It’s snout about the Romans


The sun sets on the Sea of Galilee.

In the distance, purple hills rise. Stories are found in their folds.

The large canyon in the center is the Wadi Yarmuk, the largest contributor to the Jordan River. Today the Yarmuk marks the political boundary between occupied Syria or the Golan Heights (on the left side of the image) and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (on the right side of the image).

In the time of Christ, these purple hills were both associated with Gentile domains. The remains of the Decapolis city of Gadara rest in the Jordanian city of Umm Qays. Umm Qays is marked on the far left by towers on the hillside.

Gadara figures into the story of the demoniac told in Mark 5. See the story here. Let me warn you ahead of time: it’s snout about the Roman legions.


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Manger Square mystery?

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I picked up this slide several years ago as part of a anonymous donation to the Cincinnati Christian University. There are no labels so I don’t know the date or place exactly.

I’m guessing this is the plaza known as Manger Square in Bethlehem. The view is toward the west from the area in front of the Church of the Nativity. The minaret is part of the Mosque of Omar and the street running away from the camera is Pope Paul VI.

The mosque confuses me; the lines are different from the mosque seen today. Could this be because the Jordanians renovated the site in the early 1950s? Might that a Jordanian flag on the post?

That’s my best shot. Anyone else have a guess?

If I’ve got it right, the mosque seen here is the one constructed in 1860. It was erected on the footprint of a still earlier structure. According to tradition, the original structure represents the place where Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattib (7th c AD) prayed when he came to town. Omar was persuaded by a local monk to pray here rather than across the plaza in the Church of the Nativity. The move preserved the church; otherwise it would have likely been converted into a mosque.

Check out the donkeys and the vehicles. Hey, maybe someone can date those vehicles? The donkey?

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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.

Elijah's view before takeoff

The Jordan River snakes along the floor of the valley. It carries moisture to vegetation that can tolerate sweltering heat and salty soil. 

On Jordan's Stormy Banks

The Wadi Kharrar intersects the Jordan River about five miles north of the Dead Sea. As pictured, tourists, worshippers, and the curious are permitted down to this famous river that serves as an international border. 

Feline fountain

In Jordan's fertile Wadi as-Seer is an amazing structure known as the Qasr al-Abd (Arab. "Castle of the Servant"). Many believe it was built around 200 BC by Hyrcanus, a Jerusalemite who fled to Transjordan and established a residence there. The structure is made of huge stones and is considered a rare display of Hellenistic architecture in the region. Its exterior walls are flanked by two lions that functioned as fountains. 

Ron Wakeman of the Madaba Plains Project photographs one of them.

Weekend wandering

Weekends are a precious commodity when working an archaeological site. For some diggers, the weekend is a time to relax, rehydrate, and escape the sun. For others, it is a perfect opportunity to explore the country beyond the 5 x 5 meter square. For several summers, I had the pleasure of rambling with Matt Grey (now Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU). On this day we hunted flints in the eastern desert of Jordan, not far from al-Harrana.

Blue haze and dark air

As one drives the backroads toward Petra, Jordan, there are many spectacular views. Here, I point the camera toward the crumbling edge of the Great Rift Valley, or Ghor, as it is locally known. The GRV is an enormous seam between plates of the earth's crust. The edge of the Arabian plate is before you as it splinters and erodes, revealing a section of limestones, sandstones, and in its deepest portions, granites. The haze obscures the view to the far side of the GRV where the edge of the African plate rises.

The Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea all rest in the gap between these plates. Near Petra, where I took this shot, it is dry desert. Beyond those Nubian sandstone bluffs (the darker and steeper cliffs) the area attracts the name aravah (or arabah) in the Hebrew Bible. As examples of mentions, see Joshua 3:16 or Amos 6:14.

Hasa panorama

Members of the Abila Expedition (1986) get a view to the Wadi al-Hasa. Like many teams in the field, the Abila group often traveled on weekends to explore other parts of Jordan. Here, they take in the view from the north rim of one of the Middle East's "Grand Canyons." The Wadi al-Hasa is believed to be the biblical Zered. It carries runoff from the highlands of Transjordan into the Dead Sea.

Leaders from that season pictured here include Wilkie Winter (left with hat), Horace Hummel (center, plaid shirt) and Jack Lee (right with yellow cap).


An archaeologist's rig? (part 3)

To be perfectly honest, I don't remember where I saw this "Safari Lunchbox." It was somewhere in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan during our 2004 season at Tell Jalul. I'm thinking it was used by one of those companies that takes dudes for desert rides. 

It is a shame that its last paint-job was applied with a nylon brush. 

The bones of this Landy are still good under all those dings and dents and missing lamps. You can tell by the way the hood proudly sports the spare. 

More musing on knobby-tyred vehicles used by archaeologists is found here.

It makes the sun stand still

Workers assist the photographer by holding a Joshua cloth over an excavated area. As the summer sun creates harsh contrasts and washes out color, the creation of a little shade makes for better field photographs.

These tactics test group creativity. Holding the cloth at various angles (depending on the size or contour of the area), strategically using head scarves, jackets, or even a contorted row of bodies to block the sun, can make for some good laughs. Windy days convert the Joshua cloth into a sail and require many hands! Published photographs from a dig never reveal such antics, but believe me, they lurk behind many a "scientific presentation."

Note the north arrow and the scale in the center of the square.

Michèle Daviau of Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada) was director of this 1991 effort at Tell Jawa, Jordan. Michèle is behind the camera on the tripod.

The label "Joshua cloth" is drawn from the story of "the longest day" told in Joshua 10. You can read it here. Look for the prayer found in 10:12-13.

An archaeologist's rig? (part 2)

Station wagons are boss. Utility station wagons that go in rugged terrain are even bosser. Utility station wagons that go in rugged terrain and are owned by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities as bossest. 

I found this Moose, a Toyota Land Cruiser 50 Series (vintage late 1960s-1970s), sitting beside the Temple of Hercules (how appropriate!) in the parking lot of the Amman Citadel Museum. That was almost 30 years ago. If cared for properly, this rig could be still alive today.

It reminds me of the days when I was just a lad and rode the crummy into Oregon's deep woods.

More musing on knobby-tyred vehicles used by archaeologists are here and here.

Stone shaping

Excavation, restoration and conservation are long-term efforts at the site of Jerash (biblical Gerasa of the Decapolis) in Jordan. Here, a workman gives shape to a limestone block destined to become part of a bridge that spans the watercourse between the residential and the cultural/administrative districts. Facing stone by hand requires an athlete's strength and a craftsman's eye.

The aggressive program of cultural preservation has made Jerash the second most visited site in all of Jordan (behind Petra). It is without peer as an example of a Roman city in the East.

For more on the uniquenesses of the Roman East, see Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East: 31 BC-AD 337 (Harvard, 1995) or Warwick Ball, Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire (Routledge, 2000).

The Arab Bridge over the Red Sea

Yesterday, in memory of D-Day, I posted a brief note on the Suez. See it here. Today we leap the Sinai peninsula to the eastern finger of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba.

As the slow ferry (there is a "fast" tourist one for sissies) leaves the port of Aqaba, Jordan, we catch an evening view to the stern where the Wadi Aravah (Great Rift Valley) slips beneath the waters of Red Sea. Four countries converge on this short stretch of beach: Jordan, Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The line is called the "Arab Bridge" as locals are unable to pass the borders of Israel. This is the rusty bypass.

We mass on the steel deck because there is no air conditioning below. It is easily 100 degrees F in the sun. The premium seats are not seats at all but spaces where you can sit cross legged in the shade.

Our destination on this sweltering summer night of 1994 was the port of Nuweiba. Our ultimate goal: climbing the traditional Mt Sinai for the first time.

Dead and dying, sortof

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Word on the street has it that the surface of the Dead Sea (Arab Al-Bahr al-Mayyit; Heb Yam ha-Melah) is falling at a rate of three feet a year (See link here). Runoff from adjoining areas is being captured and redirected, depriving the deepest hypersaline lake in the world of traditional water sources (including the Jordan River). Mind you, no one is worried that it will dry out anytime soon; the lake is more than a thousand feet deep. Beyond this, it is hypothesized that the rate of shrinkage cannot remain constant (find out why in an excellent BBC report linked here). Still, there are known and unknown consequences. More than 5,500 sinkholes have opened up along the recently exposed shore in the last 40 years. These have swallowed cars, people, date palms, gas stations, and even resorts!

I captured this image the day before yesterday from a viewpoint along Highway 90 north of Ein Gedi. Note the shadowed contours suggestive of coastlines in the recent past.