Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Special Exhibit in Chicago: Inventions of Writing

From the Oriental Institute Museum’s website, via ANE-2:

A new exhibition at the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago will show visitors how scribes in the ancient Middle East invented writing, thus transforming prehistoric cultures into civilizations.

Writing is one of humankind's greatest achievements. Writing took a variety of forms, many of which are displayed in the exhibition, "Visible Language: Inventions of Writing in the Ancient Middle East and Beyond" that runs from September 27 to March 6 at the museum, 1155 East 58th Street.

Exhibit curator Christopher Woods, Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute, said, "In the eyes of many, writing represents a defining quality of civilization. There are four instances and places in human history when writing was invented from scratch – in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mesoamerica – without previous exposure to or knowledge of writing. It appears likely that all other writing systems evolved from the four systems we have in our exhibition."

Among the items on display will be the earliest cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia (today's Iraq), dating to about 3200 BC, which are on loan from the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin. They have never before been exhibited in the United States. The pictographic signs, a precursor to writing, are part of a writing system that developed into cuneiform, a wedge-shaped script that was incised on clay tablets. Examples of that form of writing will also be exhibited.

[...]

A computer kiosk will include videos and interactive presentations that enhance the exhibit. One video will show visitors how ancient scribes wrote cuneiform on clay tablets and painted hieroglyphs on papyrus.

Interactive presentations will show how Oriental Institute scholars have been the first to use CT scans to reveal the contents of sealed clay "token balls" which are thought to be a precursor of Mesopotamian writing. Another interactive will demonstrate how the newest photographic techniques allow previously illegible texts to be read. Others will show how ancient cuneiform signs changed over time, and how early letters gradually evolved into the letters of our Latin alphabet.

A "Just for Fun" portion of the exhibition will help visitors compare writing systems and to write their name and simple sentences in various scripts. From the computer station, visitor will be able to send an e-post card in hieroglyphs or cuneiform to their friends.

A fully illustrated catalog edited by Professor Woods accompanies the exhibit.

The exhibit is supported by a grant from Exelon Corporation, the Women's Board of the University of Chicago, and private donors.

The museum is open Tuesday, Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Suggested donation for admission is $7 for adults, $4 for children. For additional information, go to www.oi.uchicago.edu.

Cuneiform inscription from Early Dynastic per, tb072705908 bl 

Cuneiform tablet, Early Dynastic period, on display at the Oriental Institute Museum

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Cameo Stone Discovered in Jerusalem’s Central Valley

This Roman-period discovery appears to have been announced to heighten interest in the 11th Annual City of David Archaeology Conference to be held Wednesday on Jerusalem.  The Givati Parking Lot is located just south of the Dung Gate in the (now filled-in) Central Valley on the west side of the City of David.  From the Jerusalem Post:

A 2,000 year-old cameo stone bearing an image of cupid (Eros in Greek mythology) has been found in the Givati Parking Lot Excavation,  part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park.

The cameo, measuring 1cm in length and 0.7mm in width, was discovered during the excavation being conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, funded by the Ir David Foundation. 

Dr. Doron Ben Ami of the Israel Antiquities Authority said:  “the cameo is made from two layers of semi-precious onyx stone. The upper layer, into which the image of cupid is engraved is a striking blue color which contrasts with the dark brown background color of the lower layer. The brown layer is the side of the cameo which would have been inserted into the round metal setting of a piece of jewelry, apparently an earring.

See the Jerusalem Post for the full report and Haaretz for a large photo.

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11th Annual Archaeology Conference in City of David

11th Annual Archaeology Conference
City of David, Jerusalem, Israel
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

From 4:00 pm visit new excavation sites in the City of David

The City of David
18:30  Gather in the City of David, Area E

19:00  Opening Remarks
Ahron Horovitz, Director of the Megalim Institute
Representative of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Guy Alon, Israel Nature and National Parks Authority

19:15 First Session - Chair: Prof. Aaron Demsky
Prof. Jodi Magness
Archaeological Evidence of the Sassanid Persian Invasion of Jerusalem

Prof. Zohar Amar, Dr. David Illouz
The Persimmon in the Land of Israel

Ms. Sara Barnea
The History of the Mapping of the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives

20:40 Break

21:00
Second Session - Chair: Dr. Hillel Geva
Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, Ms. Yana Tchekhanovets
The Givati Parking Lot – Roman-Period Discoveries and Finds

Eli Shukron, Prof. Ronny Reich
The excavation between the stepped Shiloah Pool and the interior face of the damming wall at the southern end of the Tyropoeon Valley, Jerusalem

Prof. Ronny Reich, Eli Shukron
The Large Fortification Near the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem, and its Relationship to Wall NB Discovered by Kathleen Kenyon

22:00 Estimated end of conference

Entrance is free, but spaces are limited (there is no advance registration)

It may be cold at night so dress accordingly

Parking is available in the Mount Zion Parking Lot and the Givati
Parking Lot (for a fee)

Public Transportation: Buses 1, 2, 38.

www.cityofdavid.org.il

HT: Joe Lauer

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Restoring Israel’s Antiquities

Haaretz has an interesting story this weekend on the work of a ceramics restoration specialist in the Israel Antiquities Authority.  Her job is to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Many years before the corruption allegations, something entirely different was uncovered at the Holyland project site in Jerusalem: traces of several ancient communities, including shards of two clay vessels. The piles of potsherds were delivered to the table of Elisheva Kamaisky, a ceramics restoration specialist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, who reconstructed the jugs in a gentle work of piecing together a complex jigsaw puzzle.

"I love the earliest periods because they didn't use tools then. No two vessels are the same. I'm full of awe in front of their technical abilities. In the Roman period mass production starts, and then if you've seen one vessel you've seen them all," she says. "The beautiful thing about ceramics is that the same techniques are used today. True, we have electric furnaces and control the heat better, but the basics are the same in the most ancient jug and the ceramics NASA uses to coat its spaceships."

Kamaisky is one of the Antiquities Authority's six-member restoration team who reconstruct objects and implements of the material culture in the country since human habitation began. They receive potsherds, threadbare cloths, metallic weapons, golden coins, delicate glassware and more. Unlike their colleagues in the rest of the world, Israeli law bars them from working with human remains.

Archaeologist Zvika Greenhut says restoration work is important "because it's the only way you can see the entire picture. For example, in one dig I worked on in Motza we found a room full of pitcher shards. But only when we started piecing them together did we understand that the room couldn't possibly hold all these vessels. There were two possibilities: Either they were all stored one inside each other, or there were shelves that held them but didn't survive into our time. It was clearly a storeroom and this means something about that culture."

The full story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

Cooking pots from Iron Age, tb061804661 bl

Restored Iron Age cooking pots, Eretz Israel Museum

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Geography Quiz

I may get in trouble for this one, but with limited time, it’s either this or nothing today.  And it is ostensibly related to biblical places.  Published at Arutz-7, this feature is entitled “Do You Know Your Geography of Israel?”  You can take the test by identifying the locations of thirteen photos.


UPDATE 9/6: I regret posting this "quiz." I was first intrigued by a "geography quiz" of Israel and then surprised at the "answer." I posted it more for amusement value than as a declaration in support of certain "truths." I have no knowledge that the claim of this quiz is accurate and no interest in promoting it as accurate (even if it is). But this was certainly not clear in my original posting. Deleting this post would halt my continued perpetuation of this "story," but it would not provide the opportunity for the clarification that I am making now. For some specifics of the problems with this "story," see Tom's second comment below.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Diamonds in the Kishon River

The Kishon River drains the Jezreel Valley into the Mediterranean Sea, and it was the location of the slaughter of the prophets of Baal during the time of Elijah (1 Kgs 18:40).   From Arutz-7:

The Kishon River, considered the most polluted river in Israel, will soon be the object of a major cleaning and purification project. The initiative is a joint project of the Ministry of the Environment, the Kishon River Authority, and factories and chemical plants on the river’s banks.

At the same time, the Shefa Yamim company continues to seek diamonds under the Kishon riverbed, based on advice from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. The company, which has already found diamonds and associated minerals in the vicinity, plans a stock issue of $100 million in the coming months.

The Kishon River’s pollution stems in part from daily contamination for over 40 years by runoff of mercury and other metals from nearby chemical plants. It has been claimed that there are more chemicals than water in the Kishon. The river runs 70 kilometers from Jenin in Samaria, via the Jezreel Valley and Zevulun Valley, and into the Mediterranean Sea near Haifa.

The full story is here.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Archaeology and Women

Digging Up Women” is the title of a new article posted at The Bible and Interpretation.  Elizabeth McNamer provides some insight into the daily life of women using biblical texts and archaeological finds from Bethsaida.  She writes:

Most of the artifacts found at Bethsaida are in the domain of women: loom weights, ovens, cooking pots, jugs, juglets, grinders, flourmills, fish plates, olive bowls, pruning hooks, oil lamps, water jugs, jewels, wine jars (and cellars), needles, ungent jars, eating utensils.

Clothes were made of linen and wool. Making wool was a time-consuming task. It involved sheering the sheep, sorting and grading, spinning the yarn, and dying the wool, setting up the loom to make the fabric and then making it into clothing. Spinning was mandated by the Talmud (even rich women were required to spin). So many linen spores have been found at Bethsaida that we think there may have been a linen factory there. (It was required for sailing boats and for shrouds for the dead among other things). To clothe a family of six would have required about three hours a day of labor (and taking the Sabbath off). If she produced more than her family required, there were local markets and fairs at which the surplus could be sold.

The article provides some of the “other side” of the story, for archaeology is often most concerned with fortifications, palaces, and other discoveries built and destroyed by men.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Two articles that I contributed made it to the “Most Viewed” list over at The Bible and Interpretation.  Both articles are brief and challenge current thinking:

Probably the most important work of historical geography ever written is The Sacred Bridge, by Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley.  At $100, you may need convincing that it’s worth the sacrifice.  I look at it this way: take the number of years left in your life and divide $100 by that.  It is worth a few bucks a year to have such an extensive reference tool at arm’s length.  Leen Ritmeyer has posted a brief review of the book on his blog.  If you don’t need the original languages, you can cut the price in half by purchasing Carta’s New Century Handbook and Atlas of the Bible.

If you’d like a free classic to offset the expensive purchase, you can download the entire work of George Adam Smith’s Historical Geography of the Holy Land (pdf).  This is the 4th edition (of 26!), but as far as I know, the content is largely the same.  I am not sure if residents outside the US have access.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Palestine Park, Chautauqua, New York

A friend tipped me off that my summer travels this year would have me near Chautauqua Institution in western New York, the location of Palestine Park.  Originally built in 1874, the model of the land of Palestine (as it was then known) has been reconstructed and enlarged over the years to its present size of 350 feet long (110 m) at a scale of 1.75 feet to the mile (0.34 meters to the km).

The model blends into its surroundings and you don’t realize you’ve arrived until you’re standing in it.  This is a view of the area from the “north” with the edge of “Mount Hermon” visible on the right.

100802340tb Approaching Palestine Park

The best view of the model is from the top of Mount Hermon.  Lake Chautauqua stands in for the Mediterranean Sea, but since the park is on the lake’s western shore, the sun rises on the wrong side of this “world.”

100802338tb Palestine Park overview from north

The model includes major landmarks such as Mount Tabor, the Hill of Moreh, and the Jezreel Valley, but I found it difficult to easily identify the physical features because of the uniform shade of the green grass.

100802308tb Palestine Park view north

In the photo below, you can see the Sea of Galilee distinctly, and in the foreground the labeled sites are Nain (left) and Mt. Moreh (center).

100802302tb Palestine Park northern hills

The two major lakes are the most easily identifiable features and both are shaped appropriately.  The Sea of Galilee (below) is surrounded by biblical cities (not exactly in the right places), including Tiberias, Magdala, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Gergesa.  Perceptive visitors may wonder why the “Mount of Beatitudes” is placed on a high mountain on the lake’s west side.  This reflects a 19th-century view that Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount at the place today known as Mt. Arbel.

100802303tb Palestine Park Sea of Galilee

Every Sunday and Monday evenings a local pastor, allegedly in costume, gives presentations of the model using biblical stories.  Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, located under the boys, would provide an ideal place for many wonderful and important history lessons.

100802307tb Palestine Park Mt Gerizim and Mt Ebal

Jerusalem is uniquely marked on the model with a depiction of the (modern) Old City walls.  The model labels a mixture of sites from the Old Testament, New Testament, and later periods.  Approximately sixty sites are identified, including the Mount of Olives and Bethany (behind Jerusalem in the photo below).

100802310tb Palestine Park, Jerusalem, Mount of Olives

The model also includes the rugged hill country of Transjordan and labels sites including Macherus, Mt. Nebo, Ramoth-gilead, and Gerasa.  The large lake shown below is the Dead Sea.  For a better photo that includes the lisan peninsula, see yesterday’s post.

 100802323tb Palestine Park, Dead Sea, Transjordan

For more information about the premises where the model is located, you can visit the website of the Chautauqua Institution (but Palestine Park is ignored on the site).  The entrance fee for the morning was $16, which I felt was a bit unfair, especially since I only spent about 15 minutes at the model (but more than that walking in from the parking lot).  Wikipedia has a brief article about the place, and you can quickly locate the site on Google Maps here.  If you visit in the summer on a Sunday or Monday evening, you can join the free tour (weather permitting).  At other times , you can enjoy a self-guided tour with the assistance of either a cassette tape or a booklet.

A connection I only learned when writing this post is that the man who directed the creation of the park, John H. Vincent, co-wrote Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee, one of the first works that I selected for the Historic Views of the Holy Land series.  He is listed on the title page as the “Chancellor of Chautauqua.”  There is a whole history of American interest in the Holy Land in the 1800s of which I have been ignorant. 

If you have visited Palestine Park and have any observations or suggestions for potential visitors, feel free to comment below.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Name This Place

What is it and where is it?  100802321tb No hints here I’ll write about my recent visit in the next few days.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Roundup

Leen Ritmeyer has just released a digital version of “Jerusalem in the time of Christ,” a CD with 85 images (cost with shipping is £18).

Some Muslims are upset that Israel would dare build an elevator in the Jewish Quarter to allow handicapped access to the Western Wall. 

Start making plans now for excavating next year at Tel Burna in the Shephelah.  If you prefer to avoid the heat, you might opt for the spring session.

G. M. Grena is recommending an old film that shows the step-by-step process of traditional pottery-making.

Jesus.org is a new website that provides all kinds of information about the Savior of the world.  I was particularly impressed to see an entire section of the site featuring articles from the best teacher I’ve ever known.  Doug Bookman has 40 articles in the “Harmony of the Gospels – Life of Jesus” section.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Does the Merneptah Stele Contradict Archaeology?

Many times I have told a classroom full of undergraduates, “I thank God every day for the Merneptah Stele.”  They no doubt thought I was a strange duck, but this crazy claim didn’t help my reputation. 

It’s not that I don’t like the other famous inscriptions that relate to biblical history.  I remember one of my professors saying that there was no extrabiblical evidence for the “house of David” and then a few months later (in the summer of 1993), the Tel Dan Inscription was discovered.  I appreciate the Black Obelisk which has a depiction of King Jehu bowing down and paying tribute to the Assyrian monarch.  And I love to point out the Ketef Hinnom silver amulets in the Israel Museum as the earliest portions of Scripture ever found.  But I don’t thank God every day for any of these.

The Merneptah Stele is a 10 feet- (3 m-) tall monumental inscription that records the victory hymn of Pharaoh Merneptah (1213-1203 BC).  Most of the lengthy poem is about his campaign against Libyan tribes, but at the end he describes some victories in Canaan.  One of the enemies he claims to have thoroughly obliterated is the people of Israel.

Merneptah’s boast has had the opposite effect: instead of destroying Israel, he has actually preserved the fact of their existence at that time.  Everyone agrees that Israel existed sometime later, but without the Merneptah Stele, very few scholars would acknowledge that they existed at this time.  In fact, it’s my opinion that even today, 114 years after the discovery of the Merneptah Stele, most scholars don’t properly account for this inscription in their reconstruction of the origin of the people of Israel. 

That’s the point of my brief essay posted today at The Bible and Interpretation.  I’d be gratified if you’d give it a read.  Maybe I’m not as crazy to give thanks as my students thought.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Franz’s Reflections on Hazor 2010

Gordon Franz has posted a review of his experience excavating at Hazor this summer.  He considers it “the most pleasant, productive, and interesting season” of his eight years on the team.  Some excerpts:

One important discovery this season made the international press: two fragments of a Middle Bronze legal tablet written in Akkadian and contemporary with, and similar to, the famous Hammurabi’s law code.

Robert Cargill asked the question on his blog: “Where was this in 2006 when I was digging there? lol.”  The answer is quite simple: “Right under your feet where you were sitting during tea break at 7 AM every morning!”  This discovery by the eagle-eyed conservator at Hazor, Orna Cohen, was made on the surface and not in the actual stratified excavation.

[...]

Another important discovery that will probably not make the international press is an Iron Age basalt workshop that was found in Area M.  It was the first time in the archaeology of the Middle East that such a discovery was made....In the weeks that followed, I sifted much of the material from the floor of this workshop, saving the basalt chips, pottery, and organic matter.  I also found an iron chisel.  The excavation’s basalt expert, Jenny, will have plenty of material to study and analyze in order to understand the process of making basalt objects.  Basalt is one of the hardest stones, which makes it difficult to work.  It will be interesting to see whether the lab results show that the iron chisel had been tempered and made into steel.  If so, that would go a long way in explaining how basalt was worked.  Moreover, geological tests can be done to determine the basalt’s source.

[...]

One of the projects carried out by Orna Cohen and the Druze workers this summer was the reconstruction of part of the casemate wall near the Solomonic Gate.  The Druze see themselves as the descendents of the Phoenicians and Hiram’s, king of Tyre, stone masons.  They reconstructed the walls using the same techniques as Solomon’s workers: stone upon stone, and without the use of cement.

[...]

By the end of the 2009 season, we had removed most of the eighth-century walls and strata.  At the beginning of this season, we spent the first week finishing that job.  The next level of occupation was the ninth-century.  I thought it would take a season to excavate the remains from that period.  We blew through it in a couple of weeks.  Area M is outside the Solomonic city so there were no tenth-century domestic dwellings outside the city.  Thus we began to penetrate down to the Late Bronze Age palace.  By the end of the season, we were on top of the palace and some monumental stones were beginning to appear.

It is in Area M that Dr. Sharon Zuckerman has suggested that the administrative palace of Hazor was and the Canaanite archive of the Late Bronze level would be located (2006: 28-37).  When the archive(s) are found at Hazor, it/they will be a major contribution to Biblical studies and go a long way to resolve some of the thorny issues in Biblical Archaeology.

Several blogs have inaccurately reported that the MB tablet was found in the excavations above the palace in Area M, but Franz states that it was found on the surface of the tell west of Area M.

Franz’s full report is here.

Hazor upper city aerial from east, tbs112290011

Hazor upper city from east

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fake Tombstones in the Mamilla Cemetery

Israelis contend that Muslims have attempted to expand the cemetery west of the Old City of Jerusalem by adding tombstones over empty plots.  From the New York Times:

The latest skirmish in the war for every inch of this coveted city focused this week on the dead. Did Israeli government bulldozers, working in the middle of the night, destroy hundreds of historic Muslim graves? Or were the removed tombstones outrageous fakes placed on parkland in a ruse?

Each side in the dispute — a fiery branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel and the right-wing Jerusalem municipality — is accusing the other of shamelessness and indecency. The area in question is in West Jerusalem, a predominantly Jewish area next to a contested site where the Simon Wiesenthal Center is planning a branch devoted to tolerance and human dignity.

“This is a despicable and, frankly, sad publicity stunt,” Stephan Miller, a spokesman for the Jerusalem municipality, said of the tombstones, which he called fictitious. “It is a slap in the face of freedom of religion and the preservation of religious sites that we work day and night to ensure.”

For its part, an Islamic foundation that had been fixing up and installing the headstones said its work was entirely legal and it believed the late-night destruction of the tombs was part of a city effort to take over the cemetery for more mundane needs.

The full story is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

2010 on Track for Tourism Record in Israel

From ICEJ News:

Israel’s Tourism Ministry announced on Monday that 1.9 million tourists visited the country between January and July, keeping 2010 on track to be a record year for incoming tourism and breaking the magic number of 3 million. The numbers are already a 34% improvement over last year, and also include data indicating tourists are highly satisfied with the quality of local tour guides, the historic sites they were taken to see, and services offered in restaurants, bus lines, gift shops and hotels. “The consistent growth in incoming tourism over recent months, alongside the increasing satisfaction tourists feel toward the service they receive in Israel, should not be taken for granted,” said Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov. “This is the result of large investments in marketing, public relations, infrastructure development, encouraging investors and upgrading the training and service frameworks.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hellenistic Gold Coin Found at Kedesh

From the Israel Antiquities Authority (temp link):

An extremely rare 2200-year old gold coin was uncovered recently in the excavations of the University of Michigan and University of Minnesota at Tell Kedesh in Israel near its Lebanese border. The coin was minted in Alexandria by Ptolemy V in 191 BCE and bears the name of the wife of Ptolemy II, Arsinoë Philadephus (II).

According to Dr. Donald T. Ariel, head of the Coin Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is an amazing numismatic find. The coin is beautiful and in excellent preservation. It is the heaviest gold coin with the highest contemporary value of any coin ever found in an excavation in Israel. The coin weighs almost one ounce (27.71 grams), while most ancient gold coins weighed 4.5 grams. In Ariel’s words, “This extraordinary coin was apparently not in popular or commercial use, but had a symbolic function. The coin may have had a ceremonial function related to a festival in honor of Queen Arsinoë, who was deified in her lifetime. The denomination is called a mnaieion, meaning a one-mina coin, and is equivalent to 100 silver drachms, or a mina of silver.

The obverse (‘head’) of the coin depicts Arsinoë II  Philadelphus. The reverse (‘tail’) depicts two overlapping cornucopias (horns-of-plenty) decorated with fillets. The meaning of the word Philadelphus is brotherly love. Arsinoë II, daughter of Ptolemy I Soter, was married at age 15 to one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Lysimachus, king of Thrace. After Lysimachus’ death she married her brother, Ptolemy II, who established a cult in her honor. This mnaieion from Tel Kedesh attests to the staying power of the cult, since the coin was minted a full 80 years after the queen’s death.

According to Ariel, “It is rare to find Ptolemaic coins in Israel dating after the country came under Seleucid rule in 200 BCE. The only other gold Ptolemaic coin from an excavation in Israel (from `Akko) dates from the period of Ptolemaic hegemony, in the third century BCE, and weighs less than two grams.”

The excavations at Tell Kedesh, conducted since 1997, has uncovered a large Persian/Hellenistic administrative building, complete with reception halls, dining facilities, store rooms and an archive. While the documents in the archive were not preserved, the excavations yielded 2043 bullae, from which the flourishing of the Hellenistic phase of the building can be dated to the first half of the second century BCE.

coins

Gold Coin from Tell Kedesh; photo by Sue Webb (via IAA)

The full release and high-resolution photo are here.  In earlier days, Kedesh was one of the three cities west of the Jordan River designated as a city of refuge (Josh 20:7).  More information about the biblical site is here. I noted a story about these excavations last week.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Weekend Roundup

The Turkish government is building a 10-foot high wall around a cemetery along the eastern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem, according to signs posted there.  The municipality has confirmed the report.

John the Baptist’s bones have been found in a monastery on a Bulgarian island in the Black Sea, according to government officials.  They have everything to prove the identification except for evidence.

Extracts of the Cyrus Cylinder have been found in China carved on horse bones.  The question is when the copies were made.

The French will finance a “national museum” in Bethlehem and train museographers, in a one million dollar deal signed recently.  Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

The Jewish Tribune has a story on the woman who discovered the Jerusalem cuneiform tablet.  Contrary to what I wrote before, the tablet was actually discovered during sifting in March.  I mixed up a couple of different unannounced sensational discoveries.

Raphael Golb, accused of impersonating Dead Sea Scrolls scholars, has rejected a plea offer in Manhattan Criminal Court.  For background, see here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Holy Sepulcher To Be Billed for Water

Who should pay for the water drunk by visitors to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem?  The church should, according to a new decision by the city’s water company.

From the Jerusalem Post:

“We are providing water to the pilgrims and tourist for free,” says doorkeeper Jawal Hussein. “It’s not fair. We should not have to pay.”

Slumped on a small stone bench at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Hussein reflected on reports that the Jerusalem water company had decided to end a centuries-old tradition and is now demanding the church pay for its water.

Gihon, the public water company in Jerusalem, has also reportedly demanded the church pay its back bill dating to 1967, when Israel assumed control of east Jerusalem and the walled Old City from the Jordanians. According to AsiaNews.it, a Christian news site, the decision would break a tradition honored by both the British and Jordanian rulers who had controlled the site in the past century.

There is, however, a significant problem: who do they send the bill to?  There is no single authority over the property, and the various church groups are hardly able to work things out between them. 

There is also the question of fairness.

A Franciscan monk aiding a group of pilgrims from South Korea through the church paused to contemplate the water bill.

“I have heard about it but I don’t understand why the government wants to discriminate against us,” said the monk, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter. “Are the synagogues and the mosques paying?” “We are doing a favor to the pilgrims and tourists,” he added. “The government must be earning something from [their visit]. We are doing them a favor.”

“But if the synagogues and mosque have to pay, then I guess we have to pay as well,” the monk added.

The Gihon water company issued a statement saying that they have not, “as of this moment,” cut off the water supplies of any religious institution.

It added that it was charging a standard price of about $4 dollars per cubic meter for water from all religious institutions in the Old City, including mosques, synagogues and churches.

“It should be stressed that this is a uniform fee for all,” the statement said.

Is this true?  Does the rabbinate pay for the water that comes from the fountains at the Western Wall?  It seems to me that the rules should be the same for the two places, as both are religious landmarks freely open to the public.  

Holy fire ceremony from dome, mat14517

Holy Sepulcher rotunda with visitors for Ceremony of Holy Fire (source)

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Determining the Origin of Ancient Letters

X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometry can help researchers to determine where a letter was written.  An analysis of the recently discovered cuneiform tablet from Jerusalem reveals that it was written on local clays.  This supports the theory that Jerusalem in the 14th century BC was ruled by kings with an educated class of scribes. From the American Friends of Tel Aviv University:

But Prof. Goren's process, based on x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry, can go much further. Over the years, he has collected extensive data through physical "destructive" sampling of artefacts. By comparing this data to readouts produced by the XRF device, he's built a table of results so that he can now scan a tablet — touching the surface of it gently with the machine — and immediately assess its clay type and the geographical origin of its minerals.

The tool, he says, can also be applied to coins, ancient plasters, and glass, and can be used on site or in a lab. He plans to make this information widely available to other archaeological researchers.

[...]

Its style suggests that it is a rough and contemporary tablet of the Amarna letters — letters written from officials throughout the Middle East to the Pharaohs in Egypt around 3,500 years ago, pre-biblical times. Using his device, Prof. Goren was able to determine that the letter is made from raw material typical to the Terra Rossa soils of the Central Hill Country around Jerusalem. This determination helped to confirm both the origin of the letter and possibly its sender.

"We believe this is a local product written by Jerusalem scribes, made of locally available soil. Found close to an acropolis, it is also likely that the letter fragment does in fact come from a king of Jerusalem," the researchers reported, adding that it may well be an archival copy of a letter from King Abdi-Heba, a Jesubite king in Jerusalem, to the Pharaoh in nearby Egypt.

The full release is here.

HT: Joe Lauer

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Gag Order on Temple Mount Report

From the Jerusalem Post:

A gag order is being maintained on a sensitive state comptroller’s report believed to blast the lack of Israeli oversight on the Temple Mount, but most of the report is expected to be cleared for publication before the Knesset reconvenes in mid-October, The Jerusalem Post was told Tuesday.

The report, which discusses Israel’s authority on the Temple Mount, including governmental oversight of excavations and construction on the site, is viewed as highly sensitive for diplomatic and security reasons, and the first Knesset debate on the report was held Tuesday behind closed doors.

The report probes, among other bodies, the performance of the Jerusalem Municipality, the Antiquities Authority, and the Israel Police in enforcing laws and regulations pertaining to the site, as well as the roles of the attorney-general and respective prime ministers in confronting and shaping policy in the face of the challenges posed by the site in recent years.

MKs who read the report described it as “all-encompassing” and “very serious”, but noted that the report only concerns the performance of governmental bodies covered within the mandate of the State Comptroller’s Office. The report does not examine the activities of non-governmental bodies, except regarding official bodies’ responses to their actions.

“The report revealed many problems that cannot be accepted in a democratic state that tries to prevent – by law – the destruction of a cultural site that is significant, as a world cultural site and a Jewish one,” said MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who heads the State Control Committee subcommittee on security, foreign affairs and international trade relations, which was tasked with reviewing the report.

The full story is here.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Beautiful LB Bracelet Discovered in Galilee

The site of Ramat Razim in southeast Safat/Tzfat/Safed is the location of some extraordinary discoveries, including a decorated bronze bracelet.  From Arutz-7:

One who could afford such a bracelet was apparently very well-off financially, Covello-Paran said, “and it probably belonged to the wife or daughter of the village ruler. In the artwork of neighboring lands, gods and rulers were depicted wearing horned crowns; however, such a bracelet, and from an archaeological excavation at that, has never been found here.”

The bracelet was found inside the remains of an estate house, part of an ancient settlement that existed in a rocky area overlooking the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. Made of indigenous limestone, the building included a paved central courtyard surrounded by residential rooms and storerooms. The residents apparently engaged in barter.

Along with the bracelet, a Canaanite scarab was found that is made of stone and engraved with Egyptian hieroglyphs. In antiquity, scarabs were worn as pendants or were inlaid in rings, and were used as a seal or talisman with magical powers.

“This is the first time that a 3,500-year-old village has been excavated and exposed in the north of Israel,” Covello-Paran said. “To date, only the large cities have been excavated in the region, such as Tel Megiddo or Tel Hazor. Here we have gained a first glimpse of life in the ancient rural hinterland in the north, and it turns out that it was more complex than we thought. It seems that the small village at Ramat Razim constituted part of the periphery of Tel Hazor, the largest and most significant city in the Canaanite region at the time, which is located about 10 kilometers north of the settlement at Ramat Razim.”

The full story is here.  The Late Bronze Age (1500-1200) is the time of Joshua, not Joseph.

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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Weekend Roundup

There are reports of bulldozer work being carried out on the Temple Mount.

Current excavations at Shiloh are noted in this Arutz-7 article.  The article itself says very little, but the photos indicate that the work is being carried out in Area C, where archaeologists previously uncovered a series of Iron I buildings (from the time of Samuel).

Israeli officials are denying claims that the Jordan River is so polluted it is unsafe for baptism.

A student recounts her experience in the final season of excavations at Tel Kedesh in the Upper Galilee.

The Daily Star (Lebanon) has an update on recent finds in the 12th season of excavations at Sidon.  A one-minute telecast in Arabic shows the work in progress and some of the finds.

Haaretz carries a longer story on how recent excavations of the Jaffa Gate have apparently changed everything.  There are some problems with the article, however, and you might wait to revise your book (or your class notes) until the excavators publish their report.  Take note, as well, of Leen Ritmeyer’s analysis of the article.

HT: Joe Lauer

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