Sunday, September 24, 2006

Jerusalem's Museum of Tolerance update

The AP has a good summary of the battle over the construction of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. The Simon Wiesenthal Center wants to build the museum where a parking lot has been located, but Muslim organizations are unhappy because it encroaches on an old Muslim cemetery. Read the story for the update, but note the archaeologist's comment that if you're going to protect every grave in Israel, people are going to need to commute from another country. Some have noted the irony that Muslims built a hotel over the part of the cemetery in the mid-20th century. It's also interesting to see the ultra-Orthodox and Muslims groups join hands on this issue.

Jerusalem from northwest.
Click on photo for more detail.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Excavations in Western Wall Plaza

Excavations have been going on for a few months in the back (west side) of the Western Wall plaza. The Israel Antiquities Authority has a brief description of the finds so far. In short, they are excavating a building complex from the Mamluk and Ottoman periods that consists of several vaults.

This is a view from near the Western Wall towards the excavations, which are located just to the left (south) of the police station.


The excavations began in April, before construction of a building in this location.

One of the vaults is visible below the metal walkway.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Review of The Exodus Decoded

I've mentioned The Exodus Decoded here before, and over at Higgaion, Chris Heard is doing a very extended review of the movie (Part 1 | Part 2 (with addendum) | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7). His analysis has elicited responses from the man behind the movie, Simcha Jacobovici, which gives the reader the chance to decide for himself/herself who to trust. Those who have watched the movie and think there's something to it would do well to read it. Such a dialogue should have taken place before the 3 million dollars was spent, and it's a lesson on why you should never trust new ideas which are first promoted on television. If the ideas had merit, they could bear the weight of scholarly scrutiny and an end-run around academia to the masses with dazzling graphics would not be necessary. Unfortunately this isn't the first guy to pull such a trick and it won't be the last.

Lest any new readers to this blog think that I'm just another liberal blasting someone trying to prove the Bible true, that's not so. I believe the Bible is an accurate record of history, including in all of its details about the exodus. I just believe that The Exodus Decoded does not do any favors to the biblical record.

UPDATE (9/22): Bryant Wood of Associates for Biblical Research has posted a review of the movie. This one is shorter than Heard's and is written by one who believes in the accuracy of the biblical narrative. I recommend it.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Ancient Cemetery Discovered in Jerusalem

Archaeologists have recently uncovered a large cemetery where the Jerusalem model of the Holyland Hotel once sat. Hundreds of thousands of tourists have flocked to the site, never knowing that they were standing on top of a remarkably well-preserved Intermediate Bronze cemetery.


For forty years, the Holyland Hotel model was a highlight of many tourists' visits to Jerusalem. But then the owners decided they could make more money if the land was developed into high-rise apartment buildings. Construction began while an alternate location for the model was sought.



Earlier this year the model was transported from its original location to the Israel Museum where it is now on display to the public. What no one knew is that the model site was a cemetery during the Intermediate Bronze Age.


About 20 shaft graves have been excavated so far, but it is estimated that there are 50 tombs in the area.


Shaft graves are the most common type of tomb from the Intermediate Bronze Age. This period dates from approximately 2300-2000 B.C., and has also been known as Early Bronze IV and Middle Bronze I.


A shaft grave consists of two sections: a shaft and a burial chamber. The photo above shows a tomb with most of the top missing, but gives a good top-plan of the tomb. The shaft is in the back and the burial chamber is in the foreground.


More of this tomb is preserved, including about 5 feet (1.6 m) of depth of the shaft. Typically the shafts are about 6 feet (2 m) deep. The burial chamber was sealed off from the shaft by a blocking stone, which is visible below the boy's hands.


In this tomb, a larger blocking stone has been preserved in the shaft. Visible behind Superman is an opening to the burial chamber.


This burial chamber was preserved to a greater height, but the large hole in the ceiling gives a good view. Other burial chambers are preserved intact, but dark caves don't look as interesting in a photograph.

Finds from the tombs indicate that they continued in use into the Middle Bronze period (2000-1550 B.C.). The Mount of Olives is also home to a cemetery from this period, but less is known about it because later cemeteries were built over it (in the Second Temple and modern periods). This cemetery is located 3 miles (4.8 km) west of the Temple Mount (here's the kmz file for those with Google Earth).

As far as we know, this discovery has not yet been reported in the media.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

City of David Excavations Restarted

Excavations began this week in the City of David under the direction of Eilat Mazar. The plan is to dig for six months, ostensibly with hopes of learning more about the structure identified by the excavator as the palace of David.


Area G from the east, 2 days ago


From a distance, it looks like someone else is digging in the City of David as well.

View from east, 2 days ago

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Religious Attack Archaeological Site

I read two completely different news articles today, but wonder if somewhere, somehow there might be a connection.

The Biblical Archaeology Society has a report (since removed; in Google's cache here) on the attack and vandalism of the archaeological site of Bethsaida by ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The next morning at 5:30 a.m. five vans arrived with black-coated thugs armed with knives. They broke down the fences on the site, entered the areas being excavated, vandalized the excavation equipment and trampled the freshly-dug areas, destroying walls, pushing down boulders, and using their knives to cut the ropes and excavation tarpaulins. For good measure, they pulled down signage.

They did this because they claimed the site "was a Jewish cemetery of our forefathers." The excavator says though, "I have no idea why they came to Bethsaida," said Arav. There are no tombs at the site—Jewish or otherwise."

Elsewhere, the Jerusalem Post has a report on an organization that is trying to help those who are leaving the ultra-Orthodox fold. One of the biggest problems is their lack of education. A leader of the group says:
"Even those who come from the best yeshivas, such as Ponevezh, stopped their [secular] education at somewhere around the fourth grade level, she said. "They learn nothing about history, civics, literature, and geography - not even Bible as we now it.

There is at least one scandal here.

Iron Age Gate at Bethsaida

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Archaeology Lecture Series at Wheaton

Here's another archaeology lecture series of interest, this time for those in the Chicago area. This is the 51st annual lecture series of Wheaton College, this year entitled "Greeks in the Holy Land." Note the lecture title by Kletter gives away the "startling new discoveries" that were to be revealed in his lecture in Los Angeles. Kudos to John Monson and the guys at Wheaton for making all of the lectures free! Here are the details:

There is a long history of interaction between the peoples of the Aegean and the Holy Land. This year's lecture series will emphasize the key points of intersection between these cultures and the impact that their interaction had upon the history, culture, and religion of ancient Israelites, Jews, and Christians. The lectures are free to the public and will be on select Tuesday evenings at 6:30 pm in the Billy Graham Center, Room 140.

Tuesday, September 26
David Chapman, Professor of New Testament and Biblical Archaeology, Curator of the W.H. Mare Institute for Biblical and Archaeological Studies, Covenant Theological Seminary
Marriage and family in the Jewish/Greek world

Tuesday, October 3
Assaf Yasur-Landau, Researcher, Institute of Archaeology, Tel-Aviv University
How the Philistines reached the Holy Land

Tuesday, October10
John McRay, Professor of archaeology emeritus, Wheaton College
Archaeology and the life of Paul

Tuesday, October 24
Gene Green, Professor of New Testament, Wheaton College
The Gospel and the Thessalonians in their cultural context

Tuesday, October 31
James Jeffers, Professor and Coordinator of Humanities MA, California State University, Dominguez Hills
Greeks, Romans, and religion in the Holy Land

Tuesday, November 7
Raz Kletter, Excavations and Surveys Department, Israel Antiquities Authority
What to do with a Hundred Cultic Stands--the Finds From Yavneh of the Philistines

Tuesday, Nov 28
Michael Graves, Visiting Professor, Wheaton College
A Roman in Greek Palestine: Jerome and the development of Near Eastern studies

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Archaeology Lectures in Southern California

The University of Judaism has announced their fall lecture series on Archaeology and the Bible. This year the series is entitled, "Archaeology and the Bible: New Discoveries, New Methods, New Interpretations, New Insights." As in previous years, the cost to attend individual lectures is $25. Or if you register by October 6, the cost for all is $125. More information is available at the UoJ website. The UoJ campus is in Los Angeles, not far from the Getty Museum off the 405. The scheduled lectures are:

Christopher A. Rollston, "Fakers, Forgers, and Con Artists: How Forged Artifacts and Inscriptions Corrupt Biblical History" (Oct. 23)

Raz Kletter, "Philistine Cult and Religion: The Startling New Discoveries from Yavneh" (Oct. 30)

Tessa Rajak, "Melting Pot or Market Place? Jews, Christians and Pagans in the Cities of the Roman Empire" (Nov. 6)

Eveline van der Steen, "Bedouins and the Bible" (Nov. 13)

Avi Faust, "Biblical Archaeology, the Prophets of Israel and the Poor" (Nov. 20)

William Schniedewind, "The First Scribes in Ancient Israel and the Beginnings of Biblical Literature" (Nov. 27)

Marvin Meyer, "The Recently Published Gospel of Judas, Gnosticism, and the Jewish Connection" (Dec. 4)

Christoph Uehlinger, "Insights from Images: What Do Assyrian Sculptures Tell Us About the History of Religion in Ancient Israel?" (Dec. 11)

I think if my budget or time were limited, my first two choices would be the lectures by Faust and Schniedewind.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Jerusalem Archaeology and Gabriel Barkay

The Guardian has an article ostensibly about Jerusalem, but which seems to have been the result of a tour with archaeologist Gabriel Barkay. This is one of those articles that reminds you not to believe everything that you read. Among the errors in the first two paragraphs, Barkay worked in Silwan (not the City of David) in 1968-1970 (not in the 1970s) conducting a survey (not an excavation).

The author writes, "In the 1970s, he led a group of school children on a tour of first Temple tombs above the Valley of Hinnom...." The year was 1979 and he was conducting an archaeological excavation, not leading a tour. Some school children did join the excavation as volunteers, but I can hardly imagine Barkay leading some tour when "one of the pupils started hammering at a stone slab which suddenly gave way" - yikes! Not exactly how one should do archaeology, but, of course, it didn't happen that way at all. Instead of this sloppy journalism, I recommend an article on Barkay that was published last year in Haaretz starting here and continuing here.

Gabriel Barkay and Michael Avi-Yonah, 1968
Unpublished photo from a forthcoming BiblePlaces.com photo CD

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Old City Population

Statistics may be boring to many, but a survey conducted by Dr. Maya Hoshen relating to the history of the population of the historic Old City of Jerusalem revealed that in 2004 the residents within the main part of the walls numbered 131,400 - "out of whom 16,200 were Jewish (12%), 115,200 Arabs (88%). 93% of the Arab population was Muslim, the rest Christian" (Kol Ha'Ir, August 11). In other words, of the Arab population of the Old City, only 7% were Christians.
Source: Caspari Center Media Review

UPDATE (9/12): The above numbers are incorrect. According to data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics from 2003 (as cited in a Peace Now report), the Old City population is 35,372 people, not 131,000! The Muslim percentage is about 77%. The report gives other interesting statistics of the population of each quarter.
With 35,372 residents and a total area of about 900 dunams, Jerusalem’s Old City is one of the most densely populated areas in Israel, and the Muslim Quarter is the most densely populated area of the Old City. Population density varies dramatically within the Old City; details for each quarter, and for Jerusalem as a whole, are as follows:

Jerusalem: Jerusalem (not including the Old City) is about 125,398 dunams in size, with 657,845 residents, for a population density of about 5 persons per dunam.

The Jewish Quarter: The Jewish Quarter is 122 dunams in size and has 2,387 inhabitants, for a population density of around 20 persons per dunam. Of these residents, 1,811 are Jewish, 560 are Muslim, 12 are Christian, and 4 are "unclassified." According to a 2002 report by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel studies, the Muslim population is composed of around 100 families living mainly on the edge of the Quarter, in homes that were designated for expropriation after 1967, but never actually taken from their owners.

The Christian Quarter: The Christian Quarter is 192 dunams in size and has 5,276 residents, for a population density of around 28 persons per dunam. Of these residents, 3888 are Christian, 1,242 are Muslim, 143 are Jewish, and 3 are "unclassified."

The Armenian Quarter: The Armenian Quarter is 126 dunams in size and has 2,461 residents, for a population density of around 20 persons per dunam. Of these residents, 1205 are Christian, 748 are Jewish, 504 are Muslims, and 4 are "unclassified."

The Muslim Quarter: The Muslim Quarter has a population of 25,248 residents and is 461 dunams in size, of which about 142 dunams is taken up by the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif – an area not available for residence. This yields an overall population density (for the habitable 319 dunams) of about 79 persons per dunam. Of these residents, 23,461 are Muslim, 431 are Jewish, 1354 are Christian, and 2 are "unclassified."
HT: Carl Rasmussen of Holy Land Photos for catching the error.

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Terrorism in Ancient Theater

A gunman opened fire in the Roman theater of Amman, Jordan on Monday, killing one and wounding six other tourists. Attacks on tourists in moderate Arab nations are usually motivated by a desire to hurt the government and economy by scaring tourists away. A similar episode, but larger in scale, was the terrorist take-over of the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt in 1997.

Amman was the capital of the biblical Ammonites and was known as Rabbath-Ammon. The Bible describes David's capture of the city during the time of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:16-17). Uriah was killed when he came too close to the walls. By the New Testament period, the site was known as Philadelphia, and it was a large and impressive city of the Decapolis.


Roman theater in Amman

Monday, September 04, 2006

Photos of Lebanese Archaeological Sites After the War

According to National Geographic, there was little or no damage to Lebanese antiquities from the recent war with Israel. The NG photo gallery gives 6 photos of sites including Baalbek, Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos, with some explanation about their historical significance and the lack of damage to the archaeological remains. For more photographs of these sites from a long time ago, see Baalbek, Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli, and Tyre at our sister site, LifeintheHolyLand.com.

Tyre in the 1890s

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More Talk on the Dead Sea Canal

You could be forgiven for thinking that a new problem has been discovered and a rapid response is underway from the Sunday Times article, "Race is on to save the Dead Sea." In fact, a Red Sea-Dead Sea aqueduct has been considered by Israel and Jordan for at least a decade. Whether or not the current discussions are more serious is difficult to know. The article notes that the flow of the Jordan River into the Dead Sea is 7% of what it was before the countries began diverting its flow. The declining level (cited at 1 meter/3 feet per year) is certainly causing problems with sinkholes and unstable terrain.

The article suggests that Jordan is most interested in the project because the bulk of it would be done on their side, with outside financing. Despite the hopes that a joint Arab-Israeli project would increase peace prospects, the way that this project stands the best chance of succeeding is if it is largely constructed by one country or the other.


Dead Sea: the shoreline just keeps getting farther and farther away.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tiberias Theater to Be Excavated

The Israeli government is planning on investing $5 million in the development of an archaeological park in Tiberias. Excavations have been ongoing in the city under the direction of Yizhar Hirschfeld, and the new funding will go towards the excavation of the Roman theater, according to a note in Haaretz.

The theater was discovered in 1990 and was a surprise to archaeologists because no ancient sources mention the building. Tiberias was founded by Herod Antipas in 19 A.D., and scholars believe the theater was built in the 2nd or 3rd centuries and remained in use through the Byzantine period. The theater is located at the foot of Mount Berenice and has an estimated seating capacity of 5,000.

Last year Hirschfeld published a handbook about Tiberias, which pulls all of the sources about the city together into a single, easy-to-read work: Roman, Byzantine, and Early Muslim Tiberias: A Handbook of Primary Sources. The book is available for $20 from the excavator or from Amazon for double the cost. Proceeds from sales go to the archaeological excavation.

Visible remains of Tiberias theater