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Bible - History - Archaeology
Gustave Doré's Bible
Gustave Doré (1832-1883) was a French illustrator. One of his famous work was the illustrations of the Bible (1866) that he engraved on wood for a special edition of the Vulgate (translation of the Bible in 'common' language), in French and in English. This edition, and his work in particular, met with great success.
This page focuses on some of the Biblical stories that inspired the artist, and mentions their related sites in Israel. You can click on any illustration to enlarge it. For the sites related to the New Testament, refer to my other page In the Footsteps of Jesus.
The Creation of Mankind
Here is the creation of Eve as per Genesis 2:21-22: And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the place with flesh instead thereof. And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from the man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man.
Trivia: Eve was not created from Adam's "rib" but from Adam's "side". The "rib" is mistranslated from the Hebrew text which says "side", which is rather a generic word. So, we don't actually know which side of his body it was.
Where? According to Jewish tradition, Adam was created on top of Mount Moriah which is known today as the Temple Mount, because the First and Second Temples were located there. Today there is the Dome of the Rock and, right below it, where the Holy of Holies was once located, is the Stone of "Foundation": the foundation of mankind ! Note that, in the original (Hebrew) text of the Bible, Adam was "created" while Eve was later "formed" from him. So, Adam was initially created with both masculine and feminine attributes, the latter being separated from him to make Eve. So, both attributes were created at the same spot, on top of Mount Moriah.
The Book of Genesis tells us the story of the Flood when God decided to eradicate mankind except for Noah and his own family who were spared and found refuge inside an ark. Then, in Genesis 8:3-4: And the waters returned from off the earth continually; and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat..
Trivia: the seventh month mentioned here is the Hebrew month of Sivan, marking the start of the summer even today. The rains of the Flood stopped in Kislev, 150 days earlier.
Where? The mountains of Ararat are located in Northern Turkey which once was part of Armenia. If you visit the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, go down to the Chapel of St. Helena which is run by the Armenian Church. You will see a floor mosaic depicting the main churches of Armenia and also... Noah's Ark with a rainbow above it. The symbol is strong because Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity (before the Roman Empire). Christians see their faith as a "new beginning" (new covenant) for humanity. Similarly, Noah's Ark allowed to begin a new world. Christianity took a new turn thanks to Armenia, the very nation where Noah's Ark came to rest !
The terebinths of Mamre
After Noah, the Bible narrative turns to the next key character: Abraham. Genesis 18:1-2: And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day, and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth.
Trivia: the "men" were in fact angels and, in such a way, the artist correctly represented them. But in Jewish tradition, an angel is not a winged creature but a human-form 'emissary' of God's will: one angel, one mission. One was to announce that Abraham will have a son (Isaac), a second to destroy Sodom, and a third to save Lot.
Where? Mamre was a territory identified today as the region of Hebron. Until less than 10 years ago, an old "oak" still existed on the hills outside the city and was called the Oak of Abraham. In fact, the Bible does mention an oak ('alon' in Hebrew) but it is mistakenly translated as terebinth ('elah' in Hebrew) which is a different tree. Both are endemic to the region though, known as the Palestine oak and the Palestine terebinth. Biblical Botanic !
Sodom and Gomorrah
The second visitor to Abraham's tent was tasked to destroy the sinful cities. The artist depicted the flight of Lot, his wife and two unmarried daughters, and the fate of Lot's wife who was turned into a pillar of salt. Genesis 19:24-26: Then the LORD caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; and He overthrow those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
Trivia: Lot's wife was a native of Sodom, so had much to leave behind including her older daughters who, being married, did not believe in the forthcoming divine wrath and remained behind.
Where? The Southern part of the Dead Sea is a very desolate place, much more desolate than the rest of the Dead Sea valley going North. It is truly an extraordinary contrast between the two sides of the region. And there is little doubt that, if one location ought to be considered where God displayed His wrath, that would be it ! And, in this wrecked place, there is also one standing pillar of salt, obviously called ... Lot's Wife.
Hagar and Ishmael
Hagar was Sarah's maid who misbehaved towards her mistress. Abraham had to send her off from his household, along with the son she bore him, Ishmael. Death was certain in the wilderness and Hagar was prepared to let her son die. Genesis 21:14-16: And Abraham arose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away; and she departed, and strayed in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. And the water in the bottle was spent, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow-shot; for she said: 'Let me not look upon the death of the child.' And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept.
Trivia: Ishmael survived and became the ancestor of the Arab nations.
Where? Hagar went south into the wilderness from Abraham's abode in Beer-sheba. God saved her by showing a miraculous spring of water. There is no such water source in the desert around and south from Beer-sheba except one: Beer Yeruham. According to the tradition of the Bedouin tribes, God opened this unlikely well (i.e. 'Beer') for Hagar in this arid desert.
The binding of Isaac
Eventually Abraham was himself tried by God for reasons that are debated. Genesis 22:1-2: And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: 'Abraham'; and he said: 'Here am I.' And He said: 'Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.'.
Trivia: Take now is not the correct translation of the original Hebrew text that rather says Please take. God wants to try Abraham but begs him to accept this ultimate act of faith.
Where? The Biblical text specifically mentions Moriah, which identified in another verse of the Bible as future Jerusalem. This is Mount Moriah which became the location of The Temple, God's abode upon Earth. As previously mentioned in the narrative of Adam and Eve, Jewish tradition says that this also was the location where God created Adam. It is also the place where Jacob dreamed of angels going up and down a ladder to heavens, so he assumed this place was the passageway to God.
The burial of Sarah
When his wife Sarah died, Abraham bought a plot to bury her. In these days, burials were often made in caves, shut with a stone to prevent wild animals to come in. Genesis 23:17-19: So the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the border thereof round about, were made sure unto Abraham for a possession in the presence of the children of Heth, before all that went in at the gate of his city. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre -- the same is Hebron -- in the land of Canaan.
Trivia: Machpelah is a special word which means 'double' or even 2x2x2... Jewish tradition says that this is the cave where 4 couples (=2) have been buried: Adam/Eve, Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebekah, Jacob/Leah.
Where? The cave of Machpelah is located in the valley down from the old city of Hebron (today Tel Rumeidah). The location is venerated as the burial place of the patriarchs since unknown time. The building erected above the cave was built at the time of King Herod, more than 2000 years ago.
The walls of Jericho
After the Israelites came out of Egypt and wandered for 40 years in the desert, Joshua became their leader and began the conquest of Canaan. The first city to fall was Jericho, with a bit of divine help. Joshua 6:20: So the people shouted, and [the priests] blew with the horns [shofar's]. And it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the horn, that the people shouted with a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
Trivia: Jericho is credited to be "the oldest town in the world". Because it is there that archaeologists found evidence of prehistorical men becoming sedentary for the first time about 12000 years ago. Why in Jericho? The Jordan valley was their hunting ground already and Jericho is blessed by permanent water sources. Besides there is warm weather all year long.
Where? Tell es-Sultan (northern part of Jericho) is the archaeological site of the ancient city. There, were found city walls that collapsed outward and not inward as it would be expected from an enemy attacking a city: the outward is not natural ! And this outward collapse flattened the walls to form a ramp, which then enabled the Israelites to go up into the city, as the verse says.
Joshua commands the Sun and the Moon
After Jericho, came Ai. And then a first coalition of Amorite kings was defeated over the course of the "longest day". Longest because we don't know how long it lasted... since, in order to finish this campaign, Joshua commanded the cycle of the Creation to stand still ! Joshua 10:12-14: Then spoke Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel: 'Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.' And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation had avenged themselves of their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.
Trivia: It happened on a day when the Moon was visible to the West and the Sun to the East. This story can be the source of great introduction to Astronomy, to analyse and discuss why and when this happens in the sky.
Where? The places where we usually tell the story are those located in the northern ridges of the Judean Lowlands, as the Valley of Ayalon is its northern geographical border. So look for Tel Ayalon or Tel Gezer (at the northern outpost) to enjoy the panorama to this Biblical battle site !
Gideon and the 300
After the death of Joshua and of the Elders, the people of Israel deviated from their oath to God, so He punished them with successive enemies. After periods of yoke, came periods of grace with a 'judge' to free them and put them back on the right path. Judge Gideon assembled a large number of Jewish peasants to defeat their invaders. But God had other plan... Judges 7:4-6: And the LORD said unto Gideon: 'The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there; and it shall be, that of whom I say to thee: This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee: This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.' So he brought down the people unto the water; and the LORD said unto Gideon: 'Everyone that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.' And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.
Trivia: And so it came that Gideon defeated a large army of enemies with only 300 heroes. Does this remind you of the 300 Spartans? Greek authors came acquainted with the Bible and borrowed from it, as it looks !
Where? The Harod spring, in the Valley of Jezreel at the foot of Mount Gilboa, is where Gideon brought down his large number to 300.
Samson and Delilah
The last judge was Samson, from the tribe of Dan. Unlike previous judges who raised the Israelite people against an oppressor, Samson was to act alone. Most of his tribe had resettled north of the land (Tel Dan). Also, unlike other judges, he was chosen to be at the service of God (a 'nazir') before he was conceived. He was given an extraordinary strength as long as he would not cut his hair. However, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak... Judges 16:4-6: And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her: 'Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.' And Delilah said to Samson: 'Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.'
Trivia: His name Samson (Shimshon שמשון in Hebrew) alludes to the Sun (shemesh שמש in Hebrew) which is powerful (source of energy), beneficial (brings life) and destructive (brings drought). Samson was multifaceted !
Where? The valley of Soreq is one of the few valleys that cut the Judean Lowlands; it is formed by the Soreq stream that flows down (westward) to the sea from the outskirts of Jerusalem. A good spot to view this valley and the area of Samson's family in Tzora is in Tel Beth-Shemesh.
David and Goliath
After the judges, came the period of the unified monarchy with King Saul. He had to spend his reign in wars against the Philistines. In one event, young David volunteered to fight against Goliath, a giant Philistine. I Samuel 17:2-3: And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and pitched in the vale of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side; and there was a valley between them. And there went out a champion from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
Trivia: 'six cubits' is about 3 meters, which indeed makes Goliath a 'giant'; giants were not uncommon in antique stories; the first historian, Herodotus, also mentioned giant warriors of 5 cubits (The History, vol.4, section 83).
Where? The valley of Elah is the next valley south from Soreq; tourists often stop by the dry riverbed to pick up some pebbles, as David did. A good spot to view the entire battlefield described in the Bible is to go up to Tel Azekah to the panorama looking East. Along the path, there are milestones with each verse of the Biblical narrative to raise the tension of the drama.
The death of King Saul
After the anointment of David, the death of the prophet Samuel and the massacre of the priests of Nob, it was a matter of time for Saul to meet his own fate. It occurred during his last battle against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. Poor King Saul had only reigned for two years...
I Samuel 31:1-4: Now the Philistines fought against Israel, and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in mount Gilboa. And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua, the sons of Saul. And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers overtook him; and he was in great anguish by reason of the archers. Then said Saul to his armour-bearer: 'Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and make a mock of me.' But his armour-bearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took his sword, and fell upon it.
Trivia: When David learned about the death of Saul and his sons, he cursed Mount Gilboa which, until today, doesn't bear much natural vegetation !!
Where? On Mount Gilboa, head to the place called Ketef Saul where there is an excellent panorama to the valley of Jezreel that witnessed many Biblical and Historical battles.
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
Eventually the unified kingdom was split between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern of Judah. The former quickly followed the ways of their pagan neighbours. One of its king, Ahab, married a princess from Phoenicia who imposed her religion of Baal: Judaism was then forbidden. Only one man stood against her: Elijah. He defied all her prophets of Baal.
I Kings 18:17-20: And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him: 'Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel?' And he answered: 'I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed the Baalim. Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the Asherah four hundred, that eat at Jezebel's table.' And Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.
Trivia: Before this event, the Northern kingdom of Israel suffered from a severe drought caused by Elijah against Ahab. This is why the king called him "You, troubler of Israel". The challenge against Baal was to vindicate Elijah and the true God in from of "all the children of Israel".
Where? On Mount Carmel, go to the Muhraqa Carmelite monastery from where you can see two sides: the Kishon river side and the sea side, both being related to the end of this story. Why did Elijah choose Mount Carmel to defy the prophets of Baal? Because there was an old altar to God, previously erected by Saul, and torn down by some king of Israel.
Ezekiel and the vision of the dry bones
Ultimately the two kingdoms fell from divine grace and both were destroyed, along with the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon. In these trying times, God sent new kinds of prophets: not like the previous ones who tried to get the people back from sinful ways, but new prophets who announced the upcoming destruction but also the ultimate redemption. One of them was Ezekiel who had a vision. Ezekiel 37:1-5: The hand of the LORD was upon me, and the LORD carried me out in a spirit, and set me down in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones; and He caused me to pass by them round about, and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And He said unto me: 'Son of man, can these bones live?' And I answered: 'O Lord GOD, Thou knowest.' Then He said unto me: 'Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them: O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD: Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.'
Trivia: The vision of Ezekiel is the divine promise of the ultimate resurrection at the End of Times.
Where? On the slopes of the Mount of Olives, in Jerusalem, towards the valley of the Kidron (also known as Valley of Josaphat), the great Jewish cemetery has graves dating from the past 2500 years... There, the 'dry bones' wait for the resurrection facing the Temple Mount.