Thursday, December 08, 2016

New Excavations at el-Araj, Possible Bethsaida

For thirty years now, Rami Arav has led excavations at the site of et-Tell. Since the beginning, he has identified the ruins with the New Testament site of Bethsaida. This identification was quickly adopted by Israeli road sign makers, and most popular literature today calls the site “Bethsaida.” Arav has argued strenuously that his site is Bethsaida, and the titles of all of the excavation reports begin with “Bethsaida.” The problem is that as excavations progressed, the site turned out to be primarily an Iron Age city, with little remains from the first century AD.

That has bothered a number of scholars for several decades now, and the site of el-Araj has been suggested as the true site of the fishing village where several of Jesus’s disciples lived. This past summer, Mordechai Aviam began excavations to determine if el-Araj is a more suitable candidate for Bethsaida.

A preliminary summary posted online gives a bit of the background as well as brief descriptions of the two excavation areas. Of the western area, Aviam writes:

Underneath the Crusader level we discovered remains of a dwelling dated to the late Byzantine-early Islamic period. An unusual large bronze jar was uncovered, which has been sent to the laboratory for conservation. Coins and pottery dating from the 6th-8th centuries were uncovered on the floors. The most surprising find was a group of gilded glass tesserae, which are used in the construction of wall mosaics. These type of tesserae are typical to large and important churches. Which means, even before finding the church itself, it is possible to suggest that in the Byzantine period, el-Araj was identified as a holy place, most likely Bethsaida. One of the walls contains a large, reused, monolithic, limestone pillar, and nearby, outside of the excavation area, there is another limestone double "heart-shaped" pillar, which are both typical to late Roman Jewish synagogues in Galilee.

Concerning the period of interest, he summarizes:

Both areas yielded a large number of typical early Roman pottery. As of yet, structures from the early Roman period have not been uncovered.

He concludes:

After this initial season of excavation, our primary conclusions are: 1) the site of el-Araj was most likely identified as Bethsaida during the Byzantine period, and a church, probably a pilgrim monastery was erected at the site. 2) The site of el-Araj was inhabited during the early Roman period; therefore, it remains a good candidate for the identification of Bethsaida. 3) We will continue to excavate el-Araj in the coming years.

I think he’s on solid ground on point #3. The other two points are clearly premature. While making these claims may help the team raise money and support, scholarship is not well served by making such bold assertions so early in the process. This in fact is what troubles many about Arav’s identification. He made the claim early on and now it’s not easy to admit failure. If Aviam’s site is indeed Bethsaida, he can take his time to collect the evidence that will make a compelling case.

A two-minute video (mostly in Hebrew) provides footage of excavations at both candidates for Bethsaida, with a cameo by Indiana. Nyack College has a couple of dozen photos on its Facebook page.

I’m told that donations would be appreciated for next year’s excavations. You should be able to do that through the Center for Holy Lands Studies.

El-Araj aerial from south, ws033115038

Aerial view of the vicinity of el-Araj, possible location of Bethsaida

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Monday, December 05, 2016

Was Paul Heading for Alexandria?

At last month’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Mark Wilson suggested in a lunch gathering sponsored by Tuktu Tours that Paul’s original destination on his first journey was not Galatia but Alexandria. This talk was based on an article that he co-authored with Thomas W. Davis that is available at the website of Pharos Journal of Theology. I thought that a brief sketch of their argument might be of interest to readers here.

The discovery that the proconsul Sergius Paulus hailed from Antioch near Pisidia has previously led to speculation that it was his influence that led Paul and Barnabas to travel there from Paphos. This seems even more reasonable given an understanding of the island of Cyprus. Paphos had strong ties with Alexandria, a situation encouraged by the prevailing winds which made sailing south from Paphos the norm, but sailing north to Perga unusual. If Paul had been intending to head north, Wilson argues that he would have traveled not to Paphos but to Cyprus’s northern coast.

John Mark’s desertion at Perga also may suggest that Paul’s plan had changed. With the new itinerary, Mark may have felt freed from his commitment to serve the team. Later Paul and Barnabas parted ways because of their disagreement over Mark, and Barnabas took his cousin back to Cyprus. It could well be that from there Barnabas and Mark continued on to the original destination of Alexandria.

That Mark did missionary work in Alexandria and North Africa is supported by his Gospel and church tradition. In Mark 15:21, the writer mentions Simon of Cyrene (in North Africa) and his sons Alexander and Rufus, a comment that suggests personal acquaintance. The church historian Eusebius writes that Mark started the church in Alexandria and was later martyred there. His tomb is located in Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. This suggests that Mark did indeed spend time here, and it may support the theory that Paul’s original destination was Alexandria. As for why Paul never traveled to this city, given that it held one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, it may be that by the time that Paul turned his gaze back in that direction, he recognized that this was no longer an area “where Christ was not known” and so he opted to travel elsewhere.

You can read the full argument of Davis and Wilson in their journal article. You might also enjoy Wilson’s 2016 article in Adalya, “Saint Paul in Pamphylia: Intention, Arrival, Departure,” available through his academia page.

Alexandria, Saint Mark's Cathedral, adr1603268481

St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria

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Saturday, December 03, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Archaeologists have finally discovered the port of ancient Byblos.

Philippe Bohstrom looks at the history of the city of Dan and the tribe of the Danites in a well-illustrated Haaretz article.

Wayne Stiles beat me to the new Virtual Reality tour at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and I asked him to write about it. He did.

Albawaba has a short slide show of the pre-Islamic Middle East.

New tests on the (probably fake) lead codices from Jordan suggest that the lead is ancient.

The Jewish Virtual Library posts a list of significant archaeological discoveries in Israel from 2004 to present. The list seems to be more complete for the last two years than for earlier ones.

Leon Mauldin visited the largely ignored site of Tirzah on his recent trip to Israel.

The Jewish Press posts a 15-minute video entitled “Secrets of the Machpela in Hebron.”

Amazon has a $5 off code good through Sunday on any book(s) that total $15 or more. Enter GIFTBOOK at checkout. Here are three books that qualify:

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Agade

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Inscription Discovered Underwater Naming Roman Governor of Judea

Haaretz reports on this new discovery:

An underwater survey conducted by divers off Tel Dor, on the Mediterranean Sea, yielded an astonishing find: a rare Roman inscription mentioning the province of Judea – and the name of a previously unknown Roman governor, who ruled the province shortly before the Bar-Kochba Revolt.

Historians had thought that based on Roman records, the leaders Rome imposed on its provinces were all known.

The rock with the 1,900-year-old inscription was exposed by a storm on the seabed at a depth of just 1.5 meters in the bay of Dor. The town had been a thriving port in Roman times that even minted its own coins, which proudly proclaimed the city to be "Ruler of the Seas".

Found by Haifa University archaeologists surveying the remains of the ancient Roman harbor at Dor in January 2016, the rock, 70 by 65 centimeters in size, was partly covered in sea creatures when it was found.

The article continues with many large photos. For more information, see the University of Haifa press release, the Times of Israel article, and blog postings by Ferrell Jenkins and David Graves.

HT: Charles Savelle, Joseph Lauer, Agade

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Travel in Egypt

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

As mentioned before, I took my first trip to Egypt this year. The main part of the trip was led by James Hoffmeier (Trinity International University) and was organized by Shepherd Travel. For those interested in traveling to Egypt, I am happy to recommend Shepherd Travel, and in particular, our guide Maged. At the end of the Hoffmeier trip, a friend and I remained a few extra days to visit additional sites. Maged was an enormous help during our extended time.

Egypt possesses many amazing places and artifacts to see, but travel in Egypt can present a few challenges. If we had not had Maged as our guide, it would have been extremely difficult (maybe impossible) to visit and photograph all the sites that we did.

Our Egyptian guide Maged

Here are four ways having a good guide helped us:

Negotiation. First, everything in Egypt must be negotiated—from transportation, to prices and tips, to permission to enter some of the sites and permission to photograph. All of this takes time and knowledge of how things work (the ability to speak Arabic is also huge advantage). There were a few sites that were "closed" or where photography was forbidden, but Maged was able to negotiate our way into nearly every one of them. In addition, if we had been by ourselves, we surely would have paid more and tipped more (or less) than we needed to, because we are not familiar with the customs. Maged made sure we avoided these situations. (In Egypt, everything you can imagine requires a tip, and you have to be willing to give each transaction plenty of time to "transpire." If you are in a hurry, you will probably miss out.)

Transportation. Second, we had to rely on local transportation. In other Middle East countries I have visited, it is not difficult to rent a car and do all of my own navigating, but I would not recommend this in Egypt. Instead, we utilized local drivers, trains, and subways for transportation. Some of this we could have figured out on our own, but it would have taken us twice as long and in some cases we probably would have paid (much) more than we should have. Maged arranged all our transportation needs to maximize our schedule and negotiated fair prices. In places where Maged was not with us, he made sure we had a driver, that the driver knew where we wanted to go, and that we knew how much we needed to pay and tip.

Security. Third, Egypt is very protective of tourists, excessively even at times. During the Hoffmeier trip, we noted at one site that the number of police and guards exceeded the 40-something members of our tour group. Travel to some sites and use of the desert highway require police escort, and it was helpful to have Maged explain our intentions to authorities, to procure their assistance when needed, and to keep us informed of everything that was going on. Maged also knew which sites are located in military zones and therefore off-limits, thus saving me wasted time and effort trying in vain to reach them. Finally, Maged could verify whether it was safe for us to travel to some of the out-of-the-way sites.

Expertise. Fourth, Maged studied Egyptian archaeology and ancient Egyptian language in university. He showed us his comprehensive exams in Egyptian hieroglyphs, hieratic and Coptic, and they looked quite impressive. He has participated in excavations and was familiar with all of the sites on my itinerary—even the ones that I thought were ultra-obscure. In addition, Maged is quite knowledgable about the history, sites, doctrines, and traditions of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Many American Christians probably are not too familiar with traditions related to Joseph and Mary's flight to Egypt (Matt 2), the martyrdom of Mark in Alexandria, the ostensible fulfillments of Isaiah 19, the Desert Fathers, or the differences between the Latin and Eastern Church. And not least, Maged speaks very good English.

If you are thinking of taking a trip to Egypt, I recommend Shepherd Travel and ask for Maged to be your guide. You can find more at Shepherd Travel's website or on Facebook.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Archaeologists working in central Israel unearthed the Middle Bronze predecessor of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” High-res photos and a video are available here.

Archaeologists are speaking out against the construction of a mixed prayer area in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park south of the Western Wall prayer area.

A necropolis and residential settlement were uncovered Tuesday in Abydos in Sohag, almost 400 kilometres south of the temple of the New Kingdom pharaoh Seti I.”

Divers have discovered the world’s oldest harbor in the Red Sea along the coast of Egypt.

The Kom Al-Shoqafa catacombs in Alexandria were not flooded, as some reports claimed.

A writer for The New Yorker visits the full-size replica of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.

The Egyptological museum search is a PHP tool aimed to facilitate locating the descriptions and images of ancient Egyptian objects in online catalogues of major museums.”

Objects Come to Life is a physical and digital exhibition of the Eton Myers Collection of Egyptian Art, on loan to the University of Birmingham, which explores the importance and intrigue of private collections of ancient artefacts.”

An Israeli court has ruled that the names of Israeli archaeologists working in the West Bank can stay secret.

Luke Chandler has opened registration for next summer’s tour of Israel. He also reports on some sessions he attended at the recent ASOR conference.

Accordance is running a Black Friday sale through Monday. One new e-resource is the Satellite Bible Atlas. This version features all of the hyperlink and search enhancements you would expect from Accordance.

Wayne Stiles is running a Black Friday audio blowout through Sunday night.

Carta is offering a 25% discount on the forthcoming The World’s Oldest Alphabet: Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-Consonantal Script, by Douglas Petrovich, with code 25-off.

HT: Agade, Joseph Lauer, Ted Weis, Charles Savelle, Ferrell Jenkins

Alexander Schick sends along a photo of a newly discovered mikveh (ritual) bath at Herod’s palace at Macherus.

Machaerus Mikweh Schick P 4973

Mikveh at Macherus

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Weekend Roundup, Part 2

British and Egyptian archaeologists working in Aswan have discovered a long causeway leading to the tomb of a Middle Kingdom nomarch.

The Kom Aushim Museum in Egypt’s Fayoum has re-opened after 10 years of renovation.

The Egyptian Museum in Cairo is celebrating its 114th anniversary by staying open every Thursday and Sunday evening.

Juliette Desplat describes the founding of the Iraq Museum.

Satellite imagery reveals the destruction of the ziggurat of Nimrud and remains at Dur-Sharrukin that is related to ISIS and the ongoing battles near Mosul.

The IBTimes shows what’s left of Nimrud after its destruction by ISIS.

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a special display of 200 artifacts.

The renovation and expansion of Berlin’s Pergamon Museum is $288 million over budget and will be finished four years later than anticipated (in 2023).

Visitors to Rome’s Circus Maximus can now see the ancient latrines and a portion of a triumphal arch of Titus.

A 4th-century AD Samaritan tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments has sold at auction for $850,000.

The PEF has issued a call for papers for next year’s conference in Jerusalem on “The Anglo-German Exploration of the Holy Land, 1865-1915.”

Mark Wilson will be leading a tour for BAS next September and October of Malta, Sicily, and Italy.

Eisenbrauns has extended its ASOR/AAR/SBL exhibit sale to a virtual booth where all can benefit.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Charles Savelle, Agade, Ted Weis

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Weekend Roundup, Part 1

A rare cache of gold and silver items dated to 3,600 years ago has been found at Tel Gezer, including figurines of the Canaanite counterparts of the Akkadian deities Ishtar, goddess of fertility, sex, love and war; and Sin, god of the moon.”

An arsonist apparently set the fire that damaged Absalom’s Pillar and the Cave of Jehoshaphat in Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley. Ynetnews has a brief video.

Nir Hasson reports on the recent study that dates the Gihon Spring fortifications to the 9th century instead of the Middle Bronze Age.

A group of swimmers swam across the Dead Sea to draw attention to the lake’s declining condition.

A unique Chalcolithic wall painting with an 8-pointed star is on display in Jerusalem for the first time since it was discovered at Teleilat Ghassul in the 1930s.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is launching a three-year expedition to discover more Dead Sea Scrolls.

A Jerusalem shopkeeper is clashing with the IAA over 12th-century antiquities discovered in his store’s expansion.

A Byzantine arch has been discovered near the Cardo of Jerusalem.

Authorities working in Jerusalem’s Cardo plan to recreate 9 Byzantine-era shops and display a number of mosaics reflecting life in that time.

Ferrell Jenkins takes his readers on a tour of the Kishle excavations.

Michael Langlois provides a convenient summary of the Jerusalem Papyrus and why it’s controversial.

Wayne Stiles’s post will convince you that En Gedi is worth a (prolonged) visit.

After ten years away, Guy Stiebel is returning to excavate Masada.

Peter Flint, a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, has died.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Charles Savelle, Agade, Ted Weis

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New Excavation: Khirbet el-Mastarah in the Jordan Valley

(Post by A.D. Riddle)

Ralph Hawkins has announced a new excavation to be undertaken at the site of Khirbet el-Mastarah in the Jordan River Valley. The inaugural season will be June 3-30, 2017, and they are looking for volunteers. The dig is part of the newly launched Jordan Valley Excavation Project, co-directed by Ralph Hawkins and David Ben-Shlomo. The project's website provides further information along with this description.
The Jordan Valley Excavation Project (JVEP) was launched in 2016 to investigate the ancient history and archaeology of the region of the southern Jordan Valley, with a particular focus on the Iron Age. This period is traditionally connected with a period of tribal settlement in the region, followed by the rise of ethnic states. A thorough survey of the region, conducted by Adam Zertal, revealed a dramatic population shift in this region during the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the beginning of the Iron Age (around 1200 B.C.E.). Whereas there were only seven sites in the region in the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 B.C.E.), fifty-four new sites were founded at the beginning of the Iron Age. Zertal proposed that the eastern sites are slightly earlier than the western ones, a phenomenon he attributed to the movements of peoples, whom he identified with the Tribe of Manasseh, from the Transjordan westwards. JVEP’s goals are to test the date and character of some of the sites in the region, as well as Zertal’s interpretations, through archaeological excavation and research. JVEP will conduct excavations at two sample sites, beginning with Khirbet el-Mastarah, in the eastern part of the region, where at least three years of excavation will be conducted. After that, an additional site will be chosen in the western part of the region, which will likewise be excavated for several seasons. The evidence from these (possibly) single-period sites may shed a great deal of light on the settlement of the tribal peoples living in the region during the Iron Age.

Khirbet el-Mastarah is the low mound illuminated by sunlight behind the tree.
Photo from

Map showing location of Khirbet el-Mastarah relative to Jericho and Shechem.

As mentioned in the project description, this region was surveyed by Adam Zertal. Four out of five planned volumes of the survey were published in Hebrew before his death just over one year ago, and three of these have been translated into English:

Zertal, Adam.
  2004  The Manasseh Hill Country Survey, Volume 1: The Shechem Syncline. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 21.1. Leiden: Brill.
  2007 The Manasseh Hill Country Survey, Volume 2: The Eastern Valleys and the Fringes of the Desert. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 21.2. Leiden: Brill.

Zertal, Adam, and Nivi Mirkam.
  2016  The Manasseh Hill Country Survey, Volume 3: From Nahal ʿIron to Nahal Shechem. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 21.3. Leiden: Brill.

Some preliminary reports on two Iron Age sites were published by Zertal in the below articles.
Zertal, Adam, and Dror Ben-Yosef.
2009     “Bedhat esh-Shaʿab: An Iron Age I Enclosure in the Jordan Valley.” Pp. 517-529 in Exploring the Longue Durée: Essays in Honor of Lawrence E. Stager. Ed. J. D. Schloen. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Zertal, Adam; Dror Ben-Yosef; Oren Cohen; and Ron Beʾeri.
2009 “Kh. ʿAujah el-Foqa (North) — An Iron Age Fortified City in the Jordan Valley.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 141/2: 104–123.

UPDATE: The Jordan Valley Excavation Project also has a Facebook page.


Saturday, November 05, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Teenagers working in an excavation in Galilee discovered a rare gold coin from the 8th century.

The New York Times has a story on the recent exposure of the burial bed inside Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Carl Rasmussen found some unique photos of the excavations here.

With the release of the editio princeps, Christopher Rollston has posted some more thoughts on the (possibly forged) Jerusalem Papyrus. The IAA is defending the inscription’s authenticity. Shmuel Ahituv is interviewed on Rejuvenation podcast.

Israel HaYom looks at early Muslim sources that acknowledge the Jewish history of the Temple Mount.

Shem Tov Sasson shares his experience of the first day of a new excavation at Tel Kedesh.

Ynet runs a story on the Qeiyafa exhibition at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. Haaretz has a similar story.

King University in Tennessee is hosting a conference on Nov 13-14 entitled, “What’s Going on with Biblical Archaeology?

Timothy P. Harrison shares an appreciation of the life and work of John S. Holladay Jr.

TouristIsrael recommends five unique places to stay in Israel.

Wayne Stiles provides an interesting overview of Nazareth past and present.

Excavations on Mount Zion this summer uncovered a destruction layer from a Crusader battle in Jerusalem in AD 1153.

Accordance 12 was released this week, along with a new free version called Accordance Lite. Upgrades are also very affordable.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Agade, Charles Savelle, Mark Hoffman

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Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Update on Excavation of Holy Sepulcher

National Geographic has posted a new article on the continuing excavation of the traditional tomb of Jesus. The team was allowed 60 hours of study before they had to reseal the area.

When the marble cladding was first removed on the night of October 26, an initial inspection by the conservation team from the National Technical University of Athens showed only a layer of fill material underneath. However, as researchers continued their nonstop work over the course of 60 hours, another marble slab with a cross carved into its surface was exposed. By the night of October 28, just hours before the tomb was to be resealed, the original limestone burial bed was revealed intact.


During the past few days, the burial bed has been resealed in its original marble cladding and may not be exposed again for centuries or even millennia. "The architectural conservation which we are implementing is intended to last forever," says Moropoulou. Before it was resealed, however, extensive documentation was performed on the surface of the rock.


"The surfaces of the rock must be looked at with the greatest care, I mean minutely, for traces of graffiti," Biddle says, citing other tombs in the area that must have been of considerable importance because they are covered with crosses and inscriptions painted and scratched onto the rock surfaces.

"The issue of the graffiti is absolutely crucial,” Biddle says. “We know that there are at least half a dozen other rock-cut tombs below various parts of the church. So why did Bishop Eusebius identify this tomb as the tomb of Christ? He doesn't say, and we don't know. I don't myself think Eusebius got it wrong—he was a very good scholar—so there probably is evidence if only it is looked for."

The full article includes several photos.

HT: Ted Weis

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Weekend Roundup, Part 2

Wayne Stiles explores the 8 (present) and 12 (future) gates of Jerusalem.

Ferrell Jenkins shares some beautiful photos and helpful information about the Citadel of David in Jerusalem.

David Hansen provides an introduction to the significance of biblical geography that could be useful in many Bible classes. Note, in particular, the two important questions he suggests.

Jennifer Ristine, coordinator of the Visitors Center at Magdala, provides an explanation of the various symbols on the Magdala Stone.

Bryant Wood is on The Book and the Spade this week talking about “The Conquest and Archaeology.”

A 1500-year-old copy of the Ten Commandments is being auctioned off by the Living Torah Museum. There’s more here.

The Toledo Museum of Art is selling part of its Egyptian collection.

Five Dead Sea Scroll fragments have been put up for sale.

On November 15 in London, Sotheby's is auctioning rare and early photo albums of the Holy Land, including a rare hand-coloured subscriber’s copy of David Roberts’s Holy Land and Egypt.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Steven Anderson, Agade, Charles Savelle, Ted Weis, Paleojudaica

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Weekend Roundup, Part 1

“For the first time in centuries, scientists have exposed the original surface of what Christians traditionally believe to be Jesus’s tomb in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as part of a restoration project.” National Geographic has a video and photos.

Justin Taylor interviews Leen Ritmeyer about the specifics of Jesus’s tomb as known from the biblical record and archaeology.

The first-ever artifacts discovered in situ from the time of the First Temple have been unveiled in Jerusalem. Haaretz’s story includes a photo of a structure that was revealed.

The protective cover of an enormous mosaic in Hisham’s palace in Jericho was removed for a day in advance of the construction of a protective roof.

Excavations have begun in the Umayyad palace at Khirbat Al-Minya on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Ancient tombs were discovered north of the Old City of Jerusalem during recent road maintenance.

Aren Maeir suspects that the Jerusalem Papyrus may be fake.

An ancient Muslim inscription indicates that the original name of the Dome of the Rock was the “House of the Temple.”

The TMSP blog comments on some of the reports at this week’s conference on the Archaeology of Jerusalem, including notice of a new study that the spring house over the Gihon in the City of David dates not to the Middle Bronze Age but to the 9th century BC.

The Mount of Olives cemetery was ranked #8 on Bloomberg’s list of most beautiful burial sites in the world.

HT: Joseph Lauer, Steven Anderson, Agade, Charles Savelle, Ted Weis, Paleojudaica

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Papyrus Discovered from Time of Judah’s Kings

The Israel Antiquities Authority has issued a press release with an accompanying video (below) describing a rare papyrus dating to the time of Judah’s monarchy and mentioning the name of Jerusalem. The two-line document measures 4 inches long and 1 inch tall and describes jars of wine shipped to Jerusalem. It was written by a high-ranking female official in the time of Kings Manasseh or Josiah. The papyrus was discovered by antiquities thieves working in a cave in the Judean wilderness.

From the press release:

“Two lines of ancient Hebrew script were preserved on the document that is made of papyrus (paper produced from the pith of the papyrus plant [Cyperus papyrus]). A paleographic examination of the letters and a C14 analysis determined that the artifact should be dated to the seventh century BCE – to the end of the First Temple period. Most of the letters are clearly legible, and the proposed reading of the text appears as follows:

[מא]מת. המלך. מנערתה. נבלים. יין. ירשלמה.

[me-a]mat. ha-melekh. me-Na?artah. nevelim. yi’in. Yerushalima.

From the king’s maidservant, from Na?arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem

“This is a rare and original shipping document from the time of the First Temple, indicating the payment of taxes or transfer of goods to storehouses in Jerusalem, the capital city of the kingdom at this time. The document specifies the status of the sender of the shipment (the king’s maidservant), the name of the settlement from which the shipment was dispatched (Na'arat), the contents of the vessels (wine), their number or amount (jars) and their destination (Jerusalem). Na'artah, which is mentioned in the text, is the same Na'arat that is referred to in the description of the border between Ephraim and Benjamin in Joshua 16:7: “And it went down from Janohah to Ataroth, and to Na'arat, and came to Jericho, and went out at Jordan”.

“According to Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery
, “The document represents extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah. It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the seventh century BCE. According to the Bible, the kings Menashe [Manasseh], Amon, or Josiah ruled in Jerusalem at this time; however, it is not possible to know for certain which of the kings of Jerusalem was the recipient of the shipment of wine”.

“Israel Prize laureate and biblical scholar Prof. (Emeritus) Shmuel Ahituv attests to the scientific importance of the document, ‘It’s not just that this papyrus is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing; it is the fact that to date no other documents written on papyrus dating to the First Temple period have been discovered in Israel, except one from Wadi Murabbaat.  Also outstanding in the document is the unusual status of a woman in the administration of the Kingdom of Judah in the seventh century BCE.’”

The full press release includes more quotes from senior officials.

One assumes that the cave where this papyrus was discovered was thoroughly searched, but no additional fragments were found. Even so, it surely increases hope that more such ancient documents are preserved. Hopefully the IAA will get ahead of the thieves by conducting more excavations. With a tantalizing discovery like this one, I suspect that the public might be willing to support it financially.

I’m trying to think of other papyrus fragments from the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC and earlier, and none are coming to mind. The press release does not mention any. If this is unique in that regard, this discovery is all the more remarkable.

The reports in the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post include various photos.

UPDATE: Christopher Rollston believes the papyrus may be ancient but the writing a modern forgery. Joseph Lauer has alerted us to high-res photos available here.

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