Hebrew Voices #6 – Biblical Sites with an LA Screenwriter (Rebroadcast)

In this episode of Hebrew VoicesBiblical Sites with an LA Screenwriter, Nehemia Gordon speaks with Joel Haber, a licensed tour guide in Israel, whose tours are so enjoyable that he earned the nickname “Fun Joel.” Joel shares powerful examples of how reading the Bible, in the land of the Bible, brings the verses to life — sharing details from the binding of Isaac, the Valley of Elah, the routing at Mt. Hermon, and the broad wall in Jerusalem. Joel explains in-depth how the roads, the riverbeds, and the typography all help to clarify events, as well as how matching historical and archaeological records with biblical accounts proves the Bible is clearly not a made up book.

Joel’s contention that standing in the land yields spiritual understanding, is underscored when he shares about standing in the ancient city of Shiloh—envisioning its massive city walls that surrounded the Tabernacle—and comparing that experience to standing in Jerusalem and turning 360 degrees to witness, in one breath, the mountains that enfold her.

.קוּם הִתְהַלֵּךְ בָּאָרֶץ, לְאָרְכָּהּ וּלְרָחְבָּהּ; כִּי לְךָ, אֶתְּנֶנָּה
Arise, walk through the land, the length, and the width; for to you, will I give it.
(Genesis 13:17)

I look forward to reading your comments!

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Hebrew Voices #6 - Biblical Sites with an LA Screenwriter

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Joel: I would read about names of places and things that were just names. They didn’t have any meaning. But when you go to a place and you read the section of the Bible where the event took place, in many different ways, you can get a better understanding of what the Bible’s saying. Sometimes, it’s simply just being able to point to a place and look at it and say, “Okay, that’s this city. That’s that city. Now I can understand it. And sometimes, you can actually gain a better understanding of something, that if you weren’t there, you wouldn’t even know what the Bible was talking about.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot. (For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. Isaiah 62:1)

Nehemia: Shalom, this is Nehemia Gordon with Hebrew Voices, and I am here in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem with Joel Haber. He's a licensed tour guide, and he's gonna be talking to us today about reading the Bible in the land of the Bible. Shalom, Joel.

Joel: Shalom. How's it going, Nehemia?

Nehemia: It's going great. I'm really excited to be here. Now, you've got a little bit of a cold.

Joel: I do. I'm sorry if I sound a little hoarse, but I felt it was important.

Nehemia: Is this from talking endless hours on your tour to the...

Joel: I wish I could say that that was the only reason. No, it's really just that I have a cold today, yeah.

Nehemia: Okay, so talk to us about reading the Bible in the land of the Bible. Actually, before we get to that, you've got a wonderful Israeli accent. You're from America. How did you get here to Israel and become a licensed tour guide?

Joel: Right, so I was born in New Jersey, and I grew up there and I lived in New York for a long time. I lived in LA for a while, and then I moved here about six years ago, maybe a little more than that. And basically, you know, I'd been to Israel a number of times growing up, you know, growing up Jewish, coming here as many do to visit the land that's our homeland. And obviously, I fell in love with it and knew that I wanted to come eventually, but I didn't know when. And so, I was working in film in the States for a number of years, in the film industry, working on the screenplay side of things.

Nehemia: Wow, you were working with screenplays, wow.

Joel: Yeah, it was cool. And you know, like people said, “Well, why are you moving to Israel? You know, if you're a screenwriter, it's not the best career move when you're leaving Hollywood.” I always explained to them that…

Nehemia: Yeah, you're one screenplay away from retirement, basically, when you’re in that industry.

Joel: Right, exactly. You know, they say, “In Hollywood it takes 6 years or 10 years to become an overnight success.”

Nehemia: Okay, that's awesome.

Joel: Yeah. So basically, I say to them that I didn't move to Israel for my career. I moved to Israel for my life.

Nehemia: Wow, I love that.

Joel: Yeah, and I've changed my career to something else. Obviously, I'm a tour guide now, but I absolutely love it. There is some overlap in terms of I'm still telling stories.

Nehemia: Wow, that's so interesting. So, you were telling stories for Hollywood, now you're telling stories based on the truth of the Bible and of history.

Joel: Absolutely, absolutely.

Nehemia: Now, I notice you're wearing a kippah, the audience can't see that. And before, when we spoke, I tried to put you in a box, you know, I've got my little Karaite box. And I tried to put you in the Orthodox Jewish box, but you kind of resisted that. So, how would you define yourself?

Joel: Well, you see, this is why I resisted it, because I think that labels only divide us.

Nehemia: Okay, Amen. I like that.

Joel: And I want us all to be united, okay? Certainly, all Jews, but all people especially. Certainly Jews. You know, what does it matter that you're a Karaite? I'm this, somebody else is that. Instead of focusing on, “He's Reform, she's Reconstructionist, you're a Karaite.” Instead it's, “You're a Jew, he's a Jew, she's a Jew, we're all Jews.”

Nehemia: Okay.

Joel: And so, you know, whatever. I grew up in what would probably be typically referred to as “modern orthodox” environment. I went to what would be called a modern orthodox synagogue, a modern orthodox school, but I would consider myself now post-denominational…

Nehemia: I love that, post-denominational.

Joel: …or trans-denominational, maybe, I don't know.

Nehemia: Trans-denominational. I'm not sure I like that, but I've actually used the phrase for myself for a number of years, “post-denominational Karaite Jew.” And people say, “What on earth is that?” And what I say is, “Look, I believe in the Tanakh, and that makes me, from my understanding, a Karaite.” You know, that, for me is Scripture. But I'm sick of all the institutions and the structures and, you know, “You can't do this because that's not what we do.” You know what? I can do whatever God leads me to do, that's how I feel.

Joel: Ultimately, I believe that however we practice, it's between us and God.

Nehemia: Amen.

Joel: It's not between you and me…

Nehemia: I like that.

Joel: …it's between me and God. And when we die after 120 years, we go up to heaven, and we meet God, He'll tell us if we were right or wrong.

Nehemia: Yeah, cool. So, you came to Israel, and how did you become a licensed tour guide?

Joel: So, it's a pretty intensive endeavor to become a tour guide here. All tour guides in the land of Israel have to be licensed by the Ministry of Tourism.

Nehemia: I'm laughing because, I think I was in Egypt, and I went to a place where you were required to pay a substantial amount of money for the tour guide, and he didn't speak a word of English. He was illiterate, as far as I could tell. And I was trying to figure out what's his purpose. And he was a Bedouin, this was in Sinai. And what I realized is his purpose is you pay him so the Bedouin tribe doesn't attack the tourists. And that's not a joke, that's really, apparently…

Joel: No, it makes sense.

Nehemia: But that's not what tour guides are in Israel.

Joel: No, and I have to say that although it's pretty intensive and difficult to become a tour guide here, I could say that the results speak for themselves. Every tour guide I know, even the ones who are not necessarily the best... Obviously, not every tour guide is great, but even the tour guides who aren't great are still great, you know?

Nehemia: Yeah.

Joel: Well, when I say they're not great I mean they're not great in comparison to other tour guides. The worst tour guide in Israel is still super knowledgeable and super good at showing you around. And so, anybody that is a licensed tour guide here can do a great job at bringing this land to life and showing it to the people that are coming to visit.

Nehemia: Some people bring it to life, and others will not only bring it to life, but they'll make it fun. And you're actually known as "Fun Joel.”

Joel: That is true.

Nehemia: Can you talk about that? Like, that's officially your title, "Fun Joel,” that's in your website, isn't it?

Joel: Yeah, so my nickname is “Fun Joel.” It was given to me by my friend, Funky Adina.

Nehemia: Who gave her her name?

Joel: I did.

Nehemia: Oh, okay.

Joel: But the difference is that she would go around and actually introduce me to people like, “Oh, meet my friend Fun Joel,” and so it just stuck. And I used to think, “Oh, it's kind of pretentious to call myself Fun Joel,” but eventually since everybody was calling me…

Nehemia: No, you're fun, there's no question about it.

Joel: Thank you. So basically, since then everyone was calling me that, I basically went with it. And so, now it's my everything, you know, all my entire persona. People know me as Fun Joel.

Nehemia: Okay, and what's your website?

Joel: The name of my company is “Fun Joel's Israel Tours,” and the website is www.fjisrael.com. And you know, I have a Facebook page and I have Twitter and all those things. But all of it can be found from the website, and I could be contacted from there as well.

Nehemia: Wow, wonderful. So, let's talk about some of the guiding you did. You made this comment when we were speaking before the program about reading the Bible in the land of the Bible, how it's different than reading it from America. Talk to me about that.

Joel: Yeah, as I said, I went to a Jewish day school growing up, and I realized that the Bible, specifically I'm referring to the Old Testament, because that's what I learned…

Nehemia: What you'd call the “Tanakh.”

Joel: The Tanakh, the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, whatever term you prefer. Obviously, it was meaningful, but it felt empty reading it there, because I would read about names of places and things that were just names. They didn't have any meaning.

But when you go to a place, and you read the section of the Bible where the event took place, in many different ways you can get a better understanding of what the Bible’s saying. Sometimes it's simply just being able to point to a place and look at it and say, “Okay, that's this city, that's that city and now I can understand it.” And sometimes, you can actually gain a better understanding of something that if you weren't there you wouldn't even know what the Bible was talking about. And there's other things, you know, sometimes a site will support the Biblical text. Sometimes the site gives you more insight into the text, so different ways. It goes in different directions, but I think that it's a totally different experience.

Nehemia: I've tried to explain that to people, and for me there's the intellectual side that it gives me. Also, I feel like there's something spiritual when I'm at the Biblical site and I'm reading the Biblical passage, and...

Joel: There's no question that when you can read a sentence of the Bible, like for a simple example, we're sitting here right now a five-minute walk from what's called the “Haas Promenade” or the “Tayelet,” here in Jerusalem.

Nehemia: One of my favorite places in Jerusalem.

Joel: It's got the most amazing view of the Temple Mount, of everything. And the fact is that when you read the story... and this is not one of these ones that you get a better insight, but just to give you a really, really quick example. You read the Biblical account of the binding of Isaac, and it says that Abraham travels for three days and he sees the place from afar.

Nehemia: Oh, wow.

Joel: Now, in our tradition, the binding of Isaac took place on the Temple Mount. And if he was coming from the south, one of the first places after a three-day journey that he would be able to actually see the Temple Mount would be right here.

Nehemia: Wow, I gotta stop, I'm getting excited. Are you telling me that there's a good chance that Abraham, coming to the binding of Isaac, came to the Haas Promenade, what we call the “Tayelet?” Meaning it may not have been that exact spot but...?

Joel: I will say he probably didn't go to the Haas Promenade, because that's a spur off to the side…

Nehemia: Okay, but something like that.

Joel: But I will tell you that the road that he walked on is a half a minute walk from my house.

Nehemia: Wow, and that's because we know where he came and the direction he was coming…

Joel: Because a lot of the roads that are in Israel are actually roads that have been roads forever. For as long as people have been walking in this land, they've been walking on these same roads, because they are logical roads, geographically speaking.

Nehemia: That's interesting that you say that. When I studied archaeology at the Hebrew University, there was a professor who talked about that. You know, and he said, “Look, you might stand on one side of a hill and think, ‘I could just go down straight in the valley and straight up.’” And then he said, “There's an old proverb. It says…” I wish I get it right. It says, “khakhama haderekh mehaholekh bah.” “The path is wiser than he who walks on it.” And that's because you think, “I don't need to go meandering back and forth and around, but there's a reason that the trail goes the way it goes.”

Joel: Exactly, I have to remember that. I've never heard that one before, but it's true.

Nehemia: It's topography or the contours or where the rain comes and washes away the road. There's some reason the road is there. And yeah, you drive on roads today, and it's the same road they used for thousands of years. Now, they’re paved.

Joel: Yeah, literally. I'm not saying it's exactly, maybe it was a few meters one way or another way, but people have been walking these roads for 10,000 years or more.

Nehemia: Wow, so when we go on this road right near your house, we're potentially walking on the exact spot where Abraham walked on the way to the binding of Isaac and seeing a similar thing to what he saw. He didn't see the Golden Dome, but he saw the mountain from afar. Wow, I love that.

Joel: And he had a clear view because there weren't all the houses in the way.

Nehemia: That's right. And what I love is the image where he tells Ishmael to wait, and he goes on with Isaac and I'm...

Joel: Well, in the Old Testament account it's not Ishmael, it's the slaves, it's his servants.

Nehemia: Oh, it says "the boy" there, and we assume that that's Ishmael. Okay.

Joel: It says, “His servants,” yeah.

Nehemia: It says, "na'arav.”

Joel: Which could be Ishmael. Yeah, I guess probably maybe in some Midrash it could be interpreted as Ishmael.

Nehemia: Yeah, okay. Well, I'm glad you corrected me on that. All right, so let's talk about, you brought some examples before we talked, and I want you to bring those and explain them to the listeners, because there’s some really powerful examples.

Joel: All right, so I'll start with one that I think is... It's not that we get a better insight into it in any way. It's just a matter of that when you can be at a place where place names become actual that you can actually see it and understand it, and that's what's called the “Elah Valley.” It's in the region of the country called the Shfela, the lowlands, and it's about a 10-minute drive south of the city of Beit Shemesh. And it's in the Elah Valley, I'm sure many people who have come here to visit have actually gone there, it's a very popular spot to go, but that's where the battle between David and Goliath took place.

Nehemia: I love that. So, I was actually there last week.

Joel: It's an awesome place.

Nehemia: It's an amazing place.

Joel: But when I read this, when I learned this story in school growing up, it mentions the Philistines outside of a town called “Sokho” and the Jews near Azekah. And it talks about a town called Shaaraim and all these different towns that they were just names, and I had no context for them. So, what is Sokho and Azekah and Shaaraim to me? They're nothing, they're just town names.

I mean, sure, somebody could have pulled out a map and showed it to me on a map, and that would have made it a little bit more meaningful. But still, that's not the same thing as being there. So, when you go there - and I love to go there and tell the story there and give a really deep understanding of it - you can stand at a place. And when I mention Sokho, I say, “You see that hill over there? That's Sokho. And that one over there, that's Azekah.” And you know, David takes the stone, right, from the riverbed, to sling it in the sling at Goliath. And you're standing next to this dry riverbed in the summer. In the winter it's obviously wet.

Nehemia: I was there last week and there was water in it. For the first time, I've been there many times, it was the first time there was water in it.

Joel: Right, that's the thing. Because as you know, here in Israel we only get rain in the wintertime.

Nehemia: I think they call it in English a “seasonal creek.” We call it a “nakhal.”

Joel: Yeah, exactly. A seasonal brook I would say, a creek is also good.

Nehemia: A brook?

Joel: That’s good. Yeah, for sure.

Nehemia: I'm from the north and I don't know the difference between a brook and a creek.

Joel: I don't think there is a difference, actually.

Nehemia: Okay. Lots of people say "crick.”

Joel: That's what you get in your neck, a crick in your neck.

Nehemia: This is just a nakhal. All right.

Joel: Anyway, you can go there and you see the rocks in the riverbed or in the stream bed, whatever you want to call it, that have been smoothed by the years and years and years of water running over it. And you say, “Okay, so look, this is where that took place.” And we mention Shaarayim, which is mentioned at the end of the Biblical account. And some of your listeners probably have heard of a very exciting archeological site overlooking the Elah Valley that's called “Khirbet Qeiyafa.” That's an Arabic name, “Qeiyafa.” And we obviously don't know, because it's not like we found an inscription that said, “Welcome to Shaarayim.” But one of the interesting things about it, it happens to be a fascinating site on its own account. But additionally, it's fairly… Not huge, but not tiny, a decent sized city or town, from the time of King David.

Nehemia: And really, of King Saul, right? Because Saul was the leader at the time of that battle.

Joel: Correct, but the town was built probably post that time, probably towards the end of David's reign. And we can come back to that in a minute because it raises certain questions. But one of the things that they found is that there were two gates, and the word "Shaarayim,” the name of the town Shaarayim “sha'ar” is a gate, and Shaarayim is a way of making it plural, two gates.

Nehemia: Right.

Joel: And so, to have a town that size with two gates is a bit odd from this time, and so they think, they speculate, “Hey, you have a town here in the region with two gates. Potentially, this is that Sh'arayim.”

Nehemia: And one of the characteristics of all Semitic languages, including Hebrew, is that there's singular, plural and dual.

Joel: Correct.

Nehemia: Let's take the example sha'ar. Sha'ar is gate, she'arim is gates and sha'arayim are two gates.

Joel: Exactly. Another example of that is the town that is mentioned in the Bible specifically when Jacob wrestles the angel, “Mahanayim.”

Nehemia: Ah, the two camps, okay. And then actually they say Mitzrayim, which is Egypt, is the two Egypts, upper Egypt and lower Egypt. Cool, okay.

Joel: Right. So yeah, it's a very exciting site. And so, that's an additional thing.

Nehemia: It sounds to me like you're being paid to do a job that you love to do. Sometimes, when I do what I'm doing, I'm like, “Wait a minute, am I supposed to be paid? This is too fun. I'm enjoying this too much.”

Joel: Well, you know, you're absolutely right. But that's also sort of my character. I've always done what I've loved.

Nehemia: That's great, wow.

Joel: I've never been somebody who just took a job just because I needed to make a living. In fact, for much of my life I didn't make much of a living, but I was happy because I was doing what I loved.

Nehemia: Amen.

Joel: And now I'm blessed that I've come here to Israel and I'm doing a job that I love, and I can also make a decent living.

Nehemia: Wow.

Joel: I'm not gonna get rich, and I don't need to be rich, but I can make a decent living out of it, so thank God.

Nehemia: All right, so tell us a little bit more about going to the valley of Elah where David slew Goliath.

Joel: Yeah, so on the one hand, as I said, it's a great place that you can actually understand, truly visualize this battle and where everybody stood and how this took place. But also, the region around it, I think, is a fascinating region, because the region of the Shfela is what I would term the frontier, the Biblical frontier.

It's basically the meeting point between the kingdom of Judea, or of the Israelite kingdom before it becomes Judea, and the Philistine lands, Philistia, where the Philistines live. And the Philistines had five major cities, Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gat and Ekron. The first three are on the coastline, Gat and Ekron are a little bit further inland. We know where they are. The first three remain cities today. The other two are archaeological sites.

And what's fascinating to me is both via the archaeology that we see and via the text, we see that it's not necessarily what we'd expect. When you read the Bible on the surface, you see that the Jews and the Philistines are fighting with each other all the time. But in fact, there was actually a lot of intellectual commerce between the two and people would go back and forth. It wasn't like what we think of today, with hard and fast borders between countries. These were two regions that people went back and forth. A primary example of this, okay, so closer to the area of Beit Shemesh is Tzora and Eshtaol. And it says in Book of Judges, Shoftim, who was born between Tzora and Eshtaol? Samson. And Samson, of all the people in the Bible, is probably the one who has the most interaction with the Philistines, right? So, he goes down to one of the Philistine cities, and he sees a girl that he falls in love with. And he goes home, and he says to his parents, “I want to marry that girl.” And what fascinates me is the answer.

Nehemia: Yeah.

Joel: What's the answer that his mother says?

Nehemia: "She must convert to Judaism first,” right?

Joel: No, not even that.

Nehemia: That's not what she says?

Joel: I don't think so. Basically, she says, “What, you couldn't find a nice Jewish girl?”

Nehemia: Right.

Joel: But what she doesn't say is what would be more logical, which would be, “What the heck were you doing there?” Obviously, the fact that she doesn't question why he was in this Philistine town means it was normal for him to go to this Philistine town. And another example that we shouldn't forget is that when King David... Sorry, David before he's king. When he is fleeing from King Saul, he seeks refuge with the Philistines.

Nehemia: Right.

Joel: So, that means that there is this back and forth that's normal.

Nehemia: And then he ends up with Philistine warriors who join his military. For example, when there's the fight with Absalom, there's Itay Ha’Giti, Itai the Gittite who says, “I wanna go with you.” And he says, “Well, you're a foreigner, why are you coming with me? You've got nothing to do with this. This is an internal fight of Israel and you're a foreigner.”

Joel: Absolutely.

Nehemia: He was a Gittite from Gat, he was a Philistine. And then he has the Cherethites and Pelethites, the Kreti and Pleti.

Joel: Right, there's debate about what they are, but potentially these are Philistines, as well. It's very interesting, I think. And so, when you go there and you can see this region with many archaeological sites, and you see it not as a border but as a frontier where there is this bleeding of the cultures, it's interesting.

By the way, this is not about the Bible, but the same thing takes place throughout history. And that's something you see all over Israel where you'll see, if you look at one spot throughout history, it serves the same purpose.

So, because it's this meeting place, it's also why there is not a plethora but there's at least, I think, three monasteries in the Shfela. Because remember, monastic life was about getting away from the cities, and there aren't major cities there, okay? Beit Shemesh is a city, it's not a big city, but it's between the coastal plain where you have places like Tel Aviv, and the hills where you have places like Jerusalem. And so, these Christian monks that wanted to...

Nehemia: What century are we talking?

Joel: Well, I think they're not all from the same time so I can't say.

Nehemia: But roughly the Middle Ages, after the Roman period?

Joel: Monastic life begins in Israel and it begins in the Judean Desert to the east of Jerusalem. And that begins in the Byzantine period. But these are more modern than that. I don't know the exact history for each of them, but I know of three. There's Latrun monastery, which is a Trappist monastery, there's Beit Jamal, which is just outside of Beit Shemesh, and there's a third that I'm blanking on at this moment.

Nehemia: This brings us to an issue that I want the audience to hear. So, even though you are a post-denominational Jew who wears a kippah, you also do tours for Christians and other kinds of people.

Joel: Absolutely.

Nehemia: And we were talking before, you mentioned a category of... I think you called it "Christians who want to live the way Jesus lived,” right?

Joel: Yeah.

Nehemia: You do tours for those kinds of people as well?

Joel: I've done tours for everybody. I've guided Jews, I've guided Christians, I've guided Muslims, I've guided secular, non-religious people. And within each of those, I can't say all, but I've guided many different types of Jews, many different types of Christians and I'm happy to do it. Obviously, I am who I am and they obviously need to be interested in hearing what I have to say. But I treat everyone with respect. And at least twice, I've guided in the Old City where it was me and a Christian tourist and a Muslim tourist. And I'm like, “This is a joke. A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim walking through the Old City of Jerusalem.”

Nehemia: It's an intro to a joke, yeah.

Joel: I always tell the joke, you know, “A Rabbi, a Priest and an Imam walk into a bar and the bartender looks at them and says, “What is this, a joke?’” And it’s the same thing, you know? But it's amazing, and that's what makes this place such an amazing place, that this city is holy to everybody.

Nehemia: I was thinking about this as you were describing the frontier with Philistia. In a way, it's not that different in modern times, meaning, I know I drive through certain parts of Israel and there is no border. There's a red sign that says, “Israeli citizens can't go beyond this point.” But people come from there, from the Palestinian territories, and they are intermixing. And you walk through certain areas, and on one hillside there's Jews, and the next hillside is Christian, and the other side is Muslims.

Joel: I wish there was more mixing than there is. I wish that we got along better and that we had…

Nehemia: In reality, it looks as though there's tensions like there was in ancient times, but it's not like there's the border the way there's a border between... I was gonna say the US and Mexico, it's not much of a border there, either.

Joel: How about Israel and Syria or Israel and Lebanon?

Nehemia: Okay, Israel and Syria, or even Israel and Egypt, a country we have peace with. There's absolutely no mixing or very, very little interaction, especially today when going into Egypt is extremely dangerous with the terrorism in Sinai. Yeah, so it's interesting, maybe there's something about the nature of this area, that, you know, the borders are a little bit more fluid than what we think of as borders.

Joel: Yeah. So, let's move on to another example, I think. And this is one where I think until you read the Biblical account in the place it happened you actually don't even understand the Biblical account.

Nehemia: Okay.

Joel: And this is the story...When I say "story” I don't mean to minimize it. I mean the account.

Nehemia: Account, story.

Joel: Yeah, the account in Genesis 14:15 of the Four Kings versus the Five Kings, where there are these Kings that come from the area of what is today Jordan and Syria, and they kidnap Abraham's nephew, right?

Nehemia: Yeah, his nephew, Lot.

Joel: And it says that Abraham chases after them, and he chases them to Dan, that's what it says. That's in 14:14, and in 14:15 there's a peculiar word, the first word of the sentence and it says, or the first two words it says "vayekhalek aleyhem.” And the word "vayekhalek" from "khelek" is to split. But most translations of the Bible don't even use that term, but they know that it's a term that we don't really understand. But if you go to Tel Dan today, which is all the way in the north of the country, one of the northernmost points, it sits at the foot of Mount Hermon, the biggest mountain in the country and in the region.

Nehemia: In English they call it “Mount Hermon,” right?

Joel: Yes, Mount Hermon or Mount Khermon. You can all of a sudden understand, perhaps, what this sentence means, perhaps. Because what happens? He's been chasing them from the south of the country to the north, and he knows they've gotten to this place, Tel Dan. And at that point, they are enough ahead of him that perhaps he doesn't know exactly which way they went. Nobody is climbing over the Khermon to get to the other side, climbing over this giant mountain, it's huge.

Nehemia: It's a significant mountain for this part of the world.

Joel: It's huge.

Nehemia: And let's back up. We're here in the mountains of Jerusalem, in the Judean mountains, and what we call here mountain isn't what they call mountains in other countries.

Joel: Right.

Nehemia: Mount Hermon, Mount Khermon is a real mountain.

Joel: Right.

Nehemia: What we call mountains here is a hill, but Mount Khermon’s a legitimate mountain, by all accounts.

Joel: Yeah, I don't remember the exact height, but I think it's somewhere about 1500 meters above sea level, at least.

Nehemia: Which is like, what, 4,500, 5,000 feet?

Joel: Something like that.

Nehemia: I know the Mount of the Beatitudes is 60 meters below sea level, in contrast. A lot of times we'll use the word “mountain” and it means a hill. But there, Mount Khermon is a real mountain.

Joel: Right, and so nobody's going over it. But perhaps he doesn't know which way they went. Did they go to the east of the mountain or to the west of the mountain to get them to the other side? And so, it's at that point that he has to make a decision. He could go one way or another, but then he might lose them. So instead, perhaps, "vayekhlek aleyhem,” he actually splits his soldiers, his army, or his band of warriors.

Nehemia: 318 warriors, yeah.

Joel: And he splits them, and he says, “Okay, you guys go that way, the other ones go the other way.” And it turns out that they end up on the other side, probably meeting, it doesn't specify. But it says that he smites them near Damascus, which is on the other side of the Hermon mountain. So, maybe it was one half of them that did it, or maybe they met up on the other side. And the Biblical account mentions Dan, but it does not mention the Khermon mountain, Mount Hermon. And so, when you're there and you read it and you look up and you see this mountain, you're like, “Oh, that's it.”

Nehemia: Okay, so when you're there you actually experience the geography, which you don't know reading it.

Joel: Exactly, and then you actually understand what the Biblical text means.

Nehemia: Yeah, wow.

Joel: And to underscore and make it even better, in Tel Dan which is both a nature preserve and an archaeological site, there is a gate that is the oldest existing standing arch in the world.

Nehemia: Really? Wow.

Joel: There's another one that's older but it's not complete. This one is a complete arch, and it dates to the time of Abraham.

Nehemia: Wow, so basically, if Abraham had gone into this ancient town...

Joel: He probably spent the night there.

Nehemia: So, he would have walked through that gate.

Joel: Absolutely.

Nehemia: So, we can walk on the trail right here by your house, which is now a road, and that's where Abraham was walking when he went to the binding of Isaac. And then we can also walk through the gate of Tel Dan...

Joel: We can't walk through it, unfortunately...

Nehemia: But we could walk up to it.

Joel: Exactly.

Nehemia: Okay, and just for the people, Genesis 14:15, "During the night, Abraham divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus.” This is the NIV. So, the people who translated the NIV went to Tel Dan just like you did.

Joel: Right.

Nehemia: But when you're actually there, you understand, why would he divide his force? What's going on? You're saying there's a geographical, topographical reason.

Joel: Exactly.

Nehemia: So, what do you conclude from that? When you're reading this, what's your impression, what's your feeling that, you know, you go to this site, what do you take away from that?

Joel: I just appreciate the fact that when you're reading it in the place that it happened, all of a sudden you can understand the text. If you learn this in the States, most people won't even mention that, they'll say...

Nehemia: They just blurb right past it, you know.

Joel: Yeah, or they might use a different translation for the word, because it's not clear what the translation is. And there are other translations that will use a different one. Here, I'll read the one that I have, which is the JPS.

Nehemia: The Jewish Publication Society. Here, I'm just pulling up New King James has, "He divided his forces against them by night.” But even from that you don't know he divided his forces, why would you divide your forces? And you're actually saying there's a topographical reason for that.

Joel: Exactly. And this one, the JPS says, "At night he and his servants deployed against them.”

Nehemia: Deployed against them, okay, which is extremely vague.

Joel: I don't know where that comes from.

Nehemia: It means they didn't know what it meant, so they gave this vague term, like, “We're deploying to Iraq,” you know, like what? Get in the Hercules transport plane, or whatever they use today.

Joel: Yeah, so that's what's amazing, that if you weren't reading it there you wouldn't understand it. And so that's what I get from it.

Nehemia: Very cool. And to me, what that means is, you're reading this account in Genesis which, you know, from a religious perspective, I say that's the word of God. But then, from the historical perspective, I read this, and I'm like, “Wow, even down to these details of the topography of the mountain, at the different locations, it makes it so much more real and authentic.”

Joel: Yeah, and to get to that point, a simple thing is, you know, the beginning of Abraham's life. He was born in Ur Kasdim, which is near the Persian Gulf in Mesopotamia. He moves with his family to Haran, which is northern Mesopotamia in what is Syria today, and then he comes to land of Israel. What did he do? He did what everybody at the time did. He followed the route of the Fertile Crescent. He went up through Mesopotamia to Syria, circled around and came down south to the land of Israel.

Nehemia: And why didn't he just cut across from Ur to...

Joel: Arabian desert.

Nehemia: The desert. Right, okay.

Joel: Nobody travels through the desert, very few people. And on the west of Israel is the Mediterranean Sea, and very few people were seafaring.

Nehemia: But that's what they call the “Fertile Crescent,” as you were saying.

Joel: Yeah, and even if they were traveling by the sea, they would travel along the coastline. And that's one of the reasons, not only religious and spiritual, but why this land of Israel was fought over so many times throughout history. Because if you control this strip of land, you control all of the commerce that goes between Egypt to our southwest, and Mesopotamia and Syria to our northeast. Everybody comes through here.

Nehemia: Wow. All right, let's go to another example.

Joel: Yeah, so here in Jerusalem, in the Old City of Jerusalem, there's a site that I'm sure many people that have come here have seen. It's called the “Broad wall.” The Broad Wall is a section, it’s in the Jewish Quarter today, and it's a section of what was at the time, the northern edge of Jerusalem, a wall that was built in the end of the 8th century BCE by King Hezekiah to defend against the Assyrian invasion by the King whose name is in Hebrew Sankheriv, or in English they say “Sennacherib.” And the building of this wall is mentioned both in the Book of Isaiah as well as in the Book of Kings II. And the first thing that's really interesting is that there's a sentence in the Book of Isaiah 22:10, and it says, “And you counted the houses of Jerusalem and pulled houses down to fortify the wall.” It's a strange sentence.

Nehemia: Yeah.

Joel: What does that mean? Why would he pull houses down to fortify a wall?

Nehemia: And why count them? Let's just tear them down and build the wall.

Joel: Right, I'm not really sure about the counting part. That doesn't make much sense to me even now, but the pulling houses down is even weirder.

Nehemia: Well, so…

Joel: You go ahead.

Nehemia: You give your explanation.

Joel: Go ahead, so what I was gonna say is this. So, you remember that after Solomon is King and when Solomon died, the kingdom splits. It's no longer a united kingdom of the Israelites. You have the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judea. And Judea is David and Solomon and...

Nehemia: Down here in Judea we call that the war of northern aggression, right?

Joel: Ah, well...

Nehemia: I'm just kidding, go on.

Joel: I thought you're a northerner, you said.

Nehemia: I'm a Yankee through and through. Go on.

Joel: Yeah, me too. So, after it splits, in the northern kingdom is a series of short dynasties, 1, 2, 3 Kings, somebody gets assassinated…

Nehemia: What's referred to as the 10 tribes.

Joel: It’s not really the 10 tribes.

Nehemia: They're not lost yet.

Joel: Right, they're not really 10 tribes either, but that's not important for right now. And then, down here we have a single dynasty. So basically, the northern kingdom of Israel is attacked and destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. And this is when those tribes get lost, when they're exiled and eventually the reason they're lost is because they assimilate into whatever cultures they've been exiled to. But Judea remains.

And a few decades later, the King is of Assyrians is named Sennacherib, and he comes and he attacks Judea, as well. But when the northern kingdom was destroyed, some of those people fled down to Judea as refugees. And they were living here, because even though we're two kingdoms, we were the same people, they were still our brothers. And so, they fled down here and many of them were living in Jerusalem on what's known as the “Western hill,” on the area that most of the Old City is on today.

Nehemia: And let me just back up for people who are having trouble following.

Joel: Please.

Nehemia: So, the northern kingdom was attacked, which had what we traditionally call the “10 tribes.” And you're right, like for example, the tribe of Simeon was kind of in the south, there's all kinds of, you know, details. But basically, what we call the 10 tribes were attacked, and refugees came from those 10 tribes and settled in Jerusalem. And we found the remains of where they settled in what's called the “Mishneh,” or the upper city later. And it's interesting, because people will ask me, they'll say, “Nehemia, you're a Jew, what tribe are you from?” And I'll tell them in all honesty, “I have no idea.” And why is that? Because all I know from Jew is that my people came from the Kingdom of Judah. I don't know what tribe, they could be from any of the 12 tribes, really.

Joel: Which is, by the way, why we're called "Jews" why it's "Judaism,” and why we're no longer called “Israelites.”

Nehemia: But it doesn't mean that we're from the tribe of Judah. We could be from the tribe of Naftali, any tribe, we don't know.

Joel: And I'm a Levite.

Nehemia: Oh, so you actually know.

Joel: At least I have a tradition. I can't say I know.

Nehemia: And on my mother's side we're descended from some Rabbi who claims to be a son of King David, so there it's Judah. But on my father's side, it could be…And the father’s side is the one that counts…

Joel: Absolutely...

Nehemia: ...for the tribe. We have no idea what tribe we're from.

Joel: Absolutely. So basically, they're living in Jerusalem, or outside the walls of Jerusalem, because they're just living on an empty hilltop.

Nehemia: And these could be people from Naftali, from Issachar, any of the tribes.

Joel: Well, not Benjamin, Benjamin’s here.

Nehemia: Yeah, they got their place, yeah.

Joel: But Asher, Dan, any of these.

Nehemia: Okay, these are the refugees from the Assyrian invasion.

Joel: Right, and they are living in a refugee camp. It’s a refugee camp outside the walls of Jerusalem.

Nehemia: Are they getting stuff from UNRWA, or whatever that UN organization is called?

Joel: No, no. We won't get into politics.

Nehemia: Different time of history.

Joel: And so basically, King Hezekiah, who's considered by the Rabbis to be one of the most righteous of the kings...

Nehemia: And also, in the Book of Kings, he's one of the two most righteous Kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, and David is number three, actually, in the way the Book of Kings describes it.

Joel: Yeah. And so, he says, “I know that Sankheriv is coming to attack Judea. I need to protect these people.” And so, he builds a wall that encompasses, encircles where these people are living on the western hill. Now, what many people don't know is that... I mean, if you think about it, it's logical. But a lot of people don't think about it. You don't just put a wall wherever you feel like it. There are logical topographical places to put a wall. For example, if you're building a wall around a hill, you don't want to put it at the bottom of the hill, because that's easier to attack. So, you need to move it uphill somewhat so that they have to attack uphill to get to the wall.

Nehemia: It gives you a strategic advantage.

Joel: Right, but you also don't want to go too far up the hill, because then you have no space inside of the wall, right? You need space to live.

Nehemia: Right, it makes sense.

Joel: So basically, he's putting a wall around these people. But as he's figuring out the most logical route for this wall, some of the houses are in the way. Now, they didn't know, who knew they were going to put a wall? So, they didn't think about it. They just put houses where it was logical for them to live.

Nehemia: And they were refugees. They just built a quick house out of stone so they don't get cold.

Joel: Exactly. And so, he says, you know, eminent domain, you know. I'm sure they got new houses, but he had to break through these houses to build the wall in that place. And when you go to the Broad Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem in the Jewish Quarter and you look at it on the outside of the wall, what would have been outside the walls of the city, you can see the remains of small houses that abut the wall and cut the house...

Nehemia: They're cut off by the wall.

Joel: Exactly. The wall literally goes through the middle of the living room.

Nehemia: And so, that's actually, when I started archeology, the explanation they gave of why they counted the houses, because if you're going to destroy someone's house, you've got to compensate them, and so you do a survey. You say, “Okay, there's 14 houses that are going to be destroyed, we’d better take that into account. They're gonna be destroyed anyway, because we've got to build our wall. We have to build it.”

Joel: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, I never thought about that.

Nehemia: And so, this is a survey, basically, to determine what the damages are gonna be.

Joel: That makes a lot of sense.

Nehemia: Of course, if we don't build the wall none of it’ll matter because we'll all be exiles. But they were actually successful.

Joel: Briefly, I want to actually go to the end of that story…

Nehemia: Okay, go to the end, please.

Joel: …about it being successful. I know we don't have a tremendous amount of time, but I want to at least jump to the end and not go into all the details. The other thing - and then I'll say what both of these things say to me - basically, when you read the Biblical account, and really in brief, it says that King Sennacherib comes to Judea province, or the kingdom of Judea. He destroys a whole bunch of cities here, including the second largest city which is Lakhish, also in the Shfela, the region that we were talking about in the first thing.

And then he comes and he puts a siege around Jerusalem. King Chizkiyahu, King Hezekiah is worried. The Prophet Isaiah comes to him and gives a prophecy, “Don't worry, God will save the city.” An angel goes out into the camp and kills all of the Assyrian soldiers. And Sankheriv gets up the next morning and he breaks camp, and he retreats back to Nineveh, and the city is not destroyed.

Now, when you look at the historical and archaeological accounts or records, they support this story. Archaeologists are good at a number of things, but two things they're very good at is dating things and at determining how something fell into disuse. Did people leave? Was there an earthquake? Was there a battle? And this wall, the part of the wall that dates to the time of this account, the 8th century BCE, there is no destruction layer, so the city remained. But more importantly, archaeologists have found the palace of King Sankheriv in the town of Nineveh, which I believe is in Iraq of today.

Nehemia: Until ISIS destroyed it.

Joel: Yeah. Well, luckily, we got this out in time. Among other things they found what's called the “Sennacherib prism.” I believe there are two copies, one in the Israel Museum and one in the British Museum.

Nehemia: So, the original is in the British Museum.

Joel: I think the one in the Israel Museum is also an original. Not the Lakhish wall thing…

Nehemia: Is a replica.

Joel: That's a replica, but I believe the prism might be, too.

Nehemia: Oh, really?

Joel: I think.

Nehemia: Because I've seen the original in the British Museum.

Joel: I could be wrong.

Nehemia: I actually had a 12-hour stopover in London that I specifically coordinated so I could go and see that. And there's another one where they show King Jehu bowing before the… And actually, that's amazing, it was amazing to see it. You know, there is an artistic representation of a King of Israel, and unfortunately, he's bowing before the King of Assyria. But it's pretty cool.

Joel: Absolutely. And so basically, this Sennacherib prism which is a hexagonal cylinder with cuneiform writing going all the way around it, it describes all of his military conquests. And it talks about him coming to Judea, and it mentions King Hezekiah and all this. We don't have a lot of time, but in brief, it matches up very neatly because it says that he destroys all these other cities. It says that he puts a siege around Jerusalem, or it says that “Hezekiah himself like a caged bird, I shut up in his royal city of Jerusalem.” But he doesn't talk about destroying Jerusalem.

Nehemia: Right.

Joel: And I can guarantee you that if he destroyed it, he would have mentioned it. And so, what I get from both of these things, both the matching of the historical and archaeological records with the Biblical account, as well as a simple line in Isaiah that we can look at and point to the houses that were broken down is that, you know, you may hear people that will tell you, “Ah, the Bible’s a made-up book. It's fiction, it's a story.” And I can't prove from any of this or prove from anything that every word of the Bible is correct, is accurate, is true. I believe in the Bible, but I can't tell you that with certainty, “This is factual.” But when you see things like this, you can say, “You know what? It may not be word for word literally everything that happened, but it's based on actual historical events, because look at the matchup here.” It's based on history, whether it's actual word for word or not.

I don't know why King Sankheriv didn't destroy Jerusalem. Maybe he had another battle to fight at home, which some believe. Maybe there was a plague in the camp. Maybe a plague is a miracle. I don't know. Maybe that's what the angel of the Lord was.

Nehemia: You know, they say in science you can only prove the negative, and I think that's where faith comes in. You know, we can't disprove the Bible from this story, and it matches up. It's consistent.

Joel: But it matches up enough to show that it didn't come out of somebody's head, it came out of history.

Nehemia: I mean, to the point where it talks about counting the houses and you go and you see, okay, here were the houses that were cut off, that they must have had a count.

Joel: Exactly.

Nehemia: To me, that's amazing.

Joel: Why would somebody put that in the Bible if they were making it up off the top of their head?

Nehemia: It was obviously a big deal back then. There were probably protests in the streets about, “Don't destroy my house.”

Joel: Perhaps.

Nehemia: “But the Assyrians are coming, we gotta build the wall.” So, the reason I love the story of the Broad Wall... You know, my website, I don't know if you know this, is called nehemiaswall.com. And the wall it refers to is actually the Broad Wall. Years ago, walking through the Old City, I'd come upon this wall that I’d learned about in archaeology, but to actually encounter it… And there's a verse in the Book of Nehemiah, or Nekhemia 3:8, it's talking about them rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, which had gone into disrepair.

It lists a bunch of different people who were building the wall, and it says, “And they fortified Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.” So, maybe they didn't make it as wide as originally it was, but at least they built up upon that wall. And then again, in Nehemiah 12:38 it says, “The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people of the wall, going past the tower of the ovens as far as the Broad Wall.”

So, there's a section of what they call “Nehemia's Wall” in a different place. But I call this section Nehemia’s Wall. He didn't build it, it was built by Hezekiah, but he actually rebuilt it. And to me that's amazing, that I can go and see this referred to in the Book of Isaiah. And like you said, there's the Assyrian sources. There’s also a Greek source, Herodotus, who describes this plague of the people being wiped out by…

Joel: That’s much later, though. Herodotus is not contemporaneous.

Nehemia: Right, but it's an ancient Greek source from about 200 years later, maybe 300 years later, where he's describing that people remembered there was some kind of a plague, and the Assyrians were wiped out and had to flee. He gets details a little bit different, but they remembered that something big happened.

And so, you have all these different sources that point to the same thing, and then Nehemia comes and he builds the Wall. And then there's this great scene, which is why I called it “Nehemia’s Wall,” where Nehemia is with the trumpeters on the wall. And the people are building and they have a tool to build in one hand, and a weapon in the other, because they're constantly under attack.

Joel: Wow.

Nehemia: And so, there's both the construction there and they've also got to defend themselves. And I just love that image, and that's what I've kind of tried to do with my website. I call it empowering people with information, to build up their faith and defend their faith. That's what it's been about for me. So, I loved this example, I absolutely loved it. And it's not like I said to you, “Can you talk about the Broad Wall…”

Joel: That’s true.

Nehemia: …and you talk about Nehemia’s Wall. You had no idea that…

Joel: Absolutely not.

Nehemia: Did you even know that was the name of my website?

Joel: It rings a bell. I probably knew that a while ago.

Nehemia: You vaguely knew that, okay.

Joel: But it definitely didn't ring a bell in my head now.

Nehemia: Okay, cool. All right.

Joel: The next example I have is actually a similar type of a thing that underscores that the Bible is not a made-up book. Staying in Jerusalem, we can go to the City of David, or “Ir Dovid” as we call it here in Hebrew. The City of David is ancient Jerusalem. It's where Jerusalem began from, by the Canaanites originally about 4000 years ago. Then later, the Jebusites, one of the Canaanite tribes was there. And then David conquers it and makes it his capital, etc., although today it's actually outside of the Old City walls, and that's another story, because the walls have been built and rebuilt so many times and the city has shifted a bit. But it's right outside the walls. And we know that this is ancient Jerusalem.

Nehemia: So, that's the original Jerusalem in the time of David.

Joel: Correct, from even before David. But in the archaeological excavations that they did there, they found lots of things, of course, because it's one of the most excavated sites in Israel. Tens of archaeologists have led expeditions there over the course of over 100 years. But among the things that they found were a number of what are called “bullae.” Bullae is plural. A Bulla is a clay...

Nehemia: That's an English word, right?

Joel: Yeah, that's an English word. It's a clay seal. Basically, you ever seen how sometimes you'll see letters that are sealed with wax and then they put a stamp into the wax? And that way, if the wax is broken, then you know that somebody opened the letter.

Nehemia: Right. Or the example they give today in Israel - I don't know if this is true in America – is when you go to the electrical box where you have your meter, that's actually sealed with a lead bulla.

Joel: Oh, I never even saw that.

Nehemia: And if the meter guy comes along and sees it's broken, he knows you tampered with the box.

Joel: Okay. I never even saw that, that's interesting. So, in ancient times, what they would do is they would make a scroll. They would tie it up, and on the string and the scroll they would put clay.

Nehemia: So, it wasn't wax, it wasn't lead, it was clay?

Joel: Right. And while the clay is still soft, they would press into it the name of the person that wrote the letter.

Nehemia: With a signet ring or something.

Joel: Yeah, a stamp of some kind. And so, those are called bullae. And what they would usually have on it, not always, but usually it'll be the name of a person, so-and-so, son of so-and-so. And they’ve found tens of these and with different names. Among them, there are two names in particular. One is Gedalyahu Ben Pashkhur, Gedalyahu the son of Pashhur, and the other is Yukhal the son of Shelemiyahu. And if you open your Tanakh, your Bible, to Jeremiah chapter 38, and in Jeremiah chapter 38, we're talking about right before the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. And Jeremiah is a bit of a Prophet of doom. He's going out there saying, “You guys are all gonna die.”

Nehemia: He's a Negative Nancy, let's just call it like it is.

Joel: I'm going to be reading from the JPS translation here.

Nehemia: What verse are you in?

Joel: I'm in chapter 38:1. And it mentions a few different people that are sort of officers, I guess you would say. The king at the time is Zedekiah, in the camp of King Zedekiah. And it says, “Shefatya the son of Matan, Gedalyahu the son of Pashkhur, Yukhal the son of Shelemiyahu, and Pashkur the son of Malkiya heard what Jeremiah was saying to all the people.”

Now, you will notice already what I just said. Two of those four names are these names on these bullae that we just mentioned, right? And it says, basically, I'll summarize it, that they go to the King. They hear Jeremiah prophesying. It says, “Thus said the Lord, ‘Whoever remains in the city shall die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence. But whoever surrenders to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall at least gain his life and shall live’. Thus said the Lord, ‘This city shall be delivered into the hands of the King of Babylon's army and he shall capture it.’” So basically, it goes on and it says that the officials go to the king and say, “Kill this guy, kill Jeremiah, because he's not looking out for the welfare of the people. He's actually harming them by disheartening them.”

Nehemia: He's undermining morale by speaking the truth.

Joel: And King Zedekiah here is apparently not the best leader, because he replies, “He is in your hands. The King cannot oppose you in anything.” That's not a very strong leadership. But then they decide not to kill Jeremiah. They take him and they put him into a pit. It says that he sinks down into the mud and in that pit, he hears the destruction of the Temple as he's sitting in his pit. And then he's taken away to exile in Babylon.

Nehemia: Wow.

Joel: But the point is that two of those names, we’ve found bullae that have their names in them, which means these were real people. And I'm not just talking about the first name. It has so-and-so, the son of so-and-so. It has Gedalyahu, the son of Pashkhur.

Nehemia: So, what you're saying is these two extremely minor figures who are in a list of people, they're not even the central character here, even those guys, the impression of their signet rings, which are called “bullae,” they were discovered in these archaeological excavations.

Joel: Which shows they're real people.

Nehemia: Wow, that's amazing.

Joel: It's not like somebody’s saying, “Okay, so somebody made up a story about a truly existing King named Zedekiah.” That you can believe. But how do they come up with names of random people to put in, if they're making the story up? Obviously, it's not made up. These are real people, and we have physical archaeological evidence to prove it.

Nehemia: Isn't that amazing that thousands of years later, you would find the name of that person on something that he with his own hand stamped into clay, and it still survived thousands of years later?

Joel: He with his own hand, or perhaps the scribe. But yes, it's incredible. And okay, yeah, you could read about that somewhere else. But the fact that I can go and I can show you the room...

Nehemia: The place where it was found.

Joel: Exactly.

Nehemia: Wow.

Joel: That's what's incredible.

Nehemia: That's pretty cool. Wow, that's huge.

Joel: Yeah. And so again, it's like the Broad Wall and those houses, it's showing you this isn't a made-up book, this is a real book.

Nehemia: Wow, that is…

Joel: I brought one last example.

Nehemia: Bring it.

Joel: And this is a different type again. This is one that I don't think it helps you understand the Bible better, I don’t think that it explains that you can understand. But I think there's something special that you wouldn't get if you weren't sitting there. We'll start with Jerusalem, but we're going to go somewhere else from there.

When you go to Jerusalem and you stand in the City of David, or even if you're standing at the top of the hill of the Western Hill which is higher, but regardless, you look around 360 degrees, and you see that the mountains that surround Jerusalem are higher than Jerusalem itself. Meaning ancient Jerusalem, I don't mean modern Jerusalem, because modern Jerusalem is…

Nehemia: Biblical Jerusalem.

Joel: … 125 times the size of the Old City. But if you look at Biblical Jerusalem, Biblical Jerusalem is surrounded by taller hills. And there's a sentence in the Book of Psalms, in Psalms 125:2. It says, “Yerushalayim harim saviv la,” “Jerusalem, hills surround her and the Lord enfolds His people now and forever.” It's poetic, obviously, the Book of Psalms is poetry and he's comparing the way Jerusalem is surrounded by hills, by the way that God surrounds His people.

Nehemia: So, everywhere you look you see hills. Everywhere you look you see God, wow.

Joel: Yeah, and so one of the things that I was once taught - and I think it's a beautiful concept, and I think there's some truth to this - is that if you live in a city that has wide open vistas, you live on a hilltop that you can look out like Denver, or Edinburgh or Prague, right? You look out at the world and you think about what's out there and maybe you think about conquering, and all of these things. But when you live in a city that has higher hills around it that you can't look out and that you have low horizons, you can't look out and so you have to look in. And it's introspectful, and that's one of the things that gives Jerusalem its spiritual character.

Nehemia: Wow.

Joel: And that's why I believe the majority of the Books of the Bible were written in Jerusalem. The Five Books of Moses come from God…

Nehemia: And they were written in the desert, presumably, according to the books.

Joel: Right, but the books of the Prophets and the writings, you know, “Nevi'im” and “Ketuvim” as we call them in Hebrew, those were written by people, we believe, inspired by God. But these were written by humans, we believe. But according to our tradition, most of those were written in Jerusalem, not all.

Nehemia: And the ones that we could say just off the top of our heads, Isaiah, Jeremiah…

Joel: Psalms

Nehemia: …those were primarily in Jerusalem. Many, maybe all the Psalms. Proverbs…

Joel: Proverbs, yeah.

Nehemia: Song of Songs by Solomon. Yeah, okay. So, Jerusalem isn't just the political capital, it's also the place where Scripture was written.

Joel: But here's where I want to go to somewhere else.

Nehemia: Yeah, okay.

Joel: And this is Tel Shiloh. Shiloh, or Shiloa perhaps in English, which is a bit north of Jerusalem, still along the central mountain ridge, okay, there's an archaeological site that is the ancient site of the city of Shiloh. And as you know, Shiloh was the location where the Mishkan, the Tabernacle that predated the building of the Temple, stood. And when the Jews first entered the land of Israel and after they conquered the mountain range, they brought the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle to Shilo and it was resting there. So basically, you can see the Tabernacle as sort of the proto-Temple, the proto-Mikdash.

Nehemia: So, for example, Eli, the High Priest and Samuel as a young man where he first heard the call of God, that was in the Tabernacle at Shiloh.

Joel: Absolutely. And when you go to this location, the exact same thing is in Jerusalem. It's on a low Hill.

Nehemia: Just not the highest of the hills.

Joel: Completely surrounded by higher hills.

Nehemia: Wow, interesting.

Joel: And so, I think this underscores that there's some unique connection between the house of God - perhaps its modesty, perhaps its introspection - but the house of God, both the actual house of God being the Temple as well as its predecessor, the proto-Temple of the Tabernacle in Shiloh, both have this unifying characteristic of it being on a low hill surrounded by higher ones. And again, if you read it in the Bible, you can read a lot about Shiloh, you can learn a lot about Shiloh, and about Jerusalem. Jerusalem, you have the line in Psalms, and you may not even know that it means it literally in the same way, but definitely not Shiloh. Until you go to this place and you look around, you don't realize it.

Nehemia: That's really interesting, because I know the reason why they chose the City of David, as opposed to, I don't know, one of the other higher hills around, that's because there was a source of water there. There was a spring.

Joel: That's one of the reasons, certainly.

Nehemia: Is that the case also with Shiloh, that there was a spring there?

Joel: Okay, well, every city in ancient times in this region needs to be near a water source or something like that.

Nehemia: But the point is, you might look at that hill and say, “Wow, that's the high hill, that's strong, but it doesn't have a source of living water.” And that brings me back to these verses in Jeremiah, where God is likened to a source of living water, as opposed to a cistern which you dig yourself and can get cracked, it's not reliable, not as reliable. I love that.

Joel: And also, a cistern does you no good if you don't have enough rainwater.

Nehemia: Right, and God brings the rain, so wow.

Joel: And the point you mentioned about defenses and the highest hill, so people would say, “Well, how is Jerusalem defendable if it's not on the highest hill?” And the fact is that there are steep valleys on the sides of it. And therefore, even though it's not the highest hill it's not like they had artillery that they could shoot across from the Mount of Olives.

Nehemia: No, but there definitely is a strategic advantage and disadvantage, in that you can go up to Mount Scopus and basically figure out where all the Israelite and Judean forces are laid out within the city, because there's higher hills that you're looking down into the city.

Joel: Absolutely.

Nehemia: But the disadvantage, or the advantage for the defenders is that you've got the steep valleys around it.

Joel: So, you still are protected by natural things. So basically, ancient cities need four things. You need location, meaning you need roads, you need water, you need food, and you need defenses. Jerusalem may not be the greatest at all of these, but it has all of those. But I like to describe it in Hebrew, by the way, for those who speak Hebrew, you can remember them because they all start with the letter mem.

Nehemia: Oh, so tell us in Hebrew.

Joel: Mayim is water…

Nehemia: Water, okay.

Joel: You have mazon is food, mikum is location, and migun is defenses. But there's a fifth mem for Jerusalem.

Nehemia: What's the fifth mem?

Joel: The fifth mem for Jerusalem is Mikdash.

Nehemia: Oh, I love it. What's Mikdash in English, for the viewers?

Joel: Mikdash is Temple, and it comes from the word for “holiness.” And one of the reasons that David makes Jerusalem his capital is because it's been a holy place for the Jews since the time of the binding of Isaac that we mentioned all the way in the beginning of this show.

Nehemia: All the way from the time of Abraham, yeah.

Joel: And so, we've always had this religious, spiritual connection with the Temple Mount. We also believe that it's where the world was created from, and so that's another reason. And I'll give you one last thing.

Nehemia: Is there another mem?

Joel: No, it's not another mem, but there's another reason also…

Nehemia: What’s another reason?

Joel: …and this is practical and pragmatic.

Nehemia: Ma'asee, Hebrew mem.

Joel: Okay, there you go. So basically, before David becomes King, the Israelites had conquered the central mountain range, but Jerusalem remained unconquered. And it was an enclave, a Jebusite enclave surrounded by Israelites living all around. And Saul does not conquer Jerusalem and make it his capital. David goes and conquers it and makes it his capital. And he's doing something that Saul failed to do. Saul was not a bad person, he wasn't a bad King, but he wasn't the most effective of rulers. When he becomes King, he goes back home and he rules from his house.

Nehemia: In the tribe of Benjamin.

Joel: In the tribe of Benjamin, just to the north of Jerusalem. And the Biblical account underscores the sort of democratic appointment of David. It says two or three times that all of the tribes come to David and say, “We want you to be our King.” And so, he wants to do something different. He wants to improve on what Saul did, and he wants to engender unity. So, he chooses a capital, first of all, that had to that point not been conquered and therefore didn't officially belong to any of the tribes. And second of all, it literally sits on the border between the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. It's impossible to find one city that's on the border of all 12 tribes, but at least by being on the border, it's not really belonging to either one. And thus, Jerusalem of King David is the Washington DC of its time.

Nehemia: Because that wasn't part of any state.

Joel: Exactly.

Nehemia: Okay, wow. And especially with the tribe of Benjamin which there must have been a certain amount of animosity, “Wait a minute. We had the King from Benjamin, which was Saul, and now we're going to have a King from a different tribe.” And so, he may have brought them into the fold by saying, “Look, the capital, which has all kinds of advantages, economic and political and social, is going to be on the border between two tribes.” Wow, I love that. Okay, so that's why Jerusalem became so important among the other reasons.

Joel: I believe so, yeah.

Nehemia: Okay, wonderful. This has been amazing. This has been an amazing discussion.

Joel: Thank you, Nehemia, it's been a lot of fun for me, too.

Nehemia: I just want you to repeat what your website is. And I want people who have heard this to know that they can contact you, and you can get the Fun Joel tour. And you could actually take them to these places that you just talked about, and probably a million other places.

Joel: Absolutely.

Nehemia: And so, they can contact you. And I love what you do, that you bring the Bible to life.

Joel: Thank you.

Nehemia: And I actually get people all the time who ask me and say, “Oh, can you take us on a tour?” I'm not a licensed tour guide, but as a group leader I've taken people around Israel, and I really don't do that much anymore. I just don't have time to do it. But people can actually contact you and get this amazing experience of bringing the Bible to life with Fun Joel. So, what's the website?

Joel: Absolutely, so my website again is www.fjisrael.com, Fun Joel's Israel Tours. You can email me from there. My email address directly is Joel@fjisrael.com. Phone number’s on there, easily reachable, and I'd be happy to take anybody on tours all over Israel. Biblical tours, archaeological tours, food tours, all sorts of things.

Nehemia: Wow. And I know we didn't have time to get to this at all, because you were talking about the Tanakh, but you can also do tours for people who are interested in the New Testament as well, right?

Joel: Sure, yeah. One of the things that I've done a lot is explaining Christianity to non-Christians.

Nehemia: Okay, that's interesting.

Joel: I guess you'd call me a non-believer, I'm not a Christian, I'm Jewish.

Nehemia: You're a believer in Judaism, but not in Christianity.

Joel: Exactly, but at the same time I respect Christian beliefs and I find it fascinating. And so, as an outsider to Christianity, I think I have an advantage of being able to explain it better to non-Christians. But when I am guiding Christians, I guide them with the utmost respect and...

Nehemia: And then what you bring that they don't have is the Jewish perspective.

Joel: Yeah.

Nehemia: And I've actually had a lot of Christians who walk up to me and they say...And the way they describe it, obviously, I'm not a Christian. They'll say they've got the personal relationship they have with Jesus, or Yeshua, but then what they don't have is the Jewish cultural background. And so, they're reading these books and it's exactly like what you described. You know, it's like reading about the Valley of Elah in America. And you don't realize, “Oh, here's this hill and that hill,” and actually going to the place and seeing it. And then reading it, you get this whole other perspective. And that's actually something you can provide both for Jews and for non-Jews, is this Jewish perspective of someone who lives in the land, who comes from the land originally, who was an exile, came back to the land. Wonderful. This has been a beautiful discussion. Thanks so much.

Joel: Thank you, Nehemia.

Nehemia: All right, shalom.

Joel: Shalom.

You have been listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon’s Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

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Guest Bio

Joel Haber grew up in New Jersey, lived many years in New York City, moved from there to L.A., and then moved to Israel in March 2009. He spent most of his adult life in the film business, primarily as a screenwriter.  He brings his love of narrative and story to his work as a Tour Guide, and his lively personality has earned him the nickname “Fun Joel.” Fun Joel would love to share his passion for Israel with you by taking you on a tour.

Verses Mentioned:

  • Joost says:

    A (cotton) headcloth is good advice. Wet when it`s hot. My first search result showed the: “original tree bandana”.

  • Lynette Barton says:

    Absolutely loved this interview with “Fun Joel”. I will go to his website! Also I just wondered if the wall mentioned in the interview is the same Wall that ‘Rehab’ lived in? Thanks again for a wonderful teaching! Shalom.

  • Joy Mathew says:

    I wish I could shout in joy ; if ever Yehovah permits me to come to Israel , I hope Yehovah ensure that my tour guide is ” Fun Joel ” . He did really make the scripture come alive or to take shape ; also I hope I would be able to catch up with Nehemiah and Keith : People am indebted to for my learning .


  • Reyes Nava says:

    “Arise, walk about the land through its length and
    breadth; for I will give it to you.”
    Such a delightful invitation by Yehovah to Abraham.

    The best I can do for now is Google Earth street view.
    What a fantastic way to “walk” the streets of Jerusalem,
    and get a realistic 360 degree view of the Western Wall,
    the palm lined streets of Beit Zayit and the beautiful
    Hill country with its hiking trails. You can even see
    up close the threshing floors out in the country side.

    Until Yehovah makes a way to visit in person
    then this will keep me expectantly content.

  • Mike says:

    Absolutely the best Hebrew voices.

  • Linda Sprague says:

    Another amazing program. Hebrew Voices is definitely a part of our education about the Land. Thanks to you both.

  • Best discussion of this type I’ve heard!!!! ? Makes me want to share this with others not so inclined.. Cudos also to you, Fun Joel. If I get to go to Israel before Messiah comes, I will first attempt to contact three. You two are real treasures that I have already discovered in “God’s country”! Blessings and Shalom

  • cecille12 says:

    Thank you Joel and Nehemia for your definition of following God instead of defined by institutions and structures. I am with you there. I love you two dearly. I would love to be under the tour guidance of Joel and of course Nehemia some day in bringing Israel to life and fun! Nehemia, you are great at interviewing and bringing the truth to light and I am grateful to our Great God, YeHoVaH for your gift given in this age.

  • Joe Lesejane says:

    Shalom Nehemia, I really got a lot of value from your discussion with Fun Joel. He really brings the Tanakh alive and someone which should taken very seriously. Define YES to support. Well done Nehemia.

  • Cyndie Simmons says:

    Thank you Nehemia and Joel! Really appreciated and enjoyed this discussion. I have to say, Hebrew Voices just keeps getting better and
    better! (y)
    I love it when the truth of the Holy Scriptures is discussed, especially as pertaining to the archaeological finds that confirm HIS truth! Having the opportunity to tour the Holy land truly does make the Bible come to life, as I know from personal experience! You will never look at your Bible again in the same way! These podcasts really help those who haven’t had an opportunity to experience this for themselves … SO KEEP EM’ COMING, AS THEY ARE PRICELESS PEARLS!

  • LaVonne Menzel says:

    “post-denominational” LOL YES! Tear down the walls! I luv that and it’s what I have been praying for since I came to an understanding that I can talk to JHVH personally. I try to imagine myself in The Land when I read, so thank you for this chapter, Nehemia, and you both are right about it not being the same unless we are there and can walk in it. I am not able to have that choice since I am handicapped and use supplemental oxygen 24/7 so it’s difficult to travel. But I so look forward to walking in The New Land when YHVH makes the new heaven and earth “Rev 21:1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.” Again thank you, Nehemia, for sharing Hebrew Voices with all who love YHVH and may HE continue to bless you mightily. Amen

  • Rick says:

    Another great interview. You make learning fun. I think you are on to something.