Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PBS Special: Jerusalem: Center of the World

The 2-hour movie narrates the history of the city. Beginning at 9pm Eastern/Pacific, the documentary is narrated by Ray Suarez, Senior Correspondent, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Susan Wunderink of Christianity Today reviews the film:

The film starts with Abraham leaving Ur at a time when Jerusalem was already settled by Canaanite tribes. The documentary embellishes biblical history, adding in traditions that say, for example, that Jerusalem is also where God created Adam. jerusalem_pbs

Suarez goes into the details of the destruction and rebuildings of the Jewish Temple. Jesus' short life is given about 15 minutes of the two-hour run time. For viewers who know what happens up to 70 A.D.—and then nothing—it will fill in some big gaps.

The second half of the film explains how the city came to look as it does today, if you can keep up. Toward the end, the pace picks up as Suarez lists how "the world's most contested piece of real estate" changes hands among multiple Christian and Muslim rulers.

Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others fought, came, and went, sometimes leaving Jerusalem little more than a tourist trap. Mark Twain found it an unappealing, sleepy place when he visited. The Romans, after nearly wiping out the Jewish population, expelled the rest; Saladin's Muslims let them re-settle.

The full review is here. The producer’s website includes a trailer.

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Western Wall Prayer Notes Removed

From Arutz-7:

The ancient crevices of the Western Wall, filled with prayer notes tearfully tucked inside by tens of thousands of worshippers during the course of the year, underwent their twice-yearly cleaning-out on Sunday, under the watchful eye of the Rabbi of the Holy Sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich.

The notes are emptied out of the Wall just before Passover and just before Rosh HaShanah. The purpose is to make room so that people can “insert their prayer notes at the Wall without fear that the notes will fall out and be trampled upon,” Rabbi Rabinovich explained.

The notes, many of which contain the full names of family members, as well as requests for health, sustenance, a spouse, solutions for personal problems, and more, are treated with great respect by the workers.  The workers even immerse themselves in a mikveh (ritual bath) before beginning the holy work of removing the notes.

The notes are removed without the use of metal bars or utensils – which stand for warfare and the taking of life (see Exodus 20,22) - but rather with wooden rods.  Following their removal, the notes are taken to the nearby ancient Mt. of Olives cemetery for burial.

Western Wall men cleaning out prayers, tb090402207 Removing prayer notes from Western Wall

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Spectacular Mosaic Floor on Display in Negev

From the press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority (with link to photos, and direct link to photos):

One of the Most Spectacular Mosaic Floors Ever Discovered in Israel was Restored and Renovated and Can Now be Seen by the General Public (30/3/09) 

The 1,500 year old (!) mosaic is in the ancient synagogue at Ma‘on-Nirim
The mosaic, which is decorated with a seven-branched candelabrum and images of different animals, was conserved and returned to its original location. The site is now open to the general public and admission to it is free.

The site of the mosaic floor, which is part of a synagogue from the Byzantine period (fifth and sixth centuries CE), is located in the settlement of Ma‘on-Nirim, in the western Negev, and will be open to the public this week. This mosaic originally measured 3.70 x 7.80 m but was damaged when the road to Kibbutz Nir Oz was paved in 1957. The mosaic floor and the remains of the synagogue were discovered during salvage excavations that were undertaken on behalf of the Department of Antiquities in 1957. The mosaic’s state of preservation has deteriorated in recent years as a result of the unsuitable conditions in which the mosaic was kept and a lack of maintenance. Therefore, in 2006, it was removed from the site and transferred for treatment to the Conservation Laboratories in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem....

According to the archaeological findings the northern wall of the synagogue’s sanctuary was breached in the middle of the sixth century CE and an apse, which is a circular niche that protrudes outward, was installed in the opening. The level of the earlier floor was raised and a breathtakingly beautiful mosaic floor surrounded by marble columns was constructed on top of it in the northern part of the sanctuary. The synagogue had a basilica plan in which there was a nave with a mosaic floor that was flanked by two aisles paved with stone tiles. The ceiling was built of wooden beams and clay. The decoration on the mosaic floor consists of a vine tendril that stems from an amphora to form a trellis of medallions that are adorned with scenes of everyday life from the vineyard and from wine production and with different animals. The images portrayed in the upper rows include a seven-branched candelabrum that stands on three legs shaped like lion’s feet, and near them etrogim, a shofar and a lulav, and alongside the candelabrum – palm trees and lions, which are symbols of Judah. An Aramaic inscription is incorporated in the mosaic. The upper part of the inscription blesses all of the community followed by a dedication to three individuals who donated generous contributions.

The complete press release is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Friday, March 27, 2009

How To Learn Biblical Hebrew and Greek

If you’ve thought about learning biblical Hebrew or Greek—or really learning it after seminary, you should consider the Biblical Language Center in Israel.  The uniqueness of this program is that you learn Hebrew (or Greek) as a living language.  That means that you learn it by living it. 

BLC’s goal is for students to fluidly read the Bible with a natural and instant comprehension. Therefore, BLC immersion courses use living language methods in teaching Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek. This means that more than 90% of classroom time is filled with the spoken biblical language. The result is an internalization of the languages which speeds the pace of learning and improves the reading of the biblical text.

You can read more about it on their website, noting especially the methodology description.  I have not had the privilege of participating, but friends who have give the highest recommendation.

Course offerings this summer:

Greek

Beginning Koine Greek (4 weeks):
“Introduction to the Parables of Jesus”
June 7-July 3, 2009

Intermediate Koine Greek (2 weeks):
“More Parables, Papyri, and Aesop’s Fables”
July 5-17, 2009

Hebrew

Beginning Biblical Hebrew (4 weeks):
“Jonah”
June 21-July 17, 2009

Intermediate Biblical Hebrew (2 weeks):
“Ruth the Moabitess: Ruth 1-4, Gen 19, Num 25”
June 21-July 3, 2009

Intermediate Biblical Hebrew (2 weeks):
“Samson, Shfelah, and Philistines, Judges 13-16”
July 5-17, 2009

Intermediate Biblical Hebrew (2 weeks):
“In the Beginning: Genesis 1-3”
July 19-31, 2009

Intermediate Biblical Hebrew (2 weeks):
“Psalms: Selected Coronation, Ascent and Canaanite Psalms”
July 19-31, 2009

All courses are offered in a quiet community near Jerusalem.  You can learn more about it at www.biblicalulpan.org.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Byzantine Bathhouse Excavated Near Sderot

The Israel Antiquities Authority reports in a press release:

A bathhouse that dates to the Byzantine period was exposed in an archaeological excavation undertaken by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Kibbutz Gevim (at the site of Horvat Lasan) and underwritten by the Israel Railways, prior to laying a railroad track from Ashkelon to Netivot.

According to archaeologist Gregory Serai, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The bathhouse, which covers an area of 20 x 20 m, was apparently destroyed in a cave-in and was later used as a rubbish dump that was filled with household refuse. It was ascertained in the excavation that the furnace (hypocaust) was dug into the natural soil and its ceiling was built of a cement-like material that was lined with ceramic tiles. The ceiling was supported by means of one meter high colonnades built of mudbricks. The bathers entered the changing room (apodyterium) and passed from there into a room with cold water (frigidarium) where there were probably stepped tubs. From there they continued into the room with warm water (tepidarium) and on to the room with hot water (caldarium – comparable to today’s sauna). The floor of the caldarium was paved with marble flagstones, some of which were as big 1 x 1 m. Evidence of the ceiling’s destruction is attested to by the manner in which the hypocaust columns were toppled in different directions”.

Following its destruction, the structure served as a source of building material as evidenced by the stone walls that were robbed. Secondary use of the stones was noted in the center area of the excavation. A number of residential buildings were discovered in this part of the site and they contained storage jars that were still in situ.

The village’s buildings and bathhouse join the finds that were revealed in a previous excavation that was conducted on the other side of the road. In the opinion of Gregory Serai, “We are dealing with a village whose economy was based on the production of wine and the manufacture of pottery vessels. The site was situated on a road that linked Beer Sheva with Gaza and probably began as a road station in the Roman period.

There’s a brief article about Kibbutz Gevim, including its location, at Wikipedia.  Eight photos of the excavations can be found with the article at this temporary link, or directly here (zip).

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend Roundup

ScienceNews carries an interesting article on looting in Israel and around the world.

The on-going renovation of the Israel Museum is apparently on track to be completed in May 2010.  An article at Bloomberg.com gives some details of the work.

Excavations are underway in the Roman theater of Tiberias.  See a previous post and photo here.

On the ASOR Blog, Aren Maeir discusses the potential impact of the financial crisis on archaeological excavations.

Der Spiegel has an article on what is being called the longest tunnel in the ancient world.  It ran 66 miles in the modern countries of Syria and Jordan.  120 years were spent on its construction, but it turned out to be a failure.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on the alleged charges against Raphael Golb.  The real estate lawyer with a doctorate in comparative literature from Harvard is charged with “30 counts of criminal impersonation, 18 counts of forgery, 21 counts of misdemeanor identity theft, one count of felony identity theft, one count of aggravated harassment, and one case of unauthorized use of a computer.”

Logos Bible Software is hosting a “March Madness” book tournament which allows readers to vote and receive discounts of 25-75% on specific volumes.

You can play golf in the shadows of the pyramids for $25.

The first tour group of Westerners has visited Iraq

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dan Middle Bronze Gate Restored

From Haaretz:

The Nature and National Parks Protection Authority yesterday opened "Abraham's Gate" at Tel Dan in the north, for visits by the public.

The ancient structure from the Canaanite period of the Bronze Age is made of mud and is thought to have been built around 1750 B.C.E. The authority named the archaeological site for Abraham, the first patriarch of the Jewish people, indicating that it dates from the period of Abraham.

The gate was uncovered in 1979 but more recently underwent restoration. It is composed of three arches and constructed of sun-dried mud brick on a foundation of large basalt stones. The gate, which in ancient times stood seven meters tall, has been restored to its original height. It features two towers and a horizontal structure linking them below the arches, the oldest arches ever found in the Land of Israel.

HT: Joe Lauer

Dan Middle Bronze mudbrick gate2, tb011500 Middle Bronze gate before restoration (Jan 2000)

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Monday, March 16, 2009

A Favorite Hike: Nahal Darga

One of my favorite hikes in Israel is described in a recent story in the Jerusalem Post.  The Nahal Darga is a large canyon that drains the Judean Wilderness into the Dead Sea.  The marvelous hike combines spectacular views, historic caves, and challenging climbing.  Jacob Solomon’s article offers sage advice, but if you’re planning to heed the call, do not make the same mistake that he does and miss the real jewel of the hike, that is, climbing down the canyon itself!  Some excerpts from the article:

This is a memorable, varied and demanding full-day route. Shaded for much of the way, the earlier parts follow the deep, steep-sided gorge of Nahal Darga, and the sun should be well behind the Judean Hills by the late afternoon descent to the finish at Mitzpe Shalem. Check the flash-flood forecast immediately before this excursion....

You have reached one of the last stands of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (132-135 CE), led by Simeon Bar Kosiba, a.k.a. Bar Kochba. The official Roman conversion of Jerusalem to the pagan city of Aelia Capitolina with a temple to the god Jupiter fired a rebellion of sufficient magnitude for Emperor Hadrian to bring down his premier general Severus, then in Britain. The fighters retreated, making their last guerrilla-style stands in these mountains in the hopeful but erroneous belief that the geographical obstacles you have just surmounted might deter Hadrian's imperial army.

If you do opt to climb through the canyon, you must be in good shape, you may need climbing rope, and you will get wet and probably dirty.  You also would be wise to leave anything behind that cannot get wet, including your camera. 

Nahal Darga, Wadi Murabaat, tb021107575Nahal Darga from above

Wadi Murabaat, Bar Kochba cave, view from interior, tb021107619Wadi Murabaat = Nahal Darga, Cave where Bar Kochba scrolls foundNahal Darga, Wadi Murabaat, tb021107581The best part of the hike is through the canyon itself 

 Nahal Darga, Wadi Murabaat, tb021107612 
The best time of the year to hike Nahal Darga is February to April.  After that, the temperatures are too hot and the water becomes too putrid.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Byzantine Church Discovered in Nes-Harim

This discovery is reported by the Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and CNN.  The following is the beginning of the press release of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A church that dates to the Byzantine period which is paved with breathtakingly beautiful mosaics and a dedicatory inscription was exposed in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting near Moshav Nes-Harim, 5 kilometers east of Bet Shemesh (at the site of Horvat A-Diri), in the wake of plans to enlarge the moshav.

According to archaeologist Daniel Ein Mor, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The site was surrounded by a small forest of oak trees and is covered with farming terraces that were cultivated by the residents of Nes-Harim. Prior to the excavation we discerned unusually large quantities of pottery sherds from the Byzantine period and thousands of mosaic tesserae that were scattered across the surface level”.

The excavation seems to have revealed the very center of the site, which extends across an area of approximately 15 dunams, along the slope of a spur that descends toward Nahal Dolev.

During the first season of excavation (November 2008) the church’s narthex (the broad entrance at the front of the church’s nave) was exposed in which there was a carpet of polychrome mosaics that was adorned with geometric patterns of intertwined rhomboids separated by flower bud motifs. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the excavation this mosaic was defaced and almost completely destroyed by unknown vandals. During that excavation season a complex wine press was partly exposed that consists of at least two upper treading floors and elongated, well-plastered arched cells below them that were probably meant to facilitate the preliminary fermentation there of the must. Part of the main work surface, which was paved with large coarse tesserae, was exposed at the foot of these cells. A complex wine press of this kind is indicative of a wine making industry at the site; this find is in keeping with the presence here of a church and is consistent with our knowledge about Byzantine monasteries in the region during this period (sixth-seventh centuries CE).

The press release continues here.  The IAA has posted (temporary link) three high-resolution images: 1) an aerial view of the site; 2) workers cleaning the church floor; 3) a close-up of the church’s dedicatory inscription.  A direct link to the images is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Tomb of Mordechai and Esther

Today the feast of Purim is celebrated in Jerusalem (it was yesterday elsewhere in the world), and the Jerusalem Post carries a column on a site in Iran that tradition identifies as the tomb of Mordechai and Esther.  Iran has thus far been outside of my areas of travel, so I do not have anything to contribute to this particular discussion.  The Book of Esther is one of the most brilliant literary compositions, and as I read through it with family and friends on Monday night I was struck by Mordechai’s words to Esther: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish” (4:14).  My first response was to marvel at the way that God has protected his people, time and again, over the millennia.  My later response was to consider the striking parallel with the rise of a new Persian threat against Israel and those who will or will not act to stop it.  I will leave that for your own consideration and quote here the first few paragraphs of the JPost column by Michael Freund:

A few months ago, the normally hostile Iranian regime took the rather unusual step of adding a Jewish holy site to its National Heritage List. On December 9, 2008, Iranian news outlets reported that the tomb of Mordechai and Esther, the heroes of the Purim saga, would now be under official government protection and responsibility.

The move cast a brief spotlight on the site, which is well-known to Iranian Jews but largely unfamiliar to those outside the country. And with Purim being celebrated this week, it is worth taking a moment to ponder this relic of our ancient past.

The mausoleum housing the shrine of Mordechai and Esther consists of a simple brick structure crowned with a dome which was built five to seven centuries ago over the underground grave sites. It is located in the northwestern city of Hamadan, about 335 kilometers west of Teheran. According to tradition, Hamadan is believed to be the site of the city of Shushan, which played such a central role in the events described in the Book of Esther.

The column continues here.

Expedition members Purim party with Yigael Yadin, db6703260105Purim Party, Megiddo excavation team, March 1967
with Yigal Shiloh, Immanuel Dunayevsky, Yigael Yadin, and Amnon Ben-Tor

Children in Purim costumes, db810319p175Children in Purim costumes, 1981
Photos by David Bivin, Views That Have Vanished CD

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Biography of Kathleen Kenyon Reviewed

Kathleen Kenyon was recently the subject of a biography written by Miriam C. Davis.  Dame Kathleen Kenyon: Digging up the Holy Land was reviewed in Haaretz by Magen Broshi, an archaeologist and the former curator of the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.  His review begins:

She never married, and her friends described her as a person whose world consisted of three loves: archaeology, dogs and gin. Kathleen Kenyon was also the head of a women's college at Oxford. She bombarded the press with anti-Zionist and anti-Israel articles and letters − she thought that the Muslims had preferential rights to the Land of Israel because they had been living there for 1,400 years, whereas the Jews had ruled the land only during the First Temple period (about 400 years) and for another 100 years, during the Hasmonean dynasty. She was, however, one of the most important archaeolokenyon_biography gists ever to dig in the Land of Israel.

That is not a negligible achievement, because more archaeological work has been done in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in other words in the State of Israel and the territories, than anywhere else in the world. There is no other country that has been so thoroughly researched, and the number of digs and surveys carried out here is incomparably greater than what has been done in far larger countries. Kenyon is not only one of the most important archaeologists to have worked here (and they number over 1,000), she is also the leading female archaeologist to have worked anywhere (along with the prehistorian Dorothy Garrod).

Broshi looks primarily at the three sites in the Holy Land that she excavated, Samaria, Jericho, and Jerusalem.  Concerning the last:

The final site excavated by Kenyon was Jerusalem, and here she was not so lucky. In effect, the digs there, as they are described in the book, were post-climactic. Despite the huge investment - seven digging seasons between 1961 and 1967 - with up to six sites operating simultaneously, employing hundreds of workers, the results were small in number and also unimportant. One reason for this is that while Jordan was still in charge of the old city, Kenyon was not permitted to work in the areas where other archaeologists - like Benjamin Mazar, who excavated south and southeast of the Temple Mount, and Nahman Avigad, who worked in the Jewish Quarter - later discovered many important finds. (Kenyon's work was restricted because the Waqf Muslim religious trust was opposed to excavations in the Jewish Quarter, since there were Palestinian refugees living there).

The second reason is related to the limitations of her modus operandi, the Wheeler-Kenyon method, which relied on examinations in a limited zone and refrained from exposing a horizontal area. Careful examinations in pits, as meticulous as they may be, are likely to lead to a result similar to that of the Indian fable about the three blind men who fell on an elephant but were unable to identify it correctly: The person who fell on the tail shouted "ropes," the one who encountered the legs declared "planks," and the third, who climbed on the tusks, yelled "swords." Only a dig that exposes a horizontal area is likely to take in the whole "elephant."

The review concludes:

The figure of Kenyon as portrayed in the book is a model of diligence and dedication. The book is based on thorough research, including written and oral testimony. It is well-written and the story is appealing. In my opinion it deserves high praise.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Mysterious Stones in Eastern Turkey

My friend Al sent along this link with the comment: Take away the wild and foolish speculation and it’s an interesting article.

I agree.

Do these mysterious stones mark the site of the Garden of Eden?

UPDATE: G.M. Grena, in the comments below, suggests a much more sensible article:
http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200902/the.beginning.of.the.end.for.hunter-gatherers.htm (short link: http://tinyurl.com/c8tvtd)


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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Norman Golb’s Son Arrested on Charges of Impersonation

Having been the victim of unwelcome, sometimes lengthy, and usually inflammatory comments on posts on this blog related to the Dead Sea Scrolls, I’m happy to see that New York police have arrested a man for allegedly creating many false identities, impersonating scholars, and slandering Dr. Lawrence Schiffman.  The guilty party, whether he is the accused or someone else, had a single agenda: to promote the widely panned theories of Dr. Norman Golb.  I have long been curious what sort of person would be so committed to such an endeavor as to spend countless hours to promote this view in places that have little real significance (this and other blogs, Wikipedia).  The answer, if NY prosecutors are correct, makes some sense: the perpetrator was Golb’s son.  That son, however, was not 14 years old, but 49.  One scholar who has wrangled extensively with the multiple-aliased offender is Bob Cargill.  A scholar at UCLA, Cargill has posted an extraordinary catalog of the campaign of this individual (be he the accused or someone else).  A few hours after Cargill posted his catalog, NY police announced the arrest.  From the NY Times:

For decades, the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been intensely debated.

The prevailing theory is that these ancient documents, which include texts from the Hebrew Bible, were written over the three centuries before 100 A.D. by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes, who were based in Qumran, a settlement at the northwest shore of the Dead Sea near the caves where the scrolls were found between 1947 and 1956.

An alternative theory, passionately proffered by a University of Chicago professor, is that the scrolls’ authors were not Essenes, and that the scrolls themselves were kept in various libraries in Jerusalem until they were hidden in the caves around Qumran for safekeeping during the Roman war of A.D. 67 to 73. Qumran, he has said, was not an Essene monastery but a fortress, one of several armed defensive bastions around Jerusalem.

The professor, Norman Golb, has stood behind his theory despite significant criticism. His son, Raphael Haim Golb, has been one of his greatest allies.

But prosecutors said on Thursday that Raphael Golb took defending his father’s theory too far. Mr. Golb is accused of using stolen identities of various people, including a New York University professor who disagreed with his father, to elevate his father’s theory and besmirch its critics, Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, said at a news conference.

Mr. Golb, 49, was arrested Thursday morning and charged in Manhattan Criminal Court with identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors said Mr. Golb opened an e-mail account in the name of Lawrence H. Schiffman, the New York University professor who disagreed with Mr. Golb’s father. He sent messages in Professor Schiffman’s name to various people at N.Y.U. and to others involved in the Dead Sea Scrolls debate, fabricating an admission by Professor Schiffman that he had plagiarized some of Professor Golb’s work, Mr. Morgenthau said. Raphael Golb also set up blogs under various names that accused Dr. Schiffman of plagiarism, Mr. Morgenthau said.

NYUNews has posted one of the emails that Golb is alleged to have forged. (HT: Joe Lauer)

Unfortunately dad’s response is not altogether encouraging.

Reached at his office in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, Professor Golb said he was shocked at the allegations leveled against his son, who is a real estate lawyer and has a Ph.D in comparative literature from Harvard.

“My son is an honorable person,” Professor Golb said. “He could not have done such a thing.”

Professor Golb said that opposing scholars had tried to quash his views over the years through tactics like barring him from Dead Sea Scrolls exhibitions. He said he saw the criminal charges as another attack on his work.

“Don’t you see how there was kind of a setup?” he said. “This was to hit me harder.”

I’m not sure that this is the best time for Professor Golb to be complaining of the same thing that led the impersonator to carry out his campaign.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Excavations on Mount Zion, 2009

Shimon Gibson and James Tabor have posted a week-by-week summary of their 2009 season of excavations on Mount Zion at The Bible and Interpretation.  In the six weeks of work, they made numerous small finds from the 1st century A.D. to the modern period.  The description is accompanied by several beautiful photographs.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

ESV Study Bible Online Access Free This Month

A month ago I mentioned the value of the maps and illustrations of the ESV Study Bible, including its online version.  Now, through the month of March, the publisher has announced that access to the online version is free for all, with registration.  See the previous post (and here) for more info about the variety of images available.  Go here to register and get started.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Legacy of William F. Albright

How quickly one’s legacy can be re-defined.  In his day, William Foxwell Albright was regarded with the highest esteem by scholars in biblical and archaeological studies.  In recent decades, his approach is usually dismissed with an disparaging, how-could-anybody-be-so-naive elevation of the nostrils.  The “Albright School” is equated with everything wrong in biblical archaeology.  Even the term “biblical archaeology” is rejected.  Albright certainly made significant mistakes, but I surmise that fifty years hence, the hindsight of time will prove less gracious to Albright’s critics than to the man himself.

It’s thus refreshing to read a recent appreciation of Albright’s work by Thomas Levy and David Noel Freedman, published at Bible and Interpretation.  Freedman was a student of Albright, and he co-wrote a biography of his teacher in 1975.  The current piece looks like it was prepared for publication, and its copyright attribution to the National Academy of Sciences suggests that it may have been written in connection with Levy’s induction into the academy last year.

I recommend reading the biography, but this article is a good, brief summary of his life and scholarly achievements.  The article includes a chronology of his life and a selected bibliography.  I note some interesting facts from the article to stimulate your interest:

  • Albright’s left hand was crippled in a childhood farm accident.
  • When he was ten years old, he received as a present the History of Babylonia and Assyria, by Professor R. W. Rogers.
  • Albright spent 18 hours a day for three days writing terrifying exams for the Thayer Fellowship on Syriac, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and German; Hebrew Bible Literature and Criticism; geography; archaeology; history; and epigraphy.
  • He mastered more than 26 ancient and modern languages.
  • He translated and published a text from the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls ten years before the Qumran scrolls were discovered.

Tell Beit Mirsim, excavating house at east gate, mat05732Albright’s excavations at Tell Beit Mirsim, 1926
Source: Library of Congress, LC-matpc-05732
From a forthcoming collection from
www.LifeintheHolyLand.com

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bethel Excavations, $2.50, and more

Eisenbrauns, a favorite among many academics working in biblical and Ancient Near Eastern studies, has recently begun a “deal of the day.”  Typically the price reductions are outstanding (60-90% off!), and often the book is of interest.  Today’s offer is The Excavations at Bethel (1934-1960), regularly $35 (or used, $21), today $2.50, which is 93% off.  (Plus $5 shipping.)

For such a deal, there are a few hurdles to overcome.  First, to learn about these daily offers, you should subscribe to the RSS feed.  Unfortunately, the link never seems to work in my (Google) reader.  But when you see a title of interest, you can go to the Eisenbrauns home page and navigate from there.  Second, the description of the volume as related to the excavations of Beth-Zur should be ignored.  Third, the author is not Julie Kelso, but William F. Albright and James L. Kelso.  And fourth, there’s a real question that the excavations are even of Bethel!  Other that that, as they say, everything’s perfect.

I am not trying to provoke an argument about the location of Bethel.  I am not advocating for another location.  I simply suggest that if you read this excavation report you will not find any compelling archaeological evidence that indicates that this site is biblical Bethel.  And in fact, there are serious deficiencies with what was found.  But I am not going to argue against this identification on the basis of the absence of evidence.  I am willing, however, to point out that if this was one of the greatest cities of the northern kingdom and the home of one of the major shrines, one would expect to uncover much more than they did.

A related note.  This is related both to the Bethel/Ai debate and to the incorrect first name of the author of the title.  A few days ago I came across a reference in Richard Hess, Israelite Religions, to two entries in the New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land.  He cited the author of the Ai article as Joseph A. Callaway, but the author of the article of nearby Khirbet Raddana as James A. Callaway.  Unfortunately, his citation follows the original; NEAEH “misspelled” Callaway’s first name.  As far as I can tell, the new Volume 5 does not include an errata.

Speaking of typos, here’s an embarrassing one, on the packaging of the esteemed Anchor Bible Dictionary, no less!  (For non-Hebrew readers, the text on the CD design has the first two words from Genesis, but the letters read from left to right.)

Quibbles aside, every book mentioned in this post is worth buying if these are subjects of interest to you.

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Desert Kites: Ancient Technology of Hunters

This JPost article claims that a new study has “unlocked a key piece,” but as far as I can tell, the research merely confirms what was previously believed.  Mazar, in his Archaeology of the Land of the Bible (1990), says something similar (pages 54-56).  It’s an interesting phenomenon, and I note it here for those who have not studied some of the earlier periods of land of Israel.

University of Haifa researchers have just unlocked a key piece of the mystery of ancient desert survival, as part of their research on "desert kites" in the Negev and Arava regions.

The kites - so called because of their kite-like appearance to British pilots flying over the area in the early 1900s - resemble walls stretching over hundreds of meters of desert, meeting at angles with rounded trenches at the intersections.

The study, headed by zooarcheologist Dr. Guy Bar-Oz, archeologist Dr. Daniel Nadel and landscape ecologist Dr. Dan Malkinson, found that these structures were made by ancient desert people over 5,000 years ago as mass hunting apparatuses.

A number of such kites have been identified in Jordan, Syria, Israel and the Sinai. The archeological community has surmised that they were used for hunting purposes or as cattle pens.

Now, after surveying 11 kites and conducting digs at four different kite locations - from Givat Barnea in the North to Eilat in the South - and utilizing cutting edge measuring devices, two radiometric methods of dating, and aerial and ground photography, the team has concluded that the kites were constructed specifically to direct wild animals along the walls and convey them toward the trenches, where they could be hunted with ease....

"We were not taken by surprise by the technological ability; humans in that period were very similar to us in their capabilities. But nevertheless these were immense efforts," he said. "Some of the kites are spread across hundreds of meters, and the construction blocks of some of the traps are very large and heavy. We are definitely talking about wide-scope construction in a region that is challenging for survival."

The full story is hereArutz-7’s version includes four photos.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Daily Mail has a report and photos of the stunning model of Herod’s Temple Mount being constructed by Alec Garrard.  At 30 years and counting, Garrard has worked longer on his model than Herod did on the original (at the time of his death).

Sunday’s Zaman has a review of the “Top 10 Museums” in Turkey.  Most, but not all, of the museums are related to the ancient world.  HT: Explorator.

Dr. Platypus (Darrell Pursiful) has posted the Biblical Studies Carnival XXXIX.  As always, the carnival is a great way to see what is going on in the wider blogosphere.

John Walton posts on what the Bible means in its description of “the land flowing with milk and honey.”

Arabia meets America in the Wild Wadi Water Park.

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