Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Valuable Maps of Israel

Unless you're in the Israeli military, the best maps of the country are those produced by the Survey of Israel in the 1:50,000 series. The 20 maps cover the land from Dan to Eilat and cost about $20 each. The maps are very detailed and include all the dirt roads and hiking trails, making it ideal for 4x4ers and backpackers. They are in Hebrew only, but if you can read the Hebrew alphabet, the maps are useful. I love 'em and use them all the time. No GPS needed!

A couple other maps worthy of mention from the same website:
Israel-Jordan (1;400,000) - believe it or not, this is the best map of Jordan available anywhere. In English.

South Sinai (1:250,000) - another Israeli map that is better than anything produced by the country itself. In English.

Road Atlas - the easiest one for use when driving around in a car. Not as detailed as the 1:50,000, but if you're staying on paved roads, this will suffice. It's a spiral-bound book, similar to the Thomas Guides or Rand McNally atlases. In English.

Two other resources worth noting:

Survey of Western Palestine - maps from the 1870s, at a scale of 1:63,000. Considered the best source for knowledge of the country before the modern population explosion. Available as part of an 11-volume set for $4,000 here, or in electronic format from us for $35.

Maps of British Mandatory Palestine - maps from the 1940s, showing the current status of Arab and Jewish settlements. We're not sure if these are available for sale anywhere, but BiblePlaces.com is working on publishing an electronic version of them. If you're impatient, contact us directly.

If you're looking more for maps to use in teaching contexts, see our review of "Electronic Maps for Bible Teaching, Part 1." Part 2 has not yet been completed.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Encyclopedia Judaica (Almost) Ready

I mentioned this some months ago, but the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica will soon be available for purchase. The 22-volume work includes 21,000 entries in 17,000 pages at a cost of $1,995. One entire volume is on Israel, and the Holocaust is the second longest entry. The Jerusalem Post has more details, or you can see the official website (one page only at this point), or pre-order it at Amazon. It's due out December 8.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Temple Mount Debris summary

The sifting of debris removed from the Temple Mount continues under the direction of Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Tzachi Zweig, and Haaretz provides the latest update from the work there. Many artifacts have been revealed in the project.
The oldest artifacts found are remnants of tools like a blade and scraper dating back 10,000 years. Some potsherds and shards of alabaster tools date from the Bronze Age - the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C.E. (the Canaanite and Jebusite eras). Only a handful of potsherds were found from the 10th century B.C.E. (the reigns of King David and King Solomon), but numerous artifacts date from the reigns of the later Judean kings (the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.), such as stone weights for weighing silver.

The most striking find from this period is a First Temple period bulla, or seal impression, containing ancient Hebrew writing, which may have belonged to a well-known family of priests mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.

Many other findings date from the Persian period (Return to Zion), Hasmonean, Ptolemaic and Herodian periods, as well as from Second Temple times. Second Temple finds include remains of buildings: plaster shards decorated a rust-red, which Barkai says was fashionable at the time; a stone measuring 10 centimeters and on it a sophisticated carving reminiscent of Herodian decorations; and a broken stone from a decorated part of the Temple Mount - still bearing signs of fire, which Barkai says are from the Temple's destruction in 70 C.E.
The Hebrew version of the article also includes a photograph of a bronze pendant and Roman and Babylonian arrowheads.

For background on where this all came from, see the photos and explanation here.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

New Archaeological Center in Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Post reports on the ground-breaking for an archaeological center that will house a million objects. The 5-acre campus will be constructed between the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum and is being funded by private donors.

The center will make public priceless archaeological treasures accumulated over the decades - including 15,000 Dead Sea Scrolls found in the Qumran excavations - which have heretofore been stored in the IAA headquarters at the Rockefeller Museum in east Jerusalem, out of the eye of the public.

The plan of the building is based on the idea of an archaeological excavation, Safdie said.

The building is arranged around three courtyards built along three descending levels. A dark glass canopy, reminiscent of the shade nets over archaeological excavations, will cover the main courtyard, which will serve as an open archaeological garden. A ring-like opening located in the canopy will allow rainwater to run into a pool situated in the courtyard below, creating a flowing waterfall. The three levels below it will be an open area that will include exhibition galleries, the largest library in the Middle East for the study of archaeology, a lecture hall and bridges overlooking the laboratories, and state treasures whose walls will be lined with glass curtains enabling the visitor to observe archaeological work in progress.

The campus will also include the country's nine-decade old archaeological archive, a 200-seat archaeological theater and an archaeological roof garden which will be used for the presentation of new finds.


The article says the center will be "opposite the Knesset between the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Temple Mount: No Status Quo


Muslim officials are proceeding with plans to construct a minaret on the Temple Mount. This minaret will be located near the Golden Gate (arrow in photo above) and will be the tallest minaret in the complex at 134 feet (42 m) high. This will be the first minaret constructed in 639 years, as the other four (circled in photo above) were built between 1278 and 1367. The prayer tower will be Jordanian in style and will cost approximately $700,000.

Such a construction is a violation of the principle of status quo of disputed holy sites in Israel, and almost certainly will be built without any archaeological supervision. It is ironic that if one wants to build a cottage in a remote part of Israel and antiquities are present, then an excavation must take place. But if one wants to construct on one of the most important sites in the Holy Land, there are no such requirements.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Free Dead Sea Scrolls Mug

The Biblical Archaeology Society has a survey for current subscribers that takes not more than 5 minutes and after which you can supply a mailing address to receive a free Dead Sea Scrolls mug. This normally sells for $10.

Unfortunately, they don't have space for comments. If they did, I'd complain that they sell my address to others. Ironically, in the email requesting subscribers to do the survey, they say, "We will not sell your mailing or email address and nobody will contact you as a result of your responses." But they do sell your magazine subscription address without asking or telling you.

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Is This Noah's Ark?: A New Critique by Gordon Franz

The alleged discovery of Noah's Ark in Iran has been discussed on this blog before ("Christians Doubt Cornuke Has Found Noah's Ark" and "We Sell Hope"), and we wanted to alert our readers to a new critique of Robert Cornuke's theory by Gordon Franz. The author's conclusion is appropriate and fair:
With so many theories claiming to discover biblical truth, the evangelical Christian community must be very discerning and follow the model of the Bereans who, after hearing the Apostle Paul himself, "searched the Scriptures to see whether these things are true." Before swallowing the next claim, our community must do our homework on the history, archaeology, geology and geography of the landing place of Noah's Ark using primary sources and hard data. If we cannot, then hold off judgment (pro or con) until others are given the opportunity to do so.

At this point the claims made by BASE Institute do not seem to have any merit. For the sake of the truth, however, I encourage the BASE Institute investigators to offer scholars, independent of the BASE Institute, full access to all the data. Let their best evidence come under the tests of scholarly scrutiny. When all the test results are in, the investigation and its claims will either be vindicated or proven false. The church, the witness to an unbelieving world, and truth itself deserve no less.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Rise and Fall of the Dead Sea

Yes, it's true - the Dead Sea's falling threatens the environment and the roads, and the Dead Sea's rising threatens the hotels. How one sea can be both rising and falling at the same time is best explained this way: there are two Dead Seas.

Until modern times, the Dead Sea was a 50-mile (78-km) long body of water, with a piece of land sticking out from the eastern side. Because it apparently looked like a tongue, it was called that in Hebrew (lashon) and Arabic (lisan).

With the damming of the Sea of Galilee and the use of water that formerly flowed down the Jordan River into the Dead Sea, the level of the Dead Sea dropped in the 20th century until the tongue reached all the way across the lake. The southern end is shallow and would have completed dried up if not for the channeling of water by the company that extracts minerals from the Dead Sea waters. So the southern end today is essentially an artificial evaporation basin, connected to the northern end only by manmade channels.

Today the northern end continues to drop because the limited inflow of water from the Jordan River. The southern end, however, is rising, because of the activities related to the mining of minerals. The rise of approximately 8 inches a year (20 cm) is now threatening the tourist resort of Ein Bokek and its many hotels.

Hotels of Ein Bokek

According to Haaretz, the Supreme Court of Israel has ordered the government to come up with a plan to solve this problem.

At present, there are three options: building a new lagoon with walls that will prevent flooding of the reservoirs, removing the extra salt from the bottom of the reservoirs or demolishing all hotels on the Dead Sea shore and rebuilding them in alternative locations.

In the meantime, expect the Dead Sea to continue to rise and fall simultaneously.

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David's Spa, Ha, Ha

The stupid article by Ynet News has been mentioned a few places in the blogosphere already (best take: Higgaion), but I want to add my two cents and a photo. I'm assuming that you've read the original article and Higgaion's response.

1. I don't think archaeologists are to be faulted here. I'd be willing to bet that this entire article is a figment of the author's imagination, possibly stimulated by some of the local paid workers at the site. The only archaeologist cited is Ronny Reich who rejects the article's premise. I don't know any other archaeologists who would claim something so foolish, especially at such an early stage.

2. An aqueduct has been found. In fact, a number of aqueducts have been uncovered in the last few months. The origin(s), destination(s), and date(s) of these water channels are not always clear. Collectively, there's a lot going on near the Pool of Siloam that archaeologists do not yet understand.

3. There is good reason to believe that there is another ancient pool or two to be found in the area. Pools mentioned in Jerusalem include the Old Pool (Isa 22:11), the Upper Pool (Isa 36:2), the Lower Pool (Isa 22:9), the King's Pool (Neh 2:14), the Pool of Siloam (Neh 3:15), and the artificial pool (Neh 3:16). It's quite possible that a pool had multiple names, but it's clear that these names do not all refer to the same pool. The convergence of the Kidron, Central, and Hinnom Valleys is a natural place to find pools because this is the lowest place topographically in the city.

Does it bother anybody that the article's author doesn't even know where the City of David is in reference to the Western Wall (it's directly south, not west). I confess that when I first read the article, I decided to ignore it because it was clearly worthless. I changed my mind because some people have paid attention to it.

One thing worth remembering: current excavations are uncovering new finds from the Second and First Temple periods that will certainly increase our understanding of Jerusalem's water systems in the biblical times.

Water channel recently discovered near Pool of Siloam
Photo taken Sept. 13, 2006


Adapted from Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem, 1865

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Priestly Blessing at Western Wall

A record number of Jews streamed to the Western Wall this morning for the traditional blessing of the priests during the festival of Sukkot. Police had to close the entrances into the prayer plaza because of the crowds.


Arutz-7 reports:
The ceremony has become a tradition ever since the liberation of the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War in 1967 and is seen as an observance of the Jewish obligation to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple three times a year, on Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). During the weeklong Pesach and Sukkot holidays, the ceremony is held on the second of the Hol haMoed (intermediate) days.

Hundreds of kohanim, Jews who trace their lineage to Aaron, the first High Priest, stood closest to the Western Wall to take part in the special blessings. Attending the Western Wall prayers Monday were Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger, as well as Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch. Rabbi Rabinovitch told Arutz-7 that Monday's priestly blessing marked the largest such gathering for prayers at the site since the first Sukkot after the Six Day War.

Police were forced to close the gates leading to the Western Wall Plaza due to its being filled to capacity by worshippers. "The blessing, however, reaches those stuck outside the plaza as well, obviously," Rabbi Rabinovitch said. He added that many of those packing the plaza were not outwardly observant. "Many secular Jews have adopted the custom of making a pilgrimage to the Western Wall on the holiday," he said.

The Birkat Kohanim is a part of daily prayers in Israel, but is only recited on holidays in most communities outside Israel. The blessing given appears in Numbers 6:23-27:

And G-d spoke to Moses saying: Speak unto Aaron and his sons, saying, in this manner shall you bless the children of Israel. Say to them:
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord shine His face upon you.
May the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and grant you peace.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Sukkot Activities in Israel

Numerous national parks in northern Israel are open to the public for free throughout the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) this week. The Jewish Agency is sponsoring the free admission in order to encourage tourism in the north following this summer's war.

The sites include:
  • Sepphoris (Zippori) National Park
  • Achziv National Park
  • Horshat Tal National Park
  • Baram National Park
  • Tel Hazor National Park
  • Nahal Iyon (Ayoun) Nature Reserve
  • Nimrod Fortress National Park
  • Kursi (Gergesa) National Park
  • Corazim (Chorazin) National Park
  • Ein Afek (Aphek) Nature Reserve
  • Nahal Amoud Nature Reserve
  • Hamat Tiberias National Park
  • Beit She'arim National Park
  • Beit Alfa Synagogue National Park
  • Kochav Hayarden (Belvoir) National Park
  • Tel Megiddo National Park
  • Nahal Me'arot Nature Reserve
  • Majersa (Batiha) Nature Reserve
  • Gamla Nature Reserve
  • Hula Valley Nature Reserve
  • Yehiam Fortress National Park
  • Beit She'an (Beth Shean) National Park
  • Agmon Hahula Yarden Park
Arutz-7 has a list of many other Sukkot activities, including a hike near Hebron, tours of the Temple Mount, concerts and more.

Mosaic floor from Tiberias synagogue featuring a lulav (palm frond) and etrog (citron), now on display at Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Oil Found Near Dead Sea

The media is reporting the discovery of oil near the Dead Sea. Expected yield is very low, but it raises hopes that there might be more in the area. From All Headline News:
A nationally-held Israeli exploration company announced Wednesday that it had discovered oil near the Dead Sea.

Speaking on Israel's Channel 10 News, Dr. Eli Tenenbaum of Genco said that after drilling to a depth of 1.2 miles, "we noticed that the pressure in the area was very high and when we opened the tap, oil started flowing freely for several minutes."

Dr. Tenenbaum said the reserve could contain as much as six million barrels of oil, giving it an estimated commercial value of $300 million.

"We hope it was the first of many [such discoveries]," he added.

Genco started its work 10 years ago, but was forced to stop due to the high costs of its operations. But with oil prices soaring, the government recently gave the company the go ahead to resume exploratory drilling.

Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told The Jerusalem Post that the government is now ready to back any company that wants to try to find oil inside the borders of Israel.
Dead Sea from west, Sept. 27, 2006

UPDATE (10/11): The Jerusalem Post has more details, including a major new investor.

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