Aaron Lipkin communicated that Jewish and Christian volunteers have restored the destroyed wall of the Mount Ebal archaeological site of Joshua’s altar (photo: Aaron Lipkin).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to protect ancient sites:
“Concerning the terrible event at Mt. Ebal – I instructed today to conduct an investigation immediately to apprehend the people responsible (for the destruction) and to setup security in the site. We will safeguard our historical sites.”
In the Gospels, Jesus speaks parables about “masters of the house”. In Matthew 20:1-16, he speaks of a master of the house who hired labourers to work in his vineyard, and in Matthew 21:33-39 of another master of the house who planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants. There are also references in Mark and Luke.
The Greek word for ‘master of the house’ is oikodespotes. Many lessons can be learnt from these parables which stresses the authority of the master of the house, but here we would like to examine the archaeological background of the parable.
From the description in the Gospels, this was a wealthy landowner, who had vast tracts of lands with vineyards, oliveyards and agricultural fields for the growing of crops. No wonder he needed labourers to work in his fields at harvest time. These landowners would have lived in large country mansions with outbuildings to store their crops and with installations, such as winepresses and olive presses, for post-harvest activities.
Such an estate from the Second Temple period was found on Mount Carmel, in the grounds of Ramat haNadiv, the Rothschild Gardens near Zichron Ya’akov. It is called Mansur el-‘Aqeb in Arabic or Horvat ‘Aqav in Hebrew. Here, a fortified farmstead, surrounded by a wall and protected by a large tower, was discovered. It was L-shaped with the longest walls about 200 feet (60m) long and a surface of 0.7 acres (2,800m2). Inside the compound were the remains of extensive living quarters, storerooms, two winepresses, an oil press and a threshing floor. As the lower part of a mikveh (ritual bath) was found inside the building, the owner must have been Jewish.
The mansion is located at the highest point of the southwest cliff line of Mount Carmel, and overlooks the agricultural fields below. Caesarea by the Mediterranean Sea can be seen in the distance.
After the destruction of this complex in 70AD, a farmstead was built over the remains of the 1st century estate in the Byzantine period, confirming the importance of the location and ground of this agricultural estate.
In the late 1980’s, I was asked by the excavator, Yizhar Hirschfeld, to restore a circular Byzantine winepress.
This was followed up by a request to restore the whole site and design explanatory signs.
Eventually these black and white signs faded and the metal frames rusted. A few years ago, I was asked to design new signs which were to be done in color.
When the pandemic is over, God willing, tourists and visitors will again be able to visit this fascinating archaeological site. We have found “reading in the ruins” one of the most effective ways to bring an ancient site to life. Reading the parables that Jesus spoke about landowners or masters of the house in this particular farmstead, paints a vivid picture in the mind and illuminates the cultural and material background.
In the 1980’s, I used to visit Mount Gerizim as part of my work making reconstruction drawings for the Staff Officer of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria. These drawings showed what the different buildings from the area, dating from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods, would have looked like.
Archaeological remains of a Samaritan sacred precinct were discovered in these excavations around the turn of the 21st century. These date from the time of Nehemiah (mid-fifth century BCE). The Bible doesn’t mention any temple as standing on Mount Gerizim, so we wondered how such a building fitted in with the biblical history. It was the reading of Josephus that provided the missing historical information, as we will see later on.
After the return from Babylonian Exile, a new temple was built in Jerusalem under the leadership of Jeshua and Zerubbabel. This temple is described in Ezra 6:3 as being 60 cubits high and wide. Although the stone work was inferior, it nevertheless functioned as a proper temple.
In the time of Nehemiah, the square precinct of the Temple Mount, previously built by King Hezekiah, was restored.
During that time, Sanballat the Horonite was the leading figure among those who opposed the building of Jerusalem and the temple. It is generally believed that he was descended from the Babylonian settlers whom the Assyrians deported to Samaria (2 Kings 17:24). Sanballat, whose name means “Sin (the moon god) gives life”, was the governor of Samaria. During the absence of Nehemiah, a grandson of Eliashib the high priest named Manasseh, had become the son-in-law of Sanballat (Neh. 13:28). On his return, Nehemiah rejected Manasseh and sent him away. The vital additional information for our question was found in Josephus, who records that Sanballat then offered to make Manasseh high priest and build a new temple on Mount Gerizim similar to that in Jerusalem (Ant. 11:310).
The archaeological remains of the Samaritan sacred precinct indeed indicate that at this time a rival temple was built on this mountain by the Samaritans. A closed courtyard, that could be entered through three gates, was built around the Temple. No remains of a temple have been found, as, due to hostilities between the Jews and Samaritans, the temple and sacred precinct were destroyed in 128 BC by the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus I. However, archaeological finds of inscriptions, finely cut ashlars and proto-Ionic capitals attest to the existence of a Samaritan temple.
The site remained unoccupied until the Byzantine period, but despite this, Mount Gerizim remained a sacred place for the Samaritans. That is why the woman of Samaria said to Jesus that her fathers worshiped on this mountain, while the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. Jesus answered that God must be worshiped, not in a sacred space such as Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth (John 4:20-24).
According to Samaritan sources, a temple of Zeus was built on the northern ridge of Mount Gerizim after the Roman destruction of 70CE. This temple, which was built in the mid-second century, stood on a podium measuring 64m long and 44m wide.
Coins from about 160CE depict a temple that overlooked the city of Neapolis (modern Shechem or Nablus), and that was reached from the city by a stairway of about 1500 steps. This temple continued in use until the fourth century.
After that time, a large Byzantine complex surrounded by walls and towers was built on the highest summit of Mount Gerizim.
In the center of this walled complex stood an octagonal church, the Church of Mary Mother of God (Theotokos – literally God-bearer), which was established by Emperor Zenon in 484CE. Centrally designed churches are built to commemorate certain events, in this case, the Orthodox belief in Mary’s bodily resurrection before being taken up into heaven.
Mount Gerizim has been a sacred place for almost 2,500 years, and continues as such up to the present time. A large population of Samaritans lives on or near Mount Gerizim today and every year they celebrate the feast of Passover, with many pilgrims joining them. In this picture we see a priest holding up the Samaritan Pentateuch.
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…
The Messiah in the Temple is an exciting project with the aim of developing a 3-D visual media of the Temple of Jerusalem. This project was conceived by the project manager Martin Severin. After reading Roger Liebi’s book of that name and my book “The Quest – Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem”, he decided with the help of Christof Frank of digi mice GmbH to make a digital version of the reconstructed Herodian Temple Mount.
Zachi Zweig, an archaeologist who is involved with the Temple Mount Sifting project, kindly send me the paper [in Hebrew], which he gave at the recent conference on the Temple Mount at the Bar-Ilan University. I commented on this find in an earlier post. Here is an abstract:
“Hamilton describes the discovery of a plastered cistern that was excavated below the easternmost door of the present El Aksa mosque, north of Cistern 9 [according to Warren’s numeration – see map]. The descent to [the cistern] was from west to east by means of a flight of steps, with the bottom step some 3 m. [10 feet] below the present floor of the mosque. The remains of some five steps were discerned, which were built against a plastered wall, which was about 90 cm wide [3 feet].
Unfortunately, Hamilton did not publish additional details – not one picture or plan. However, in the Mandatory Archives there was a photograph of the five steps, which descend to the opening of the cistern. The top of the steps is located some 1.50 – 2 m. [6-7.5 feet] below the present surface and to the south of it and adjacent to it, although at a little distance, there is a thick wall. This is most likely the same cistern. The steps appear to have been cut out of the rock and this points to the fact that the level of the top of the rock in this location is at about 1.50 m. [6 feet] below the level of the present pavement.”
The exit of the cistern is located deep below the level of the floor of the mosque. Hamilton dated it to the late Roman period. However, as the remains of a dividing wall can be discerned, Zachi concluded that it could have been a mikveh (Jewish ritual bath), see picture below:
It is located a little to the east of the underground passage which leads up from the Double Gate to the Temple Mount. Ronnie Reich has identified Cistern 6 and 36 as mikva’ot, but these are located in the original Square Temple Mount. These could have been added in the Second Temple period, as they are located close to the surface and no First Temple period mikva’ot are known.
This latest one, however, is located much lower down and in the Hasmonean extension of the Temple Mount and may therefore have been one of the earliest mikva’ot in Jerusalem: Worshipers in the Hasmonean period, who had not purified themselves before going to the Temple Mount, perhaps had the opportunity to do so in this mikveh, if it was a mikveh indeed.
Some posts are pure pleasure to put up. This is one of them! Our resident computer expert (son Nat, who is also an experienced digger!), has given our website a facelift for the new academic year. Over a memorable few weekends, he has managed to combine all the sections of our website, made it easier to subscribe to RSS and also easier to find our products. To celebrate this event, we are offering massive discounts on many items. Take a few minutes to check these out before the academic year gets underway.
The ESV Study Bible has now started a blog and today an interesting post was put up about the Gamla Synagogue. When I first started to work for the ESV Study Bible, I was shown a beautiful reconstruction painting of this synagogue which had a red tiled roof. The artist did not know that roof tiles were only introduced to the Land of Israel in the Roman period and were much used in the Byzantine period. Most of the roofs of churches and synagogues at that time had pitched roofs, covered with tiles.
Not so, however, during the Herodian period, when the Gamla Synagogue was built. Some tiles may have been imported for large public buildings, but most of the roofs were flat, especially in the Golan where wood is scarce. In 1973, just after the Yom Kippur War, I was asked to accompany a group of IDF archaeologists, who were doing a survey in the territory that had been newly captured from Syria. It was here that I was first introduced to buildings made of basalt blocks. Not only the walls, but the door and window frames were all made of basalt stones and the roof was made of long basalt slabs, which rested on corbels which projected from the walls.
I was quite sure that the Gamla Synagogue had a similar flat roof and that is what it shown in the drawing below (used by permission). As an interesting aside and as mentioned in a previous blog, this type of roof construction would explain how the paralytic man could have been let down through the “tiling” (Luke 5.19) in order to be healed by Jesus. It is more than likely that the roof of the house in Capernaum, where the houses were also made of basalt, was made of long basalt slabs laid at a short distance from each other and which were then covered with flat basalt tiles. After removing these tiles and taking away the basalt cross beams, a space would have been created large enough to let a man down through.
A similar flat roof construction would have been used in the Gamla Synagogue. It has been a privilege to have worked with the ESV Study Bible and Maltings Partnership and the painting below is the result of our joint endeavors: