Apart from the first century Synagogue of Capernaum, the only other known synagogues from this period were found at Masada, Herodium, Gamla and Magdala. In Jerusalem, the Theodotus Synagogue inscription, dating from the same time, was found, but no remains of the actual synagogue have been found.
We know that the Synagogue of Capernaum served as a place for the reading of the Torah and its study. But, what did the interior of the Capernaum Synagogue look like and how did the synagogue operate? In Luke 4:16-22 we read that in the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus first stood up to read, and then sat down to teach. The question is, where did the reader stand and where did the teacher sit?
In a previous post, we have seen that in Capernaum the Torah Scrolls were transported in a wheeled carriage from the home of the ruler of the synagogue (archisynagogas) to the synagogue. These scrolls were apparently kept in the home of the ruler of the synagogue for security reasons.
The Law of Moses was first read, and then expounded on from Moses’ Seat, for in Acts 15:21, it says “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath”. And in Matt. 23:2,3 Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do”.
We have tried to put this information in a new reconstruction drawing of the interior of the Capernaum Synagogue. Opposite the entrance in the east wall, we see people sitting on stone benches, placed along three sides of the room.
In the centre of the hall is a reading platform, consisting of a decorated square stone on which a wooden lectern stands. This reconstruction is based on a similar stone that was found in the nearby synagogue of Magdala.
The reader read from the scroll that was brought into the synagogue in the wheeled carriage, which was placed at the left side of the entrance. The ruler of the synagogue took the relevant scroll out of the carriage and placed it on the lectern. On the right side of the entrance is a stone seat, called Moses’ Seat, where the teacher sat. Such seats have been found in the synagogues of Chorazin and Tiberias.
Jewish worship consisted initially mainly of prayers and the reading of the Law. This worship later developed into a full-blown service. The order of the services in the synagogue was as follows: (1) Reciting the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num. 15:37-41) (2) Prayer (3) Reading the law (4) Reading the prophets (5) Discourse by anyone who desired to speak (Acts 13:15) (6) the Benediction.
The order of the traditional Christian service is based on this Jewish one.
Apart from teaching in the synagogue, Jesus also performed miracles there, such as the healing of the man was there whose right hand was withered (Luke 6:6 – 10, Matthew 12:9 – 13, Mark 3:1 – 5), the man with an unclean (demonic) spirit (Mark 1:21-25), and perhaps also the woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up (Luke 13:11-14). Jesus did these signs, not only to prove that he was the promised Messiah, but also to show the deeper significance of the Sabbath day as an example of the promised Sabbath rest for the people of God (Heb. 4:8-10).
The Golden Gate is very much in the news today, as it has become a point of conflict between Jews and Muslims, or Palestinians and Israelis.
But what do we know about this gate?
The Golden Gate, around which swirl various traditions, is the most intriguing of all the gates of the Temple Mount. In Jewish tradition, it is through this gate (Sha’ar haRachamim—Gate of Mercy), blocked since the ninth century, that Messiah will enter at the end of days, led in by the prophet Elijah. This is based on the prophecy of Ezekiel 44.1–3. Christians believe that Christ made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (recorded in all four of the gospels) through this gate on the Sunday before his crucifixion (Palm Sunday). By riding on a donkey, he fulfilled the messianic prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9.9. Muslims refer to it as the Gate of Eternity (Bab-al-Dahariyeh) and believe it will be an important part of the last judgment of mankind. The Muslim cemetery along the Eastern Wall is thought to have been placed there in the belief that the forerunner of Messiah, Elijah, being of a priestly family, could not pass through the Golden Gate, thus preventing the coming of the Messiah.
Some claim that the Golden Gate was built by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius after the expulsion of the Sassanians from Jerusalem. However, the absence in the architectural decorations of any Christian symbols, such as a cross makes that difficult to believe. There are actually four distinct historical phases represented in the architecture of this gate: Turkish, Umayyad, Herodian and First Temple period. In the 1970’s I was privileged to spend one week inside this gate, measuring and recording its plan and drawing accurate elevations of all the interior surfaces.
The Golden Gate’s outer façade is composed of two blocked-up gateways adorned with intricately carved relief arches. The decoration of the arches to the front and back of the gate are identical to the applied arches of the Double Gate which date from the Early Islamic period. The gate appears therefore to have been rebuilt in the Umayyad period, on the foundations of an earlier gate.
The remains of two massive monolithic gateposts are preserved inside this gate.
The gateposts are set in the same line as the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount and line up with the massive masonry that can be seen on either side of the Golden Gate.
The gateposts and the two masonry sections appear therefore to be part of the same construction. The top of the southern gatepost is level with the top of the ancient masonry that can be seen south of the Golden Gate. The northern gatepost is one stone course higher and is located only one stone course below the surface of the Temple Mount. This means that the top of the original lintel would have been identical with the present-day level of the Temple Mount. The two gateposts belong to a gate that dates from the First Temple period and is most likely the Shushan Gate, mentioned in Mishnah Middot 1.3 as the only gate in the Eastern Wall.
The gate most probably was given this name by builders who had returned from exile in Babylon and for whom the Palace of Shushan lived on in their memories. However, if so there would have been a tradition of an eastern gate in this location from the time of the construction of the original Eastern Wall. It seems reasonable to suggest that the central section of the Eastern Wall dates from the First Temple period, in particular to the time of King Hezekiah. This square mount was extended south in the Hasmonean period, while both the southern and northern additions were made by King Herod the Great.
In 1969, the remains of an underground arch were discovered inside a grave in front of the Golden Gate. It was suggested that this may have been a pre-Herodian gateway. However, as the arch stones appear to be Herodian, it is more reasonable to suggest that this arch was part of a Herodian staircase leading up to the original gate. It is fascinating to contemplate that the stairway may still be intact under this gate, although hidden from sight by the Muslim Cemetery.
We do know that the remains of an ancient city wall lie under the present-day path that runs through the Muslim cemetery, which was discovered by Warren in the 1860s. The above-mentioned arched stairway led down through a gate in this city wall, the so-called Miphkad (Muster, or Inspection) Gate mentioned in Nehemiah 3.31, apparently still in use in the Second Temple period. During the latter period, it was through these gates that the Red Heifer was led out from the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives (Mishnah, Parah). On the Day of Atonement, the scapegoat was led by the same route into the wilderness (Mishnah, Yoma).
It is therefore obvious that the Golden Gate is a very important historical building for the Jewish people, as reported by Arnon Segal of the Hebrew newspaper Makor Rishon Here is a translation of the article that refers to my research:
Although visiting the Temple Mount is not always a pleasant experience these days, it is still worth the attempt. We have had good feedback from visitors who have used our guidebook to find things which otherwise they would have missed. One of the little known secrets described in our book (which can be purchased here) is a small window near the northwest corner of the Temple Mount. Despite its apparent insignificance, it has a large story to tell.
While walking on the Temple Mount platform, this opening, covered with a protective grille, can be found low down on the left-hand side, just before one reaches the northernmost gate in the Western Wall, the Bab el-Ghawanima Gate.
This window was already noticed by Charles Warren in the 1860s. On the inside is a little room where this opening, flanked by two pilasters, which appear to be late Herodian in style, can be seen. From here, in the Second Temple period, one could have entered the Rock-hewn Aqueduct, which can now be seen at the end of the Western Wall Tunnel.
This is what Charles Warren wrote about this discovery:
“Through the roof of the aqueduct Lieutenant Conder gained access into a small modern chamber, built against the Sanctuary wall, just north of the Bab es Serai; and here he found part of a wall of large drafted stones, with a plinth course and two pilasters, like those in the Haram Hebron. The space between the pilasters was occupied by a window, or opening into the Sanctuary, which seems to be ancient, as the lintel and jambs are of large ashlar – the former drafted.” Warren, Ch. and C. R. Conder (1884). Survey of Western Palestine: Jerusalem (London), p. 213.
In the halcyon days of the 1970’s, when archaeologists from the Temple Mount Excavations were allowed to explore the hidden recesses of the platform, I was able to visit this space which had been turned into a room and look for these pilasters and the window. (In contrast with Warren, I accessed the room via the Muslim Quarter.) Although the pilasters had been painted over by the residents, the window overlooking the Temple Mount was still visible.
According to Josephus, the Roman siege of the Antonia Fortress in 70 A.D. was protracted, because of the destruction of the Roman earthworks by the Jews, under leadership of John of Gischala, who had barricaded himself inside the Temple Mount. He used an underground passage to get into the water reservoir (the Strouthion Pool) and undermine and set the earthworks that were built in this pool on fire (War5.466-472). This underground passage could only have been reached through this window that has the appearance of being hacked through in order to gain access to the area below the Antonia Fortress (normally you don’t build windows between pilasters at such a low level). For this reason we have dubbed this window the “Window of John of Gischala”.
The drawing below is a reconstruction drawing of the northwest corner of the Temple Mount and the Antonia Fortress with the location of the “Window of John of Gischala” indicated:
It was because of such use of underground passageways by the Jews that Titus decided to build a siege wall around the city so that all communication with the country could be cut off and supplies interrupted. This resulted in a terrible famine and so the drama continued to its tragic end. This little window is one of those secret places on the Temple Mount where history echoes down the years.
Ferrell Jenkins runs a travel blog and today wrote a post on the Ports of the Sea of Galilee which has some excellent photographs of the Church of the Primacy of Peter at Tabgha. In this interesting post he comments on the work of the late Mendel Nun, who was a member of Kibbutz Ein Gev and worked as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Although not a professional archaeologist, Mendel researched and recorded the remains of the ancient harbours of the Sea of Galilee, of which there were at least sixteen.
The remains of these harbours can only be seen when the water level is low. In the 1970’s, a number of ancient harbours were discovered, followed by the discovery of an ancient fishing boat in the mud near Magdala. During the years of 1989-1991 there was a severe drought and the accompanying archaeological activities revealed many remains that shed light on the shipping trade and fishing industry during the first century.
Here is a map of the harbours that were plotted by Mendel:
The photograph below, taken in 2009, shows the remains of some of the piers of the Capernaum harbour:
Mendel’s map and the photographs he published made it possible to make a reconstruction drawing of Capernaum and its ancient harbour:
The next drawing in our series dealing with the development of Mount Moriah and the Temple Mount shows what it would have looked like in the time of the later kings of Judah.
The first and original drawing showed what the mount looked like before anything was built on it. The next one showed Mount Moriah during the time of the Jebusites. This was followed by a drawing of Solomon’s Temple complex.
From the Hebrew Bible we know that Hezekiah (725–697 BC) was a good king, but he lived in difficult times. The Assyrians under Sennacherib had invaded the northern part of the country and many refugees had fled to Jerusalem and settled on the Western Hill of Jerusalem, as the Eastern Hill was already bursting at the seams.
Archaeology has given us a great insight into the kingship of Hezekiah, and has shown that he was one of the greatest builders Jerusalem has ever seen. In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem one can visit the Broad Wall (mentioned later on in Nehemiah 12.38) that was built by Hezekiah to protect the new settlement. The excavations have shown that some houses had been dismantled to make room for this massive 7m (23ft) wide wall that encircled the Western Hill. This building work is mentioned in Isaiah 22.10, “you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall.”
Another great work mentioned in Isa. 22.11 is the construction of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Hezekiah diverted the waters from the Gihon Spring and “sent” them through an underground tunnel to the Siloam Pool (Siloam – shiloah in Hebrew – means “sent”). One of the most exciting experiences one can have in Jerusalem is to walk through this ancient tunnel.
Hezekiah also embarked on a major rebuilding program of the Temple, as reflected in the second and later account of the Temple construction in 2 Chronicles 3–4. We believe that this text describes a virtually new and much larger Temple built by Hezekiah.
In this passage, the two columns of the Porch are described as being 35 cubits high in contrast to a height of 18 cubits mentioned in 1 Kings 7. Instead of the three-story-high wooden construction that was built around Solomon’s Temple, there is now an Upper Chamber above the original sanctuary. Other differences between the two descriptions show that Hezekiah not only rebuilt Solomon’s Temple, but also redesigned it. Nevertheless, this Temple is still referred to as the First Temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
har habbayit. This measurement of 500 cubits has been preserved in the text of Mishnah Middot 2.1: “The Temple Mount (har habbayit) measured five hundred cubits by five hundred cubits.”
Having recently updated our Image Library with about 40 new illustrations, we have received enquiries as to how this online resource came into being. As its creation was a process that took many years, you may be interested to read its story. We were privileged to live in Israel for a long time, so most of the images come from the Land. However, in recent years, we have managed somewhat to break the exclusive hold that Israel has on us and branch out into the surrounding Bible Lands.
What is unique about these images is the fact that most of them are reconstruction drawings. Most picture libraries are just that – pictures of sites. But when you are faced with the challenge of giving a talk on a Bible subject, you don’t just want to show a picture of ruins. You want to give your listeners an insight into the past by building up the stones into a structure where you can imagine Biblical events taking place. The same goes for picture editors looking for illustrations to help readers visualise how sites looked in antiquity.
We may take the idea of reconstruction drawings for granted today, but going back to the heady days after the 6-Day War, when there was an explosion of archaeological excavations, particularly in Jerusalem, there were very few around. Many archaeologists adopted a cautious, purist approach and found it a bit “risky” to take decisions as to a building’s original appearance. My foray into making reconstruction drawings stemmed from the experience of giving tours on the Temple Mount dig, whilst working on the site as surveyor. I used to try explaining features like Robinson’s Arch, the arched staircase that led up to the Temple Mount from the Western Wall street in the time of Christ, with my hands and feet. From questions I got asked afterwards, I realised that not everybody had “got it”!
Thus, my first reconstruction drawing of Robinson’s Arch and a career as an archaeological architect was born. It was all based on study drawings of the known elements, comparative architecture and research into the historical sources. Seeing peoples faces change from incomprehension to clear understanding sold me on the vital need for such drawings. I was blessed that the late Prof. Benjamin Mazar, who directed the dig, agreed and could not have been more encouraging.
As there were few others at the time making reconstructions (now it is a recognised field), I was asked to visit many sites to help visualise the original structures. Talk about “going over the cities of Israel!” These digs ranged from Ai, Beersheba and Dan to Shechem, Shiloh and Timnath of the Philistines.
I learnt much from the older school of archaeologists, such as the afore-mentioned Professor Mazar, who kept a copy of the Taanach, or Hebrew Bible on his desk, consulting it daily and calling it “our history book!” And Mendel Nun, a resident of Kibbutz Ein Gev on the Sea of Galilee (who died recently at the age of 92) did so much research into methods of fishing on the lake in ancient times, that I was able to make a drawing of the harbour of Capernaum in the time of Christ.
However, it was Jerusalem that was always the centre of my endeavours and I was also involved in the other two major digs that took place in the city, namely the Jewish Quarter Excavations and the Excavations in the City of David. Included in the Image Library is a picture from the former dig, directed by Prof. Nachman Avigad, of a building originally identified as part of an Israelite tower. However, as the dig expanded, it became clear that it could not have been a tower as one side was missing! One day, after returning from working on the summer season at the site of Timnath of the Philistines, I realised, from my experience of digging a gate of this period in Timnath, that we were looking at a similar structure here in the Jewish Quarter. From its location in the upper city, it became clear that it should, in fact, be identified as the Middle Gate of Jeremiah 39.3. Arrowheads found close to the site revealed the destruction of the city in the time of Zedekiah. Our hands got black with soot – tragic evidence of the fall of Jerusalem.
We left Israel during the First Intifada, as heightened security made it virtually impossible to work on many of the sites I was involved in in the West Bank. Having moved to the UK to do my Masters in Conservation Studies at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies of the University of York (another walled city), one of the projects I was asked to do was to design models of the Tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple and Herod’s Temple and Temple Mount for a Jewish philanthropist in Washington D.C. Photographs of these models, beautifully crafted by York Model Making, are included in the Image Library.
My Ph.D thesis entitled: “The Architectural Development of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem” (University of Manchester) necessitated the creation of many drawings to illustrate different aspects of this subject. And subsequently, during the years we lived in Australia, whilst teaching Hebrew and History at Heritage College Adelaide, I made models of Jerusalem in the different periods with some of my students. The process developed the students’ understanding of the city’s history immeasurably and resulted in models, some of which were unique in the history of model making, especially of the periods of Melchizedek and Nehemiah.
One aspect of our recent work with the ESV Study Bible required me to think about what the tomb of Jesus would have looked like, which brought about this brand new drawing.
And part of the project I did for the GLO Immersion Digital Bible involved making maps of all of Christ’s journeys. I have included in the Image Library this map of his last journey in Jerusalem. The traditional Via Dolorosa or Path of Sorrows was fixed by monks in Western Europe in the eighteenth century and a devotional procession along this route is still led by Franciscans every Friday. In fact, the streets upon which Jesus walked lie about 10 feet below the level of these thoroughfares. By contrast, this drawing called “The Way to Golgotha” is firmly based on Scriptural and archaeological evidence. This drawing is also available as a Bible Chart, which is one of our Photographic Posters that are individually designed and printed on A3 (297 × 420mm or 11.7 x 15.5 inch) size, high-quality, thick photo paper (paper weight 100 lb. or 270 g/m2).
The Image Library also includes many photographs from a recent study tour of the Seven Churches of Revelation located in modern-day Turkey. Who knows, these may some day also be turned into reconstruction drawings! Tips for using the Image Library will hopefully be the subject of a future blog.
Kiryat Yearim is one of the most evocative Biblical sites in Israel and never more than during the Abu-Gosh Festival. Then, twice a year, at Succot and Shavuot, this Arab village in the Judean hills, where the Ark of the Covenant rested for 20 years (1Sam. 7:2) becomes the backdrop for Israel’s most important vocal music event.
The 12th century Crusader church at the heart of the village and the church of Notre Dame de l’Arche de L’Alliance (Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant) at the top of the hill are the main venues because of their remarkable acoustics.
The programme of the upcoming 40th festival is here. This is a previous blog post on the festival.
According to this Jerusalem Post report, the site where Jesus was baptised will be opened to the public in 10 days’ time, on January 18, 2011. See also Todd Bolen’s report here.
When we tried to visit the site last year, following the signs for Qasr el-Yahud, we found that the road was blocked by a military fence and gate.
There was a sign which we ignored because we didn’t understand what “photgraphy” was!
It will be wonderful to visit this site, which has been off-limits for 42 years. The site where Jesus was baptised is called Bethabara in John 1.28. The Hebrew name Bethabara means the “Place of Crossing”. Not only was it a suitable place where travellers crossed the River Jordan opposite Jericho, but the name also indicates that it was the place where the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land after the death of Moses.
The crossing of the Jordan is described in Joshua 3.15,16 (quotes from ESV):
“as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks othroughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho.”
Bethabara played an important role in the life of Jesus, as he returned there many times after his baptism. He went there, for example, after his rejection in Jerusalem during Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, “He went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.” (John 10.40). “Beyond Jordan” is, of course, also the place where the Camp of Israel was located just before they entered the Promised Land! Undoubtedly this site had a strong impact on the mind of Jesus as he would have been very familiar with the Biblical events that took place there.
After Jesus was baptised, he was tempted in the wilderness nearby. He used the words of Deuteronomy to counter the temptations of the devil. Moses wrote the Book of Deuteronomy while Israel was encamped “beyond Jordan” (Deut. 31.9).
After the crossing, Joshua commanded to take out 12 stones and place them in the next camping place, Gilgal: “these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever” (Joshua 4.7). As John was baptising here, he probably referred to these 12 stones when he said: “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3.9).
Bethabara features again in the book of Judges. To complete his victory over the Midianites, Gideon:
“sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb.” (Judges 7.24,25).
This victory is reflected in a psalm when David longed for the victory over Israel’s future enemies “Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb”, looking forward to a time when their adversaries would be confounded forever (Psalm 83.11,18).
And there are still further references in Scripture to Bethabara: During the rebellion of Absalom, King David crossed here and returned later via the same crossing place:
“So the king came back to the Jordan, and Judah came to Gilgal to meet the king and to bring the king over the Jordan. ” (2 Samuel 19.15).
Bethabara is also the place where Elijah and Elisha went after leaving Jericho. There “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2.11).
A visit to this site will be a valuable addition to any tour of the Land. Needless to say, such a visit would be greatly enriched if it is with “Bible in hand”, in order to reflect on all the significant events that took place here. Hopefully I will be able to see the place from the other side, when I visit Tall el-Hammam in Jordan.
The Image Library of Ritmeyer Archaeological Design contains authoritative reconstruction drawings and models which you will not find on any other website. The photos of ancient sites in the lands of the Bible have also been taken through the informed lens of an archaeological architect. A treasure-trove for teachers, pastors, lecturers and picture editors, it is the result of years of experience digging and researching in Israel and traveling in the surrounding countries.
The Image Library is arranged in different categories and is fully searchable. The different categories are designed to help you find the picture you are looking for easily. All preview illustrations are watermarked, but these won’t appear on the downloads.
For ease of use, each image comes with a descriptive note and, where applicable, full Scripture references. With the explosion of information coming from excavations, we hope that this will become an ever-expanding resource vital for all who wish to incorporate both beauty and authenticity into their portrayal of the Bible background.
After talking about doing this for the past 10 years, we’ve finally done it! Let us know of any images you’d like to see added to the library…