Saturday, September 19, 2009

Jaffa Gate, Early 1900s

Jerusalem, looking down moat toward clock tower, mat08549

Jaffa Gate vicinity from southwest, 1907-1920

I cannot locate a “today” version from this perspective, but you can just imagine the changes: 1) the Crusader moat in the foreground has been completely filled in; 2) the shops on the left side of the photo have been torn down; 3) the clock tower has been dismantled; 4) the fountain has been removed.  Other than that, it looks pretty much the same today.

If a reader has a photo from this perspective that they want to share, feel free to send it to me and I will post it here.  I’ve walked this way many times, but I guess I just considered it too ordinary to photograph. It was 19 years ago that I walked this way on my first date with (now) wife.

This photograph is from the newly released Jerusalem CD, volume 2 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. The collection includes 685 photographs, including 26 in the Jaffa Gate set, revealing the dramatic changes in this area from 1898 to 1946. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-08549.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gordon’s Calvary, Then and Now

General Charles Gordon was a well-known British leader when he came to live near Jerusalem in 1882, often visiting the home of Horatio and Anna Spafford, founders of the American Colony.  From their quarters atop the northern wall of the Old City, Gordon had a view of a rocky escarpment in which he identified the features of a skull.  He identified this location as the “Place of the Skull” (Aramaic: Golgotha; Latin: Calvary).  Around the corner was an ancient tomb which he believed was the empty tomb of Christ.  A decade later, the property was purchased by a concerned group of Christians in England and the Garden Tomb Association was formed.

Gordon's Calvary, mat06666 The area known as “Gordon’s Calvary,” early 1900s

In this photo, taken between 1898 and 1914, the view is similar to the one that Gordon had from the American Colony home.  The caves that form the eye sockets of the skull are visible just left of center.  The tomb is out of view behind the wall on the left side.  On the top of the hill some tombs of the Muslim cemetery can be seen.  The camels are walking east along what is today a busy four-lane street.

The photo below was taken in 2006 and the most prominent feature is the bus station.  The two “eye sockets” are visible, but most of the rest of the landscape is covered.  If you believe that Jesus was crucified in this area, you’ll do better using the black and white photo to visualize the event.

Gordon's Calvary from south, tb122006023 The area known as “Gordon’s Calvary,” present day

Concerning the tomb’s authenticity, Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister wrote in 1907:

It is a pity that so much is claimed for [this tomb]; the prejudice raised thereby is apt to blind one to the fact that it is a remarkably interesting sepulchre. . . . In conversation with tourists at the hotel in Jerusalem I constantly hear such a remark as this: ‘I came to Jerusalem fully convinced that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the true site; but I went to the Church and saw all the “mummery” that goes on there, and I saw the Muhammadan soldiers guarding the place to prevent the Christians fighting. Then I went to that peaceful garden: and then I knew that the church was wrong, and that Gordon had found the real site.’ This is the most convincing argument that can be advanced in favor of the tomb, and it is obviously quite unanswerable (Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 1907, p. 232).

The top photo is one 15 photographs in a presentation of the Garden Tomb in the newly released Jerusalem CD, volume 2 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. The presentation includes a carefully researched history of the area.  Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-06666.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

En Gev, Then and Now

One of my favorite places in Israel is not visited by most tourists.  (Come to think of it, that’s true of most of my favorite places.)  I like tells and I love panoramic vistas.  But I also love to sit back, put my feet in the Sea of Galilee, and relax.  Give me a book or give my kids a raft and it’s all the better.  I’ve probably watched the sun set over the Sea of Galilee from here more than 200 times.

En Gev holiday village from Sea of Galilee, tb101105949ddd En Gev Holiday Village

The place is En Gev, and it hasn’t always been a beautiful holiday resort.  In biblical times, people were settled on the tell in the middle of today’s kibbutz.  Some have identified it as “Lower Aphek.” 

In the 1930s, courageous Jewish pioneers settled this uninhabited area with a “tower and stockade.”  The compound became a kibbutz, and from 1948 to 1967 residents lived below the Syrian-controlled mountains of the Golan Heights.  Shelling was frequent and bomb shelters became bedrooms.  Since 1967, Israel has controlled the Golan Heights and Kibbutz En Gev has developed a flourishing tourist industry, including the holiday village, tourist boats, and fish restaurant.  Ein Gev lookout tower with sea beyond, mat03684

En Gev settlement with watchtower. Date of photograph: 1934-39

As you drive along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee today, there is relatively little development.  One reason for that is the hostile conditions until 1967 and the uncertainty since then of the Golan Heights’ future. 

The second photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the newly released Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-03684.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

?, Then and Now

Let’s do this post a little differently than the previous ones, with a little reader interaction.  Instead of me describing the photo, I’ll give you the opportunity.  Write in the comments below as much as you can about this picture, including its name(s), major features visible, and anything else that indicates why this photograph is useful today for understanding the geography and history of ancient Israel.

Aerial photo with stones, dirt, trees, water

The answer I deem best wins the Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection, with 600 high-resolution photos of Acco, Benjamin, Caesarea, Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Ephraim, Galilee Hill Country, Haifa, Huleh, Jaffa, Jezreel, Mount Carmel, Mount Hermon, Mount Tabor, Nazareth, Samaria, Sharon, Shechem, Sea of Galilee, Tabgha, Tel Aviv, and Tiberias.

P.S. Searching on the Library of Congress website won’t really help you, because the name of this place is not given in the description.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Herod’s Temple at Sebaste, Then and Now

King Herod built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem, but not as many people are aware that he built three other temples in the land of Israel, all to Gentile deities.  The ancient capital of the northern kingdom, Samaria, was renamed Sebaste by Herod in honor of Emperor Augustus, and he constructed a temple here dedicated to the emperor. 

Samaria/Sebaste was first excavated by Harvard University from 1908 to 1910 under the direction of George Andrew Reisner.  The photo below shows the foundations of Herod’s temple shortly after those excavations.

Samaria, Herodian temple remains, mat07375Remains of Herod’s Temple at Samaria/Sebaste.  Photo taken between 1908 and 1914.

Today this area is largely filled in and overgrown, with only a few walls and pillar bases visible.  The political situation today makes it difficult for most tourists to visit the site.

Samaria Herodian temple, tb070507748dxo

Herod’s temple foundations, view from northwest

Samaria Herodian temple, tb050106512ddd

Herod’s temple foundations, view from southeast

The first photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the newly released Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-07375.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Shechem, Then and Now

Those who have traveled with me can readily attest that one of my favorite sites in the land of Israel is the Shechem area.  In recent years, I’ve been able to do no more than stand on top of Mount Gerizim or view the area from the east, but even that is quite satisfying.  My love for the area is not necessarily related to anything the eye can see today.  There are other hills, valleys, tells, and impressive views.  But the acts of God make this area unlike any other.  Here the Lord promised the land to Abraham.  Here Jacob erected an altar and apparently dug a well.  Here the twelve tribes recited the blessings and curses.  The list goes on, and it is long and rich.

Shechem from above, tb041106601 locations

Shechem area from Mount Gerizim, 2006

Standing atop Mount Gerizim and gazing over this panorama is one of my favorite things to do.  But it could be better.  It would be better if dense urbanization did not obscure the historic sites.  It would be better if the loud noises of modern city life did not disturb my thoughts.  It would be better if Israeli soldiers weren’t on guard around the corner.  And it would be better if there was peace in the land and I could walk down the slope, into ancient Shechem, and then up the slope of Mount Ebal.

If I had lived 100 years ago, I could have done all of that.  I can’t do that, but I can enjoy the beauty of old photographs.  This is one of my favorites.

Looking north from Mount Gerizim, mat05142 locations Shechem area from Mount Gerizim, 1900-1920

This photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the new Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-05142.

If you prefer to view the photos in a PowerPoint file where you can flip back and forth between them, you may download that here.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Beth Shean, Then and Now

Many students have commented to me at the end of a semester that the most impressive site in Israel is Beth Shean.  They are referring to the prominent Roman and Byzantine remains of the lower city that have been excavated and reconstructed in the last 20 years.

If you had visited before that time, the tell was striking, but there was little evidence that a glorious city was buried in the dirt.  I’ve heard, but not seen in a photograph, that there was a lone column sticking out of the ground prior to excavations.

The natives visible in the photo below certainly don’t have any idea of what lies beneath their feet.  Then again, that’s probably true for hundreds of cities around the world today.

Beth Shean from south, site of recent excavations, mat02786

Beth Shean from the south.  Date of photograph: 1920-1933

Beth Shean excavations with tell, tb011506672

Beth Shean from the south

There is another impressive photo comparison of Beth Shean mid-way down this page at

The top photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the new Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-02786.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Capernaum Synagogue, Then and Now

Today visitors to Capernaum are impressed by the white limestone remains of an ancient synagogue.  Archaeological excavations indicate that this synagogue was built over the remains of an earlier synagogue dating from the time of Jesus.  Thus we can say with some measure of confidence that this is the place where Jesus healed the demon-possessed man (Mark 1:21-28) and preached the sermon on the bread of life (John 6:25-59).

Capernaum synagogue from Peter's house, tb060105618

Capernaum synagogue, view from Peter’s house, present day

Visitors may not be aware that the synagogue did not survive in this condition since ancient times.  The photograph below shows what the synagogue looked like in the early 1900s.  The staircase in the foreground of the photo below is on the far right (middle) of the photo above.

Capernaum, ruins of synagogue, mat10654sr

Capernaum synagogue, early 1900s

The second photograph is one of 600 high-resolution images in the new Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-10654.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ein Harod, Then and Now

This is the first in what I plan to be an extended series of blog posts illustrating the value of historic photos using examples from The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.  I’ve written much elsewhere about how the biblical lands have been altered in the last 100 years, but there’s no better way to illustrate this than with photographs.

A good example of how the land has changed in the last hundred years is Ein Harod, also known as Gideon’s spring.  Here the timid warrior gathered thousands of Israelites to fight the Midianites, but the Lord gave him a plan to sift the men by separating the lappers from the kneelers (Judges 7).  Today the spring has been nicely “improved” so that it’s very difficult to understand how such a selecting procedure would have occurred.

Ein Harod spring cave, tb011400101srEin Harod spring cave, present day
(Source: Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

One hundred years ago, there was no fence to keep tourists out and no paving stones to walk across.  Not only that, the flow of the spring has apparently been greatly diminished because of modern wells in the area.  It is likely that the way the spring looked like in A.D. 1900 is the way that it looked in 1100 B.C. when Gideon brought his men here.

Ein Harod, Gideon's Fountain, mat01077 Ein Harod, 1900-1920

George Adam Smith described it this way: “It bursts some fifteen feet broad and two deep from the very foot of Gilboa, and mainly out of it, but fed also by the other two springs, flows a stream considerable enough to work six or seven mills” (Historical Geography of the Holy Land [1909]: 397-98).

This is one of 600 high-resolution photographs in the new Northern Palestine CD, volume 1 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. Photo: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-01077.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Then and Now: Caesarea Theater

Visitors to ancient sites in Israel often wonder how much has been restored and how much is original.  Sometimes there is a snaking black line that the restorers have placed just to answer this question.  But oftentimes there is no such indicator, and the tourist may imagine that what he is seeing has stood intact since the biblical period.  One site that I was long unaware of the degree of reconstruction was the theater of Caesarea.  Constructed by Herod the Great, this theater was the location of the incident in Acts 12:19-24 where Herod’s grandson, Agrippa I, was struck down (see Josephus, Antiquities XIX.8.2).  But much transpired between then and now, and the photo below gives an idea of the poor preservation of the upper seating area of the theater.

Caesarea theater under restoration, db6603250808 Caesarea theater, 1966
(from Views That Have Vanished)

Caesarea theater, tb052304860 Caesarea theater, 2004


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Then and Now: Western Wall Plaza

After the Israelis captured the Old City in June 1967, significant attention was given to the development of the Western Wall area.  During creation of the large prayer plaza that exists today, the ground level was lowered by about six feet (2 m).  Recently when working with the photographs of David Bivin, I came across this photo.

Wailing Wall with Nadir, db6401182012 Western Wall, January 1964

With the distinctive crack in the rock visible behind the young man’s legs, I set about finding a recent photo of the same rock.  The photo below shows the crack behind the man’s right hand.  In 1964, ground level was located at the position of his left hand.

Man putting prayer in Western Wall, tb092603035 Western Wall, September 2003

Note that he is standing on a chair.  This is the best illustration I know of that shows the change in plaza level after 1967.

You can see a photo taken by Amihai Mazar that shows a bulldozer clearing the area in the excellent book by Leen Ritmeyer, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, page 22.

Some other “Then and Now” photos from the Views That Have Vanished collection are posted here.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

The Acoustics of Mounts Gerizim and Ebal

In 1879, J. W. McGarvey made a tour of the Holy Land.  His visit to the area of Nablus (biblical Shechem) is particularly interesting because of his acoustical test.  Today tourists are not able to visit this area, and if they were, the urbanization of the area has made a similar experience impossible today.  This section is from Lands of the Bible, originally published in 1880, pages 506-8 (emphasis added). A limited preview is available at Google Books (some copies for sale here).  Thanks to Paul Mitchell for discovering this nugget and sending it on.

“On reaching Shechem we called on Brother El Karey, the only Baptist missionary in Palestine. I had a letter of introduction to him, given me by a Baptist preacher from London whom I met at Naples. He received us very cordially, explained to us his missionary labors, and, being a native of the place, though educated in England, he was full of the local information for which we were in search. We especially wanted to learn the best way to reach Aenon, the locality of which was definitely fixed by Lieutenant Conder, but which our dragoman had never visited. He gave us the desired information, and the next morning, leaving our tents pitched at Shechem, we made an excursion to that interesting spot.

Mt Ebal and Shechem from Mt Gerizim, tb070507676

Mt. Ebal, view north from Mt. Gerizim, July 2007

Our route took us back through the valley, and we resolved that while passing between the two mountains of Ebal and Gerizim, in the still morning air, we would try the experiment of reading the blessings and curses. It will be remembered by the reader that, in compliance with directions given before the death of Moses, Joshua assembled all the people on these two mountains, stationing six tribes on one, and six opposite to them on the other, and he stood between and read to them all the blessings and curses of the law (See Deut 27-28, Josh 8:30-35). It has been urged by some skeptics that it was impossible for Joshua to read so as to be heard by the whole multitude of Israel. It is a sufficient answer to this to show that while Joshua read, the Levites were directed to repeat the words “with a loud voice” (Deut 27:14), and that it was an easy matter to station them at such points that their repetitions, like those of officers along the line of a marching army, could carry the words to the utmost limits of the multitude. But it is interesting to know that the spot chosen by God for this reading is a vast natural amphitheatre, in which the human voice can be heard to a surprising distance. About half-way between Shechem and the mouth of the valley in which it stands there is a deep, semicircular recess in the face of Mount Ebal, and a corresponding one precisely opposite to it in Mount Gerizim. No man with his eyes open can ride along the valley without being struck with this singular formation. As soon as I saw it I recognized it as the place of Joshua's reading. It has been asserted repeatedly by travelers that, although two men stationed on the opposite slopes of these two mountains are a mile apart, they can read so as to be heard by each other. We preferred to try the experiment in stricter accordance with Joshua's example; so I took a position, Bible in hand, in the middle of the valley, while Brother Taylor and Frank, to represent six tribes, climbed halfway up the slope of Mount Gerizim; and Brother Earl, to represent the other six tribes, took a similar position on Mount Ebal. I read, and they were to pronounce the amen after each curse or blessing. Brother Taylor heard me distinctly, and I could hear his response. But Brother Earl, though he could hear my voice, could not distinguish the words. This was owing to the fact that some terrace-walls on the side of the mountain prevented him from ascending high enough, and the trees between me and him interrupted the passage of the sound. The experiment makes it perfectly obvious that if Joshua had a strong voice,--which I have not,--he could have been heard by his audience without the assistance of the Levites. As to the space included in the two amphitheatres, I think it ample to accommodate the six hundred thousand men with their families, though of this I cannot be certain. If more space was required, the aid of the Levites was indispensable.”

UPDATE: Biblical Studies and Technological Tools has found and posted better images of the natural amphitheater, using Google Earth, HolyLand 3D and Microsoft Virtual Earth.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Restoration of Rolling Stone Tomb

A few years ago I posted a photo comparison of one of the best rolling stone tombs in Israel - before vandals destroyed it and after.  For convenience, here are those pictures of the Khirbet Midras tomb again.



A friend visited recently and passed on a few photos.  It looks like the tomb has been partially restored.  You might want to stop by next time you're in the area.  Khirbet Midras is east of the road going from Azekah to Bet Guvrin.

Khirbet Midras rolling stone tomb, ar080714171
Tomb exterior

Khirbet Midras rolling stone tomb, ar080714165
View from inside tomb; rolling stone is on the right side

 Khirbet Midras rolling stone tomb, ar080714164 
Burial niches (aka loculi, kokhim) 

Thanks to A.D. Riddle for sharing these photos.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mark Twain on the Sea of Galilee

My earliest memory of a large lake is of Lake Tahoe in northern California, but the body of water I've been to the most is the Sea of Galilee.  Mark Twain compared the two on his visit in the 1860s:

The celebrated Sea of Galilee is not so large a sea as Lake Tahoe by a good deal—it is just about two-thirds as large. And when we come to speak of beauty this sea is no more to be compared to Tahoe than a meridian of longitude is to a rainbow. The dim waters of this pool cannot suggest the limpid brilliancy of Tahoe; these low, shaven, yellow hillocks of rocks and sand, so devoid of perspective, cannot suggest the grand peaks that compass Tahoe like a wall, and whose ribbed and chasmed fronts are clad with stately pines that seem to grow small and smaller as they climb, till one might fancy them reduced to weeds and shrubs far upward, where they join the everlasting snows. Silence and solitude brood over Tahoe; and silence and solitude brood also over this lake of Gennesaret. But the solitude of the one is as cheerful and fascinating as the solitude of the other is dismal and repellent" (Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, pp. 375-76).

IThe sea of Galilee, from the heights of Safed, pp2071b
From Picturesque Palestine, 1880s

Sea of Galilee and Plain of Gennesaret pan1d, tb032507719sr 
A few months ago