The Abana and the Pharpar

The Abana and the Pharpar have long been a subject of discussion. They are only mentioned in a single place in the Bible, 2 Kings 5:12, and have, conversely, been the subjects of much speculation. The verse reads as thus: “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.” This is in a context when an Aramean named Naaman, wishing to be cured of leprosy, complains about the seemingly absurd request of Elisha to be cleansed in the Jordan. Now, as we know, no river of Damascus has a discharge anything near to that of the Jordan. The goodness of those rivers might, therefore, stem from, as advocated by The Message, the rivers were cleaner than all those of Israel, or, as advocated by John MacGregor, from the fact those rivers were more important than all those of Israel, for the Kingdom of Damascus depended on them. Another interpretation of “better” may stem from the fact the rivers of Damascus were far more convenient for Naaman to get to. Due to the fact the rivers of Damascus were far more well known for their importance than their cleanliness, and the fact rivers, not waters, are being here compared, the best option here is the opinion of John MacGregor. In this case, therefore, we should look for the largest rivers of Damascus.

The identification of the Abana with the Barada (meaning in Arabic light hail, heavy snow) is mainly due to the short middle “a” in both, and from the fact the Abana is mentioned first, as the Barada is the greatest of the Damascene rivers. The Pharpar, meanwhile, is a more complex issue. While it is well known the Wadi/Nahr Barbar does not exist, the Pharpar’s identification with the Wadi/Nahr Awaj is also not certain. The Pharpar could be, with equal likelihood, to the north of Damascus, and possibly be the Wadi Halbun, or Nahr Yezid. The fact the Awaj is less central to the Damascus district is also an argument against its being the Pharpar. However, it still has some agricultural importance in its upper course.

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Ron Wyatt: The Saga of the Ark of the Covenant

UPDATE (November 11, 2012): The Standish book (“Holy Relics or Revelation”) is no longer available for preview on Google Books due to ISBN confusion. I have contacted Google regarding this matter. Buy it anyway-a mere $17 will yield you all the Wyatt de-bunkery available on Planet Earth as of 1999. Buy it!!!

My sources are the following: Two Wyattist websites (including this account by Mary Nell Wyatt), the Standish book (start at chapter 8, the part shown in Google Books is fully enough to completely refute the blood claims, switch from .com to .co.uk or.ca if pages iv-55 don’t show in Google Books), this video of Jonathan Gray, this account by Ron’s sons, and the following Israel Antiquities Authority reports describing Ron’s so-called “Ark Chamber” and the finds discovered in it.

Who Was Ron Wyatt?

Ron Wyatt (1933-1999) was a nurse anesthetist who made several so-called “discoveries” of Biblical artifacts, all of them false, beginning with the dogmatic identification of the Durupinar site, a geological formation, with Noah’s Ark, in 1977, an interpretation which had success at being promoted by the Governor of the province of Agri (Standishes, 234) who erected a visitor’s center there. The discoveries related to the Exodus are fully rebutted at AJaL, Sect. 5. The Sodom/Gomorrah discovery is fully proven wrong here. Ron Wyatt was never licensed by the IAA to conduct excavations (Standishes, chs 18+19), contra his claim otherwise. All the living three of the four individuals Wyatt claimed to have signed his license (“Uh, what I was told by the men that I worked with, uh, if you have a photographic memory, uh, you’ll remember their names: Amos Kloner, Joseph Gat, Dan Bahat, General Drorie. These men asked me not to show my permit because the authorizing signature on the permit is, are their names.“) were interviewed by the Standishes. Only one, Dan Bahat, claimed to know Ron Wyatt, contrary to Ron Wyatt’s own claim Bahat said he did not know him (“Now here and if Christina will be so kind as to let this [picture of Wyatt and Bahat together] stay somewhere where you can look at it for a little bit, this was the man that was in charge of antiquities for the Jerusalem area during the time that we carried out our excavation. When called and asked if he knew Ron Wyatt, he said ‘no’.“), The only person of the four who was actually responsible for signing IAA excavation licenses, Amin Drorie, stated he had not granted one to Wyatt. The only reason Ron was not stopped from excavating was because the Garden Tomb is private property, and one only needs permission from the owner to dig there (contrary to the Wyattist statements otherwise). Written permission to dig from Dan Bahat, then Chief Archeologist of Jerusalem, is not an IAA excavation license (Standishes, pg. 95). Neither is verbal permission from the IAA, which was claimed by Bill Shea (Standishes, p. 276). Ron went to Western Michigan University for several years. It is unknown whether he served in Korea (it looks like so from his funeral, and from his VA card, but Crouse said he could find no evidence).

Where Did His Adventures Take Place?

His adventures with the “first” excavation (the one that matters) took place, as is evident in this video, in the place marked in the below image. This is what the excavation area looked like before the excavation. This is what the excavation area looked like in 1979. This (followed by this) is how it looked like c. 1991 or earlier. This is how it looked like in the 1990s. This is what it looks like as of 2008. For the Garden Tour, see here. It should be noted that the Wyatts tunneled under the “first” excavation area by means of the 1979/80 cistern, as seen in this image. They did not, as the Israelis did in 2006, have the ability to comprehensively drill through solid rock throughout an excavation square.

We must now familiarize ourselves with the plans of the “first” Wyatt excavation. Comparing the WAR report (detailed images found by traveling back through time) with the IAA plans, we can conclude the following reconstruction:

The (perfectly) circular cistern is where the eastern Arrow 1 is, and follows the northern edge of L103. The excavation through the cistern wall was done in 2006. According to Ronny Wyatt, the original excavation never reached as far south as L514. The tunnel on the north-west side of the excavation area was where Wyatt and his sons first began to dig through the cliff face. It is likely the marks in the center of L102 are, in fact, the Wyattists’ “crossholes”.

What Happened?

Ron’s “discovery” of the Ark of the Covenant was his third “discovery”, and was made soon after his “chariot wheel” discovery (or, depending on your level of cynicism, hoax), in 1978. According to the WAR website, “While waiting for his return flight to the United States, Ron was walking along an ancient stone quarry, known to some as “the Calvary Escarpment.”  As he was walking, he began conversing with a local authority about Roman antiquities. At one point, they stopped walking, and Ron’s left hand pointed to a site being used as a trash dump and he stated, “That’s Jeremiah’s Grotto and the Ark of the Covenant is in there.”” A somewhat unrealistic scenario follows. While there is no reason reason to not suppose Ron Wyatt first thought of this location as a likely location for the Ark while wandering about 40 meters to the west of the skull-like formation of Gordon’s Calvary, Dan Bahat, the man who suggested to the Warden of the Garden Tomb Association that Ron Wyatt clean out the rubbish heap, denies he remembers any arm-pointing incident or miraculous response (Standishes, pg. 270). According to WAR, Ron and his sons began excavation in the area excavated by WAR and the Israelis in 2006 in January, 1979. Since the Garden Tomb is under full control of the Garden Tomb Association, no IAA excavation license is necessary to dig there.

While digging down straight into the cliff face, some book-case like niches were discovered. However, Ron then decided to dig in the original location he thought of (the rubbish heap), since the earth was becoming somewhat unstable at the “first” location (the one with the niches). According to Wyatt’s sons, after digging through the trash, pottery and Roman glass were found. At the original location (see excavation in progress here), a cistern, 15 feet in diameter, was discovered. This was NOT the cistern which would be discovered in the 2005/6 Israeli/WAR excavation. Ron then began tunneling through the cistern wall to the “first” location. According to Mary Nell’s account, 3 feet along the way, the rock floor ended, and dirt appeared again and Ron then dug 3 feet down to find a large amount of stones and some finger bones. The Wyattists conclude this is a stoning ground, although further examination is warranted. Ron then finished tunneling to the “first” location, staying entirely underground along the way.

A 17 inch long block of stone protruding from the cliff face and resting on a shelf of bedrock also protruding from the cliff face was then found (the “altar stone”. Also in 1979, the so-called crosshole of Jesus (“squarish hole”) was found on a ledge of bedrock 4 inch higher than the surrounding bedrock, extending from the cliff face, 14 feet below the niches, covered by a 16 inch (diagonal) squarish rock having a coin of Tiberius under it. In 1980, many structures were revealed, as seen in Jonathan Gray’s longer video, at about the 50 minute mark. Three more postholes were discovered in front of the ledge, each being twelve to thirteen inches square (i.e. about 3.5 inches long and wide). A structure, 22 ft x 40 ft , having coins from the reign of Tiberius to the reign of Hadrian, was found, along with a 13ft, 2 in diameter stone, thought by Wyatt to be the stone blocking the Tomb of Jesus, which he thought to be the Garden Tomb. This, considering the similar masonry in this and in this photograph, may be the Islamic building mentioned in the 2008 IAA report. However, the Wyattists’ “metal pin“, used to determine how large the stone blocking the Garden Tomb theoretically should be, is actually a piece of shrapnel, and is not found in any record before 1967 (Standishes, pg. 99). Three postholes, 4 ft below the primary one with the crack along with a so-called “altar stone” were also found. Toward the end of 1980, Wyatt and his sons began digging through the rock escarpment to reach Wyatt’s long-desired “Ark Chamber”. According to the Wyattists’ accounts, certainly greatly embellished or partially made up (see below), a young Arab lad by the name of Rafette, hired by Wyatt in 1981 to replace his sons, which were sick with pneumonia (Jonathan Gray 1 hr. 15 min mark; nicknamed “James” in most written accounts), on January 1, 1982, due to sheer fright at seemingly nothing when poking his head into what Wyatt later identified as the “Ark chamber”, quit his work at being Wyatt’s assistant.  By January 6, 1982, Ron had tunneled into the so-called “Ark Chamber”, having a height of only a cubit or so. He claimed to have found much furniture from the first Temple, including the Ark of the Covenant, shown in replica on the 1 hr. 20 min mark of the Jonathan Gray video. He also claimed to have found oil lamps from c. 586 BC, though the one displayed on the web clearly dates to the Middle Roman era. The Standishes have criticized the Wyatt replica of the ark (chapter 21) since it seemingly contradicts Exodus 25:18, 37:8, and have only one wing on one side covering the mercy seat, contradicting Exodus 25:20, 37:9, and 1 Kings 8:7. According to the WAR website, Wyatt also found a natural tunnel leading to the surface, which was, albeit, badly blocked up, and took a sample of a dark substance from the crack in the stone case holding the Ark and from the crack in the ceiling, which he assumed to be the same as the crack found near the main crosshole in 1979. A sketch diagram may be seen at the 1 hr 55 min mark of the Jonathan Gray video. Arkdiscovery.com also claims Wyatt discovered the Ivory Pomegranate, a clear case of post-hoc storytelling, which is a 3rd level scientific sin. According to Ron Wyatt, the seemingly dead blood was placed in a growth medium for three days in a Jerusalem laboratory under his request and became alive, a chromosome count being performed on the live blood, with the discovery of only twenty-three chromosomes being made, surprising the scientists greatly. Jonathan Gray reports otherwise, placing the testing in Tennessee. Ron Wyatt has denied the blood has ever been in America (see the Standish book). In any case, Wyatt then, in 1991, after several more visits, and a 1986 warning by Dan Bahat to cease tunneling (Standishes, 279), and, instead, dig a series of five-square meter squares into the cliff face, sealed the chamber. He then made up a hypothesis involving Jeremiah taking the Ark to the so-called “Ark chamber” through the Zedekiah’s Cave system. The existence of such a passageway was not confirmed. The 2005-6 excavations, conducted by Wyattist funding and support, did find Wyatt’s Ark Chamber, but they did not find a single Biblical artifact in it (see below). In February 2007, WAR admitted this simple fact, its Ark of the Covenant page explicitly stating:

The excavations of 2005 and 2006 at the
Garden Tomb, in Jerusalem,  did not completely confirm the findings as stated by the late Ronald E. Wyatt during his periods of excavation during the years 1979 to 1989. We no longer have the personal account of Ronald Wyatt to help guide us. For these reasons, until further research, the Ark of the Covenant materials presented by Wyatt Archaeological Research prior to 2005 have been removed from circulation.
…Dr. Jerome Niswonger and Eric Lembcke

As per the unanimous decision of the Board of Directors,
Wyatt Archaeological Research
Mary Nell Wyatt Lee
Eric Lembcke
Jerome Niswonger
Richard Rives

Apparently, the Wyattists removed this page in late 2009 so that they could re-open the case by excavating Zedekiah’s Cave (again) in 2011. Here‘s how that panned out.

Criticisms…

Ron Wyatt then began eagerly spreading news of his discoveries in America. However, there appeared visible great cracks in his general scheme of warnings and excuses.

Firstly was the fact that, if the Israeli Government gave a **** about Wyatt and his “discoveries”, they would have long censored the production of all documentaries relating to Wyatt’s “Ark discovery”, due to the fact those “Jewish extremists” could, if convinced of this “discovery”, try to blow up both the Dome of the Rock and the Gordon’s Calvary Escarpment. Indeed, both Dan Bahat and Amin Drorie explicitly stated to the Standishes that they don’t care about whether Ron Wyatt releases the blood reports (Standishes, Ch. 18).

Secondly was the fact that not a single one of the gruesome tales the Wyattists tell have been verified, and some, like Jonathan Gray’s tale at the 1 hr. 25 min mark, totally disproved (Standishes, pgs. 135, 271). Bahat did not suffer any back collapse, neither has a single person died within the precinct of the Garden Tomb throughout the period of Wyatt’s excavations, as attested by Peter Wells, General Secretary of the Garden Tomb Association.

Thirdly, the name of the laboratory in which the blood has been tested has never been released, and no good rationale has been offered. This is probably because such a laboratory never existed. Also, the contradiction between Wyatt and Gray needs to be explained. For the three years of his life the Zias letter has been up, Ron Wyatt has never even admitted its existence.

Fourthly, Ron Wyatt, while “not the sort of guy that would tell stories” according to his sons, was hypothesized by a volunteer in his excavations to have some sort of psychological disorder. According to Wyatt’s sons, Ron’s main goal in his excavations was to refute the accommodationists and uphold true biblical fundamentalism. He was also held by his followers and by himself to have been influenced by God, a dangerous delusion.

Fifthly, no independent confirmation has been made of Wyatt’s claims. According to Dan Bahat, nothing was shown to him at the “ark site” (Standishes, pg. 95). The Standishes, Chapter 23, tell the story of Herold Follet, attorney for 3 Angels Broadcasting Network, who, in 1989, after convincing Danny Shelton, CEO of the network, to exchange $10,000 provided by a Tennessee donor to Ron Wyatt for an opportunity to film the first footage of the Ark. Ron gave news that the tunnel leading to the Ark was blocked up. Mr. Follet then, with Wyatt’s protest, went into the room, which measured approximately 5 ft by 5 ft. No evidence of a cave-in or rubble was found. Looking at the above-linked to IAA report, Follet came into either the chamber labeled L101, which contained no artifacts, or into Chamber L102, an ancient circular building used used for quarrying and agricultural purposes, inside containing a fill with pottery from various periods, the latest dating to the Byzantine Period (the Ummayad pottery was probably from the Islamic building). The building in L102, therefore, is a Late Roman-Byzantine period building built underground for agricultural use, as is stated in the second IAA report. A good parallel is the Hellenistic caves at Mareshah.

Even the Wyatt excavations did, even before 1986, discover pottery from the Hellenistic as far as the Medieval era, a surprise to Dan Bahat (Standishes, 279). It seems that, by the time Follet visited what was probably L101, the entrance to L102 had been blocked. The earlier pottery and glass seals mentioned in the first IAA report seems to have come from an Iron IIB-IIC cemetery (used c. 722-c. 586 BC) around the French monastery of St. Stephen some 200 yards to the north, which likely extended to the Garden Tomb area, some 85 yards to the NW of the excavation area being discussed. Chamber L102  may be related to the Iron IIB-IIC(?)/Herodian Zedekiah’s Cave and Jeremiah’s Grotto quarry system. The Western Chamber has yet to be revealed. The 12×22 chamber mentioned by Jonathan Gray around the 1 hr. 55 minute mark was probably a combination of Chambers L103 and L102, the supposed location of the Ark being on the north side of Chamber L102. The Gray sketch’s “discovery entrance” is likely the corridor leading from chamber 101. The “12 ft” measurement may stem from Wyatt measuring to the western blockage in the corridor. In any case, Ron Wyatt’s Ark chamber has been found and excavated. The Ark of the Covenant (or any Biblical artifacts, for that matter) has not been found or revealed. I have written a post about the blood claims.

The Ebal Altar

The Mount Ebal “altar” (PRECISELY 32°14’22.40″N, 35°17’15.89″E, AND NOWHERE ELSE) was an Middle Iron Age structure. According to Israel Finkelstein, its pottery is Middle Iron I, around 1050-1035 BC. Even though it contains a Ramesside scarab, the structure’s pottery is 11th, not 13th/12th century BC, and, therefore, cannot be Joshua’s altar mentioned in Joshua 8:30.

Joshua’s attack on Ai: Option 4

Option 3 is here.

Bethel=el-Bireh ( 31°54’22″N, 35°12’54″E)

Ai=Khirbet al-Maqatir, 31°54’56″N, 35°15’1″E

Iron II B-C Ai (if Nehimiah 7:32 and/or Isaiah 10:28 refers to this Ai)=Site 205, 31°54’45″N, 35°14’51″E

Hellenistic Ai (?) (Nehemiah 11:31 could be referring to Hellenistic data)=Site 205 or 204 (31°54’34″N, 35°15’4″E)

Beth Aven=Beitin

Mountain of Genesis 12:8=Peak of Khirbet Maqatir, 31°54’57.50″N,  35°14’53.70″E or peak at 31°54’45″N, 35°14’39″E, or the one at 31°54’47″N, 35°13’49″E.

Valley to the North of Ai:Road N. of Maqatir

Ambush site between Bethel and Ai not visible from Ai (Bethel does not matter, see vs. 17): the area of the road just to the west of the peak of Maqatir.

So, the scenario works well, except for the fact the location of the mountain between Bethel and Ai is highly ambiguous. It works far better than Option 1.

Joshua’s attack on Ai: Option 3

Option 2 is here.

Bethel=Beitin, 31°55’36″N, 35°14’20″E

Ai=Khirbet al-Maqatir, 31°54’56″N, 35°15’1″E

Iron II B-C Ai (if Nehimiah 7:32 and/or Isaiah 10:28 refers to this Ai)=Site 205, 31°54’45″N, 35°14’51″E

Hellenistic Ai (?) (Nehemiah 11:31 could be referring to Hellenistic data)=Site 205 or 204 (31°54’34″N, 35°15’4″E)

Beth Aven=??? (Site 205???)

Mountain of Genesis 12:8=Peak of Khirbet Maqatir, 31°54’57.50″N,  35°14’53.70″E or peak at 31°55’12″N, 35°14’44″E

Valley to the North of Ai:Road N. of Maqatir

Ambush site between Bethel and Ai not visible from Ai (Bethel does not matter, see vs. 17): the area of the road just to the west of the peak of Maqatir.

So, the scenario works well, except for the fact there is absolutely NO suitable candidate for Beth-Aven. It works no better than Option 1.

The Location of the Cities of the Plain (Wyatt, Wood, and Collins)

The location of the Cities of the Plain (heb. kikkar, loaf, talent, circuit) of Genesis (Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim) has long been of dispute.

There are three main options to go with:

1. They were spread out along the western Dead Sea coast (Ron Wyatt).

Biblical Basis: 1 Samuel 13:18, Genesis 10:1, Genesis 19:24, 25, Genesis 14:3, 7-11, Deuteronomy 29:23, Ezekiel 16:46

Archeological Evidence: Some wind and water eroded formations and sulfur balls.

Criticisms (for a rebuttal of Ron Wyatt’s claims regarding the Red Sea crossing, see AJaL, Section 5, for the Covenant Ark, go here, for Noah’s Ark, here): Structures such as Wyatt claimed are the Cities are certainly natural formations. Boiling sulfur cannot melt rock (which melts at least 500 degrees higher than the boiling point of sulfur) or stainless steel (over 900 degrees higher than the boiling point of sulfur). It can, however, easily melt tin, making for some good presentations by Wyatt and the Wyattists. The fact the so-called “rock” (in reality, aragonite) had, in the words of Mary Nell Wyatt, “the consistency of talcum powder” further shows the fact that all these formations never got to temperatures hot enough to weld rock, and CERTAINLY not to temperatures which would allow thermal ionization (4000-5000 degrees Fahrenheit). The features which look like thermal ionization are merely mixed-up lake sediments. The sulfur balls are the results of microbial activity.

The formations below Masada (roughly at 31°19’32″N, 35°22’23″E) were built up by deposits of aragonite and dust (not ash!) which were formed and made dry by the evaporation of the salty waters of Lake Lisan in the distant past (as long as 14,000 years ago) and shaped over thousands of years by flowing water from the West and the wind blowing from Lebanon to the Gulf of Aqaba (ever wonder why Jericho was so eroded?). These deposits are important for radiometric dating of the ups and downs of the Dead Sea. The so-called “streets” there are nothing more than wadis (natural stream beds flowing with rainwater). The “sphinxes” are wadi-formed structures. The Arabs’ “Mount Sodom” is nothing but a halite and gypsum formation moved to its present location by the pressure of water and sediment in the so-called “Lake Gomorrah” over 80,000 years ago. No evidence of actual human habitation, much less civilization, (stone walls, pottery, rubbish pits), has ever been found at the claimed sites by the Wyattists. Genesis 13:10-12 clearly points to the northern Dead Sea region as the location of the Cities of the Plain.

2. They were around the southeastern part of the Dead Sea (Bryant Wood, many fundamentalists).

Biblical Basis: Genesis 10:1, 14:3-11, 19:25, Deuteronomy 29:23, Ezekiel 16:46.

Archeological Evidence: The Early Bronze cities of Bab edh Dhra (31°15’15″N, 35°32’2″E) and Numeria (31° 7’53″N, 35°31’36″E) were destroyed by tectonic upheaval in the late 3rd millennium BC.

Other Arguments: Extrabiblical Byzantine texts are cited to support the location of Zoar at Safi.

Criticisms: All criticisms are summarized by Steven Collins of New Mexico here.

3. The cities were to the north of the Dead Sea (Steven Collins).

Biblical Basis: Genesis 13:10-12 unambiguously supports this and ONLY this option. The phrase “kikkar of the Jordan” can only refer to a circular district around the Jordan, which, as the phrase “cross[ing] the Jordan” and “mouth of the Jordan” confirms, refers to the Jordan River alone. The phrase “kikkar of the Jordan” is also used in 1 Kings 7:46 to refer to another half-circular district located in the area of Succoth (Tell Deir ‘Alla, 32°11’47″N, 35°37’14″E). Zoar, the kikkar’s border city, also seems to be at the place of the meeting of the Dead Sea, northern Aravah, and mountains of Reuben, since nothing south of the Arnon was part of the Promised Land (Genesis 13:10, 19:22-30, Deuteronomy 2:9, 34:3). Indeed, Jeremiah 48:34 and the Mesha stele (if really referring to the House of David) combine to give a picture of Horonaim and its ascent being in the southern Moabite Aravah and Zoar being exactly where the Dead Sea, northern Aravah, and mountains of Reuben meet.

Criticisms: Ezekiel 16:46 is the only decisive evidence against the northern option, and even it is strongly metaphoric (“older” and “younger” are also used metaphorically in the same verse). Indeed, the terms “right” and “left” need not necessarily refer to cardinal directions, especially in such a metaphor-using verse. Genesis 10:19 is referring to the eastern Canaanite border, which was not necessarily at the Jordan. Indeed, the verse could easily be referring to a beginning of the border in the southernmost geographically non-obvious area (the area of the cities of the plain) and an end of the border at Laasha (lšẖ), which was very likely Tel Dan (also called Leshem/lšm in Josh 19:47 and Laish/lyš in Judges 18:29). Also, the tells Collins has identified were occupied in the time of the writing of the Sodom destruction story, making them unlikely candidates at best.