate, Nergal-Sharezer, Samgar-Nebo, Sar-Sechim, Rab-Saris, Nergal-Sharezer and Rab-Mag, all came from what is now known as Iraq.
Jeremiah witnessed and lamented the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. “O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night; give yourself no relief; give your eyes no rest” (Lamentations 2:18).
In Lamentations 2:9, we read that “her gates have sunk into the ground.” As all large buildings in Jerusalem, including the gates, were built on the bedrock, these gates could not have sunk deeper into the bedrock on which they were built.
However, there is a logical explanation for this description. The Today’s English Version (formerly the Good News Bible) paraphrases this verse as, “the gates are buried in rubble”. After the destruction, rubble and destruction debris would have accumulated around the destroyed gate and raised the ground level around it, so that the preserved top would have been barely visible. This would have given the impression that the gates had sunk into the ground.
It is exciting to find the remains of buildings that are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but also sad to reflect on the terrible destruction that took place some two and a half thousand years ago.
Fifty years ago today, I embarked on a career which previously I hadn’t know existed and couldn’t have dreamed up for myself. It combined the disciplines of archaeology, ancient architecture, history, education, and Biblical Studies. Since realising, a few years later, that this would require the wearing of multiple hats, (although my fedora was the one that was most practical and the one that became identified with me), I got used to various titles like: “Archaeological Architect”,“Conservator” and “Lecturer”. However, I soon learnt that the hat of Bible Student was the most valuable, and that which could encompass most of my interests. My studies of the Bible had taught me core skills that could be useful in many situations. Research, analysis, interpretation, and application, to mention but a few, all could be improved and enhanced by immersion in the Good Book.
A few months ago, one of my sons, Ben, was looking at a book that contained drawings of cities from Biblical times with one of his sons, Seth ( my now 5-year-old grandson). Ben mentioned that some of these sites were thousands of years old. Seth exclaimed: “as old as Grandad!” Now, I do not claim to be thousands of years old.
But when I looked around my workroom/studio in the cottage we now live in South Wales, I realised that within its walls lie physical evidence of 50 years of visualising the Bible. Its main holding is a substantial library of volumes that contains many of my reconstruction drawings. Some of the most well-known are Study Bibles and our own books, most of which have been published by Carta of Jerusalem. There are traditional dig reports and guide books too. And, added later, also items of a more unusual shape, like CDs and DVDs.
So – if this turning of the year makes you feel like hearing the story of Ritmeyer Archaeological Design, gather round and I will try my best to tell it. And for those of you who on occasion have asked: “How can we learn to do what you do?”, you may pick up some hints or feel that you have had your fill already.
A Dutchman, I graduated in 1967 with a degree in Physical Education from Arnhem. At that time there was compulsory military service, and within a week all my friends had been enlisted, but I was the only one not called up. As I could not commit myself to at least one year of teaching, I decided to go and travel until the military call-up arrived.
After the Six-Day War, there was a shortage of manpower in Israel, as most men were still mobilised. So, I volunteered in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai near the Gaza Strip and stayed there for almost half a year. I used my free time to travel through the Land, began to read the Bible and learnt Biblical Hebrew. The combination of knowing the geography of the Land and learning Hebrew greatly increased my understanding of the Scriptures and developed in me a love for the Land that only got stronger over time and never left me.
In 1969, I decided to try and settle in Israel, which as a non-Jew was not easy, but I eventually found work on the Temple Mount Excavations under the direction of the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar (1906-1995). Before finding this position, I had written a letter to David Ben-Gurion, the former Prime Minister of Israel and was granted permission to stay as a temporary resident. I held this status in fact, for twenty years – a permanent temporary resident!
And reflecting on the way I had originally found the job on the Temple Mount Excavations, it also seemed pretty fortuitous. In 1972, I had read a report about the Temple Mount Excavations in which they appealed for more staff. My late sister Martha had got a job illustrating ancient architectural elements when she applied. She did very well at this work, which she liked very much. We decided to move from the area of Petach Tiqva (Door of Hope), the area where we had been living and earning a livelihood, and we found a house in Bethany near Jerusalem.
After hearing from Martha that I was also looking for work, the deputy director of the dig, Meir Ben-Dov, asked me to come and work there too. I was not too enamoured when I saw the dig with its broken stones and walls and volunteers slaving away in the dust and heat. He offered me the job of drawing potsherds in a tiny room that was a converted cupboard. I ran away as fast as I could! However, he persisted and eventually offered me the job of surveyor. I had never done anything like that but replied that I knew where the zero on the tape measure was and was ready to give it a go.
So, on the 1st of January 1973 I started to work as the dig’s surveyor, making plans on a scale of 1:50. An Irish architect, Brian Lalor, later to achieve renown in his own country in the field of printmaking, trained me in and I liked the work. When I showed him my drawings, I observed what he did with them. He reduced my plans and then completed broken or missing walls and reconstructed elevations and then made complete reconstruction drawings of the building remains that I had surveyed. I thought this was fantastic and, seeing that I was interested, Brian gave me a Byzantine bath house to reconstruct, a work that quickly drew me in.
The great joy in archaeological excavations is figuring out how architectural structures worked. A couple of months later I was asked to survey the Herodian shops to the east of the Triple Gate. These shops were at a much lower level than the street in front of this gate. It was obvious to me that the roof of these shops must have supported the street above. I asked Brian what kind of roofs they might have been, but the response was unclear. One morning, when the sun was shining at just the right angle, I looked up and saw the burnt imprints of arches in the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount and figured out that the descending stepped street above must have been built over the vaulted ceilings of these shops. The shops had been burnt down by the Romans in 70AD, but before the vaults collapsed, the fire burnt into the Temple Mount wall, leaving the imprints of the vaults as an evocative testimony to this dreadful inferno!
My theory at first was greeted with unbelief, but when Prof. Mazar and Brian came to have a look, they were bowled over when they saw the actual evidence. The difference in height between these vaults was 60 cm (2 feet). This corresponded to the height of three steps. And so, it was possible to make a watertight reconstruction of the street above the shops. The excitement and thrill of this discovery got me hooked on ancient architecture for life.
Four months later, Brian left to return to Ireland, and Benjamin Mazar told me to sit in the architect’s chair and to continue supervising a small team of volunteer surveyors that I had trained in. I was left in charge of the architect’s office, and that is how my career as an archaeological architect took off. During the winter months of 1973, Mazar sent me to the library of the Rockefeller Museum to study ancient architecture under his personal guidance.
The making of reconstruction drawings, that became my speciality, was born out of necessity. Apart from my regular architectural work, some staff members including myself, gave tours to other archaeologists and visitors. It was this experience that convinced me of the necessity for these drawings. One of the first stops on the tour was Robinson’s Arch, one of the four gates in the Western Wall of the Herodian Temple Mount. I tried to explain the features of the arched staircase that led up to the Temple Mount from the street below, sometimes using my hands and feet. From questions I received afterward, I realized that not everybody could visualize how it worked. I then made my first reconstruction drawing of Robinson’s Arch. On this drawing, I indicated in color the visible remains and drew the reconstruction in black and white lines. This visual connection with the archaeological remains made the reconstruction immediately recognizable. Seeing people’s faces change from incomprehension to clear understanding assured me that this was the way to go.
Eventually, my reconstruction drawing of the Temple Mount that was used by many guides, became a classic and has been published in many books.
During the Yom Kippur war in October 1973, Israel captured large areas of Syria from Kuneitra to halfway down to Damascus. This area was referred to as the Bashan. After the fighting was over, the soldiers who were archaeologists went back to their normal Unit for the Knowledge of the Country. They had to do an archaeological survey of the Bashan and found two-story Roman houses that had recently been lived in still standing up.
As the archaeologists couldn’t make architectural plans, I was employed by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to join this unit. This was very exciting, as this was my first visit to Syria and I got to know all the up-and-coming young archaeologists, such as Amihai Mazar, Dan Urman, Zvi Ilan and Amos Kloner.
Later, some of this group asked me to make drawings for them. Amihai employed me to draw up the plans of the Tel Qasile excavations and later asked me to join the Tel Batash (Timnah of the Philistines) dig, Dan Urman asked me to join the Tel Nitzana excavations and draw up the plans of Rafid on the Golan, Zvi Ilan asked me to make a reconstruction drawing of the Byzantine Synagogue that he had excavated in Meroth, and for Amos Kloner I drew up some of the caves of Bet Guvrin.
Back at the Temple Mount excavations, I finalised the survey plans, and made reconstruction and publication drawings of buildings belonging to different periods. Prof. Benjamin Mazar was interested in the Herodian and earlier periods, while Meir Ben Dov was given responsibility for the later periods. From my office room I could see who was coming down the steps to see me. When Mazar came down, I quickly put the Herodian drawings on my desk and exchanged them for later period drawings when Ben Dov was visiting!
Another chapter in my career opened when I was asked to reconstruct the Crusader Church of Saint Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem. This work involved the building of a staircase and the pillars that once supported the vaults of the hospital hall of the hospice complex in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. To make the pointed arches, I cut templates out of carton for the individual arch stones on the flat roof of our house in Melchizedek Street and gave those to masons in Bethlehem who cut the stones and built the arches.
It was the first of several restoration projects I later became involved in, eg the Byzantine Cardo and the Herodian villas in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Restoration consists of consolidating the actual remains to prevent deterioration. At times, it is important to reconstruct parts of the ancient ruins. This is extremely sensitive work. It is very important not to build up the site too much, but to do it so that one gets a real feeling for how it would have looked originally.
My life changed in 1975, when Kathleen, an Irish archaeologist, came to work on the Temple Mount Excavations. I still remember her joining the tour I was giving on the dig at the southwest corner, but had no idea that eventually she was to become my beloved wife. She was certainly the best find ever!
In 1983, Kathleen and I established a partnership called Ritmeyer Archaeological Design (RAD), which is an independent partnership devoted to archaeological reconstruction and the production of educational materials, and it is still active today. Kathleen’s excellent writing and research skills enabled us to produce books and varied educational materials that people still find useful today. Just as much as I like drawing lines on paper, she says that she loves to “push words around the page!” Working together has been a great blessing, as we have similar interests and complement each other.
Much of my time in Israel then involved the restoration, first of the Byzantine Cardo and the Herodian Quarter in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, later called the Wohl Museum.
In 1989 we moved to England, and even though we no longer had a Jerusalem address, the projects kept coming in. One of the largest such projects was the design of models of the Tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, and Herod’s Temple and Temple Mount for a Jewish philanthropist in Washington, DC. Photographs of these models, beautifully crafted by York Model Making, are included in RAD’s Image Library.
Other projects I’ve worked on in recent years, include mapping every journey in the Bible and illustrating as many as these mappable events as possible for the United Bible Societies’ Augmented Reality Bible. And even more recently, I’ve collaborated on a voice-driven VR experience, in which a VR headset allows one to walk through a city or large building in a specific period. The first project we worked on focused on Capernaum. I provided all the archaeological and historical background, whereas other artists made the relevant 3D-enabled drawings and computer experts developed the technology.
My work has also brought many rewards for our family life. When our children were young, I was often able to take them on digs and give them memorable experiences that they still talk about today. When they were older, they helped me at times with photography, cartography, and illustration.
If you were to ask me what were some of the most exciting moments in my career, I would say they would be the making of major discoveries, such as the location of the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple and the emplacement of the Ark of the Covenant, and the identification of the Middle Gate mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3. The latter made it possible to relive, as it were, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Arrowheads found among the charred timber and ashes at the base of the tower point to a fierce battle around the city walls of Jerusalem in the time of Zedekiah. Our hands got black with soot—tragic evidence of the fall of Jerusalem.
And for those brave ‘wannabes’ who would like to follow my footsteps, all I would say is: listen to your heart, find an encouraging mentor, and watch how he/she does things on a site you love in the Land. Make yourself as indispensable as possible and make reading the Word in the ruins your inspiration.
Is the grotto in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem the place where Jesus was born?
I believe that Scripture and archaeology show that the place in Bethlehem where Jesus was born was not a random cave or grotto, but a different location that was prepared centuries earlier for this purpose.
According to Luke 2.1-5, Bethlehem is the place where Joseph went for the Roman census. Both Joseph and Mary were descendants of the family of King David. When the Roman Governor Quirinius ordered a census to be carried out, Mary and Joseph had to travel to their ancestral home in Bethlehem. It must have been an uncomfortable journey when Mary was almost 9 months pregnant and had to travel, probably on the back of a donkey, from Nazareth to Bethlehem – a 100-mile-long journey through the Jordan Valley!
On arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph couldn’t find a place to stay. We are told that there was “no room in the inn”. The only available place for the Son of God to be born was a stable, which had to be shared with animals. How do we know that it was a stable? In Luke 2:12, an angel told the shepherds that a Savior was born and that they would find him as a babe lying in a manger. Mangers are feeding troughs for animals, usually found in stables.
Why was there was no room in the inn? The NT Greek word for “inn” is kataluma, which has been translated “guest room” in Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11. In the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34, the Greek word for ‘inn’ is pandokion. This was a proper inn or caravanserai as it had an innkeeper which is calleda pandokus. There is no mention of an innkeeper in the ancestral home of Mary and Joseph. Inns were large buildings, often with two stories of rooms built around a courtyard. The upper rooms were used by the travelers, while the animals would be kept in stalls or stables.
Large dwellings, such as the ancestral home of Mary and Joseph would have looked similar, i.e. two story high rooms built round a courtyard. As members of Joseph and Mary’s extended family had apparently arrived earlier and occupied the guest rooms, Joseph and Mary had to stay in the stable block of the same ancestral home.
So, what did a stable look like in the time of Christ? From archaeology we know that stables looked like rooms with a fenestrated wall, i.e. an interior wall with several low windows. Animals were placed behind this wall, and sacks of provender were stored in the first half of the room. At feeding time, the fodder was put in wooden boxes or baskets and placed in these windows.
It was probably in the storage part of the stable block that Mary and Joseph had to stay and where Jesus was born and the babe was placed in a wooden box. Stables with fenestrated walls have been found in many places, such as Capernaum and Chorazin that are illustrated here, and in later monasteries.
So, where did the tradition that Jesus was born in a cave originate from? Here is a suggestion. After 135 AD, a Roman garrison occupied Bethlehem as indicated by Roman inscriptions that were found near Rachel’s Tomb. In the first and second centuries AD, the Romans venerated Asclepius as the most important god of healing. Many temples and shrines were built to celebrate his healing powers. The Roman soldiers may have built a shrine to Asclepius in a cave near Bethlehem. “It is possible that such a military presence would have led to the establishment of an Adonis cult in the same way as the Roman military presence in Aelia [Capitolina] led to an Asclepius/Serapis cult in the caves adjacent to the Pool of Bethesda.” 
In the fouth century, Constantine the Great tried to eradicate paganism and replace it with Christianity. The building of the Church of the Nativity over this cave may have been part of this program. Similarly, a church was built over the Pools of Bethesda.
In a previous post I asked the question what is the importance of Bethlehem and which inn/hostel was chosen by God as the place for His son to be born in?
To prepare for the conquest of Jericho, Joshua sent out two spies that stayed overnight with Rahab. She was a harlot (zonah), yet living with her family, which is unusual. In Hebrew, the word zonah is closely related to mazon which means food, and lehazin which is to feed. It has been suggested that she ran an inn, where the two spies would naturally have gone for shelter. She also may have provided “extra services” as part of running the hostel. It possibly was a Canaanite custom, which was well accepted among those nations, who didn’t have the rule of God to guide their society. Because of her faith, Rahab was the only person, with her family, that was saved.
Rahab married Salmon and their son was called Boaz, who must have settled in Bethlehem when Judah captured its inheritance. Boaz married Ruth in Bethlehem and she became the great-grandmother of David (Ruth 4.10). Gentile Ruth was, of course, one of these amazing few women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:5. King David was born in Bethlehem and anointed king there by Samuel the Prophet.
Near the end of his life, David had to flee from his son Absalom, when he rebelled against him. He stayed with the aged Barzilai the Gileadite, whose son Chimham returned with David to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 19.37-40). To provide him with a source of income, it appears that David may have given him part of his own inheritance in Bethlehem to build an inn (mentioned in the early Jewish source, Targum Yerushalmi, Jer. 41.17a), and called “Geruth Chimham”, “Habitation of Chimham” (Jer. 41.17). The building of inns/hostels may have been a family tradition! As small towns like Bethlehem usually had only one inn, it is reasonable to suggest that Jesus may have been born in this inn. As the guest chambers were full, Jesus would have been born in the stable block that was part of the same inn. It would be amazing to contemplate that through the generosity of David to Barzilai and his son Chimham, a birthplace for Jesus was prepared about 1000 years before his birth!
 Henri Cazelles (1992), “Bethlehem”, in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, Vol 1, 712-714.
The New Testament (Acts 3.2,10) records a notable miracle that was performed at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. This was the gate where a man who had been lame from birth was begging. When Peter and John saw him, they told him that they did not possess any gold or silver or worldly riches. Instead, they healed him in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He then “went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God” (Acts 3.8). What a joyful occasion that must have been and one that was witnessed by many people. Jesus had healed blind and lame people before (Matthew 21.14), but now his disciples could perform similar miracles.
The time at which the miracle was performed was very significant. It was the ninth hour – the hour of prayer during which the evening sacrifice was offered in the Temple (Exodus 29.41).
David had composed a special psalm for this hour (Psalm 141.2). Jesus died on the cross at that very same hour (Matthew 27:46). Elijah’s sacrifice was also offered at the time of the evening sacrifice (1 Kings 18.29). At this time also, the angel Gabriel was sent to Daniel to answer his prayer (Daniel 9.21). The angel that came to Cornelius came at this time (Acts 10.3). God answers faithful prayers, but there appears to be a special time at which certain prayers are answered.
The miracle took place at the Beautiful Gate, but the question is, which gate is the Scripture referring to and how can it be identified? There were at least seven gates in the outer walls of Herod’s Temple Mount, but only in one of these gates have decorations been found.
In a previous post we wrote that some scholars have proposed that the Nicanor Gate or the Shushan Gate were the best candidates for the Beautiful Gate. However, we have argued that neither of these gates would have been suitable places for a lame man to beg.
A more likely location would have been the Double Gate in the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, which I have described in my book The Quest, Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, 67-74.
The ceiling inside the double passageway has beautifully carved domes, which have survived up to today. In 1973, I received permission from the Muslim authorities to survey these domes. At the time, scaffolding was erected beneath the southwest dome, so that we could touch and measure it. That was an unforgettable experience. The domes were photographed under my direction, and I planned and set up the drawings, which were completed in pencil by Nili Cohen and in ink by my late sister Martha.
Most of the worshipers went up to the Temple Courts through this gate, which was certainly worthy of the appellation “beautiful”. It also allowed for effective begging practices, as suggested on p. 74 of the above-mentioned book. According to Mishnah Middot 2.2, “whosoever it was that entered the Temple Mount came in on the right and went round and came out on the left, save any whom aught befell, for he went round to the left.”
Two of the west domes are beautifully decorated with carved floral and geometric designs interwoven in intricate patterns.
We had suggested (The Quest, p.74) that these two eastern domes may have fallen during the original construction or because of an earthquake. They were rebuilt during the same Herodian period but were left undecorated.
Nevertheless, it was indeed a gate with beautifully decorated domes that have survived the Roman destruction and are still there until this day. We suggest then that Peter and John healed the lame man at the Double Gate and from there he went “walking and jumping” to the Temple as far as Solomon’s Porch.
In our previous post we reported on the Arbel Fortresses and mentioned that we would describe the Arbel Synagogue in the next post.
Communal worship began in the Tabernacle and continued in the subsequent temples of Jerusalem. Synagogues emerged much later in time. Worship in synagogues was very different from that in the Temple. In the latter, cultic practice was led by a small group of priests and other officials, with the ordinary worshipers relegated to outer courtyards. In synagogues, leadership was open to all. Prayer and study replaced sacrifice, and ceremonies could be observed by everybody.
The first synagogues that were built in the Land in the 1st century, e.g. Gamla, Capernaum and Magdala, were flat-roofed and had benches built around the colonnaded interior. Later Byzantine synagogues had pitched, tiled roofs and were more elaborately decorated.
Synagogues were religious, cultural, and social centres of the Jewish community. Communal prayers and the study of the Hebrew scriptures were conducted for young students and adults, often in rooms set aside for that purpose. Whereas the main part of the synagogue, the assembly room, functioned as a meeting place with the emphasis on the Shabbat service, sacred meals were also served there, and communal law courts sat there.
The most important part of the Shabbat service was the reading of the Torah and its exposition, as noted by the author of Acts 15:21:
“For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
In the fourth century, a Byzantine style synagogue was built in the centre of the settlement of Arbel, on the west side of the middle residential terrace. In 1987-’88, Zvi Ilan and Avraham Izdarechet began preservation and restoration work on the synagogue and its surroundings, and they asked me to prepare a reconstruction drawing.
Its plan recalls other Byzantine synagogues in Galilee such as Capernaum, Chorazin, Tiberias, Meroth and others. Originally, the main entrance was in the eastern wall and was partially constructed from one gigantic rock.
In the north wall of the synagogue, an installation that resembles a charity chest or community treasury has been found.
The synagogue had the shape of a basilica and was oriented north-south and measured 20 by 18.5 meters. In contrast to the village houses that were built of dark basalt, the synagogue was constructed of limestone blocks. The interior had three rows of pillars with heart-shaped pillars in the corners and four steplike benches were built along three of the walls.
A round niche for the Torah ark was later constructed in the southern wall, with a stone platform (bema) in front of it for the reading of the Torah. Such a feature was characteristic of later synagogues. There was also an additional entrance made in the middle of the north wall at this time. This new axis from north to south was designed to direct worshipers to face towards Jerusalem when they entered the synagogue through the northern entrance.
The three rows of columns on the first floor had Corinthian capitals, while those of the second story were topped by Ionic capitals. Smaller Ionic pilasters, flanking double windows, adorned the walls of the upper story.
A large, paved courtyard was made in front of the main entrance. It may have served as what is called in rabbinic literature a “door within a door”, that is a kind of entrance room or place of assembly. The building was topped by a tiled roof.
The Arbel Synagogue continued to function until the earthquake of 747 AD, when it was severely damaged, and the settlement destroyed.
Judith Sudilovsky reported in the Jerusalem Post on the opening of the Arbel Fortress following 1.5 years of conservation work.
“Towering majestically over Lake Kinneret, looking out over a breathtaking view of the upper and lower Galilee including Mt. Nitai, and further towards the Golan Heights and Mt. Hermon, the stark cliff of Mt. Arbel has been witness to plenty of history.”
The cliff hanging Arbel Fortress in question is known as Qala’at Ma’an. It was built in the beginning of the 17th century AD by Fahr al-Din II, of the Druze Ma’an dynasty, governor of Lebanon and Galilee.
“The fortress was not allowed to stand for too long, and within a decade of its construction Ottoman forces destroyed it for reasons unknown. Time and nature did their share, and over the centuries the three-story fortress—a popular site for intrepid hikers to visit–fell into great disrepair making it dangerous for visitors.”
Despite its short existence and subsequent neglect by both nature and pillage by men, the Arbel Fortress still has an imposing presence hanging halfway down the cliff. We are grateful for this conservation project that makes the site more accessible for visitors who can also enjoy the spectacular views of the surroundings.
Arbel is a site of uncommon natural beauty with steep cliffs plunging down toward the Sea of Galilee, overlooking Wadi Hammam, Magdala, the place where Mary Magdalene lived, and Capernaum.
For a long time, it was thought that Fahr al-Din’s citadel was the fortress of the Jewish rebels who fought against Herod. The late Zvi Ilan conducted a systematic survey of these caves in 1987- ‘88, in which I participated. The actual caves were located on a trail on which, for decades, hikers walked to the Ottoman fortress. Initially, Zvi had no idea that the real caves were hidden only a few meters away! During the Hasmonean period, about one hundred caves were hewn in the cliff for residential purposes and protected by walls. Some caves contained two or three rooms. The survey showed that the outer wall of the fortress of Fahr al-Din was built in front of some of those Hasmonean caves. This caves consisted of rooms, cisterns, stairways and even a mikveh that was found on the third floor.
To his great surprise, Zvi Ilan discovered another cave fortress to the east of the Ottoman fortress that was 75 meters long, 14 meters wide and 10 to 12 meters high. A long wall was built in front of it, to the top of the hewn rock. An interior wooden walkway was constructed between the caves and the wall. The date of this fortress could not be established without a future excavation. However, according to Zvi, the possibility that this fortress was built as part of the preparations for self-defence at the site at the end of the Second Temple period, should not be ruled out.
As mentioned in Judith’s article, Arbel has seen plenty of history even though it is so little known. What is known about its history?
The ancient settlement and lookout post of Arbel may have been the one that is mentioned in the Bible as Beth-Arbel. This fortress was destroyed by Shalmaneser V in 722 BC, when he was on his way to capture Samaria: “all your fortresses will be devastated – as Shalman[eser] devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children.” (Hosea 10:14). The defeat of this settlement must have been particularly brutal and an example to Israel of the cruelty of the Assyrian invaders.
The fertile land on the Valley of Arbel that is watered by the abundant water that flowed through it, enabled the inhabitants of Arbel to grow grain, olives and grapes, and flax that was used in the production of linen. This supported a strong economic base for Arbel that was built on terraces in the rocky slope on the northern periphery of the Arbel Valley.
Two great legal minds of the mid-second century BC, the sage Nitai the Arbelite, who was born here, and Joshua ben Perahiah taught Torah using a Deuteronomy scroll that these two sages had received from Simon the Just, who was then High Priest in Jerusalem (Mishnah Avot 1:6). Nitai was also vice-president of the Sanhedrin. This indicates the high level of development of Arbel as a spiritual centre for Galilee.
The ancient settlement was almost entirely surrounded by cemeteries. Later traditions mention Arbel as the burial place of Nitai of Arbela; Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and several of her brothers; and that of Seth the son of Adam, and the exilarch Hezekiah, a leader of the Jewish community from the time of the Babylonian exile.
Arbel is now also known for its unique system of the above-mentioned fortified caves where Hasmonean loyalists fighting the Galilean Zealots hid. In 161 BC, a deadly battle took place at Adasa between the Maccabean forces led by Judas and the Seleucid forces that were commanded by Nicanor. The Seleucids were defeated and Nicanor was killed. In order to revenge his death, Demetrius the Seleucid king sent his general Bacchides the following year to the land of Judea. “They took the road to Galilee and besieged the Mesalot (fortified caves) in Arbel and captured it and put many people to death” (1 Mac. 9:2).
In 38 BC, Herod tried to conquer the land with Roman support and battled the supporters of Antigonus II, the last Hasmonean king of Judea, who were hiding out in these caves. Herod’s men fought for forty days to no avail. Herod then devised a plan whereby soldiers would be lowered from above in crates connected to iron chains. After a bloody battle, Herod’s forces eventually routed the Jewish rebels.
In 66 AD, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman war, Josephus fortified the caves with walls and used them as storage base at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman war.
After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the Bar-Kochba rebellion that lasted from 132-136 AD, many Jerusalem Temple priests fled to villages in Galilee. It was then that the association of Arbel with the concept of Messianic redemption became widespread. One poet from Tiberias claimed to have seen an appearance of the Messiah in the plain of Arbel on the eve of Passover.
In the fourth century, a synagogue was built in Arbel (see image above), which we will report on in the next post.
Thanks to the conservation work, both these fortresses and the caves can be safely visited again, a wonderful opportunity for hikers and people that love the land. These caves are also located on the Jesus Trail. This is a 40 mile (65 km) long hiking and pilgrimage route following the road that Jesus would have taken when he moved from Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum. It goes through the Wadi Hammam that is located between the Horns of Hattin of Crusader fame, or rather infamy. Hikers will surely enjoy seeing the renovated Ottoman fortress and the many caves that bring history to life.