Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best Blog Posts of 2008

While reviewing the BiblePlaces Blog for posts of the best discoveries, I made a few notes about what I consider to be the best analysis pieces of the year. 

Nebi Samwil is not Mizpah – the archaeologist of Nebi Samwil wants a biblical name for his site, but he has to inflate his own (archaeological) evidence and ignore other (biblical) evidence to make the identification.

60 Minutes on the James Ossuary – unfortunately people on scholarly lists are still citing this CBS report as if it were in any way credible.

The Qeiyafa ostracon – an explanation of the inscription’s potential significance, before much had been revealed by the archaeologists.

Qeiyafa – I wrote many posts on this site, including why it may be Ephes-dammim, but surely is not Shaaraim or Gob.  I’m preparing an article for publication which has some intriguing new ideas.

Views That Have Vanished – not an analysis piece, but a helpful contribution to those who study and teach about the biblical lands.  These 700 photos taken by David Bivin while he lived in Jerusalem in the 1960s contain some real gems.  I finished four years of work in preparing the CD collection for its October release.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top 8 of 2008: Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Bible

2008 was a good year for archaeology.  You can read about the top ten archaeological discoveries in the world this year, but my goal here is simply to suggest what I perceive to be the most significant discoveries for understanding the Bible and its world.  Both the selection and the ranking is purely subjective; there were no polls, editorial committees, or coin tosses.  For another opinion, take a look at the list of Dr. Claude Mariottini

1. Khirbet Qeiyafa (and inscription).  The new excavations of this fortified site in the Shephelah ranks as #1 for the following reasons: 1) The site was occupied for only a limited time during the reign of King David. 2) The site is located near the battle location of David and Goliath. 3) A strongly fortified site is indicative of a strong central government, at a time when scholars question the existence of such.  4) A early Hebrew inscription discovered this summer points to the site’s owners (Judeans) and the state of literacy in this period.  5) These discoveries will certainly shed light on what is currently the most debated issue in biblical archaeology: the nature of Israel/Judah during the 10th century.

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606779 marked Elah Valley from the west

2. Gath excavations.  It’s not a single discovery that puts the excavations of this Philistine city in the number two spot, but rather the cumulative results of a very profitable season.  This includes possible early Iron IIA material (see above debate), a 10th century seal impression, two Assyrian destruction layers, methodological advances, as well as other significant remains from the Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Ages.

Gath, Tell es-Safi, Area E excavations from east, tb060906085dddGath excavations, Area E, Summer 2006

3. New discoveries at Herod the Great’s tomb.  The tomb was discovered and identified in 2007, but on-going excavation in 2008 revealed additional coffins, including one that may belong to one of Herod’s wives and another to one of his sons.  They also found a theater that sat 750 people and included a VIP room with beautiful wall paintings.  All of this further confirms the previous identification that Herod’s tomb was located on the slope of the Herodium.

4. The “First Wall” of Jerusalem.  A well-preserved portion of the Hasmonean wall (2nd century B.C.) was uncovered on the south side of Jerusalem.  While parts of this wall have been excavated previously, there are two advantages to the current excavation: 1) It is being carried out with the latest in archaeological knowledge. 2) The remains will be preserved and visible to visitors.

5. Alphabetic Inscription from Zincirli. The Kuttamuwa Stele is a large well-preserved funerary inscription from the 8th century B.C. city of Sam'al (modern Zincirli) that sheds light on the beliefs of the afterlife of one of Israel’s northern neighbors.  For more on the content of the inscription, see this.  This is the only discovery on this list which is also on Archaeology Magazine’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2008.

6. Iron Age Seals from Jerusalem.  Many inscriptions were found in Jerusalem at different times this year, including the Seal of Shlomit (aka Temah), the Seal of Gedaliah, the Seal of Netanyahu, and the Seal of Rephaihu.  The first two were discovered in Eilat Mazar’s excavation of the potential area of “David’s palace,” and the other two were found relatively close by (Western Wall and Gihon Spring).  Gedaliah is mentioned by name in Jeremiah 38:1, and Shlomit may be mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19.  Some might rank these discoveries higher in the list, but I have not because so many have already been found, including many in this area and many that mention other biblical figures.

7. Pre-8th century B.C. neighborhood in the City of David.  This report received little notice, as far as I could tell, but could be quite significant in our understanding of the growth of Jerusalem in the earliest centuries of Judean rule.  While these discoveries were made in 2007, they were only publicized in 2008 (thus qualifying them for this list).  In short, the archaeologists found five Iron Age strata which included a group of houses that dated “earlier than the 8th century.”  Excavators rarely uncover houses in Jerusalem, and these would be the earliest I know of from the Iron Age.

8. Philistine temple near Gerar.  I heard very little of this discovery, but it makes the list because Philistine temples are both rare and of biblical interest (see Judges 16:23-30 and 1 Samuel 5:2-5).  Other Philistine temples have been excavated at Tel Qasile and Ekron (and Aren Maier has teased that he may have another at Gath).

Other discoveries that did not make the top 8 include the sarcophagus fragment of the son of the High Priest in Jerusalem, the “Christ Inscription” in Egypt, and a Jerusalem quarry found in Sanhedria.  The on-going Temple Mount sifting project deserves mention (and support).

Other finds that did not make the list are the perfume bottle that Mary Magdalene used to anoint Jesus’ feet and the water tunnel that David used to conquer Jerusalem.  Perhaps more information or discoveries will convince me that these are more than attempts to gain publicity.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa: Two New Articles

The Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review has a summary of the Kh. Qeiyafa excavations.  Most of the information has already been reviewed at this blog and others, but the article is nicely presented with beautiful photographs (online teaser here).  The article concludes with editor Hershel Shanks pressing excavator Yosef Garfinkel to release photographs of the ostracon.

So what does the inscription say? The decipherment has been assigned to Haggai Misgav, a Hebrew University epigrapher. “So can we see a high-resolution image of the inscription?” I asked Garfinkel. “Maybe our readers would have some helpful suggestions for Misgav,” I urged. All to no effect. Yossi stuck to the time-honored tradition that a readable picture of the inscription remain a secret until the scientific report is published in a scientific journal by the scholar assigned to publish it: Remember the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“Be a hero! Break the mold,” I urged Yossi. No way, he responded. He did tell us that the first line contains the Hebrew words “don’t do,” and that “king,” “judge” and “slave” also seem to be legible, but “it is still premature to talk about the content,” he maintains.

So when will we see a picture of the inscription with all of its indistinct letters? If the past is any guide, it will be a year or more. Is this any way to run a railroad?

Haggai Misgav has a reputation for being a very competent epigrapher. But he can only be helped, not hurt, by what other scholars (and even amateurs) have to say prior to his official publication. You can be sure, he will show the ostracon and high-resolution pictures (and infrared images as well) to friends and colleagues. He will take some of their suggestions and thank them in his publication of the ostracon. So why not enlarge the circle? It cannot hurt, and it may help. In any event, an early look at the inscription will not detract from his fame as the publisher of the famous ostracon from Qeiyafa.

As an aside, if you have this issue of BAR, or online access by personal or institutional subscription, take a look at the third article in the “Strata” column, “Gold-Plated Building Stone Found Near Temple Mount.”  Very interesting. (HT: Joe Lauer)

The discussion about the site identification of Qeiyafa is continued by Nadav Na’aman in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (8/24; full pdf online).  He disagrees with Garfinkel’s identification of the site as Shaaraim, in his article entitled “Shaaraim – The Gateway to the Kingdom of Judah.”  The abstract reads:

The article discusses the location of the city of Shaaraim mentioned in Josh 15:36 and 1 Sam 17:52. It first argues that its proposed identification with Khirbet Qeiyafa, north of the Elah Valley is mistaken. Then it argues that Shaaraim is located on the main road that led from the Valley of Elah to the city of Gath. This article proposes that the place-name Shaaraim means “gate" and that the city was named so because it was located on the western border of Judah with Philistia, a place that was seen as the gateway to the kingdom of Judah.

Na’aman makes some points that I have made previously, and that I think are obvious and difficult to circumvent.  I am working on an article on the subject and thus will restrain myself from further analysis at this time.

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Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Primer

I’m in the midst of compiling my “Top Five” list of archaeological discoveries of the year, and since Khirbet Qeiyafa stands a chance at making the top of the list, I thought it might be appropriate to share a recent “introduction” to the site that was included in the latest BiblePlaces Newsletter.  This may be especially helpful to those who have not had the time to read some of the lengthy posts here.

Defining terms: Khirbet is a word with a meaning similar to "tell."  Whereas a tell has many layers, a khirbet consists of one or two, meaning that people only lived there in one or two periods in ancient times.  Khirbet is often translated "ruin," as opposed to a tell, which is translated as "mound." Qeiyafa is the name the locals gave to this particular ruin.  Sometimes the modern names preserve the ancient name (for instance, Beisan was the Arabic name of biblical Beth Shean). 

Where is it?:  Kh. Qeiyafa is located in the western foothills (Shephelah) of the Judean hill country.  More specifically, it sits on the northern side of the Elah Valley.

Elah Valley, that sounds familiar: Yes, that's because when David fought Goliath, the two armies were situated on hills on opposite sides of the Elah Valley (1 Sam 17:2-3).

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606772_marked

David and Goliath?: That's where this whole story gets real interesting.

Tell me more: After two seasons of excavating, the ruins at Kh. Qeiyafa date to approximately 1000 B.C.  According to the biblical chronology, David became king over Judah in about 1000 B.C.

Too bad they didn't find an inscription: Actually, they did!  It may be the earliest Hebrew inscription.  It is quite difficult to read, which is why a translation has not yet been published.

Is Qeiyafa in the Bible?: Maybe.  The excavator once suggested that the site was Azekah (1 Sam 17:1).  Now he has proposed that it is Shaaraim (1 Sam 17:52).  Another scholar has identified the site as Gob (2 Sam 21:18-19).  I have argued that it may be Ephes-dammim, where the Philistine army was camped when they fought David (1 Sam 17:1).

What's the bottom line: 1) This is an important site from the time of David. 2) Critical scholarship that has tended to minimize the importance of the Israelites during this time may need to revise their conclusions.  3) The inscribed potsherd is likely to be a big story when it is translated.  4) Continued excavations will likely reveal more in future years.

Where can I find more?: You can google Qeiyafa, go straight to the excavation's website (#1 and #2), read my analysis of why the site may be Ephes-dammim, and why I don't think it is Shaaraim or Gob.  Other posts I have written (or will write) may be found here.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

264 Gold Coins Found in City of David

The excavations south of the Dung Gate, where previously an announcement was made of the discovery of the palace of Queen Helene of Adiabene, is the site of a cache of Byzantine coins.  A Byzantine tourist volunteering at the dig made the find yesterday.  CNN reports:

Some Israeli archaeologists are having a particularly happy Hanukkah.

The Israel Antiquities Authority reported a thrilling find Sunday -- the discovery of 264 ancient gold coins in Jerusalem National Park.

The coins were minted during the early 7th century.

"This is one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever discovered in Jerusalem -- certainly the largest and most important of its period," said Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, who are directing the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Researchers discovered the coins at the beginning of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which started at sunset on Sunday.

One of the customs of the holiday is to give "gelt," or coins, to children, and the archaeologists are referring to the find as "Hanukkah money."

The 1,400-year-old coins were found in the Giv'ati car park in the City of David in the walls around Jerusalem National Park, a site that has yielded other finds, including a well-preserved gold earring with pearls and precious stones.

They were in a collapsed building that dates back to the 7th century, the end of the Byzantine period. The coins bear a likeness of Heraclius, who was the Byzantine emperor from 610 to 641.

Usually archaeologists do not want to publicize the discovery of gold during an ongoing excavation, as it can lead to unwanted attention.  Perhaps word got out before they could swear everyone to secrecy.

The rest of the story is here.  You can also read about it at Arutz-7, Jerusalem Post, and the government press release.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hanukkah Re-creation in Hasmonean Village

Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight.  The Washington Post reports on a city in Israel that has re-created the story.

Dressed in a tunic and brandishing a sword, Zohar Baram leaps around the makeshift stage in the re-created Israeli village of Kfar Hashmonaim as dozens of children follow the action.

"I am the old Mattathias, and I have seen a lot in my life," he says in a booming voice. "The Greeks have forbidden us from reading the Torah and observing the Sabbath. . . . We are Jews, and we will always be Jews. Whoever is for God, follow me!"

What follows is a tale of military triumph and a miraculous supply of oil, a story told the world over that gains magic when recounted in the land where it took place. The reenactment of the Hanukkah story, which commemorates the time when a small band of Jews, the Hasmoneans, fought the Greeks for the right to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, is only part of a visit to Baram's Hasmonean village, which tries to re-create life during that period, more than 2,000 years ago.

At the village, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, children can participate in several activities appropriate to Hanukkah. In one area they harvest olives from a tree and crush them into oil using an ancient olive press. In another they make mosaics, and in a third they make copies of ancient coins.

You can read the rest here.

HT: Paleojudaica

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ivory Pomegranate Inscription Not Forged, Says Scientist

The Biblical Archaeology Society has posted a new study by Professor Yitzhak Roman of Hebrew University in which he concludes that the inscription was carved before the ivory pomegranate was broken.  This agrees with the previous study of André Lemaire of Sorbonne University, against the conclusion of Yuval Goren and the Israel Museum that the inscription was forged in modern times.  You can get the original report in Hebrew, or an English translation, as well as various related materials at the BAS website.  There’s been quite a bit of discussion in the ANE-2 list, largely attacking the experts or explaining why now it doesn’t matter.  If Roman’s and Lemaire’s arguments are invalid, hopefully someone will step up and refute the evidence.  You can do your own analysis of the photographs here.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Two Important Coins Found in Temple Mount Rubble

Many interesting finds have been made from the pile of “trash” that was removed from the Temple Mount and dumped in the Kidron Valley.  The Jerusalem Post reports the latest discovery.

Two ancient coins, one used to pay the Temple tax and another minted by the Greek leader the Jews fought in the story of Hanukka, have been uncovered amid debris from Jerusalem's Temple Mount, an Israeli archeologist said Thursday.

The two coins were recently found in rubble discarded by Islamic officials from the Temple Mount. It is carefully being sifted by two archeologists and a team of volunteers at a Jerusalem national park.

The first coin, a silver half-shekel, was apparently minted on the Temple Mount itself by Temple authorities in the first year of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66-67 CE, said Bar-Ilan University Professor Gabriel Barkay, who is leading the sifting operation.

One side of the coin, which was found by a 14-year-old volunteer, shows a branch with three pomegranates, and the inscription "Holy Jerusalem"; the other side bears a chalice from the First Temple and says "Half-Shekel."

In the Bible, Jews are commanded to contribute half a shekel each for maintaining the Temple in Jerusalem. At the time of the Temple's construction in the sixth century BCE, every Jew was ordered to make an obligatory symbolic donation of a half-shekel. This consistent yet small payment allowed all Jews, irrespective of socioeconomic position, to participate in building the Temple.

You can read the full story here.

In related news, the archaeologists in charge of this project face a significant funding shortfall.  A recent letter from Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig concludes:

The Temple Mount Sifting Operation is not a project for an elite group of archaeologists. It is now the property of the entire Jewish people, including the tens of thousands of volunteers who have helped us sift through the rubble over the years. Many times throughout history the most important projects are adopted by private donors who have the privilege to make a significant difference well before the state steps in to help. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is just such an opportunity. Please take part in this effort to save the Temple Mount Antiquities and help us to continue the educational programming which is having an immeasurable impact on thousands of visitors from all walks of Jewish life.

You can read more about this important project and learn how to make a contribution here

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mariottini on the Top Ten Discoveries of 2008

Dr. Claude Mariottini has posted his “Ten Important Archaeological Discoveries in 2008 Related to the Bible.”  Since he beat me to it, I think I’ll not try to create my own list, but will give some of my thoughts on these finds. I’ll do that in the next few days.  For now, you can read his list and follow the links.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Video Review: Noah’s Ark in Iran

Robert Cornuke, renowned discoverer of the true Mount Sinai, location of the Ark of the Covenant, and anchors from the Apostle Paul’s shipwrecked boat, has recently produced a video on his discovery of Noah’s Ark. 

This video has recently been reviewed by Gordon Franz, Bill Crouse, and Rex Geissler, who note: “Because of the excellent production quality, we are concerned once again that its sensational claims will mislead the Christian public.”

From the review:

The main premise of the video, as stated on the back cover of the video box, is that: “Based on the testimony of the Bible, personal investigation, examination of evidence, and other factors, Cornuke points to Mount Suleiman in the modern-day country of Iran, as the most probable resting place for Noah’s Ark.” This premise, however, collapses on Biblical grounds and other known facts.

Cornuke bases his conclusion on five main assumptions:

  • The veracity of the Ed Davis testimony as to the location of the Ark
  • The region (country) of Ararat (Urartu) extended into the central Elburz mountain range in Iran
  • An interpretation of Genesis 11:2 would mean that the Ark landed in Iran, east of Shinar (modern-day, south central Iraq)
  • Other ancient sources, for example Josephus, might extend the Land of Ararat eastward into Iran
  • The rock outcrop they found on Suleiman is the Ed Davis object, is petrified wood, and by implication, the remains of Noah’s Ark

The review then considers each of those assumptions.

The problem is, as with all of Cornuke’s “discoveries,” that they are never published in a credible journal where specialists in the relevant fields can respond.  Instead, Cornuke (like his predecessor Ron Wyatt) goes straight to the public, where the standards are much, much lower.  Sadly, perhaps no group is more gullible to these sorts of claims than evangelical Christians. 

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Photos from Iran, ancient Persia

If you’ve been looking for photos of Iran/Persia, you won’t find any in the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.  Maybe one day I’ll make it there, but I don’t have any plans in the near future.  In the meantime, Stephen Jones has sent a link to a terrific collection of photos on flickr, including Susa, Persepolis, and some from the Iranian National Museum.  The photos include helpful historical descriptions.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Perfume Bottles Found at Magdala

There is something important to this story, but it’s not what you might think.  What is exciting is that ancient Magdala is being excavated.  Perhaps that will increase our knowledge of this ancient city that was home to Mary Magdalene.  Perhaps it will result in the site being opened to visits by tourists.  Perhaps there will be silly sensational claims made before analysis is done – oh wait, that wish has already come true.  From the Telegraph, written by Nick Pisa in Rome:

Archaeologists have discovered vases of perfumed ointment which may have been used by Mary Magdalene to anoint the feet of Jesus.

This sentence should immediately clue you into the fact that this is a “made-for-TV” story, fashioned for maximum publicity without regard to truth.  You know this because:

1. It is quite incredible that of all the vases in the ancient world, the first ones the archaeologists find at this city are related to this biblical event.

2. Mary was from Magdala, but since there is no record that Jesus was ever in Magdala, his feet were not anointed there.  Perhaps, though, Mary carried the bottles back to her hometown.

3. Except that it’s hard to believe that Mary only poured some of the contents out and left the rest for archaeologists to find.

4. Most important to ignore in order to make this story fly is the fact that the Bible nowhere says that Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet.  A different Mary anointed him the week before his crucifixion (John 12:1-8).  And a sinful woman anointed him at the house of a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).  She is never named and Mary Magdalene is introduced by Luke two verses later (Luke 8:2) with no indication that this was the same woman.  Furthermore, the unnamed woman used an alabaster jar.  Did the excavators find an alabaster jar?  Mary Magdalene did plan to anoint Jesus’ body one Sunday morning, but she failed in her attempt (Mark 16:1-8).

The Italian team have been digging for several months at the ancient Palestinian town of Magdala – from where Mary gets her name.

In Mary’s day, Magdala was in the district of Galilee.  Today, its ruins are in the state of Israel.  It was not then, and is not now, a Palestinian town, except for those who wish to see the Jewish nation replaced by an Arab one.

The archaeologists of the Franciscan academic society Studium Biblicum Franciscanum found the unopened vases dating to the first century AD conserved in mud at the bottom of a swimming pool in Magdala's thermal complex....

Speaking of the discovery Father Stefano De Luca who is leading the dig, said: "The mud-filled condition of the site allowed us to find these truly extraordinary objects, which were intact and sealed and still contain greasy substances.

"We think these are balms and perfumes and if chemical analysis confirms this, they could be similar to those used by Mary Magdalene in the Gospels to anoint the feet of Christ.

I have a revolutionary idea.  Analyze the contents, and then tell us what they are.

"The discovery of these vases is very important. We have in our hands the cosmetic products from the time of Jesus. It's very likely that the woman who anointed Christ's feet used these products, or ones similar in organic composition and quality."

Frankly, this story could have been written long before the excavations.  They already knew the site was inhabited in the 1st century A.D.  All they needed was to find some vases, any vases, and they could say that these were related to Mary.  And the reporters would come, and the donations would flow.

HT: Joe Lauer

Magdala from above, tb102702020 Magdala from west

UPDATE (12/12): An article in Italian is longer and includes a photograph.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Popular Sites in Israel for Christian Tourists

From the Caspari Center Media Review:

A column in the Calcalist (December 3) surveyed the "Most popular sites in Israel visited by Christians." In first place, rather surprisingly, came the Western (Wailing) Wall: "Despite the fact that Christians have no religious connection to the Wall, its proximity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa has made it one of the four sites everyone has to visit in Jerusalem." The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was second: "Although not all Christian denominations concur that Yeshu was buried here, this church in the heart of the Christian Quarter is of great importance . . ." Third was the Via Dolorosa, "along which Yeshu passed on his way to his crucifixion, stopping at nine places . . ." The fourth site was the Mount of Olives - "mentioned in the New Testament as the place whence Yeshu ascended to heaven and to which he will also return in the end times." In fifth place was Capernaum, where "after he left Nazareth, Yeshu transferred his activities . . . and also chose his apostles." The information was credited to the Ministry of Tourism, the statistics to the first half of 2008.

Tourists visiting Kibbutz Ein Gev on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee will now be able to experience a "reconstruction" of one of Jesus' miracles, according to a report in Israel HaYom (December 4). Having caught an enormous St. Peter's fish (musht), the kibbutz's veteran fisherman has decided to "preserve" it, put a gold coin in its mouth, and present it to tourists as a visual aid to Jesus' catch of a "huge" fish, the proceeds from the sale of which he used to pay the border tax owed by his disciples.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

The Acoustics of Mounts Gerizim and Ebal

In 1879, J. W. McGarvey made a tour of the Holy Land.  His visit to the area of Nablus (biblical Shechem) is particularly interesting because of his acoustical test.  Today tourists are not able to visit this area, and if they were, the urbanization of the area has made a similar experience impossible today.  This section is from Lands of the Bible, originally published in 1880, pages 506-8 (emphasis added). A limited preview is available at Google Books (some copies for sale here).  Thanks to Paul Mitchell for discovering this nugget and sending it on.

“On reaching Shechem we called on Brother El Karey, the only Baptist missionary in Palestine. I had a letter of introduction to him, given me by a Baptist preacher from London whom I met at Naples. He received us very cordially, explained to us his missionary labors, and, being a native of the place, though educated in England, he was full of the local information for which we were in search. We especially wanted to learn the best way to reach Aenon, the locality of which was definitely fixed by Lieutenant Conder, but which our dragoman had never visited. He gave us the desired information, and the next morning, leaving our tents pitched at Shechem, we made an excursion to that interesting spot.

Mt Ebal and Shechem from Mt Gerizim, tb070507676

Mt. Ebal, view north from Mt. Gerizim, July 2007

Our route took us back through the valley, and we resolved that while passing between the two mountains of Ebal and Gerizim, in the still morning air, we would try the experiment of reading the blessings and curses. It will be remembered by the reader that, in compliance with directions given before the death of Moses, Joshua assembled all the people on these two mountains, stationing six tribes on one, and six opposite to them on the other, and he stood between and read to them all the blessings and curses of the law (See Deut 27-28, Josh 8:30-35). It has been urged by some skeptics that it was impossible for Joshua to read so as to be heard by the whole multitude of Israel. It is a sufficient answer to this to show that while Joshua read, the Levites were directed to repeat the words “with a loud voice” (Deut 27:14), and that it was an easy matter to station them at such points that their repetitions, like those of officers along the line of a marching army, could carry the words to the utmost limits of the multitude. But it is interesting to know that the spot chosen by God for this reading is a vast natural amphitheatre, in which the human voice can be heard to a surprising distance. About half-way between Shechem and the mouth of the valley in which it stands there is a deep, semicircular recess in the face of Mount Ebal, and a corresponding one precisely opposite to it in Mount Gerizim. No man with his eyes open can ride along the valley without being struck with this singular formation. As soon as I saw it I recognized it as the place of Joshua's reading. It has been asserted repeatedly by travelers that, although two men stationed on the opposite slopes of these two mountains are a mile apart, they can read so as to be heard by each other. We preferred to try the experiment in stricter accordance with Joshua's example; so I took a position, Bible in hand, in the middle of the valley, while Brother Taylor and Frank, to represent six tribes, climbed halfway up the slope of Mount Gerizim; and Brother Earl, to represent the other six tribes, took a similar position on Mount Ebal. I read, and they were to pronounce the amen after each curse or blessing. Brother Taylor heard me distinctly, and I could hear his response. But Brother Earl, though he could hear my voice, could not distinguish the words. This was owing to the fact that some terrace-walls on the side of the mountain prevented him from ascending high enough, and the trees between me and him interrupted the passage of the sound. The experiment makes it perfectly obvious that if Joshua had a strong voice,--which I have not,--he could have been heard by his audience without the assistance of the Levites. As to the space included in the two amphitheatres, I think it ample to accommodate the six hundred thousand men with their families, though of this I cannot be certain. If more space was required, the aid of the Levites was indispensable.”

UPDATE: Biblical Studies and Technological Tools has found and posted better images of the natural amphitheater, using Google Earth, HolyLand 3D and Microsoft Virtual Earth.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Temple Mount Poster in National Geographic

Leen Ritmeyer mentions that the current (December) issue of National Geographic includes a poster supplement of the Temple Mount.  He includes a picture of the poster and tells a little bit about his role in its creation.  He links to the NG website, but I cannot find a way to buy just a single issue.  My guess is that a newstand copy would not include the poster, and that a subscription ($15/year) ordered now would not include this issue.  But if you already have a subscription, don’t discard the poster insert before realizing what a resource you have.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Qeiyafa: An Apple Tree or a Copernican Revolution?

I have more to say about Khirbet Qeiyafa, but time is tight right now and a more careful presentation will have to wait.  But there are a few developments I can note and a few comments I can respond to, all in brief fashion.

First, G. M. Grena posted on the comments here this morning that the PowerPoint presentation that excavator Y. Garfinkel gave at the ASOR meeting last week is now available in pdf format.  This is a great resource for those who want to know more but couldn’t be there. 

Second, if you’re interested in following the ostracon on its tour of the most expensive cameras in the world, you can do that here.  Thanks again to G. M. Grena for alerting us.

Now, to an article by Bloomberg about Qeiyafa which includes two quotations from scholars.  The first is from N. A. Silberman, known for his extreme views that much of the Old Testament was written very late by priestly propagandists.

“To find an apple tree in some town in the Midwest doesn’t mean the Johnny Appleseed legend is exactly correct,” said Silberman, co-writer with Israel Finkelstein of “The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts.”

This is really quite an apt analogy.  Except for the fact that the site was found precisely in the exact area where the battle of David and Goliath was fought.  And it dates precisely to the time period when the Bible says that David lived.  Sorry, sir, you can’t wish this away so easily.

The excavator of Qeiyafa, unfortunately, doesn’t do much better.

Garfinkel, gesturing toward a nearby hill where he said the Philistine city of Gath once stood, said he believes his find brings to life the tale of David killing the Philistine giant Goliath with just two stones.

He said he would have agreed with Silberman’s views on David before the dig: “Once it was excavated, it changed the whole situation.”

So until this summer Garfinkel apparently held to the view that Silberman espouses, which is that Judah was a sparsely populated hinterland during the time of David (and for the next several hundred years).  But he finds a small walled city and a potsherd with writing on it, and suddenly, everything has changed?  This tells me either that he has a super-high estimation of the value of what he found, or he is ignorant of some important data.  How does Qeiyafa revolutionize things when decades ago, a much more impressive fortification from the 10th century was found at Gezer (11 miles to the north)?  What about Azekah about 1 mile to the west?  True, it hasn’t been excavated (by someone other than Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister 100 years ago), but shouldn’t that very fact give someone (both Silberman and Garfinkel) pause before concluding that Judah was weak and impoverished in the “time of David”?  Who knows what you’ll find at Azekah!  Just down the road is Gath, which is proving to look quite similar to what we would expect from the biblical account. 

Now, perhaps Garfinkel was speaking not of the (lack of unique) fortifications, but rather of the ostracon.  Surely, this is an important discovery.  Just how important we may not know until the text is recovered by photography and it is published.  But, is it really accurate to say that on the basis of this one as-yet-undeciphered ostracon that “it changes the whole situation”?  It’s not like we don’t have other 10th century inscriptions from the area--the Gezer Calendar has been known for 100 years, and the Tel Zayit inscription was discovered a few years ago.  So we have known that ancient Judah was literate and had fortified cities in the Shephelah for a long time now.  But Garfinkel (apparently) denied these realities meant anything because he would have agreed with Silberman’s views.  But now, on the basis of his finds, everything has changed in his mind.  This all suggests to me that some scholars come to conclusions without carefully considering all of the evidence.

Chris Heard at Higgaion has posted a few comments that I want to note.  The first point is outstanding and in sharp contrast to the two quotes above:

Reports of the “low chronology’s” death may be greatly exaggerated, or premature, but Khirbet Qeiyafa must surely influence our picture of 10th-century Judah. Let us not overstate the case: what we (the interested public) know of Khirbet Qeiyafa at this point hardly “proves that David killed Goliath” or anything of that sort. However, Khirbet Qeiyafa does counterbalance the increasingly common portrayal of 10th-century Judah as a cultural backwater.

Yes, indeed.  Overstatements are far too common among scholars talking to journalists.  But this part I cannot agree with:

The identification of the site as Sha‘arayim seems quite likely now, completely independent of anything learned from the ostracon.

This conclusion is unwarranted on the basis of the current evidence.  It seems to rely on the excavator’s word, and not the data.  But I urge caution.  1) Last year the excavator said the site was Azekah.  Frankly, that’s most unlikely on many accounts.  It comes from the urge to have your site be something important.  It demonstrates that the excavator did not properly consider the data from history and geography in making the identification.  2) Historical geography seems to have been ignored in this identification of Qeiyafa as Shaaraim as well.  I have discussed this before and will be saying more about it.  3) The sole basis for identifying Qeiyafa as Shaaraim is this: Shaaraim means “two gates.”  (The three reasons listed on slide 33 all argue against identifying Qeiyafa as Shaaraim, which I will demonstrate in the future.) The excavator has excavated one and eyeballed what he believes is another one from the same time period.  No excavations have been done of the second gate.  The meaning of the name is significant, but my question is: does it override other evidence?  Again, I simply suggest that more study occur before we decide that the identification as Shaaraim “seems quite likely now.”

If all of this is too basic for you and you’d prefer to read about some analysis about radiocarbon dating related to Qeiyafa, see this post by Abnormal Interests.  John Hobbins also has some more thoughts about the site identification, to which I’ll respond in the future aforementioned post.

Update (12/5): I have removed reference to the Ephes-dammim credit line in the pdf file as that has now been updated (see comment below).

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Record 3 Million Tourists in Israel in 2008

Globes is reporting a record year for tourism in Israel, surpassing the record set in 2000.

Minister of Tourism Ruhama Avraham-Balila today announced that three million tourists visited Israel in 2008, 30% more than in 2007. She made the announcement at a press conference summarizing the year in tourism.

Ministry of Tourism figures show that the tourism industry generated NIS 25 billion in 2008, 9% more than in 2007. Indirect output from the tourism industry is estimated at NIS 40 billion. The increase in tourists boosted employment by the industry by 10% compared with last year, to about 90,000 people.

Avraham-Balila said that she has approached her Jordanian and Palestinian counterparts to convene a regional tourism conference. "I'm aware of the bureaucratic hurdles involved in investing in Israel, which is why we're now setting up an assistance office for investors, which will advise them from the moment they buy land or win a tender, through the inauguration of a hotel. In the coming weeks, the ministry will convene tourism industry business leaders to examine preparations for 2009. The goal is to retain the number of incoming tourists."

The Ministry of Tourism said that it expects 3,000 hotel rooms to be built by 2012.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription Photographed

The LA Times has a good article on the recent photographing of the 5-line early Hebrew ostracon found at Khirbet Qeiyafa.  One portion:

The result is hundreds of high-resolution images shot with different light filters. Using a process called spectral imaging, Boydston and Bill Christens-Barry, another imaging expert, aimed to maximize the contrast of the ink, made of charcoal and animal fat, against the terra-cotta piece.

Although they didn't find any hidden text, the images will be sent back to Israel. Other high-tech images were produced -- using slightly different imaging techniques -- at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and two other technical shops on the East Cost. [sic]

Once the shard's message is fully scrutinized and decoded, findings will be published in scholarly journals by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, who led the dig. A few words already deciphered -- "slave," "king," "land" and "judge" -- indicate that it may be a legal text, lending weight to some scholars' belief that King David wielded considerable power over the Israelites.

The article gives much background about the firm that took the photographs, including mention of an early digital camera that they created – that weighed 300 pounds (136 kg)! 

HT: Paleojudaica (who also notes some speculation about the contents of the ostracon)

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Bible Times Center and Heritage Garden

Visitors to Israel may remember the Biblical Gardens located at Tantur, founded by Jim Fleming (Biblical Resources).  That wonderful center lost its lease in the late 1990s, and moved to a smaller facility in Ein Karem.  The location was more off the beaten track and the steep decline in tourists that started in late 2000 bode ill for the center.  Several years ago I read that all of its large archaeological replicas were going to be purchased by Bridges for Peace.  The center then “moved” to Georgia (about 70 miles sw of Atlanta), where it provides similar instruction about biblical life and times those who may not be able to travel to Israel.

The facility at Ein Karem has a new tenant carrying out a similar work as its predecessor.  Haaretz reports on the Bible Times Center and Heritage Garden.

Before she moved to Israel, Hannah Trasher used to be a professional fashion designer. Today, she spends most of her days dressed up as an ancient Israelite, sporting sandals, a robe and a turban-like head wrap worn by upper class Jewish women during the Second Temple period.

Two years ago, Thrasher, 57, came from the United States to Ein Kerem, the picturesque village in southwest Jerusalem, to become the executive director of the Bible Times Center and Heritage Garden, which she founded and built largely with her own savings. Nestled in the green hills surrounding the capital and tucked away between small streets and rustic churches, the center allows groups of tourists and curious Israelis, tourists and school children to travel back in time to experience how Jews - and non-Jews - lived in the land of Israel in biblical times...

The center, which is housed in a ten-room multistory building from the days of the Ottoman empire, also includes a threshing floor, a stone quarry, a stable with mangers, a wine press, a watch tower, a wedding canopy and a replica of an ancient gravesite.

Trasher, who was born in Louisiana but lived in Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Texas before settling in Jerusalem, started learning about Jewish history about 30 years ago, and has since led many study groups from the U.S. to Israel. On her tours, she often stopped by at the World of the Bible Archaeological Museum and Pilgrim Center, which until 2006 operated in the same house where she later built the Bible Times Center. But when the director of the old center, biblical archaeology and history scholar Jim Fleming, was given an enormous grant to build a similar project in Atlanta, Thrasher suddenly found the site abandoned.

"I was just crushed, as were many people, that this place wasn't available anymore," she said about her decision to move to Israel to establish her own bible center. Although she had always appreciated her predecessor's work, she found that he approached the topic too intellectually. "It was a place that attracted many scholars from all around the world," she said, "but that was not my vision for the place."

The rest of the story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

UPDATE: The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review arrived in my mailbox today and it includes an article on the new “Explorations in Antiquity Center” of Jim Fleming/Biblical Resources.  Based on the write-up and what I remember from the center in Israel, it sounds like a worthwhile visit for any interested in the biblical world and passing through Georgia.  One strange thing: the BAR article starts in the first-person, but I cannot find the author’s name listed.  It begins, “I have never been to Israel,” so that rules out Shanks.  The online version includes the first three paragraphs of the article and the author’s name: Dorothy Resig (a BAR editor).

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