Associates for Biblical Research

Martyrium of Apostle Philip Found

For more than fifty years an Italian archaeological mission has excavated at the ancient site of Hierapolis, Turkey, 250 km east of Izmir in the western section of the country.

The ancient importance of the city was such that the area, which includes the famed white travertine formations and hot springs at nearby Pamukkale, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So it was with great interest that the team undertook geophysical surveys, including ground penetrating radar (GPR), electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), to examine the site of the apostle’s tomb in 2003. These were done in anticipation of actual excavations, the results of which are now being reported.
Hierapolis was founded in the 3rd century BC and by 133 BC was under the control of the Roman Empire. Its importance lay in the fact that it connected trade routes from the interior of Anatolia to the Mediterranean Sea. As such it was one of the most important Hellenistic and Roman cities in the region of Phrygia. This was the area through which Paul passed with Silas on the apostle’s second missionary journey in order to strengthen the churches he had begun with Barnabas on his first journey (Acts 14, 16).
A devastating earthquake leveled the city in the 7th century AD after which it went into decline. However, the veneration of Philip continued with the building of small churches in the 9th and 10th centuries among the ruins of the martyrium. And even after the conquest of the area by the Seljuk Turks in the 12th century, western pilgrims continued to visit the site as its association with Philip remained unchanged.
Who was Philip?

What is known of the apostle comes primarily from two sources; the New Testament and the apocryphal Acts of Philip, a 4th or 5th century work of the Gnostic sect. According to the Gospel of John, Philip, like Peter and Andrew, was from the town of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus found Philip and urged him to “Follow me,” which prompted Philip to report to Nathanael that “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). He was named as one of the twelve apostles in all four gospel accounts. The Gospel of John records three additional incidents which involved Philip:

1. Before the miraculous feeding of the Five Thousand, Jesus asked Philip “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” in order to test him (John 6:5). Philip’s answer evidently failed: “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient…”

2. When certain Greeks came seeking Jesus in Jerusalem, they approached Philip who, along with Andrew, brought the news to Jesus (John 12: 21–23).

3. Jesus preached to the disciples saying, “If you had known Me, you would have known My father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” to which Philip replied “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus admonished the apostle for not knowing Him better despite having been with Him so long (John 14:7–9).

A final mention of Philip occurs in the Book of Acts where he is listed among the inhabitants of the upper room in Jerusalem when Peter exhorts the brethren after the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:13).

The Acts of Philip

Later traditions regarding the missionary travels of the apostle are contained in the Acts of Philip. These consist of accounts of his journeys, preaching, and miracles after the death of Jesus, believed to be the work of Gnostics in the Byzantine period. The Gnostics were a Christian sect who believed they had secret knowledge of God and humanity. The spirit was seen as divine and good whereas the body was inherently evil. Salvation was achieved by relational and experiential knowledge of the divine within, a form of awakening. The Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi in Egypt includes a number of their works, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip.

According to the Acts of Philip, the apostle traveled to Lydia in Asia Minor with his sister Mariamne and the apostle Bartholomew in order to preach the gospel. They arrived at the city of Hierapolis, where the inhabitants worshipped the snake and displayed images of it. Their preaching in the city brought many to Christ. When the proconsul’s wife Nicanora heard Philip, she believed and was cured of various maladies, particularly concerning her eyes.

But the proconsul became incensed, and had the apostles arrested and scourged. They were dragged through the streets and finally brought to the serpent temple, where they were “hanged head downwards” with nails and iron hooks in their heels and ankles. As for Mariamne, she was stripped and displayed naked to the townspeople, but a cloud of fire engulfed her so that she could not be seen by the crowd.
After a miraculous sequence of events, some of the faithful attempted to rescue Philip, but he refused saying “Do not come near me, for this shall be my end.” After Philip’s death, Bartholomew and Mariamne buried him at the spot and built a church there. The town was converted to Christianity and the name of the city was changed from Ophiorhyme (Serpent’s Town) to Hierapolis (the Holy City).

At some point later the remains of Philip were translated to the Byzantine capital at Constantinople and eventually made their way to the Church of the Dodici Apostoli (Twelve Apostles) in Rome where, in addition to Philip, the tomb of the Apostle James the Lesser is also located.

The Martyrium of Philip

The Martyrium, like other comparable structures—the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem and St. Peter’s house in Capernaum—is octagonal in shape. This monumental building consists of a circular central hall in which the sepulcher of the saint was venerated, surrounded by eight small chapels and four triangular courtyards in the corners. 28 small square rooms for pilgrims encircle the structure. The only substantial architecture that survives today is the travertine (stone) supports of the original wood central dome that once crowned the edifice. Beneath the dome in the interior was a canopy structure placed over the tomb, as depicted on a sixth century bread stamp showing a robed St. Philip standing between the canopy and the dome.
Recent investigations using Ground Penetrating Radar showed an “anomaly” exactly in the center of the central hall below the floor, which the excavators presume is the tomb or sepulchre itself. It has not been excavated. The Martyrium of Philip was once an impressive building that doubtless attracted multitudes of pilgrims.

However, the complex was much more than a single building. A processional road led out of the city to a hill outside the city walls. It continued across a bridge built over a stream and to the foot of a monumental staircase flanked by a bathhouse, where numbers of votive objects bearing crosses and images of the saint were found. It must have functioned as a ritual bathing spot for pilgrims not unlike the mikva’ot of ancient Jewish tradition, such as found at Qumran.

The pilgrims then began a climb up a 225-foot long staircase 12 feet wide. On the way was a water fountain to provide relief, followed by a final ascent of 40 steps nearly 40 feet wide. At the top sat the monumental octagon housing the tomb of the apostle.
The martyrium suffered destruction during a disastrous earthquake in the seventh century. In the following centuries, two small churches were built among the ruins along with small cemeteries. The area was conquered by the Seljuk Turks in the 12th century. But the memory endured as the site continued to be associated with Philip and pilgrims have made visits throughout the centuries. As the excavations and restorations are completed, the Martyrium of St. Philip will no doubt attract new generations of pilgrims from across the globe.


D’Andrea, F.

Conversion, Crucifixion and Celebration: St. Philip’s Martyrium at Hierapolis Draws Thousands Over the Centuries. BAR 37/4: 34–46, 70, 2011.

James, M.R.

The Apocryphal New Testament. Translation and Notes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924.

Nuzzo, L., Leucci, G., and Negri, S.       

GPR, ERT and Magnetic Investigations Inside the Martyrium of St Philip, Hierapolis, Turkey. Archaeological Prospection 16/3: 177–92, 2009.

Epaphroditus: A Gambling Veteran


On the inside wall of the Church of Lydia (currently standing just outside the archaeological park of Philippi), is a mosaic icon of Epaphroditus. He is depicted as a young man dressed in a purple garment, holding what appears to be a scroll. That is not the impression I get from the book of Philippians. Epaphroditus was a veteran, a battle tested soldier, who gambled his life for the sake of the gospel.

Philippians 2:25-30; 4:18

Yet I consider it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my needs; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.  For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.  Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful.  Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me …having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.

Epaphroditus in Philippi

I suspect, but can not conclusively prove, that Epaphroditus was a veteran of the Roman Legion, and possibly of the Praetorian Guard. If so, upon his discharge from the army, he would have been given land in Philippi so he could retire to that Roman colony. It was in this city that he came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His former military training and lifestyle would have served him well in his Christian life because he volunteered for a difficult and dangerous task, thus risking his life for the sake of the gospel. There are several lines of reasoning that have led me to this conclusion.

First, Epaphroditus name means “charming, lovely, or fascinating” and has at the root of his name Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. According to Greek mythology she was born in the sea and washed up onto the shore of the island of Cyprus on a sea shell. In fact, Greek mythology could point to the very rocks off the beach where she came ashore. There was even a temple dedicated to her outside the ancient city of Paphos that had a black basalt rock that was worshiped as the goddess. [If you believe this Greek mythology stuff, I will be glad to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge]!

Apparently Epaphroditus’ parents may have been pagan devotees of the goddess and therefore named their son in her honor. If true, they were probably not from Philippi because no temple or shrine to Aphrodite has been uncovered in the extensive excavations in the city. None of the ancient sources that mention Philippi attest to her presence in the city, nor is there any evidence for her, or her cult, on coins or inscriptions that have been excavated in the ruins of ancient Philippi (Koulouli-Chrysantaks 1998: 22-27).

I would conclude that Epaphroditus was not born or raised in Philippi but that he came to the city of Philippi as a retired solder. After the battle of Philippi in 42 BC, the victors settled a number of veterans in the city and gave them fertile land to farm (Strabo, Geography 7, fr. 41; LCL 3:363). In 31 BC, after the battle of Actium in western Greece, more veterans were settled in the city upon their retirement from military service. Even in the First Century AD there were retired soldiers living, and eventually dying, in Philippi and its environs (Speidel 1970: 142-153). One of those who retired to the city could have been Epaphroditus and he would have been about 45-50 years of age.

Second, the apostle Paul calls Epaphroditus a “fellow soldier” (Phil. 2:25). It is obvious that he is using this term in a metaphorical sense because, as far as we know, Paul never served in the Roman army. But that does not preclude that Epaphroditus did not serve in the military. By using this term, the veterans who were in fellowship in the assembly at Philippi would understand the character of Epaphroditus and the nature of the spiritual warfare that they were engaged in (cf. Eph. 6:10-20).

Interestingly, during the reign of Claudius (AD 41-54) or Nero (AD 54-68), a coin was minted in Philippi with Nike, the goddess of victory, on the obverse side and three Roman standards on the reverse side. The inscription framing the standards said: “COHOR(tes) PRAE(toriae) PHIL(ippensis)” which means Praetorian Cohorts of Philippi (Burnett, Amandry, and Ripolles 1992:I:308; coin 1651). This suggests that some, if not all, of the veterans in Philippi were from the Praetorian Guards. Perhaps Epaphroditus had served in this elite unit composed of bodyguards for the Emperor. Coincidently, Paul mentioned the Praetorian Guards in his epistle to the Philippians (1:13; cf. 4:22). If the Praetorian Guards did retire to Philippi, the recent converts would be interested in hearing about Paul’s evangelism of their former comrades and Epaphroditus would have told the Philippians believers about this when he returned home.

Can you imagine the conversation? The church assembled, possibly in the house of Lydia or the Philippian jailer, and Epaphroditus began to share with them Paul’s condition and state of mind. Even though he was under house arrest and in chains, he rejoiced because the Praetorian Guards were chained to him and he had a captive audience to share the gospel with. Epaphroditus started to share some of the conversations that Paul had with different soldiers. He said, “Remember sergeant Felix?” A muffled laugh was given out by some of the retired Praetorian guards. One man spoke up: “Yeah, we remember him well. He was the meanest, nastiest, hardest boozer and womanizer in the whole Praetorian guards! He had a mouth that was a filthy as the muddy Tiber River in Rome!” There were chuckles and snickers from the audience until Epaphroditus said: “Brother Paul shared the gospel with him and Felix trusted Christ as his Savior!” Stunned silence in the audience, then an audible gasp. “Him?! He is the last person we would have thought would trust Christ as his Savior.” Epaphroditus reminded the people of the power of the gospel to penetrate the heart of a sinner and convict them of their sin of unbelief so they could trust the Lord Jesus as Savior. “Yes Felix was now a believer in the Lord Jesus and a trophy of God’s grace.”

Third, there is an axiom that says: “You can take a man out of the Marines, but you can never take the Marines out of the man.” It has been my observation of people who put in their 20, or 25, years in the military and retire still live a regimented military lifestyle. They still say, “Yes sir, no sir.” They still have a disciplined life as far as their time is concerned. They react in dangerous situations in the way they had been trained in the service.

You will recall the events surrounding Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of US Air flight #1549, in the airspace over New York City in January 2009. He was a former US Air Force pilot and trained other pilots in emergency landings. When those geese clogged up and shut down both engines on his plane, he did not stop and think, “Oh my, we have a problem, what am I going to do now?” No, he calmly reacted, based on his many hours of training, and safely landed the plane on the Hudson River. Likewise, as a former soldier, Epaphroditus reverted to his military training and put his life in danger for the sake of the gospel and the Apostle Paul.

Paul in Philippi

The church at Philippi was one of Paul’s favorites. He had been to the city, fellowshipped with the saints, and ministered to them on at least three occasions and one of his travelling co-workers, Dr. Luke, had some association with this city.

On the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey (AD 49-52), he was accompanied by Silas and Timothy. In response to the “Macedonian Call”, they went to Philippi and planted a church in that city (Acts 16:9-40). Dr. Luke, apparently lived in Philippi at the time, stayed behind and continued the work in the newly established church in the city (AD 50).

During Paul’s third missionary journey (AD 52-57) he had a lengthy, almost three year, stay at Ephesus (AD 52-55; Acts 19). The ministry of Paul and his co-worker Timothy, was so effective that “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). After the near riots in the theater, Paul thought it best to leave Ephesus so he departed to Macedonia (Acts 19:23-20:1). More than likely, his first stop was Philippi (AD 55). After a ministry in Macedonia, and apparently Illyricum (Rom. 15:19), he went to Greece (Achaia). After three months in Corinth (winter AD 57), he returned to Macedonia and rejoined Dr. Luke in Philippi (spring AD 57). They, and six other brethren, accompanied them to Jerusalem with the collection for the saints in the Holy City (Acts 20:3-6).

The church at Philippi was dear to Paul’s heart. He enjoyed the “fellowship in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5) that they shared for over ten years and knew they cared for him (4:10). One of the individuals he valued in this fellowship was Epaphroditus. When they first met, and when and how Epaphroditus came to faith, we are not told as well. Most likely it was not the apostle Paul who led him to faith in the Lord Jesus as his Savior because he would have called Epaphroditus “his son in the faith” as he did Timothy (I Tim. 1:2; II Tim. 1:2) and Titus (Tit. 1:4). Paul only calls him a “brother” (Phil. 2:25; cf. John 1:12).

Paul also identifies Epaphroditus as a “fellow worker” (Phil. 2:25), as he does Clement and other saints from the church at Philippi (Phil. 4:3). These were individuals who labored with the apostle as he and his team proclaimed the gospel in Macedonia on various occasions.

The Gift to Paul from the Church at Philippi

The saints at Philippi sent a financial gift to the Apostle Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30). He had lost everything when he, Dr. Luke and Aristarchus were shipwrecked on Malta. Perhaps Dr. Luke wrote a letter to the assembly at Phillipi to inform them of this misfortune. If he wrote the letter from Rome he probably mentioned that the rent was high in the Eternal City. This was not the first time the believers in Philippi sent Paul a gift. They sent him two gifts while he was in Thessaloniki (Phil. 4:16), and then again when he was in Corinth (Phil. 4:15; cf. II Cor. 11:9). Each time they gave sacrificially out of their poverty (II Cor. 8:2).

The church at Philippi appointed Epaphroditus as their “sent one” (apostle) to take the money to Paul (Phil. 4:18). Most likely he would have had others go with him, not only for accountability, but also to protect the money, since this is the pattern in the early church (cf. Acts 20:4; Lenski 1937:696-697). More than likely, they would have walked the Via Egnatia from Philippi to Dyrrachium on the Adriactic Sea (367/8 Roman miles; Adams 1982:280), and then cross the sea by ship. They would have continued walking on the Via Appian from Brundusium to Rome (360 Roman miles). This trip, covering 729 miles, most likely would have taken 57 days, with a rest on each Lord’s Day, a trip of almost two months. If Epaphroditus and his friends made this trip during the winter, he might have picked up pneumonia, or he could have eaten tainted food at one of the inns. These conditions might explain why he got deathly sick and almost died (Phil. 2:27, 30).

Paul Under House Arrest in Rome

The Apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome and more than likely confined to a rented apartment near the Camp of the Praetorian Guards on the Viminal Hill (Richardson 1992: 263, fig. 58; 325, fig. 72; 431). Ministering to him was Dr. Luke and some other brethren (Col. 4:7-14; Philemon 23-24).

The Philippian church sent a financial gift with Epaphroditus and his team and referred to him as “one who ministered to my needs” (2:25). The implication of that statement was that Epaphroditus was to stay in Rome and join the Apostle Paul’s team and work with him, even though he was under house arrest. There was one problem: Epaphroditus got deathly sick when he arrived in Rome or while he was in the city working with Paul. The Apostle had a dilemma on his hands. He was preparing for his defense before Nero and he also had a person with a near fatal sickness on his hands who may have also been homesick (“… since he was longing for you all” Phil. 2:26) and worried about the believers at home because they heard he was sick. What to do? Fortunately for both Epaphroditus and Paul, God was merciful and intervened in the situation by healing Epaphroditus. That was one less thing Paul had to be concerned about (2:26-27).

Paul also had another concern on his heart. In that he had heard about the seeds of division that had been planted in the church at Philippi. Two sisters, Euodia and Syntyche, were at odds with each other and Paul needed to implore them to be of one mind in the Lord (4:2).

The Apostle Paul saw a win-win situation. He would write a letter to the church at Philippi about their fellowship in the gospel (1:5), being of one mind and having the mind of Christ (2:1-11), and have it directed at these two sisters who did not get along. The letter carrier that would take this epistle back would be none other than Epaphroditus (2:25, 28). The people in the assembly at Philippi who were worried about him would rejoice when they saw him again. Paul would be less sorrowful because Epaphroditus was one less concern for him as he prepared for his defense before Nero.

The Apostle Paul was probably aware that some in the assembly at Philippi would think that Epaphroditus did not accomplish the mission that the church commissioned him to do: join forces with Paul as they engaged in spiritual warfare in Rome. Paul gave a command to the veterans in the assembly to: “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem.” Not only were they to receive him, but also to hold him in high esteem because he went above and beyond the call of duty for the cause of Christ and almost died in the line of duty (2:30).

One commentator points out that: “Epaphroditus was no coward, but a courageous person willing to take enormous risks, ready to play with very high stakes in order to come to the aid of a person in need. He did not ‘save’ his life, but rather hazarded it to do for Paul and the cause of Christ what other Philippians Christians did not or could not do” (Hawthorne 1983:120).

The Greek phrase that is translated “not regarding his life” is a gambling term coined by the Apostle Paul. A Greek gambler, before he rolled the dice, would invoke Aphrodite (or Venus in the Roman world), the goddess of gamblers, with the phrase “epaphroditos,” meaning “favorite of Aphrodite” (Lees 1917:201-203; 1925-1925:46; Hawthorne 1983:120). Paul made a pun on Epaphroditius’ name. Truly the dice were loaded when Epaphroditus put his life on the line for the Lord’s work. Instead of invoking Aphrodite, he invoked the true and living God, and He was merciful to Epaphroditus and healed him.

Paul concludes this section by stating that Epaphroditus risked his life “to supply what was lacking in your service toward me” (2:30). The Greek construction does not give the impression that Paul is trying to lay a guilt trip on the people in Philippi because they did not do enough for Paul. In fact, the opposite was the case; Paul was praising them because they had sent a trusted and beloved brother who in essence was an extension of their ministry.

Lessons from the Life of Epaphroditus

There are at least four lessons we can learn from the life of this battle tested soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, he was a brother to the Apostle Paul. Paul used that term in a metaphorical sense to indict that they were in the same spiritual family, the family of God by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone (John 1:12; Eph. 2:8, 9). Have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and do you know the assurance of sins forgiven and the guarantee of a home in Heaven? Epaphroditus did and knew these truths.

Second, the Apostle Paul characterized Epaphroditus as a selfless person - one with the mind of Christ who esteemed others better than himself (Phil. 2:1-5). He demonstrated this selflessness by volunteering to go to Rome and help out the Apostle Paul in his time of need. When we consider the Christian life, do we ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?” Or, do we ask ourselves, “How can I be of service to others?” Epaphroditus sought to serve other people.

Third, Epaphroditus worked on the philosophy, “I would rather wear out than rust out.” The word retirement was not in his vocabulary! Yes, he may have put his 25 years of service in the Roman army and he had his bronze retirement diploma. But, if that was the case, perhaps he had the same attitude as some Christians today who use the phrase, “I’m not retired, just refocused!” When Epaphroditus retired as a soldier in the Imperial army, he refocused his life as a soldier of the Cross engaged in spiritual warfare. Have we refocused our lives in order to be engaged in this spiritual warfare?

Finally, Epaphroditus took great risks for the sake of the gospel. Exactly what he did in gambling with his life, we are not told, but I am sure he will be greatly rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ for his risk taking.  Will we gamble our lives for the sake of the gospel?

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) eloquently expressed what may have been the motivation for Epaphroditus “gambling habit” when he penned the last verse of his famous hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”.  He wrote:

“Were the whole realm of nature mine

that were a present far too small;

 love so amazing, so divine,

 demands my soul, my life, my all.”

It was the divine love of the Lord Jesus that constrained Epaphroditus to risk all to follow Jesus because He died and rose again from the dead in order to pay for all Epaphroditus’ sins. It was only his reasonable service to live completely for the Lord Jesus (Rom. 12:1-2), and risking all he had, including his life, to follow Him.  Will we be willing to do the same?

Perhaps Epaphroditus was the one Isaac Watts had in mind when he penned the words to “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?”

Am I a soldier of the cross, a follower of the Lamb,

And shall I fear to own His cause, or blush to speak His Name?


Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?


Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?

Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?


Sure, I must fight if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord;

I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.

Epaphroditus, the gambling veteran, bet all that he had and he hit the jackpot. He received the crown of life (James 1:12)!


Adams, John Paul

1982   Polybius, Pliny and the Via Egnatia.  Pp. 269-302 in Philip II, Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Heritage.  Edited by Adams, W. L.; and Borza, E. N.  Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Burnett, Andrew; Amandry, Michel, and Ripolles, Pere Pau

1992   Roman Provincial Coinage.  Vol. 1.  London and Paris: British Musem and Bibliotheque nationale de France.

Hawthorne, Gerald

1983   Word Biblical Commentary.  Philippians.  Waco, TX: Word Books.

Koukouli-Chrysantaki, Chaido

1998   Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis.  Pp. 5-35 in Philippi at the Time of Paul and After His Death.  Edited by C. Bakirtzis and H. Koester.  Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International.

Lees, Harrington

1917   St. Paul’s Friends.  London: Religious Tract Society.

1925-26 Epaphroditus, God’s Gambler.  Expository Times 37: 46.

Lenski, R. C. H.

1937   The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians.  Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern.

Richardson, L. Jr.

1992   A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome.  Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University.

Speidel, Michael

1970   The Captor of Decebalus a New Inscription from Philippi.  Journal of Roman Studies 60: 142-153.


1983   The Geography of Strabo.  Vol. 3.  Trans. by H. L. Jones.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 182.

Thermopylae and the Book of Esther


In the book of Esther, this battle and the Persian war against the Greeks, takes place between chapters 1 and 2 of the book. It would be included in the “after these things” (2:1).

The Battle of Thermopylae

The Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 484 BC – 430 BC), writing several decades after the battle of Thermopylae, is our main source for this event (Persian Wars, Book 7.175-233; LCL 3:491-549).

Sparta was a military city-state with two kings that claimed to be the descendent of the demi-god Hercules. They were famous for their austerity and public military education. In Sparta, the women had a lot of freedom: “they could wrestle in the nude, inherit property, and, if they were married, publically insult bachelors at an annual festival (Strauss 2007: 73).” The Spartans had “unusual sexual customs, such as polyandry (wives having more than one husband each), socially acceptable wife-sharing, and institutionalized pederasty between a young male citizen warrior and a teenage boy” (2007: 73).

Thermopylae is a narrow pass separating northern Greece (Macedonia and Thessaly) from central Greece. The word “Thermopylae” means “hot gates” (plural) because there are three sections of the pass going east – west between steep mountains to the south and the Gulf of Malis to the north. This pass had sulfurous hot-springs along the way. It was the middle gate, no more than 20 yards wide, that had a dilapidated wall crossing it, that the Spartans defended in order to block the Persian advance to Athens.

Xerxes, the Great King, the king of Persia, entered Greece from the Hellespont in June of 480 BC, in order to seek glory for himself and revenge from his father Darius’ defeat by the Greeks a decade before at Marathon. Xerxes commanded an army of 150,000 fighting men and a navy of 1,200 warships. In his army were the 10,000 strong Immortals, the crack infantry troops of the Persian army. Herodotus reports that the army, with all its support personal, numbered well over a million people from all over the Persian empire (cf. Esther 1:1, the 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia). Supplying this force with food and drink must have been a phenomenal job. In fact, Herodotus reports that when they came to a river, they drank it dry! (Persian Wars 7.187; LCL 3:505).

The Greek force that met the Persians at Thermopylae was about 7,100 soldiers from a dozen or so different city-states in Central Greece and the Peloponnese. They were commanded by one of the kings of Sparta, Leonidas. The Greeks were not able to muster a large force immediately because of some religious prohibitions. In progress at the time were two major religious festivals. The first was the Spartan’s Carnea in honor of the Greek god Apollo; and the second was the famous Olympic Games. There was, however, a promise of a large force after the religious festivals were over!

Xerxes and his army arrived at the western end of the Thermopylae passes and set up camp. He expected his vast numbers and superior forces would intimidate the Greeks and force them to flee in fear. However, the Spartans stood their ground. After four days, Xerxes decided to take matters into his own hands.

Herodotus records a bit of “gallows-humor” by a Spartans named Dieneces. A Trachinian said to him before the battle that the Medes were so many that when they shoot their multitudes of arrows it would block the sun light. Dieneces reportedly quipped, “Our friend from Trachis brings us right good news, for if the Medes hide the sun we shall fight them in the shade and not in the sunshine” (Persian Wars 7.226; LCL 3: 543). Keep in mind, the battle took place in the month of August, the heat of the summer!

On the first day of battle, Xerxes sent the Medes against the Spartans. With heavy losses the Medes were repelled so Xerxes sent a second wave to break through the pass, but this failed as well. By the end of the day, the Immortals were thrown against the Spartans, but again with heavy losses. The second day was a repeat of the first, with substantial losses for the Persian army and light losses for the Greeks.

On the evening after the second day of battle, a greedy Greek traitor named Ephialtes, the son of Eurydemus, from Trachis, in exchange for money, offered to lead the Immortals along a little know path over the mountains so they could out flank the Spartans. This they did in the silence of the night. By dawn, Leonidas had gotten word that the Immortals were behind him, but the Spartans stood their ground to the last man.

After the battle, Xerxes buried the three hundred Spartans where they fell in the pass so his forces would not be demoralized when they realized they were stopped by so few warriors. The head of Leonidas was impaled on a spear so that he could be seen by all. Xerxes buried 19,000 of his troops that were slain by the Spartans but left 1,000 dead bodies on the battlefield so his forces would think that their losses were not that great. (For a detailed account of the battle, see Cartledge 2006; for two good summaries of the battle, see the articles: Strauss 2004 and Frye 2006.)

A year later, after the war was over and the Persians defeated and gone home, the Greek erected a monument at the site of the battle with the inscription: “Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by, that here obedient to their words we lie” (Persian Wars 7.228; LCL 3:545). This inscription is also on a modern monument beneath a statue of King Leonidas that was erected by Greek Americans in 1955.

The “final problem” of Thermopylae that scholars have debated is: “What was the purpose of Leonidas clinging to his position at Thermopylae when it had apparently become untenable?” (Evans 1964: 231). A number of answers have been suggested. King Leonidas realized that the Greek troops were afraid so he sent them away so they could escape to fight another day. If they and the Spartans all fled at the same time, Leonidas knew that the swift Persian cavalry would catch up with them and slaughter everybody. Leonidas was buying time so their allies could escape (Evans 1964: 237).

Herodotus recounts: “But to this opinion I the rather incline, that when Leonidas perceived the allies to be faint of heart and not willing to run all risks with him he bade them to their ways, departure being for him not honorable; if he remained, he would leave a name of great renown, and the prosperity of Sparta would not be blotted out. For when the Spartans enquired of the oracle concerning this war at its very first beginning, the Pythian priestess had prophesied to them that either Lacedaemon should be destroyed of the foreigners, or that its king should perish” (Persian Wars 7.220; LCL 3:537). Leonidas understood this prophecy to be about his death. His heroic stand encouraged the other Greek states to take up arms against the Persian invaders and fight for liberty and freedom.

The Historical Setting of the Book of Esther

King Xerxes (486-465 BC), the Great King, the king of Persia is King Ahasuerus in the book of Esther (Esther 1:1; for a full discussion of his life, see: Yamauchi 1990:203-206, 226-239).

In the third year of his reign (1:3), Ahasuerus had a “Pep Rally Party” to entice the various kings in his empire to join him on a military expedition to Greece (Esther 1:3-22). At this lavish banquet, each participant got their own gold vessels (1:7). Each vessel was individually hand crafted and different from any other. This banquet was designed to encourage these kings to “sign up for a Greek vacation” with their armies!

One of my favorite objects in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is a gold drinking vessel that was bought on the antiquities market in Iran, allegedly near Susa. It is a beautifully stylized drinking cup with the front part of a lion on it and is contemporary with this banquet (Pittman 1987: 140-141; plate 102). Whether it was one of the vessels mentioned in verse 7 cannot be determined. But if I was a kinglet in the Persian Empire and I got this unique vessel from the Great King, King Xerxes, I would be impressed and would immediately sign up for this vacation package!

It was at this banquet that Queen Vashti refused to entertain the king and his guests with a dance. The king, insulted by her rebellion and humiliated in front of his royal subjects, deposed her (1:10-22). The second chapter of the book of Esther begins with “After these things” (2:1). The time frame includes the campaign to Greece, the battle of Thermopylae, the sack of Athens, and the Persian defeat at Salamis.

The Theme of the Book of Esther

The theme of the book is this: “God’s preservation of His unbelieving people, and the celebration of that event in the feast of Purim” (Shepperson 1975:26). This theme explains why the Name of God is not mentioned in the book and why prayer is never mentioned. It also explains why Mordecai is still in Susa on the 13th of Nisan when he should have been back in Jerusalem for Passover on the 14th (Esther 3:12; cf. Lev. 23:5; Deut. 16:16). It also addresses why there is a “lack of spiritual awareness in Esther and Mordecai, and the vengeful spirit so apparent at the end of the book” (Shepperson 1975:25).

Esther and Mordecai were out of the will of God and in unbelief. The expression of faith for an Israelite (Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin, Esther 2:5) was for them to “Flee the Chaldeans” (Isa. 48:20,21; 52:7-12; Deut. 28:64-67) and return to Zion when Cyrus made the decree so the Judeans could return to Zion (Ezra 1:1-4). Yet a large number of Israelites and Judeans chose to remain outside the Land of Israel, in Babylon and Susa, rather than return to Zion and the hardships that existed there. When a person is out of God’s will, the last Person they want to talk about is the Lord. Thus the Name of God is not mentioned. Sometimes a person in unbelief or out of the will of God will perform religious rituals, just as the Jewish people did in Susa. They fulfilled their religious ritual by fasting for three days, but they did not pray to Him who should have been the LORD their God (Esther 4:16, 17; cf. Isa. 58:1-7; 1 Kings 8:22-61; 2 Chron. 6:12-42). They were still part of God’s covenant people, but they were in unbelief.

The Lord used Mordecai and Esther, outside Eretz Israel in unbelief, in order to preserve the Messianic line that had already returned to the Yehud Province in faith during the First Aliyah (return). The Messianic line returned in the person of Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Matt. 1:12, 13 or Luke 3:27). Haman’s decree to annihilate all the Jews affected the Jews living in the land of Judah (Esther 3:12, 13; 4:3; 8:5, 9, 13). This was God’s hand of providence at work.

Another example of God’s providence using an unbeliever to fulfill His purposes is the decree by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-4). This decree moved Joseph and Mary from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judah in order to fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

Origen Compares the Death of Leonidas and the Lord Jesus

Origen, one of the church fathers from Alexandria in Egypt (AD 185-254), was a prolific writer. He wrote a defense of Christianity against the attacks by the pagan philosopher Celsus, entitled Against Celsus. In it, he compares the death of Leonidas with the death of the Lord Jesus. He wrote: “Extremely foolish also is his [Celsus] remarks, ‘What god, or spirit, or prudent man would not, on forseeing that such events were to befall him, avoid them if he could; whereas he threw himself headlong into those things which he knew beforehand were to happen?’ [Origen discusses the death of Socrates].... Leonidas also, the Lacedaemonian general, knowing that he was on the point of dying with his followers at Thermopylae, did not make any effort to preserve his life by disgraceful means, but said to his companions, ‘Let us go to breakfast, as we shall sup in Hades.’ And those who are interested in collecting stories of this kind, will find numbers of them. Now, where is the wonder if Jesus, knowing all things that were to happen, did not avoid them, but encountered what He foreknew” (Against Celsus 2.17; Ante-Nicene Fathers 4:438-439).


One historian summarized the battle of Thermopylae this way: “Thermopylae was not the decisive battle of the Persian Wars. But it may well be the decisive battle of our imagination. Thermopylae grips us because men chose to stand there and die for the sacred cause of freedom. That alone is reason to remember” (Strauss 2007: 75).


Cartledge, Paul

2006 Thermopylae.  The Battle that Changed the World.  Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press.

Evans, J. A. S.

1964 The “Final Problem” at Thermopylae.  Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 5: 231-237,

Frye, David

2006 Spartan Stand at Thermopylae. Military History (January / February): 38-44.


1998 The Persian Wars. Books 5-7. Vol. 3. Trans. by A. Godley. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library119.


1994 Origen Against Celsus. Pp. 395-669 in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 4. Edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Pittman, Holly

1987The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Egypt and the Ancient Near East. Edited by J. O’Neill. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Shepperson, G. E.

1975 The Role of the Book of Esther in Salvation History.  Unpublished ThM thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.  Dallas, TX.

Strauss, Barry

2004 Go Tell the Spartans. MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History (autumn): 17/1: 16-25.

2007 Classic Spin. Review of Paul Cartledge, Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World. The New Criterion (March): 72-75.

Yamauchi, Edwin

1990 Persia and the Bible.  Grand Rapids: Baker.

Major Artifact Confirms Biblical Account

ABR has been conducting excavations in Israel since 1995 at Khirbet el-Maqatir (9 miles north of Jerusalem), which meets the biblical requirements to be identified as the fortress of Ai conquered by the Israelites as recorded in Joshua 7-8.

Pottery excavated at the site indicates the fortress was in use in the Late Bronze period, circa 1500-1400 BC. The scarab is a rare type that was made in the early 18th dynasty, ca. 1485-1418 BC. This is a significant discovery since it provides an independent date for the fortress apart from pottery. According to the Bible, the Israelites left Egypt in 1446 BC and entered Canaan in 1406 BC. The scarab substantiates the historical accuracy of the narratives found in Joshua.

The Egyptian scarab from Khirbet el-Maqatir will be on display in the Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University from January 22 to December 20, 2014.

For more information, please contact:

Henry B. Smith Jr.

Associates for Biblical Research

Director of Development

Download Press Release

Download Museum Exhibit Flyer

Media Photo File (off site link)

The Walls of Jericho

When one hears the name “Jericho” one naturally thinks of Israelites marching, trumpets sounding and walls falling. It is a wonderful story of faith and victory that we enjoy reading and telling in Sunday School class, but did it really happen? The skeptic would say no, it is merely a folk tale to explain the ruins at Jericho. The reason for this negative outlook is the excavation carried out at the site in the 1950s under the direction of British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon. She concluded,

It is a sad fact that of the town walls of the Late Bronze Age, within which period the attack by the Israelites must fall by any dating, not a trace remains.…The excavation of Jericho, therefore, has thrown no light on the walls of Jericho of which the destruction is so vividly described in the Book of Joshua (Kenyon 1957: 261–62).

Thomas A. Holland, who was editor and co-author of Kenyon’s excavation reports, summarized the apparent results as follows:

Kenyon concluded, with reference to the military conquest theory and the L[ate] B[ronze Age] walls, that there was no archaeological data to support the thesis that the town had been surrounded by a wall at the end of LB I (ca. 1400 BCE...) (Holland 1997: 223).

H.J. Franken, a member of the Jericho excavation staff, stated,

Miss Kenyon’s work has presented scholars with the hard fact that if Joshua was active with the incoming Israelites either c. 1400 or c. 1200 B.C. he would not have been able to capture a great walled city of Jericho, because there was no city of Jericho in these periods… the huge ruins of the Hyksos city gave rise to the folktale attached to the hero Joshua (1965: 190, 200).

According to Kenyon’s dating, there was no city for the Israelites to conquer at the end of the 15th century BC, the Biblical date for the event. The Jericho of Joshua’s time could not be found--it was lost! Through our research, however, we have found the lost city of Jericho, the Jericho attacked by the Israelites.

Fortifications of Jericho

Before the Israelites entered the promised land Moses told them, “You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky” (Dt 9:1). The meticulous work of Kenyon showed that Jericho was indeed heavily fortified and that it had been burned by fire. Unfortunately, she misdated her finds, resulting in what seemed to be a discrepancy between the discoveries of archaeology and the Bible. She concluded that the Bronze Age city of Jericho was destroyed about 1550 BC by the Egyptians. An in-depth analysis of the evidence, however, reveals that the destruction took place at the end of the 15th century BC (end of the Late Bronze I period), exactly when the Bible says the Conquest occurred (Wood 1990).

The mound, or “tell,” of Jericho was surrounded by a great earthen rampart, or embankment, with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some 12–15 ft high. On top of that was a mudbrick wall 6 ft thick and about 20–26 ft high (Sellin and Watzinger 1973: 58). At the crest of the embankment was a similar mudbrick wall whose base was roughly 46 ft above the ground level outside the retaining wall. This is what loomed high above the Israelites as they marched around the city each day for seven days. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for the Israelites to penetrate the impregnable bastion of Jericho.

Within the upper wall was an area of approximately 6 acres, while the total area of the upper city and fortification system together was half again as large, or about 9 acres. Based on the archaeologist’s rule of thumb of 100 persons per acre, the population of the upper city would have been about 600. From excavations carried out by a German team in the first decade of this century, we know that people were also living on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. In addition, those Canaanites living in surrounding villages would have fled to Jericho for safety. Thus, we can assume that there were several thousand people inside the walls when the Israelites came against the city.

The Fallen Walls

The citizens of Jericho were well prepared for a siege. A copious spring which provided water for ancient, as well as modern, Jericho lay inside the city walls. At the time of the attack, the harvest had just been taken in (Jos 3:15), so the citizens had an abundant supply of food. This has been borne out by many large jars full of grain found in the Canaanite homes by John Garstang in his excavation in the 1930s and also by Kenyon. With a plentiful food supply and ample water, the inhabitants of Jericho could have held out for several years.

After the seventh trip around the city on the seventh day, Scripture tells us that the wall “fell flat” (Jos 6:20). A more accurate rendering of the Hebrew word here would be “fell beneath itself.” Is there evidence for such an event at Jericho? It turns out that there is ample evidence that the mudbrick city wall collapsed and was deposited at the base of the stone retaining wall at the time the city met its end.

Kenyon’s work was the most detailed. On the west side of the tell, at the base of the retaining, or revetment, wall, she found,

fallen red bricks piling nearly to the top of the revetment. These probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank [and/or]… the brickwork above the revetment (Kenyon 1981: 110).

In other words, she found a heap of bricks from the fallen city walls! The renewed Italian-Palestinian excavations found exactly the same thing at the southern end of the mound in 1997.

According to the Bible, Rahab’s house was incorporated into the fortification system (Jos 2:15). If the walls fell, how was her house spared? As you recall, the spies had instructed Rahab to bring her family into her house and they would be rescued. When the Israelites stormed the city, Rahab and her family were saved as promised (Jos 6:17, 22–23). At the north end of the tell of Jericho, archaeologists made some astounding discoveries that seem to relate to Rahab.

The German excavation of 1907-1909 found that on the north a short stretch of the lower city wall did not fall as everywhere else. A portion of that mudbrick wall was still standing to a height of 8 ft (Sellin and Watzinger 1973: 58). What is more, there were houses built against the wall! It is quite possible that this is where Rahab’s house was located. Since the city wall formed the back wall of the houses, the spies could have readily escaped. From this location on the north side of the city, it was only a short distance to the hills of the Judean wilderness where the spies hid for three days (Jos 2:16, 22). Real estate values must have been low here, since the houses were positioned on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. Not the best place to live in time of war! This area was no doubt the overflow from the upper city and the poor part of town, perhaps even a slum district.

After the city walls fell, how could the Israelites surmount the 12–15 foot high retaining wall at the base of the tell? Excavations have shown that the bricks from the collapsed walls fell in such a way as to form a ramp against the retaining wall. The Israelites could merely climb up over the pile of rubble, up the embankment, and enter the city. The Bible is very precise in its description of how the Israelites entered the city: “The people went up into the city, every man straight before him” (Jos 6:20, KJV). The Israelites had to go up, and that is what archaeology has revealed. They had to go from ground level at the base of the tell to the top of the rampart in order to enter the city.

Destruction by Fire

The Israelites “burned the whole city and everything in it” (Jos 6: 24). Once again, the discoveries of archaeology have verified the truth of this record. A portion of the city destroyed by the Israelites was excavated on the east side of the tell. Wherever the archaeologists reached this level they found a layer of burned ash and debris about 3 ft thick. Kenyon described the massive devastation:

The destruction was complete. Walls and floors were blackened or reddened by fire, and every room was filled with fallen bricks, timbers, and household utensils; in most rooms the fallen debris was heavily burnt, but the collapse of the walls of the eastern rooms seems to have taken place before they were affected by the fire (Kenyon 1981: 370).

Both Garstang and Kenyon found many storage jars full of grain that had been caught in the fiery destruction. This is a unique find in the annals of archaeology. Grain was valuable, not only as a source of food, but also as a commodity which could be bartered. Under normal circumstances, valuables such as grain would have been plundered by the conquerors. Why was the grain left to be burned at Jericho? The Bible provides the answer. Joshua commanded the Israelites:

The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into His treasury (Jos 6:17–19).

The grain left at Jericho and found by archaeologists in modern times gives graphic testimony to the obedience of the Israelites nearly three and a half millennia ago. Only Achan disobeyed, leading to the debacle at Ai described in Joshua 7.

Such a large quantity of grain left untouched gives silent testimony to the truth of yet another aspect of the Biblical account. A heavily fortified city with an abundant supply of food and water would normally take many months, even years, to subdue. The Bible says that Jericho fell after only seven days. The jars found in the ruins of Jericho were full, showing that the siege was short since the people inside the walls consumed very little of the grain.

Lessons of Jericho

Jericho was once thought to be a “Bible problem” because of the seeming disagreement between archaeology and the Bible. When the archaeology is correctly interpreted, however, the opposite is the case. The archaeological evidence supports the historical accuracy of the Biblical account in every detail. Every aspect of the story that could possibly be verified by the findings of archaeology is, in fact, verified.

There are a number of theories as to how the walls of Jericho came down. Both Garstang and Kenyon found evidence of earthquake activity at the time the city met its end. If God did use an earthquake to accomplish His purposes that day, it was still a miracle since it happened at precisely the right moment, and was manifested in such a way as to protect Rahab’s house. No matter what agency God used, it was ultimately the faith of the Israelites that brought the walls down: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (Heb 11:30).

The example of Jericho is a wonderful spiritual lesson for God’s people yet today. There are times when we find ourselves facing enormous “walls” that are impossible to break down by human strength. If we put our faith in God and follow His commandments, even when they seem foolish to us, He will perform “great and awesome deeds” (Dt 4:34) and give us the victory.

See Dr. Wood discuss the evidence in this cutting edge video, Jericho Unearthed. Jericho Unearthed can be purchased in the ABR bookstore.

See Dr. Wood present his research on Jericho in this video from 2009.


Franken, H.J.
1965 Tell es-Sultan and Old Testament Jericho. Oudtestamentische Studiën 14: 189–200.

Holland, T.A.
1997 Jericho. Pp. 220–24 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, Vol. 3, ed. E.M. Myers. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kenyon, K.M.
1957 Digging Up Jericho. London: Ernest Benn. 1981 Excavations at Jericho, Vol. 3. London: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

Sellin, E., and Watzinger, C.
1973 Jericho die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen. Osnabrück: Otto Zeller, reprint of 1913 edition.

Wood, B.G.
1990 Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? Biblical Archaeology Review 16.2: 44–58.

New Evidence Supporting the Early (Biblical) Date of the Exodus and Conquest

The Berlin Topographical Statue Base Relief

Evangelical scholars are divided as to when the Exodus-Conquest events took place—some say the 15th century BC, while others hold to the 13th century BC. The chronological data in the Bible, however, clearly indicates that these events transpired in the 15th century BC, the Exodus occurring in 1446 BC, and the Conquest 1406–1400 BC (Wood 2008: 100). Now, for the first time, we have evidence from an Egyptian source which supports the earlier Biblical dating.

Ludwig Borchardt

That source is an inscription housed in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. It appears on a gray granite block 18 in (46 cm) high, 16 in (39.5 cm) wide and of unknown thickness since it was cut from a larger piece. According to the Museum’s records, the block, most likely part of a statue base, was acquired in 1913 by Ludwig Borchardt from an Egyptian merchant. Borchardt (1863–1938) was a German Egyptologist who is best known for his excavations at Tell el-Amarna where he discovered the famous bust of Nefertiti, queen of Akhenaten (ca. 1350–1334 BC).

The inscription is comprised of three name rings superimposed on Western Asiatic prisoners, the rightmost of which is only partly preserved due to substantial damage, probably incurred when the block was removed from its original context. Above the heads of the prisoners is a partial band of hieroglyphs which reads “…one who is falling on his feet…” The inscription was first published in 2001 by Manfred Görg, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament Theology and Egyptology at the University of Munich (Wood 2005a). The first two names are easily read—Ashkelon and Canaan. The name on the right, however, is less certain. Görg restored the right name as Israel and dated the inscription to the reign of Ramesses II (ca. 1279–1212 BC) in the Nineteenth Dynasty, based on a similarity of names to those on the Merenptah Stela (ca. 1210 BC).1 Görg also concluded, based on the spellings of the names, that they were copied from an earlier inscription from around the time of Amenhotep II (ca. 1453–1419). Israeli Egyptologist Raphael Giveon (1916–1985) previously dated the inscription to the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386–1349 BC) (1981: 137). If these two scholars are right, this extra-Biblical Egyptian inscription would place Israel in Canaan at about the time of the Biblical date for the Conquest.

The Berlin inscription now has been analyzed in greater detail and republished by Görg and two other German scholars—Dr. Peter van der Veen, Instructor of Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology at the University of Mainz, and Christoffer Theis, M.A., Lecturer at the Institute of Egyptology, University of Heidelberg (2010). The new study confirms the earlier conclusions of Görg.

The authors point out that the names Ashkelon and Canaan largely were written consonantally and thus are closer to Eighteenth Dynasty examples from the reigns of Tuthmosis III (ca. 1504–1450 BC) and Amenhotep II, than to those from the times of Ramesses II and Merenptah (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 16). In addition, ethnic renderings (“Canaanites”) in the inscriptions of Amenhotep II are similar to the name on the Berlin fragment, providing further evidence for an early date (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 16). 

The third name presents difficulties because of the broken nature of the right side of the inscription. A detailed examination of the relief, however, allowed the authors to reconstruct the name as Y3-šr-il (“Ishrael”), a name very close to Biblical yśr’l (“Israel”) (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 17–18). The theophoric element il, “God,” at the end of the name is written in a shortened form which again argues for an early date since the shortened form was in use prior to the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386–1349 BC) (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 16).

Topographical statue base relief fragment depicting three Canaanite place names superimposed on Western Asiatic captives. The relief was purchased in Egypt in 1913 and is now in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. (Photo from van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 16.)

The major difference between the name on the inscription and the Biblical name is that the inscription has “sh” rather than “s.” This difference caused James Hoffmeier to reject the identification of the name on the inscription as that of the Israel of the Old Testament (2007: 241). But the authors point out that there is no known candidate for the name in the vicinity of Canaan and Ashkelon other than Biblical Israel (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 18–19, 20). It is entirely possible that the "sh" spelling is an archaic form, or perhaps the cuneiform rendering (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 19). Moreover, Egyptian scribes were not consistent in their usage of the hieroglyphs for "sh" and "s", and quite often interchanged them (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 19–20).

In summary, the authors of the new study believe that the name on the Berlin statue base fragment is that of Israel and that it was part of a name list originally written in the Eighteenth Dynasty. This is much earlier than the appearance of the name Israel on the Merenptah Stela. Furthermore, they conclude that their findings “indeed suggest that Proto-Israelites had migrated to Canaan sometime during the middle of the second millennium BCE” (van der Veen, Theis and Görg 2010: 21).


1. For a discussion of the Merenptah Stela and associated pictorial wall reliefs, see Wood 2005b.


Giveon, Raphael

1981  Three Fragments from Egyptian Geographical Lists. Eretz Israel 15: 137–139 and Plate 22.1 (Hebrew); English summary 81*.

Görg, Manfred

2001  Israel in Hieroglyphen. Biblischen Notizen 106: 21–27 (German).

James Hoffmeier

2007  What is the Biblical Date for the Exodus? A Response to Bryant Wood. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50: 225–47.

Veen, Peter van der, Christoffer Theis, and Manfred Görg

2010  Israel in Canaan (Long) Before Pharaoh Merenptah? A Fresh Look at Berlin Statue Pedestal Relief 21687. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 2.4: 15–25. (Offsite link).

Wood, Bryant G.

2005a  Extra-Biblical Evidence for the Conquest. Bible and Spade 18: 98–99.

2005b Pharaoh Merenptah Meets Israel. Bible and Spade 18: 65–82.

2008  Recent Research on the Date and Setting of the Exodus. Bible and Spade 21: 97–108.

When Did the Exodus Happen?

The date and nature of the Exodus have been subjects of scholarly debate since the beginnings of Egyptology in the mid-19th century, and the dispute continues unabated today.

"The exodus from Egypt is a topic around which whirl controversy, debate and heated argument. There is no consensus regarding the date of the Israelite slavery, nor its nature, nor even its historicity…It is an area where archaeological interpretation and biblical narrative collide" (Oblath 2007: 380).

Sadly, most contemporary Biblical scholars deny the historicity of God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt as documented in the Old Testament (Ex 2–12) and alluded to in the New Testament (Acts 7:36; Rom 9:17).

The “No Exodus” Theory

Not Mentioned in Egyptian Records

What are the reasons for the widespread skepticism concerning the Exodus? A major stumbling block is that there is no mention of Israelites in Egypt or of an Exodus from Egypt in Egyptian records:

The book [Exodus] relates to Egyptian history but only in a vague way. Not a single Egyptian is identified by name, not even the pharaohs, despite the fact that two of them, the pharaohs of the oppression and the exodus, are involved…. Historians acknowledge that, after more than two centuries of archaeological research, there is still an absence of evidence for the presence of Israel in Egypt (Johnstone 2007: 372).

What is usually implied by “evidence” is a reference to Israel or the Exodus in Egyptian written records. It is interesting that Johnstone uses the phrase “absence of evidence” with regard to the Exodus. There is an oft-repeated adage in Biblical and archaeological studies with regard to efforts to reconstruct events of thousands of years ago from the bits and tatters of information that have survived: “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Rather than blindly accepting a learned scholar’s argument from silence to dismiss the factuality of the Exodus, let us look at the reality of the situation.

Where would one expect to find written records of the presence of Israel in Egypt, or of the Exodus? In Rameses, of course, the place where the Israelites were settled when Jacob and his family entered Egypt (Gn 47:11), where the Israelites labored as slaves (Ex 1:11) and where they departed under the leadership of Moses (Ex 12:37; Nm 33:3). Fortunately, we know a lot about Rameses, modern Tell el-Daba in the northeastern Nile delta, since it has been excavated almost continuously since 1966. What historical records have been found from the time period of the Exodus at ancient Rameses? Exactly nothing! In fact, the only historical document to be found from any period from all of the excavations in the area of ancient Rameses over a period of more than 40 years is one small 2x2 in (5x5 cm) fragment of a clay tablet. It appears to be part of a letter from the king of the Hittite empire to Rameses II (ca. 1290–1224 BC) concerning terms of a peace treaty between the two parties.

Surviving Egyptian inscriptions were, for the most part, propagandistic records carved in stone extolling the accomplishments of the god-king Pharaohs. An event that demeaned Pharaoh or Egypt would never be recorded. Moreover, writing was believed to be sacred, giving reality to the statements being recorded. If an event was not recorded, then it was as though it had never happened (Wheeler 2002).

And why did not Moses identify the Pharaohs of the oppression and Exodus? Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen provides the answer (1986):

[Pharaoh is] the common OT title for the kings of ancient Egypt. It derives from a phrase used for the royal palace and court until the New Kingdom when, in the mid-18th Dynasty, it came to be used of the king himself. It first so occurs under Thutmose III and IV (15th cent. B.C.), then with Ikhnaton (ca. 1360), and thereafter frequently…. The biblical and Egyptian uses of “pharaoh” correspond closely. Thus in the Pentateuch “Pharaoh” is used without a proper name precisely as in Egypt…. From the 10th cent. B.C. onward “Pharaoh” plus a proper name became common usage; cf. Pharaoh Hophra [Jer 44:30] and Pharaoh Neco [2 Kgs 23:29–35; 2 Chr 35:20–22; 36:3–4; Jer 46:2].

On a more positive note, I believe there is evidence for the presence of Israel in Egypt, albeit indirect. First, there is evidence for Asiatic slaves in Egypt during the period of the Sojourn, some even bearing Biblical names (Aling 2002; Hoffmeier 1997: 61– 62, 112–16; Luft 1993; David 1986: 189–93). Some of them were called “Habiru” (Hoffmeier 1997: 116), a designation for stateless individuals from which the name Hebrew may derive. Secondly, the earliest Asiatic settlement at Tell el-Daba has all the earmarks of being Israelite, including a four-room house, a plan adopted by the Israelites when they became sedentary during the judges period, and a tomb which is possibly that of Joseph (Wood 1977).

No Evidence for a Conquest

The second major argument raised against the validity of the Exodus account is that archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Conquest as described in the book of Joshua is unhistorical (McKenzie 2008: 121):

Excavation over the past half century has revealed no evidence of destruction, and in some cases no occupation… for most of the cities… supposedly conquered by the invading Israelites. The two most famous examples, Jericho and Ai, are transparent etiologies [stories made up to explain something, such as a ruin]. Ai means “ruin.” The city [identified by the author as et-Tell] was abandoned before the Late Bronze Age and resettled as an unwalled village after 1200. It was, therefore, already a “ruin” when the Israelites supposedly conquered it, and the story explains how it became one. Jericho [according to the dating of Kathleen Kenyon] also was unwalled at the time of the supposed conquest. It had once stood as one of the world’s oldest cities and a symbol of the greatness of the Canaanite culture. Its acquisition by Israel, therefore, symbolized the complete possession of the land.

Since there was no Conquest, the Israelites could not have wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, ergo, no Exodus.

As readers of Bible and Spade know, evidence for the Conquest is one of our favorite subjects, and we have published a number of articles on the topic (on Ai: Wood 1999a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2001, 2003: 264–68, 2008c; see also Briggs 2005; on Jericho: Wood 1987, 1990, 1999c, 2003: 262–64; see also Ashley and Aust 2003), so we will not repeat that information here. Suffice it to say that the supposed discrepancies between the archaeological findings and the Biblical record concerning the Conquest are due to bad scholarship and improper interpretation of the archaeological data, not on any shortcomings of the Bible. In fact, archaeology, when properly understood, demonstrates the accuracy and eyewitness nature of the Biblical text with regard to Conquest events.

The Thirteenth Century Exodus Theory

Those who believe that there was an actual Exodus generally fall into two camps: those that believe that it happened in the 13th century BC, and those that believe that it happened in the 15th century BC. We shall begin by briefly reviewing the 13th century theory. The two main reasons put forward for placing the Exodus in the 13th century BC are the mention of the city of Rameses in Exodus 1:11 and the destruction of Hazor recorded in Joshua 11:11.

Exodus 1:11

In Exodus 1:11 we read:

So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.

As mentioned above, the ancient city of Rameses built by Rameses the Great (Rameses II) is well known from Egyptian records and archaeological excavation. Thus, it is presumed that the Israelites helped build Rameses II’s capital city and that they were still in Egypt in the 13th century BC. Since we know from the Merenptah, or Israel, Stela that Israel was in Canaan early in the reign of Rameses II’s son Merenptah, ca. 1220 BC (Wood 2005a), the Exodus must have taken place 40 years or more prior to that, during the reign of Rameses II. This particular theory has gained favor with many scholars and, as a result, Rameses II is the Pharaoh of the Exodus in Hollywood and the popular media. There are, however, insurmountable obstacles associated with this reconstruction.

Disagreement with Biblical Chronology

A proponent of the “late” date for the Exodus is immediately confronted with the fact that this date is in disagreement with the internally consistent chronology of the Bible. The way scholars who favor this date deal with the Biblical data is to either explain it away or ignore it.

1. 1 Kings 6:1. The primary Scripture for determining the date of the Exodus is 1 Kings 6:1, which states:

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord.

Late-date proponents explain away this Scripture by saying that the 480 years cannot be taken literally, but must be understood as a figurative number. It is really 12 idealized generations of 40 years each. Since an actual generation is on the order of 25 years, the real time interval from Solomon’s fourth year to the Exodus is only 12 x 25 = 300 years. When we add this number to Solomon’s fourth year, 967 BC (Young, this issue, 121 n. 11), voilà, we have a year smack-dab in the reign of Rameses II, 1267 BC! Of course, this is an approximation, so the actual date could vary a few years either way from 1267.

In reality, the time interval between the Exodus and Solomon’s fourth year was 479 years, not 480, thus invalidating the 12 generations concept. The Israelites left Rameses in year 1, month 1, day 15 of the Exodus era (Ex 12:1; Num 33:3). Since Solomon began to build the Temple in year 480, month 2, the elapsed time was 479 years plus between 15 and 45 days. In addition, we know from genealogical data that there were more than 12 generations between the Exodus and Solomon’s fourth year. From Heman the musician, who lived in the time of David, back to Korah, who lived in the time of Moses, there were 18 generations (1 Chr 6:33–37). Adding one additional generation takes us to the time of Solomon, resulting in a total of 19 generations, far more than the imagined 12 generations of the late-date theorists.

To determine the correct year of the Exodus, we simply add 479 to Solomon’s fourth year, 967 BC, resulting in 1446 BC.

2. Judges 11:26. In this passage Jephthah tells the king of Ammon that Israel had been living in the land for 300 years prior to the beginning of the Ammonite oppression. Although we do not know precisely when the Ammonite oppression began, it had to have been sometime around 1100 BC (Davis 2008: 153; Ray 2005: 99; Steinmann 2005: 499), placing the Conquest at ca. 1400 BC and the Exodus in the mid-15th century BC. The only explanation for Judges 11:26 from the late-date camp that I am aware of is that of Kitchen (2003b: 209), who claims that Jephthah did not know what he was talking about:

Brave fellow that he was, Jephthah was a roughneck, an outcast, and not exactly the kind of man who would scruple first to take a Ph.D. in local chronology at some ancient university of the Yarmuk before making strident claims to the Ammonite ruler. What we have is nothing more than the report of a brave but ignorant man’s bold bluster in favor of his people, not a mathematically precise chronological datum.

3. 1 Chronicles 6:33–37. As explained above, the genealogy of Heman in 1 Chronicles 6:33–37 results in 19 generations from the time of Moses to the time of Solomon. If we use the rule of thumb of 25 years per generation, we obtain 19 x 25 = 475 years, very close to the more precise figure of 479 years in 1 Kings 6:1. Proponents of the late date have not provided an explanation for 1 Chronicle 6:33–37, as far as I know.

4. Ezekiel 40:1. As Rodger Young has pointed out (this issue, 115–17) this verse provides a precise date for a Jubilee year in 574 BC. According to Jewish sources, this was the 17th Jubilee. The first year of this Jubilee cycle was 622 BC (49 inclusive years). Going back 16 Jubilee cycles to when counting began brings us to 622 + (16 x 49) = 1406 BC, the year the Israelites crossed the Jordan and entered Canaan. Since this was exactly 40 years from when the Israelites left Egypt (Dt 1:3; Jos 4:19, 5:10), the date of the Exodus can be precisely fixed at 1446 BC, independently of 1 Kings 6:1. The late-date camp is yet to respond to this precise method of determining the date of the Exodus.

Disagreement with Biblical History

A close reading of the context of Exodus 1:11 makes it clear that the 13th century model is incompatible with the Biblical narrative. If Hebrew slaves were involved in the construction of the new capital of Rameses II, the work would have started early in Rameses II’s reign, ca. 1280 BC. Using the 12-generation concept for the 480 years of 1 Kgs 6:1 places the Exodus just 13 years later in 1267 BC. It is not possible to fit the events between the building of the store cities and the Exodus (Ex 1:11–12:36) into a 13-year timespan.

  • Following the building of Pithom and Rameses the Israelites experienced a growth in population: “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread” (Ex 1:12), which had to have taken place over a considerable period of time.
  • This was followed by an escalation of the oppression (Ex 1:13–14).
  • Next, the king decreed that male Hebrew babies should be put to death (Ex 1:15–19). When the midwives ignored the order, “the people increased and became even more numerous” (Ex 1:20), again indicating a long passage of time. Moses was born during the time of the ban on male babies.
  • At age 40 (Acts 7:23), Moses fled to Midian, during which time “the king of Egypt died” (Ex 2:23) and those seeking Moses’ life died (Ex 4:19).
  • After Moses’ return from Midian, the Exodus occurred when Moses was 80 years old (Ex 7:7).

Thus, the building of the store cities in Exodus 1:11 had to have occurred over a century prior to the beginning of the construction of Rameses II’s delta capital, long before Rameses II was even born. The appearance of the name Rameses in this passage and in Genesis 47:11 are examples of editorial updating of a name that went out of use. After the construction of Rameses II’s capital, the area came to be known as Rameses from that time forward. Other examples of such updating are Bethel (Gn 12:8; 13:3; 28:19), Dan (Gn 14:14; Dt 34:1; Jgs 18:29) and Samaria (1 Kgs 13:32; 16:24).

Another strike against the 13th century scenario is Psalm 136:15, which strongly indicates that the Pharaoh of the Exodus perished in the Reed Sea. Rameses II lived over 40 years beyond the proposed Exodus date of 1267 BC.

Destruction of Hazor

The book of Joshua tells us that the Israelites destroyed three cities by fire: Jericho (Jos 6:24), Ai (Jos 8:28) and Hazor (Jos 11:11). Evidence for destruction by fire should readily be discernable in the archaeological record, making these cities a primary focus of Conquest research. The second major pillar of the 13th century theory is that Hazor was destroyed at the right time to fit this time frame. Excavations have revealed that the city was massively destroyed by fire toward the end of the 13th century BC, most likely by the Israelites (Ben Tor 2006, 1998; Ben Tor and Rubiato 1999). The date of the destruction can be fixed at “1230 (or soon after)” based on inscriptional data (Kitchen 2003a: 27; low Egyptian chronology). But, if we assign this destruction to the Conquest, there would be no city for Deborah and Barak to conquer later on in the time of the judges (Jgs 4–5), since Hazor was not rebuilt until the tenth century BC in the time of Solomon (1 Kgs 9:15). Kitchen explains,

after Joshua’s destruction of Hazor [in 1230 BC], Jabin I’s successors had to reign from another site in Galilee but kept the style of king of the territory and kingdom of Hazor (2003b: 213).

But where was this new capital located? Kitchen does not offer a candidate. Surveys in the region have determined that there was a gap in occupation in the area of Hazor and the Upper Galilee from ca. 1230 BC to ca. 1100 BC (Finkelstein 1988: 107), ruling out Kitchen’s solution to this major problem for the late-date theory. Not only is there no evidence at Hazor to support the late-date theory, but no evidence for occupation in the late 13th century BC has been found at Jericho (Marchetti 2003) or Ai (= Khirbet el-Maqatir; Wood 1999a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2001, 2008c).

There are a number of other less persuasive reasons given in support of a 13th century date for the Exodus, some of which I have dealt with in a series of articles critiquing the 13th century theory (Wood 2005b, 2007; Young and Wood 2008).

An Exodus in 1446 BC

We have outlined above the chronological data in the Bible that demonstrate that the Exodus took place in 1446 BC. This is supported by evidence from Jericho, Ai and Hazor showing that all three sites were burned by fire at the end of the 15th century BC, the time frame for the Conquest based on a 1446 BC Exodus. At Jericho, not only is there evidence for destruction by fire, but also that the destruction took place just after the harvest, the city walls fell, the siege of the city was short, and the city was not plundered, as the Bible records (Wood 1987, 1990, 1999c, 2003: 262–64; Ashley and Aust 2003). Our excavations at Khirbet el-Maqatir have demonstrated that it meets all of the Biblical requirements to be identified as Joshua’s Ai, including destruction by fire (Wood 1999a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2001, 2003: 264–68, 2008c; Briggs 2005). At Hazor, the burning of Stratum XV/2 and the destruction of temples give evidence of the Israelite conquest of the city (Janeway 2003: 95; Wood 2003: 268–69).

The Pharaoh of the Exodus

A nagging question is, “who was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?” Psalm 136:15 would lead us to believe that the Pharaoh of the Exodus died in the Sea of Reeds. All we need to do, then, to identify the Pharaoh of the Exodus is find a Pharaoh who died in 1446 BC. But this is no easy task. With our present Egyptian chronologies, we cannot pinpoint the death date of a particular Pharaoh to 1446 BC. There are three sets of dates in use: high, middle, and low. They vary by as much as 25 years and, according to the three chronologies, there was no Pharaoh who died in 1446 BC. Presently, the most plausible solution is that of William Shea, who believes he has found evidence that a Pharaoh died in 1446 BC and his death was covered up by Egyptian officials (2003a, 2003b: 245–48). Egyptian theology would not allow for the god-king to die while pursuing runaway slaves. By not recording the event, it would be as if it had never happened (Wheeler 2002).

Shea believes that Amenhotep II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Based on the high Egyptian chronology, Amenhotep II took the throne in 1450 BC, immediately after the death of his father Tuthmosis III. Four years later, according to Shea’s theory, he perished in the Reed Sea in 1446 BC. He was then replaced with another king who was given the same name and the entire incident was hushed up. But Shea has uncovered scribal slip-ups that left clues as to what had happened. As a result, it appears that there were two Amenhotep IIs who ruled from 1450 to 1425 BC: Amenhotep IIA, 1450–1446 BC, and Amenhotep IIB, 1446–1425 BC. Although the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of Kings in Luxor (KV 35) is not that of the Pharaoh of the Exodus, but that of Amenhotep IIB, we do have some connections with the first Amenhotep II.

Amenhotep IIA at Perunefer

The events of Exodus 2–12 transpired in the royal delta city called Rameses in the Bible. This is a later name for the city, which was earlier known as Rowaty during the days of Joseph and Jacob, then Avaris during the oppression and Perunefer in the time of Moses. Finally, in the 13th century BC, Rameses II built a great capital there and it became known a Rameses from that time on. The royal residency from Moses’ day has been excavated, giving the backdrop against which the confrontation between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt took place (Wood 2008a, 2008b).

During the 15th Dynasty, ca. 1663–1555 BC, Egypt was ruled by Hyksos (foreign rulers) from southern Canaan who had their capital at Avaris. After the native Egyptians overthrew the Hyksos and drove them back to Canaan, Avaris was taken over by the Egyptians and renamed Perunefer. The tomb of Kenamun in the Valley of Nobles (number TT 93) puts us in touch with individuals associated with Perunefer and the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Kenamun’s mother Amenemopet was the nurse of Amenhotep II, undoubtedly Amenhotep IIA. Perhaps as a result of his mother’s connections with the royal family, Kenamun served as Superintendant of the Dockyard at Perunefer and later as Chief Steward of Amenhotep II, a position similar to that of Joseph (“over my [Pharaoh’s] house, Gn 41:40). In the tomb are several paintings of Amenhotep II, including a painting of young Amenhotep II on Amenemopet’s lap at Perunefer. As a young man Amenhotep IIA was famous for his athletic abilities and bravado. Translator John Wilson commented:

The pharaoh who has left us the most numerous records of his physical prowess was Amen-hotep II…. Amen-hotep II… gloried in his reputation for personal strength and prowess. His records therefore contrast with those of his predecessor and father, Thut-mose III, in emphasizing individual achievement (1969: 244, 245).

A stela found near the Sphinx at Giza tells of Amenhotep IIA’s superhuman skills as a horseman, archer, runner and rower. Here is an excerpt:

He was one who knew horses: there was not his like in this numerous army. There was not one therein who could draw his bow. He could not be approached in running. Strong of arms, one who did not weary he took the oar, he rowed at the stern of his falcon-boat as the stroke for 200 men. When there was a pause, after they attained half an iter’s course [about 1 km], they were weak, their bodies limp, they could not draw a breath, whereas his majesty was (still) strong under his oar of 20 cubits in length [ca. 34 ft] (Wilson 1969: 244).

In the third year of his reign, 1447 BC, one year before the Exodus, Amenhotep IIA led his first military campaign. It was to the area of “Takhshi,” in the vicinity of Damascus, Syria. The record of that campaign begins in a boastful manner typical of the other records of his reign:

He is a king very weighty of arm: there is none who can draw his bow in his army, among the rulers of foreign countries, or the princes of Retenu [Syria-Lebanon], because his strength is so much greater than (that of) any (other) king who has existed. Raging like a panther when he treads the field of battle; there is none who can fight in his vicinity…. Prevailing instantly over every foreign country, whether people or horses, (though) they have come in millions of men, (for) they knew not that Amon-Re [creator sun god] was loyal to him (Wilson 1969: 247).

The text then goes on to describe Amenhotep IIA’s brutal treatment of seven enemy princes of Takhshi:

His majesty returned in joy of heart to his father Amon, when he had slain with his own mace the seven princes who had been in the district of Takhshi, who had been put upside down at the prow of his majesty’s falcon-boat…. Then six men of these enemies were hanged on the face of the wall of Thebes, and the hands as well. Then the other foe was taken upstream to the land of Nubia and hanged on the wall of Napata [near the Fourth Cataract of the Nile] to show his majesty’s victories forever and ever in all lands and all countries of the Negro land; inasmuch as he had carried off the southerners and bowed down the northerners, the (very) ends of the entire earth upon which Re [the sun god] shines, (so that) he might set forth his frontier where he wishes without being opposed, according to the decree of his father Re (Wilson 1969: 248).

The boastful and arrogant attitude of Amenhotep IIA matches that of the Pharaoh of the Exodus described in the Bible. When Moses first confronted the Egyptian king, his response was, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go” (Ex 5:2). His cruelty can be seen in his withholding the straw the Israelites needed for making mud bricks (Ex 5:6–9). In addition, he was stubborn and went back on his word on numerous occasions. Even after the death of the first-born, when he finally let the Israelites go, he reneged and pursued them. In spite of his human strength and abilities, Amenhotep IIA and his army were no match for the God of Israel.

The residency was suddenly abandoned during the reign of Amenhotep II, with no known reason:

The palace district was probably abandoned after the reign of Amenophis II [=Amenhotep II]…. The reason for the abandonment of this district, and, presumably, the entire city adjoining the district on the south is an unsolved puzzle at this time. Its solution would be of the greatest importance to historians. The suggestion that the peaceful foreign policy of the late reign of Amenophis II and Tuthmose IV made this militarily important settlement unnecessary is not convincing. A plague, such as the one documented for Avaris in the late Middle Kingdom, and associated with Avaris in later tradition, appears to be the most likely solution of this problem, although it cannot be proven at this time (Bietak and Forstner-Müller 2005: 93, 95; translation by ABR Board member Walter Pasedag).

Although Egyptian history does not provide an answer for this abandonment, Exodus 7–14 certainly does. As a result of the 10 plagues and the death of Pharaoh in the Sea of Reeds Perunefer became an unsuitable, or undesirable, place to live. With the Israelites and their God gone, it appears that the Egyptians quickly put a new Pharaoh on the throne, gave him the same name as the previous Pharaoh, and tried to put things back to normal, including making sure that none of these events were recorded in the history books.

The Asiatic Campaigns of Amenhotep IIB

Following the death of Amenhotep IIA in the fifth year of his reign in 1446 BC, there were two military campaigns of Amenhotep IIB to Syria-Palestine during the seventh (1444 BC) and ninth (1442 BC) years of his reign (Shea 2003a: 45–46, 2003b: 247). The tone of the records of these campaigns is much different than the earlier inscriptions of Amenhotep IIA—no arrogant and bombastic bragging here. Amenhotep IIB had been humbled by what had taken place in Egypt in 1446 BC. It appears that the main purpose of these campaigns was to replenish lost wealth, slaves, military personnel and military equipment. The table below lists the captives and booty brought back (Wilson 1969: 246, 247).

From these records we gain insight into the Egyptian reconstruction plan following the Exodus. The first two years were spent rebuilding the Egyptian army as much as possible. In year seven a campaign was mounted to Syria with the partially reconstituted army to regain a portion of what Egypt had lost in the Exodus events. The results were comparable to earlier campaigns of Tuthmosis III. Another two years were then spent integrating the new personnel and equipment into the army, as well as using the newly acquired wealth to manufacture additional war materiel. Egypt was now prepared to launch the mother of all raids in 1442 BC. The captives and booty taken in that campaign were several orders of magnitude greater than any other recorded Egyptian campaign. This brought Egypt back to what it was prior to 1446 BC, ready to once again resume its role as one of the ancient world’s greatest superpowers.

Defacing of Hatshepsut’s Image

There is one other event in Egyptian history that might be related to the Exodus. The image and name of Hatshepsut, aunt, step-mother and co-regent with Tuthmosis III, was systematically removed from monuments throughout Egypt. The explanation most often given is that when Tuthmosis III came of age, there was a power struggle resulting in the forceful removal of Hatshepsut from power in ca. 1483 BC. A backlash from this event was the systematic removal of references to her rule. There are a number of problems with this interpretation, however. The main one is that there is evidence the desecration did not begin until sometime after Tuthmosis III’s 42nd year of reign, over 20 years after he became sole ruler (Petrovich 2006: 108). It is possible that the desecration was carried out during the reign of Amenhotep II. If so, the Exodus could provide a more reasonable explanation. Hatshepsut is the most likely candidate for the princess who adopted Moses (Ex 2:10; Hansen 2003). If so, Amenhotep IIB might have held her responsible for the events of 1446 BC and thus carried out a campaign to remove her name and image from history.


Biblical and extra-Biblical evidence clearly point to 1446 BC as the date of the Exodus. Critics say the lack of any reference to this event in the records of ancient Egypt is proof that the Exodus never happened. We should not expect to find such written records, however, because of the lack of historical records of any kind from Rameses and the Egyptian penchant for keeping negative events from their history by not recording them. An Asiatic settlement at the site of Rameses from the time of Joseph and records of Asiatic slaves from the period of the sojourn provide indirect evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt. A royal residence from the time of Moses fitting the Biblical description has now been found at Rameses. Royal inscriptions indicate that there were two Pharaohs with the name Amenhotep II—the first being the Pharaoh of the Exodus who perished in the Reed Sea in 1446 BC and the second a replacement who campaigned in Syria-Palestine to replenish the wealth, slaves and army lost in the Exodus.

Bryant G. Wood, ABR Director of Research, is principal archaeologist and director of ABR’s excavation at Khirbet el-Maqatir. He has a MS in Nuclear Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a MA in Biblical History from the University of Michigan, and a PhD in Syro-Palestinian Archaeology from the University of Toronto.


Aling, Charles
2002 Joseph in Egypt: Second of Six Parts. Bible and Spade 15: 35–38.

Ashley, Scott, and Aust, Jerold
2003 Jericho: Does the Evidence Disprove or Prove the Bible? Bible and Spade 16: 54–56.

Ben Tor, Amnon
1998 The Fall of Canaanite Hazor—The “Who” and “When” Questions. Pp. 465–67 in Mediterranean Peoples in Transition, Thirteenth to Early Tenth Centuries BCE, eds. Seymour Gitin, Amihai Mazar and Ephraim Stern. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.
2006 The Sad Fate of Statues and the Mutilated Statues of Hazor. Pp. 3–16 in Confronting the Past: Archaeological and Historical Essays on Ancient Israel in Honor of William G. Dever, eds. Seymour Gitin, J. Edward Wright and Jack P. Dessel. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.

Ben Tor, Amnon, and Rubiato, Maria T. 1999 Excavating Hazor Part Two: Did the Israelites Destroy the Canaanite City? Biblical Archaeology Review 25.3: 22–39.

Bietak, Manfred, and Foster-Müller, Irene 2005 Ausgrabung eines Palastbezirkes der Tuthmosidenzeit bei ‘Ezbet Helmi/Tell el-Dab‘a, Vorbericht für Herbst 2004 und Frühjahr 2005. Egypt and the Levant 15: 65–100.

Briggs, Peter 2005 Testing the Factuality of the Conquest of Ai Narrative in the Book of Joshua. Pp. 157–96 in Beyond the Jordan: Studies in Honor of W. Harold Mare, ed. Glenn A. Carnagey, Sr. Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock.

David, A. Rosalie
1986 The Pyramid Builders of Ancient Egypt: A Modern Investigation of Pharaoh’s Workforce. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Davies, Norman de Garis
1930 The Tomb of Ken-amun at Thebes. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Davis, John J.
2008 Conquest and Crisis, 3rd ed. Winona Lake IN: BMH Books.

Finkelstein, Israel
1988 The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.

Habachi, Labib
2001 Khata‘na-Qantir or Avaris-Piramesse. Pp. 23–127 in Tell el-Dab‘a I: Tell el-Dab‘a and Qantir, the Site and its Connection with Avaris and Piramesse, ed. Ernst Czerny. Denkschriften der Gesamtakademie 23. Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Hansen, David G.
2003 Moses and Hatshepsut. Bible and Spade 16: 14–20.

Hoffmeier, James K.
1997 Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition. New York: Oxford University.
Johnstone, William
2007 Exodus, Book of. Pp. 371–80 in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 2, ed. Katharine D. Sakenfeld. Nashville: Abingdon.

Janeway, Brian
2003 Hazor 2002. Bible and Spade 16: 92–96.

Kitchen, Kenneth A.
1986 Pharaoh. P. 821 in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 3, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.
2003a An Egyptian Inscribed Fragment from Late Bronze Hazor. Israel Exploration Journal 53: 20–28.
2003b On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eisenbrauns

Luft, Ulrich
1993 Asiatics in Illahun: A Preliminary Report. Pp. 291–97 in Sesto Congresso Internazionale Di Egittologia: Atti 2, eds. Gian M. Zaccone and Tomasco R. di Netro. Torino, Italy: International Association of Egyptologists.

McKenzie, Steven L.
2008 Israel, History of. Pp. 117–31 in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 3, ed. Katharine D. Sakenfeld. Nashville: Abingdon.

Marchetti, Nicolò
2003 A Century of Excavations on the Spring Hill at Tell Es-Sultan, Ancient Jericho: A Reconstruction of Its Stratigraphy. Pp. 295–321 in The Synchronisation of Civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Second Millennium B.C. 2, ed. Manfred Bietak. Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Naville, Edouard H.
1891 Bubastis (1887–1889). Egypt Exploration Fund Memoir 8. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner.

Oblath, Michael D.
2007 Exodus, Route of. Pp. 380–83 in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 2, ed. Katharine D. Sakenfeld. Nashville: Abingdon.

Petrovich, Douglas
2006 Amenhotep II and the Historicity of the Exodus-Pharaoh. The Master’s Seminary Journal 17: 81–110.

Ray, Paul J., Jr.
2005 Another Look at the Period of the Judges. Pp. 93–104 in Beyond the Jordan, ed. Glenn A. Carnagey, Sr. Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock.

Shea, William H.
2003a Amenhotep II as Pharaoh of the Exodus. Bible and Spade 16: 41– 51.
2003b The Date of the Exodus. Pp. 236–55 in Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts, eds. David M. Howard, Jr., and Michael A. Grisanti. Grand Rapids MI: Kregel.

Steinmann, Andrew E.
2005 The Mysterious Numbers of the Book of Judges. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48: 491–500.

Wheeler, Gerald
2002 Ancient Egypt’s Silence about the Exodus. Andrews University Seminary Studies 40: 257–64.

Wilson, John A.
1969 Egyptian Historical Texts. Pp. 227–64 in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd. ed., ed. James B. Pritchard. Princeton: Princeton University.

Wood, Bryant G.
1987 Uncovering the Truth at Jericho. Archaeology and Biblical Research Premier Issue: 6–16.
1990 Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence. Biblical Archaeology Review 16.2: 44–59.
1997 The Sons of Jacob: New Evidence for the Presence of the Israelites in Egypt. Bible and Spade 10: 53–65.
1999a Kh. el-Maqatir 1999 Dig Report. Bible and Spade 12: 109–14.
1999b The Search for Joshua’s Ai. Bible and Spade 12: 21–30.
1999c The Walls of Jericho. Bible and Spade 12: 35–42.
2000a Kh. el-Maqatir 2000 Dig Report. Bible and Spade 13: 67–72.
2000b Khirbet el-Maqatir, 1995–1998. Israel Exploration Journal 50: 123–30.
2000c Khirbet el-Maqatir, 1999. Israel Exploration Journal 50: 249–54.
2001 Khirbet el-Maqatir, 2000. Israel Exploration Journal 51: 246–52.
2003 From Ramesses to Shiloh: Archaeological Discoveries Bearing on the Exodus–Judges Period. Pp. 256–82 in Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts, eds. David M. Howard, Jr., and Michael A. Grisanti. Grand Rapids MI: Kregel.
2005a Pharaoh Merenptah Meets Israel. Bible and Spade 18: 65–82.
2005b The Rise and Fall of the 13th-Century Exodus-Conquest Theory. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48: 475–89.
2007 The Biblical Date for the Exodus is 1446 BC: A Response to James Hoffmeier. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50: 249– 58.
2008a New Discoveries at Rameses. Bible and Spade 21: 28–32.
2008b The Royal Precinct at Rameses. Bible and Spade 21: 21–27.
2008c The Search for Joshua’s Ai. Pp. 205–40 in Critical Issues in the Early History of Israel, eds. Richard S. Hess, Gerald A. Klingbeil and Paul J. Ray, Jr. Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns.

Young, Rodger C., and Wood, Bryant G.
2008 A Critical Analysis of the Evidence from Ralph Hawkins for a Late-Date Exodus-Conquest. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51: 225–43.

Recent Research on the Date and Setting of the Exodus.pdf (3.50 mb)

The Sands of Galilee: The Parable of the Two Builders

by Gordon Franz MA

When Jesus preached a sermon, told a parable, or gave a discourse, He always used object lessons that were familiar to His hearers in order to illustrate His point. The archaeology and geography of Bethsaida provides the background for two of His parables. These parables, referred to as the “parable of the two builders,” are recorded in Matthew 7:24-27 (Sermon on the Mount) and Luke 6:47-49 (Sermon on the Plain). The evidence suggests that these were two different sermons that were given at different times, several months apart.

As I understand the chronology of the life of Christ; Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior at the wedding at Cana of Galilee during the summer of AD 26 (John 2:11). In the spring of AD 28, Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to become “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20).

As Jesus trained His disciples in the art of “fishing for men” they visited the synagogues of Galilee. At one point, He sat down on the slopes of a mountain overlooking the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and addressed His disciples – those who had already trusted Him as Savior and decided to follow Him – yet He also allowed the crowd that had gathered to listen in on His sermon (Matt. 5:1). His primary audience, however, was His disciples. This sermon, delivered in the Spring of AD 28, is known today as the Sermon on the Mount.

The next day, Peter was “recalled” after catching a miraculous draught of fish and realizing the Lord Jesus could be trusted to provide his daily needs. At this point in his walk with the Lord, Peter “forsook all and followed Him” (Luke 5:11). Later that summer, Jesus again addressed His disciples on the Plains of Bethsaida (Luke 6:20-49). This sermon, commonly called the Sermon on the Plain, reflects a deeper commitment to the call of discipleship. Yet Jesus ends both sermons with similar parables. For a discussion of this chronology and its spiritual implications, see Franz 1993: 92-9.

These parables conclude two sermons that lay “down the standards of conduct appropriate to a disciple of Jesus as he lives in anticipation of the coming Kingdom of God” (Hodges 1985: 21). Jesus contrasted two examples of disciples: one hears the words of the sermon and does what is instructed, while the other hears the words but does not act on what was heard. Jesus likened the first disciple to a wise builder who built his house on the rock and the second disciple to a foolish builder who built his house on the sand. The house that withstood the rains, flood, and winds was the one which had a deep foundation down to bedrock (Luke 6:48).

Where was the sand to which Jesus pointed as an object lesson in these parables? It must be by the Sea of Galilee because that is where Jesus gave the parable. Also, Josephus the First Century AD Jewish historian described the “Lake of Gennesar [as]... everywhere ending in pebbly or sandy beaches” (Wars 3: 506, 507; LCL 2:719). K. E. Wilken, a German traveler who visited the site of Tel el-Araj, the site of Bethsaida in Galilee, observed two strata of human occupation sandwiched between “alluvial sand” when a cistern at the site collapsed (Kraeling 1956: 388, 389). A casual visit to the site reveals the same alluvial sand today. (For a discussion of the location of Bethsaida, see Franz 1995: 6-11).

I think this alluvial sand is the background to the parables of the two builders, and something with which the disciples were well familiar. Bethsaida in Galilee was the birthplace of Philip, Andrew and Peter (John 1:44; 12:21). They knew that the alluvial sand was very hard in the summertime. Perhaps they recalled “Uncle Akiva” or “Cousin Ezra” building their houses on this hard alluvial sand. One may have dug a foundation down to bedrock while the other did not. When the early rains and the winter rains came, the Jordan River overflowed its banks. This, along with the winter windstorms caused the house that was not built with a foundation to collapse.

Interestingly, on February 21, 1978, the Israel Water Systems put in a channel for some pipes in the area of Tel el-Araj. At a depth of three meters under the water table, carved basalt stones of different sizes were observed. They appeared to be part of the foundation of a building (Sharavani 1978). Unfortunately, no pottery was collected that would help date the structure. This would reflect the building method described in the parables.

If the hard alluvial sand of Bethsaida is the background for these parables, then the issue is not where the houses were built, i.e., on sand or rock, because both houses were built on the hard alluvial sand during the summer months. The important point is how the houses were built, i.e., with or without a foundation that was dug down to bedrock. The contrast is obvious. The wise builder looked to the future and knew the early rains would come and the Jordan River would overflow its banks and loosen up the hard alluvial sand and make it unstable. If the house had no foundation, it would collapse. The foolish builder, on the other hand, thought only of the present and thought the hard alluvial sand would remain in that state throughout the winter months. Much to his surprise, it did not. The wise builder was concerned that the house would remain standing when the sand became loose and soft, so he dug a deep foundation down to bedrock. On the other hand, the foolish builder was only concerned with the outward appearance of his house so he did not dig a foundation for his house. The wise builder counted the cost and put time, energy and effort into building a foundation for his house, while the foolish builder took shortcuts and ignored the need for a foundation.

The application of these two parables is also quite obvious. Jesus intended His disciples to hear His words of these two sermons and obey them. The wise builder dug a foundation and built his house on top if it, so when the winds, rains, and floods came the house remained standing. Likewise, the serious disciple of the Lord Jesus must put time, energy and effort into living the Christian life as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain. Paul, in the same vein, said those believers who successfully lived the Christian life will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:10-15). On the other hand, the foolish builder did not dig a foundation for his house so it collapsed. Jesus likened this to a disciple who only heard the words of the Sermons and did nothing about them. Paul described this manifestation of the believer’s works as being burned with fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ. That believer would suffer loss, yet he himself would be saved, yet so as through the fire (I Cor. 3:15). This believer would also be ashamed at the coming of the Lord Jesus (I John 2:28).

May we follow the admonition of James,... an “ear-witness” to the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, when he instructs us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).


Franz, Gordon

1993 The Greatest Fish Story Ever Told. Bible and Spade 6/3: 92-96.

1995 Text and Tell: The Excavations at Bethsaida. Archaeology in the Biblical World 3/1: 6-11.

Hodges, Zane

1985 Grace in Eclipse. A Study on Eternal Rewards. Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva.


1976 Jewish Wars. Books 1-3. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 203.

Kraeling, E.

1956 Rand McNally Bible Atlas. New York: Rand McNally.

Sharavani, M.

1978 Personal letter to Mendel Nun, Kibbutz Ein Gev. March 20, 1978.

This article first appeared in Archaeology in the Biblical World, (1995) 3/1: 6-11. It was revised and updated on November 9, 2007.

New Light on the Book of Daniel from the Dead Sea Scrolls

by Gerhard Hasel PhD

In the 1980's, two articles of vital interest on the Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the book of Daniel were published from among the Dead Sea scroll textual finds made originally in 1952 in Cave 4 at Qumran. The publication by Professor Eugene Ulrich, “Daniel Manuscripts from Qumran” (1989), gives us full insight into these pivotal textual finds and follows the one published two years earlier on other parts of these finds (Ulrich 1987).

From Discovery Until Publication

Let me first briefly describe the outrageous delay that has occurred in the publication of many of the Dead Sea scrolls, discovered way back in 1947–1948. Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) has played a major role in pushing for publication in a number of articles over the past few years, especially in 1989 and 1990 (Shanks 1989a, 1989b, 1989c, 1989d, 1990). There have been charges of a scandal because there are about “400 separate unpublished texts arranged on 1,200 different [photographic] plates” hidden for some 40 years from the scrutiny of the scholars. Hershel Shanks, the editor of BAR, says that “a reasonable guess is that 100 of these [unpublished texts] are Biblical texts on 200 plates” (1989c:20).      

The charges regarding the non-publication of these Dead Sea scroll texts were taken up in the summer of 1989 by the public press. For example, the New York Times in a July 9, 1989, editorial, “The Vanity of Scholars,” complained that “the scrolls were discovered in 1947, but many that are in fragments remain unpublished. More than 40 years later a coterie of dawdling scholars is still spinning out the work while the world waits and the precious pieces lapse into dust.”

Fortunately, various encouraging developments have taken place since the summer of 1991, and we can look forward to a speedy publication of the remaining scroll fragments and texts.

The significance of the Daniel fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls was voiced first in 1958 when professor Frank M. Cross of Harvard University published The Ancient Library of Qumran, a comprehensive survey of the scrolls. In the second edition of the book (1961), Professor Cross refers to the fragments of the Daniel scrolls: “One copy of Daniel is inscribed in the script of the late second century BC; in some ways it is more striking than that of the oldest manuscripts from Qumran” (43).

This was fantastic news from a scholarly point of view, for the text of Daniel has long been considered suspect by many scholars on various grounds we’ll be discussing below. The question now was: How much of the book of Daniel is on this scroll, and precisely what sections are preserved and how does it compare with the rest of the Hebrew text of the book of Daniel?

In November 1989, more than 35 years after its discovery and more than 25 years after Cross made his astounding declaration, this text, along with others from Cave 4 on the book of Daniel, were finally published. Only a few scraps of fragments from Cave 4, which contain but “five tiny fragments, all from the prayer in chapter 9 but none with more than one complete word” (Ulrich 1989:3), remain to be published (i.e., the fragments of the scroll designated 4QDane).

The fragments of the Daniel scrolls from Cave 4 were assigned for publication to Cross (Cross 1956:86) as long ago as 1951 (Benoit 1956:76). He was a member of the original group of editors of the Dead Sea scrolls appointed in 1953 (Shanks 1989c:18). But some time ago Cross entrusted the Daniel materials from Cave 4 to Eugene Ulrich of the University of Notre Dame (Shanks 1989a:57), a former student of his. In 1987 Ulrich published the materials from one scroll of Cave 4, namely, 4QDana. Now he has published the materials of the two other major scrolls, 4QDanb and 4QDanc.

Contents of the Dead Sea Scroll Daniel Manuscripts

While these exciting new publications will have our major attention in this paper, we need to mention the other previously published Qumran materials on Daniel.

This means that we have at our disposal from the Dead Sea scrolls parts of all chapters, except Daniel 9 and 12. Of course, the unpublished 4QDane is to have a few words of various parts of Daniel 9. There is also an overlap of a number of passages in Daniel 1, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11. Reference to Daniel 12 is made in 4QFlorilegium, an anthology of midrashic materials [rabbinical commentaries] on 2 Samuel and Psalms 1, 2.

Significance of the Scrolls

It is a highly surprising phenomenon that no fewer than eight manuscripts of Daniel have been identified among the materials discovered in three of the 11 caves of Qumran. In order to appreciate the significance of this fact, we need to compare it with the manuscript finds of other Biblical books from the same caves.

To my knowledge, the most recent listing of published materials (as of 1992) from the Dead Sea scrolls appeared in 1977. The listing speaks of 13 fragments of scrolls from the Psalms; nine from Exodus; eight from Deuteronomy; five from Leviticus; four each from Genesis and Isaiah (Fitzmyer 1977:11–39); and no fewer than eight scrolls representing Daniel. Although we have no sure knowledge yet of the total scrolls that have been preserved from the Bible at Qumran, it is evident from this comparison that the book of Daniel was a favorite book among the Qumran covenantors.

At this juncture we need to make another point. According to current historical-critical opinion, the book of Daniel originated in its present form in the Antiochus Epiphanes crisis, that is, between 168/167–165/164 BC. It seems very difficult to perceive that one single desert community should have preserved such a significant number of Daniel manuscripts if this book had really been produced at so late a date. The large number of manuscripts in this community can be much better explained if one accepts an earlier origin of Daniel than the one proposed by the Maccabean hypothesis of historical-critical scholarship, which dates it to the second century BC.

Date of the Daniel Dead Sea Scrolls and Its Significance

Dates for the Daniel scrolls, published in 1955, were given by John C. Trever as the Herodian period for 1QDana and late Herodian period for 1QDanb (1964-1966:323–36). In other words, these manuscripts could come from about 60 AD or earlier (Hartman and Di Lella 1978:72).

This date is still very significant because the Masoretic text (MT) from which our Bibles are translated comes from a major manuscript that is dated to 1008 AD (Wurthwein 1979:35). In other words, we are able to compare for the first time in history the Hebrew and Aramaic of the book of Daniel with manuscripts of the same book that are about 1,000 years older. A comparison between the MT and the earlier manuscripts contained in 1QDana, 1QDanb, and 6QDan, based upon a careful study of the variants and relationships with the MT, reveals that “the Daniel fragments from Caves 1 and 6 reveal, on the whole, that the later Masoretic text is preserved in a good, hardly changed form. They are thus a valuable witness to the great faithfulness with which the sacred text has been transmitted” (Mertens 1971:31).

These textual witnesses demonstrate that the MT was faithfully preserved and confirm that the Hebrew and Aramaic text of Daniel is reliable.

The date for the three Daniel manuscripts published by 1989 is also of great importance, along with those of the earlier publications. Some of the recently published scrolls on Daniel are even older than the previously published ones. The date of 4QDana is assigned to about 60 BC and 4QDanb to about 60 AD (Ulrich 1987:17). The oldest manuscript of Daniel by far is 4QDanc, which Cross dated in 1961 to the “late second century BC” (Cross 1961:43). Scholars who support a date for the writing of the book of Daniel in the Maccabean crisis at about the middle of the second century BC will be able to say that 4QDanc is “only a half century later than the composition of the book of Daniel” (Ulrich 1987:17). This means for supporters of this dating that the manuscript evidence for Daniel is as close to the autograph as the Rylands Papyrus is to the Gospel of John. I quote: “It is thus, for the Hebrew Bible, comparable to the Rylands manuscript of the Johannine Gospel for the New Testament” (Ulrich 1989:3). The latter comparison means that the papyrus fragment of the Gospel of John, published in 1935, that is, Rylands 457, which was dated in the first half of the second century AD, effectively refuted claims of scholars who had attempted to date the Gospel of John to the latter part of the second century AD. The Rylands papyrus was within 25 to 50 years of the writing of the Gospel of John.

For those supporting the historical-critical date of the book of Daniel new issues are being raised. Since there is a manuscript of Daniel that supposedly dates within 50 years of the autograph, is there enough time for the supposed traditio-historical and redaction-critical developments allegedly needed for the growth of the book? Supporters of the Maccabean dating hypothesis of Daniel will be hard put to explain all of this in their reconstructions. To express it differently, do the early dates of the fragments from Cave 4 leave enough room for the developments, editorial and redactional as well as others, that are so often proposed (e.g., Koch 1986:20–24)? The verdict seems to be negative, and an earlier date for Daniel than the second century is unavoidable.

Dead SeaScrolls and the Original Hebrew/Aramaic Text of Daniel

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, many scholars questioned the faithfulness of the Hebrew text and took great freedom in amending, changing, and adjusting the Hebrew text. This freedom has been significantly curtailed by the Qumran findings.

With regard to Daniel, many scholars have regarded the Hebrew and Aramaic text as of no greater authority than other ancient translations such as the Septuagint (the oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the version attributed to Theodotion. Among the reasons given is that the Septuagint treatment of Daniel is less literal, less closely related to the MT, than the treatment given to the rest of the Old Testament. This fact has led some to assume that the MT of Daniel is of relatively little value.

Moreover, the Septuagint version of the book of Daniel, available in only two ancient manuscripts, is said to be periphrastic [use of many words] and expansionistic, containing considerably more material than the MT, aside from such deuterocanonical additions as the Story of Susanna, the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Young Men (Moore 1977).

The official Greek translation of Daniel used in ancient times was that of Theodotion, an Ephesian (ca. 180 AD). His translation, which has antecedents (Schmitt 1966), has “the distinction of having supplanted the current version of the book of Daniel” (Jellicoe 1968:84). Further, around 400 AD Jerome ventured the opinion that the Septuagint “differs widely from the original [Hebrew], and is rightly rejected.”

Thus we have two ancient Greek versions of Daniel, and only the one by Theodotion has a close affinity with the MT. These, along with some other considerations, have caused leading modern scholars to have little confidence in the MT. Professor Klaus Koch is a supporter of the hypothesis that there is no authoritative, original text for the book of Daniel available. He suggests that while we have a Hebrew/Aramaic text and two Greek versions, none of these three is original, and that an original text is to be reconstructed with the best tools available (Koch et al. 1980:22, 23; Koch 1986:16–21). This essentially is also the view of L. Hartman and A.A. Di Lella, who point out that there are “no iron rules or golden rules” in this process of textual reconstruction (Hartman and Di Lella 1978:75). These and other scholars assume that the book of Daniel in its entirety was written originally in the Aramaic language and that the Hebrew parts of the book are translations from Aramaic into Hebrew.

Other scholars, however, oppose this hypothesis.

Evidently this is a complex picture. The newly published Daniel materials from Qumran appear to throw important new light on the issue of the original text of Daniel. We say this because there is great harmony between the MT and the Cave 4 finds of the book of Daniel. Thus it no longer seems permissible to dismiss the Hebrew-Aramaic text as unreliable.

We need to note the following:

1. When it comes to variants, the eight Dead Sea scroll Daniel manuscripts, for the most part, are very close to each other.

2. There is no significant abbreviation and no lengthy expansion in any of the manuscript fragments. “The text of Daniel in these [Cave 4] Daniel scrolls conforms closely to later Masoretic tradition; there are to be found, however, some rare variants which side with the Alexandrian Greek [Septuagint] against the MT and Theodotion” (Cross 1956:86).

3. These manuscript fragments do not contain any of the additions that are in all the Greek manuscripts, such as the Prayer of Azariah, the Song of the Three Young Men, and the Story of Susanna.

4. The change from Hebrew into Aramaic is preserved for Daniel 2:4b in 4QDana as it was previously in 1QDana. Thus two different manuscripts give evidence to this change. The change from Aramaic into Hebrew in Daniel 8:1 is clearly manifested in both 4QDana and 4QDanb, just as in the MT.

Based on the overwhelming conformity of these Qumran Daniel manuscripts with each other and with the MT, despite the few insignificant variants that agree with the Septuagint, it is evident that the MT is the well-preserved key text for the book of Daniel. An eclectic approach, using the Hebrew/Aramaic text, the Greek, and other versions as if they were all on the same level without giving priority to the Hebrew text is no longer supportable, if it ever was previously. The Hebrew/Aramaic Masoretic text of the book of Daniel now has stronger support than at any other time in the history of the interpretation of the book of Daniel.

The Daniel Dead Sea Scrolls and Canonical Book of Daniel

When Professor D. Barthélemy published in 1955 the first fragmentary Daniel manuscripts from Cave 1 of Qumran, that is, 1QDana and 1QDanb, he ventured the opinion that “certain indications permit the thought that Daniel had perhaps not yet been considered at Qumran as a canonical book” (Barthélemy and Milik 1955:250). This idea perpetuated itself for years afterward. In 1964, however, F.F. Bruce stated that the book of Daniel “may well have enjoyed canonical status among them [the Qumran sectaries]” (Bruce 1964:57). In his 1989 Daniel commentary, written before the newest publications of the Qumran Daniel manuscripts were accessible, John Goldingay stated, “There are no real grounds for suggesting that the form of the Qumran manuscripts of Daniel indicates that the book was not regarded as canonical there, though neither for affirming that it was (Goldingay 1989:xxvii).

These doubts and uncertainties about the canonicity of Daniel among the Qumran people can now be laid aside for good. They have been based largely on the “roughly square proportions of the columns of 1QDana and because Pap6QDan is written on papyrus” (Ulrich 1987:19). But professor Ulrich now says,

From Cave 4 we now have overriding evidence on both points from manuscripts of books indisputably authoritative or ‘canonical,’ including Deuteronomy, Kings, Isaiah, and Psalms.... However one uses in relation to Qumran the category of what is later explicitly termed ‘canonical,’ the book of Daniel was certainly in that category (Ulrich 1987:19).

Canonicity is supported also by the so called 4QFlorilegium, a fragment that employs the quotation formula “which written in the book of Daniel the prophet.” Such a formula is typical of quotations from canonical Scripture at Qumran. It is similar also to Matthew 24:15, where Jesus refers to “Daniel the prophet.”

Inasmuch as Daniel was already canonical at Qumran at about 100 BC, how could it have become so quickly canonical if it had just been produced a mere half century before? While we do not know exactly how long it took for books to become canonical, it may be surmised that insofar as Daniel was reckoned to belong to the canonical books, it had a longer existence than a mere five decades, as the Maccabean dating hypothesis suggests. Both the canonical status and the fact that Daniel was considered a “prophet” speak for the antiquity of the book of Daniel. An existence of a mere five decades between the production of a Biblical book in its final form and canonization does not seem reasonable.

Thus the canonical acceptance of the book of Daniel at Qumran suggests an earlier origin of the book than the second century BC. In 1969, based on the evidence available at that time regarding the Qumran Daniel texts, Roland K. Harrison had already concluded that the second century dating of the book of Daniel was “absolutely precluded by the evidence from Qumran, partly because there are no indications whatever that the sectaries compiled any of the Biblical manuscripts recovered from the site, and partly because there would, in the latter event, have been insufficient time for Maccabean compositions to be circulated, venerated, and accepted as canonical Scripture by a Maccabean sect” (Harrison 1969:1127).

Subsequent to this, he stated that based on the Qumran manuscripts, “there can no longer be any possible reason for considering the book as a Maccabean product” (Harrison 1979:862). The most recent publications of Daniel manuscripts confirm this conclusion.


Baillet, M. and Milik, J.T.

1962 Les ‘Petites Grottes’ des Qumran, 1. Texte, 2. Planches, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan, 3 (Oxford: Clarendon).

Barthélemy, D. and Milik, J.T.

1955 Qumran Cave 1. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan 1 (Oxford: Clar-endon).

Benoit, P., et al.

1956 Editing the Manuscript Fragments from Qumran (4Q). Biblical Archaeologist 19:75–96.

Brooke, G.J.

1985 Exegesis at Qumran. 4QFlorilegium in Its Jewish Context. JSOT 29 (Sheffield: JSOT Press).

Bruce, F.F.

1964 Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

Cross, F.M., Jr.

1956 Cave 4 of Qumran (4Q). Biblical Archaeologist 19:83–86.

1961 The Ancient Library of Qumran, 2nd ed. (Garden City NY: Doubleday).

Fitzmyer, J.A.

1977 The Dead Sea Scrolls. Major Publications and Tools for Study (Missoula MT: Scholars Press).

1990 The Dead Sea Scrolls. Major Publications and Tools for Study, Revised Edition (Atlanta: Scholars Press).

Geissen A.

1968 Der Septuaginta-Text des Buches Daniel 5–12 sowie Esther 1–2, 15 (Bonn: R. Habelt).

Goldingay, J.E.

1989 Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 30 (Dallas: Word Books).

Hamm, W.

1969 Der Septuaginta-Text des Buches Daniel 1–2(Bonn: R. Habelt).

1977 Der Septuaginta-Text des Buches Daniel 3–4 (Bonn: R. Habelt).

Harrison, R.K.

1969 Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

1979 Daniel, Book of. Pp. 859–66 inInternational Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

Hartman, L.F. and Di Lella, A.A.

1978 The Book of Daniel, Anchor Bible, vol. 23 (Garden City NY: Doubleday).

Hasel, G.F.

1990 The Book of Daniel Confirmed by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 1/2:37–49.

Jellicoe, S.

1968 The Septuagint and Modern Study (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Koch, K.

1986 Daniel, BKAT 22/1 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchner Verlag).

Koch, K. et al.

1980 Das Buch Daniel, Ertage der Erforschung 144 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft).

Mertens, A.

1971 Das Buch Daniel im Lichte der Texte vom Toten Meer, Stuttgarter Biblische Monographien 12 (Wurzburg: Echter Verlag).

Moore, C.A.

1977 Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah: The Additions, Anchor Bible, vol. 44 (Garden City NY: Doubleday).

Schmitt, A.

1966 Stammter soqenannte “Theodotion” - Text bei Daniel wirklich von Theodotion? (Gottingen: Vanden-hoeck and Ruprecht).

Shanks, H.

1989a At Least Publish the Dead Sea Scroll Timetable. Biblical Archaeology Review 15/3:56–58.

1989b The Dead Sea Scroll Scandal. Biblical Archaeology Review 15/4.

1989c What Should Be Done About the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls? Biblical Archaeology Review 15/5:18–22.

1989d New Hope for the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls. Biblical Archaeology Review 15/6:55–56, 74.

1990 Dead Sea Scroll Variation on “Show and Tell”—It’s Called “Tell, But No Show.” Biblical Archaeology Review 16/2:18–21.

Swete, H.B.

1912 The Old Testament in Greek According to the Septuagint, vol. 4, 4th ed. (Cambridge: Clarendon).

Trever, J.T.

1964–1966 Completion of the Publication of Some Fragments From Qumran Cave 1. Revue de Qumran 5:323–44.

Ulrich, E.

1987 Daniel Manuscripts From Qumran, Part 1: A Preliminary Edition of 4QDana. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 268:17–37.

1989 Daniel Manuscripts from Qumran, Part 2: Preliminary Editions of 4QDanb and 4QDanc. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 274:3–26.

Wurthwein, E.

1979 The Text of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).

(Originally republished in Bible and Spade with permission from Ministry, January 1992.)

Psalm 63: Longing to Worship the LORD while in the Wilderness

by Gordon Franz MA

King David was in a very inhospitable environment with disastrous circumstances beyond his control when he composed Psalm 63. His son, Prince Absalom, instigated a revolt against him. King David fled eastward from Jerusalem through the Judean Desert, most likely at the end of the summer (cf. 2 Sam. 16:1). David escaped to the Levitical city of Mahanaim, in the friendlier region of Gilead on the other side of the Jordan River (2 Sam. 17:24; CBA 109).

As we examine this psalm, we will see David’s desire to worship the Lord even though he had been cut off from access to the sanctuary in Jerusalem. He uses three metaphors from his own personal experience to convey this desire and how God might bring it to pass: (a) thirsting for the Lord in the wilderness, (b) satisfaction after a gourmet banquet in the sanctuary, and (c) following the Lord as his Shepherd and trusting in His protection so he can return to the sanctuary and worship the Lord.

Historical and Geographical Setting

This psalm’s superscription reads: “A psalm of David when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.” The Wilderness of Judah (Midbar Yehuda) is a specific geographical location within the tribal territory of Judah (Josh. 15:21, 33, 48, 61). It is situated to the east of the cultivated farmland of the Hill Country of Judah and slopes down to the Dead Sea with a vertical drop right before the sea. Its northern limit was the Hill Country of Ephraim, delineated by the present-day Wadi Auja to the north of Jericho, and it extended south about 96 kilometers (60 miles) to the Biblical Negev. The words wilderness and desert are used interchangeably in different translations of the Bible for the Hebrew word midbar. The same will be done in this article.

The Wilderness of Judah is easily distinguished on a geological map because it is composed of Senonian soft chalk. The chalk formation is not conducive to agriculture, but grass and flowers do grow there during the rainy season, thus providing food for pasturage.

The prophet Isaiah describes the wilderness (of Judah) in his comfort passage (40:3-9). The Voice, John the Baptizer (cf. Mark 1:3, 4), was crying out: “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath [ruach = hamsin winds] of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:6-8; all quotations from Scripture are from the NKJV). Isaiah is describing the phenomenon of the hot, dry hamsin winds that blow from the Arabian Desert soon after Passover in the spring. This east wind kills all the grass and flowers very quickly. David had used a similar word picture in Psalm 103:15-17.

Bethlehem, the hometown of David, was in the transitional zone between the agricultural land of the Hill Country of Judah and the pastures of the Wilderness of Judah. As its name, literally House of Bread, implies, there was plenty of fertile soil around Bethlehem in which to grow wheat and barley (cf. Ruth 2), and yet just to the east was the place for shepherding.

There are three periods in David’s life when he was in the Judean Desert. For each period in the wilderness, there were important lessons for David to learn.

For young David, the Wilderness of Judah was a place of growing and learning. While tending his family’s flock, he honed his hunting skills by killing a lion and a bear (1 Sam. 17:34-37). There was plenty of time to practice using his slingshot. His preparation paid off when he went big-game hunting in the Elah Valley and bagged the giant, Goliath. There was plenty of time to fine-tune his musical talent as well. The Lord used David’s skillful harp playing to calm the distressing spirit that possessed King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-23). The Lord would also use David’s musical abilities to bless and instruct the souls of men and women throughout the ages as they sang his psalms, some of which were composed in the Judean Desert.

The wilderness also afforded David solitude and quiet times to contemplate the Lord, His ways, and His attributes. At night, while tending his flock, he saw the majestic starlit sky and sang, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

While in the wilderness, David also learned some lessons in shepherding that would be helpful when God called David to shepherd His people Israel (2 Sam. 7:8). Yet David realized it was the Lord who was his Shepherd and He was the One who provided for David, guided, protected, and comforted him until he dwelt in the House of the Lord forever (Ps. 23). The prophet Ezekiel tells us that, in the future, a resurrected David will be the shepherd over a united Israel (34:22-25; cf. Jer. 30:9).

The second time David spent time in the Judean Desert was during his flight from Saul (1 Sam. 19:18-27:6; CBA 92).

The final time David was in the Judean Desert was when he fled from his son Absalom (2 Sam. 15-19). The internal evidence of Psalm 63 suggests that the historical setting for this psalm was during this flight. The psalm was composed after David had become king (63:11) and after he had seen the Ark of Covenant (63:2).

Literary Structure

There is no consensus among Bible teachers as to the literary structure of this psalm. For the purpose of this exposition, one phrase (actually one word in Hebrew) that repeats itself three times in this psalm will be used as the touchstone for each stanza. That phrase is “my soul” (63:1, 5, 8). The word God (Hebrew El) is found only in verses 1a and 11 and it forms an inclusio (bracket) for this psalm.

The psalm begins with a superscription that is part of the inspired psalm and states where this psalm was composed. Unfortunately, it does not tell us the circumstance (the when), but the time frame can be discerned by examining the internal context of the psalm.


The psalmist longs to worship the Lord in the sanctuary in Jerusalem, but he cannot, because he is in the Wilderness of Judah fleeing from those seeking to kill him. His confidence is in the steadfast, covenant love (hesed) of God, because it is better than life itself. The psalmist trusts the Lord to protect him from his enemies so that he will again be able to rejoice and praise the Lord in the sanctuary.


David’s Declaration of Faith and His Purpose in Life. 63:1a      

David begins this psalm with a declaration of faith:

O God, You are my God;

Early will I seek You.

David declares his faith in the Lord as his personal God. For David, God was not an idol of gold, silver, wood, or stone. He was the living God who acted in history and was intimately involved in David’s life. David had a personal relationship with the Lord. Today, a person can have the same personal relationship with the Lord through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our personal relationship with the living God begins by realizing that we are sinners because we have offended a holy God. Our sin separates us from God. Yet God reached down to His creatures by sending His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to live a perfect life, not sinning once, and then dying on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem in order to be the Perfect Sacrifice to pay for all our sins. The Lord Jesus did the hard part to reconcile us to God – He died. But three days later, He was bodily resurrected from the dead to demonstrate that all sin had been paid for, Satan had been defeated, and death had been conquered. Now He offers each of us salvation as a free gift, which one can receive by simply putting one’s faith in the Lord Jesus and trusting Him alone for salvation. When a person puts his or her trust in Christ alone, he or she is born into God’s family and becomes a child of God (John 1:12).

In this verse we also see David’s purpose and priority in life. He states: “Early will I seek You.” His purpose in life was to seek the Lord and His face. This he could do in the tent sanctuary that rested near his palace in Jerusalem. His priority was to do this early, apparently early in the morning. This passage seems to suggest that the first thing he did in the morning was to leave his palace and visit with the Lord in the tent sanctuary. This pattern can also be seen in the life of the Lord Jesus. He would rise up early in the morning for prayer (Mark 1:35).

David’s Soul Is Thirsting for God in the Wilderness. 63:1b-4

In the first stanza, David sings:

My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You

In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.

So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,

To see Your power and Your glory.

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,

My lips shall praise You.

Thus I will bless You while I live;

I will lift up my hands in Your name.

David uses hyperbolic language to describe his longing for the presence of the Lord in His sanctuary. The Judean Desert is depicted as a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. David, when he was a shepherd in the Judean Desert, knew where all the springs and waterholes were. In the summertime, even when it is extremely dry, there is water in the desert. It may be scarce, but there is water nonetheless. Yet this language expresses the fact that David is totally cut off from the Lord and His sanctuary in Jerusalem. The people with David, however, were hungry, weary, and thirsty when they got to Mahanaim (2 Sam. 17:29).

In the rainy months (October to April), the Judean Desert gets between 100 millimeters and 350 millimeters (4-14 inches) of water. Most of the rain falls in the Hill Country; rainfall tapers off to about 100 millimeters near the Dead Sea (Rasmussen 1989: 42). There are five sources of water in the wilderness. Three of the sources are natural: rainwater, springs, and waterholes that collect run-off water. The other two sources are man-made: wells and cisterns dug by the inhabitants of the area (Hareuveni 1991:57-66).

I have the utmost respect for the sun and dry heat in the Judean Desert in the summer. The air is so dry that your perspiration evaporates almost instantaneously, which means that one may be unaware that he is dehydrating. Therefore, it is very dangerous to be in the Wilderness of Judah without adequate water.

The first summer I was in Israel, I experienced what David describes. Several fellow students and I walked the approximate 14 kilometers (8 ½ miles) down the Wadi Qelt from Ma’aleh Adumim to Jericho on Shabbat (the Sabbath). Each of us had brought one canteen of water. In the blazing summer heat, it was not enough. By the time we got to the oasis of Jericho, each of us had a headache and was very thirsty. I’ll tell you, freshly squeezed orange juice never tasted so good!

Later, when I was a field-trip instructor in Israel, I always encouraged my students to drink plenty of water. I informed them that I knew where all the toilets were in Israel and would be glad to stop if they ever needed to use them. I would quip, “It is easier to stop for toilets than it is to take you to the hospital because of dehydration!” Water is essential for survival in the Judean desert. Now, when I hike in Israel during the summer months, I leave early in the morning, wear a hat, and take two or three one-and-a-half-liter bottles of water with me.

In the second verse, David reminisces about the power and glory of God in the sanctuary. Early in his reign, after he had conquered Jerusalem, David brought the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem from Kiryat Jearim (2 Sam. 6:12-23) and placed it in a tent dwelling (2 Sam. 7:2, 6). He had the desire to build a house for the Lord, but was not allowed to build it because he was a man of war and had blood on his hands (1 Chron. 22:8; 28:3). Yet God made a covenant with David that stated that his son would build a house for the Lord and that one of his sons would sit upon the throne of David forever and ever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). After this unconditional covenant was made, David went into the tent and sat before the Lord and prayed (2 Sam. 7:18-29). More than likely, David saw the Ark of the Covenant, God’s strength and glory, on this occasion (cf. Ps. 78:60-61; 96:6; 132:8).

When David fled from Absalom, the Levites brought the Ark of the Covenant out of Jerusalem. David insisted that they take it back. He said to Zadok: “Carry the Ark of God back into the city. If I find favor (chen) in the eyes of the LORD, He will bring me back and show me both it and His dwelling place. But if He says thus: ‘I have no delight (hephzati) in you,’ here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him” (2 Sam. 15:25-26).

David resigned his fate to the Lord but was fully confident in His sovereignty and lovingkindness. In verse three, David declares that the LORD’s “lovingkindness is better than life.” The Hebrew word for lovingkindness is hesed and it has a powerful word picture associated with it. Like a stork (hesedu) that lovingly watches over and guards its young so the Lord is lovingly loyal to the covenants that He made with His people Israel. He is faithful to His people, even when they are not faithful to Him. He watches over His people, provides for them, and protects them because He made unconditional covenants with Abraham and David. Because he understood this important attribute of God, David said that, even with parched lips, he would praise the Lord. He blessed the Lord by lifting up his hands and would do this for the rest of his life (63:4; cf. Ps. 104:33; 146:2; 1 Tim. 2:8)

David’s Soul Is Satisfied in the Lord as after a Gourmet Banquet. 63:5-7

In the second stanza, David sings:

My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,

And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.

When I remember You on my bed,

I meditate on You in the night watches.

Because You have been my help,

Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.

Although David was thirsty because of the dryness of the wilderness, he was satisfied and content because his confidence was in the Lord and His promises. As the king lay awake that night contemplating the lovingkindness of the Lord, he was reminded of the sacrifices that were offered in the sanctuary. He said he was satisfied as with “marrow and fatness,” in other words, the best and richest food. David could be contemplating a banquet in his palace, but it is more likely that he was thinking about the sacrifices in the sanctuary. The “fatness” (chlev) was the result of the pleasant Bar-B-Q aroma of burning animal fat on the altar. The Mosaic Law prohibited people from eating any fat (Lev. 7:23-25) because all the fat was for the Lord (Lev. 3:16). Don’t worry; God does not have a problem with cholesterol! We do. David’s palace was not that far away from the sanctuary, and, if the wind were blowing just right, he could smell the sweet-smelling aroma of burning fat.

As David lay awake that night in the Plains of the Wilderness (2 Sam. 17:16) near Jericho, he was trying to sort out the day’s events. He was thankful to the Lord for His help in getting his family and followers out of Jerusalem before Absalom’s army was able to approach the city and do any harm to it. He remembered the goodness of God and meditated on the Lord Himself.

The word meditate is the same word used in Psalm 1:2: “But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night.” It is in the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) that the Lord and His ways are revealed. The word meditate is a pastoral word that David gleaned from observing his sheep. Sheep have four stomachs. The sheep would eat the grass and flowers in the fields, and the foliage would go down into one stomach. Later, while the sheep was resting in the shade, it would regurgitate, which is the same word that is translated meditate, the foliage, chew it over again, and send it back down to another stomach.

I am sure David had large portions of the Torah memorized so that at night he could bring to mind those passages that spoke of the Lord and apply them to his present situation. God is an avenging God. “’Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19; cf. Deut. 32:35). When David heard that Ahithophel was conspiring with Absalom, David prayed: “O Lord, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness” (2 Sam. 15:31).

David rejoices in the shadow of God’s wings. Some commentators have suggested the wings were a reference to the cherubim above the mercy seat in the sanctuary. Moses used a similar word picture in Psalm 91:4: “He [the Almighty] shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge.” David uses this word picture in other psalms (Ps. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1). I think David’s word picture came from nature. Perhaps that evening David had seen a partridge in the wilderness gathering her young under her wings when she felt threatened by the people with David, or, in the heat of the afternoon, the young might have sought shade under their mother’s wings.

The Lord Jesus uses a similar illustration in His Olivet Discourse. He said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who were sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37).

Twice in this stanza David praises the Lord with rejoicing in spite of his terrible circumstances. The Lord Jesus might have had this psalm and David’s circumstances in mind when He instructed his disciples: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). David was a prophet (Acts 2:30). This was the same lesson that James the son of Zebedee recounted in the opening verses of his epistle: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (1:2).

David, as he fled over the back side of the Mount of Olives, was cursed by Shimei at Bahurim (2 Sam. 16:5-14). David’s servants wanted to behead Shimei, but David forbad them. He said: “Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day” (16:11-12). When the revolt was over, Shimei sought forgiveness from King David and it was granted to him (2 Sam. 19:16-23). On his deathbed, however, David instructed his son Solomon to kill Shimei (1 Kings 2:8-9). Solomon eventually carried out this instruction when Shimei reneged on an oath he had made to the Lord at Solomon’s request (1 Kings 2:36-46).

David’s Soul Follows His Shepherd as a Defenseless Lamb. 63:8-10

In the third stanza, David sings:

My soul follows close behind You;

Your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek my life, to destroy it,

Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.

They shall fall by the sword;

They shall be a portion for jackals.

David turns to his younger days for the word picture of a defenseless lamb following close by its shepherd for protection. The right hand of God is always the hand of power and protection. David was advised by his commanders to stay within the walls of Mahanaim while they went out to fight Absalom’s army. The revolt ended with the slaughter of twenty thousand Israelites in the woods of Ephraim and the death of Absalom at the hands of Joab (2 Sam. 18:1-18, 28). The dead went into the “lower parts of the earth,” another description of Sheol, the place of the departed spirits (cf. Luke 16:19-31; Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol).

The bodies of the dead were eaten by scavengers. The Hebrew word shaliem is translated foxes or jackals. In the context, jackals makes more sense because jackals are the vacuum cleaners, or scavengers, of the desert. On a number of occasions as he wandered in the Judean Desert, David would have seen dead animals. Later, when he walked past the same place, the animal carcass would be gone. Jackals had been there and cleaned up the mess, bones and all. The only thing to be seen was the jackal poop! David is saying that his enemies would not be afforded a proper burial with their families, as was the Israelite custom and practice.

Absalom’s body, however, was placed in a pit in the forest of Ephraim and covered with a huge pile of rocks (2 Sam. 18:17). This was to keep the jackals away, but it also symbolized the death of a rebellious son who should have been stoned to death (Deut. 21:18-21).

David’s Declaration of Praise because His Critics Are Silenced. 63:11

David concludes this psalm by singing:

But the king shall rejoice in God;

Everyone who swears by Him shall glory;

But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.

David speaks of himself in the third person as “the king.” His victory, however, was bittersweet. The revolt had been suppressed, but his son was dead. On a personal level, David mourned the death of his son (2 Sam. 18:33-19:7), yet he says in this psalm that, because the revolt was over, the king rejoiced.

David and his followers had sworn an oath to the Lord and were victorious because they feared Him (Deut. 6:13; 10:20). But those who had not sworn by the Lord were speechless (Ps. 38:12; 41:5-8). This is a euphemistic way of saying they died. Ahithophel hung himself and Absalom was killed by Joab and his men (2 Sam. 17:23; 18:14-15).

Singing Psalm 63

The songwriter David Strasser adapted the first part of this psalm in his composition of the lyrics for the song “Step by Step.”

O God, You are my God

And I will ever praise You!

O God, You are my God

And I will ever praise You!


I will seek You in the morning,

And I will learn to walk in Your ways.

And step by step You’ll lead me,

And I will follow You all of my days.

Lessons from the Psalm for Our Daily Life

There are several lessons that we can learn from this psalm that should encourage us in our daily walk with the Lord.

The first lesson is set forth by the eloquent late fourth century AD preacher, John Chrysostom (“golden-mouthed”) of Antioch-on-the-Orontes, when he commented: “That it was decreed and ordained by the Primitive Fathers that no day should pass without the public singing of this psalm.” Based on the phrase, “early will I seek you” (63:1), this psalm was sung on a daily basis during the morning liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox churches. Without being legalistic or ritualistic, perhaps this practice of singing, or reading this psalm, at the beginning of our daily quiet time would sharpen our focus on the Lord in spite of any adverse circumstances in which we might find ourselves. Also, David and the Lord Jesus set apart the early morning hours for prayer and communion with the Father. We should follow their example and set apart a portion of our day for Bible reading and prayer.

The second lesson we can learn from this psalm is that David resigned his fate to a sovereign God who was in control of the affairs of history. He was content with whatever the Lord had in store for his future; whether he lived or died he would be content because the lovingkindness of the Lord was better than life. He knew that if he died, he would be with the Lord forever. The Apostle Paul had the same attitude. When he wrote to the Philippian believers, he said: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21; cf. Acts 20:24).

The third lesson we can learn from this psalm is that David rejoiced in the Lord in spite of his terrible circumstances. This he could do because he remembered the Lord and meditated on Him and His ways. Our contentment and joy is based on Christ’s unfailing lovingkindness and mercy toward us and is not based on our circumstances. The Lord Jesus is always faithful to us and can be trusted to get us through our difficult circumstances. Thus, we can live joyfully and triumphantly in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. We are reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus when He said to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:12). Similarly, James tells us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2).

The fourth lesson to be learned is that God will eventually vindicate His children and set things in order. David was confident that those who sought his life would have a reversal of fortune and God would judge them. This lesson is probably the most difficult to learn because we have no control over our future. We see Christians being martyred for the cause of Christ, and God does not seem to act on their behalf. Ultimately, God will set things in order, if not in this life, then He will do so in the future. For those who are martyred, there is the crown of life (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10).

The final and probably most important lesson for the believer in the Lord Jesus who is walking close to the Lord is that there is no spiritual refreshment to be gained from watching most of the popular television shows or movies, listening to contemporary secular music, or even reading the latest fiction book if it is devoid of spiritual content and Biblical truth. Refreshment and satisfaction for the soul are found only in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Word of God. It is only when we are content and refreshed that we can come together corporately to truly worship and sing praises to the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sole focus must be on Him.


Aharoni, Yohanan; Avi-Yonah, Michael; Rainey, Anson; and Safrai, Ze’ev.

2002   The Carta Bible Atlas. Jerusalem: Carta [abbreviated as CBA].

Cerosko, Anthony

1980   A Note on Psalm 63: A Psalm of Vigil. Zeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92: 435-436.

Cohen, A.

1974   The Psalms. London: Soncino. 11th Impression.

Delitzsch, F.

1973   Commentary on the Old Testament. Psalms. Vol. 5. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

Har-el, Menashe

2003   Landscape, Nature, and Man in the Bible. Jerusalem: Carta.

Hareuveni, Nogah

1991   Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage. Lod: Neot Kedumim.

Kidner, Derek

1973   Psalm 1-72. An Introduction and Commentary on Books 1and 2 of the Psalms. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity.

Kissane, Edward

1953   The Book of Psalms. Vol. 1. Dublin: Browne and Nolan.

Perowne, J. J. Stewart

1976   The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Rasmussen, Carl

1989   Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Tate, Marvin

1990   Word Biblical Commentary. Psalms 51-100. Vol. 20. Dallas, TX: Word.

Van Gemeren, Willem

1991   Psalms. Pp. 3-880 in Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 5. Edited by F. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Babylon Revisited: Isaiah 21 – Future or Fulfillment?


During the First Gulf War - Operation Desert Storm - Saddam Hussein was brought to the forefront of world events. Students of Bible prophecy asked, “What, if anything, does he or Iraq have to do with prophetic events?” Passages concerning Babylon were studied to see where Saddam Hussein, or Iraq for that matter, might fit into a particular prophetic scheme. One passage which deals with the fall of Babylon is Isaiah 21. Verse 9 states, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground.” I would like to re-examine this passage of Scripture and ask the question, “Was this passage fulfilled, or even partially fulfilled during Operation Desert Storm?” (as some prophecy teachers suggest), or, “Was the passage actually fulfilled in Isaiah’s day?”

One of the best-selling books on the place of Babylon in prophecy during the First Gulf War was The Rise of Babylon by Dr. Charles Dyer. It is interesting that Dr. Dyer never addressed this passage in the book, nor does he address it in his follow-up book, World News and Bible Prophecy.

Noah Hutching, the radio pastor for Southwest Radio Church in Oklahoma quoted Isaiah 21:9 in his book The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Final Fall of Babylon (1990: 27). Yet surprisingly, in the chapter entitled “Isaiah Against Babylon” (chapter 9), he only discusses Isaiah 13 and ignores completely chapter 21.

Other popular prophecy teachers did address this chapter. J. R. Church, in his prophetic magazine Prophecy in the News, states: “While researching the prophets for their perspective on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, we came across Isaiah’s prediction of doom upon the ‘desert of the sea’ (Isaiah 21). The description fits the Persian Gulf nations perfectly” (1990: 1). He goes on to identify the “lion” in verse 8 with Great Britain because the British Petroleum Company was given half of the oil rights in Kuwait (1990: 1). At the end of the article he predicted (prior to Operation Desert Storm) that “during the upcoming war with Iraq, Israel will become involved and occupy Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. When Israel destroys Damascus, Russia will retaliate. The U.S.S.R. has a 20-year defense treaty with Syria, promising to come to Syria’s aid in case of attack. The eventual Israeli invasion of Syria will precipitate Russian involvement. Ezekiel called this the Battle of Gog and Magog” (1990: 4). Apparently Rev. Church has not consulted Dr. Edwin Yamauchi’s excellent work (1982) on the proper identification of Gog and Magog! And, with 20-20 hindsight, his predictions were not fulfilled. 

Another popular prophecy teacher, Dr. Robert Lindsted, in his book Certainty of Bible Prophecy had a little more to say about this chapter. In his chapter entitled “Saddam Hussein, The Persian Gulf, and the End Times” written just prior to Operation Desert Storm, he speculated that the “chariot of men” in verse 9 are the Israeli manufactured “Merkavah” tanks, the word meaning chariot (1990: 21-22). He goes on to quote a bit more of the verse “Babylon is fallen, is fallen” and suggested “again again, two fallings, one an ancient one under the Medes and Persians, and another which could be just around the corner” (1991: 22). Interestingly, he does not quote or comment on the last part of the verse which deals with the smashing of idols.

Students of Bible prophecy have generally overlooked an important tool for understanding this chapter; mainly, the archaeologist’s spade. Archaeology has a direct bearing on this passage from two different angles. First, there are ancient inscriptions that give first hand accounts, or historical reflections, of the fall of Babylon in 689 BC. Second, there is confirmation of this destruction by the German excavation at the beginning of the 20th century. With this, let us turn our attention to Isaiah 21.

The Context of Isaiah 21

This chapter falls within the “Burden against the nations” section of the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 13-23). It was pronounced by Isaiah around 713 BC, just prior to the “14th year of the reign of King Hezekiah” (713/12 BC), in an attempt to influence Judean foreign policy. It seemed that a group within the “State Department” of Judah, led by Prime Minister Shebna (the royal steward), wanted to join an anti-Assyrian coalition of surrounding nations, lead by Merodah-baladan of Babylon. Isaiah tried to point out the futility of trusting in these foreign powers. He predicted that they would all soon be destroyed. He encouraged Hezekiah to trust only in the LORD for deliverance (Franz 1987: 28-30).

Possibilities for Historical Fulfillment

There are several candidates for the fulfillment of this passage in the history of ancient Babylon. The older commentaries stated that this was fulfilled when Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 BC. In fact, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, translates verse 2 as, “Against me are the Elamites, and the princes of the Persians are coming against me.” The “banquet” in verse 5 was seen as Belshazzar’s feast the night of the fall of Babylon. However, when Cyrus entered Babylon he did not treat the carved images the way it was described in verse 9. In fact, “on the contrary, we are expressly assured that his entrance, save for the attack on the palace in which Belshazzar was slain, was a peaceful one, and that there was no cessation whatever of the temple worship” (Bautflower 1930: 148-149).

Another possibility is Sargon II’s campaign against Merodah-baladan in 710 BC. This possibility was first suggested by the Assyriologist George Smith and expanded on by Kleinert. George Adam Smith follows this idea in his commentary on Isaiah (nd: 1:201-204). More recently, John Hayes and Stuart Irvine, in their commentary on Isaiah, likewise adapted this view (1987: 271-276). This view, however, also has problems. The entrance of Sargon II into Babylon to assume the throne in 709 BC is described in the Assyrian sources as quite peaceful. Joan Oates in her book on Babylon states: “The cities of northern Babylonia are alleged to have welcomed the Assyrian king, throwing open their gates ‘with great rejoicing’” (1991: 116). Sargon II boastfully inscribed on the wall of his palace in Khorsabad: “Into Babylon, the city of the lord of the gods, joyfully I entered, in gladness of heart, and with a beaming countenance. I grasped the hand(s) of the great lord Marduk, and made pilgrimage (lit., completed the march) to the ‘House of the New Year’s Feast’” (ARAB 2:35). Hardly the way Isaiah described it!

The best candidate is Sennacherib’s conquest of the city in 689 BC. When Sargon II died in battle in 705 BC, his son Sennacherib ascended to the throne. In so doing, he assumed the kingship of Babylon as well. In 703 BC, Marduk-zakir-shumi II seized the throne of Babylon. Soon after, Merodah-baladan made a bid for the throne as well. Sennacherib turned his attention on him and he fled to the marshes. A Babylonian puppet, Bel-ibni, was installed as king. He lasted several years until he was replaced by Sennacherib’s son, Assur-nadin-shumi, who ruled in relative peace for about six years (699-694 BC). In 694 BC, Sennacherib launched a daring campaign against the Chaldeans on the western frontier of Elam. While Sennacherib’s forces were engaged near the Persian Gulf, some Elamites made a bold “end-run” and captured Sennacherib’s son at Sippar. The son was never heard from again, so it is assumed he was murdered by the Elamites. An Elamite puppet, Nergal-ushezib, was placed on the throne of Babylon (694 BC). The Assyrians removed him on their way back to Nineveh several months later. A certain Mushezib-Marduk seized the throne with Aramaean support. This support prompted the new king and his Elamite alliance, paid for with silver, gold, and precious stones from the treasuries of the temples in Babylon, to attack Assyria. A major battle ensued at Halule on the Tigris River. The outcome of the battle depends on whose account you believe. Sennacherib boasted a victory with 150,000 of the enemy dead. The Babylonian Chronicles said the Assyrians retreated. The fact that Sennacherib did not continue the attack suggests that he suffered a reversal so he had to regroup. In 690 BC, he returned to lay siege against Babylon (Oates 1991: 116-119).

The Bivian Inscription described the fall of Babylon in 689 BC in these terms. “In a second campaign of mine I advanced swiftly against Babylon, upon whose conquest I had determined. Like the on-coming of a storm I broke loose, and overwhelmed it like a hurricane. I completely invested that city, with mines and engines my hands [took the city]. The plunder …… his powerful ….. whether small or great, I left none. With their corpses I filled the city squares (wide places). Shuzubu, king of Babylonia, together with his family and his [nobles], I carried off alive into my land. The wealth of that city, - silver, gold, precious stones, property and goods, I doled out (counted into the hands of) to my people and they made it their own. The gods dwelling therein, - the hands of my people took them, and they smashed them. Their property and goods they seized” (ARAB 2:151-152). That is exactly what Isaiah “saw” in verse 9. In fact, A. A. Macintosh points out, “the Assyrian word used for ‘broke them in pieces’ (ushabbiruma) is ‘radically identical to the shbr of verse 9’” (1980: 72). It was as if Isaiah “saw” (prophetically) an advance copy of the “Nineveh News” with the headlines blaring “Babylonian Gods Smashed, Assyrian Army Victorious Over Babylonia” and he lifted the words right off the page and placed them in his book. You’ll pardon the pun, but this prophecy was literally fulfilled to the letter!

Sennacherib goes on to describe the total destruction of Babylon in these terms: “The city and (its) houses, from the foundation to its top, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. The wall and outer wall, temples and gods, temple towers of bricks and earth, as many as there were, I razed and dumped them into the Arahtu Canal. Through the midst of that city I dug canals, I flooded its site (lit., ground) with water, and the very foundations thereof (lit., the structure of its foundation) I destroyed. I made its destruction more complete than that by a flood. That in days to come the site of that city, and (its) temples and gods, might not be remembered, I completely blotted it out with (floods) of water and made it like a meadow” (ARAB 2:152).

Is it any wonder that Isaiah predicted the destruction of Babylon in similar words? “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation …” (13:19-20a). He later wrote, “’for I will rise up against them,’ says the LORD of Hosts, ‘and cut off from Babylon the name and remnant, and offspring and posterity,’ says the LORD. ‘I will also make it a possession for porcupine, and marshes of muddy water; I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,’ says the LORD of Host” (14:22-23). That is exactly what happened in 689 BC!

Esarhaddon, after building a new city of Babylon eight years later, reflected on what happened during his father’s reign. He comments that the Arahtu overflowed and turned the city into ruins, and became a wasteland. Reeds and poplars grew in the abandoned city, while birds and fish lived there. The gods and goddesses of Babylon left their shrines and went up to heaven and the people fled for unknown lands (Brinkman 1983: 39). However, nowhere does he mention the devastating deeds of his father. Brinkman concludes that the purpose of this is that, “within a narrative structured around divine involvement in human affairs, the former debasement of the city and its abandonment by god and man acted as a perfect literary foil for its glorious resurrection under Esarhaddon and the restoration of its exiled deities and citizens” (1983: 42).

Nabonidus, the king of Babylon from 555-539 BC, reflected on Sennacherib’s deeds in these words. “[Against Akkad] he (i.e. Sennacherib) had evil intentions, he thought out crimes [agai]nst the country (Babylon), [he had] no mercy for the inhabitants of the co[untry]. With evil intentions against Babylon he let its sanctuaries fall in disrepair, disturbed the(ir) foundation outlines and let the cultic rites fall into oblivion. He (even) led the princely Marduk away and brought (him) into Ashur” (ANET 309). In the footnote on “disturbed their foundation outline”, the meaning is “Lit.: ‘to blot out; (suhhu). This seems to have been done to make it impossible to retrace the outlines of the original foundation-walls and therefore to rebuild the sanctuary.” Is this what the excavations show?

The German Excavation of Babylon

Morris Jastrow wrote in his monumental work, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, in 1915, “The result of fourteen years of steady and uninterrupted excavations has been to reveal … in the case of Babylon the excavations have shown that King Sennacherib of Assyria, did not exaggerate when, in his inscriptions, he told us that weary of the frequent uprisings in the south against Assyrian control, he decided to set an example by completely destroying the city of Babylon --- razing its large structures to the ground and placing the city under water in order to make the work of destruction complete. This happened in the year 689 B.C. While some remains of the older Babylon have come to light (chiefly through the discovery of clay tablets belonging to earlier periods), the city unearthed by the German Oriental Society is the new city, the creation chiefly of Nebopolassar (625-604 B.C.), the founder of the neo-Babylonian dynasty, and of his famous son, the great Nebuchnezzar II (604-561 B.C.)” (1915: 55).

An example of the earlier city is found in the Southern Citadel. Koldewey described the area thus: “North-west of the palace of Nabopolassar, the deep below the three fortification walls which here lie in front of the southern Citadel, there are remains of four ancient walls, the discovery of which has been of great importance for the topography of Babylon.… The wall of Sargon (S on the diagram) is the thickest, but with its crown its only attains a height of .27 metres below zero, where it is covered over with a thick layer of asphalt” (1914: 137). In the section of the Southern Citadel, one can clearly see the wall of Sargon is below the level of the Arachtu (or some would say, the Euphrates River). This demonstrates the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah 13:19-20; 14:22-23; 21:9.

Some students of Bible prophecy might question whether this destruction was a literal fulfillment of the words of Isaiah. He said God would overthrow Babylon like Sodom and Gomorrah and it would never be inhabited again. After all, Esarhaddon rebuilt the city only eight years later. I think an archaeologist would understand this better than most. We know that when a city is destroyed by a military campaign or natural calamities it falls into ruins. When someone comes back to rebuild the city, they either fix up the previous buildings, if there is anything left, or reuse the stones that may be scattered on the surface to build an entirely new city. When Esarhaddon surveyed what used to be Babylon he found an uninhabited marshy area with some ruins of houses and palaces inhabited by wildlife. The city that he built was a completely new city on top of the previous one. So Isaiah, in truth, could say, “Babylon… will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation.” And, “I will also make it a possession for the porcupine, and marshes of muddy water.” The city that Sennacherib destroyed was completely covered over when Esarhaddon rebuilt it so that level was never inhabited again. Esarhaddon built a completely new city on top of the marshy ruins of the old one. The words of Isaiah were literally fulfilled. I do not believe there is any need to speculate whether Saddam Hussein is in any of these passages. They were already fulfilled in Isaiah’s day.

The Elamites and Medians – Isaiah 21:1

A. A. Macintosh has seen the phrase in verse 2, “Go up, Elam! Besiege, O Media! All its sighing I have made to cease” as a depiction of the attitude of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They were relying on Babylon and its king (cf. Isa, 39:1) to defeat the Assyrians. In reality, this was the Judeans cheering for the Elamite/Medians/Babylonian coalition. Yet Isaiah’s message from the Lord is “that Babylon will fall to the Assyrians and reliance upon her is as foolish as reliance upon any other foreign power” (1980: 112).

The Conclusion of the Matter

I think it is safe to say that the words of Isaiah were literally fulfilled by the destruction of Sennacherib in 689 BC. There is no need to look for a fulfillment in Operation Desert Storm, or say that we are at “half-time” now and the second half will resume soon.1

The purpose of Bible prophecy is to bring people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and to encourage believers in the Lord Jesus to live lives pleasing to Him so we will not be ashamed at His coming (1 John 2:28-3:3). The purpose is not to make fancy charts, try to identify who the big toe is in Daniel’s image, or play “pin-the-tail-on-the-Antichrist”!

Interestingly, the prophet Jeremiah used similar language to warn Nebuchadnezzar of the coming destruction of Babylon (Jer. 50-51). It was written in a letter and sent to the courts of Babylon (Jer. 51:59-64) to be a reminder and warning to Nebuchadnezzar that God had acted in the past and fulfilled His Word and He could be counted on to act again in the near future. I believe that the Spirit of God used Jeremiah’s inspired words, as well as the humbling process that God put Nebuchadnezzar through (Dan. 4), and the prayers of the Judean believers in Babylonia (Jer. 29:7; cf. Dan. 6:10), to bring him to faith in the God of Heaven. In so doing, Nebuchadnezzar averted the judgment of God on Babylon for the time being (Jer. 18:6-12; cf. 26:17-19; Jonah 3:10; 4:2). Jeremiah 50 and 51 were not literally fulfilled, nor does it have to be because it fulfilled the purpose of Bible prophecy which was to bring Nebuchadnezzar to faith. After all, isn’t that what Bible prophecy is all about? To bring men and women to faith and change the way we live. Even so, come Lord Jesus!


[1 ]When this essay was written in 1993, the Second Gulf War had not started.


Boutflower, Charles

1930 The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39 in Light of the Assyrian Monuments. London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge.

Brinkman, John

1983 Through the Glass Darkly, Esarhaddon’s Retrospects on the Downfall of Babylon. Journal of the American Oriental Society 103: 35-42.

Church, J. R.

1990 Britain Owns Half of the Oil in Kuwait. Prophecy in the News 10/10: 1, 4.

Dyer, Charles

1991 The Rise of Babylon. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.

1993 World News and Bible Prophecy. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.

Franz, Gordon

1987 The Hezekiah/Sennacherib Chronology Problem Reconsidered. Unpublished MA thesis, Columbia Biblical Seminary. Columbia, SC.

Hayes, John; and Irvine, Stuart

1987 Isaiah, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His Times and His Preaching. Nashville, TN: Abingdon.

Hutchings, Noah

1990 The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Final Fall of Babylon. Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone.

Jastrow, Morris

1915 The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria. Philadelphia and London: J. B. Lippincott.

Kaiser, Walter, Jr.

1989 Back Toward the Future. Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Koldewey, Robert

1914 The Excavations at Babylon. London: Macmillan.

Lindsted, Robert

1991 Certainty of Bible Prophecy. Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone.

Luckenbill, Daniel David

1989 Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylon. 2 vols. London: Histories and Mysteries of Man (Abbreviated ARAB).

Macintosh, Andrew

1980 Isaiah 21, A Palimpset. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Oates, Joan

1991 Babylon. London: Thames and Hudson.

Pritchard, James, ed.

1969 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Third edition with supplement. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University (Abbreviated as ANET).

Smith, George Adam

nd The Book of Isaiah. Vol. 1, chapters 1-39. New York, NY: George H. Doran.

Yamauchi, Edwin

1982 Foes From the Northern Frontier. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

This paper was first read at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting on November 18, 1993 in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.

The Tablet Theory of Genesis Authorship

by Curt Sewell

This article was published in the Winter 1994 issue of Bible and Spade.

Many pastors, writers, and even seminary professors rely on the “JEDP Documentary Hypothesis” to explain how the book of Genesis was originally written. This concept says that for many centuries the stories were passed down orally, usually with embellishments or deletions, and were not committed to writing until much later than the events they describe. Naturally, this idea doesn’t tend to inspire confidence in the literal accuracy of the account. Thus it’s favored by theologians of a liberal bent.

In contrast, the “Tablet Theory” suggests that portions of Genesis were originally written on clay tablets by men who personally experienced the events described. The tablets were later compiled by Moses. Since the original writers were said to be eye-witnesses, their accounts should be historically accurate. This article briefly describes the development and implications of these two theories.

Who Wrote Genesis?

We’ll assume that most “good conservative Christians” probably agree that the Bible, at least in its original manuscript, was inspired by God, and is truth. The mechanics of this inspiration have been debated by many scholars, and we won’t go into them in this chapter, except to say that the basis for our belief that the Bible is the true and inspired Word of God lies in this work of the Holy Spirit of God, not the personal knowledge of the human writers. The Bible is not just an ancient piece of human literature.

Having said that, the question that remains is “Who were the human authors? How did they know what to write? How did the little historical details get preserved?” Here we’ll restrict our discussion to the book of Genesis, which is the one most often criticised.

The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are collectively called the Books of the Law, or the Torah, or the Books of Moses. Those last four books have many verses that attribute them directly to Moses. But he’s not even mentioned anywhere in the book of Genesis. Why is this?

We’ll try to show in this little chapter that there’s considerable internal evidence, and some archaeological evidence, that Genesis was actually first written in sections, most likely on clay tablets, by a number of different men who were eye-witnesses to the actions described. These men signed their names at the bottom of their respective tablets, and later Moses compiled these tablets into what we call the “book of Genesis.”

Why Religious Liberalism?

Why did so many theologians become critical of Biblical truth? Do they have any scientific basis for their doubts? Not really.  Doubting criticism started on a large scale with G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), a German philosopher who taught that religion, like the rest of civilization, developed gradually. He said that primitive “cave-men” began a polytheistic worship of the things around them. Later, he said, higher concepts such as a supreme God evolved in people’s minds.

A quasi-scientific basis for retreat from Biblical authority took root when, in 1830, Charles Lyell published “Principles of Geology,” which first described the so-called “Geologic Column.” Here the age of a rock stratum was supposedly given by the types of fossils which it contains. This idea set the stage for Charles Darwin’s publication, in 1859, of his famous “Origin of Species.” His organic evolution theory captured the imagination of most scientists.

There is no real technical basis for not believing the Bible as it was written. Nowhere does the Biblical text mention anything that implies evolution, nor is there any Biblical incident that’s been proven definitely wrong. The only reason to doubt the clear text of the Bible is an attempt to compromise with secularism, and its rejection of God. But most evolutionist scientists object just as much to theistic evolution as they do to miraculous creation. And most theologians don’t really understand the principles of evolution—they don’t realize that you can’t just shove God into the secular theory. This compromise attempt doesn’t really work, and it’s a dangerous path to follow.

The Documentary Hypothesis

These theories all influenced Hegel’s student, the theologian K.H. Graf (1815-1868), and his student Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918). From an idea first proposed by Jean Astruc (1684-1766) they developed the “JEDP Documentary Hypothesis” of higher criticism, which said that the early parts of the Old Testament couldn’t have been written during the times they described. They based this on the belief that writing had not evolved until about 1000 BC. Therefore they assumed wrongly that sagas, epics, poetry etc. which were later used to compile the Bible were passed down orally for millenia. The result was that the early books of the Bible were said to have been written by various unknown teachers during the Divided Kingdom era, beginning about 800 BC, and continued until after the Babylonian Exile.

These books are said to have been compiled or redacted from several stories, or documents, each of which could be distinguished by the name used for God. The J-Document used the name Jehovah, the E-Document used Elohim, while the D and P documents were named for Deuteronomic and Priestly. This teaching led many people to lose confidence in the Bible’s authenticity.

Archaeological Discoveries

Did Hegel, Graf, Wellhausen, etc. have any good basis for their JEDP theory? No, there has never been any trace of the “documents” they refer to (Jehovist, Elohist, Deuteronomic, and Priestly), and even in their day there had been some good archaeological finds that contradicted the very basis of their theory—that early writing was unknown. More recently, scholars and archaeologists have uncovered excellent proofs of the truth of the Bible’s historicity.

There have been complete libraries uncovered, and enough translations made to confirm Biblical events described in the lives of the patriarchs. Several of these libraries date from long before Abraham’s time. Excavations at Ebla, Mari, and Nuzi have all yielded much confirmation of Old Testament history. The Mari archives contained actual names used in the Bible—Peleg, Terah, Abram, Jacob, Laban, and others. These cannot be linked directly with Biblical characters, but they do show that these names were in use in those early days. The Nuzi archive had some 20,000 clay tablets; many were legal documents describing laws and customs of the land. These explain a number of Biblical incidents that used to seem strange to us, but they were simply the normal customs of that era.

The Tablet Theory

During his tour of duty in Mesopotamia, where much of the earliest Bible activity took place, Air Commodore P.J. Wiseman became interested in the archaeology of that area, and especially in the many ancient clay tablets that had been dated to long before the time of Abraham. He recognized that they held the key to the original writings of the early Bible, and especially to the Book of Genesis. He published his book in 1936. More recently his son, Professor of Assyriology D.J. Wiseman, updated and revised his father’s book: P.J. Wiseman, “Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis” (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985)

He found that most of the old clay tablets had “colophon phrases” at the end; these named the writer or owner of the tablet; they had words to identify the subject, and often some sort of dating phrase. If multiple tablets were involved, there were also “catch-lines” to connect a tablet to its next in sequence. Many of these old records related to family histories and origins, which were evidently highly important to those ancient people.  Wiseman noticed the similarity of many of these to the sections of the book of Genesis.

Many scholars have noticed that Genesis is divided into sections, separated by phrases that are translated “These are the generations of ... ” The Hebrew word used for “generation” is toledoth, which means “history, especially family history ... the story of their origin.” Wiseman, op.cit., pg.62. Wiseman took this quotation from the pioneer Hebrew lexicographer Gesenius. Most scholars have recognized that these “toledoth phrases” must be important, but they have been misled by assuming incorrectly that these are the introduction to the text that follows. (Several modern translations have even garbled these phrases.) This has led to serious questions, because in several cases they don’t seem to fit. For example, Genesis 37:2 begins, “These are the generations of Jacob....” But from that spot on, the text describes Joseph and his brothers, and almost nothing about Jacob, who was the central character in the previous section.

However, Wiseman saw that the colophons in the ancient tablets always were at the end, not the beginning. He applied this idea to the toledoth phrases in Genesis, and found that in every case it suddenly made good sense. The text just before the phrase “These are the generations of ... ” contained information about events that the man named in that phrase would have known about. That person would have been the logical one to write that part. In other words, each toledoth phrase contains the name of the man who probably wrote the text preceding that phrase. Or, in still other words, the book of Genesis consists of a set of tablets, each of which was written by an actual eye-witness to the events described therein. These tablets were finally compiled by Moses.

Enough archaeological confirmation has been found so that many historians now consider the Old Testament, at least that part after about the eleventh chapter of Genesis, to be historically correct. It seems strange that seminary professors often still teach the old “doubtful criticism” theories, even though the basis on which they were started has now been thoroughly discredited.

I’ve incorporated a few minor modifications into Wiseman’s original theory. These help to explain some remaining problems. For example, tablets #8 and #10 are shorter, and describe two sets of descendants that are outside of the Bible’s main-line. They’re also structured differently. I’ve called these Sub-Tablets.

Tablet Divisions

To illustrate how this all really works, let’s look at each of the tablets, and see how the theory makes sense.

Tablet           Starting Verse        Ending Verse           Owner or Writer

 1                 Genesis 1:1           Genesis 2:4a           God Himself (?)
 2                 Genesis 2:4b         Genesis 5:1a            Adam
 3                 Genesis 5:1b         Genesis 6:9a            Noah
 4                 Genesis 6:9b         Genesis 10:1a          Shem, Ham & Japheth
 5                 Genesis 10:1b        Genesis 11:10a        Shem
 6                 Genesis 11:10b      Genesis 11:27a        Terah
 7                 Genesis 11:27b      Genesis 25:19a        Isaac
 8                 Genesis 25:12        Genesis 25:18         Ishmael, through Isaac
 9                 Genesis 25:19b      Genesis 37:2a         Jacob
 10                Genesis 36:1          Genesis 36:43         Esau, through Jacob
 11                Genesis 37:2b         Exodus 1:6             Jacob’s 12 sons

Tablet #1

Tablet #1 begins with the first verse of Genesis, and ends with the toledoth phrase in Gen.2:4a, “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created.”

I should say here that the following discussion is based on a firm belief that the six days of creation are literal 24-hour days, as the clear phraseology of the Bible states.

In this first tablet, there’s no author’s name in that closing verse. Who could have personal knowledge of what was written there? Only the Creator Himself. God could have written this with His own fingers (like He wrote in Exodus 31:18). I think it’s just as possible that He orally dictated it to Adam. At that same time He might have been using this as a teaching tool, showing Adam how to write, and maybe this served as Adam’s “practice slate.” Whatever the mode, God was the personal author of that first tablet, the actual creation account.

The basic meaning of toledoth, according to Gesenius, is “family history... or the story of their origins.” For Tablet #1, the “family” consists of the entire cosmos and its occupants. So this tablet might be thought of as “the family history of the entire cosmos and its plants and animals.”

Tablet #2

Tablet #2 begins with the next part of Gen.2:4b, “In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, ...”  The closing toledoth is in Gen.5:1a, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.”

Many people have been confused at what they’ve been told were two different creation accounts in these first two chapters. But we can see that this isn’t correct. Chapter 1 is the only “creation account,” since it gives detailed listing and timing of the creative acts of God. Chapter 2 does not attempt to say “This happened and then that happened.” It’s just Adam’s own account of his own beginnings, written from his own viewpoint.

The confusion comes about because of peculiarities in words. It only shows up in some languages. The English language has definite past, present, and future tenses for its verbs, but Hebrew (the language of Genesis) does not. In Hebrew, the relative timing must be taken from the context, not the actual words themselves.

In Tablet #1 (Gen.1:1 - 2:4a), the timing is carefully told -- the creation of land animals and humans took place on the sixth day, and in the order stated (first the animals, then both man and woman). This tablet is written from the Creator’s viewpoint (on His tablet), and outlines the exact things He did.

But in Tablet #2 (Gen.2:4b - 5:1a), there are no timing statements. This tablet was written from a different viewpoint (I think by Adam himself), and describes events as he saw them. He first briefly described the area around him (in Gen.2:4b - 2:15), and the instructions and promise of a help-mate, that God had given him. He then told of the huge task that he had been given by God (naming the animals) and how he did that. These verses show that Adam must have been a very intelligent person and a knowledgeable taxonomist, not the ignorant “cave-man” that some people imagine.

The Hebrew words in Genesis 2:19 could have been translated, “And out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast ...” (past tense). It seems to this writer that Adam simply put verses 19 and 20 (naming the animals) at this spot for his own convenience, not for indicating sequential action, so that he could then move on to the more important matter of the establishment of the human home, family, and population growth. In Gen. 2:21 through 2:25 he used a literary flashback to describe the formation of his wife (which had happened previously on Day #6 of Creation Week), and then moved smoothly into telling of their activities together. Unfortunately, the first activity that he described involved the world’s first sin, and its terrible consequences.

If this explanation isn’t true, then we have to consider Chapter 2 as a sequential description that conflicts with Chapter 1. We’re faced with a hard-to-explain situation, as follows: In 2:18 God promised Adam a help-mate, then in 2:19-20 He created the animals, and told Adam to name them, sounding as if one of them might be that help-mate. When that didn’t work out right, only then did God create the woman. This sounds as if God didn’t really know what He was doing—an impossible accusation! It also changes the sequence of what God created on Day #6—saying that He first created man, then land animals, then woman. That violates the timing description in Genesis 1, in which the timing is definitely stated.

By now, someone is probably asking, “Why does a tablet end in the middle of a verse, and the next tablet start in the middle of that same verse? Why not stop each tablet at the end of a verse?”

That’s a good question, and I think there’s a good answer. The original text was written simply with a string of paleoHebrew characters, with no punctuation, and that original text didn’t have chapter and verse divisions—those didn’t come along until the Geneva Bible was translated, in the 1500s A.D. Those translators didn’t understand the word “toledoth,” and didn’t recognize the tablet structure. It was only in the early 1900s that the ancient libraries at Nuzi yielded the key to that puzzle. It’s unfortunate that we have that confusing verse structure in our modern Bibles.

Tablet #3

Tablet #3 begins with Gen. 5:1b, “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; ...”  Who wrote this? Look ahead to the next occurance of “... the generations of xxx.” That toledoth phrase is in Gen. 6:9a, “These are the generations of Noah.” So this tablet, giving the geneology from Adam to Noah, and God’s first commands to Noah, were written by the logical man for that job—Noah himself.

Tablet #4

Now for Tablet #4, which begins in Gen. 6:9b, “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations...” We’ll see later that this was the opening verse of the combined diaries of Noah’s sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth. What better way for them to start their portion than by mentioning their father?

This is the section that describes the Great Flood, and their experience of riding the Ark for a year, with its strange load of animals. This portion has several spots that sound repetitious. Gen. 6:11, Gen. 6:12-13, and Gen. 6:17 almost say the same thing—why is this? Also Gen. 7:18, Gen. 7:19, and Gen. 7:20 are almost the same. That’s puzzled many people, but when we see that there were really three separate diaries that were combined by Moses, about 1000 years later, it makes perfect sense. This joint authorship is shown in the toledoth phrase, found in Gen. 10:1a, “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth....”

Incidentally, these three sons are not named in the sequence of their ages. Gen. 9:24 says that Ham was the youngest, and Gen. 10:21 tells us that Japheth was the elder; Shem must have been in the middle.

Tablet #5

Next, Shem takes up the story by himself. Tablet #5 begins in Gen.10:1b, “Unto them were sons born after the flood.” Shem lived for about 500 years after the flood, and kept track of the heads of all the families that formed the post-flood world. This section tells the “Table of Nations,” and the scattering of the people at the Tower of Babel. His closing toledoth phrase is in Gen. 11:10a, “These are the generations of Shem.”

Tablet #6

Tablet #6 begins in Gen. 11:10b, “Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood:” It lists a number of descendants down through Terah and his three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran. The closing toledoth phrase is in Gen. 11:27a, “Now these are the generations of Terah:” So who was the author of this short tablet? It must have been Terah.

Tablet #7

Tablet #7 is much longer than those we’ve just discussed. It begins with Gen. 11:27b, “Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran....” The main protagonist of this section is Abraham, which has led many people to wonder “Why isn’t this tablet named for Abraham, rather than Isaac?” With this new understanding of tablets, we can see the simple answer is that Abraham didn’t write this part—his son Isaac did. Isaac’s name is in the toledoth phrase in Gen. 25:19a, “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.”

Sub-Tablet #8

Sub-Tablet #8 (Gen. 25:12 to 25:18) is structured differently than the others. It lists the sons of Ishmael, and where they lived. It seems to be inserted at the end of the much longer tablet written by his brother Isaac. And the “toledoth phrase” is placed at its beginning, rather than the end. How did Isaac get this information?

Look at Gen. 25:8,9. We see that Abraham died, and his two sons Isaac and Ishmael got together and buried him. At that time, Isaac must have gotten Ishmael’s family information (either by copying from his diary, or by just asking questions and writing as Ishmael talked). He added that at the end of his own diary. This short section doesn’t have a toledoth, but simply an introductory phrase, in Gen. 25:12.

Tablet #9

Jacob’s diary is the basis for Tablet #9, which begins in Gen. 25:19b, “Abraham begat Isaac: And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife....” We see that Jacob naturally began by mentioning his grandfather, then his father and mother. The bulk of Jacob’s diary tells a complicated tale of his own growth from being a deceptive sneak until he finally had a life-changing experience with God, and had his name changed to Israel—meaning “he struggles with God.” This section also describes the birth of his twelve sons—the “Sons of Israel.”

Sub-Tablet #10

Sub-Tablet #10 (occupying all of Gen. 36) is a short tablet from Jacob’s brother Esau, merged into Jacob’s story.  As described in the Sub-Tablet #8 paragraph above, the “toledoth phrase” is placed at the beginning, as a title rather than a closing colophon. This probably happened in a very similar way that we mentioned for Ishmael’s Sub-Tablet, above. Look at Gen. 35:29. Isaac died, and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. This must have been the time when Jacob learned about all of his nephews. I can imagine the conversation, after the funeral—Jacob said, “Hey brother, tell me about your kids, and their kids. What’s been happening with you?” Jacob must have written rapidly, while Esau described his large family. Or, of course, Esau may have just given Jacob a copy of his list.

The toledoth phrase for Jacob’s Tablet #9 is in Gen. 37:1,2, “And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob.”

Tablet #11

The last tablet, Tablet #11, of Genesis begins in Gen. 37:2b, “Joseph, being seventeen years old....” Many people have been confused at this Gen. 37:2 verse. It begins by saying, “These are the generations of Jacob,” and immediately starts discussing Joseph. Jacob is a very minor character for the next dozen chapters. But this is another case where the Tablet Theory clears up what has long been a big puzzle. That verse, Gen. 37:2, should have been divided in its middle, to clarify that the first part was written by Jacob, and the second part was written by Joseph.

The contents of Joseph’s tablet are very important in the history of the Bible’s people. He was taken into slavery in Egypt and, in the course of a dozen years, rose to become the second most powerful man in Egypt. As events unfolded, his family was drawn into a move to Egypt also, and there they and their descendants were to spend several hundred years. The last portion of this tablet describes the death of his father Jacob. But the book of Genesis closes without telling of Joseph’s death, and there’s not any sort of toledoth phrase—why not?

This must be a conjecture, but I think that Exodus 1:6, “And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation,” could form this closure. It may have been added by Moses, after he inherited all the tablets, and began to combine them. Those last chapters of Genesis must have been primarily written by Joseph, but of course he couldn’t have recorded his own death. These few verses may have been written by one of his surviving brothers.

R.K. Harrison suggests a different explanation for the Joseph portion of Genesis (which this writer thinks is possible but not most likely). He wrote:

The remainder of Genesis deals with the Joseph narratives (Gen. 37:2b - 50:26), the Egyptian background of which has been so well attested by scholars as to make further comment unnecessary.  Most probably this material was still in oral form when Moses was alive, and it may be that it was he who reduced it to writing in magnificent literary Hebrew. Quite possibly Moses was responsible for substituting leather for the Amarna Age tablet-form vehicle of communication.1

However, Harrison does believe the earlier parts of Genesis were probably written on clay tablets in a style patterned after the Mesoptamian habit.

What Were the Tablet Materials?

All of the original tablets have been long and completely lost, so we don’t know anything about what they were like. All of what I’ve written above is from textual evidence, not from physical remains.

We know, from the ancient Nuzi library, that clay tablets were commonly used, at least as far back as Abraham’s time. These have lasted for over 4000 years, and are still legible, in museums today. Clay is certainly a likely material for the early Biblical tablets.

However, when Jacob’s descendants left Egypt, in the mid-1400s B.C., God inscribed the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, on Mount Sinai. That’s also a possible material for the ones in Genesis. Most of our preserved information from early Egypt is carved on the stone of buildings (and thus is not at all portable). But stone is heavier, and harder to work.

Later, papyrus and vellum (thin sheepskin) were also used, in Egypt and elsewhere. Scrolls found in the Dead Sea caves in the mid-1900s were on these materials, so they’ve lasted for over 2000 years. But I don’t know of any proof that these came into use before the middle of the second millenium B.C.

There’s an ancient Jewish tradition that the Torah should always be written upon leather (vellum, or sheepskin), since this apparently was the original material vehicle of its transmission (this is from R.K. Harrison, cited above).

I think that probably Moses compiled all these tablets into one long record, scroll, or book during the 40-year wilderness experience, described in Exodus and Numbers. And I think that he probably used vellum to write on, since papyrus is rare in Sinai, and the Israelites had many sheep, thus vellum was easy to get.

The first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—are traditionally known as the Books of Moses, and he is quoted as the author of the last four. Nowhere does it say that Moses actually composed and wrote Genesis, but it is certainly a reasonable assumption that he was the compiler of that book.


The book of Genesis is an historical account, not an allegory.  Its accuracy is assured by the inspirational guidance of the Holy Spirit. I think its details are best explained by this modified tablet theory, which offers a more satisfactory explanation of all the details, and doesn’t violate any known fact. It’s in good accord with Scripture, and adds the authenticity that Genesis was composed of eye-witness accounts. I believe that it’s true.  We would do well to simply believe the exact teaching of the Bible, just as God inspired it. To do otherwise is an insult to its Author, our Creator God.


1. R.K. Harrison, Prof. of Old Testament, Wycliffe College, Univ. Toronto, “Introduction to the Old Testament,” Eerdsmans, 1969, pp. 542-553.

Aquila and Priscilla: A Godly Marriage for Ministry

by Gordon Franz MA


A Spirit-filled couple will have a godly marriage that will result in a powerful ministry for the Lord. Their marriage would exemplify, or picture, the love of Christ for the Church. Paul mentioned to the church in Rome that Aquila and Priscilla put their necks on the line for the Apostle Paul (Rom. 16:4). Since this couple risked their lives for Paul, I am certain Aquila would have laid down his life for his wife. Paul writes: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25).

The Lord Jesus in the Upper Room discourse states: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:12-14).

In this essay we will follow this couple as they travel for the Lord after they had come to faith in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. We will observe how they were determined to serve Him together with a godly marriage for ministry. They labored in the gospel with the Apostle Paul, opened their home for the meeting of the local church and showed hospitality to traveling preachers.

Aquila and Priscilla Traveling for the Lord

Aquila in Pontus – Acts 18:2

Dr. Luke records the first meeting of the Apostle Paul with this couple in Corinth thus: “And he [Paul] found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them” (Acts 18:2). Aquila was originally from the Roman province of Pontus on the south shore of the Black Sea, called the Euxine Sea during the Roman period. His Latin name, Aquila, means “eagle.” Most likely he was a freedman living in Rome because most of the Jews living in Rome at this time were such.

We are not told where Priscilla is from, her ethnicity, or her religious heritage. Her name is a common Roman name among the aristocratic families. Luke hints at the fact that she is not of Jewish heritage because he states Aquila is Jewish, but does not refer to her as such. Whether she was a convert to Judaism, and thus a proselyte, or a convert to Christianity, we are not told. She could have been originally from Rome and Aquila met and married her in the Eternal City.

There are at least four possibilities as to how and when this couple came to faith in the Lord Jesus. First, Aquila could have heard the preaching of Peter in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost in AD 30. Dr. Luke records that there were Diaspora Jews from Pontus in Jerusalem for this festival (Acts 2:9). If Aquila heard Peter, he might have been touched by the words of the apostle and convicted by the Holy Spirit of his sin of unbelief. He realized he was a sinner, as we all are, and could not merit salvation or work for it. He realized the Lord Jesus was the Messiah of Israel who fulfilled the prophecies of His first coming to the earth. Aquila might have put his trust in the Lord Jesus as his Savior and Messiah at that time. When the festival was over, he returned to his Diaspora home in Pontus.

The second possibility is that he and his wife could have been part of the Jewish and proselyte delegation from Rome that made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Pentecost in AD 30 (Acts 2:10). This would have been another opportunity for them to come to faith. The third possibility could have been if Aquila heard the preaching of Peter on the apostle’s missionary trip through Pontus in AD 40-42 (I Peter 1:1; cf. Acts 12:17). Jerome, one of the early church fathers, states in his Lives of Illustrious Men: “Simon Peter… after having been bishop of the church in Antioch and having preached to the Dispersion – the believers in circumcision, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia – pushed on to Rome in the second year of Claudius” (1994:3:361). The final possibility might have been if they were in Rome in AD 42 when Peter arrived in the second year of Claudius. Peter could have led them to the Lord at that time.

These possible scenarios also raise some interesting questions. Was Peter invited by Aquila to minister in Pontus on his first missionary journey in AD 40-42? This would have been a follow-up ministry visit to those who had come to faith in the Lord Jesus on the day of Pentecost ten years earlier. Did Peter take Aquila with him as a disciple when he ventured to the city of Rome after his first missionary journey? If this is the case, it would account for how Aquila got to Rome. Does a “nice Jewish boy” from Pontus marry a proselyte or Christian girl from Rome after Peter introduced them to each other? Was Aquila one of the leaders in the “pro-Cephas” faction in the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22)? If so, he was being loyal to the one who led him to the Lord and mentored him. These are questions that can be asked, but Scripture is silent as to the answers.

I am looking forward to that day in Heaven when I can sit down with Priscilla and Aquila and hear their life story. I am also curious to know how they risked their neck for the Apostle Paul. It should be easy to find the mansion that the Lord Jesus prepared for them (John 14:3) because it will have beautiful Corinthian columns in front of it!

Aquila and Priscilla’s names appear together six times (Acts 18:2,18,26; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19), in the Textus Receptus, half the time she is mentioned before her husband (Acts 18:18; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19 where she is called Prisca). The name “Priscilla” is the diminutive of “Prisca.” I suspect her name was put first because she had a more active spiritual role in the church, but that is only speculation on my part.

Aquila and Priscilla in Rome – Acts 18:2

Scripture does state that Aquila and Priscilla were expelled from Rome by a decree during the days of Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2). Most scholars date this decree to AD 49. There are some scholars, however, who have suggested AD 41 as the possible date for the expulsion (Murphy-O’Connor 1983:130-140; 1992:47-49). The Roman historian, Suetonius, wrote that “since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome” (Claudius 25:4; LCL 2:53). Whether Chrestus is another name for Christ, or the name of a Jewish rabble rouser in Rome, is debated. Dr. Luke records that Aquila and Priscilla “recently” arrived in Corinth from Rome. This would rule out the earlier expulsion in AD 41. But the record is clear; Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome.

Apparently Claudius’s decree did not discriminate between Jews and Messianic Jews, those Jews who had put their trust in the Lord Jesus as Messiah. Aquila, a Messianic Jew, and his wife Priscilla were included in the expulsion from Rome.

Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth – Acts 18:2-18

Aquila and Priscilla decided to relocate to the Roman colony of Corinth and practiced their trade of tentmaking in that cosmopolitan and Latin speaking city. They would have arrived several years before the Apostle Paul and most likely would have started evangelistic work in the city, or continued what the Apostle Peter may have started if he came through Corinth in AD 42.

In AD 52, Paul arrived in Corinth to begin his evangelistic endeavors. Silas and Timothy soon joined Paul in the work. Perhaps they had heard of the work in Corinth and came along to help. One other thing that may have attracted these three apostles to Corinth was the Isthmian Games that were held near Corinth (Acts 18:2-5).

The Apostle Paul was attracted to this couple, not only because of their common faith in the Lord Jesus, but also because of their common occupation. Dr. Luke records: “for by occupation they were tentmakers” (Acts 18:3). Both were involved in this trade which indicates that this was a family business.

There have been several suggestions as to what the “tentmaking” profession involved. Some have suggested, because Paul was from Tarsus in Cilicia, his father had taught him the trade of weaving tent cloth from goat’s hair (cilicium). Others have suggested, because the tents were made of leather, that the tentmaking involved leather working. Hiebert points out that “Paul’s father was a strict Pharisee (Acts 23:6) and thus regarded contact with the skins of dead animals as defiling, it seems improbable that he would have permitted his son to learn such a trade” (1992:29).

Aquila and Priscilla were from Rome and in the Eternal City there was a Tentmakers Associations, called in Latin collegium tabernaclariorum (Murphy-O’Conner 1992:44). Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) describes what was made of linen cloths: awnings used to cover theaters, the Roman Forum, the Sacred Way, and Nero’s amphitheaters. It was also used for awnings in houses and sails for ships (Natural History 19:23-25; LCL 5:435-437).

Aquila and Priscilla would have had no problem finding employment when they arrived in Corinth or establishing their own business. Shades were needed for the construction work going on in Corinth at this time, sails for ships were in need of mending as ships crossed the Isthmus of Corinth, and tents were in need of mending during the Isthmian Games. Their workshop afforded them the opportunity for evangelism (Hock 1978, 1979).

Where the shop was located in Corinth is an open question. Murphy-O’Conner suggested it might have been in the newly built North Market located just to the north of the Archaic Temple to Apollo (1983:169). However, a careful reading of the preliminary excavation report suggests this market had not been built at this time and was built by the initiative of Emperor Vespasian after the earthquake of AD 77-78 (de Waele 1930:453).

Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus – Acts 18:19;24-28; 1 Cor. 16:19

After 18 months of ministering in Corinth, Paul decided to move his base of operation to Ephesus. He took Aquila and Priscilla to this major trading center on the west coast of Asia Minor, the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire; Rome, Alexandria and Antioch on the Orontes being larger (Acts 18:18,19). Paul left them there in order to establish the work in the city. He also promised that he would return to Ephesus after his visit to Jerusalem.

In Ephesus they established a church that met in their house (1 Cor. 16:19). This afforded them the opportunity to show hospitality to sinners and saints. One day, while attending the synagogue in Ephesus, they heard Apollos, a Jewish preacher from Alexandria (Egypt) who was eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures, but he only knew of the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-25). After the meeting, they took him aside, apparently to their home, and explained to him the finer points of the Word of God and his salvation (Acts 18:26).

Aquila and Priscilla did not have roast preacher for lunch that day, instead they had home-made apple pie on a silver platter. The Book of Proverbs says: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (25:11). I realize I am allegorizing this passage, but you get the point. They did not take him home and say, “That was a stupid sermon, don’t you know your Bible? Don’t you know what happened after John the Baptizer? Don’t you know about Jesus?” No, they brought him home, showed him hospitality by feeding him a good meal and then gently and lovingly “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (18:26).

When Paul arrived in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, he ministered in the city for nearly three years (Acts 20:31). While there, he and Timothy had a discipleship program in the School of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9; 20:31). Paul did not want to be a burden on the church in Ephesus, so he stayed and worked with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 20:34). Some manuscripts in 1 Cor. 16:19 say, “Aquila and Prisca with whom I lodge” (Hiebert 1992:31).

In the quietness of the home, after the business of the day, the three of them discussed missionary strategy. While in Ephesus, Paul saw the importance of going to Rome. Most likely it was Aquila and Priscilla that planted the thought in his mind that the Spirit of God used to direct Paul’s ways (Acts 19:21). Several years later, Paul wrote to the Roman church from Corinth and he conveyed a more detailed and refined plan. He would stop by Rome on his way to Spain (1:10-13; 15:22-28).

Aquila and Priscilla in Rome Again – Rom. 16:3-4

The next time Aquila and Priscilla are recorded in Scripture is when they are back in Rome when the epistle to the Romans arrives in AD 58 (Rom. 16:3-5). Rome, not Corinth or Ephesus, was home for them, so they returned to the Eternal City sometime after the death of Claudius on October 13, AD 54 and Nero’s reversal of the Jewish expulsion decree. Murphy-O’Conner suggests they returned to Rome during the summer of AD 55 (1992:51).

Paul would have sent them on their way with his blessings because they would be preparing the church in Rome for his visit. Most likely they returned home via Corinth in order to visit the saints in that city. Possibly they persuaded Epaenetus to join them in the work in Rome as well (cf. Rom. 16:5b).

Paul indicates that there is a church meeting in their home (Rom. 16:5a).  A 6th century AD tradition has it that their house church was on the Aventine Hill, on todays Via Prisca (Platner 1929:65-67). This site was excavated by the Augustinian monks of St. Prisca between 1934 and 1958. Underneath the church they found a Mithraeum with an altar dating to the 2nd century AD with statues of Oceanus Saturnus and Mithras killing the bull. This is called today the Mithraeum Domus Sanctae Priscae (Richardson 1992:257-258).

When Paul instructs the church at Rome to greet Priscilla and Aquila on his behalf, he describes them as his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also, all the churches of the Gentiles” (16:3b,4). Paul had labored with them in Corinth and the beginning of the work at Ephesus. Paul mentions an event that is unrecorded in the book of Acts: they put their life on the line for the Apostle Paul. What they did, we do not know, but it must have been heroic because the Gentile church gave thanks. We have a hint from Paul’s writings as to the nature of this event.  He writes: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivers us from so great a death, and does deliver us, in whom we trust that He will still deliver us” (2 Cor. 1:8-10; cf. Acts 20:19). Paul also mentioned fighting the beasts in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32). Exactly what the “sentence of death in ourselves” or the circumstances leading up to fighting the beasts, we are not told. Perhaps the letter carrier told the Corinthian believers when he delivered the letter to them.

Whatever they did to risk their necks for Paul’s sake might have been in the back of the apostle’s mind when he wrote earlier in the epistle to the Romans: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:7-8).

Why does Paul mention this event in his letter to the Romans? Some Gentile believers in the church in Rome may have wanted to marginalize this Messianic Jewish couple and the church that was in their home. Paul says to greet them (the Greek word has the idea of giving them a big bear hug) and thank them for risking their lives for his sake. Paul says that even their fellow Gentiles in churches in the east have been thankful for their testimony. In essence, Paul was trying to unify the church in Rome that was divided along economic, gender, and ethnic lines.

The church had been meeting in the home of Aquila and Priscilla for nearly 10 years when a catastrophe struck. The Great Fire of July 19, AD 64, completely destroyed or seriously damaged 10 of the 14 districts of Rome, including the homes on the Aventine Hill. Aquila and Priscilla may have been homeless in Rome (again), along with tens of thousands of other Romans.

Perhaps they saw the handwriting on the wall. There were rumors that Nero had started this fire, thus making it a government induced crisis, so he could build his Domus Aurea (“Golden House/Palace”) and engage in extensive urban renewal (Suetonius, Nero 38; LCL 2:155,157; Tacitus, Annals 15:38-44; LCL 5:271-285). He quickly blamed the Christians for starting the fire and they were soon persecuted.

Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus Again – 2 Tim. 4:19

Aquila and Priscilla, perhaps being homeless and fearing the persecution that followed the fire, presumably escaped to Ephesus. When Paul wrote his son in the faith, Timothy, who was in Ephesus in AD 67, he instructed him to “greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 4:19).

It may be instructive to note that Paul does not mention a church meeting in their house. This couple may have lost everything, and maybe in the Great Fire of Rome - their home, their business. They may have escaped with their lives, the shirt on their back, and any money they could carry. It could also be an indication that the church in Ephesus was well established and meeting in other places, thus there was no need for them to open their home.

Lessons from the Lives of Aquila and Priscilla

There are at least three lessons we can learn from the life of this godly couple who wanted their lives to be used in the service of the Lord. First, they understood the providential workings of God in their lives. Second, they experienced togetherness, some have suggested it should be “two-getherness” in their marriage. And finally, they put God first in their lives.

God’s Providence in the Lives of Aquila and Priscilla

Let’s look at how the big picture may have taken shape. Perhaps we have a nice Jewish boy from Pontus who goes to Rome. He meets a nice aristocratic Gentile or Christian woman and they get married and begin to establish their lives together in Rome. Along comes Emperor Claudius and expels them from Rome so they lost their home and their business. In events like this, most people would have gotten bent out of shape by these events, but our couple may have considered that they still had each other, and that God, in His providence, may have moved them to Corinth where they met, ministered to, and eventually worked closely with the Apostle Paul in strategic missionary endeavors. Can anybody see the Hand of God here?

Nothing happens in our life by chance. We want to understand the “big picture” of our lives because God has put eternity in our hearts. We want to know the end from the beginning (Eccl. 3:11). But we don’t understand the “big picture” because we are frail, sinful, finite human beings, thus Solomon said to enjoy life, for it is a gift from God (Eccl. 2:24; 3:12-13,22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9). So as believers in the Lord Jesus, we must trust the Lord that He is sovereign and in control of every detail of our life. He is leading us by His Word and His providence in order that we might be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:18-30).

As I look back on my life, there are several pivotal events that set, or adjusted, the course of my life. One such event was in January 1988. I was team teaching a program for the Christian College Coalition at the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies in Jerusalem. On our field trip to Bethany and the Mount of Olives, I was the last one on a completely full bus with only one seat left. The empty seat was next to Dr. Mike Wilkins from Talbot School of Theology in California. As we were chatting, he invited me to teach a class the next January at Talbot on the background to the life of Christ. God, in His providence, used that encounter in two ways. First, it got me to study the life of the Lord Jesus. Up until that time, all my studies, Biblically and archaeologically, had been in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Iron Age history and archaeology of Judah and Jerusalem. Second, while I was teaching the class in California the next January, I met Dr. Richard Rigsby. We began the Talbot Bible Lands program. So for most Januarys in the last 20 years, I have been running around Israel, Turkey, Greece, or Rome with students from that school. Sometimes I wonder: “What if somebody else had sat next to Mike on that trip?” God in His providence had that seat empty. Nothing happens in our lives by chance. God had a purpose in the expulsion from Rome for Aquila and Pricilla.

The Two-getherness of Aquila and Priscilla

When Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned in scripture, they are always mentioned together, never separately. They appeared to be inseparable. Someone once said that “togetherness is a multifaceted thing that involves every dimension of our lives. There is emotional intimacy (the depth sharing of significant feelings), intellectual intimacy (the sharing in the world of ideas), aesthetic intimacy (the depth sharing of experiences of beauty), creative intimacy (the sharing of acts of creativity), recreational intimacy (sharing activities and fun times), work intimacy (sharing in common tasks), crisis intimacy (standing together against the buffeting of life), spiritual intimacy (the sharing of ultimate concerns), and sexual intimacy. True togetherness comes as we experience intimacy in each of these areas” (cited in Harbour 1979:121).

As we examine these nine aspects of intimacy, it can be observed from the limited information recorded in the Scriptures that Aquila and Priscilla experienced at least four of them. The first, spiritual intimacy is seen in the fact that their lives centered on the Lord and His Church. They opened their home up to the local church and they entertained traveling preachers. Second, work intimacy is seen in their tent-making together. Apparently this was a family business that they were both involved in. Third, instructing Apollos shows their intellectual intimacy. They both knew the Scriptures well and they wanted to share them with others. Finally, putting their life on the line for Paul’s sake and moving for the sake of the gospel showed their crisis intimacy. I am sure if Scripture had recorded more of the lives of these two saints, we would have seen more intimacy in their two-getherness.

Aquila and Priscilla put the Lord first in their lives

When the Lord Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, He said “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things [food, clothing and drink] shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). The Apostle Paul describes Aquila and Priscilla as “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3). We have seen that this couple was missions minded, they opened their home so that the believers could gather to remember the Lord, pray, and have fellowship as they were instructed in the Word of God (cf. Acts 2:42). They also were engaged in “secular” employment so that they were not a financial burden on the churches. Yet God blessed them with a very successful business so they could show hospitality to the saints by inviting the church in their home. For a detailed discussion of hospitality in the church, see Strauch 1993.

May there be an increase in the church of couples like Aquila and Priscilla who have a godly marriage for ministry.


Bruce, F. F.

1985   The Pauline Circle. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

De Waele, F. J.

1930   The Roman Market North of the Temple at Corinth. American Journal of Archaeology 34:432-454.

Dio Cassius

1924 Roman History.  Books 56-60.  Vol. 7. Translated by E. Cary.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library. Reprinted 2000.

Harbour, Brian

1979   Famous Couples of the Bible. Nashville, TN: Broadman.

Hiebert, D. Edmond

1992 In Paul’s Shadow. Friends and Foes of the Great Apostle. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University.

Hock, Roland

1978   Paul’s Tentmaking and the Problem and the Problem of His Social Class. Journal of Biblical Literature 97:555-564.

1979   The Workshop as a Social Setting for Paul’s Missionary Preaching. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41:438-450.

Howson, John

1872   The Metaphors of St. Paul and Companions of St. Paul. Boston: American Tract Society.


1994   Lives of Illustrious Men. Pp. 353-402 in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Second series. Vol. 3. Edited by P. Schaff and H. Wace.  Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Jewett, Robert

1993 Tenement Churches and Communal Meals in the Early Church: The Implications of a Form-Critical Analysis of 2 Thessalonians 3:10. Biblical Research 38:23-43.


1918 Satire. Translated by G. G. Ramsay. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library. Reprinted 1993.

Murphy-O’Conner, Jerome

1983   St. Paul’s Corinth. Text and Archaeology. Wilmington, DL: Michael Glazier.

1992   Prisca and Aquila. Bible Review 8/6: 40-51,62.

Platner, Samuel

1929 A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. London: Oxford University Press.


1983   Natural History. Books 8-11. Vol. 3. Second Edition. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 353.

1992   Natural History. Books 17-19. Vol. 5. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 371.

Richardson, L. Jr.

1992   A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University.

Rolston, Holmes

1954   Personalities Around Paul. Richmond, VA: John Knox.

Strauch, Alexander

1993   The Hospitality Commands. Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth.


1992   Lives of the Caesars. Claudius. Nero. Vol. 2. Trans. by J. C. Rolfe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 38.


1994   Annals 13-16. Vol. 5. Trans. by J. Jackson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 322.

Vagi, David

1999   Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. 2 vols. Sidney, OH: Coin World.