Thursday, November 30, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: Cult Shrine

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996

Cult Shrine at Ein Hatzeva—Biblical Tamar
(7th century BC)
The excavators of Ein Hatzeva (biblical Tamar in southern Judah) found the foundation remains of a large Iron Age fortress and shrine. In a pit nearby were seventy-five cult objects. Large hewn stones covering the pit had concealed and crushed the items, but researchers were able to recover and reconstruct each one. Nevertheless, their destruction was deliberate, suggesting some kind of purge, perhaps connected to religious reform, such as that under King Josiah, who destroyed shrines and cult centers in an effort to bring worship back to Jerusalem:
Josiah...desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba. (2 Kgs 23:8)
Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites. (2 Chr 34:33)
The cult objects at Ein Hatzeva identify the site as Edomite, but Edom was not friendly toward Israel. In fact the Edomites had refused the Israelites passage through their territory on the way to Canaan:
Edom answered: "You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword." (Num 20:18)
This incident did not presage good relations between Israel and Edom.
After Israel's conquest of Canaan, Edom's position alternated between servant to God's people and independent from God's people:
  • King David ruled over Edom:
All the Edomites became subject to David. (2 Sam 8:14)
  • Edom rebelled against King David:
David was fighting with Edom. (1 Kgs 11:15)
  • King Uzziah ruled over Edom:
You have indeed defeated Edom. (2 Kgs 14:10)
  • Edom rebelled against King Ahaz:
The Edomites had again come and attacked Judah. (2 Chr 28:17)
So why was an Edomite shrine in Judean territory? The answer is probably that some of God's people succumbed to the attraction of paganism even when the source of that attraction was an enemy.
The shrine at Ein Hatzeva was close to the border with Edom, so it is not unusual that there would be some cross-border influence. Nevertheless, God was very clear about His condemnation of idolatry and about His insistence that the Israelites have nothing to do with the paganism of their neighbors:
The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. (Lev 18:1-5)
It is an opinion He did not change even many years later: "Flee from idolatry" (1 Cor 10:14).
Significance for Biblical Studies: The cult shrine at Ein Hatzeva illustrates the tension that existed between worship of the true God and worship of false gods, even within the borders of Israel. It may also show one attempt to eradicate idolatry by destroying the many accouterments of paganism.

For a pdf go here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: Egyptian Brickmaking

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996

Egyptian Brickmaking—Rekh-mi-Re Tomb Painting
(14th century BC)
When we consider the Book of Exodus, we usually think of Moses, the Red Sea, Israel's escape from bondage, and Mt. Sinai. Before God rescued the Israelites, however, the people had to make bricks. The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites after the death of Joseph and forced the people to build great storage facilities:
They put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly. (Exod 1:11-14)
The Israelites had to make bricks, and the method they employed was already centuries old. They mixed dry clay with water, added chopped straw, pressed it into a mold, and left it in the sun. As the mixture dried, the straw began to decompose, releasing certain chemicals which made the clay stronger, more plastic and homogeneous. That was the normal procedure, until their taskmasters gave the people different instructions:
Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people: "You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don't reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies." Then the slave drivers and the foremen went out and said to the people, "This is what Pharaoh says: 'I will not give you any more straw. Go and get your own straw wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced at all." So the people scattered all over Egypt to gather stubble to use for straw. (Exod 5:6-12)
Making bricks without straw caused them to dry brittle and more likely to break. The slaves had to produce a daily quota of usable bricks and faced severe punishment if they failed to meet it, so the Israelites had to make a greater number than usual:
The slave drivers kept pressing them, saying, "Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw." The Israelite foremen appointed by Pharaoh's slave drivers were beaten and were asked, "Why didn't you meet your quota of bricks yesterday or today, as before?" Then the Israelite foremen went and appealed to Pharaoh: "Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, 'Make bricks!' Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people." Pharaoh said, "Lazy, that's what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, 'Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.' Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks." The Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble when they were told, "You are not to reduce the number of bricks required of you for each day." (Exod 5:13-19)
This painting is from the tomb of Rekh-mi-Re in Thebes (see map below). He was Vizier of Upper Egypt for Thut-mose III (1490-1436 B.C.), who may have been the Pharaoh of Israel's enslavement. The tomb painting shows the main participants in the brickmaking process, including the task masters with whips and clubs (lower right). The hieroglyphs indicate that the workers are foreign captives, perhaps Israelites.

Significance for Biblical Studies: The Rekh-mi-Re Tomb Painting of Egyptian Brickmaking adds support for a conviction that the Bible preserves an accurate record of ancient events and practices. It also serves as a reminder that God did not abandon His people. As He says repeatedly:
I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations (Lev 26:45).
I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you (Ezek 16:60).
For a pdf go here.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996
Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
(c. 825 B.C.)
Austen Henry Layard discovered the Black Obelisk at Nimrud (northern Iraq) in 1846, one of several Assyrian royal chronicles scattered throughout the Middle East. Several stela record information about the political relationship between Israel and Assyria during the 9th century, and they document the existence of some Israelite kings in the Bible.

This stele is one of the most important finds ever made relating to the Bible. Five registers of relief sculpture (horizontal sections of four panels each depicting a series of scenes) decorate the four-sided limestone monument and show the collection of tribute from vassal states by Shalmaneser III (ruled 858-824 B.C.). The second register from the top on one side shows the presentation of tribute by "Jehu," king of Israel (ruled 841-814 B.C.). The central figure on the first panel of the register is prostrate at the feet of the Assyrian monarch. Some scholars have suggested that the figure is Jehu's emissary but, if it is Jehu himself, this panel is the only extant picture of an Israelite ruler from the First Temple Period.

The Assyrian record differs from the biblical text in two ways. First, the Bible lacks any mention of Jehu's paying tribute to Shalmaneser. This difference does not mean the scriptural account is incorrect. The Bible does not record every event in the lives of the kings. Second, and perhaps more significant, the stele calls Jehu "son of Omri." According to the biblical text, Jehu was not a descendant of Omri. In fact, Jehu destroyed the Omride dynasty:
You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the LORD's servants shed by Jezebel. (2 Kgs 9:7)
Murder and usurpation were common occurrences in the northern kingdom of Israel, unlike Judah, where Davidic kings ruled continuously for four hundred years. Omri, an Israelite general, became king by attacking his predecessor (882 B.C.). He was succeeded by his son Ahab (ruled 871-852 B.C.) who, in turn, was succeeded first by one son, Ahaziah (ruled 871-552 B.C.), then by another son, Joram (ruled 851-842 B.C.) whom Jehu murdered. The death of Joram, however, did not satisfy Jehu. He also killed Ahab's seventy descendants as well as all in Ahab's court "leaving him no survivor" (2 Kgs 10:11).

The grisly paradox of the cuneiform inscription on the Black Obelisk is that it identifies Jehu as the son of Omri. If that is true, then Jehu murdered his own family. Throughout the biblical Ahab/Jehu cycle, the destroyed house is the house of Ahab, while the text does not mention the house of Omri. It is possible that Jehu was indeed a "son" of Omri, that is, a descendant of Omri—but through a different line from that of Ahab.

Alternatively, the Assyrians may have misunderstood Israelite politics or, more likely, applied their own policy for designating vassal states. Assyrian kings often identified other kingdoms by the name of the first king they encountered. Hence, if Omri was in power when Assyria made its initial contact with Israel, Assyria would thereafter call that nation "the house of Omri." If this was the case with Shalmaneser III, then "Jehu, son of Omri" was a national designation not a lineal one, and Jehu did not kill his own family.

Significance for Biblical Studies: Discoveries like the Black Obelisk confirm that events in the Bible are about real people in real time and help to substantiate the Bible as an historical document, thereby giving us confidence in what we believe. The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, a ruler the Bible mentions, confirms the involvement of the Assyrian monarch with the Northern Kingdom of Israel and with Jehu, one of its kings.

For a pdf go here.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Digging Up the Bible: Amarna Tablet

Important Archeological Finds that help Us Understand Scripture
Linda Manuel—1996

Amarna Tablet
(late 15th to early 14th century B.C.)

In 1887 in the el-Amarna district of Upper Egypt, 195 miles south of Cairo and 225 miles north of Thebes, along the eastern bank of the Nile Rivera, a peasant discovered some clay tablets with Akkadian cuneiform writing. Archaeologists began excavating the site a few years later and found 350 similar tablets, each about the size of a 3x5 card. These documents were diplomatic correspondence between two pharaohs and their vassal kings in Canaan.
The El-Amarna letters reflect chaotic conditions in Canaan as various groups vie for control of the area. The king of Jerusalem addressed several letters to the pharaoh complaining about the Apiru:
As sure as there is a ship in the midst of the sea, the mighty arm of the king conquers Nahrim and Kapasi, but now the Apiru are taking the cities of the king. There is not a single governor remaining to the king, my lord. All have perished. (EA 288.33-40)
The name Apiru does not refer to a specific people. It is a general term for raiders, but some scholars have thought it might refer to Hebrew tribes advancing through the land.
Abdi-Khepa classifies all his enemies as Apiru, so it is difficult to identify any particular group. The situation in Canaan had so degenerated that, according to this king, the tribute he sent to Pharaoh was stolen by these marauders on its way to Egypt. This theft may have happened, but some reports imply that it would not have been beneath Abdi-Khepa to fabricate such a story to avoid paying his taxes.
Relations between vassal kingdoms were often unstable, fluctuating between conflict and cooperation. Suwardata, king of Hebron and Abdi-Khepa's neighbor to the south, complained to Pharaoh:
The king, my lord, should know that Abdi-Khepa has taken my city out of my hand. Further, let the king, my lord, ask if I have taken a man, or even an ox or ass from him.... Further, Lab'ayu who had taken our cities is dead, but verily Abdi-Khepa is another Lab'ayu, and he takes our cities. (EA 280.21-35)
On other occasions, however, Suwardata and Abdi-Khepa worked together against a common foe, the Apiru. Suwardata wrote, "The king, my lord, should know that the Apiru have arisen in the land which the god of the king, my lord, has given me.... I and Abdi-Khepa are left alone to fight." (EA 290a)
Significance for Biblical Studies: God's people did encounter resistance to their invasion, but it was generally limited to the local forces of a single city-sate. There was no central government, so they faced no Grand Army of Canaan, which enabled them to carry out a very vulnerable task unmolested: "After the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed" (Josh 5:8). It further helped that the population of the land was divided, with "Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites" (Josh 3:10), making it difficult to present a united front against invading forces. Consequently, the conquest was a series of engagements and skirmishes rather than one long war.
Some scholars believe that the Apiru are the Hebrews, but the evidence is inconclusive. What these texts do provide is a glimpse into the unstable political climate of Canaan when Israel arrives on the scene: vassal city-states fighting among themselves, harassed by bandits and ignored by Egypt, ideal conditions for God's people to invade and conquer.

For a pdf go here.

Friday, November 17, 2017


Dr. Paul Manuel—1984

This past holiday season I had the privilege of participating with an Israeli family in a Passover Seder. The food—from gefilte fish to matzah-ball soup—was delicious, but the focus of the evening was clearly on the annual rehearsal of God's redemption of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Through a variety of readings, integrating prayer, Scripture, and commentary, the liturgy repeatedly directed our attention to what the Lord has done in the past, yet always with the understanding that this divine event also included subsequent generations, even us today.
Upon reflection, I realized that the concept of inclusion is, to some degree, what Jesus was attempting to make his disciples see as they observed their final Passover together. He wanted them to realize that the significance of the holiday transcended the past and had very real implications for the present in establishing precedence for the Lord's intervention in history on behalf of His people, something God was repeating before their very eyes and which included them.
I was grateful for the openness of my Israeli hosts. The evening was most enjoyable. I was also grateful that the Lord made allowance for gentiles to participate in the Passover celebration:
An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must do so in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for the alien and the native-born. (Num 9:14)
I am most grateful, of course, that in God's redemptive activity He included me.

A pdf can be found here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A servant of the Lord (Isa 44:1-28)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

One of the characteristics of canines that humans find attractive is that a dog often knows what it means to be a servant more than a person does.
Jack is a police officer who would occasionally park his cruiser in residential areas to watch for speeders. One Sunday morning, Jack was staked out in a driveway when he saw a large dog trot up to his car, stop, and sit just out of arm's reach. No matter how much Jack tried to coax him to come for a pat on the head, he refused to budge. After a while, Jack decided to move to another location. He pulled out of the driveway, looked back, and learned the reason for the dog's stubbornness.... The dog quickly picked up the newspaper the cruiser had been parked on and dutifully ran back to his master.
A dog often knows what it means to be a servant more than a person does. It may mean delaying gratification until just the right moment. In the end, however, for a dog, his primary duty is to serve his master. So also for the believer; there is "No Higher Calling" than to serve the Lord.
To be called a servant of the Lord is an honor. It does not necessarily mean that such a person has a vital or indispensable role in advancing God's plan or merely that he makes a useful contribution to it. Hence, the biblical writers may apply the title ("servant") to the righteous or to the unrighteous, to those who consciously serve Him as well as to those who do not.1 The greatest servants are, of course, those who assist Him willingly, even enthusiastically, who purposefully work for His interests (e.g., Moses).2 The greatest involvement belongs to those whose servant position is the result of explicit divine election, like Israel. God states as much to Moses on more than one occasion:3
If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodl9:5-6a)
I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations.... You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. (Lev 20:24b, 26)
You are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (Deut 7:6)
The rest of scripture records the unfolding of God's program as Israel fulfills (and fails) the role He has for that nation.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A selection of non-Davidic Psalms

Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

Psalm 45
For the director of music. To [the tune of] "Lilies."
Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil. A wedding song.

I. The psalmist extols the groom (Psalm 45:2-8).
A. He is a noble monarch (Psalm 45:2-5).
1. The king is politically successful (vv. 2-3).
2. The king is militarily powerful (vv. 4-5).
B. He represents a virtuous deity (Psalm 45:6-9).
1. The king is divinely supported (vv. 6-7).
2. The king is humanly regaled (vv. 8-9).
II. The psalmist extols the bride (Psalm 45:10-15).
A. She has forsaken her past (Psalm 45:10-12).
1. The bride is fully committed (v. 10).
2. The bride is physically comely (vv. 11-12).
B. She has embraced her future (Psalm 45:13-15).
1. The bride is majestically adorned (vv. 13-14a).
2. The bride is personally attended (vv. 14b-15).
III. The psalmist extols their offspring (Psalm 45:16-17).
  • People anticipate a dynasty (Psalm 45:16-17).
1. There will be a smooth transition (v. 16).
2. There will be a stable succession (v. 17).