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Unlock the BibleKeys to Exploring the Culture and Times
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ABIB [A bibb] (sprouting or budding)—one of the months of the Hebrew calendar (corresponding to our March–April). On the 15th of this month, the people of Israel left Egypt. Abib was made the first month of the year in commemoration of the Exodus (Ex. 23:15; Deut. 16:1). The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were celebrated during the month of Abib. After the captivity, the month was called Nisan (Neh. 2:1; Esth. 3:7).
ABLUTION—the ceremonial washing of one's body, vessels, and clothing for the purpose of religious purification. This word is not found in the NKJV, but it occurs in Hebrews 6:2 and 9:10 in the RSV. In both places the Greek word is baptismos (literally, "dipping"), which can be translated "washings" (Heb. 9:10). Ablutions have nothing to do with washing one's body for sanitary or hygienic purposes. Rather, these were performed in order to remove ritual defilement. Some of the causes of ritual uncleanness in Bible times were bloodshed (Lev. 17), childbirth (Lev. 12), sexual intercourse (Lev. 18), leprosy (Lev. 12), menstruation (Lev. 15), and contact with dead bodies (Num. 19). At Mount Sinai, the Israelites were told to wash (literally, "trample") their clothes in preparation for worship (Ex. 19:10, 14). Similarly, the Levites as well as Aaron and his sons were prepared for service by washing their clothes and their bodies (Ex. 12–13). By New Testament times, ceremonial washings became almost an end in themselves. The Pharisees were preoccupied with ritual purifications (Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:4). Jesus exhorted the scribes and Pharisees to "cleanse the inside of the cup and dish"—that is, cleanse their hearts and spirits—and not just wash the outside by religious rituals. Moral filth cannot be washed away with physical cleansing agents (Jer. 2:22; Is. 1:16). Jesus Christ is to be praised, for He "loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1:5; 7:14).
ACCO [ACK coe]—a city of Canaan on the Mediterranean coast about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Tyre and about 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of Mount Carmel. Situated on the north shore of a broad bay, Acco was at the entrance to the rich, fertile plain of Jezreel. Although Acco was located in the portion of land assigned to the tribe of Asher, the Hebrews were never able to drive out the original Canaanite inhabitants (Judg. 1:31; Accho, KJV).
Acco was mentioned in the Amarna letters of the 14th century B.C. In the Hellenistic period the name was changed to Ptolemais. It came under Roman domination in 65 B.C. Acco is mentioned only once in the New Testament and then as Ptolemais (Acts 21:7), the name coming from Ptolemy, the king of Egypt who rebuilt the city. Sailing from Tyre to Caesarea at the end of his third missionary journey, the apostle Paul docked at Ptolemais and spent the day with his fellow Christians while his ship was anchored in the harbor.
During the Crusades, Ptolemais recaptured some of its former prominence under the name Acre, by which name it is still known today. Its importance has once again waned, being overshadowed by the city of Haifa, which lies directly across the bay. The apostle Paul visited Acco after he returned from his third missionary journey (Acts 21:7).
ACROPOLIS [uh CROP oh lis] (topmost city)—an elevated, fortified part of an ancient Greek city, such as Athens, Philippi, and Corinth. The Acropolis of Athens, the most famous acropolis of all ancient cities, was located on a hill about 500 feet high. It was adorned with stunning architectural works. Among these works was the Parthenon, a magnificent temple with 8 Doric columns in front and rear and 17 along each side.
ADRIATIC [a drih AT ick]—a name for the central part of the Mediterranean Sea south of Italy. It is mentioned in Luke's account of Paul's voyage to Rome (Acts 27:27). Paul's courage in the midst of this terrible storm is an inspiration: "Do not be afraid ... for I believe God" (Acts 27:24–25). The Greek geographer Strabo (63 B.C.?–A.D. 24?) identified the Adriatic as the Gulf of Adria, pointing out that the name comes from the old Etruscan city of Atria. The KJV translates as Adria.
AGE—an aeon; a specified period of time during which certain related events come to pass. As used in the New Testament, age generally refers to the present era, as opposed to the future age. According to the apostle Paul, Satan is "the god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4). But the age to come will belong to Jesus Christ and His rule of justice and righteousness (Heb. 6:5).
ALEXANDRIA [eh leg ZAN drih uh]—the capital of Egypt during the Greek and Roman periods. Situated on the Mediterranean Sea at the western edge of the Nile delta, the city was established by Alexander the Great when he conquered Egypt in 331 B.C. After Alexander's death, the capital of Egypt was moved from Memphis to Alexandria, and it became one of the most significant cities of the Greek Empire. The population of Alexandria included native Egyptians, learned Greeks, and many Jews. The commercial strength of the city was aided by the famous towering lighthouse (one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world) that guided ships into port. Paul himself sailed in an Alexandrian ship on his way to Rome (Acts 27:6; 28:11).
As a cultural center, Alexandria had a large museum and a library that attracted many scholars and writers. These learned people carried out research to establish accurate versions of the important Greek myths and epics as well as scientific investigations in astronomy, botany, and mathematics. One of the results of these interests was the commissioning of 70 (or 72) Jewish scholars to translate the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek. The translation they produced is known as the Septuagint.
Philo and other learned Jews in Alexandria wrote many books in defense of the Jewish faith to show that their beliefs were consistent with Greek philosophical thinking. This sometimes resulted in unusual methods of interpretation because the literal understanding of Scripture often was mixed with fanciful explanations—a type of interpretation known as allegory. A Christian school of thought that used the allegorical method grew up in Alexandria, led by such great church fathers as Clement and Origen.
Apollos, a believer from Alexandria, who worked with the church at Corinth after it was founded by the apostle Paul, may have attended one of these early schools. The book of Acts describes Apollos as one who was well versed in the Scriptures (Acts 18:24). Because the book of Hebrews reflects thinking that is similar to writings from Alexandria, some scholars believe Apollos may have written the book.
The early church father Eusebius recorded the tradition that John Mark was one of the first missionaries who brought the message of Christ to the people of Alexandria. Years earlier, prominent Jews from Alexandria who gathered in Jerusalem strongly opposed Stephen's preaching about Christ (Acts 6:9).
Of the many Alexandrias that Alexander the Great founded and named after himself, the one in Egypt outshines them all. It remains a thriving city to this day.
AMALEKITES [AM uh leck ites]—an ancient wandering tribe descended from Esau's grandson Amalek (Gen. 36:12, 16; 1 Chr. 1:36). The main territory of the Amalekites was in the Sinai peninsula and in the Negev, the southern part of present-day Israel. But they roamed widely throughout the territory later settled by the people of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament period the Amalekites were bitter foes of the Israelites.
The Amalekites are first mentioned in the time of Abraham, when a group of kings under the leadership of Chedorlaomer defeated Amalek (Gen. 14:7). At the time of Israel's journey through the wilderness, the Amalekites lived in the southern part of the land promised to Israel. The Amalekites attacked the Israelites, but Joshua later defeated them in a battle at Rephidim (Ex. 17:8–16). Because of their treacherous attacks, Moses declared that God would continually wage war against them (Ex. 17:14–16).
During the period of the judges, the Amalekites joined forces with the Ammonites and Eglon, king of Moab, to attack and capture Jericho (Judg. 3:13). Along with the Midianites and the people of the East, they were defeated in the Valley of Jezreel by Gideon's army (Judg. 6:3, 33; 7:12–22). Eventually the Amalekites gained a mountain in the land of Ephraim. King Saul of Israel won this area back and then chased the Amalekites from the land (1 Sam. 14:48; 15:1–9). But Saul did not destroy the rich booty of livestock as God commanded, and so he was rebuked by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 15:10–33).
The Amalekites continued to raid Israel. David attacked and defeated them (1 Sam. 27:8–10), but they countered by raiding Ziklag and carrying off two of David's wives. He pursued and defeated them (1 Sam. 30:1–31), executing one of them for claiming to have killed Saul in battle (2 Sam. 1:1–16).
In the days of Hezekiah, 500 men of the tribe of Simeon defeated the Amalekites. Consequently, the Simeonites took their land and the Amalekites became a dispossessed people (1 Chr. 4:39–43).
AMMONITES [AM muhn ites]—a nomadic race descended from Ben-Ammi, Lot's son, who became enemies of the people of Israel during their later history. During the days of the Exodus, the Israelites were instructed by God not to associate with the Ammonites (Deut. 23:3). No reason is given in the Bible for such hostility, but the rift between the two peoples continued across several centuries.
In the days of the judges, Eglon, king of Moab, enlisted the aid of the Ammonites in taking Jericho from the Hebrew people (Judg. 3:13). In Saul's time, Nahash, the Ammonite king, attacked Jabesh Gilead. Saul responded to the call for help and saved the people of Jabesh Gilead from being captured by Nahash (1 Sam. 11:1–11).
Later in the history of the Israelites, Ammonites were among the armies allied against King Jehoshaphat; God caused confusion among them, and they destroyed themselves (2 Chr. 20:1–23). The prophets of the Old Testament often pronounced God's judgment against the Ammonites (Jer. 9:26; Amos 1:13–15). Archaeological evidence suggests that Ammonite civilization continued from about 1200 B.C. to 600 B.C.
AMORITES [AM oh rites] (Westerners)—the inhabitants of the land west of the Euphrates River, which included Canaan, Phoenicia, and Syria. The Amorites were one of the major tribes, or national groups, living in Canaan. The Old Testament frequently uses "Amorites" as a synonym for Canaanites in general. The book of Genesis cites Canaan as the ancestor of the Amorites (Gen. 10:16).
Shortly before 2000 B.C., the Amorites lived in the wilderness regions of what today is western Saudi Arabia and southern Syria. In the court records of Accad and Sumer they were known as barbarians, or uncivilized people. Beginning about 2000 B.C., Amorites migrated eastward to Babylonia in large numbers. There they captured major cities and regions from the native Mesopotamians. "Abram" is an Amorite name, and Abraham himself may have been an Amorite.
Throughout Old Testament times, other Amorites remained in Syria, Phoenicia, and the desert regions to the south (Josh. 13:4). A significant number, however, settled in the land of Canaan itself, eventually occupying large areas both east and west of the Jordan River (Judg. 11:19–22). These Amorites spoke a dialect that was closely related to Canaanite and Hebrew. Occasionally, the Amorites were identified as a Canaanite tribe (Gen. 10:16). At other times they were called the people of Canaan (Deut. 1:27).
When Israel invaded Canaan under Joshua, the first Israelite victories came against the Amorite kings Sihon and Og, who ruled much of the promised land east of the Jordan River (Josh. 12:1–6). Various cities west of the Jordan—Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon—also were called "Amorite" cities (Josh. 10:5), even though Jerusalem was also known as a Jebusite city.
While conquering Canaan, the Israelites frequently fought with the Amorites. After the Israelites prevailed, the Amorites who had not been killed remained in Canaan and became servants to the Israelites (1 Kin. 9:20–21).
Much of our knowledge about the Amorites and their culture comes from clay tablets discovered at Mari, a major Amorite city situated on the Euphrates River in western Mesopotamia.
ANTEDILUVIANS—the people who lived before the Flood. They possessed some skills that compare with modern technology. For example, Cain built cities (Gen. 4:17), Jubal was a musician (Gen. 4:21), and Tubal-Cain was an "instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron" (Gen. 4:22). Such crafts imply the skills to mine, smelt, and purify copper and iron. That Noah could construct his huge ark is witness to the engineering skills and tools that were available. The antediluvians also lived long lives (Gen. 5:5–31).
Before the Flood, sin was rampant. Life was marked by disobedience, murder, and immorality: "The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence" (Gen. 6:11). Humanity's spiritual condition was appalling.
Both Noah and Enoch preached to the antediluvians (2 Pet. 2:5; Jude 14–15). Their preaching, however, was not heeded, and the sinful world was destroyed by the Flood. Noah was the only righteous man whom God could find on the entire earth at the time: "Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:9).
In the New Testament, Jesus compared the antediluvians—who were "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage"—to the people who will be living in the end times (Matt. 24:37–41). His words point to the need for watchfulness, for "as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man" (Luke 17:26).
ANTONIA, TOWER OF [an TONE ih ah]—a fortress-palace rebuilt by Herod the Great and situated at the northwest corner of the temple area. Herod named the rebuilt tower after his friend, Mark Antony. The fortress was rectangular in shape, measuring about 165 meters (490 feet) by 87 meters (260 feet), with walls about 19 meters (60 feet) high. Each corner had a high tower, three of which were 24 meters (75 feet) high. The tower in the northwest corner, which overlooked the temple area, however, was about 32 meters (100 feet) high. Stairs connected the Antonia with the temple area (see Acts 21:35, 40). Soldiers from the Antonia ("the barracks") rescued the apostle Paul from enraged crowds on several occasions (Acts 21:27–36; 22:24; 23:10). Paul was held in the fortress in protective custody until a military escort took him to Caesarea (Acts 23:12–24, 31–35).
APOSTOLIC AGE—that period of church history when the apostles were alive, beginning with the Day of Pentecost (about A.D. 30) and ending near the conclusion of the first century (about A.D. 100) with the death of the apostle John. During the apostolic age, all the books of the New Testament were written, including the four Gospels, the book of Acts, the letters of Paul, the general letters, and the book of Revelation.
APOSTOLIC COUNCIL—the assembly of apostles and elders of the New Testament church in Jerusalem (a.d. 50). This council considered the question of whether Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep certain other laws of the Jewish faith in order to be members of the church (Acts 15). This assembly decided that a Gentile does not first have to become a Jew in order to be a Christian.
AQUEDUCT—a channel for transporting water from a remote source to a city. Israel's climate provides abundant rainfall in the winter months, but there is seldom any rain from May to October. This, along with the scarcity of good water supplies, made it necessary to build artificial storage areas to catch the winter rains. Elaborate systems of stone and masonry aqueducts and storage pools were sometimes constructed to bring water from the hill country to the cities and larger towns.
The best-known biblical accounts of the building of an aqueduct occur in 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30. King Hezekiah of Judah had a tunnel dug under the city of Jerusalem to bring water from the spring outside the city to the Siloam reservoir inside the city wall. Across part of the course the workmen cut a tunnel through solid rock to complete the aqueduct. "Hezekiah's Tunnel" is still a major tourist attraction in Jerusalem.
Excerpted from Unlock the Bible Copyright © 2012 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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