Monday, July 31, 2006

From Photographs to Virtual World

Microsoft Live Labs is working on a photo recognition system that will compare photos with each other to create 3D images. This will also allow tagged items on photos to be shared from photo to photo. Imagine, for instance, comparing your photos of Jerusalem to a worldwide database, with the result that your pictures are automatically identified and labeled. Maybe that day is not so far off. In Microsoft's words:
Photosynth takes a large collection of photos of a place or object, analyzes them for similarities, and displays them in a reconstructed 3-Dimensional space. With Photosynth you can:
  • walk or fly through a scene to see photos from any angle;
  • seamlessly zoom in or out of a photograph even if it's gigapixels in size;
  • see where pictures were taken in relation to one another;
  • find similar photos to the one you’re currently viewing;
  • explore a custom tour or see where you’ve been; or
  • send a collection to a friend.
Here's a video about Photosynth.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Modern Destruction of Judean Wilderness Nature Reserve

Haaretz reports on a variety of abuses taking place in a nature reserve in the Judean wilderness. Turned over to the Palestinian Authority in the late 1990s, the upper end of the beautiful Nahal Arugot is being subjected to quarrying, building, dumping, burning, and hunting.
"Nothing can grow in these places," says Amos Sabah, a biologist with the National Parks and Nature Reserves Authority, referring to vast swaths that have been covered with quarry dust. Plant researcher Oz Golan, notes that these areas are on the edge of the desert and have a rich variety of flora, including some rare plants. The wild fauna and flora in the area are disappearing due to systematic hunting and cutting of plants for heating by Bedouin. Adjacent to the nature reserve, pillars of smoke are occasionally visible. These are pirate waste sites where the Palestinians are forced to dump waste, in the absence of organized waste sites.
In addition, archaeological sites are being pillaged.

Inside the nature reserve and at an adjacent archaeological site, the systematic plundering of antiquities continues unabated. National Parks and Nature Reserves Authority rangers last week did a brief survey of a site that was a large fortress during the Byzantine era. In every corner, they found evidence of feverish digging by thieves.
Read the whole article, but it sounds like there's plenty of blame to go around on this one and that the situation is only going to get worse.

Nahal Arugot near Tekoa, September 2005

Status of Summer Excavations in Israel

We've commented previously on the summer excavations at Hazor, Gezer and Gath. There's more information now on the status of other summer digs. Ironically, this was the first summer in quite some time in which everyone thought the violence had abated and there were no obstacles to a full program. Unfortunately, a decade without a war in Israel seems impossible.

The big dig wrap-up is provided by the Biblical Archaeology Society, with brief summaries by the archaeologists at the sites of Bethsaida, Yavne, Apollonia, Dan, Dor, Hazor, Megiddo, Tel Kabri, and Hippos. You can also read a local newspaper report about the excavation at Dan, pre-evacuation. Another article reports on the completed season at Gezer (and another here). In the south of the country, the Gath dig continues full speed.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Archaeology Magazine - Limited Time Offer

The most popular archaeology magazine for biblical discoveries is Biblical Archaeology Review. Another magazine that covers similar topics is Bible and Spade. Produced by the Associates for Biblical Research and edited by Dr. Bryant G. Wood, Bible and Spade has a much more conservative perspective than BAR. I recommend a subscription (sample pdf issue here).

This week Galaxie Software announced an electronic collection of all back issues of Bible and Spade. All 31 years (1972-2005) are available for $80, but until July 31, there is a special of $50.

So for the cost of a 3-year subscription, you get all 31 years. And the electronic edition is of course much better. To get the deal you have to order it from this page and enter code 5454. Not later than July 31.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Christians Doubt Cornuke Has Found Noah's Ark

Recent claims that Robert Cornuke discovered the Ark of Noah in Iran are questioned by several people who believe that the flood of Noah was a historical event, but doubt that Cornuke has found evidence of it.

Dr. John Morris of the Institute for Creation Research comments on the "petrified wood" that Cornuke believes is from the ark. The article is brief and worth reading in full. Among other things, Morris notes:
The claim is made that the material is petrified wood, and it may be. But petrified wood is found in thousands of places around the world. Finding it here means nothing. Perhaps the ark is petrified, but this would necessitate conditions and a sequence of events which hardly seem likely here. Wood is best petrified when buried in volcanic ash, but the team have asserted that the region of their discovery is not volcanic. Without precise maps and study, it would be impossible to refute this claim.
Rick Lanser of the Associates for Biblical Research has written a much more detailed article, questioning in particular the Iranian location of Cornuke's find. He concludes:
For the above and other reasons which space does not allow me to deal with, it appears that Bob Cornuke's "filters" have prevented him from dealing fairly with much information which does not fit into his "Ark in Iran" hypothesis. When such data is considered, it raises great doubt that he has found anything related to Noah's Ark on Takht-e Suleiman. I would love to see his find hold up to close scrutiny so it can be used as a witness to the world of the trustworthiness of the Bible, but if I – who, as a brother in Christ, am "on his team" – can come up with this many problems in identifying the find on Mount Suleiman with the Ark, we can be sure that an unfriendly, secular world full of dyed-in-the-wool skeptics will find many more reasons to reject it. The best I think he can hope for is that many will want to hear his story as an adventure tale – but that may be enough for him, an expected benefit of the aggressive promotion of the site at the beginning. I just hope that in view of the many problems that have come to light, he presents his audiences with the FULL story, warts and all.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Tour de Beth Shemesh

Here's an announcement of competitive and fun bike rides next week:

An invitation to residents, riders, visitors....

Come watch Israeli's top Competitive Road-racing Cyclists compete in Beit Shemesh! Races begin at 7:00 am; Elite long-distance riders start at 10:30 a.m.

Then, take advantage of closed roads for a Public Ride - fun for the whole family! (6.5 km).

WHEN: Friday, July 21st

To register, go to www.bikeisrael.com and click on the Tour de Beit Shemesh banner at the top
of the page (the banner is in Hebrew). Enter each registrant separately.

COST: 30 NIS per person until July 18th. (Special rates for more than 4 family members.) All pre-registered riders (by July 18th) receive a bottle of water, t-shirt, medallion, and certificate of participation.

Riders who do not pre-register may register at the race site on the day of the race. Cost is 40 NIS (but does not include t-shirt, certificate, or a medal.)

Payment for ALL riders is on-site (next to the Beit Shemesh Memorial for Fallen Soldiers on Sderot Ben Gurion, across from the Fire Station), from 8:30 - 11:30 a.m. All riders (pre-registered and unregistered) must check-in before 11:15 am.

Riders under 12 MUST be accompanied by an adult rider. All riders MUST wear helmets.

Competitive riders (ICF insured and with completed health permit), should go to www.shvoong.co.il for more information.


Middle Bronze gate, Beth Shemesh, January 2006

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Hazor excavations update

With all of the rockets falling, I was wondering how the Hazor excavation team was getting along. Several of my friends are digging there, but I hadn't heard from them and a check on one of their blogs revealed nothing. Today part of the team showed up where I live and so I got a report.

They were digging away at 8:30 Thursday morning when they heard some loud noises and saw plumes of smoke about a mile south of the tell. The excavation director decided that they should take an "early second breakfast" and by the end of that, they were headed back to the hotel to grab some things. They spent the night in Tiberias, which today has been hit a number of times as well. There is no word yet on whether digging will proceed next week, but I'll tell you - not a chance. Not necessarily because of real danger, but because of liability. In the case of Hazor, the complete lack of guidance system on these Hezbollah missiles hurts the excavators. If the terrorists could aim the things, they surely wouldn't be aiming for a tell (and one of the Palestinians' ancestors, to hear the late Yassir Arafat tell it).

As far as excavation results, this season seems to have been much better than last. There are some good finds particularly coming out of Area M (map here). Unfortunately, unlike Tel Gath, I don't know of anything online about this year's excavation.

Hazor Area A, May 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006

That Megiddo "Church"

The ancient "church" at Megiddo is slated to be opened to tourists next spring, reports Haaretz. Within 4 years the prison itself should be entirely relocated so that the site can become a "tourist center." I think they might be over-estimating the site's importance with plans such as these:
The building in which it is located, which dates back to the British Mandate, will be turned into a center for tourists interested in ancient Christianity and the nearby airfield will be expanded to allow for pilgrim flights.
Do they really think that pilgrims are going to fly in just because they found an old "church"? Wouldn't Christians find slightly more interesting things places like, oh, the synagogue at Capernaum, the well of Jacob near Sychar, or the Mount of Olives?

Of greater interest is some new information on the "church" itself, and its date:
The oldest known Christian prayer sites date back to the middle of the fourth century, but experts who have visited the Megiddo site believe it goes back to the start of that century.

The date is based on shards and coins found at the site, as well as three Greek inscriptions on the mosaic floor of the church.

The Antiquities Authority describes the site not as a church but as a "prayer house" since it was apparently located inside a Roman officer's private home, according to one of the inscriptions. Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman empire in the year 313.

Other findings that are indicative of early Christian rites are the central symbol of the fish, found in the mosaic, (later changed to a cross) and the fact that in one of the inscriptions, Jesus is referred to as "the lord Christos," a term which later disappeared.
So it's no longer a "church" but a Christian home. That sounds like sufficient reason to expand the airport.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Excavations at Gath and Gezer

For some years, Americans and other foreigners were afraid to come to Israel. Now that the calm has returned (ha, ha), they have come back. Among the projects, the Philistine city of Gath is being currently being excavated primarily by Israelis, and the Israelite city of Gezer was excavated in June primarily by Americans.

The Gath team has done something extraordinary in maintaining an excavation blog. You should follow along with them if you want to know the latest. If you haven't checked in a few days, then you don't know that they found an ostraca (inscribed potsherd) on their first day of digging!

The first season of the Gezer excavations concluded successfully and director Steven Ortiz is interviewed about the results by the Book and the Spade radio program. Among other things, he discusses his discovery of thick destruction layer that may be dated to the destruction of Siamun (1 Kings 9:16). That interview may only be online for a few days, so don't wait if you are interested.

Back to the "calm situation," the reality in Israel is that it is always on the edge of some turmoil. That is life here. When you live in the midst of Arab enemies (and yes, even those who have made peace with Israel still hate her), times of stability are brief. Should that affect one coming to tour Israel or to participate in a dig? Absolutely not. Tour operators and excavation directors know where it is safe and they won't take their people to dangerous areas. CNN makes you think that all of Israel is in upheaval, and that is one of the ways that the media lies.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

July Quiz

Summer or not, it's time for a multiple-choice quiz.


What is pictured above?
A. Mt. Vesuvius
B. The entrance into the abyss
C. The home of the Hamas leader after he messed with Israel.
D. The newly-opened Gezer watersystem last week after a recent burn

Monday, July 10, 2006

Reason for the French to Rejoice!


BiblePlaces now speaks French. It's taken about a year and the heroic efforts of Mr. Philippe Viguier, but BibléLieux is now ready to share the best photos and descriptions of biblical sites to readers in France, Algérie, Bénin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroun, Cap vert, Centrafrique, Comores, Congo Brazzaville, Côte d'ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon, Guinée, Guinée-Bissau, Guinée-Equatoriale, Haiti, La Réunion, Les Seychelles, Madagascar, Maurice, Mali, Maroc, Mauritanie, Monaco, Niger, République démocratique du Congo, Rwanda, Sénégal, Suisse, Tchad, Togo, Tunisie and Québec.

If you're a French speaker, hop on over and explore the biblical world.

If you're an English speaker, you can do one of the following:
  1. Practice your French and see beautiful pictures at the same time.
  2. Tell all of your Canadian, African and French friends about it.
  3. Take a few minutes to learn something (in English) about a biblical site that you don't know much about, such as Aphek, Edom, Laodicea, or the Nahal Besor.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Turn the Other Cheek

You hear about the fights in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but I've never read as good of an account as this one.

The source is William E. Blackstone, The Jewish Era. Thanks to Jonathan Moorhead for sending it my way.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Photos of Biblical Sites in Iraq?

Some fanatic BiblePlaces readers have suggested that I go to Iraq and take pictures of the biblical sites there. Here are four reasons why that is a bad idea.

But it may be, and thus this inquiry, that there are people who have such pictures and would be interested in making them available to Bible teachers and students. These people could include soldiers recently in Iraq or tourists who went in safer days. So I'm putting a call out for anyone who has 1) good quality photos that 2) they can clearly identify of 3) biblical, Assyrian, and Babylonian sites in Iraq and is 4) willing to share them with a large audience. If that's you, drop me a note. Or you know someone in this category, have them email me.

For those of you who want such photos, you are free to comment here, but there's no need to pursue me. I'll let you know if and when such is available via the BiblePlaces Newsletter (signup here).


This is a screenshot from the amazing Google Earth of Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon.

The Top 5 in the Last 5

I've been asked what the top 5 archaeological discoveries related to the biblical record have been discovered in the last 5 years. I'm not really sure where to start in formulating a list except from my memory. So I'll start a list here and welcome suggestions for additional items.

Pool of Siloam
James Ossuary (forgery?)
Jehoash Inscription (forgery?)
Tel Zayit 10th c. abecedary
"Goliath" inscription from Gath
Ketef Hinnom Silver Amulets - new inscription
Palace of David (?)
10th century remains in Edom
9th century seals from City of David (not announced as far as I know)
Noah's Ark (3 or 4 times!)

A few notes:
1. This list is in no particular order.
2. The experts that I trust have not been convinced that the James Ossuary and Jehoash Inscription are forgeries. Some experts that I decidedly do not trust are convinced that they are forgeries. I have included them on this list until there is greater agreement on the matter.
3. I am not claiming that these items mean everything that has been attributed to them by various writers. I am also reserving judgment about the identification of the "palace of David," but include it here because it seems, in any case, to be a significant building in OT Jerusalem.
4. The Noah's Ark thing is a joke. (Here's an easy way to know if something is a genuine hoax: if it has the names of Ron Wyatt or Robert Cornuke attached to it.)

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