Watchman's Teaching Letter #81 January 2005

This is my eighty-first monthly teaching letter and continues my seventh year of publication. I’m sorry that I was unable to have this lesson ready for distribution for my February mailing. In the last two lessons I have been defending Josephus from the cruel charges being lodged against him by unresponsible parties who should know better! With this teaching lesson we’re going to see that archaeology is proving Josephus correct on many of his writings. This is not to imply that Josephus was perfect by any means, for he was a man as we. We will start with the subject of the temple built at Leontopolis in Egypt. As you may be aware, there was also a temple built at Elephantine on the river Nile. Leontopolis is a different temple at a different time. Let’s now pick up the documentation from The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (3rd ed.) by Prentice Hall Press.

“YEHUDIYEH (TELL EL-); LEONTOPOLIS An ancient mound in lower Egypt, 20 miles north of Cairo. The site was excavated at the beginning of this [20th] century by W.F.M. Petrie on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Egypt. The earliest traces of settlement go back to the early period of the Middle Kingdom, but the period of greatest interest is that of the 5th Dynasty, when the site was occupied by the Hyksos, who left a large fortified camp. The site was also inhabited at the time of the New Kingdom (18th Dynasty) and burials of this period have been found. The 20th Dynasty is represented by remains of a temple of Rameses III. There were also tombs from the time of the Late Kingdom. In the Ptolemaic period a new city, Leontopolis, was built on the site. By permission of Ptolemy VI Philometor, the high priest Onias, built a Jewish temple there; hence the Arabic name for the site, which means ‘mound of the Jew’. According to (Josephus, Antiq. xiii, 62–73) this temple was built to the same plan as the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. It went out of use at the time of the war between the Romans and the Jews in ad 66.

The Hyksos camp was surrounded by a huge glacis about 1,500 feet square. The width of this embankment is 80 feet by 140 feet at the top, and 130–200 feet at the base. It is made of sand covered with bricks and plastered. The inside of the camp was about 400 yds square and it is estimated that it could have provided shelter for about 40,000 people. On the east side of the camp there was a sloping ascent paved with bricks, about 180 feet long and fortified by two massive towers. This gangway provided a comfortable entry and a quick exit for chariots ...

“The temple of Onias was built to the northeast of the Hyksos camp, within a strong stone wall strengthened by a brick revetment on its inner side. It was approached by a very long stairway on the east, which led up from the outside, through the wall and the court, to the temple, of which little has remained.

“The cemeteries of Tell el-Yehudiyeh yielded numerous finds from all occupation periods. Of most interest were those of the Hyksos period. In addition to numerous scarabs and bronze weapons a great number of pottery vessels, mostly juglets of a type recognized as typical of the Hyksos and now termed ‘Tell el-Yehudiyeh juglets’, were found. These are black or dark brown and decorated with small dots made with a fine point; they form various patterns and are filled with a white pigment.”

This should begin to give some evidence that there was indeed a temple built at Leontopolis as Josephus witnessed. The following quotation was sent to me, and I believe it was an article from the Biblical Archaeology Review, but I do not remember the date as I lost the article after I had scanned it. I usually like to identify the publication page numbers and date. I apologize, for the moment, and will reveal the exact source when I finally find it. The object here is to compare this writing with the above article by The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (3rd ed.) by Prentice Hall Press. This next article reads as follows:

“Tell el-Yahudiya and the Jewish temple in Egypt. In 162 B.C., Antiochus V (Eupator) of Syria appointed a man named Alkimus as high priest in Jerusalem, although he was not of the priestly family. Alkimus was regarded as a usurper by many pious Jews, and Onias IV, the son of the High Priest Onias III who had earlier been deposed by Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), fled to Egypt with the hope of establishing a center of true worship there. According to Josephus, Onias addressed a letter to the Egyptian ruler, Ptolemy VI (Philometor) and his wife, Cleopatra, requesting permission to build in Egypt a temple similar to that in Jerusalem, with Levites and priests serving as ministrants. The reply was brief and favorable (Josephus, Antiquities, 13:3:1-3).

“‘King Ptolemy and Queen Cleopatra to Onias, greeting. We have read your petition asking that it be permitted you to cleanse the ruined temple at Leontopolis in the nome of Heliopolis, called Bubastis-of-the-Fields. We wonder, therefore, whether it will be pleasing to God that a temple be built in a place so wild and full of sacred animals. But since you say that the prophet Isaiah foretold this long ago [cf. Isa. 19:19], we grant your request if this is to be in accordance with the law, so that we may not seem to have sinned against God in any way’ (Josephus, 13:3:2).

“Josephus tells us that Onias built a temple at Leontopolis ‘similar to that at Jerusalem, but smaller and poorer’ (Josephus, 13:3:3). Although the letters which Josephus records are not accepted as authentic, a Jewish temple is known to have been built in Egypt, and Tell el-Yahudiya is its traditional site.

“The tell, just north of Heliopolis, was excavated in 1887 by E. Naville and Llewellyn Griffin with no significant results, although the excavators were satisfied that they had identified the site of ancient Leontopolis. Flinders Petrie was more successful in his work there in 1906. He discovered the remains of a large building and later observed, ‘The plan of the whole hill is strikingly modelled on that of Jerusalem; the temple had inner and outer courts, like that of Zion, but it was smaller and poorer in size .... The whole site was formed in imitation of the shape of the Temple hill of the Holy City. It was, in short, a New Jerusalem in Egypt.’

“Petrie also discovered remains of a large Hyksos fortified encampment, a mile in circumference, at Tell el-Yahudiya, with a Hyksos cemetery nearby. He considered this as evidence that he had discovered the Hyksos capital city, Avaris; but more recent scholars tend to identify Avaris with Tanis. It is reasonably certain, however, that the Hyksos maintained a stronghold at Tell el-Yahudiya, whatever its name in ancient times.”

For the moment, we will diverge to Herodotus to show archaeology also confirms his writings. The following quotation is taken from The Wycliffe Historical Geography Of Bible Lands by Charles F. Pfeiffer & Howard F. Vos, pages 60-61:

“Tahpanhes. In the eastern Delta, twelve miles north of Tell-el-Mashkuta, the mound known as Tell Defenneh is located on the Pelusiac branch of the Nile. Tell Defenneh is thought to mark the site of ancient Tahpanhes, the Egyptian city to which the Jews of Jeremiah’s day fled in order to escape Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath following the murder of Gedaliah (Jer. 40-41). Jeremiah accompanied the Jewish community which fled to Tahpanhes and prophesied to them:

“Take in your hands large stones, and hide them in the mortar in the pavement which is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace at Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and he will set this throne above these stones which I have hid, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and smite the land of Egypt, giving to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword ...’ ( Jer. 43: 8-11, RSV).

“Flinders Petrie arrived at Tell Defenneh in the spring of 1886 and learned that the largest mound in the area bore the name Qasr Bint el-Yahudi, ‘The Palace of the Jew’s Daughter.’ Remembering the biblical reference to the Jewish settlement at Tahpanhes (Daphnae), Petrie’s interest in the site quickened. In excavating the mound, he came upon the entrance to an ancient fort with a door and a stairway. Parallel to the stairway, and projecting from the main tower, was a large brick platform suitable for the loading and unloading of baggage trains and other work connected with the garrison. Its shape was such that Jeremiah could have built into it such witness stones as the Scripture mentions (Jer. 43:9). At a later time Nebuchadnezzar may well have pitched his royal tent on this very spot in front of the frontier stronghold which he had captured.

“The Histories of Herodotus contain two references to Daphnae, the Greek form of the biblical Tahpanhes. The first reads:

“In the reign of King Psammetichus, garrisons were stationed at Elephantine against the Ethiopians, and another at the Pelusiac Daphnae against the Arabians and Syrians (Herodotus, History, 2. 30).

“It is known that Psammetichus made use of Ionians and Carians in his garrison near the sea, a little below the city of Bubastis, on that which is called the Pelusiac mouth of the Nile ... these were the first people of a different language who settled in Egypt (Herodotus, History, 2. 154).

“A second reference in Herodotus states that a Pharaoh named Sesostris was nearly burned alive at Daphnae through his brother’s treachery. Two of the Pharaoh’s six sons made a living bridge over the flames and the rest of the family escaped, although the two were burned to death. (Herodotus 2. 107)

“Excavations proved that Herodotus was correct in his statement concerning a garrison at Daphnae in the days of Psammetichus. Ruins of the fortress indicate that it contained a superstructure with living quarters for the garrison. It rose to a height of forty feet and provided an unobstructed view of the plain for miles around. The fortification was surrounded by a wall forty feet thick, and its foundation deposit mentions the name of Psammetichus.

“The heroic tale allegedly from the time of Sesostris is probably to be dismissed as fiction. The identity of Sesostris is not at all certain. There are, however, traces of a building earlier than that of Psammetichus at Daphnae. Bricks discovered there are traceable to the Ramesside period, and earlier attempts to identify Sesostris with Ramses II are not historically improbable although most recent scholars identify him with Senwosret III of the Twelfth Dynasty.

“The fact that Greeks settled at Daphnae found abundant attestation in Petrie’s excavations, for pottery shows a curious combination of Greek and Egyptian motifs. The Greek influences at Daphnae ended, however, in 564 B.C. when Ahmose II decreed that Naucratis (Naukratis), in the western Delta should be the sole Greek treaty port.”

Here you see the evidence mounting not only in favor of Josephus but also for Herodotus, which we also spent much time defending. The book Archæology And The Bible ©1916 by George A. Barton, pages 38-39 gives the following:

The Jewish Temple at Leontopolis. Josephus tells us twice, once in his Antiquities of the Jews, Book 23 chapter 3, and again in his Wars of the Jews), Book 7, chapter 10, that, when Jonathan, the Maccabee, was made high priest of the Jews, about 153 B.C., Onias, the son of Onias III, the deposed high priest, went to Egypt and obtained a grant of land and permission to build a Jewish temple. This land was in the region of the city of Bubastis, the nome where the cat goddess was sacred, and was accordingly called by the Greeks Leontopolis. There were at this time about as many Jews in Egypt as in Palestine, and doubtless Ptolemy VII thought to keep them more loyal by granting them a temple.      He gave to Onias the revenues of a considerable territory for the support of the temple. Josephus tells us that Onias urged as a reason for the construction of this temple that it would be in fulfilment of the prophecy in Isa. 19:19-22. Josephus goes on to say that this temple was built as an exact reproduction of the temple at Jerusalem and that it continued to exist as a place of worship until after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, when troubles caused by Jewish zealots led the Roman government to close the temple at Leontopolis and discontinue its worship ...

“The site of this temple was at Tell el-Yehudiyeh, the ‘Tell of the Jewess,’ about 20 miles north of Cairo. This tell was excavated by Petrie in 1905-1906. He found there remains of the Jewish temple, which fully confirm the statements of Josephus. Not only the temple, but the form of the Jewish settlement, was made as far as possible a replica of the city of Jerusalem. One of the most interesting discoveries was a series of ovens for the roasting of Paschal lambs. Others of a similar character were found higher up in the mound, but this first series was most numerous. Petrie infers that the temple was dedicated by a great Passover Feast, to which Jews came in large numbers from throughout Egypt ...”




“17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. 18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.”

“2. Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure against him.”


MATT. 26:3-4 & JOHN 11:48-50 LINK WITH JOSEPHUS 18:2:1 & 4:3


Matthew 26:3-4 (KJV): “3 Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him.”

John 11:48-50 (KJV): “48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. 49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, 50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.”

Josephus’ Antiquities 18:2:1: “When Cyrenius had now disposed of Archelaus’s money, and when the taxings were come to a conclusion, which were made in the thirty-seventh year of Caesar’s victory over Antony at Actium, he deprived Joazar of the high priesthood, which dignity had been conferred on him by the multitude, and he appointed Ananus, the son of Seth, to be high priest ...”

Josephus’ Antiquities 18:4:3: “... Besides which, he [Vitellius] also deprived Joseph, who was called Caiphas, of the high priesthood, and appointed Jonathan, the son of Ananus, the former high priest, to succeed him ...”




Acts 12:20-23: “And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country. 21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. 22 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voifont-size: 14.5pt; line-height: 50%; letter-spacing: .35ptce of a god, and not of a man. 23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.”

Josephus’ Antiquities 19:8:2: “Now, when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Cesarea, which was formerly called Strato’s Tower; and there he exhibited shows in honour of Cæsar, upon his being informed that there was a certain festival celebrated to make vows for his safety. At which festival, a great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him: and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another (though not for his good), that he was a god: and they added,– ‘Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.’ Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But, as he presently afterwards looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said,– ‘I whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.’ When he had said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace; and the rumour went abroad everywhere, that he would certainly die in a little time. But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king’s recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign; for he reigned four years under Caius Cæsar ...”




Luke 3:1 reads: “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene ...”

We would know little about “the region of Trachonitis” if it were not for Josephus! The parallel to this passage in Josephus is Antiquities 17:8:1: “And now Herod altered his testament upon the alteration of his mind; for he appointed Antipas, to whom he had before left the kingdom, to be tetrarch of Galilee and Berea, and granted the kingdom to Archelaus. He also gave Gaulonitis, and Trachonitis, and Paneas to Philip, who was his son, but own brother to Archelaus, by the name of a Tetrarchy; and bequeathed Jamnia, and Ashdod, and Phasaelis, to Salome his sister, with five hundred thousand [drachmae] of silver that was coined.”

The “Philip” spoken of in these two passages is the same person. There are seven different personages by the name of “Philip” in Scripture, so we have to know which Philip it is talking about! For a better understanding of why it is essential to use Josephus for background testimony, I will quote from The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, volume K-Q, page 785:

“Philip the tetrarch, son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem. From 4 B.C. to 34 A.D., Philip was tetrarch of the sparsely populated area stretching north and east from the Sea of Galilee toward Damascus. The appointment was made by the Emperor Augustus in accordance with the latest will of Herod the Great. The remaining portions of Herod’s kingdom fell to Philip’s half brothers Archelaus and Herod Antipas ... According to Josephus (Antiq. 17:8:1; 11:4), Philip’s tetrarchy included Batanea, Trachonitis, Auranitis, Gaulanitis, and Panias. Luke 3:1 indicates that Ituraea was also included. Effective control of these regions was essential to the Roman state, because they formed a first line of defense against the Nabateans and the Parthians and because strategic lanes of commerce and communication were located here. The population of the area was largely non-Jewish [chiefly Greeks & Syrians]. In this difficult situation Philip not only fulfilled his responsibilities to Rome but ruled with such justice and benevolence that he gained the respect and affection of his subjects (Jos. Antiq. 18:4:6.) His capital was located at Beth-saida, on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee. He transformed the village into a city and renamed it Julias in honor of the daughter of Augustus. He also built the pagan city Caesarea Philippi. After his death (A.D. 34) his tetrarchy became part of the Roman province Syria. Later it was included in the kingdom of Herod Agrippa I (37-44).

Though once mentioned in Scripture, Josephus cites the topic of “Trachonitis” twenty-four times at: Wars 1:20:4; Wars 3:10:7; Wars 2:11:5; Antiq. 20:7:1; Antiq. 16:4:6; Antiq. 17:2:1; Antiq. 16:9:1; Antiq. 16:9:2; Life 23; Wars 3:3:5; Wars 2:17:4; Antiq. 15:10:1; Antiq. 18:4:6; Antiq. 1:6:4; Wars 1:33:8; Antiq. 15:10:3; Wars 2:6:3; Antiq. 16:9:3; Antiq. 17:8:1; Wars 2:12:8; Antiq. 13:16:5; Antiq. 18:5:4; Antiq. 17:11:4; Antiq. 16:10:8. Philo also speaks of Trachonitis, but his writings, while helpful, do not measure up to those of Josephus. More importantly, the historical method which Luke employed, which was something that set him apart from the other gospel writers, and how because of Luke’s methods, his gospel may then be corroborated not only with archaeology, but also with the testimony of Josephus.




We will start by quoting Acts 24:24-26: “24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. 25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee. 26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him”.

You will notice the two main characters we are dealing with, other than Paul, are Felix and Drusilla. Let’s next check with Josephus’ Antiquities 20:7:1-2:

“... And when Agrippa had received these countries as the gift of Caesar, he gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus, king of Emesa, upon his consent to be circumcised; for Epiphanes, the son of king Antiochus, had refused to marry her, because after he had promised her father formerly to come over to the Jewish religion, he would not now perform that promise. He also gave Mariamne in marriage to Archelaus, the son of Helcias, to whom she had formerly been betrothed by Agrippa her father; from which marriage was derived a daughter, whose name was Bernice.

“2. But for the marriage of Drusilla with Azizus, it was in no long time afterward dissolved, upon the following occasion:– While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla, and fell in love with her; for she did indeed exceed all other women in beauty, and he sent to her a person whose name was Simon, one of his friends; a Jew he was, and by birth a Cypriot, and one who pretended to be a magician; and endeavored to persuade her to forsake her present husband, and marry him; and promised, that if she would not refuse him, he would make her a happy woman. Accordingly she acted ill, and because she was desirous to avoid her sister Bernice’s envy, for she was very ill treated by her on account of her beauty, was prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry Felix; and when he had had a son by her, he named him Agrippa. But after what manner that young man, with his wife, perished at the conflagration of the mountain Vesuvius,in the days of Titus Caesar ...”

Let’s now examine the last part of Tacitus’ Histories 5. 9: “... But when the Jews were ordered by Caligula to set up his statue in the temple, they preferred the alternative of war. The death of the Emperor put an end to the disturbance. The kings were either dead, or reduced to insignificance, when Claudius entrusted the province of Judaea to the Roman Knights or to his own freedmen, one of whom, Antonius Felix, indulging in every kind of barbarity and lust, exercised the power of king in the spirit of a slave. He had married Drusilla, the granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra, and so was the grandson-in-law, as Claudius was the grandson, of Antony.”

It should starting to be apparent that if we don’t have this Josephus’ background evidence, we can hardly understand our New Testament! Without such information one can consider how much of a Bible student they are not, regardless of how many times they have read their Bible through! It is beyond human comprehension why anyone would simply flush such valuable evidence down the toilet! Yet they do!

Yes, there was a temple at Leontopolis in Egypt! Yes, Josephus gives us evidence for that which archaeologists have verified! Yes, it was built after the plan of Solomon’s Temple! Yes, though inferior in size it was copied after the temple at Jerusalem! And No, the temple at Leontopolis did not fulfill Isaiah 19:19-22! Yes, Mark 6:17-18 connects with Antiquities 18:5:2! Yes, Matthew 26:3-4 & John 11:48-50 link with Antiquities 18:2:1 & 4:3! Yes, Acts 12:20-23 parallels with Antiquities 19:8:2! Yes, without Josephus, Luke 3:1 would be obscure! Yes, Acts 24:24-26, Josephus and Tacitus work in harmony!

Not only this, but Josephus presents much informative data concerning Annas and Caiaphas, who were responsible for the premeditated murder of Yahweh in the flesh! It is of the highest degree of irresponsibility to make such derogatory charges against such momentous testimony. It’s tantamount to depriving our children of the history of their heritage as is being done by the educational system today! And we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on this topic!

And if you haven’t purchased your copy of Josephus yet, I highly recommend the translation by William Whiston. But maybe you would rather be uninformed (willingly ignorant)!