Monday, November 30, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Last week I noted an article on the Nahal Yehudiyeh.  The author, Shmuel Browns, has a website with an expanded version of the article, plus many other interesting articles and beautiful photos.  I particularly like his shot of the Dead Sea sinkholes.

A team of archaeologists has created an online map of Israeli excavations in the West Bank.  The project won an award last week from ASOR.  You can search sites by period, type, or keyword.

Greece is planning to restore the theater of Dionysius at the foot of the acropolis.  This theater was first built in the late 6th century BC.

Google is planning to make a virtual copy of the collections of the National Museum of Iraq, to be online early next year.  This is good news, since the three official “re-openings” never included entrance to the public and only 8 of the 26 galleries have been restored.

The most famous place in Israel for hummus is Abu Ghosh.  Now the owner of the Abu Ghosh Restaurant is planning to break the record by making a four-ton vat.  Come hungry.

HT: Explorator

Athens theater of Dionysus, tb031806337

Theater of Dionysius, Athens

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Photos from Israel in 1948

About a year ago, Life Magazine made its archive of 10 million photos available online.  Ben Atlas has sifted through the collection and pulled out images related to Israel in 1948, particularly the War of Independence.

LIFE in Israel in 1948 - Part 1

LIFE in Israel in 1948 - Part 2

LIFE in Israel in 1948 - Part 3

This is a fantastic collection that proves the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

You can search the archive yourself with Google if you add “+source:life” to your search.  So, for instance, you might try these searches:

Jerusalem in 1940s (176 images)

Palestine in 1940s (200 images)

Israel in 1940s (200 images)

The story of the birth of modern Israel is one of the most remarkable tales of the 20th century.  There are many books on the subject, but one I have enjoyed several times is O Jerusalem, a classic which is also available in audiobook format (22 CDs for $20 from Amazon).  I listened to the book this summer and profited greatly.

HT: David Reagan

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Omrit Excavations 2009

I was invited this year to attend the Bible and Archaeology Fest in New Orleans.  This was the 12th annual series of lectures sponsored by the Biblical Archaeology Society.  While most professors and graduate students attend the annual professional meetings of SBL and ASOR, this series is targeted toward those with a high level of interest but who have less training.  Many of the lecturers commented that they enjoy the conference so much because the attendees are so highly motivated.  I certainly found that to be true, and I personally enjoyed the conference.  The presenters were all first-rate.  They were articulate, well prepared, and engaging.  All of them illustrated their lectures with visual aids.  I can recommend the series to you without hesitation or reservation.  I didn’t agree with everything the lecturers said, but my thinking was never unprovoked.  Hopefully some of that will come up in a short series I hope to post here.

I’ll start the series with the presentation on the 2009 excavations of Omrit, given by Co-Director, Dan Schowalter.  I noted Omrit here recently when the archaeologists made public their theory that the Omrit temple, and not the one at Caesarea Philippi (Banias), should be equated with King Herod’s imperial temple. 

In excavations since 1999, archaeologists have identified three successive temples at the site.  The first, dubbed the “Early Shrine,” was built not earlier than 50 BC and probably went out of use not later than 20 BC.  Schowalter suggested that the builders of Temple Two were unaware of the Early Shrine until they began construction.  They thought the Early Shrine was a tomb and so they left unguentaria behind, but the excavators think they were incorrect in their identification. 

Temple One is credited to King Herod, and the archaeologists believe this is the temple that Josephus mentions as being near Paneion (Caesarea Philippi; Ant. 15.10.3).  Built in 20 BC, this temple was much more impressive in construction than the Early Shrine.  For reconstruction diagrams, see this page at Macalester College’s website.

Temple Two was an expansion, built c. AD 80, which included a colonnade and staircase.  The columns were about 30 feet (10 m) tall, and niches (for statues?) flanked the monumental staircase.  This temple may have been destroyed in the earthquake of AD 363.

In the future, archaeologists would love to discover the ancient name of the site.  A Greek boundary inscription with the name of Emperor Diocletian (late 3rd century) was broken off and the city name was not preserved.

Survey work in January 2011 will benefit from last summer’s grass fire.  The site is much larger than the temple area and includes an acropolis which is elevated above the temple site.

The government has proposed plans that would provide parking and an access path to the site.  Currently, it’s a challenge to find by car and impossible to arrive by bus.

Some of the impressive architectural pieces from the temple will be part of a new display in the Biblical and Archaeology Wing of the Israel Museum, slated to open next summer.

For a few photos of the temple, see this previous post.

UPDATE: I’ve been asked about the date and time of the next Bible and Archaeology Fest.  If it follows the pattern of previous years, it will be November 19-21, 2010 in Atlanta.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Beirut, As It Was

One of these days I’m going to get to Beirut, Lebanon.  Until then, I’m going to imagine that it looks just like this.

Beirut and St George's Bay, mat10591

Beirut and St. George’s Bay, probably in 1920s

J. L. Porter visited the city in the 1870s and wrote about it in The Giant Cities of Bashan and Syria’s Holy Places:  “The site of Beyrout is among the finest in the world. From the base of Lebanon a triangular plain juts into the sea, and round a little bay on its northern shore nestles the nucleus of the city, engirt by old walls and towers. Behind the city the ground rises with a gentle slope, and is thickly studded with villas of every graceful form which Eastern fancy, grafted on Western taste, can devise; and all embosomed in the foliage of the orange, mulberry, and palm. In spring time and summer Beyrout is beautiful. The glory of Lebanon behind, a mantle of verdure wrapped closely round it, fringed by a pearly strand; in front the boundless sea, bright and blue as the heavens that over-arch it. Such is Beyrout” (282).

The photo and quotation are both taken from the Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-10591).

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Favorite Water Hike: Nahal Yehudiyeh

One of my favorite hikes in Israel is along the Nahal Yehudiyeh in the Golan Heights.  You have to swim, and in non-summer months the water is a bit chilly.  But it’s an exciting hike in many ways.  Arutz-7 has a story which includes the details you need to know before you go.  One sample:

Hiking the upper section of Nahal Yehudia is considered to be appropriate for good hikers who can swim, as there are a couple of places where you have to climb down the rock face with the help of handholds or a ladder into a deep pool that you have to swim across. Note that you must start out on the well-marked trail by noon.

The hike starts above the wadi on the red trail, walking through a deserted Syrian village of basalt field stones built on the remains of an earlier Jewish town from the Roman-Byzantine period.

Remains of a wall have led archaeologists to suggest that Yehudia is Soganey, one of the three fortresses (the other two are Gamla and Sele'ukya) in the Golan built by Josephus at the time of the Roman Revolt.

I don’t know how easy it is to find any more, but a great resource for adventures like these is the book by Joel Roskin, Waterwalks in Israel (Jerusalem Post, 1996).

Nahal Yehudiyeh waterfall and pool, tb040703201 Nahal Yehudiyeh waterfall

UPDATE: The author of the article, Shmuel Browns, has commented below. Take a look at his website for a more comprehensive article and photos.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Magdala Project Blog

A recent comment on a previous post has alerted me to the existence of the Magdala Project Blog.  It appears to be current (the most recent post was 4 days ago), and it is loaded with lots of information and photos.  Recent posts include:

Another one that may be of interest to readers are statistics of the Sea of Galilee, with data from the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection.

You can also see a slide show from the Magdala excavations here.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Crossway ESV Bible Atlas

On the one-year anniversary of the ESV Study Bible, Justin Taylor reveals that a new Bible atlas is in production.

For those who have appreciated the maps and illustrations in the ESVSB, in June we’ll release the Crossway ESV Bible Atlas, which we’re very excited about. It was a huge project, but OT scholar and archaeologist John Currid (RTS-Charlotte) and cartographer David Barrett have done an outstanding job with it. There’s about 65,000 words explaining the geography and cultures of the biblical world, along with 175 full-color maps, including some in 3D, 70 photos, numerous recreations, a fully searchable CD, and a detailed 16.5 x 22-inch map of Palestine.

He does not mention that David Barrett is also the creator of the recently released Bible Mapper 4.  Readers here may be interested to know that the majority of the photos in the new atlas come from the image collection of BiblePlaces.com.

HT: Ted Weis

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

View from Mount Nebo, Then and Now

What is your favorite view in the Middle East?  I have a number of places that I aspire to be on the rare day when the air is crystal clear.  Perhaps my top three viewpoints in Israel are Nebi Samwil, Mount Carmel, and Arbel.  On the other side of the Jordan River, Mount Nebo ranks first.  Unfortunately, I have never been there on a really clear day.

The photo below was taken in the 1930s, when factories and automobiles were less troublesome to photographers.  The view is from Mount Nebo, and you can see beyond the northern end of the Dead Sea to the Judean wilderness and even Jerusalem.

Dead Sea and Judean wilderness, view from Mt Nebo, mat03779View from Mount Nebo with Dead Sea

I’m linking this photo to the highest resolution available (5200 x 3700 pixels), which will make it a slow download, but those of you with interest will be able to pick out a lot of detail.

For comparison, the photo below was taken from Mount Nebo on a more typical day.

Mt Nebo view to Dead Sea, tb031801859

The top photo is taken from the Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-03779).  The bottom photo is rotten and will never appear in one of my photo collections.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday Roundup

Apparently the story has been circulating that Cambyses’ lost army has been found.  But it’s not true.

This week UNESCO is holding in Acco the second annual World Heritage Workshop on “Disaster Risk Reduction to Cultural Heritage Sites.”

Ferrell Jenkins posts a beautiful aerial photo of the coastal side of Tel Dor.

We’re glad to see that The Bible and Interpretation now has an RSS feed.

I am off in a few hours to New Orleans for a couple of conferences related to the Bible and archaeology.  I don’t know if I’ll have an internet connection or much time, but if I do, I may post some observations.  Readers of this blog going to the ETS meeting may be interested in this paper:

Seth Rodriquez, Site Identification: In Search of a Methodology
Wednesday, Nov. 18, 10:10-10-50am
Marriott, Ile de France I, 3rd Floor

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Amman, Then and Now

If you’re not a subscriber to the BiblePlaces Newsletter (or if it landed in your spam box), you may not know that the Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection is now available.  Here is one of my favorite photos from the CD:

Amman, aerial view, acropolis and theater, mat13641

This is an aerial view of Amman, looking down on the acropolis (foreground) and the ancient heart of the Roman city, including the theater.  The acropolis is notable because it is almost untouched, whereas today it has roads, a museum, and many excavated areas.  The area around the theater is now the center of a dense urban city.

In biblical times, the city was known as Rabbah or Rabbath-ammon.  In the Roman period, the city was called Philadelphia and was one of the cities of the Decapolis.

My attempts to get in an airplane over the city have been unsuccessful, but the photo below will give you some idea of how the area has changed.

Amman theater, tb031801008 Amman theater from the acropolis

The top photo is one of 25 photos of Amman in the Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-13641).  The bottom photo is from the Jordan volume of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Leen Ritmeyer is scheduled to lecture at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on November 15 and 16 on:

  • The History and Archaeology of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem
  • The History and Archaeology of Herodian Jerusalem

At the ASOR meeting in New Orleans, Ritmeyer’s lecture is entitled:

  • The Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount – Deciphering its Story

Joe Lauer notes that the Jerusalem Post Magazine this week has a story on the interesting character of Shlomo Moussaieff.  He’s done more in his life than sell expensive jewels and collect rare antiquities. 

I’ve been eyeing this book for the last year, and so I was delighted to see that Eisenbrauns has Colin Hemer’s The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History for 60% off ($24, plus $5 shipping) this weekend only.  A few months ago I read with great appreciation D. A. Carson’s remembrance of Hemer, now available online here: “Colin John Hemer: In Memoriam” (pdf). 

BibleX points to a good sale at Oxford, including:

  • Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition - James K. Hoffmeier for 50% off = $17.50
  • A Guide to Biblical Sites in Turkey and Greece - Clyde E. Fant, Mitchell G. Reddish for 65% off = $10.50
  • The Oxford Companion to the Bible – Michael D. Coogan for 65% off = $28.00
  • The Holy Land: An Archaeological Guide, 5th edition – Jerome Murphy-O’Connor for 30% off = $26.50 (but $25 at Amazon, or $10 on the Kindle).

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Bible Mapper Version 4

If, like me, you’re a fan of Bible Mapper, you’ll be pleased to know that version 4 has just been released. 

Bible Mapper is still the best program for making custom maps of the Middle East, and now it includes 35 pre-made Bible maps that get you off to a quick start.  You can see some of these in the gallery

There are a number of other improvements as well that may not sound so impressive, but really make the program more enjoyable to use.  This includes:

  • Select Object engine that uses the cursor is much faster at any zoom level and is more forgiving about how close you have to click on an object to select it (e.g., routes and rivers are easier to select)
  • A basic blank map template is included that contains essentially all the basic styles that you need to create a professional-quality map (journey path styles, political label styles, river label styles, etc.)

You can read more of the improvements on the website.  If you have any need for maps, I encourage you to check it out.  As before, use of the maps you create is virtually unrestricted.

Samsons Exploits bible mapper sample “Samson’s Exploits” – one of the new maps in Bible Mapper 4.0

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lecture: Lederman on Beth Shemesh

I realize that posting lecture notices only serves to make jealous a large portion of this reading audience, but in the interest of serving those who may be within driving distance, I will persist.  I think that there are more lectures in the coming week from non-American archaeologists who are on their way to New Orleans for the annual meetings of ASOR and SBL.

From Pittsburgh Theological Seminary:

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary will host Zvi Lederman, a researcher in archaeology at Tel Aviv University, Sun., Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Knox Room. Lederman will present a lecture entitled “At the Border: Iron Age Beth Shemesh.”

Its location, name, and history would indicate that Beth-Shemesh was a community on the Philistine border. When the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines, it was finally returned to the people of Beth-Shemesh, but the Lords of the Philistines, stepping after the Ark, went only “up to the border of Beth-Shemesh.” Dr. Lederman will discuss recent excavations that have illuminated life at Beth-Shemesh from a series of flourishing Iron Age 1 villages (1200-950 BCE) to a fortified Iron 2 city established during the days of the early Monarchy. In the course of its history, this important biblical town became embroiled in conflicts with the neighboring Philistines as well as conflicts between Israel and Judah, Syria and Ephraim, and eventually between Judah and the Assyrians. Lederman was a member of the Land of Ephraim Survey, and has excavated at Beer-Sheba and Shiloh. Since 1990 he has served as co-director of the Te Beth-Shemesh excavations.

A reception will follow the lecture. Additionally, the Bible Lands Museum will be open from 6:00-7:30 p.m. and after the presentation. This event is co-sponsored by the Biblical Archaeology Society of Pittsburgh.

See the website for contact information.

HT: Joe Lauer

Beth Shemesh excavations, dumps, basket women, mat03005 Excavations at Beth Shemesh, 1931

This is one of 25 photos of Beth Shemesh in the Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-03005).

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Biblical Archaeology Slide-Lecture Series, Queens College, NY

Jerusalem as a Sanctuary City
Yuval Baruch
Wednesday, November 11, 2009, 7:30 pm

The lecture and slide show will focus on recent excavations, along with new trends in the archaeological study of the Second Temple Period, which reflects Jerusalem as a sanctuary city.

Gamla's War: The Archaeology of Religious Intensity
Yoav Arbel
Wednesday, December 2, 2009, 7:30 pm

Location of lectures: LeFrak Concert Hall, Queens College, New York

Admission for reserved seating: $5.

For more information, including details of the lecturers, see the Queens College website.

HT: Joe Lauer

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5 Volumes on Bible Backgrounds on OT

The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary is out, according to a couple of friends who have received their 5-volume sets in the mail.  The editor, John Walton, hams it up in this 1.5-minute promo video.  If you prefer a more serious approach, take a look at this 2.5-minute descriptive video.  I see that an electronic version will be produced for Logos, but unfortunately Zondervan’s pricing strategy on electronic volumes does not seem to include discounting.  This month you can read the Judges commentary, written by Daniel I. Block, for free.  I commented on this set before here, but I didn’t note that hundreds of the 2,000 photos came from the BiblePlaces.com archive.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2010 Calendar

You know that the year is drawing to a close when you see calendars for 2010 on store racks.  I just received yesterday the 2010 Holy Land Calendar produced by Lamb and Lion Ministries, which exclusively features photographs from BiblePlaces.com.  The calendar notes all the major American holidays, and its inclusion of the Jewish holy days makes it a great way to keep track of important events not on many American calendars. You can purchase this beautiful calendar online, and if you order 10 (for Christmas gifts), they will give you two for free.

Lion_and_Lamb_calendar_2010_cover

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Minoan-Style Wall Painting Remains Found on Israel’s Coast

From a press release from the University of Haifa:

The remains of a Minoan-style wall painting, characterized by a blue background, the first of its kind to be found in Israel, was discovered in the course of the recent excavation season at Tel Kabri. This fresco joins others of Aegean style that have been uncovered during earlier seasons at the Canaanite palace in Kabri. “It was, without doubt, a conscious decision made by the city’s rulers who wished to associate with Mediterranean culture and not adopt Syrian and Mesopotamian styles of art like other cities in Canaan did. The Canaanites were living in the Levant and wanted to feel European,” explains Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, who directed the excavations.

The remains of a Canaanite city from the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 B.C.) have been exposed at Tel Kabri, next to Kibbutz Kabri near Nahariya. A palace for the city’s rulers stands in the center of the city, which was the most important of the cities in the Western Galilee during that period. Excavations began at Tel Kabri in 1986, conducted by the late Prof. Aharon Kempinski, and were halted in 1993. Over the past years, excavations have been renewed by teams directed by Dr. Yasur-Landau of the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa and Prof. Eric Cline of The George Washington University. Tel Kabri is unique in that after the city was deserted, no other city was built over its remains. Therefore, this is the only Canaanite city that can be excavated in its entirety. The palace too, which has been measured with geophysical tools at 1 to 1.5 acres, is the only such palace of this period that can be excavated fully. “The city’s preservation enables us to get a complete picture of political and social life in the Canaanite period. We can reveal whether or not it had a central government, whether taxes were levied, what sort of agriculture there was and how politics were conducted at the time,” Dr. Yasur-Landau explains.

The full press release is here, and an Arutz-7 story is here.  If you’ve been to Crete, you may be a bit disappointed with the photos.

HT: Joe Lauer

Tell Kabri Middle Bronze palace, tb100905715

Tell Kabri, Middle Bronze palace, October 2005

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Hundreds of Crusader-era marble pieces were discovered in Acco recently.  You can read the press release, the JPost report or the Arutz-7 account, story here, or download high-res photos here.

The house in Luxor of Howard Carter, the man who discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen, has been opened as a museum.

The NY Times has an interesting and humorous article on Raphael Golb, arrested for impersonation and identity theft in an attempt to stem the tide that rejected his father’s conclusions about the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Golb is delighted that the articles he wrote under the name of “Charles Gadda” have been read by so many.  I wonder how happy he is that so many are reading about his desperate attempts to stay out of jail.

BibleWorks has a sale for new customers now, offering $30 off the purchase of BibleWorks 8 and one module.  For more, see here.

Logos Bible Software released a major new version this week.  So far, everything I’ve heard is positive.  I don’t use anything with an “i” in it, but if I did, I’d be real happy about the ability to have my entire library on my phone at no extra cost.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Rare Coin Exhibit in Jerusalem

A new exhibit opens on November 11 at the Davidson Center south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  From Arutz-7:

Among the artifacts to be displayed next week is a rare collection of 2,000-year-old coins that were burnt during the Great Revolt by the Jews against the Roman occupation, in which the Second Holy Temple was destroyed. The Western Wall, which was outside the Temple and not a part of it, is the only remaining part of the immediate area that remained standing following the destruction. The collection includes unique coins that were minted in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period.

One extraordinary find to be presented to the public for the first time is an extremely rare shekel that was minted by the Jewish rebels during the last months of the revolt, in the year 70 CE.

Also on display will be other coins that were found in different excavations in the region and have a wide geographic origin, from Persia, via North Africa and as far away as France. These coins attest to the centrality of Jerusalem for all of the people who visited the city thousands of years ago, while leaving behind a "souvenir" in the area.

It is interesting to note the difference between the Jewish coins and others on display. Contrary to pagan coins, the ruler was not usually depicted on coins of Jewish origin, due to the Jewish prohibition against making a "graven image" or idol. According to an IAA statement, it is for this reason that a variety of symbols of inanimate objects, such as a wreath or scepter and helmet, appear on many Jewish coins.

The Arutz-7 article also notes that the sarcophagus lid with the inscription “son of the high priest” will be on display.  The article has several beautiful photos of coins.

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New Discoveries Related to Temple Mount

Foundation Stone has a fascinating interview with Zachi Zweig, who co-leads the Temple Mount Sifting Project with Gabriel Barkay. It was Zweig who brought public attention to the Muslim dumping of the Temple Mount material many years ago, and his initiative led Barkay to secure a permit for the project. Barkay was interviewed recently about the project, and now Zweig provides more detail about some of the latest discoveries.

You can listen to the 45-minute interview (here, select part 2), but here are a few of the highlights:

  • They have been working 6 days a week for about 5 years now, but they have sifted only 20% of the material.  They estimate 15 more years of work!
  • Their interest is in knowledge, in understanding the ancient world.  This is sharply contrasted with the Arabs who removed this ancient material from the Temple Mount and dumped it in the Kidron Valley.
  • There are some tunnels and hollow spaces under the Temple Mount that have not been previously known, including one with an Aramaic inscription.
  • There is a mikveh on the Temple Mount, found in the 1930s but not accurately identified until recently.
  • Recently the Franciscans were digging on their property on eastern slope of Temple Mount in the Kidron Valley and they found the dump from the Temple Mount in use during the periods of the First and Second Temples.  They found restorable vessels from the First Temple period, maybe as early as the 10th century (time of Solomon).  They discovered lots of bones from sacrifices eaten on Temple Mount.  They also found cultic figurines, which the Bible says were destroyed by King Josiah and dumped in the Kidron Valley (2 Kings 23:12).
  • Why does no one else care?  Why is there so little interest in Israel for the only archaeological work possible on the Temple Mount?
  • Politics hurts archaeology and our understanding of the past.
  • The Temple Mount is a house of prayer for all nations the Muslims only.
  • A Byzantine mosaic was discovered under the Al Aqsa Mosque during the British Mandate but never publicized.  Zweig published an article about it last year.
  • A massive wall uprooted by the Muslim authorities in 1970 may date to First Temple period.

In all, this is quite interesting, particularly the longest bullet point above.

Temple Mount dump, tb090705006

Debris on the Temple Mount, 2005

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Rachel’s Tomb, Then and Now

The traditional location of the tomb of Jacob’s beloved wife is located on the north side of Bethlehem, next to the main highway that has run from Jerusalem to Hebron for thousands of years now.  The photo below gives a good idea of what the monument looked like in the early 1900s.  It’s quite picturesque.

Bethlehem, Rachel's Tomb, mat09188 The traditional Tomb of Rachel, early 1900s

Today, it’s a little harder to get a photo (see below).  The tomb is here, just behind that fortified IDF watchtower on the right.  The ancient highway now has “walls reaching up to heaven,” and Joshua himself might have despaired of getting through.

The reason for such security is that the tomb is a holy site for some religious Jews, but the Arab city of Bethlehem has grown up around the tomb.  When the Israelis built the partition wall, they designed its route so that the tomb and the road accessing it would stay on the Israeli side of the wall.  In difficult days, even this protection is not enough and travel to the tomb is banned.  The Palestinians who live next to the tomb can no longer cross the street. 

Bethlehem Rachel's Tomb approach, tb092204912b

Access to the traditional Tomb of Rachel, Sept. 2004

Looking for a bright spot in all of this?  How about this: the tomb has nothing to do with Rachel anyway.  According to 1 Samuel 10:2, her tomb was in the tribal territory of Benjamin, which begins five miles north along the Hinnom Valley of Jerusalem.  So all this expense and rancor is over Jews who want to pray at what likely was originally the tomb of a Muslim holy man!

The top photo is one of more than 550 photos included in the Southern Palestine volume of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection (Library of Congress, LC-matpc-09188).  For less than 4 cents a photo ($20/CD), you get a unique and outstanding collection of high-resolution photographs of Bethlehem, Hebron, the Shephelah, Tell Beit Mirsim, the Judean wilderness, Jericho, the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, Masada, Qumran, and the Negev.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Gabriel Barkay Interviewed

Gabriel Barkay is interviewed in this 10-minute video about the destruction to the Temple Mount, which he claims is carried out not by Israelis but by the Muslims.  He talks as well about his long-term project to save ancient remains from that destruction.  The content is not really “news,” but it’s worth hearing it from one intimately involved in the matter.  The interview concludes with his account of the discovery of the Ketef Hinnom amulets, with the oldest inscriptions of biblical verses known to date.

For more, see the websites about the Temple Mount destruction and sifting project.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Photographs Reveal the Past at USC

If an inscription is discovered today and you want the best photographs of it, you go to the Zuckerman brothers at USC.  Their work revealed a more extensive inscription on one of the Ketef Hinnom amulets, and they were called on for photographing the recent Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon.  The LA Times has a brief review of their work, including the equipment they use.

Researchers at USC's West Semitic Research Project have helped uncover its hidden narrative with the aid of lighting and imaging techniques that are credited with revolutionizing the study of ancient texts.

Over the last three decades, the USC project has produced thousands of crisp images of inscriptions and other artifacts from biblical Israel and other Near Eastern locales, making the pictures available to the public in an online archive, InscriptiFact.com.

Among the items shown in the online collection is a Dead Sea Scroll dating to the 1st century that discusses a buried treasure in modern-day Israel. (It's impossible to pinpoint the precise location because landmarks mentioned in the text no longer exist.)

The database also features an Aramaic inscription on a sheet of papyrus written by a group of Jews in Egypt five centuries before the birth of Jesus. In the text -- whose image is so sharp it reveals the grain of the papyrus -- Jews petition distant Persian rulers for permission to rebuild a temple.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," said Bruce Zuckerman, a USC religion professor who founded the research project in the early 1980s. "Sometimes big issues in history can turn on the interpretation of a single letter."

Zuckerman's foray into the world of photography and ancient texts grew out of his frustration over the poor quality of archaeological photos.

[...]

"What West Semitic Research Project did was create a collection of photos of inscriptions that were unlike anything that had been done before," said Wayne Pitard, a religion professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has collaborated with the Zuckermans. "It's just astonishing."

Their research project occupies two floors of an academic building at USC. Its offices are filled with gadgetry dreamed up by the Zuckermans and their research team and by engineers off campus.

One office holds the Twister, a contraption with a large-format camera that snaps pictures of ancient "cylinder seals" about the size and shape of triple-A batteries.

The seals -- featuring pictures and symbols that once served as a form of personal identification -- are mounted on a turntable and slowly moved around in a circle while the camera snaps photos, producing a single large image.

"The picture is better than holding it in your hands," Bruce Zuckerman said.

The full story is here.

HT: Paleojudaica

UPDATE: My memory about photographing the Qeiyafa ostracon may have been mistaken and thus I’ve lined out the statement above.  If it’s true, however, that the ostracon was brought to the U.S. for photographing but was not taken to the Zuckerman lab, then I can only wonder why.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Weekend Roundup, Part 2

This week’s Explorator mentions several articles that may be of interest to readers here:

Evidence for tsunami events at Caesarea:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091026093728.htm

Rethinking the ‘odds’ of the Talpiot Tomb:
http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/tomb357926.shtnl

Feature on mapping Iraq’s archaeological sites:
http://www.dvidshub.net/?script=news/news_show.php&id=40707

A Roman-era cemetery from near Hebron:
http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=235964

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Weekend Roundup

Glo is reviewed in Newsweek.  I’d like to say more about this Bible software some time.  In some ways, it’s better than being on-site.

David Padfield has reviewed unfavorably the BAS Photo Archives Complete Set.

Arutz-7 Radio has posted a couple of interviews (mp3) this week that may be of interest to readers here.  The first half of part one is an interview with Bernie and Fran Alpert, founders of Archaeological Seminars, which for decades has run the “dig for a day” program.  They say that one million people have come through their programs, the main one of which is digging for a few hours in Hellenistic caves at Bet Guvrin.

Part two is a 50-minute interview with Eilat Mazar concerning her initial interest in archaeology, some of her previous excavations, and now her work in the City of David.  She gives some reasons for why she believes the large stone structure must date to the time of David.  I found myself nodding off in the middle, but it was worthwhile to listen to the end. 

The real Snake Path is not at Masada, but in San Diego.

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