Friday, October 31, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription Update

There was a flurry of news coverage of the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription yesterday, even though only a few words of that inscription have been translated (or, at least, announced).  Here are a few highlights.

CBS News has a 45-second video showing a man opening and handling the inscribed potsherd (ostracon).  A few letters are visible.

You can watch a 5-minute interview with the excavator, Yosi Garfinkel (in Hebrew) (via Yitzhak Sapir).

A few photos were released, but they appear to be deliberately impossible to read, as the excavators naturally want to translate the inscription before someone on the internet does.  It also has been suggested that high-tech photos may be necessary before the excavators are able to read the inscription in its entirety.  Here are a few photos: ostracon 1, ostracon 2, aerial view of the site and the gatehouse.

There is some debate on the ANE-2 list about whether this is a (Proto-)Canaanite inscription or a Hebrew inscription.

A member of the excavation team has posted some of his thoughts on Jim West’s blog.

The most ridiculous headline belongs to a British rag: 'Proof' David slew Goliath found as Israeli archaeologists unearth 'oldest ever Hebrew text'

And if you prefer your inscriptions on a coffee mug, Eisenbrauns just announced the 2008 Gezer Calendar mug

There are a couple of other stories that I don’t have time to comment on now, but you can read about Eilat Mazar’s discovery of the tsinnor (water shaft) that David used to conquer Jerusalem and about an inscribed stone seal found in Jerusalem.  Don’t believe everything you read.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription

The Jerusalem Post has some details about the inscription from today’s archaeology conference in Jerusalem.  Some extracts:

A teenage volunteer found the curved pottery shard, 15 centimeters by 15 centimeters, in July near the stairs and stone washtub of an excavated home. It was later discovered to bear five lines of characters known as proto-Canaanite, a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet.

Carbon-14 analysis of burnt olive pits found in the same layer of the site dated them to between 1,000 and 975 B.C., the same time as the Biblical golden age of David's rule in Jerusalem.

Scholars have identified other, smaller Hebrew fragments from the 10th century B.C., but the script, which Garfinkel suggests might be part of a letter, predates the next significant Hebrew inscription by between 100 and 200 years....

The shard is now kept in a university safe while philologists translate it, a task expected to take months. But several words have already been tentatively identified, including ones meaning "judge," "slave" and "king."

The Israelites were not the only ones using proto-Canaanite characters, and other scholars suggest it is difficult - perhaps impossible - to conclude the text is Hebrew and not a related tongue spoken in the area at the time. Garfinkel bases his identification on a three-letter verb from the inscription meaning "to do," a word he said existed only in Hebrew.

"That leads us to believe that this is Hebrew, and that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription that has been found," he said....

If the inscription is Hebrew, it would indicate a connection to the Israelites and make the text "one of the most important texts, without a doubt, in the corpus of Hebrew inscriptions," Maier said. But it has great importance whatever the language turns out to be, he added.

The full story is here.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa in the NY Times

The New York Times has an article in tomorrow’s print edition about Khirbet Qeiyafa (with thanks to Joe Lauer for pointing it out).  The article appears to me to be a teaser, released on the same day of the excavator’s lecture in Jerusalem, which likely will include some new revelations.  The article quotes a number of archaeologists, but most of the information is already known to those who have followed the excavation here or elsewhere.  I’m going to comment on some portions of the article, but you’ll do best the read the article in its entirety first, and then read my comments.

Five lines on pottery uncovered here appear to be the oldest Hebrew text ever found and are likely to have a major impact on knowledge about the history of literacy and alphabet development.

This is a dramatic statement, but the rest of the article ignores the inscription.  The “competition” for the earliest Hebrew text would be the Izbet Sartah inscription (11th century), the Gezer Calendar (10th century), and the Tel Zayit Inscription (10th century).  Interestingly, all of these inscriptions are from the same general vicinity (the western foothills, aka Shephelah).

A great power [like that described of David and Solomon], they note, would have left traces of cities and activity, and been mentioned by those around it. Yet in this area nothing like that has turned up — at least until now.

Hold on here.  Gezer is only a few miles up the road, and the excavations there were pretty decisive that it was a well-fortified city in the time of Solomon.  This is an example of trying to make the site more important by denigrating the significance of others.

Another reason this site holds such promise is that it was in use for only a short period, perhaps 20 years, and then destroyed — Mr. Garfinkel speculates in a battle with the Philistines — and abandoned for centuries, sealing the finds in Pompeii-like uniformity.

This is very important.  The problem with other sites is that they may be used for a long period of time, making it difficult to distinguish exactly what was going on at an earlier point it is history.  For that reason, archaeologists love destructions.  Even better is a single period site with a relatively short-lived occupation.

“The fortification required 200,000 tons of stone and probably 10 years to build,” he said as he walked around the site one recent morning. “There were 500 people inside. This was the main road to Jerusalem, the key strategic site to protect the kingdom of Jerusalem. If they built a fortification here, it was a real kingdom, pointing to urban cities and a centralized authority in Judah in the 10th century B.C.”

These are some numbers that I had not seen before.  It does seem strange that a fortress that took 10 years to build would only be in use for 20 years.  Why was it not rebuilt?  Was it because it was captured by the Philistines?  Or was it because David’s kingdom was strong enough (and its border now further away) that this fortress was no longer necessary?

“This is an important site, one of the very few cases from the 10th century where you can see a settlement fortified in a style that is typical of later Israelite and Judean cities,” said Amihai Mazar, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University. “The question is who fortified it, who lived in it, why it was abandoned and how it all relates to the reign of David and Solomon.”

Mazar certainly asks the key questions.  It’s important to remember that many of these things are interpretive, which means that an archaeologist can interpret the finds one way and another archaeologist can come to a different (even opposite) conclusion.  If only the stones could speak.

The Philistines had a huge city, Gath, some seven miles away, but pottery found there looks distinct from what Mr. Garfinkel has found here.

This suggests that Qeiyafa was an Israelite fort.  That’s a real question because the Shephelah at this time was contested by the Philistines and Israelites.

Seymour Gitin, an archaeologist and a director of the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, a private American institution, who has seen the finds, said: “The real value is that there was an urban center in the 10th century. You can extrapolate and say this helps support a kingdom, a united monarchy under David and Solomon. People will rightly use this material to support that.”

What Gitin is saying is that a fortress like this doesn’t come out of nowhere.  There must be some sort of strong organizing force (government) that financed and directed it.  This compound wasn’t built by three bored Israelites one Sunday afternoon.

“Some of us look at things in a very ethnocentric way — everything is Israelite or Judahite,” [Israel Finkelstein] said. “History is not like that. There were other entities playing a big role in the southern part of the country. And even if it belongs to Jerusalem, fine. So there is a late 10th-century fortified structure there. I don’t believe that any archaeologist can revolutionize our entire understanding of Judah and Jerusalem by a single site. It doesn’t work that way. This is a cumulative discipline.”

Whoops!  Look at how quickly Finkelstein re-dated the whole enterprise by approximately a century.  Earlier in the article the fortress is dated to 1050-970 B.C.  Finkelstein makes it late 10th-century with a wave of his hand.  This is not accidental, as his recent publications are built upon the theory that the biblical history was written very late and is entirely unreliable.  Any discovery which suggests a strong central government in Judah in the 10th century is very inconvenient for his views.

He [Garfinkel] says with some 96 percent of this site still to be unearthed, a process likely to take 10 years, he hopes that more writing, more olive pits and more pottery will be uncovered, and add depth to what he believes is a revolutionary find.

Most critical in the whole discussion is this note of caution.  Too often absolute and sensational conclusions are made after the first discoveries.  We have time.  Any discoveries heralded now, of course, certainly makes recruiting slave labor volunteers much easier.

The New York Times does not have any photos of the site, but we do.  For more photos of the site in relation to the Elah Valley, and my speculation before the Times article or Garfinkel’s lecture, see this previous blog post.  The Times article does not mention the possibility that Khirbet Qeiyafa is Ephes Dammim.

Khirbet Qeiyafa, 10th c four chambered gate, ar080731447

Khirbet Qeiyafa four-chambered gatehouse (10th century B.C.)

Khirbet Qeiyafa stele fragment, ar080731446  Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations with stele fragment

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Gath 2008 Excavation Summary

An update for the 2008 season at Gath (Tell es-Safi) is now posted at The Bible and Interpretation website.  Director Aren Maeir has summarized the discoveries and it’s worth reading in full.  Some of the highlights:

Early Bronze Age: the site was apparently huge

Middle Bronze Age: more excavation of the city wall and glacis

Late Bronze Age: a very large building, with rich collection of pottery

Iron Age I: remains of plants and animals could help determine the Philistines’ diet; Mycenaean IIIC pottery found

Iron IIA (1000-800 B.C.): – all bullet points are direct quotations from the article

  • clear early Iron IIA pottery
  • a well-dated fragment of a seal impression (of the late 21st Dynasty in Egypt, ca. mid-10th cent BCE)
  • several nice clusters of carbonized grape pips. This latter find should be able to provide robust 14C datings for this phase
  • One cannot overemphasize the importance of the finds in this level, since it may provide the first concrete, well-dated (from several perspectives) context from the early Iron Age IIA in Philistia. In fact, the finds from this level may serve as a central key to solving the “hot debate” on the chronology of the Iron Age, raging for now for more than a decade. Hopefully, the 14C results will be available by late 2008.
  • these finds demonstrate conclusively that our original assumption that the city of Gath was very large during the Iron Age IIA, reaching ca. 45-50 hectares [108-120 acres] in size, was correct. This makes it perhaps the largest site in Philistia, and perhaps in the entire Land of Israel during this period. As such, it appears to match the image of Gath that is portrayed in the biblical texts that relate to the early monarchy, in which the city is described as the largest and most important of five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis, the primus inter pares among the five cities.

Iron IIB (c. 700 B.C.): two destruction layers, possibly related to Sargon II and Sennacherib

Methodology: “in-field laboratory (including an IR spectrometer in the field), which was supplemented by the additional laboratories back in the base camp, provided us with “on-line” results of these analyses - which enabled “real-time” understanding of the archaeological finds. This joint program is unparalleled at ANY excavation in Israel, and in fact, in the world. The close integration of a “regular” excavation team with a wide team of archaeological scientists IN THE FIELD, is simply unparalleled anywhere.”

For many reasons, this excavation looks like it will be extremely beneficial for archaeological and biblical studies.

Gath, Tell es-Safi, from east, tb060906175 Gath, view from the east

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Copper Mines from Time of Solomon

Recently Dr. Thomas Levy of the University of California at San Diego was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.  In conjunction with that, he published an article in their journal (abstract here) about his work at Khirbet en-Nahas, including his belief that the copper mines were in operation here during the time that the Bible records King Solomon as mining copper.  Lots of new sources and blogs have made a big deal out of the story, and while it is a good story, it is not a new story.  If you haven’t read about it before, or if you need a refresher, by all means read it again.  But if it all sounds familiar, you know why (NY Times 2006 article here; see also article in a recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review). 

The university press release is here.  There’s a good 12-minute video made by the university  (with dozens of BiblePlaces.com photos used without even a kind mention of their source).  You can find many more articles by searching for “Levy copper mines.”

Kh en-Nahas overview to nw, df080207181dxo

Khirbet en-Nahas, view from southeast

Kh en-Nahas Area S, Iron Age four-room workshop, view ne, df080207014dxo

Khirbet en-Nahas, Iron Age workshop

Kh en-Nahas slag remains on surface, df080207332dxo

Copper slag remains on surface

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dan and Hazor

A brief report of the finds from the 2008 season at Hazor is now posted (click link at top or directly here).

Tel Dan may be even more lush and beautiful the next time you visit following an agreement for the neighboring kibbutz to take water from the lower spring rather than the one next to the tel.  The article from the JPost, in part:

Rather than pumping from the higher-altitude Tel Dan spring, the kibbutz will receive its water from the lower Dan spring, which can supply the kibbutz in a more sustainable manner.

Reclaiming the Tel Dan spring for the nature reserve will rejuvenate the aquatic habitat, which has languished and dried out due to the lack of water, the authority said. In addition, the diversion of the fish pond water to agriculture will prevent it from flowing into the streams that feed the Jordan River, thereby reducing pollution. It will also free up 1 million cu.m. of water per year for nature....

"The right of nature to water is protected by law since 2004, but it doesn't mean our work is done - rather, it has just begun. We've [also] managed to increase the amount of water in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, and to revive the Ein Gedi Stream after 50 years, and today we are taking an important step forward in increasing the amount of water in the streams which feed the Jordan," he said.

Dan headwaters of Jordan, tb011500028 Headwaters of Jordan River at Tel Dan

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Identity of Khirbet Qeiyafa

If I were teaching a course in historical geography now to advanced students, I'd cancel one of the assignments and have them write a paper on the site identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa.  They would be required to use all of the available data in suggesting possible candidates.  Since I'm not teaching such a class, I can post my own thoughts here without fear of hindering their research.

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote about Kh. Qeiyafa, so a brief review is in order:  Located next to the Elah Valley where David fought Goliath, Kh. Qeiyafa has been excavated the last two seasons (2007-08).  This summer a 10th century B.C. inscription (ostracon) was discovered (photo), the contents of which have not yet been revealed, but may be very interesting

The place to start in identifying Kh. Qeiyafa with a known historical place name is to look at the general area of the site.  Kh. Qeiyafa is located on the north side of the Elah Valley, roughly north of probable Socoh (Kh. Abbad/Kh. es-Suweikeh) and east of probable Azekah (Tell Zakariyeh).  Those last two identifications are generally agreed upon by scholars, but as far as I know there's no certain proof of either identification (for a good discussion of Socoh and Azekah, see The Sacred Bridge, page 147).  That's important to keep in mind as we proceed under the assumption that Abbad = Socoh and Zakariyeh = Azekah.

Early explorers who identified sites like Hazor, Beth Shemesh, and Beth Shean did not have the advantage of aerial photographs and Google Earth.  But since we have those at our disposal, we will put them to use.

You can locate Qeiyafa on Google Earth using this kmz file.

You can locate Qeiyafa on Google Maps with this link (via G. M. Grena)

You can see the site in relation to Socoh (Abbad) and the Elah Valley on the photo below.

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606772_marked

Archaeology is critical in determining site identification, and Qeiyafa has remains dating to the early 10th century and to the Hellenistic period.  To do a thorough job in my little exercise, one would need to investigate Hellenistic sources concerning sites given in this area.  Because the occupation gap is so large (c. 800 years), it is possible that the Iron Age name was not preserved.  Since I am less knowledgeable about Hellenistic sources, and don't have the necessary time, I am going to ignore this part of the equation.

The textual sources that we have for this time period are limited.  The Bible is the obvious place to start, though as I'll note, some scholars question the traditional dates given to biblical texts.  Another source is the ostracon previously discussed.  It is possible that this ostracon has one or more place names and may single-handedly answer this question.  (Well, not really single-handedly, as it has to be in agreement with the rest of the data, but its relative importance is potentially great.)  Another possible source is Shishak's conquest list as given on the Bubastite Portal in the Karnak Temple.  Since no other sites in the vicinity of the Elah Valley appear to be mentioned by Shishak, I am going to ignore that for now.

What can we learn from the Bible?  It might be instructive to note first that many scholars these days would sneer at this question.  It then would be worth reviewing just how many hundreds of accurate site identifications were made in the last 150 years, using the Bible as the primary source.  That is how Edward Robinson did it, as well as many successors on down to Yohanan Aharoni and his students and "grandstudents" (among whom I count myself).

A good place to start is with the passage of the battle of David and Goliath, as this was situated in the Elah Valley.  The setting is given in 1 Samuel 17:1:

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim (ESV).

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606779b
Aerial view of Elah Valley, view to southeast

While the locations of Socoh and Azekah are generally agreed upon (see above), the location of Ephes-dammim is uncertain.  Based on the above text, it seems that it is located “between” the two sites.  “Pas Dammim” is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:13 and could well be the same place, though the event described there is a different one than the David and Goliath story.  A parallel to 1 Chron 11:13 is given in 2 Samuel 23:9; the place name is lacking in the Masoretic Text but is given as "Pas Dammim" in the Septuagint.  These are the only references to Ephes/Pas Dammim in the Bible.

In teaching the David and Goliath story, I’ve pointed to the “gas station” (labeled on the first photo above) as a possible place for Ephes-dammim.  There's no evidence for this, but since no other site has been identified and this sits neatly between Azekah and Socoh on the southern ridge of the valley, it was a convenient marker.

But now a new possibility arises: Could Khirbet Qeiyafa be Ephes-dammim?  There are three points in favor of this identification: 1) Like Ephes-dammim (ED), Qeiyafa is “between” Azekah and Socoh; 2) Like ED, Qeiyafa was inhabited in the 10th century; 3) Since the only textual references to ED are in the 10th century, and Qeiyafa was inhabited only in the 10th century (during the time of the Bible), this too would match. [Note: the biblical chronology seems to put the David/Goliath battle in the late 11th century, but the difference is only a few decades here and archaeology is usually not able to be very precise, especially at this period of time.]

swpelah Kiafa (Qeiyafa) is clearly between Azekah and Socoh

Map from Survey of Western Palestine (1870s)

Some have suggested that the modern site of Damun preserves the name of Ephes-dammim, but as Steven Ortiz notes in the Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible (p. 411), Damum is 4 miles (6.5 km) northeast of Socoh when one would expect it to be west (and east of Azekah).

Another possible text that lists cities from the 10th century (though many scholars think it dates to much later) is the list of Rehoboam's fortifications (2 Chronicles 11:5-10): “Rehoboam lived in Jerusalem and built up towns for defense in Judah: Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Beth Zur, Soco, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon and Hebron.”  The location of nearly all of these sites is pretty well agreed on, not suggesting another possibility for Qeiyafa.

A text that many scholars would go to for sites is the city list of Judah from Joshua 15.  Clearly this is the best geographical list for the area, but I didn't start there because I believe (hold your breath) that this list dates hundreds of years earlier than the 10th century.  Most scholars do not, and accordingly, I will not ignore it. Joshua 15:33-36 lists cities of Judah: “In the western foothills: Eshtaol, Zorah, Ashnah, Zanoah, En Gannim, Tappuah, Enam, Jarmuth, Adullam, Socoh, Azekah, Shaaraim, Adithaim and Gederah (or Gederothaim)—fourteen towns and their villages.”  The location of many of these cities is not positively identified.  Based on the sites whose identification is generally agreed on (Eshtaol, Zorah, Jarmuth, Adullam, Socoh, Azekah), the list seems to proceed from north to south.  The Elah Valley sites are all known (Adullam, Socoh, Azekah), and do not give us an extra name to associate with Qeiyafa, particularly between Socoh and Azekah as we might expect from 1 Sam 17:1.  If Joshua 15 is a pre-10th century text, then this is not surprising.

The “prophet of the Shephelah” is Micah, who lived in the late 8th century.  His hometown is given as Moresheth (probably known elsewhere as Moresheth-gath) in Micah 1:1.  He pronounces judgment on many cities in the Shephelah from 1:10-16, a number of which are unknown (particularly in vv. 11-12).  Too little is stated to pin down locations for these (Beth Ophrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth Ezel, Maroth), but none is mentioned in connection with Adullam, a city on the eastern end of the Elah valley.  Again, I wouldn’t expect to find a relevant name here since Qeiyafa was apparently abandoned several hundred years earlier.

Elah Valley and Azekah view nw from Socoh, tb021707830 View from Socoh looking west towards Azekah

Are there other possibilities?  A quick check of Ahituv’s Canaanite Toponyms in Ancient Egyptian Documents, Tabula Imperii Romani, and Eusebius’s Onomasticon do not seem to suggest any other potential site names.

Was Kh. Qeiyafa a Philistine outpost?  This summer the excavations discovered a four-chambered city gate and a 13-foot-wide (4 m) casemate wall. (Photos of excavations here and a 4-minute video of mostly still photos here.)  It certainly was a stronghold, and the only two known powers of the region at this time were the Philistines and the Israelites.  The Egyptians were back home enjoying their Third Intermediate Period, and there does not seem to be any strong contingent of Canaanites in the Shephelah (those would have likely migrated to where there were fewer enemies, such as the Jezreel Valley).

We can speculate further.  Perhaps Kh. Qeiyafa was Ephes-dammim, and it was constructed by the Israelites in the 11th century as they competed with Philistia for the Shephelah.  But one day the Philistines succeeded in capturing the fortress.  That brought Saul and the Israelites down to battle to regain their stronghold.  That could explain the otherwise curious reference in 1 Sam 17:1 to Ephes-dammim, as well as to giving its specific coordinates (since it was not well-known, then or later).  Unfortunately for the Israelites, Goliath wanted to make the battle a contest of champions and there was no one brave enough among the Israelites to respond.  The Israelites were encamped opposite the Philistines on the south side of the valley (which is the opposite of how I have always pictured it), or possibly in the hill country to the east.  David’s victory sent the Philistines fleeing towards Gath and Ekron (1 Sam 17:52), which makes perfect sense given the location of Kh. Qeiyafa.

While the above paragraph is speculative, the data that connects Qeiyafa with Ephes-dammim seems to me to be stronger than that which exists for many biblical sites.  The biblical text is very specific, and Qeiyafa matches exactly.  The dating of the fortress to the early 10th century is very close as well.  It’s certainly intriguing to consider.  Perhaps the ostracon discovered this summer will help to relate Kh. Qeiyafa to the biblical narrative, or even to confirm/deny the possibility that the site is biblical Ephes-dammim.  We’ll be interested to learn more when details are released.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Third Temple Preparations

The Jerusalem Post has a long, but very good, article on the preparations being made for the construction of the Third Temple by the Temple Institute.  If I had an extra couple of hours, I’d enjoy commenting on various statements made.  Since I don’t, I’ll simply refer you to the article, which begins:

For centuries Jews have remembered and mourned the destruction of the Temple through traditions such as crushing a glass at weddings or leaving unpainted a patch of wall opposite the entrance to one's home - each stressing that nothing can be perfect or complete without the Temple.

Built by Solomon in about 950 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the Temple was rebuilt about 70 years later but finally razed by the Romans in 70 CE.

Talmud scholar Rabbi Yohanan wrote: "During these times that the Temple is demolished, a person is not allowed to fill his mouth with laughter. This is because the verse [Psalms 126] says, 'Then our mouths will be filled with laughter,' and does not say 'Now our mouths will be filled with laughter.' And when is 'then'? 'Then' will be when the Third Temple is rebuilt."

In other words, "Jewish life without the Temple is like fish out of water," says Rabbi Chaim Richman, head of the international department of the Temple Institute.

An author of 10 books on the Temple, Richman adds: "Do you realize that 202 commandments out of 613 must have the Temple to be fulfilled? Without the Temple, Judaism is a skeleton of what it's supposed to be."

To this end, the Temple Institute was founded in 1987 with the explicit goal of rebuilding the Temple. Located in the Jewish Quarter, some 100,000 visitors, about half of them Christian, visit the institute each year to learn about the First and Second Temples and preparations for the Third Temple.

The institute is presently involved in education, research and constructing vessels for use in the longed-for Temple.

You can read the full article here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Golden menorah for third temple, tb051408996dxo Golden menorah, prepared for Third Temple.  Estimated value: $3 million

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Weekend Roundup

Arutz-7 published several articles related to the Sukkot (Tabernacles) celebration in Israel, including a photo essay of Sukkot, an article and video on the priestly blessing, and an article and video of the public reading of the Torah that occurs every 7 years.

Eisenbrauns has a remarkable deal going until October 31: anyone can get any of their conference (SBL/ASOR) specials at conference prices!  Not only does that save you a flight to Boston and conference fees, but if you’re going to Boston, it saves you from carrying an extra suitcase (which now results in a surcharge).  There is some fine print, but it’s all very reasonable.  The page probably of most interest to readers of this blog is the Carta page (this is the direct link in my browser, but no guarantees that it’ll work for you).  Another work that may be significant in the present archaeological controversy over the 10th century is Literate Culture and Tenth-Century Canaan: The Tel Zayit Abecedary in Context, edited by Ron E. Tappy and P. Kyle McCarter Jr.  That was just released on Thursday, includes a free DVD, and is available for only $26.

The Jerusalem Mosaic reports that a new park will be constructed at the Beit Zayit Reservoir.  Many visitors to Jerusalem drive right by this (on the south side of Highway 1 before the last ascent to Jerusalem), but soon will have reason to stop for a picnic or a boat ride.  In addition, a 35-mile (60-km) bike trail is being built to connect a series of parks in the Jerusalem area.

Publicized earlier this summer, but not noted here, is a fragment of Nehemiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Though small, this is the only known portion of this book from Qumran.  You can see the fragment and read about it here.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lights On: The Bible and Interpretation

Several years ago one of my favorite websites to frequent was Bible and Interpretation.  I appreciated the news updates as well as the articles, which came from a variety of perspectives.  For lack of funding, the site went dark.  Today the site is back with a new design and the promise of regular updates and essays. I’m delighted to see its return and am sure that it will be worth checking in on.  If you find it valuable over time, consider sending a contribution.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Autumn Nights in the Old City of Jerusalem

If you want to avoid the crowds and get a different glimpse of Jerusalem, there are some great opportunities in the Old City for the next two weeks.  From the JPost:

After putting their heads together, the Jerusalem Development Authority, the municipal Tourism Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the municipal company Ariel came up with a brilliant move called Autumn Nights in the Old City. Successful beyond their wildest dreams, it consists of special (free) Monday and Thursday programs offered from the beginning of September until the end of October. Among the goodies are two light-hearted guided tours, evening performances of vastly diverse music programs and discounted museums kept open until evening.

The article has lots of details of the sites that are open and the costs.  If you like to take photographs, I’d recommend the Ramparts Walk and the Tower of David.

Temple Mount southwestern corner at night, tb031505525ddd
Temple Mount and excavations from southwest

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Video: Journey to Israel

If you need more reasons for why you should visit Israel, or if you just want to enjoy seeing the land again, take a look at the recently posted “Journey to Israel” video on the blog of Wayne Stiles.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Extreme Israel

If you’ve already been to Israel and you’re young (at least in spirit), you might consider doing something “extreme” on your next visit.  With tourism booming again, there are more and more opportunities for those who don’t know what they’re doing.  The New York Times recently had an article on a variety of options for thrill-seekers, including rappelling, zip-lining, hiking, skydiving, mountain biking, and snuba-ing.  Who wants to go look at an old pile of rocks with so many other possibilities?

Rappelling at Qumran, tb051106052

Rappelling near Qumran

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

New Photo CD: Views That Have Vanished (1960s)

After four years of development, I am pleased to announce the latest CD produced by BiblePlaces.com/ LifeintheHolyLand.com. 

Views That Have Vanished: The Photographs of David Bivin is a collection of never-before-seen photographs taken in Israel and the surrounding areas in the 1960s.  The CD is full of unique shots and beautiful views from a land that has changed dramatically in the last four decades. 

You can read more about the collection on BiblePlaces.com's companion site, LifeintheHolyLand.com, and see some "then and now" shots here

A word about the price.  The collection includes more than 700 photographs, yet we are selling the CD for only $20 (through October 31).  That includes free shipping in the U.S.  The CD is worth much more than this—we guarantee it.  For less than 3 cents a photo, you get everything in high-resolution jpg format and PowerPoint files, with notes by David Bivin and me. 

Two "Then and Now" presentations were a late addition and a bonus to the collection.  The CD is so packed that we had to put one of the "Then and Now" presentations online, because we did not want to leave out anything else (the link to that presentation is on the CD).

We have previously featured photographs from this collection on this blog here and here.

Take a look.  We think you'll love it as much as we do!

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Monday, October 06, 2008

“Son of the High Priest”: Sarcophagus Fragment Found

Arutz-7 reports:

Archaeologists excavating north of Jerusalem have found a piece of a sarcofagus - a stone coffin - belonging to a son of a High Priest.  The visible inscription reads, "the son of the High Priest" - but the words before it are broken off.  It thus cannot be ascertained which High Priest is referred to, nor the name or age of the deceased...

The precise location of the find is not being released, for security reasons. 

The sarcophagus cover fragment - 60 centimeters (2 feet) long by 48 centimeters (19 inches) wide - is made of hard limestone, is meticulously fashioned, and bears a carved inscription in Hebrew letters that are both similar to today's script and typical of the Second Temple period.

A number of High Priests served in the Temple in its final decades - it was destroyed in 70 C.E. - and there is no way of knowing which one is noted in the fragment.  Among the known High Priests of the end of the Second Temple period were Caiaphas, Theophilus (Yedidiya) ben Chanan, Shimon ben Baitus, Chanan ben Chanan and others...

Other discoveries at the site include public and residential buildings, agricultural installations, pools and cisterns.

Tombs from the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D. are very common in Jerusalem.  There was a large upper class that built lavish stone tombs, approximately 1,000 of which have been found.

The full story (and a tiny photo) is here.

UPDATE: The Israel Antiquities Authority press release includes a link to a zip file with three high-res photos, including one of the excavation site and two of the inscription.  HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE (10/8): Haaretz has the story with some new details, and the Jerusalem Post has a 2-minute video about the excavation and discovery.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Jehoash Inscription: Geologists Think Authentic

Five years ago, a big stir was created with the announcement of the existence of the Jehoash Inscription.  The tablet was so exciting because it appeared to come from the Jerusalem temple, dating to approximately 800 B.C., and paralleling 2 Kings 12:12.

The inscription, however, had problems.  The chief one was that it surfaced in the hands of an antiquities collector, not in a controlled archaeological dig.  That by itself is enough for some to deny the authenticity of the artifact, even though many demonstrably authentic objects were recovered illegally.

Another problem was the stone itself and the patina (sheen produced by age).  Though the first geologists to study the inscription said it was ancient, the Israel Antiquities Authority issued a report concluding that the inscription was a modern forgery.  60 Minutes aired a horrible report (regardless of conclusion, the report was dishonest) which included an interview with a man claimed to have created the inscription.

To me, the most interesting part of all of this has been the way one side has acted on the matter. And I don’t mean the 60 Minutes crew (who merit only the lowest of expectations anyway).  There are some professionals who have acted as if they have a lot to lose if this inscription is authentic.  On the other hand, those who think the inscription may be ancient appear to me to desire simply that the proper studies be done.  Some professionals apparently think that a few tests are sufficient, after which all discussion must be silenced and all tests denied.

Which means their dander is up after another study was published this summer in the Journal of Archaeological Science.  The conclusion of the five geologists who wrote the article is that the inscription is likely ancient.  The pdf is available for a fee, but the abstract is online:

A gray, fine-grained arkosic sandstone tablet bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew from the First Temple Period contains a rich assemblage of particles accumulated in the covering patina that includes calcite, dolomite, quartz and feldspar grains, iron oxides, carbon ash particles, microorganisms, and gold globules (1–4 μm in diameter). There are two types of patina present: thin layers of a black to orange-brown, iron oxide-rich patina, a product of micro-biogenetical activity, as well as a light beige patina mainly composed of carbonates, quartz and feldspar grains. The patina covers the rock surfaces and inscription grooves post-dating the incised inscription as well as a fissure that runs across the stone and several of the engraved letters. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) analyses of the carbon particles in the patina yields a calibrated radiocarbon age of 2340–2150 Cal BP and a conventional radiocarbon age of 2250 ± 40 years BP. The presence of microcolonial fungi and associated pitting indicates slow growth over many years. The occurrence of pure gold globules is evidence of melting (above 1000 °C) indicates a thermal event. This study supports the antiquity of the patina, which in turn, strengthens the contention that the inscription is authentic.

Let the studies continue!  When there is a “reasonable doubt” about authenticity, it is anti-scientific and anti-academic to try to prevent further investigation.

(Note: the trial against the alleged forgers is going on three years and running, which suggests, to me at least, that the evidence is not as iron-clad as the prosecutors and their fans have insisted.)

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Sea of Galilee Down 6 Feet in 6 Months

Since April 3 this year, the Sea of Galilee has dropped 6.4 feet (2.0 m), a new record for the size of drop in this amount of time.  Israel has had four years of below average rainfall.  If the water level drops another 2.6 feet (0.82 m), all pumping from the lake will cease.  The Jerusalem Post reports:

The water level in Lake Kinneret dropped two meters this year, the Water Authority said Thursday, a steeper annual drop than in any previous year.

The hydrological year ended on September 30 with the Kinneret at 214.05 meters below sea level, down from its height of 212.05 meters below sea level reached on April 3.

The Kinneret's "black line," newly coined this year, is 214.87 meters below sea level. When the black line is reached, the pumps in the lake are exposed to the air, and they can no longer send water into the National Water Carrier.

In July, the lake dropped below the "red line," at which the concentration of pollutants rises to undesirable levels.

Since spring 2004 the Kinneret has lost 5.13 meters, which is equivalent to 850 million cubic meters of water, the authority said. That is roughly equivalent to an entire year's worth of household water use.

This was the fourth consecutive year of dwindling rainfall and the forecast for the next couple of years is just as bleak.

You can read the rest here.

Sea of Galilee at dusk, tb040306012ddd

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