Thursday, November 30, 2006

Jericho to Jerusalem

How long does it take to walk from Jericho to Jerusalem?  It took me 8 hours today to cover the distance of 15 miles (24 km) with an elevation increase of about 3400 feet (1060 m).  Not counting breaks, our group of 15 walked for six and a half hours.  It would have taken longer if it had been hotter or if we had run into Condoleeza Rice.  Fortunately, she went to Jericho today to solve the Middle East conflict.

Jesus traveled this route many times.  In fact, every time that he came to Jerusalem from Galilee, he would have traveled up the same Ascent of Adumim (unless permitted to travel through Samaria; cf. John 4 and Luke 9:52-53).  Scriptures record at least one trip of Jesus through Samaria and two trips by way of Jericho.  My guess is that he went this way dozens of times in his life.  Probably his parents had to climb back up to Jerusalem after realizing that their twelve-year-old boy wasn't in their caravan (Luke 2:41-50).  I would've been upset myself to have to make that return journey.

Parts of the Roman road are still visible in places, and the way today is safe and pleasant.  We didn't see any thieves, but did make a stop at the traditional "Inn of the Good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37).


Roman road from Jerusalem to Jericho

Sidenote: A couple of years ago I put together a photo essay on Jesus' Final Journey to Jerusalem for Jerusalem Perspective; it is available online to paid subscribers.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Don't Send Cash

A few days ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced that they intercepted a large shipment of ancient coins being mailed out of the country by a couple of licensed antiquities dealers.  More than 5,000 coins from the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods were recovered.

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority (via JPost)

I was at a site in the West Bank a couple of weeks ago that was covered with holes from illegal excavations.  Looting is a lucrative business; some coins are worth more than a year's salary.

Tekoa, hometown of prophet Amos, with evidence of illegal excavation

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Jewish Quarter Excavations

Plans to reconstruct an important synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem have given archaeologists the opportunity to excavate. The Hurvah synagogue was the largest and most beautiful in the city before its destruction in the 1948 War of Independence. Following the restoration of the Jewish Quarter since 1967, the location of the synagogue has been marked by a single arch.

Hurvah Synagogue arch before removal

Haaretz reports on some of the discoveries made by archaeologists Hillel Geva and Oren Gutfeld. The most significant find is an intact Byzantine arch which apparently served as a gate for a street leading from the Cardo. They have also found buildings from earlier periods.

Hurvah synagogue during renovation

The excavations, which began in 2003, also unearthed structures and pottery from the First Temple period, remnants of rooms from the Herodian period (Second Temple), burnt wooden logs (evidence of fire that took place after the destruction of the Second Temple), and three plastered ritual baths carved in rock from the Second Temple period.

Old City from west; location of synagogue is circled in red

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Monday, November 27, 2006

New Videos of Ancient Sites in Israel

Tim Bulkeley of ebibletools.com has recently completed several videos (or narrated slideshows) of archaeological sites in Israel, including Lachish, Arad, and Megiddo. Each is approximately five minutes long and they are interesting and informative (though the Arad remains are Early, not Middle Bronze). I've had it in mind to do something like this myself, and perhaps this will renew my motivation. One subject that would lend itself well to this is the location of Jesus' crucifixion. Tim also has some of his photos of Israel available for free (non-commercial) use.

HT: ANE-2 Yahoo Group

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Learn Hieroglyphics Online

From the ANE-2 yahoo group:
Have you always wanted to be able to decipher the secrets of ancient Egypt yourself by reading the hieroglyphs? Have you tried teaching yourself hieroglyphs but gave up because you had no one to answer your questions and no other students with whom to learn? If so, Glyphdoctors' course in Middle Egyptian provides you with a complete introduction to Middle Egyptian grammar, enabling you to comprehend and translate literary, religious, historical and documentary texts in the language. The course is taught online and is self-paced so you can fit it into any schedule, anywhere. You will gain access to a virtual classroom where you will have the guidance of Egyptologist Nicole Hansen (who has a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago) and be able to interact with other students.

You can read more about the course here, view an animated course preview here, or see what currently enrolled students are saying about the course here.

The material covered by this course is the equivalent of a first year university-level course in Middle Egyptian.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Island of Cyprus #1 (Initial Thoughts)

Last year I went on a 5-day trip to Cyprus with a friend. This was part of my project to visit all of the sites that Paul traveled to, and to include them on a new "Greek Islands" CD in the Pictorial Library series. At the end of the trip, I sat down and wrote a series of posts for the blog, which I never got around to posting. Now with the end-of-the-semester time crunch, this is a good opportunity to share these, with the hope that they are both instructive and enjoyable.

I'll start with some of the negatives, moving to some of the more positive experiences and insights in later posts. Overall, I would characterize this trip as less enjoyable to me than other trips because:

1. There are only two biblical sites (Salamis and Paphos) and the connection there is very limited; furthermore, there is nothing at the sites that you can directly connect with the biblical account.

2. The weather was overcast more than sunny, making photographs more dreary. I would recommend visiting in April instead of March.

3. The costs were significantly higher than expected (e.g., $80/day for rental car; $45 for a cheap hotel).

4. Cyprus history is not well known to me, and as I learned more about it, I would confess that it did not become very exciting to me. There are connections with Israel/Canaan, but these are less than one might expect. The Myceneans and Minoans, who I would expect to have more of a connection with this island, don't seem to. There is not much evidence of Jewish presence.

5. The divided nature of the island adds another challenge to travel logistics. It did seem to me that there was no control at the border, such that we could have stayed many days on the northern side and the Greeks wouldn't know (though the rules say you can't stay overnight). They didn't stamp or record our passport when we left, and no one looked at it when we came back in. I could have used another day on the northern side to visit Kyrenia and some sites to its west.

6. They drive on the "wrong" side of the road here (as a former British colony). You drive from the "passenger" seat, and shift gears with your left hand. Of course you learn how to do all of this when starting at the rental car agency in the middle of the big city's downtown.

7. Most of the sites were not well-marked, so oftentimes we didn't know what we were looking at. And there were not brochures to explain it either. I don't know of a good archaeological guide with plans of all of the sites. The Fant & Reddish book was helpful for what it covered.

8. The ruins are not dramatic. There are three sites that have more to see: Salamis, Kourion, and Paphos. But compared with other sites (such as in Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Rome), these are just not impressive.

9. We were a little too early in the season to see all of the colors of spring. The coastal areas were quite green and had flowers, but the mountains were still coming out of winter.

10. Cyprus is largely a tourist vacation spot today, and in many ways it seemed like a great place to come and spend a week with our wives. But it wasn't warm, we didn't spend any time at the beach, and our wives were not with us.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

10 Percent Off

BiblePlaces.com has been one of the premier websites for biblical studies for over five years now and we've never celebrated or even noted our anniversaries. We're not particularly proud of ourselves because we know how much better we could be. But we're trying, and there are some terrific resources that we've been working hard on. So, for no special reason, except maybe to encourage people who only buy when there is a "sale," we've decided to offer our first "sale."

How much? 10% percent off

What products?

How long? One week, until November 28, 2006.

How do I get it? This link [expired] will take you to the order page and give you the discount. The reduced prices will be shown on the confirmation page.

How much is shipping? Free, unless you live outside the U.S. or want it tomorrow.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Qumran Latrine Location Photo

James Tabor, who made the initial suggestion to study a certain area for bathroom activity at Qumran, comments on the discovery on his Jesus Dynasty blog.  He includes an aerial photo showing the location of the latrine area.  Here is another photo which also shows the area of the latrines in relation to the site.  The rocky outcropping would have provided privacy from anyone in the vicinity of the settlement.

HT: Paleojudaica

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Hazor 2006 Excavation Report

The 2006 report of the Hazor excavations is now online.  Though the season was cut short by the war with Lebanon, the excavators made good progress and the report reflects that.  If nothing else, you'll love the beautiful aerial photo of the Solomonic gate and surrounding excavations.

HT: The ABR Newsletter (not online, but subscribe here).

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Google Earth and old maps

I count myself a member of the Google Earth fan club.  The latest update to the software gives you the ability to overlay historic maps over the globe.  Of interest to biblical studies is the "Middle East 1961" map, which is a combination of two maps from Keith Johnston.  This map itself is interesting, but maybe no more than that because the detail is so limited.  The map covers a large swath from Turkey to Afghanistan.  A more detailed map like the Survey of Western Palestine would be more useful.

To view this map, or others such as Lewis and Clark 1814, Asia 1710, or Buenos Aires 1892, you must first install the most recent version of Google Earth.  Then in the "Layers" section, under "Featured Content," choose the Rumsey Historical Maps section.

For more on this development, see the ZDNet blog or the comments by the map owner, David Rumsey, on the Official Google Blog.

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Evidence from Qumran Toilet Practices

Scholars have long debated the identity of those who lived at Qumran.  Most believe that the site was inhabited by Essenes, an ascetic group that separated themselves from the corruption of Jerusalem and the Temple.  There at Qumran they eked out an existence and copied scrolls by night.  Even in recent months the consensus theory has been challenged by those who believe that Qumran was a place of pottery manufacture.

Results from a recent study of the soil around Qumran strengthens the majority view.  Israeli paleopathologist Joe Zias found remains of human excrement about 500 meters north of the site.  The intestinal parasites in the remains prove that the remains were of human origin, and the burial of the feces indicates that they aren't from Bedouins, as the latter do not bury their excrement.  It seems unlikely at best to suggest that pottery makers or inhabitants of a Roman villa would travel such a distance to relieve themselves, and thus this discovery supports the Essene hypothesis.

The results of the article will be published in Revue de Qumran, but the Jerusalem Post has the best synopsis online.  The story is quite fascinating and it would have been a perfect article for Biblical Archaeology Review, but the poor relationship between Shanks and Zias precludes such a possibility.

Zias goes further in the study to suggest that the short life expectancy of the Qumranites (as evidenced in a study of the cemeteries) was the result of their sanitary practices.  The Qumranites would pick up parasites as they walked through the defecating field which would then be passed on to everyone through the daily immersions in the ritual baths.

The article in Nature ends with this non-sequitur from Zias:
If his theory is correct, it might therefore carry a lesson about religious fundamentalism, Zias adds. "It shows what happens when people take biblical things too fundamentally or literally, as they do in many parts of the world, and what the ultimate consequences are."
Qumran from southwest

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lecture Series at Bible Lands Museum

The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem has a special lecture series running through April 2007. The topic is "The Bible: A View from the 21st Century - Literary Genres," and it is advertised as addressing these questions:
How did ancient Israel's law resemble that of its neighbors? Who was a false prophet? What makes the writing of history in Ancient Israel unique? And more… Join us as leading Bible scholars will analyze the various literary genres of the books of the Bible, their content and their form.
The lecture schedule posted so far is as follows:

November 15, 2006
Lecture I in the Hebrew series “The Bible, A View from the 21st Century – Literary, Genres”:
The Bible – Beginning of the Jewish “Big Bang”
Prof. Yair Zakovitch, Hebrew Univ.
Lecture in Hebrew

November 22, 2006
A Chalcolithic Cemetery in Palmachim: Features of a Peripheral Site in the Center?
Amir Gorzalczany, IAA
Lecture in Hebrew

November 29, 2006
Lecture I in the English series “The Bible, A View from the 21st Century – Literary, Genres”:
The Bible – Beginning of the Jewish “Big Bang”
Prof. Yair Zakovitch, Hebrew Univ.
Lecture in English

December 6, 2006
Lecture II in the Hebrew Series “The Bible, A View from the 21st Century – Literary Genres”:
Teachings and Commandments; Laws and Statutes: Features of Biblical Law
Dr. Baruch Schwartz, Hebrew Univ.
Lecture in Hebrew

December 13, 2006
Antiochus IV and the Levant: the Wider Context of the Macchabean Revolt
Dr. Gerald Finkielsztejn, IAA
Lecture in Hebrew

December 27, 2006
Lecture II in the English Series “The Bible, A View from the 21st Century – Literary Genres”:
Teachings and Commandments; Laws and Statutes: Features of Biblical Law
Dr. Baruch Schwartz, Hebrew Univ.
Lecture in English

January 3, 2007
Lecture III in the Hebrew Series “The Bible, A View from the 21st Century – Literary Genres”:
History Writing in Israel: Scope, Origins, Forms, and View
Prof. Sarah Japhet, Hebrew Univ.
Lecture in Hebrew

The lectures are free with museum entrance.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Finds from the Temple Mount

Yesterday afternoon I took my archaeology students to help with the on-going sifting operation from the Temple Mount debris. They have made some remarkably discoveries in the two years that they have been methodically sifting the material.


The archaeologist in charge is Gabriel Barkay, who has been involved in Jerusalem archaeology for the last 40 years. He suggested yesterday that the current project may take him the rest of his life. They have searched less than half of the debris so far.

Last week a major find from the same material was announced in the journal of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. An inscription from a monumental arch with the name of the Roman general Silva was discovered by the Muslims during the earth's removal, but it only became known to a few archaeologists several years ago. The inscription is about 3 feet long by 2 feet high and, according to Barkay, was part of a hence unknown Roman triumphal arch in the vicinity of the Temple Mount. Haaretz has more details.

For more about the project, see the Temple Mount Archaeological Destruction website. The author, Zachi Zweig, tells me that a new website is coming with up-to-date information.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Holy Land Satellite Atlas and CD

Sunday Software has a special on the Holy Land Satellite Atlas, volume 1, with a fly-over CD, produced by Rohr Productions (Richard Cleave). The atlas itself is splendid and hard to find. This is the atlas to get if you want to see the land of Israel and Jordan. The maps are very detailed (1:275,000, 1:150,000, and 1:100,000) and includes both satellite images and layer-tint views (see the book cover for an example of each). Gorgeous and instructive!

The CD is even more difficult to find. I've seen various editions of this CD and am not sure exactly which one is for sale here, but I think the following adjectives apply to all of the versions I've seen: unique, beautiful, and buggy. For those who use Google Earth, it should be noted that this CD is not as easy to navigate and the resolution is not as high as GE (contrary to what Sunday Software says). But there are some close-up shots of biblical sites which you don't get on GE.

The regular price for both is $70, and it's $5 off until Thanksgiving (Nov. 23). Unfortunately Sunday Software does not carry volume 2 and I can't tell you where to get it. Rohr Productions has been consistent for years in producing some of the best materials for studying the Holy Land and then making it nearly impossible to buy them. (Sunday Software says you can contact Rohr directly about buying volume two; good luck in getting a response.)

There are a lot more details about the atlas and software at Sunday Software's site. They also carry a set of beautiful posters of the Holy Lands. If you're in a rush to get them though, you'll be disappointed. It took over a month for my set to arrive (to a US address).

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