The #weekwithoutcoffee and the #warongeorge

GAwwcThis last week I’ve been in Atlanta at the annual conference for the Society of Biblical Literature. And since Australia has some of the best coffee on the planet (for example, just 50 metres from my office is my ‘coffice’—Handcraft Specialty Coffees), it’s always hard going to America, where they don’t seem to have discovered coffee yet. It’s like most people in America are caught in a kind of Matrix, and very few people know that it’s all an illusion.

And so I had a #weekwithoutcoffee.

For some perverse reason, this provoked people around the world into a #warongeorge (I’m blaming Sam Freney). Suddenly, my Facebook timeline was flooded with pictures of beautiful, lovely, delicate, smooth coffees (real coffees!), while I battled through with Christmas-laced Starbucks.

I’m now back home in Sydney, and the ordeal has come to an end.

Now of course it was all in good fun, and I must say that I had plenty of laughs. And so, it seems, did many others.

So here’s the situation: I was away from my home and family, suffering without coffee, and forced to have something when I really would have preferred something else that I really liked. And I did it because I was seeking to engage further in biblical studies.

In the scheme of things, though, my suffering over the last week was meagre when you compare it to:

  • Syrians and Iraqis who are being forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives, often being separated from loved ones, or having them violently torn from their embrace, and with little hope of ever returning home;
  • people who suffer from Prader Willi Syndrome (PWS) who, despite being able to eat and drink certain things, are neurologically unable to feel ‘full’, and instead feel constant hunger, meaning they would desperately love to eat or drink what they really crave (some of my best friends have children with PWS);
  • students who, for financial reasons, have to leave family behind while they go to another city or country in order to further their studies in Bible and theology, before eventually returning home to make a difference to their communities (many of the students I have the privilege of teaching at George Whitefield College in Cape Town are in this very situation).

So here’s the deal:

If you either participated or enjoyed (!) the #weekwithoutcoffee and the #warongeorge, I would dearly love you to support one of the following causes by making a donation:

  1. The Archbishop’s Syrian Refugee Appeal (Anglicare)
  2. The Prader Willi Syndrome Association of NSW
  3. George Whitefield College in Cape Town, South Africa*

You can pick one of the three, or all of the three. The amount you donate is totally up to you. You might, for example, like to donate a week’s worth of your coffee budget (or more!). But any amount would be fantastic.

GAwwcoverThen, if you do support one of these causes (or even if you don’t, actually), I want you to post a picture of a cup of coffee on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #makethecoffeecount and a link to this webpage (, so that others can participate too. It would be great to drum up some good support for these causes.
So please join me and let’s make my #weekwithoutcoffee and the #warongeorge actually count for something.


* Donation is made in South African Rand (ZAR).
AUD $1 = approx. ZAR 10.
US    $1 = approx. ZAR 14

anglicare7e234b_715fcd5fd1a44baa9aeef6ab63717f59  GWClogo


Antiochus IV’s Acra Fortress in Jerusalem Has Purportedly Been Found

History has remembered the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 BC) as one of the greatest villains of antiquity. In 167 BC, he outlawed Judaism, desecrated the Jerusalem temple by sacrificing swine on its altar, and set up an image of himself in the guise of Zeus in its courts. His persecution was the culmination of the pressure that Hellenism was exerting over Judea at the time. This pushed conservative Jews to breaking point, and sparked the Maccabean Revolt. Under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish nation successfully overthrew Seleucid sovereignty and established a Jewish commonwealth that lasted a century until the arrival of Rome’s celebrity general, Pompey (63 BC).

A coin (tetradrachm) of Antiochus IV minted in Acco-Ptolemais (c. 167 BC)

As part of his program to control Judea and provide a better launching platform for operations against Ptolemaic Egypt, Antiochus constructed a fortress in Jerusalem. This fortress was known as the ‘Acra’, from the Greek word ἄκρα (akra), meaning ‘citadel’ or ‘summit’. The term is seen in the word ‘Acropolis’, which means ‘fortified city’ or ‘city on the summit’. 1 Maccabees 1.33–36 gives us this account of Antiochus’ construction of the Jerusalem Acra:

Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position; they stored up arms and food, and collecting the spoils of Jerusalem they stored them there, and became a great menace, for the citadel became an ambush against the sanctuary, an evil adversary of Israel at all times.

The Acra, then, housed a garrison of Seleucid Greek soldiers, and their cache of weapons. It was approximately 250 x 60 m in area, and towered tall enough to provide a vantage point for all activities being conducted in the Jewish temple. Understandably, it was viewed by conservative Jews as a symbol of oppression.

The exact location of Antiochus’ Acra has been a subject of debate. If it afforded a good view into the temple courts, it would seem to have been located either to the immediate north or west of the temple. Yet nothing has been forthcoming in excavations and surveys.

But now, it seems, the riddle has been solved.

Archaeologists excavating in the Giv’ati Car Park in the City of David (just south of the Old City of Jerusalem) have uncovered what they believe to be the remains of the Acra fortress. While the ruins have been exposed for some time now, archaeologists have only recently been able to understand their configuration properly. They are now quite confident that they have indeed located the Acra. Furthermore, this makes complete sense of the reference in 1 Maccabees to its location in the ‘City of David’.

Excavations at the Giv’ati Car Park, Jerusalem—the location of the Acra.

The surprising thing about this is that the Acra was located on ground that was a good deal lower than the Temple Mount. Yet, we must realise that the Temple Mount in the second century BC was lower than its current level. The Second Temple was renovated on a monumental scale by Herod the Great (beginning in 19 BC), and he built the massive retaining walls that achieved the levels we can observe today. But before Herod’s renovation, the temple was most likely sitting at a lower altitude (albeit on the same spot). In any case, the Acra was located at a lower altitude. Therefore, it must have been quite an imposing tower to provide the garrison with its vantage point into the temple complex.

The Acra is a very significant find, as it dominated the landscape of Jerusalem at a critical time of its ancient history. It will be interesting to see if archaeologists can determine whether construction of the Acra in 167 BC compromised previous levels of occupation (‘strata’) from earlier historical periods.

What eventually happened to the Acra?

Judas Maccabeus was able to take Jerusalem and besieged the Acra in the course of his campaign. Yet the garrison managed to hold out for quite some time. With the Greco-Syrian soldiers watching on, Judas rededicated the temple in December 164 BC (or January 163 BC, depending on calendrical calculations). This was the origin of the festival of Hanukkah. Judas and his successors, his brothers Jonathan and Simon, managed to fortify Jerusalem effectively against the garrison, eventually winning complete freedom for the Jewish nation. Simon besieged the garrison and starved them out in 142 BC. Josephus tells us what Simon then did with the Acra in Antiquities 13.6.7:

He… cast it down to the ground, that it might not be any more a place of refuge to their enemies, when they took it, to do them a mischief, as it had been till now. And when he had done this, he thought it their best way, and most for their advantage, to level the very mountain itself upon which the citadel happened to stand, that so the temple might be higher than it. And, indeed, when he had called the multitude to an assembly, he persuaded them to have it so demolished… so they all set themselves to the work, and levelled the mountain, and in that work spent both day and night without any intermission, which cost them three whole years before it was removed, and brought to an entire level with the plain of the rest of the city. After which the temple was the highest of all the buildings, now that the citadel, as well as the mountain whereon it stood, were demolished.

Here’s a news clip with some good visuals of the excavations.

Here is Israeli archaeologist, Doron Ben Ami, speaking about the discovery of the Acra:

You can also read further articles on the discovery by clicking the following links:

Aerial view of Jerusalem today. The Givati Car Park, where the Acra was discovered, is located in the very centre of the picture.

Prophets and Prediction

My friend, Tim Bulkeley, has written a brief but punchy and accurate blog post about prophets and prediction. In my opinion, he hits the nail on the head. Read it! Consider it!

If you don’t, well… you’ve been warned!

You’ll find the blog post here:

Prophets and prediction: when conservatism and Bible clash | Sansblogue.

Philistines from the North?

Recently, people have been asking Prof. Aren Maeir, excavator at the ancient site of Gath (Tell es-Safi), about a news article that claims the Philistines originated in southern Turkey. His answer: No, they didn’t.

Read the longer (but still brief) answer here:

Philistines from the North? | The Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath Official (and Unofficial) Weblog.

Doug Moo on Bible Translation

The NIV (New International Version of the Bible) turns 50 this year. To mark the occasion, Zondervan have released a new Study Bible edition of the latest NIV (2011). By all reports, this seems to be quite a significant resource to Christian readers of the Bible.

There’s quite a lot of thought that goes into a Bible translation for such a wide audience as English readers around the world. At the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Doug Moo, one of the current movers and shakers in the NIV translation team, delivered a paper titled “We Still Don’t Get It: Evangelicals and Bible Translation Fifty Years After James Barr”. Have a listen to his address in the clip below. And underneath that is a link to some other related resources.

Ancient Palace Discovered Near Sparta

Archaeologists digging in near Xirokambi (not fare from Amykles, ancient Amyclae), south of Sparta, have discovered the remains of a ten-room Mycenaean palace. Indications are that it dates all the way back to the 17th–16th centuries BC. Plenty of inscriptions in Linear B script were also found amongst the cache of artefacts.

This is an exciting find that will help us piece together a little more of the early history of the Greek peninsula.

The full story and some great pics are found at The Pappas Post.

You can also check out the website of the Amykles Research Project.

Excavation site at Amykles

Ken Penner on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Ken Penner talks about his recent research on Qumranic Hebrew—that very specific type of Hebrew that sits between the various styles of Biblical Hebrew and later Mishnaic Hebrew. This is one for the die hard Hebrew nerds.

The full interview can be found here:

Brian W. Davidson Interviews Ken Penner on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls — CACS.