Friday, August 31, 2007

Bahat: Archaeologists Politically Motivated; Wall Must Not Exist

The AFT has a follow-up to yesterday's article on the discovery of a wall from the Second Temple.  The article is headlined "Doubts over 'second temple remains' in Jerusalem."  The headline is misleading.  The only one casting doubts in the article is Dan Bahat, who has a record for distorting evidence related to the Temple Mount.  He admits that he hasn't seen the wall, and his reaction is but a knee-jerk response to the claims of other archaeologists who he says are "waging a politically inspired campaign, systematically for several years, to strengthen Israeli control over the esplanade."  Even assuming that this charge is true, that doesn't change the nature of construction that is being revealed and possibly destroyed on the Temple Mount.  The fact that the police haven't stepped in doesn't mean anything; they didn't step in when thousands of tons of earth were removed in the late 1990s either.  I mentioned in the last post that Barkay is a trustworthy voice on the subject; I can't say the same for Bahat.  In addition to his appearances in the media, his Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem is filled with errors.  I use portions of it with students, but with cautions.  The maps are very helpful and generally more reliable.  (I list some better books here.)

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post now covers the story.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Remains of Second Temple Found?

This could be a very important discovery (or it could not), but I doubt we will ever know.  First the story from a couple of sources and then a few comments of my own.

From AFP:

Remains of the Jewish second temple may have been found during work to lay pipes at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem, Israeli television reported Thursday.

Israeli television broadcast footage of a mechanical digger at the site which Israeli archaeologists visited on Thursday.

Gaby Barkai, an archaeologist from Bar Ilan University, urged the Israeli government to stop the pipework after the discovery of what he said is "a massive seven metre-long wall."

Television said the pipework carried out by the office of Muslim religious affairs, or Waqf, is about 1.5 metres deep and about 100 metres long.

From Arutz-7:

Top Israeli archaeologists held an emergency press conference on Thursday, warning that a Second Temple courtyard wall is in danger of being destroyed by the Arab excavations there....

Dr. Gavriel Barkai opened by saying, "A month and a half ago, the Muslim Waqf [religious trust] began digging a trench more than 400 meters [1,300 feet] long - the largest such work ever carried out on the Temple Mount... These are criminal acts that have no place in a cultured country."

"Some man-worked stones have been found in the trench, as well as remnants of a wall that according to all our estimations, are from a structure in one of the outer courtyards in the Holy Temple.  Such important work is being done without the supervision of the Antiquities Authority."

"The archaeological damage is many times worse," Mazar said, "in light of the fact that the ground level is only slightly above the original Temple Mount platform.  And in fact, the bedrock has been uncovered in some places - meaning that earth that has been in place for many centuries, even possibly since the First Temple, has been removed."

My reaction is that this could be something significant, or it could not.  What Mazar says is correct, that present ground level of the Temple Mount is generally very close to ancient ground level.  But it's possible that there was construction in this area in the intervening 1,900 years since the Second Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.  But it is absolutely critical that the wall (and everything else underground) be studied carefully, so that a proper assessment can be made.  The finds underground are important, whether they're from the Second Temple, or from an 8th-century Muslim structure, or something else.  Unfortunately, it appears that we will never know because what is being dug up is being destroyed, and then it will be re-buried.

Temple Mount aerial from se2, tb q010703
Temple Mount from southeast

If this is a wall of the Second Temple, this would be very significant.  But further clarification is needed.  There are lots of walls "of the Second Temple."  Most readers would probably assume that this is a wall of the  actual building itself, into which priests went to offer incense (such as Zechariah in Luke 1).  But this is certainly not the case, based on the location of the trench, which you can see in the top photo of this page.  Rather this is the area (so we believe) of the courts of the Temple, such as the Court of the Women and Court of the Gentiles. 

What exactly has been found is not clear.  Barkay calls it "a massive seven metre-long wall."  This may be a misquote, because on the face of it it makes no sense.  That a wall is 20 feet long is not unusual; even average ancient houses had walls this long.  You wouldn't necessarily describe it as "massive," unless you knew something about its width.  And perhaps Barkay does but he isn't quoted on that.  I'm suspicious though because the width of the trench appears to be no more than 3 feet wide (according to photos at the previous link).  In short, it's not clear exactly what has been found.  Barkay clearly wants to get attention with his statement, and I hope he gets it.  It's, however, incorrect that this is "the largest such work ever carried out on the Temple Mount."  The excavation of the massive entrance to the underground el-Marwani Mosque (in so-called Solomon's Stables) in the late 1990s was much bigger.  Barkay knows that, as he is the archaeologist in charge of sifting all of the debris that was discarded.  On the other hand, this trench is much more centrally located that the other dig, and thus more likely to reveal ancient items of interest.

BTW, I know that many people don't know the personalities in this discussion, and it's harder to evaluate statements when you don't know the person making the statement.  I've known him for 15 years, and in my view, Barkay is the best of the best.

Leen Ritmeyer hasn't posted anything on this specific discovery, but he likely will, and it will be worth reading.

UPDATE: On further reflection, it is possible that a 7-meter wall was discovered in a 3-foot trench, if the trench made a cross-section of the wall and exposed faces on either side.  But that raises another question: what is a 7-meter (22 foot) wall doing on the Temple Mount?  As difficult as relations were between Jews and Gentiles, it's hard to imagine a wall of that thickness separating the courtyards.  Perhaps it's a foundation of a building.  In any case, careful archaeological excavation must be done.  And it won't be, because the Muslim authorities are afraid of history being uncovered on the Temple Mount.  I don't say that because of hearsay; I've experienced that reality in person.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Archaeological Evidence for "Cabul"

Haaretz has an interesting article today about a site I've never heard of, with connection to a biblical story about which I know of no other archaeological evidence.

A wooden sign stands at the entrance to the dirt road leading to the Segev Forest in the Western Galilee, inscribed with the symbol of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Beneath it in fading gr een letters is the name "Rosh Zayit Ruin." Without perusing the entrance to the dirt road carefully, you might not see the weed-covered sign, and not realize that this is the entrance to a very special archaeological site....

"The excavations Dr. Zvi Gal carried out at the beginning of the 1990s solved a very complex puzzle about King Solomon and Hiram, king of Phoenicia," says Mordechai Aviam, director of the Galilee Archaeological Institute.

"A site of a Phoenician nature was built here, a kind of administrative and military center constructed on top of private dwellings from the 11th century. The Phoenician nature of the site bears out the story of King Solomon giving King Hiram portions of the country in exchange for the cedars of Lebanon, with which he built the Temple," Aviam says, smiling in consideration of the implications the story has for the present-day debate over dividing the land.

The relevant Scripture reference is 1 Kings 9:11-13.  You can read the rest of the brief article here.

Plain of Asher from south, tb052304002
Plain of Asher from south

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gezer Excavations 2007

The Star-Telegram has a brief article on the recent season of excavations at Gezer. The main finds mentioned are walls burned by the Assyrians in the 8th century and a rare silver coin from the Ptolemaic period. The excavation project is described at gezerproject.org, and some general information and pictures of Gezer is available at BiblePlaces.com.

Gezer high place with standing stones, db6804053210
Gezer high place in 1968
Photo by David Bivin; from forthcoming CD from BiblePlaces.com

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mount of Olives National Park

The Israeli government is moving towards making the Mount of Olives a protected national park.  From Arutz-7:

The Knesset has taken the first step towards legislating the establishment of a new national authority that will preserve, rebuild and protect the ancient Mt. of Olives cemetery.  The bill has passed its preliminary reading, and is being prepared for its additional readings....Without a national body coordinating efforts on the site's behalf, "there is no one to preserve it, and no one to prevent illegal construction and vandalism there." 

Mt. of Olives overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and its summit is crowned by the Intercontinental Hotel. An estimated 20,000 gravesites remain in the ancient cemetery, out of some 70,000 - according to the lower estimates - that were there before the Jordanians took control of the site in 1948....

Of late, vandalism of Mt. of Olives gravestones has been discovered periodically.  Just this past February, MKs of the Knesset's State Control Committee toured the cemetery for the purpose of examining the many complaints of desecration, graffiti and smashed headstones.  MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP) said at the time, "If such vandalism had occurred in a Jewish cemetery in Europe, it would shock the entire Jewish world; law enforcement authorities would attempt to capture the guilty parties... This is happening in the heart of the capital of Israel, adjacent to the Western Wall, [yet] the sovereign Jewish regime remains apathetic."

Among the many famous Jewish historical figures buried on the Mt. of Olives are:

  • Rabbi Moshe Ben-Nachman (Ramban)
  • Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
  • his son Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook
  • Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren
  • the Gerrer Rebbes
  • Prime Minister Menachem Begin
  • Nobel Prize laureate author S. Y. Agnon
  • British Chief Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits
  • Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew
  • terrorist victim Eliyahu Asheri, kidnapped and murdered in 2006
  • Aharon Hershler, murdered in 1873 when Arabs burst into his house.

Many Jews through the ages have sought burial there, because the site is mentioned in the Bible as the first spot from which the dead will be brought to life.

Concerning this last point, my understanding is that this view comes from Zechariah 14:3-4:

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.

Mount of Olives from City of David, tb051907772
Mount of Olives from southwest

A Lost Tribe of Israel?

I don't have much to add to this story, but I think that some readers will find it of interest.  "Bnei Menashe" means "sons of Manasseh," a reference to one of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Seventy-eight members of India's Bnei Menashe community entered Israel by bus from Jordan on Thursday and 40 more were scheduled to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport early Friday morning on an El Al flight from Mumbai (Bombay)....

Freund said that the "Aliyah" (Jewish immigration to Israel) operation had been coordinated with all relevant government authorities. The Bnei Menashe entered Israel on tourist visas and will undergo conversion to Judaism in Israel. Then they will receive permanent status as citizens....

The Bnei Menashe claim descent from the tribe of Menashe, one of the ten tribes exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrian empire over 2,700 years ago. They reside primarily in the two Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh. In recent years alone, over 800 members of the community have made Aliyah, thanks largely to the efforts of Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based group that reaches out and assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people. They reside mainly in Kiryat Arba, south of Jerusalem, and Beit El and Ofrah, north of Jerusalem....

The existence of the Bnei Menashe, known in India as the Manmassi tribe, was publicized in the Jewish world about 30 years ago by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichayil. When it was observed that the tribe's members maintained certain ancient traditions unlike any observed in the Indian subcontinent, investigation revealed that the rituals were of Jewish origin....

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar sent a delegation of two rabbinic judges to India about three years ago, to conduct a thorough investigation of the community and its origins. After a review of their findings, it was decided that the Bnei Menashe are in fact descendants of Israel and should be drawn closer to the Jewish people.

The full story is here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Flooding of the Coastal Plain

Today's Haaretz has an interesting article on the flooding of the coastal plain of Israel in the Early Bronze Age.  The dating in the article is a little bit confusing, as it never gives an absolute date, just 5,500 years ago, and 3500 B.C. is usually assigned to the Chalcolithic period (cf. Mazar's dating: 4300-3300 B.C.).

The concentration of population, commerce and trade in Israel's coastal plain is not a phenomenon unique to our era. Even before the events the Bible describes in the Land of Israel, during the early first Bronze Age, 5,500 years ago, numerous communities dotted the coastal strip, from the vicinity of Gaza to the Galilee. The first royal dynasties appeared around that time in Egypt, and clay vessels uncovered in southern coastal communities indicate that the area (apparently under Egyptian control) served as an important trade route for the Egyptians.

And then, 5,500 years ago, say the archaeologists, there was a dramatic change. The coastal region was almost completely abandoned while concurrently in other areas an urban revolution was underway, with large fortified cities being built. After the era of urban, commercial prosperity, for almost a thousand years, the coastal plain mostly contained but a few small and scattered communities.

"The phenomenon is amazing," says archaeologist Dr. Avraham Faust, director of Bar-Ilan University's Institute of Archaeology. "There was a fairly large population in the coastal plain, and at the end of a relatively short process it emptied almost completely. In the alluvial areas, nearly all of the communities disappeared. The Egyptians also abandoned the coastal plain and trade no longer passed that way."

Faust adds: "The key question that engaged us is why? What caused the community to disappear?" His research with Dr. Yosef Ashkenazy, a climate researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, suggests a comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon: The Canaanite coastal settlements were abandoned in the face of environmental change. Increased precipitation led to the flooding of parts of the coastal plain and to a rise in the level of groundwater, which eventually resulted in the spread of swamps, and that apparently caused the residents to leave the area.

You can read the rest here.  The Hebrew version has a couple of photos.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sandal Print Found Near Sea of Galilee

Archaeologists working at Hippos (Susita) on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee have uncovered the footprint of the sandal of a Roman soldier.  From the story in Haaretz:

The discovery of the print made by a hobnailed sandal, the kind used by the Roman legions during the time when Rome ruled the region, led to the presumption that legionnaires or former legionnaires participated in the construction of walls such as the one in which the footprint was found....

Prior to this finding, the sandal prints of Roman legionnaires had been discovered only in Hadrian's Wall in Britain.

The story is brief and worth reading for more details, but one note for those who know the Bible better than the geography of the Bible: the reason that Hippos (Susita) is not mentioned in the New Testament is that it was one of the cities of the (largely Gentile) Decapolis, and Jesus' ministry was to the Jewish people.  There were a couple of occasions when Jesus visited the Decapolis, but it appears that these were not for the purpose of ministry.  One example is the story of Jesus casting the demons into the swine (Mark 5:1-20).  This event occurred as Jesus was trying to get away from the crowds, not do more ministry.  The presence of pigs makes sense as well given that this was in an area controlled by Gentiles.  Unfortunately many scholars have really flubbed the location of this miracle.  If it was where they say (at Gergesa), then Hippos would have been mentioned by some of the gospel writers, instead of Gadara and Gerasa.  But that is a subject for another day.  All can agree that this discovery at Hippos is fascinating and instructive.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bethsaida Excavations 2007

This year's excavations at Bethsaida (et-Tell) are mentioned in a brief news report in today's Caspari Center Media Review.

This season's excavations have come to an end at Bethesda, with new findings related to the Iron Age gate of the city as well as the plaza in front of it. According to Dr. Rami Arav, the excavation's director, "In the area next to the gate, we found parts of the main street that led into the city from the gate. On this paved road, from the ninth century B.C.E., we plan to lead visitors to the site from the gate."

I haven't seen any other reports, but you can read week-by-week summaries of excavation at the www.bethsaidaexcavation.com website.  Go here for the 2007 reports.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Archaeologists and the Bible

My friends at SourceFlix Productions have just finished a 3-minute video in which they interview various archaeologists on site to answer the question, "Is the Bible relevant for archaeology in Israel?"  If you don't know the answer to that question, or if you'd just like to hear from some of the best archaeologists working in the Holy Land, take a look.  Among those interviewed are Amihai Mazar, Amnon Ben-Tor, Aren Maier, and Gabriel Barkay.

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Renovation of Israel Museum

The archaeology wing of the Israel Museum closed earlier this year for renovations, and today the New York Times has a good article (with photos) on the $80 million plan to improve the entire campus.

The project involves about 80,000 square feet of new buildings and about 200,000 square feet of renovation and renewal, mostly in the galleries. The new buildings, airy but modest glass structures with ceramic louvers to deflect and tame the sun, are designed to respect the Mansfeld grid and aesthetic. But they will also provide a sense of transparency and illumination, especially at night, making the museum more welcoming.

The new entrance will fit neatly into a block of the existing sprawl, about two-thirds of the way up the promenade. It not only will shorten the hike but will guide visitors to a central concourse from which all the main galleries can be reached, providing a clear sense of geography. The renovation incorporates a flat, climate-controlled path for those who cannot or choose not to take the old steep promenade.

The project is scheduled to be finished in 2009.  The NY Times article will cost after about 2 weeks, so if you're interested, read it now.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Ancient Church in Tiberias Uncovered

In my opinion, one of the most interesting cities historically in Israel is Tiberias.  It might surprise some then that all I ever do with students in Tiberias is buy them lunch.  Until recently, there have not been significant ancient discoveries to visit.  Current excavations should change this in the coming years, as the results of these projects are opened to the public.  One such discovery was announced this week: a 4th or early 5th century church.  This was the time period when Tiberias was a thriving center of Jewish learning, as the so-called "Jerusalem Talmud" was being written/codified in the city at this time.  Discoveries like this could help us to better understand the relationship between Jews and Christians in the Byzantine/Talmudic period.

The church's remains were discovered adjacent to ancient public buildings among them a basilica, bathhouse, streets and shops that were exposed at the site in the past. Dr. Moshe Hartal and Edna Amos, the directors of the excavation on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, stated that this is the most ancient church to be uncovered in Tiberias and the only one that has been found in the center of the city.

According to Dr. Hartal, from the year 427 CE the Church issued a decree prohibiting the placement of crosses in mosaic floors in order to prevent them from being stepped on. "The presence of so many crosses in the floors of the church that was exposed here thus confirms the church dates to the period prior to the ban," he said.

In addition, the remains of a Jewish neighborhood that dates to the tenth-eleventh centuries were discovered in the excavations. These remains extend up to the foot of the cliff in the high part of the city, in an area that was probably residential in nature.

"The discovery of the remains of the church in the middle of the ancient city, like that of the Jewish neighborhood and the magnificent city that existed in Tiberias more than one thousand years ago, greatly contributes to our understanding of the town planning, its scope and it structures," archaeologists on behalf of the Antiquities Authority said.

The story in the "Scoop" has more information, including a photograph and partial translation of an inscription in the mosaic floor.

Tiberias new excavations in progress, tb032705506
Recent excavations in Tiberias

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Friday, August 03, 2007

The Sacred Abridgement

One of my favorite books on my favorite subject is The Sacred Bridge: Carta's Atlas of the Biblical World. I've hoped to do atsb short review of it here, but I haven't had the necessary time yet. I used the book last semester as a required text for a course I taught, but the problem with it is the cost. $100 may be standard for a chemistry textbook, but it's hard on Christian college students who are used to paying much less. Thus the announcement of a shorter and cheaper version is welcome:

Carta's New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible: Abridgement of The Sacred Bridge
by Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley
Carta, Jerusalem, Forthcoming, November 2007
280 pages + full color illustrations and maps, English
Cloth, 9 x 12 inches
Your Price: $50.00

In some cases, shorter is better and I think this will be one. For most students, The Sacred Bridge is really over their heads. It's sometimes over my head, and rarely is too basic for me. Thus I am guessing that most students will find the abridged version sufficient for their needs.

Just to be clear, there are many things in this book that I disagree with. If you're looking for something more conservative, try the NIV Atlas of the Bible, by Carl Rasmussen or the Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, by Barry Beitzel. But the advanced version is The Sacred Bridge or its abridgement.

UPDATE (8/8): Not everyone reads the comments, so I'll just note that the chairman of Carta has commented below that they are nearing publication of a new atlas by Paul H. Wright, In His Image: Carta's Atlas of Biblical Geography. Wright is the director of the Jerusalem University College.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Audio Tours of Jerusalem

JerusaleMP3.com has some audio and video tours of the city.  They seem to be about 4 minutes in length (contrary to one place that suggested 2-4 hours).  You have to register on the site first with an email address, and it doesn't seem to work with the Firefox browser.  But there seems to be some interesting and informative tours here for those who want to know more about the Holy City.  Tour-man.com seems to be the producer of these resources, though the site is connected to the Municipality of Jerusalem.

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