Thursday, May 22, 2008

Many Tourists in Israel

My observation in the past couple of weeks of travels around Israel is that there has not been this many tourists since 2000.  An Arutz-7 story suggests that this is more than a feeling.

The Ministry of Tourism reports that 290,000 tourists visited Israel in April 2008, an amount similar to that recorded in Israel's record-breaking tourism year, 2000. 

The totals for this past April were 26% over April 2006, as well as 41% more than April 2007, when tourism was still negatively affected by the Second Lebanon War eight months earlier. 

During the first four months of 2008, 936,000 tourists arrived in Israel - an increase of 43% from the same period in 2007, and 34% more than the same period in 2006. 

The current pace of growth is consistent with Tourism Ministry goals to attract 2.8 million tourists to Israel this year.  However, Tourism Ministry Director General Sha'ul Tzemach says that this blessing places in bold relief the increasing shortage of available guest rooms in Israel.

The story continues here.  If you're planning to bring a group, you would do best to get hotel reservations more than a year in advance.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Many Tourists in Israel

My observation in the past couple of weeks of travels around Israel is that there has not been this many tourists since 2000.  An Arutz-7 story suggests that this is more than a feeling.

The Ministry of Tourism reports that 290,000 tourists visited Israel in April 2008, an amount similar to that recorded in Israel's record-breaking tourism year, 2000. 

The totals for this past April were 26% over April 2006, as well as 41% more than April 2007, when tourism was still negatively affected by the Second Lebanon War eight months earlier. 

During the first four months of 2008, 936,000 tourists arrived in Israel - an increase of 43% from the same period in 2007, and 34% more than the same period in 2006. 

The current pace of growth is consistent with Tourism Ministry goals to attract 2.8 million tourists to Israel this year.  However, Tourism Ministry Director General Sha'ul Tzemach says that this blessing places in bold relief the increasing shortage of available guest rooms in Israel.

The story continues here.  If you're planning to bring a group, you would do best to get hotel reservations more than a year in advance.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tel Dan Inscription at Israel Museum

If you're in Israel this summer, you may be disappointed that the Archaeology wing of the Israel Museum is closed for renovation (until 2010 or so).  But some students of mine yesterday were going through other sections of the museum and found the Tel Dan Inscription displayed in the Youth wing.  The anthropoid sarcophagi are also on display.

The Isaiah Scroll is on display now until the end of August.  While two shorter sections of the scroll have been rotated on the permanent display over the years, the two longest sections have not been displayed since 1967.  Visitors can now see Isaiah 1-28 and 44-66.

Update (5/21): The above has been corrected to reflect that the inscription is in the Youth wing.

Labels: ,

Another Jerusalem Quarry Discovered

Like the quarry found last year, this one is north of the Old City.  From the Jerusalem Post:

For the second time in the past year, archeologists have uncovered a Second Temple Period quarry whose stones were used to build the Western Wall, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

The latest archeological discovery was made in the city's Sanhedria neighborhood, located about two kilometers from the Old City of Jerusalem.

The quarry was uncovered during a routine "salvage excavation" carried out by the state-run archeological body over the last several months ahead of the construction of a private house in the religious neighborhood.

The quarry is believed to be one of those used to build the Jerusalem holy site because the size of the stones match those at the Western Wall.

"Most of the stones that were found at the site are similar in size to the smallest stones that are currently visible in the Western Wall, and therefore we assume that the stones from this quarry were used to build these structures," said Dr. Gerald Finkielsztejn, director of the excavation.

The stones were dated by pottery found at the site, he added.

"This is a rather regular quarry except that there are really big stones," Finkielsztejn said.

The largest of the stones found at the quarry measures 0.69 x 0.94 x 1.65 m, while some of the stones were apparently ready for extraction but were left in place.

The quarry was probably abandoned at the time of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-70 CE, he said.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Travels

I'll be traveling aggressively throughout Israel the next four weeks.  Time and internet access will be limited, so posting will be less frequent.  If you're interested in following a (different) group along on their Holy Land tour, Insight for Living has started a video blog for their trip.  From their first post, it looks they will update it daily and do it with plenty of whiz-bang. 

Labels:

Friday, May 09, 2008

BAR for a Buck

This just in:

Give a full year of Biblical Archaeology Review for only $6.

That's six fun-filled, fact-filled, controversy-inspiring issues of the premiere magazine of Biblical archaeology for only $1 each. It's the best gift deal we've ever been able to offer, and we don't expect to be able to offer it for long.

Labels:

Archaeology Handbook: The Key Finds

Insight for Living, the ministry of Chuck Swindoll, has just released Archaeology Handbook: The Key Finds and Why They Matter.  This is a 120-page introduction to the top ten archaeological discoveries related to the Bible.  I think it's an excellent overview of artifacts like the Merneptah Stele, the Tel Dan Inscription, and the Sea of Galilee boat.  There are also chapters on the Temple Mount, Hezekiah's Tunnel, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The writing is clear and engaging, the photographs are beautiful, and the layout is attractive.  If you're one of the archaeologists who reads this blog, you probably won't learn anything from this IFL Archaeology Handbook cover book, but if you're someone who hasn't had much exposure to biblical archaeology, this is a great starting point. 

I served as a consultant for the book, supplied many of the photographs, and was interviewed in one of the chapters.  That'll make some of you happy, while others will run the other way.

Here's one of the questions I was asked: What role does faith play within the scientific discipline of archaeology? 

My answer: Archaeology should not be carried out in order to prove some pre-conceived idea, whether pro- or anti-Bible.  Archaeology is best when it is carried out with the best of scientific methods and interpreted by a range of scholars.  Archaeology is ill-served when the interpretation of sites and artifacts is divorced from our knowledge of ancient texts, including the Bible.

Here's another: Has archaeology revealed anything that contradicts the Bible?  If so, what?  And how should Christians respond to such discoveries?

My answer: Archaeology has revealed many things that can be interpreted in a fashion that is not compatible with the biblical record.  But those same things can also be interpreted in a way that is consistent with Scripture.  This ambiguity is not intrinsic to issues related to faith, but is the nature of the discipline.  But those matters related to the Bible are naturally more popular and receive more attention in the press.  I do not know of any major issues that conflict with the accuracy of the Bible.  There are some issues of a lesser nature that are not yet resolved, but I recognize that that is due to the limited nature of the evidence.

Most of the book is more interesting than these questions reflect, as it's not dealing with theory, but with actual discoveries and what they mean.

Through May, the book is available for a donation.  Beginning next month, the book will be sold in their online store.  There is also a video that gives more details about the book.

Labels:

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Report of Queen of Sheba's Palace

Trend News reports the discovery of Queen of Sheba's palace.  I have no independent knowledge of this excavation, so it not impossible that there's a kernel of truth in the story.  But I would note a few things that suggest caution before you include this in your list of "greatest discoveries of the Bible."  1) The news sources which are currently carrying the story are not ones I'm familiar with.  If this was carried by a source like the Associated Press, then it would carry more weight. 2) The story's claim that Sheba was married to Solomon is based on late tradition, and certainly is not mentioned in the Bible, as the article says.  Getting simple facts like these wrong makes me wonder if the rest of the facts are based on such flimsy reporting.  3) There is no evidence that the ark of the covenant went to Ethiopia.  The tradition is based in part on the tradition that Sheba was married to Solomon (or at least gave birth to his child).  4) Many scholars believe that Sheba was in modern Yemen. 

Archaeologists believe they have found the Queen of Sheba's palace at Axum, Ethiopia and an altar which held the most precious treasure of ancient Judaism, the Ark of the Covenant, the University of Hamburg said Wednesday, the dpa reported.

Scientists from the German city made the startling find during their spring excavation of the site over the past three months.

The Ethiopian queen was the bride of King Solomon of Israel in the 10th century before the Christian era. The royal match is among the memorable events in the Bible.

Ethiopian tradition claims the Ark, which allegedly contained Moses' stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, was smuggled to Ethiopia by their son Menelek and is still in that country.

The University said scientists led by Helmut Ziegert had found remains of a 10th-century-BC palace at Axum-Dungur under the palace of a later Christian king. There was evidence the early palace had been torn down and realigned to the path of the star Sirius.

The story continues here.

HT: Paleojudaica

Labels:

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Interview with Leen Ritmeyer

Many readers of this blog are familiar with Leen Ritmeyer from his articles in Biblical Archaeology Review, his reconstruction drawings of the Temple Mount, and his recent book, The Quest: Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  You can gain some insight into the man and how he came to create his wonderful reconstructions in an interview at the Bible Illustration Blog

Labels:

Monday, May 05, 2008

CT article on Amateur Archaeologists

Gordon Govier has written an excellent article in this month's Christianity Today on the problem of amateur "archaeologists" who make sensational, but unfounded, claims.  As Govier notes, I have commented on the issue here before.  What this means to you: the next time someone forwards you an email that shows chariot wheels under the Red Sea or similar phenomena, hit the delete key. 

Labels:

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Recommended Book: In Their Sandals

I was just reminded of a book that I read last year that I intended to mention here.  David Hansen's In Their Sandals is a helpful work in thinking through different aspects of Jesus' ministry from a fresh hansenperspective.  Hansen is driven to understand Jesus in his original context, thus avoiding some of the pitfalls that beset us when reading the Gospels from such a great distance.  Among the stories that he considers are the woman at the well, the feeding of the 4,000, the penitent thief, and the writing on the ground.  Hansen makes his points clearly and concisely, and I enjoyed being provoked along the way.  I certainly recommend the book for those seeing to better understand the ministry of Christ in the context of the land.

Labels:

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Nebi Samwil is not Mizpah

The May/June issue of Biblical Archaeology Review arrived in the mail yesterday (and it's online here), and it includes an article entitled Nebi Samwil: Where Samuel Crowned Israel's First King.  The article is primarily a means of making public the results of the excavations at the site by Yitzhak Magen from 1992 until 2003.  An article like this is to me a primary reason for the existence of BAR: it puts otherwise inaccessible material into the hands of the average Bible reader.  I've read a summary of Magen's report elsewhere before, but the book is very expensive and won't be at your local library.  With that commendation of the article and magazine aside, I'll tell you why I think the central premise of the article, that Nebi Samwil is biblical Mizpah, is wrong.

The most detailed geographic passage in the Bible mentioning Mizpah is 1 Kings 15:17-22.  In the story, the northern king Baasha takes Ramah away from the Judean king Asa.  When Asa succeeds in getting Baasha to withdraw, Asa fortifies Geba and Mizpah.  By fortifying Geba, Asa ensures that Ramah cannot be taken by the road from the east.  By fortifying Mizpah (according to where nearly everyone except Magen locates it), he prevents Ramah from being retaken by the road from the north.  If Mizpah is at Nebi Samwil, Asa was an idiot.

Though this story is critical to the premise, the article only deals with it in a footnote.  There are two problems with Magen's argument as presented in the footnote.  First, it wrongly identifies Gibeah of Saul (= Tel el-Ful) with Geba of Benjamin (= Jaba).  More importantly, it doesn't make any sense what Asa gained by fortifying the two sites that Magen says he did (Nebi Samwil and Gibeah).  Baasha could simply come back, re-fortify Ramah, and Asa is back at square one.  But if you control en-Nasbeh (Mizpah) and Jaba (Geba), you control the two main arteries into Judah from the north and prevent Baasha from returning to Ramah.

 benjamin
BAR has a map but it omits key data.
I made this using the free Bible Mapper.
As labeled, Gibeah=Tell el-Ful; Mizpah = Tell en-Nasbeh; Geba = Jaba

The archaeological evidence from the Iron Age at Nebi Samwil is so pathetic that it's a wonder that Magen even tried.  Knowing that you can read the whole thing yourself, I don't mind isolating a few clips to make the point:

We did not find any remains from the time of the Judges... [that is, the time when Samuel allegedly crowned Saul here!]

Interestingly enough, we found not a single structure or even a standing wall from this period.  On this basis, it might be tempting to conclude that the site was unoccupied at this time [Iron II]....  [He's right; it is tempting...]

All this suggests caution in concluding that the site was not occupied until later.  [In other words, the natural conclusion is that it wasn't occupied until later, but we found a few scraps of evidence that should be considered.]

I commend him for his honesty, but does he really want us to assume that because he found a few Iron Age seal impressions that the site was a major military fortress in the Iron Age?  We're not idiots either.  (Compare these remains with the significant Iron Age evidence at en-Nasbeh and it's an open-shut case.)

Mizpah Iron Age offset-inset wall, tb051407525 
Iron Age wall at en-Nasbeh

Here's a reality I've seen time and again: archaeologists often identify their site with something biblical, even if the evidence is thin.  It's a natural human response to want to be associated with something great, and if it's archaeology in the land of Israel, a biblical connection brings lots of interest. Let's face it: most of us wouldn't read the article if it was all about Hellenistic buildings and a Crusader castle.  But here's what this all means to you: be careful before trusting the archaeologist when he claims the site he is excavating is mentioned in the Bible.

Labels: